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Orioles lose another outfielder as Rickard goes to DL

Posted on 22 July 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Just days after a lingering hamstring strain landed Hyun Soo Kim on the 15-day disabled list, the Orioles have now lost fellow outfielder Joey Rickard to injury.

The Rule 5 pick suffered an injury to a ligament in his right thumb while trying to make a leaping catch of Brett Gardner’s leadoff triple in Wednesday’s 5-0 loss at Yankee Stadium. Rickard did not leave that game, but the condition of his thumb prevented him from playing on Thursday, prompting the club to send him for a magnetic resonance imaging exam prior to Friday’s series opener against the Cleveland Indians at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Manager Buck Showalter said after Friday’s game that Rickard would be sidelined at least four to six weeks and would not return until September.

The Orioles recalled outfielder Dariel Alvarez from Triple-A Norfolk to take Rickard’s place on the 25-man roster. The recently-promoted Julio Borbon started in left field and batted ninth on Friday night.

One of the good stories of the 2016 season, Rickard made the club after a terrific spring and began the year as the Orioles’ everyday leadoff hitter and left fielder. However, his struggles as well as the emergence of Kim eventually led to Rickard settling into a role as an extra outfielder playing regularly against left-handed starters.

In 282 plate appearances, Rickard is hitting .268 with five home runs, 19 RBIs, and a .696 on-base plus slugging percentage.

The Orioles couldn’t afford to wait on him with other players still feeling the effects of the illness that swept through the clubhouse. Chris Davis and Manny Machado were in the lineup for the second straight game on Friday, but both are still feeling lingering effects after being knocked out of action in New York.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said the Orioles “could take a look” at the possibility of adding another outfielder at the trade deadline with both Kim and Rickard on the DL, but he reiterated that his focus is on trying to add starting pitching in a thin market. Kim hadn’t played since July 10 before officially being placed on the DL on Tuesday, making him eligible to return as early as July 26.

Alvarez is beginning his second stint with the Orioles this season after briefly joining them on their final road trip before the break. The 27-year-old was hitting .280 with four homers, 26 doubles, 40 RBIs, and a .697 OPS with the Tides this season.

NOTES: Matt Wieters was out of the starting lineup for the fourth straight game on Friday while continuing to nurse a bruised right foot, but Showalter said he was available to catch and play if necessary. … Showalter said Dylan Bundy could still remain in the starting rotation for the remainder of the season despite an undisclosed innings limit, but it remains to be seen how the Orioles would handle his workload in each start. … Center fielder Adam Jones was back in Friday’s lineup after back spasms forced him out of Wednesday’s loss to the Yankees as well as the series finale in the Bronx.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-1 win over Yankees

Posted on 21 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-1 win over the New York Yankees on Thursday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 94th game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Tillman pitched like an ace to close out a rough road trip on a positive note. Needing a strong start as they tried to avoid their fifth consecutive loss and a four-game sweep at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles got seven superb innings from the right-hander, who improved to a sparkling 14-2 and lowered his ERA to 3.18. After allowing five batters to reach over his first two innings, Tillman relied more heavily on his fastball to register four strikeouts in the third and fourth innings and did an excellent job mixing his assortment of pitches the rest of the way. In addition to retiring 16 of the last 17 batters he faced to ultimately tie Chris Sale for the major league lead in wins, Tillman became the first Orioles pitcher since Jim Palmer in 1978 to complete at least seven innings and allow no more than one run in four consecutive starts. Baltimore is now a whopping 18-3 when Tillman takes the mound, the most team wins in any pitcher’s starts this season. Where would the Orioles be without him?

2ndJ.J. Hardy has been one of the few to swing the bat well at the start of the second half, and the shortstop set an improved tone early in Thursday’s game. With the Orioles entering the day just 3-for-33 with men in scoring position since the All-Star break and Mark Trumbo having already popped up with runners on the corners, Hardy delivered a hard single past Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius to plate two runs with two outs. The hit allowed Baltimore to match its run total from the first three games of the series and gave Tillman a lead before he took the hill. Hardy added another single in the fourth.

