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Machado

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Machado: Cornerstone of Baltimore’s Roster for the Next Decade

Posted on 08 July 2013 by benheck

Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado just celebrated his 21st birthday on Saturday, yet he’s already considered to be the next big thing in Baltimore. And with good reason, too.

Machado, selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft, started out in Double-A Bowie at the beginning of last season after spending all of 2011 in Single-A Delmarva and Single-A+ Frederick.

While in Bowie in 2012, Machado played 109 games at shortstop, hitting 11 homers, batting in 59 runs with 13 stolen bases and an average of .266.

As an intern for Scout.com covering the Baysox last summer, I was around him in the clubhouse after nearly every home game, and let me just say he didn’t act like a 19-year old. Had you not been aware of his backstory, it’s likely that you would have thought Machado were a seasoned veteran.

With the O’s making a push towards the postseason in the second half of 2012, Machado received a surprise call-up from Manager Buck Showalter, skipping Triple-A Norfolk altogether.

While many saw the early-August call-up as a mistake, and that it could end up ruining the progress the now-20-year old Machado had made all season, it was clear that Machado would be able to adapt to the Major League level quickly.

Primarily a shortstop throughout high school and the minors, Buck switched the youngster to the hot corner upon his August 9, 2012 ML debut with the O’s. Considering J.J. Hardy was at short, and the inconsistency the Orioles had been experiencing at third base throughout the season, the move would be beneficial despite the risk involved.

In his 51 games to finish out the 2012 campaign, Machado made an impact in both the batter’s box and in the field. His glove, not his bat, may be what benefited the Orioles the most during the final stretch of the regular season. Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds struggled to stay consistent with their gloves while playing third, but Machado came in and made a near-flawless transition from short to third.

Not only did he handle the transition really well, but it also gave Baltimore an everyday third baseman. Prior to Machado’s call-up, Baltimore had started five different players at third––Reynolds, Betemit, Ryan Flaherty, Robert Andino and Steven Tolleson.

His 3 HRs and 7 RBIs in his first four starts in August gave O’s fans something to get excited about, and the energy he has brought with him to the Major League squad is priceless.

Machado struggled to produce at the plate in his six postseason games (3/19, 1 HR, 2 RBIs, 6 Ks, .158 BA), but being able to shake off the nerves and put some postseason experience under his belt after his first season could prove vital down the road.

Entering his first full season in 2013, Machado has taken his game to a new level through the first three-plus months of the season. There’s been no signs of a sophomore slump for Manny, as he’s been selected to his first career AL All-Star team as a reserve.

Starting all 89 of Baltimore’s games at third base this season, Manny leads the majors in at bats (382), doubles (39) and is second in hits (119) behind Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera. In the American League, he leads in Defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) with 2.6, and his current .312 batting average is well above his career average in the minors.

Not known as a power hitter, Machado has just 13 career homers in his 606 plate appearances, yet he’s more valuable to this team than the rest of Baltimore’s lineup. Especially considering what the Orioles are currently paying him––obviously a contract extension could be in Machado’s near future. Perhaps the biggest adjustment made this season, aside from moving McLouth to lead-off, could be bumping Machado up to the 2-spot in the order. There’s a shot that Manny could push 80-90 runs batted in this season while batting ahead of Davis and Jones.

Manny’s production has been much more than what has been expected this early in his career, but the best part about his game is his play-making ability at the hot corner and the excitement and youth he brings to the clubhouse. You can expect more and more of this over the next decade, as he’s already drawn comparisons to a much-younger Alex Rodriguez––pre-Yankee days, of course.

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Orioles well-represented in All-Star Game, including three starters

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Orioles well-represented in All-Star Game, including three starters

Posted on 06 July 2013 by Ryan Chell

Manny Machado turned 21 Saturday, and he received the perfect birthday gift from the Oriole and baseball fans out there.

His first All-Star appearance.

Machado, the Orioles young spark at 3B, was named an AL All-Star Saturday as a reserve.

“I mean, I worked hard in the off-season to set my goals, and obviously for this, to make the All-Star Game and the playoffs as a team,” Machado told MASNSports. “You really don’t anticipate it until it happens. Now, it’s here. I’m going to be an All-Star. That’s pretty great, pretty exciting to say.”

In just his second season in the majors, Machado is currently hitting.316 with 6 HRs, 42 RBIs and leading the league in doubles.

His defense also has been noted, as he has just six errors in 270 chances at the hot corner.

Joining Machado in New York on July 16th will be 1B Chris Davis, SS JJ Hardy and OF Adam Jones.

Even better? Those three joining Machado will be starters for the AL.

With three starters, it is the biggest representation among the 1st team for the Orioles since 1997 when Roberto Alomar, Cal Ripken, and Brady Anderson took the field first for the American League.

No other AL Team has more than one starter.

The last time the Orioles had four All-Stars was 2005, when 2B Brian Roberts, SS Miguel Tejada, CL BJ Ryan, and 3B Melvin Mora all went to the Midsummer Classic-with Mora as a reserve.

Davis, who led the MLB in voting, is a legitimate MVP candidate as he is leading the majors in home runs with 33.

“It still feels good,” Davis told reporters postgame. “I think anytime you are getting that recognition not only from your fan base but from everybody across the nation, I think it feels good to know that people are watching. I think what we did last year toward the end of the season really kind of opened people’s eyes to the fact that there’s some good baseball being played in Baltimore.

Davis will be going to his first ever All-Star game. Along with his 33 HRs, Davis is also 2nd in the majors in RBIs to last year MVP and Triple Crown candidate, Miguel Cabrera.

