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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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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-3 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 25 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday 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 72nd game of the 2016 season.

1st Chris Davis not only provided the go-ahead two-run single to right-center in the bottom of the sixth inning, but the first baseman also broke up Matt Moore’s perfect game with one out in the fifth and eventually scored the Orioles’ first run of the night on J.J. Hardy’s soft single to right. Davis moved into sole possession of 17th place on Baltimore’s all-time RBI list with 469, surpassing Miguel Tejada.

2ndAdam Jones started the Orioles’ deciding four-run rally in the sixth with his 14th home run of the season to narrow the deficit to one against Moore and the Rays. After homering just once in his first 26 games of the season, the veteran center fielder has hit 13 over his last 42 contests and five in his last 11 games.

3rdManny Machado put an exclamation point on the Orioles’ offensive awakening with a home run to right in the bottom of the eighth. It was his 18th long ball of the season and his second hit of the night as he also singled and scored in the pivotal sixth inning.

HomeYovani Gallardo got off to a miserable start by allowing three earned runs, three extra-base hits, and two walks in the opening inning, but the right-hander didn’t allow any runs after that and managed to complete 5 1/3 innings to keep the Orioles in the game and save the bullpen from working an incredible amount. … Rookie Ashur Tolliver earned his first major league win after tossing 2/3 inning with one hit and one walk allowed. … Asked to protect a 5-3 lead in the seventh, Odrisamer Despaigne pitched a perfect inning with a strikeout. … Baltimore improved to 28-5 in games in which Brad Brach has pitched this season after the right-hander tossed a scoreless eighth to lower his season ERA to 1.08. … Zach Britton converted his 22nd save in as many tries to continue his terrific season. … Friday marked the Orioles’ 23rd comeback victory of the 2016 season. … Kevin Gausman takes the hill for Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader while Tampa Bay gives the ball to right-hander Matt Andriese. Chris Tillman is scheduled to start the nightcap against fellow righty Jake Odorizzi.

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Back from suspension, Machado thinking about big picture

Posted on 24 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Back from his four-game suspension, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado acknowledged that some time off may not have been the worst thing for him in the big picture.

Despite no longer being the active major-league leader in consecutive games played when his 229-game streak ended on Sunday, Machado hopes to be able to make up for the missed games in October as Baltimore entered the weekend atop the American League East.

“I feel real good. Obviously, the days off really helped — I’m not going to lie,” said Machado, who was batting third in Friday’s series opener against Tampa Bay. “It takes a little pounding on your body, and I haven’t had some days off since the offseason. It was pretty good to just stay off my legs for a little but, but, at the same time, I was working. I was in the weight room and in the batting cages. I want to stay fresh.”

The Orioles went 2-2 in Machado’s absence and return to having a 25-man roster after grinding out several days with a short bench and less roster flexibility. However, Buck Showalter was sure not to overstate the importance of the 23-year-old’s return.

Though Machado has become the Orioles’ best player over the last couple seasons, the manager wasn’t about to express any sense of great relief to have the All-Star infielder back in the lineup. That would be a slight to the role his many teammates have played in getting off to a 41-30 start in 2016.

“If we’re depending on one player, we’re not going to get this done,” Showalter said. “Nobody liked it, and you just don’t dwell on it. I think that happens a lot during the course of a season. I’d like to know how many times we’re going to have the nine guys we thought we’d have actually on the field the whole season. It doesn’t happy very often.”

With Machado returning to the lineup and shortstop J.J. Hardy back after a seven-week absence due to a broken foot, the Orioles are moving closer to being at full strength for the first time since early May. They’ll need health and good fortune in their quest to qualify for the postseason for the third time in five years.

Machado spoke about wanting even more than that on Friday afternoon.

“My mindset is to take this team somewhere we’ve never been in a long time,” Machado said. “I’ve got to come back hot. This team is playing well.”

Joseph nearing return

Having already played in six minor-league games as a designated hitter, Caleb Joseph will catch in a game for the first time since May 30 in Frederick on Monday, the final step in his return from a serious testicular injury sustained from taking a foul ball to the crotch.

The 30-year-old said he has already cleared most mental hurdles by catching bullpen sessions and dealing with pitches in the dirt while wearing a new cup model he describes as “virtually indestructible.” One would think the fear of being hit with a foul tip might be another challenge to overcome, but Joseph said it’s impossible to react to such a play to even worry about flinching or not doing what he needs to do behind the plate.

“You cannot defend those; they are freak accidents,” said Joseph, who was not allowed to catch in a game for four weeks after undergoing emergency surgery. “If there was one thing I did or didn’t do that caused the incident, we might be looking at a different situation in terms of getting over it mentally. But it’s part of the game and you know that going into it. When you go back there, there is always a chance, so you need to go back there and be as protected as you can do to your job.”

Odds & ends

Standout reliever Darren O’Day felt good after throwing off a half-mound at Camden Yards on Thursday and will throw off the regular mound on Saturday as he continues to work his way back from a hamstring injury. … Long reliever Vance Worley (groin strain) will pitch in a rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie on Saturday. … Left-hander Brian Duensing underwent successful surgery to have two cartilage chips removed from his left elbow on Friday and will report to Sarasota to begin a rehab that could have him ready to return by early August. … Lefty T.J. McFarland was in the Baltimore clubhouse on Friday and is expected to be activated as the club’s 26th player for Saturday’s doubleheader. … Pitching coach Dave Wallace will be away for the next few days while bullpen coach Dom Chiti takes his place and minor-league infield coordinator Dave Anderson coaches in the bullpen. … The Orioles will travel to San Diego after Sunday’s game in order to benefit from a full day off without travel on Monday.