3rdJonathan Schoop gave the Orioles some much-needed breathing room when he hit a soft liner down the right-field line to score two runs and increase the lead to 4-1 with two outs in the seventh. The two-run double came on an outside off-speed pitch from New York starter CC Sabathia, who was then lifted from the game and suffered his fourth consecutive loss. Schoop also started the scoring rally in the first with a one-out infield single and is now hitting .296 on the year.

HomeZach Britton may have been staked to a comfortable three-run lead in the ninth, but the All-Star closer improved to a remarkable 30-for-30 in save opportunities this season by pitching a 1-2-3 frame against the heart of the Yankees order. His 30 saves in as many chances to begin a season is the 10th-best mark in major league history. … Returning to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s game with flu-like symptoms, Manny Machado went 2-for-4 with a run scored. … Brad Brach pitched a scoreless eighth inning and has not allowed an earned run in his last 14 appearances covering 16 2/3 innings. … While Machado and Chris Davis returned to the lineup, center fielder Adam Jones missed Thursday’s games after dealing with back spasms the previous night. Catcher Matt Wieters missed his third straight game while resting a bruised foot. … The Orioles return to Camden Yards on Friday to begin a six-game homestand with right-hander Dylan Bundy making his second major league start against Cleveland right-hander Trevor Bauer.

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Britton shines in otherwise quiet night for Orioles in All-Star Game

Posted on 13 July 2016 by Luke Jones

After going 27-for-27 in save opportunities for the first-place Orioles in the first half, Zach Britton was the right man for the job to close out the 87th All-Star Game in San Diego on Tuesday.

The left-hander became the first Oriole to earn a save in the Midsummer Classic since Don Aase in 1986 when he retired the side in the ninth inning to wrap up the American League’s 4-2 win over the National League, giving the AL home-field advantage in the 2016 World Series and its fourth straight All-Star victory. After surrendering a leadoff single to Daniel Murphy, Britton induced a grounder from Paul Goldschmidt for a fielder’s choice and a 5-4-3 double play off the bat of Nolan Arenado to end the game.

A two-time All-Star selection, Britton has set the club record by beginning a season with 27 consecutive save conversions and clearly earned the respect of AL manager Ned Yost, who used the Baltimore sinkerballer as his closer behind four other relievers used in the game. On Sunday, Britton became the fifth pitcher in franchise history to record 100 career saves with the Orioles, joining Gregg Olson (160), Jim Johnson (122), Tippy Martinez (105), and Stu Miller (100).

The 28-year-old highlighted an otherwise quiet night for the Orioles’ All-Star representatives.

Appearing in his third All-Star Game and becoming the first Oriole to bat third in the AL starting lineup since Roberto Alomar in 1996, third baseman Manny Machado went 0-for-3 and flied out to deep left in his final at-bat in the bottom of the fifth. Making his first All-Star start, the 24-year-old did make a nice play in the field on a chopper off the bat of Arenado on a fielder’s choice in the top of the fifth.

Catcher Matt Wieters entered the game in the sixth and struck out swinging in each of his two plate appearances. The 30-year-old is now hitless in five career at-bats in the All-Star Game.

The four-time All-Star selection did get to catch a one-time teammate for the first time, however, when New York Yankees lefty Andrew Miller pitched in the eighth. Wieters was already out for the remainder of the season due to Tommy John surgery when the Orioles acquired Miller at the trade deadline in 2014.

Mark Trumbo entered the game to play left field in the sixth and reached on an error in his only at-bat of the evening. The right-handed slugger is now 0-for-3 in his two trips to the All-Star Game.

A feel-good story after posting a microscopic 0.91 ERA in the first half, Orioles reliever Brad Brach did not pitch in his first trip to the All-Star Game.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 2016 first half

Posted on 11 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ first half of 2016 that has resulted in a 51-36 start and a first-place standing in the American League East at the All-Star break?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the first 87 games of the 2016 season.