Davis is also sixth in the majors with his .324 batting mark and is 14th in hits with 102.

OF Adam Jones, who will be going to his second consecutive All-Star game and his third in four years, is currently hitting .287 with 15 HRs and 59 RBIs for Buck Showalter’s squad.

Despite a threat from Angels OF Mike Trout, Jones was the leading vote getter among AL OFs. It marks his first ever start.

SS JJ Hardy makes the team as a two-time All-Star-his first as an Oriole and as a member of the American League.

It’s also his first ever start; he last made the NL All-Star team in 2007 as a member of the Brewers but lost out on a starting bid to Jose Reyes.

“It means a lot,” he said. “I’m very appreciative of all the fans in Baltimore and everyone else that voted. It means a lot to me.

Hardy led all AL SS in home runs (15) and RBIs (46) and has a .980 fielding percentage in 350 chances.

Not making the team was catcher Matt Wieters, a two-time All-Star and OF Nick Markakis. OF Nate McLouth had consideration for some of the voting process but also will not be headed to Citi Field come July 16th.

The game will air on Fox.

Follow WNST for all your Orioles news! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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Machado’s key play allows Orioles to turn tables on Yankees

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Machado’s key play allows Orioles to turn tables on Yankees

Posted on 29 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — Manny Machado knew he was taking a major chance.

Tagging up from second base with two outs and the Orioles trailing the New York Yankees by a run in the bottom of the sixth inning Friday night seemed hardly worth the risk to only move up 90 feet with your cleanup hitter coming to the plate.

Conventional baseball wisdom screams that you never make the final out at third base, but sometimes you need to push the envelope against an ace like CC Sabathia, who hadn’t allowed a hit through the first five innings. Manager Buck Showalter said afterward that you can’t become “a prisoner to the book” in those rare moments as Machado followed his two-run double earlier in the inning with the aggressive decision to move up to third.

“It’s a do-or-die play. It’s something that Buck allows us to do — to play our game,” Machado said. “If you have a shot for it, go for it. I wanted to take the extra base.”

It was an eyebrow-raising decision that paid off as Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner made the catch flat-footed on J.J. Hardy’s fly ball to medium deep left-center and Machado slid into third ahead of the throw, moving 90 feet closer to home plate. Moments later, Adam Jones sent a dribbler down the first-base line for an infield single, allowing Machado to cross the plate with the tying run.

The 20-year-old wouldn’t have scored on the play had he not made the bold baserunning decision.

The good fortune was a case of preparation meeting opportunity as the Orioles tied the game and ultimately completed a 4-3 comeback win to open a three-game set and move a game ahead of the Yankees in the loss column for second place in the American League East.

Machado’s play was reminiscent of the countless times the Yankees would take advantage of a moment of weakness, with shortstop Derek Jeter headlining the list of players to do it against the Orioles time after time. Like clockwork, the underdog Orioles would work to build an early lead in many games prior to last year, only to see the Yankees chip away and ultimately surge ahead in the late innings for a demoralizing loss.

Of course, the Orioles have no reason to be intimidated by the Yankees these days as the division rivals are tied 15-15 since the start of the 2012 season, including the five games played in the American League Division Series last October. Friday night was the latest example of Baltimore turning the tables against an injury-plagued Yankees club.

“I tell guys all the time, if you feel something, you’ve got a good feel, go for it,” said Showalter about Machado’s tag-up. “I have the other part of it after it’s over, but I’m going to be upset if you feel something and don’t go for it. That’s the type of intelligent recklessness you have to have.”

Nate McLouth delivered the big blow an inning later as he homered over the right-field scoreboard to give the Orioles the lead for the first time all night. The game-winning homer brought back memories of last year’s ALDS Game 5 when he hit a potential game-tying drive off Sabathia in the sixth inning that was ruled foul despite the Orioles’ claims that it nicked the right-field foul pole at Yankee Stadium.

The left fielder wasn’t interested in revisiting that call but was asked whether he thought back to that moment last October as he was rounding first base.

“I wasn’t out of batter’s box before I thought that,” McLouth said. “Off the bat, I knew it had the distance. It stayed true, it stayed straight, and I was happy about that.”

The Orioles were also happy with the relief work of rookie Kevin Gausman, who followed T.J. McFarland’s rough start with 4 1/3 shutout innings to keep the early deficit at 3-0 and make the eventual comeback possible. The 22-year-old earned his first major league victory in the process.

Tommy Hunter followed Gausman’s effort with two dominating innings to earn his second career save as closer Jim Johnson received a second night off after working three consecutive games earlier in the week.

It wasn’t a dominating performance by any means, but the Orioles were just a little bit better — possibly as little as 90 extra feet in the case of Machado’s sixth-inning decision.

An early deficit, a critical play or two to orchestrate a comeback, and rock-solid bullpen work to seal the victory. The Yankees painfully showed them that sequence for so many years, reminding that it’s often the little things that lead to big wins.

But the Orioles quickly reminded everyone that even a victory over Sabathia is only as significant as the next day.

“It’s big to win against their No. 1 in the first game of the series,” Machado said, “but it’s a new game tomorrow.”

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D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction Five Questions for Friday

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D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction Five Questions for Friday

Posted on 20 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

As we try out a new segment “Five Questions for Friday” on The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction, I wanted to pick readers’ brains on the following topics.

(Update: Thanks to those who chimed in via Twitter, Facebook, and in the comments section below. You can catch Friday morning’s segment HERE.)