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Orioles stats to ponder in late June

Posted on 23 June 2016 by Luke Jones

As we rapidly approach the halfway point in the 2016 season, below are some statistics to ponder as the first-place Orioles prepare for a four-game weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

1. Baltimore is thriving at Camden Yards and against sub-.500 opponents.

“Protect your home field and beat the teams you’re supposed to beat” is the oft-quoted formula for winning teams in any sport, and the Orioles have fit that description beautifully with a 27-13 home record and a 17-7 mark against clubs under .500 entering Thursday. Their .675 winning percentage at home ranks third in the AL behind only Kansas City and Texas and fourth in the majors. Twenty of the Orioles’ next 23 games come against teams who were .500 or worse entering Thursday, but only seven games during that stretch will be played at Camden Yards, making it critical for Baltimore to improve upon its underwhelming 14-17 road record.

2. Despite their reputation, the Orioles lineup is walking at a respectable rate.

We’ve heard plenty about their free-swinging ways and lack of plate discipline over the last several years, but the Orioles quietly entered Thursday sporting the third-best on-base percentage (.328) in the AL and ranked a respectable seventh in walks. This represents dramatic improvement from 2015 when they finished 12th in OBP (.307) and 13th in walks in the AL. Baltimore’s 8.1 percent walk rate is slightly above the league average (8.0) and is substantially higher than last year (7.0 percent) or even 2014 (6.5 percent). Patient approaches from the likes of Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Pedro Alvarez aren’t surprising, but even free-swinging hitters such as Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop have shown some modest improvement in the walk department.

3. The bullpen workload is as concerning as it looks.

We know the starting pitching has been ugly with a 4.93 ERA ranking 13th in the AL, but the bullpen has held up remarkably well with a 3.07 ERA that ranks behind only Kansas City in the AL and fourth in the majors. The problem is the heavier workload as relievers have pitched 38.2 percent of the Orioles’ innings compared to 36.1 percent last year and 34.7 percent in 2014. June has been particularly taxing with the bullpen handling 41 percent of the innings after handling 40 percent in April and a more-reasonable 34.4 percent in May. With limited trade chips in their organization, the Orioles might want to consider adding another impact bullpen arm to go with Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens. That would likely be easier to acquire and might provide similar value to the kind of starting pitcher the Orioles can realistically afford with few attractive assets to offer in a trade.

4. Hyun Soo Kim and Jones are at opposite ends of the spectrum for batting average on balls put in play.

Both have had their best months of the season in June, but Kim is sporting a .389 BABIP — fifth highest in the majors among those with 120 or more plate appearances — compared to Jones’ .261 mark this season. The 2016 league average mark has been .298 and BABIP typically normalizes for players over time. The South Korean left fielder has been an important contributor, but his 59.4 percent ground-ball rate leads the team and will unsurprisingly make it difficult for him to sustain his .339 average over time, especially if more teams begin successfully shifting on him. The good news is that Kim has the fourth-lowest soft-contact rate on the club, which should help more of those grounders find the outfield for hits. Meanwhile, Jones owns a career .309 BABIP and is sporting his best hard-contact rate since 2013, indications that he should expect a much better second half after dealing with an early-season rib issue and some tough luck at the plate.

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Short in bullpen, Orioles recall right-hander Oliver Drake on Tuesday

Posted on 21 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Already playing with a 24-man roster in the midst of Manny Machado’s suspension, the Orioles couldn’t afford to be a man short in the bullpen with lefty Brian Duensing dealing with an elbow problem.

As a result, Baltimore recalled right-handed relief pitcher Oliver Drake from Triple-A Norfolk prior to Tuesday’s series opener with the San Diego Padres. To make room on the active roster, veteran infielder Paul Janish was outrighted to Norfolk and will decide over the next few days whether to accept the assignment or to refuse and become a free agent.

The move opens a spot on the 40-man roster, an interesting development with manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles still weighing their options for Wednesday’s start.

Showalter said Duensing was having his elbow examined Tuesday afternoon after the Orioles were made aware of the issue early in Monday night’s makeup game against Texas. His absence would leave the Orioles without a left-hander beyond closer Zach Britton in the bullpen, but Showalter noted that both Drake and right-hander Brad Brach are effective against lefty bats.

Named the International League Pitcher of the Week on Monday, Drake has performed very well for the Tides, posting a 2.02 ERA with 10 saves over 27 games this season. The 29-year-old hadn’t surrendered an earned run over his last 14 innings, totaling 25 strikeouts over that stretch.

Thanks in large part to his effective splitter, left-handed hitters were batting just .133 against Drake this season.

Drake made his major league debut for Baltimore last May and posted a 2.87 ERA in 13 appearances as a rookie. Right-handers posted a .324 average against him while lefty bats sported a .167 clip in 29 plate appearances.

The 33-year-old Janish went 6-for-31 with a double and three runs scored in 14 games with the Orioles this season. Norfolk infielder Sharlon Schoop, the older brother of Jonathan Schoop, remains on the “taxi squad” in case the Orioles need an infielder for Wednesday’s game.

NOTES: In the latest American League All-Star game voting update, Machado continues to lead the way among third basemen. Mark Trumbo is fourth among outfielders, Matt Wieters second among catchers, and Chris Davis third among first basemen. Adam Jones is 13th in the AL outfielder voting. … Showalter said there are as many as five candidates in play to make Wednesday’s start. The in-house options would presumably be relievers Odrisamer Despaigne and Ubaldo Jimenez, but their availability was dependent on how Tuesday’s game played out. … The Baltimore bullpen entered Tuesday ranked second in the majors with a 3.00 ERA and is tied for 10th in the majors in innings pitched.

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