1st Manny Machado broke out as one of the game’s best all-around players last year, but many wondered throughout the winter if he could soar even higher in 2016. The 24-year-old has done exactly that, hitting .318 with 19 home runs, 29 doubles, 53 RBIs, and a .944 on-base plus slugging percentage as the club’s best offensive player. Already a two-time Glove Glove winner at third base, Machado filled in admirably at shortstop in place of the injured J.J. Hardy for seven weeks and has been worth a combined eight defensive runs saved and 1.2 defensive wins above replacement so far this season. His 4.2 WAR (Baseball Reference) at the All-Star break ranks fifth in the AL and is easily tops on the Orioles. After serving in the leadoff role out of necessity last season, Machado has now settled into the No. 3 spot in the order and is the first Oriole to bat third in the AL All-Star starting lineup since Roberto Alomar in 1996. 

2ndMark Trumbo was expected to be a solid power addition to the Baltimore lineup after being acquired from Seattle in exchange for reserve catcher Steve Clevenger in December, but the 30-year-old has instead put on a great 2014 Nelson Cruz impression. The right-handed slugger leads the majors with 28 homers, six more than the total he had last year in 170 fewer plate appearances and just six shy of his career high. His .288 average, .923 OPS, and 68 RBIs reflect his consistency, which was even more important with lineup mainstays such as Adam Jones and Chris Davis struggling early on. His defense in the outfield isn’t pretty, but Trumbo has played a major part in turning a good lineup into a great one.

3rdChris Tillman has been the shining star in a starting rotation that ranks 14th in the AL and 28th in the majors in ERA for a first-place club. The Opening Day starter not only leads the rotation with a 3.41 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP, 98 strikeouts, and 12 wins, but he has a chance to become Baltimore’s first 20-game winner since Mike Boddicker in 1984. His strikeout rate of 7.8 per nine innings is his best since 2013, and he can largely credit an improved slider for his career-best swinging-strike percentage. According to Baseball Reference, Tillman’s 3.2 WAR is second only to Machado on the 2016 Orioles.

HomeBrad Brach and Zach Britton both earned All-Star Game invitations with ERAs below 1.00 and combining for an impressive 4.7 WAR pitching out of the bullpen. Brach has been outstanding filling in for the injured Darren O’Day and leading all Baltimore relievers with 49 1/3 innings pitched while Britton has set a club record by going 27-for-27 in save opportunities to begin the season. … The Orioles’ 137 home runs lead the majors and are the club’s most ever at the All-Star break, surpassing the 134 hit in 1996. … Jonathan Schoop is rapidly emerging as one of the Orioles’ best players, ranking second behind Machado with 23 doubles and fifth in home runs. … Hyun Soo Kim began the season as a player the Orioles were convinced they didn’t want on the major league roster, but the South Korean outfielder’s .329 average and .410 on-base percentage lead Baltimore hitters with at least 170 plate appearances. … Despite making a combined $22 million in 2016, Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo have combined to post a 6.84 ERA in 125 innings this season. … Adam Jones wasn’t a conventional choice as a leadoff hitter, but he’s batted .308 with 12 homers and a .345 OBP since being moved to the top spot by manager Buck Showalter on May 27. … Baltimore’s 33 home victories and .702 home winning percentage lead the major leagues. The Orioles have three seven-game winning streaks in 2016 after posting none that long from 2006-2015.

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Home runs, winning streaks defining 2016 Orioles so far

Posted on 30 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Crab cakes and football might be what Maryland does, but home runs and winning streaks are what the Orioles have been all about this season.

The combination has propelled them into first place in the American League East with their best start after 77 games since 1997. And despite many forecasting the Orioles to finish in last place and very few giving them even a decent chance to win the division, 47 wins in the bank mean they only need to play one game over .500 the rest of the way to reach the 90-win plateau.

Of course, that’s not the ultimate goal, but it does illustrate the good shape the Orioles are in mathematically despite the well-documented concerns regarding the starting pitching.