I’ve offered my own thoughts on each question and invite you to offer your answers in the comments selection below and I’ll share your insights on Friday morning.

1. If you’re only able to keep two moving forward, who would you choose among Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, and Chris Davis?

This question was brought up during Thursday morning’s show by Jonathan in Essex and it’s an intriguing one to ponder, particularly when you acknowledge the potential cost that each of these three young players will carry in the future.

Wieters and Davis are both scheduled to become free agents after 2015 while Machado isn’t currently scheduled to see free agency until after the 2018 campaign.

Machado is the easy first choice and Wieters would have been my second pick in spring training, but my answer may be changing as the season progresses and we see Chris Davis continue an MVP-caliber season. Even if this is Davis’ career year and he settles in as a first baseman capable of simply hitting 30 to 40 home runs in the typical year, he brings the type of power only a handful of players in the major leagues can provide.

However, Wieters’ defense and ability to handle a flawed pitching staff is a major reason why the Orioles have become a winning franchise over the last two years. He never did become Johnny Bench offensively, but he’s still a good offensive catcher with exceptional defensive skills, a rare combination among backstops in the game today.

If I’m choosing now, I’ll keep Machado and Davis, but a big reason why is the Orioles’ window for signing Wieters to a long-term extension continuing to close. The catcher will be 29 when he hits free agency after 2015 and will be looking for an expensive and lengthy contract, which is something I’m not crazy about doing for a catcher who will have much tread worn away from the tires by then.

2. After Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta, which player currently on the roster will be the most productive receiver for the Ravens in 2013?

Smith and Pitta are the easy choices for seeing a spike in production following the departure of Anquan Boldin, but it remains to be seen who else will emerge to become a bigger part of the passing game.

I’m not sold on Jacoby Jones suddenly become a consistent wide receiver in his seventh year despite the big-play ability, so I’ll go with Tandon Doss finally figuring it out in his third year to become a respectable contributor. Anyone in the media will tell you how well Doss has practiced over the last couple years, but limited opportunities and nagging injuries have prevented him from becoming a household name.

Many have written him off after being targeted only 20 times in his career and his disappointing showing in the wild-card round against Indianapolis, but he fits the closest profile to what the Ravens received from Boldin over the last three years. And he’s gotten stronger and quicker since entering the league as a fourth-round pick out of Indiana.

Of course, don’t forget the possibility of Ray Rice becoming an even bigger factor out of the backfield as a receiver, especially with the power-running ability of Bernard Pierce likely cutting into his total number of carries.

3. Of the four Orioles currently in line to be starters in July’s All-Star Game, how would you rank them in order of being most deserving? Which Orioles belong in the Midsummer Classic and which ones don’t?

Of the four players slated to be starters as of the last voting update, Davis is clearly the most deserving. After that, I’d be inclined to go with Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Nick Markakis in order from most to least deserving of the nod.

Jones continues to be very productive in a down year for American League outfielders. Meanwhile, Hardy is hitting .311 with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs since May 1 and continues to be an excellent defensive shortstop.

Markakis is a pick based mostly on the outstanding voting efforts of Orioles fans, but little about his solid-but-unspectacular season really screams All-Star starter if you’re looking at his numbers objectively. He ranks 15th among AL outfielders with a .761 OPS this year.

Aside from Davis, no Orioles player is more deserving of an All-Star nod than Machado, who leads the major leagues in hits and is on pace to set a new major-league record for doubles as he already has 33 in 73 games. It’s understandable that he ranks second behind 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera for third basemen, but it will truly be a shame if he’s left off the All-Star team.

Wieters currently ranks second among AL catchers and will earn consideration because of his defense and reputation, but his offensive numbers don’t hold up as well this year with a .702 OPS, which ranks behind Joe Mauer, Carlos Santana, Jason Castro, Ryan Doumit, and Salvador Perez among AL backstops.

4. Because everyone else has asked the question and I want to address it once before moving on, so who would be your four choices for the Ravens’ hypothetical version of Mt. Rushmore?

I suppose Pro Football Talk should receive the blame for getting this discussion rolling for the 32 NFL teams this spring, but I find it difficult to come up with a definitive foursome for a franchise that only has 17 seasons of history to its name.

The first three are elementary with Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, and Ed Reed, but choosing a fourth feels forced. Super Bowl XLVII most valuable player Joe Flacco would be my tentative selection for now, but Flacco has too much football ahead of him to definitively etch him in stone as one of the four greatest in franchise history.

Still, I’d include him before the likes of Ray Rice, Jamal Lewis, Matt Stover, and Terrell Suggs based on the first five years of his NFL career.

The truth is these types of exercises work much better for teams with extensive histories and it feels artificial for even successful teams with shorter histories such as the Ravens, let alone teams lacking any substantial prosperity like Jacksonville or Carolina.

5. What is your favorite superhero movie?

Yes, I realize this isn’t a sports-related question, but I thought I’d throw in a non-sports topic to discuss and I plan to see “Man of Steel” over the weekend.

The newest attempt at a Superman movie has received mixed reviews, but I’ll freely admit to being a nerd for superhero movies such as the Batman trilogy and saw “Iron Man 3″ in the theater earlier this spring.

“The Dark Knight” goes down as my all-time favorite superhero movie, but I also found “The Dark Knight Rises” to be much better than many gave it credit for as I thoroughly enjoyed Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane. It was impossible to match the psychotic performance of the late Heath Ledger as the Joker in the previous movie, but Hardy gave a more than respectable effort playing the homicidal man behind the mask.

How would you answer the five questions posed? Comment below and see if your answers make the cut for Friday’s show.

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Who’s your favorite in the AL East with July right around the corner?

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Who’s your favorite in the AL East with July right around the corner?

Posted on 18 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

The American League East is what we thought it would be — sort of.

The Orioles entered play on Tuesday trailing the first-place Red Sox by only two games and fourth-place Tampa Bay was only five games back in what’s been a very competitive division. The biggest surprise might be the unexpected flip-flop of Boston and Toronto as the Red Sox were regarded by many as the weak link in the division and the Blue Jays were the winners of the offseason after a plethora of big acquisitions that haven’t paid off to this point in the season.

As we approach the midway point of the season, it’s clear to see the Orioles’ biggest flaw is the starting pitching that’s posted a 4.80 earned run average, ranking 13th in the AL. The trickle-down effect on the bullpen has helped contribute to some regression that was expected anyway after a remarkable 2012 performance.

While there is some potential for improvement from within with left-hander Wei-Yin Chen on track to return by early July, questions will remain when Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have been the only consistent pitchers in the rotation. Perhaps Zach Britton and Kevin Gausman can provide a boost in the second half similar to the one offered by Tillman and Gonzalez last season, but most believe the Orioles must address their starting pitching if they’re to give themselves a good chance to win the division.

However, flaws and concerns exist with each of the other four clubs in the division as well.

As surprising as the Red Sox have been sitting in first place under new manager John Farrell, Boston is currently dealing with concerns in their starting rotation as Jon Lester has been ineffective and Clay Buchholz is dealing with a neck injury. The Red Sox lead the majors in runs scored, but they’ve also had concerns in the bullpen that could come back to haunt them in the second half.

The Yankees’ early-season fountain of youth has seemingly dried up as their offense ranks 10th in the AL in runs scored and is still without Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and has already lost Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson to the disabled list a second time. New York’s starting pitching is keeping them competitive, but you wonder whether so many absences are finally catching up as the Orioles recently moved into second place.

Tampa Bay might be the most intriguing of the AL East clubs — and not because they were my preseason pick to win the division — as the Rays lineup has been much better than anyone expected (fifth in the AL in runs). However, the pitching has been a major disappointment, ranking 11th in the AL in ERA as All-Star closer Fernando Rodney has been a shell of his 2012 form and 2012 Cy Young Award winner David Price is on the DL. You’d have to think the Rays will pitch better as the year progresses, but it’s difficult imagining the lineup continuing to produce in the second half like it has.

Toronto has played better of late after winning six straight games, but the Blue Jays lineup ranks eighth in the AL in runs scored and 14th in team ERA as starters R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson haven’t lived up to expectations. The Blue Jays face an uphill climb, but they are capable of holding their own against the rest of the division as we’ve seen in their games with the Orioles.

Based on what we’ve seen over the course of the season, it’s difficult not to like Boston’s chances because of the relative consistency they’ve received from their offense and starting pitching, and Tampa Bay is also dangerous if it can get Price back while maintaining a similar level of offensive production. However, the Orioles might just be good enough to prevail in the AL East with a very good lineup, excellent defense, a solid bullpen, and even mediocre starting pitching.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still try to upgrade by the trade deadline.

Seeing doubles

Third baseman Manny Machado entered Tuesday’s game with a major-league-leading 32 doubles in 71 games and is on pace to hit 73 this season, which would break the major-league record of 67, set by Earl Webb of Boston in 1931. The franchise record is held by Brian Roberts, who hit 56 back in 2009.

At one point do we simply start referring to doubles as “machados?”

The soon-to-be 21-year-old entered Tuesday also leading the majors in hits (99) and multi-hit games (29). Over his last 51 games, Machado has 24 multi-hit games and is batting .346 with 26 doubles, two triples, three homers, 34 runs scored, and 26 RBIs in his last 51 games.

Machado hasn’t hit a home run since May 5, but it’s amazing to think what type of home-run potential he might have as he gets stronger and simply puts a bit more loft on some of those line drives as he continues to develop as a hitter. Even though he’s on pace to break a doubles record that’s more than 80 years old, Machado may only be scratching the surface of his potential as a run producer and power hitter.

With Machado leading the majors in doubles and Chris Davis hitting more homers (24) than anyone in the big leagues, they can become just the second pair of teammates to lead the majors in doubles and home runs in the same season. According to STATS, the only other time it’s happened was 1927 when Babe Ruth led the majors in homers (60) and Lou Gehrig in doubles (52).

The New York Yankees went on to win the World Series that year.

Suffering at second base

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You couldn’t ask for a better year for Dad

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You couldn’t ask for a better year for Dad

Posted on 16 June 2013 by Luke Jones

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person; he believed in me.” – Jim Valvano

As we spent the day honoring our fathers, grandfathers, or any man who’s embraced the enormous responsibility of being called “Dad,” it’s easy to reflect on what was a great year for Dad if he’s a Baltimore sports fan.

Perhaps you were lucky enough to cherish the Orioles’ first playoff appearance in 15 years with the man who held your hand as he walked you through the gate at Memorial Stadium or Oriole Park at Camden Yards countless times or sat down to watch with you on TV or just happened to put the ballgame on the radio as he drove you nowhere in particular. Witnessing a raucous and packed Camden Yards wave rally towels for Games 1 and 2 of the American League Division Series was as good as it gets after 14 seasons largely filled with misery and eventual apathy.