We knew they’d hit home runs this year as that’s been one of their calling cards under manager Buck Showalter, but the power surge in June has taken them to another level. After hitting a robust 69 homers in their first 50 games in April and May combined, the Orioles have tied the 1996 Oakland Athletics for the major league record with 55 in the month of June.

They would tie the major league mark for long balls in any month — currently shared by the 1987 Orioles and the 1999 Seattle Mariners — with three in the series opener against Seattle on Thursday night. Even playing at the spacious Safeco Field, that would hardly be a rare feat for these Orioles, who have already clubbed three or more homers in a game 18 times this season.

Leading the majors with 124 home runs in 77 games, Baltimore is currently on a pace just shy of 261 homers, which puts them within striking distance of the 1997 Mariners’ single-season record of 264.

Whether it’s merely an extended hot streak, the arrival of warm weather, or a combination of both, the Orioles are concluding a historic month in which they’ve also gone 19-8 to open up a 5 1/2 game division lead entering the final day of June.

Five Orioles hitters — Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Jonathan Schoop — each have 13 or more home runs before the midway point of the season. Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez are both only one blast shy of the pace for a 20-homer season.

To be clear, the prosperity isn’t only because of the long ball as the Orioles have shown improved plate discipline by ranking second in the AL in on-base percentage as well as ranking second in the league in runs score and doubles entering Wednesday. That offense has been complemented nicely by one of the best bullpens in baseball as well as a strong infield defense.

What might be even more encouraging about the Orioles has been their ability to extend the good times and minimize their rough patches. After failing to record a single seven-game winning streak from 2006-2015, Baltimore now has three of them in 2016 alone, including the 7-0 start to the season and the current seven-game stretch.

The Orioles have also posted a five-game winning streak as well as two other three-game streaks.

In contrast, their longest losing streak is just four games and they’ve only lost three in a row two other times. We know tough stretches are inevitable over the course of 162 games, but the best teams are able to minimize the damage.

On their way to a 96-win season and a division title, the 2014 Orioles lost a season-worst four games in a row three times and had only two other three-game losing streaks. In contrast, last year’s 81-81 club had two different six game losing streaks in a 13-game period, three five-game losing streaks, and two four-game losing streaks.

Consistently winning series and extending the good times while climbing out of those valleys quickly will put you in prime position to contend.

Just like most of us never saw this kind of start coming, we don’t know how the next three months will go for the Orioles, especially if their starting pitching doesn’t improve.

But home runs and winning streaks have them sitting pretty with the All-Star break right around the corner.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 12-6 win over San Diego

Posted on 29 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 12-6 win over the San Diego Padres on Wednesday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 77th game of the 2016 season.

1stMark Trumbo hit his 23rd home run of the year to regain sole possession of the major league lead after Cincinnati’s Adam Duvall had hit his 22nd earlier in the day. The two-run shot to left capped off a four-run fourth inning after the Orioles hadn’t collected as much as a baserunner in their first three frames against San Diego lefty Christian Friedrich. Trumbo added a two-run double in the top of the ninth to help eliminate any lingering doubt that Baltimore would win its seventh straight game. Trumbo has eclipsed his 2015 total for home runs in 217 fewer plate appearances than he had a year ago.

2ndManny Machado drove in three runs and hit his 29th double of the season as he continues to play at an MVP-caliber level just shy of his 24th birthday. His RBI single in the fourth gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead, and he would aggressively advance to second on a pitch in the dirt before scoring on Trumbo’s long ball. Machado would later plate two with an automatic double in the ninth that provided more breathing room after the Padres had cut a 7-0 deficit to 7-3.

3rdJonathan Schoop extended his hitting streak to 11 in a row and doubled home the first run of the game in the top of the fourth. The young second baseman would add another double and a single in addition to crossing the plate three times in the victory. Schoop improved his average to .301 and is now sporting an .848 on-base plus slugging percentage.