The Ravens’ second Super Bowl championship undoubtedly meant more if you can remember your father crying when the Colts skipped town in the middle of the night or you spent a large portion of your childhood wondering with Dad if Baltimore would ever get another NFL team as autumn Sundays were all too quiet for far too many years. Whether you made the once-in-a-lifetime trip to New Orleans or celebrated at home with the rest of Charm City as Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and John Harbaugh raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the feeling accompanying that bear hug, high five, or glowing smile will never be forgotten by those fortunate enough to share them with their fathers.

It was the perfect way to bid farewell to Lewis, who was the omnipresent figure teaching Baltimore to “raise the roof” and to remember what it felt like to have an NFL team in the infancy of the franchise and making an improbable return from injury for the “last ride” of his career, entering the pantheon of the city’s all-time best sports figures over the last 17 years.

The last 12 months have been a wonderful time to spend with Dad, but many weren’t able to share those special memories with the man holding so much influence over not just their Baltimore sports fandom but in other aspects of their lives. For those individuals, his presence may no longer be here physically, but his spirit lives on through every pitch and each snap, the cheers and moments of disappointment, and with each breath his son or daughter takes.

I once heard someone say that when you lose your father at a young age, you spend the rest of your life trying to make him proud. Truer words have never been spoken if you’ve found yourself in that unenviable position, regardless of how old you might be.

Sunday marked the ninth Father’s Day I’ve spent without my dad, but his smile and embrace were felt as strongly as ever while watching what transpired on the Baltimore sports scene over the last year.

Many landing in this wonderful but difficult business of sports media will point to the influence their father had in sharing a love for sports, writing, or both at an early age. My dad didn’t live long enough to see me take the unique path to where I am today that began with five rewarding years in public education, continued with a unique media competition at WNST.net, and eventually turned into a full-time opportunity to cover the local teams with which I grew up. But he’s the biggest reason why I’m doing what I love today and he – along with my mom, of course – was my biggest fan in whatever I tried to accomplish.

I miss his physical presence and voice every day after nearly nine years without him, but I know he’s been right there with me along the way, starting with the first Ravens game I attended without him in 2004 when I sobbed uncontrollably just six days after he died – the emotion came immediately after Reed returned an interception 106 yards for a touchdown in the closing seconds to wrap up a victory against Cleveland — and continuing each time I walk into the press box or cover another training camp practice in the sweltering heat of Owings Mills in August.

Your perspective changes when you work in media as you get to know athletes and coaches – for better or worse – and remember the obligatory rule of no cheering in the press box. You have a job to do, so the manner in which you watch and enjoy games changes from your previous experiences as a fan. What was once only a passion becomes a profession, with responsibilities that accompany such an awesome job.

But it doesn’t change how you feel inside, especially when you had the kind of relationship I enjoyed with my father through the first 21 years of my life. There isn’t a time that I’m walking to my car after a late night at Camden Yards or an afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium in which I don’t think of Dad, silently asking him what he thought of the game.

I can almost hear his opinions on Flacco, Harbaugh, Adam Jones, and Manny Machado even though each of those individuals came along years after his passing. And I know I’m not alone in sharing the sentiment that my late father has enjoyed the best seat in the house over this last year in particular.

What a year it was, Dad.

As the Orioles were on the verge of clinching their first postseason berth since 1997, one of the most unique scenes of the year occurred on the final home date of the regular season. Moments after a win over the Boston Red Sox, manager Buck Showalter and his club of talented but unproven players mixed with a few journeymen stood on the field watching a game between the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels on the video board, with the outcome determining whether the Orioles would officially clinch a spot that afternoon or would need to wait a little longer.

It was a unique scene in which players and coaches transformed into fans just like the 41,000 gathered at the ballpark that afternoon. And it was a moment that brought a lump in my throat and moisture in my eyes as I thought of the countless games at the ballpark with my dad, who served as an usher for nine years at Memorial Stadium and was with me for virtually every game I attended through 2004.

I could remember the many times talking to him when I was away for college at Syracuse and how he’d inevitably fit into every conversation, “The Orioles still stink.” Truthfully, the language was a bit more colorful, but it was a running joke to mask the annual disappointment we both held.

In that moment sitting in the press box on that Sunday afternoon, I thought to myself, “Not anymore.”

Lucky enough to be at Yankee Stadium to cover the ALDS last October, I wore my favorite shirt to Game 5, a maroon polo that belonged to my dad and my grandfather before him. The color has faded to a light salmon and it has a few more holes around the collar and shoulders than I’d like to admit, but the shirt was the only garment of choice as the Orioles were unfortunately eliminated in a highly competitive series in which fans could still be proud of the club’s remarkable season.

A few months later, I wore the same shirt as I settled into my seat in the auxiliary press box at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for Super Bowl XLVII. Coincidence or not, there was something fitting about the seat to my left somehow remaining empty throughout the game as I thought back to 12 years earlier and the giant hug shared with my dad as we watched the closing seconds of Super Bowl XXXV on TV. I remembered the many conversations about our dream of one day attending a Super Bowl together and hoping we would get another chance.

As the confetti fell and I quickly made my way downstairs for post-game interviews, I felt the same lump in my throat and moisture in my eyes that I did on that final day of September in Baltimore a few months earlier.

I suppose it wasn’t exactly how we pictured it, but we did make it to a Super Bowl, Dad.

It would be difficult to ask for a better sports year as we spent Sunday honoring our fathers in various ways. Whether you took him to the ballpark or got together to watch the Orioles on TV, shared a meal, called him on the telephone, or simply spent a few moments lost in memory, I can only wish and pray you’re as lucky as I was – and still am — to have had such a wonderful dad.

His love of Baltimore sports and, more importantly, the valuable life lessons he offered about what it meant to be a man, a compassionate friend, a devoted husband, and a father are ones I remember and still try to fully grasp as I approach my 30th birthday and dream of one day having a family of my own.

Whenever someone who knew him tells me how much I resemble him, I smile proudly after once cringing when I was a teenager — though I’ll promise to refrain from growing his trademark mustache.

I feel his presence at every game, imagining him chomping on peanuts or popcorn while making an absolute mess, and it makes me smile far more often than I cry all these years later.

I’ll never stop trying to make him proud, hopefully experiencing a few more years like this past one along the way.

I hope you enjoyed it, Dad.

I know I did.

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Markakis moves into top 3 among AL outfielders in All-Star voting

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Markakis moves into top 3 among AL outfielders in All-Star voting

Posted on 15 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

The Orioles may be trailing the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, but they’re dominating the entire league when it comes to voting for Major League Baseball’s 84th All-Star Game.

The latest voting update has four Orioles players who would find themselves in the startling lineup for the 84th edition of the exhibition as first baseman Chris Davis, outfielder Adam Jones, and shortstop J.J. Hardy are leading the league in voting at their respective positions. Joining them as a projected starter would be eighth-year veteran Nick Markakis, who ranks third among AL outfielders behind Jones and Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels. Markakis has never been selected to an All-Star Game.

Catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado rank second in voting at their respective positions and outfielder Nate McLouth ranks seventh among AL outfielders.

Davis has the second-highest vote total of any AL player behind Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who has a lead of over 1.6 million votes over Machado.

Last year, the Orioles sent three players to the Midsummer Classic (Jones, Wieters, and closer Jim Johnson), marking the first time they’d had multiple selection in an All-Star Game since 2005 when Brian Roberts, Miguel Tejada, Melvin Mora, and B.J. Ryan were all selected to play.

In-stadium voting concludes on June 28, but fans may vote online through July 4. The All-Star teams will be unveiled on July 7 with the game itself scheduled for July 16 at Citi Field.

AMERICAN LEAGUE ALL-STAR VOTING
(as of June 15)

FIRST BASE
Chris Davis, Orioles 2,999,094
Prince Fielder, Tigers 1,980,129
Mike Napoli, Red Sox 744,334
Albert Pujols, Angels 693,062
Mitch Moreland, Rangers 645,071

SECOND BASE
Robinson Cano, Yankees 2,409,512
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox 1,635,674
Ian Kinsler, Rangers 1,123,654
Omar Infante, Tigers 872,142
Jose Altuve, Astros 734,896

SHORTSTOP
J.J. Hardy, Orioles 1,871,010
Elvis Andrus, Rangers 1,358,412
Jhonny Peralta, Tigers 1,322,791
Jed Lowrie, Athletics 1,019,861
Derek Jeter, Yankees 669,698

THIRD BASE
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers 3,277,890
Manny Machado, Orioles 1,626,209
Adrian Beltre, Rangers 1,105,706
Evan Longoria, Rays 898,422
Josh Donaldson, J. Athletics 500,773

CATCHER
Joe Mauer, Twins 2,127,175
Matt Wieters, Orioles 1,615,625
A.J. Pierzynski, Rangers 885,137
Carlos Santana, Indians 864,779
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox 748,725

DESIGNATED HITTER
David Ortiz, Red Sox 2,488,451
Lance Berkman, Rangers 1,239,521
Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays 769,322
Mark Reynolds, Indians 745,058
Mark Trumbo, Angels 722,667

OUTFIELD
Adam Jones, Orioles 2,740,505
Mike Trout, Angels 2,710,115
Nick Markakis, Orioles 1,463,392
Torii Hunter, Tigers 1,425,571
Jose Bautista, Blue Jays 1,379,251
Nelson Cruz, Rangers 1,310,079
Nate McLouth, Orioles 1,300,158
Alex Gordon, Royals 1,040,685
Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox 1,004,434
Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics 926,611
Coco Crisp, Athletics 869,153
Josh Hamilton, Angels 726,485
Austin Jackson, Tigers 712,623
Shane Victorino, Red Sox 682,220
Ichiro Suzuki, Yankees 620,734

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Chen, Bundy each taking big steps in potential returns; All-Star voting update

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Chen, Bundy each taking big steps in potential returns; All-Star voting update

Posted on 03 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

As the Orioles enjoyed some much-needed rest and a travel day on Monday, they also received good news for two important pieces of their pitching puzzle who have been sidelined recently.

According to interpreter Tim Lin through his Twitter account, left-handed pitcher Wei-Yin Chen will take part in his first light-toss session in Sarasota on Tuesday to test the progress made from a strained right oblique that’s kept him sidelined for just over three weeks. Manager Buck Showalter revealed late last week that Chen reported no discomfort whatsoever for the first time last week and the pitcher had begun jogging work in a pool.

Chen hasn’t picked up a ball since leaving his start against the Minnesota Twins as strained obliques are often a difficult injury to rehab due to a bigger fear of setbacks. Showalter said Sunday that a mid-June return would be the best-case scenario for the Taiwanese southpaw, but the Orioles are expected to remain cautious to avoid the possibility of re-injury.

The Orioles will have a chance to reunite with Chen this weekend as they travel to St. Petersburg for a three-game set with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Meanwhile, top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy will also begin a throwing progression on June 10 after a followup exam with the renowned Dr. James Andrews on Monday, the club announced.

The fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft hasn’t pitched since spring training due to discomfort in his right forearm and received a platelet-rich plasma injection on April 29 that was followed by six weeks of rest. Should Bundy make it through the throwing program without any signs of pain or discomfort, the 20-year-old would presumably rejoin Double-A Bowie’s starting rotation.

Bundy and the Orioles had reported no discomfort and full range of motion with the elbow prior to Monday’s meeting with Dr. Andrews.

Davis, Jones among leaders in All-Star balloting

Having a career year with a .357 average, 20 home runs, and 52 RBIs, Chris Davis leads all American League first basemen in All-Star voting with a slight edge over Detroit’s Prince Fielder.

With just under 1.2 million votes in the update provided by Major League Baseball on Monday, Davis would become the first Orioles first baseman to start the Midsummer Classic since Eddie Murray in 1985.

Center fielder Adam Jones is second behind the Angels’ Mike Trouth in AL voting for outfielders, which means the 27-year-old would be one of the All-Star starters if voting concluded now. Jones is hitting .313 with 11 home runs and 37 RBIs so far this season and is a two-time All-Star.

Right fielder Nick Markakis is sixth among AL outfielders while left fielder Nate McLouth currently ranks seventh.

Third baseman Manny Machado ranks second in the voting at his position, trailing only 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, who leads in the overall AL vote. The 20-year-old is hitting .327 with a major-league-leading 25 doubles in his first full season in the major leagues.

Matt Wieters currently trails only Minnesota’s Joe Mauer among AL catchers and is vying for his third consecutive All-Star appearance.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy is second in voting at his position, narrowly behind Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers.

Despite playing in just three games this season before suffering a right hamstring injury, Brian Roberts ranks fifth among AL second basemen.

Sunday home game against Yankees moved to Sunday Night Baseball

The Orioles’ June 30 home game against the New York Yankees has been moved from 1:35 p.m. to 8:05 p.m. and will be a nationally-televised event on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

Baltimore and New York squared off on a Sunday night in the Bronx back in April.

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Can the Orioles keep mauling their way to victories?

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Can the Orioles keep mauling their way to victories?

Posted on 30 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — As the Orioles were in the midst of erasing a 6-2 deficit Wednesday night against the Washington Nationals, you could almost imagine their collection of hitters uttering a spoof of the famous line about badges often heard in cinema.

Pitchers? We don’t need no stinkin’ pitchers!

And who could blame the lineup for saying it when you look at the impressive numbers through the first two months of the season? Entering Thursday’s game, the Orioles were leading the American League in runs scored (271), hits (515), doubles (118), home runs (75), slugging percentage (.464), extra-base hits (197), stolen bases (41), and on-base plus slugging percentage (.796). Baltimore also ranked second in batting average at .276.

Of course, baseball-minded people know better, acknowledging that an offensive-minded club short on pitching will provide plenty of excitement but typically fall short against the best opponents possessing the best pitchers. But the Orioles are used to bucking the typical trends as their improbable 2012 season showed.

Leading the way offensively is first baseman Chris Davis as he stroked two more homers Wednesday night to bring his league-leading total to 19. In addition to being on pace for a club-record 57 home runs, Davis’ .766 slugging percentage at the start of Thursday’s action was 110 points higher than the second-place and 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers.

While it hasn’t been as enjoyable for a pitching staff currently ranked 12th in the AL in team earned run average (4.52) and 12th in starter ERA (4.90), a confident offense has done the bulk of the work in a 30-24 start. Entering Thursday’s game, Orioles starting pitchers had failed to complete at least six innings in six of the last seven games, but the club managed a 4-3 record over that stretch. Freddy Garcia’s eight shutout innings appeared to snap that streak as the Orioles collected a 2-0 win over Washington Thursday night.

The dominating performance of the lineup was never more evident than Wednesday when the Orioles turned a 6-2 deficit into a 9-6 victory by mashing a season-high four home runs, three coming against one of the National League’s best starters in Jordan Zimmermann. Davis collected three more RBIs to give him 50 on the year. The slugging first baseman has credited improved patience at the plate in drawing 29 walks after drawing just 37 all last season.

“It’s fun,” said Davis, who didn’t hit his 19th homer until Aug. 18 last season. “You are always working on things. Just the consistent approach every day has helped me out. The routine. I heard for such a long time that routine is such a big part of this game and I’ve really found one that I like. I’ve continued to do that every day.”

Davis is the first to tell you he hasn’t done it alone as you look at the first seven spots of the order and won’t find a better group in the league. The Orioles currently have four players on pace to hit more than 20 home runs and six on pace to hit at least 15.

Included in that latter group is 20-year-old Manny Machado, who is hitting .336 and is on pace to hit a major-league-record 75 doubles. Put on the spot to discuss the production of the entire lineup, Davis recognized the success of the young third baseman, who is leading the majors with 25 doubles and was tied with Cabrera for most hits in the big leagues entering Thursday night.

“I think [the collective effort] has been a key for us all year. Manny [Machado] is swinging the bat well, Jonesy (Adam Jones), Nicky [Markakis], Manny, Nate [McLouth],” said Davis before realizing he had mistakenly mentioned Machado more than once and offering a quip in his defense. “Everything that has to do with Manny has to do with doubles, so I just said it twice. We are really putting together good at-bats one through nine and one guy is not having to carry the load.”

The Orioles are currently on pace to hit 230 home runs, which would be second-most in franchise history behind the 1996 club that stroked 257 and advanced to the postseason. This year’s club reminds many of that veteran-laden club that mauled opponents into submission while pitching poorly in the process.