HomeYovani Gallardo carried a one-hit shutout into the sixth inning before running into trouble and giving up a three-run homer to Brett Wallace. However, he arguably showed his best stuff of the season and touched 92 miles per hour with his fastball in the sixth while also collecting two hits on the day. … Baltimore has scored 11 or more runs in three straight games. … The Orioles tied the major league record for home runs in the month of June when Trumbo hit their 55th to tie the 1996 Oakland Athletics. Baltimore is three shy of the record for homers in any month, an honor shared by the 1987 Orioles (May) and the 1999 Seattle Mariners (May). … Adam Jones reached bases three times and extended his hitting streak to a season-best 10 in a row. … The Orioles secured their third seven-game winning streak of the season after not having a single stretch of victories lasting that long from 2006-2015. … Beginning a four-game set in Seattle on Thursday night, Chris Tillman takes the hill against Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 11-7 win over Padres

Posted on 29 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 11-7 win over the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 76th game of the 2016 season.

1st Hyun Soo Kim hit his second major league homer and turned in the first multi-RBI game of his career to help blow the game open in the middle innings. The lefty batter’s two-run shot came in the fifth when he ambushed a first-pitch fastball from Padres starter Erik Johnson to make it a 4-1 lead. His RBI double in the top of the sixth concluded an eight-pitch battle with reliever Carlos Villanueva as he flicked an outside pitch down the left-field line. Kim added two walks for good measure on his career night, elevating his on-base percentage to .431.

2nd Chris Davis put the Orioles ahead for good in the fourth with a sacrifice fly, but it was his contributions in the seven-run sixth that turned this game into a laugher for Baltimore. The first baseman led off the big inning with his 19th long ball of the season to center and later hit a double to right-center that would have scored a run had the ball not gotten stuck in the base of the wall. Davis added his third hit of the evening with a single to center in the eighth.

3rd Jonathan Schoop continued to swing a hot bat as he collected three hits, which included a two-run double in the sixth as well as another two-base hit in the fourth. The young second baseman scored twice and is now hitting .298 on the season after a red-hot June. He added a leaping catch on a line drive off the bat of Melvin Upton in the bottom of the ninth inning.

HomeManny Machado had three hits and drove in two runs with a broken-bat single up the middle in the sixth. The third baseman finished the night sporting a .330 batting average for the season. … Adam Jones led off a game with a home run for the first time in his career as he sent one out to right-center, his third career blast at Petco Park in his native San Diego. … The Orioles’ three homers leave them one shy of the major league record for long balls in the month of June set by Oakland (55) in 1996. The major league mark for team homers in any month is 58. … Ubaldo Jimenez allowed one earned run and three hits over five solid innings to record the win despite issuing four walks. He was lifted for a pinch hitter in the midst of the Orioles’ big sixth inning. … Baltimore has now recorded its third winning streak of at least six games this season and improved to a season-high 16 games above .500. The Orioles’ 46-30 mark is their best after 76 games since the 1997 season when they started 50-26. … Yovani Gallardo goes to the hill on Wednesday afternoon while left-hander Christian Friedrich will start for the Padres.

 

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Which Orioles should receive 2016 All-Star Game nod?

Posted on 27 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles third baseman Manny Machado continues to lead the way at his position as Major League Baseball released the final 2016 American League All-Star voting update on Monday.

The 23-year-old leads Toronto’s Josh Donaldson by more than 600,000 votes with the voting period set to conclude on Thursday night. The All-Star Game starters, pitchers, and reserves will be announced on July 5.

Slugger Mark Trumbo is the only other Baltimore player with a realistic chance to win a starting spot via the fan vote as he ranks fifth among AL outfielders and trails Boston right fielder Mookie Betts by just over 100,000 votes for the final starting spot. Matt Wieters ranks second among AL catchers, but he trails Salvador Perez of Kansas City by more than 2.7 million votes.

Chris Davis ranks a distant third behind Eric Hosmer and Miguel Cabrera among AL first basemen and Adam Jones is 13th among AL outfielders.

With the Orioles off to an impressive 45-30 start and in first place in the AL East, a number of their players have reasonable claims to make the trip to San Diego on July 12.

Below is a look at each of the Orioles’ All-Star candidates:

3B Manny Machado
The case for: In addition to leading the voting at his position, the two-time Gold Glover ranks fourth among AL position players in wins above replacement and entered Monday fourth in average, seventh in on-base percentage, second in slugging percentage, and tied for seventh in home runs in the league.
The case against: If Machado loses the fan vote, maybe Kansas City manager Ned Yost decide to hold a grudge because of his altercation with Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura in early June?
The prediction: As a starter or not, Machado is a slam-dunk choice to make his third All-Star team.

C Matt Wieters
The case for: The 30-year-old entered Monday ranked first among AL catchers in RBIs and homers and is second behind Perez in on-base plus slugging percentage among catchers with 175 at-bats.
The case against: Wieters has a strong argument behind Perez, but you never know if another team needing a representative could squeeze him out in favor of someone like Oakland’s Stephen Vogt.
The prediction: As a three-time All-Star selection, Wieters has a good reputation around the league and should return to the Midsummer Classic next month.

1B Chris Davis
The case for: Davis leads all qualified AL first basemen in WAR and home runs, ranks second in RBIs, and is third in OPS in addition to playing really good defense this season.
The case against: Hosmer and Cabrera both have strong cases for spots and own far superior averages, and Joe Mauer could factor in as the potential lone representative of the Minnesota Twins.
The prediction: Even with his low batting average, Davis would be a sound choice as a reserve first baseman on the AL squad and will receive the second invitation to the All-Star Game of his career.

2B Jonathan Schoop
The case for: The 24-year-old entered Monday tied for third among AL second basemen in home runs and is fourth in RBIs and OPS.
The case against: Jose Altuve and Robinson Cano are legitimate AL MVP candidates so far this season and Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia are well-known veterans also sporting worthy profiles.
The prediction: Schoop has a .978 OPS in June and is deserving of recognition in a perfect world, but there’s too much strong veteran competition here to expect him to grab a reserve spot this year.

RF Mark Trumbo
The case for: The powerful right-hander entered Monday leading the majors in home runs, ranking third in the AL in RBIs, and sitting sixth among AL outfielders in OPS.
The case against: As terrific as Trumbo has been in the power department, his defense hurts his overall value while other outfielders such as Ian Desmond and George Springer are well-rounded players.
The prediction: Sabermetricians will look at an underwhelming 1.2 WAR and argue others are more deserving, but being at or near the top in traditional categories will earn Trumbo an All-Star invitation.

SP Chris Tillman
The case for: The right-hander entered Monday second in the AL with 10 wins and is tied for seventh among AL pitchers in WAR.
The case against: After back-to-back poor starts, Tillman has fallen to 15th in ERA in the AL among qualified pitchers and is tied for 12th in the league in strikeouts.
The prediction: A brilliant performance in his next start to lower his ERA from 3.52 would help his case, but he’ll be on the outside looking in with pitcher wins no longer celebrated like they once were.

RP Zach Britton
The case for: The lefty closer leads the AL with 23 saves in as many tries and is tied for first in the league among pitchers with at least 30 innings with an incredible 0.83 ERA.
The case against: Barring a dramatic collapse over the next week or closers no longer being selected, there is no reasonable case to be made against Britton being on the team for a second straight year.
The prediction: This might be the easiest call of them all to make, and that’s saying something on a club that includes one of the five best players in baseball in Machado.

RP Brad Brach
The case for: The right-handed setup man is tops among AL relievers in WAR and is 13th overall in WAR among all AL pitchers with his 1.05 ERA in 42 2/3 innings.
The case against: Non-closer relievers are beginning to receive notoriety as we saw with Darren O’Day last year, but Brach isn’t as well known as the likes of Andrew Miller and Kelvin Herrera.
The prediction: The 30-year-old has arguably been the Orioles’ most valuable reliever — maybe even more than Britton — but he’ll unfortunately be overlooked in favor of more established names in the AL.

CF Adam Jones
The case for: A five-time All-Star selection and one of baseball’s more marketable players, Jones has rebounded from a rough start to rank seventh among AL outfielders in homers and eighth in RBIs.
The case against: Even with his impressive resurgence in June, Jones ranks 14th in OPS and 17th in batting average among qualified AL outfielders.
The prediction: His popularity and the fact that he’s from San Diego make him a reasonable candidate to be included among the “Final Vote” candidates, but he’ll fall short of an outright All-Star invitation.

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Unorthodox as they might be, Orioles won’t apologize for success

Posted on 27 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles manager Buck Showalter likes to warn against overlooking an orchid when in search of a rose.

A mantra repeated often over the last several years in Baltimore, perhaps it’s never been more appropriate than now as the Orioles take a 45-30 record and a multi-game division lead out west for a nine-game road trip.

We know the starting pitching is a substantial weakness. Everyone beyond the Oriole Bird and his mom will remind you of that. It’s become the required caveat to attach when trying to compliment a club that began the 2016 season with seven straight wins and has rarely stumbled, remaining in first or second place in the AL East all season.

Perhaps our not-so-lofty preseason expectations — from media and many fans alike — have conditioned us to dwell on the negative while anticipating the fall that simply hasn’t happened despite a 4.96 starter ERA that ranked 12th in the AL entering Monday. But that mindset shouldn’t diminish the many ways in which the imperfect Orioles have been special this season.

Unorthodox as it might be, it’s working.

The Orioles have followed a blueprint echoed in every team sport by thriving at home and trying to hold their own on the road. Their 31-13 record at Oriole Park at Camden Yards is sensational, but they now begin a stretch of 16 of their next 19 on the road where they have been an underwhelming — but hardly disastrous — 14-17.

Having already stacked 45 wins in their first 75 games, merely playing .500 ball on the road is an acceptable outcome in terms of playoff aspirations. Going just three games above .500 overall the rest of the way is the simple formula for 90 wins, which puts into perspective how good the Orioles have been to this point despite their starting pitching.

Baltimore begins the week ranked second in the AL in runs, first in home runs, second in doubles, fourth in hits, third in batting average, and first in slugging percentage.

Impressive for sure, but what about that on-base percentage for all these free-swinging sluggers who lack plate discipline?

The Orioles rank second in the AL with a .332 OBP and are a respectable seventh in walks, significant improvement from each of the last three years when they ranked 13th or 14th in the AL in free passes. The additions of a few more patient hitters such as Hyun Soo Kim, Joey Rickard, and Pedro Alvarez have certainly helped, but the movement goes beyond that.

Unconventional leadoff hitter Adam Jones has already drawn 20 walks, four shy of his total from last year and more than he drew in all of 2014 when the Orioles ran away with the division. Jonathan Schoop, more of a free swinger than Jones, has two more walks than he had last year in 29 fewer plate appearances. Incremental improvement is still improvement.

That’s fine, but they still don’t play “small ball” and are too homer-happy, aren’t they?

“I don’t want them to apologize for being strong,” Showalter said. “It’s the product of a good approach and a good swing and a good process that that’s the endgame — that [the ball] goes a little further than maybe some of them do. I love how some guy scratches out a walk and maybe they bunt him over and he gets over to third and some guy hits a sac fly and it’s 1-0. Then, the [opponent’s] first two guys strike out, a guy walks, and a big hairy guy hits it in the bleachers and it’s 2-1. Boy, you worked real hard for that one run. That’s good.

“But there’s a time and place. We try to play to our team’s strength.”

The home run is unquestionably a strength as the Orioles have four hitters — Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Jones — on pace for 30 or more home runs. Schoop is currently on track for 28 and two others — Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez — aren’t far off the pace to hit 20.

With three games remaining in June, the Orioles are seven shy of the major league record for homers in a single month — the 1987 Orioles and the 1999 Seattle Mariners each hit 58 in May — and are on pace to hit 259 this season, only five shy of the major league record held by the 1997 Mariners.

But the explanation for the prosperity goes beyond the powerful offense as the Orioles displayed over the weekend by turning double plays and making sparkling defensive plays throughout the four-game sweep over Tampa Bay. A superb infield defense can go a long way in helping your questionable-at-best starting pitching to survive just long enough to turn the ball over to the bullpen.

The Orioles rank second in the majors with a 2.91 bullpen ERA, and they’ve done that without Darren O’Day for almost a month. Closer Zach Britton is 23-for-23 in save opportunities and sports a 0.83 ERA while setup man Brad Brach owns a 1.05 ERA that should also draw All-Star consideration.

The bullpen’s 253 1/3 innings rank 10th in the majors, but Showalter is better at handling a bullpen than any manager in baseball and will do whatever he can to preserve his best arms, even if that means living to fight another day during the occasional close games in which his best relievers need rest.

Kansas City won the World Series last year despite sporting a starting rotation that pitched fewer innings than any other AL club in the regular season. It’s not that great starting pitching is any less valuable these days, but teams are finding success using a collection of high-impact bullpen arms in lieu of pushing the envelope with non-elite starters going through a lineup a third or fourth time in a game. Of course, there’s a critical balance between game strategy on any given night and maintenance of your pitching health over a 162-game schedule that Showalter seems to understand better than anyone.

To be clear, the Royals’ reliance on their bullpen is not a blueprint to proudly follow as much as it’s proof that you can survive — even thrive — without having strong starting pitching.

You just have to be exceptional in other areas of the game.

And the Orioles are doing that.

Yes, they’d really like to improve their rotation and should try to over the next several weeks leading up to the trade deadline, but the Orioles have been so good in other ways that it’s becoming more difficult to doubt their ability to remain in contention, especially with their divisional rivals having their own flaws.

It may go against conventional wisdom, but the Orioles won’t apologize as they keep winning.

The starting pitching may not be a rose, but the rest is blooming like an orchid as we approach the halfway point of the season.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 12-5 win over Rays

Posted on 26 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 12-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 75th game of the 2016 season.

1st Chris Davis was nearly given the day off against Tampa Bay’s Drew Smyly, but he instead served as the designated hitter and clubbed a grand slam to left field in the bottom of the first inning. The big blow came on a 1-2 fastball after the Rays lefty had made Davis look foolish on three consecutive sliders to begin the at-bat. It was the seventh grand slam of Davis’ career and his first since Aug. 15 of last season. The slugger added a walk and a single and scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the eighth as the Orioles busted the game wide open.

2ndAdam Jones continues to thrive in the leadoff spot, collecting a walk and four hits to elevate his season average to .265 after a difficult beginning to 2016. The center fielder bunted for a hit to score Nolan Reimold on a safety squeeze in the top of the second. Jones’ walk was his 20th of the season, which is just four shy of his total from 2015 and exceeds the 19 he drew in 2014. He has hit safely in 14 of his last 15 games and has posted a .369 average with three doubles, six homers, 16 RBIs, and a 1.098 on-base plus slugging percentage over that stretch.

3rdMark Trumbo provided the pick-me-up the Orioles needed after Tyler Wilson was unable to protect a five-run lead as he hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning to increase the lead to 8-5. On the same day fans at Camden Yards received a Trumbo t-shirt giveaway, the 30-year-old hit his 22nd long ball of the year to match his total from 2015 in 224 fewer plate appearances. He added an RBI single in the eighth.

HomeDylan Bundy tossed three scoreless innings in relief of Wilson, striking out four and allowing two hits to ease the load on the rest of the bullpen. The young right-hander threw a season-high 57 pitches. … Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado each had three-hit performances with the former hitting his 13th home run of the season and the latter scoring three times. … The Orioles completed their first ever four-game sweep of the Rays to improve to a season-best 15 games above .500. Baltimore also increased its lead in the American League East to a 2016-high four games over second-place Boston. … The Orioles will spend their off-day in San Diego before beginning a brief two-game set Tuesday night as Ubaldo Jimenez takes the hill against Padres right-hander Erik Johnson.

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