Though that starting rotation possessed such names as Mike Mussina, David Wells, and Scott Erickson, the Orioles posted a starter ERA of 5.47 and team ERA of 5.14 that season, with the only saving grace being a solid bullpen led by Randy Myers. Despite possessing the most-prolific homer-hitting lineup in the history of the game at the time, the club slugged its way to an 88-74 record that was just good enough to advance to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

Are the Orioles facing similar prospects this season?

With Wei-Yin Chen currently sidelined with a strained oblique and Jason Hammel and Miguel Gonzalez appearing to work their way back to some form resembling their 2012 production, there is some room for encouragement. There’s even more if the back end of the rotation can occasionally provide a performance like the eight-inning gem from 36-year-old Freddy Garcia on Thursday.

But the doubts about the pitching will remain and they should when you’re lacking a true top-of-the-rotation starter. The debate will go on throughout the summer over how far the Orioles should — and will — go to acquire more starting pitching, but the likelihood of dealing for a pitcher to fit at the top of the rotation appears bleak unless they’re willing to part with Kevin Gausman or Dylan Bundy.

In the meantime, the Orioles will ride their remarkable offense while hoping that a couple more starters emerge like Gonzalez and Chris Tillman did in the second half last season to stabilize what was a very shaky rotation through the first four months of the season. As fans and pundits continue to wonder whether the Orioles can succeed with a potent offense and the same inefficient pitching, the club itself doesn’t seem to be nearly as concerned.

“There’s just not a whole lot of panic,” Showalter said. “I think they have a lot of faith in each other. They really do. I think our pitchers feel that way, too, if we can just get some zeroes up there and get the momentum headed in the other way. I think what I see is a young group, the youngest one in the division, but still a mature group. They don’t panic.”

And as long as they keep hanging crooked numbers on their side of the box score, the Orioles appear to be OK for the time being as they work through their pitching issues.

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Youthful Machado doesn’t blink over anything Orioles ask

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Youthful Machado doesn’t blink over anything Orioles ask

Posted on 21 April 2013 by Luke Jones

It’s downright scary to think Orioles third baseman Manny Machado still can’t buy a beer legally.

Yes, it’s a tired cliché used for virtually any young professional athlete enjoying success beyond his years, but it’s a context to which most of us can relate. Every time you watch Machado thrive like he did Saturday night against the Dodgers or in Boston where he hit a three-run homer to lead Baltimore to a comeback win earlier this month, just remember he’s more than two months away from his 21st birthday on July 7.

Center fielder Adam Jones nicknamed him the “Baby Face Assassin” after that game-winning blow at Fenway Park.

Perhaps the biggest compliment we could pay Machado at this point is that you expect him to be successful even though we remember how challenging the game can be, regardless of age.

He was born three months after Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened and made an immediate impact in the 20th anniversary of the cherished ballpark. Machado was still in junior high when right fielder Nick Markakis — not exactly someone you view to be “old” by any means — made his major league debut in 2006.

But there the 2010 first-round pick was again on Saturday, hitting a three-run homer and an RBI double to lead the Orioles to a 6-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Instead of relishing in the performance, Machado appeared relieved to put what he described as several recent subpar games at the plate behind him.

Shy and reserved when talking to reporters, Machado comes across as a teammate simply wanting to blend in despite being viewed as the franchise player of the future.

“You know I just think the more at-bats I get, the more comfortable I am at the plate,” Machado said. “It comes with experience. This game is all about experience.”

Machado’s right, so how is he finding so much success without that much-needed experience?

He was called up from Double-A Bowie last August — in the midst of a pennant race — to man a position he’d played all of two games in the minor leagues. The lifelong shortstop has proceeded to look as though he’s played the hot corner his entire life, using a cannon of a throwing arm and barehanded picks masterfully at the position. The only question now is whether the Orioles will resist moving him back to shortstop at some point in the next year or two.

Asked to hit in the No. 2 hole this year after hitting toward the bottom of the lineup in the final two months of his rookie season, Machado entered Sunday’s action hitting .268 with two home runs and 11 runs batted in. His .307 on-base percentage doesn’t exactly scream top-of-the-order hitter just yet, but the 6-foot-2 right-handed hitter shows flashes of good patience and puts together enough at-bats to instill confidence that he will handle a higher spot in the order moving forward.

Machado dropped a key bunt in the 10th inning of Thursday’s game against Tampa Bay that hugged the first-base line so closely that he reached base with a single and eventually scored on Matt Wieters’ walk-off grand slam. He said after the game he could recall only one time in his minor-league career in which he was directed to drop a sacrifice bunt, but the 6-foot-2 infielder has been working on the craft throughout his time with the organization.

“I think about that as development,” manager Buck Showalter said. “All the people in the farm system who don’t let him not be good at that. Everybody thinks he’s got a chance to be a run producer. That’s something that — it’s not their fault — it’s our fault if they don’t come up here with that.”

Anything the club asks, Machado does — even if it isn’t always flawless.

He still has at-bats and certain days against pitchers in which he looks overmatched, but those moments of failure appear less frequently as time goes on.

Machado had a moment Saturday in which he attempted the deke he used famously against Tampa Bay last season in which he threw out a runner at third base, but it didn’t work this time against the Dodgers and allowed a runner to reach first base in the process.

But then you remember once again he’s 20 years old, a point in his development in which most players — even very talented ones — are toiling at Single A and only dreaming of making such bold defensive plays against major league players.

Machado’s three-run shot Saturday came on the same night in which the Orioles remembered the late Earl Weaver, the man who loved that particular scoring play. Even though the third baseman was born more than five years after Weaver managed his final game in 1986, you know the Hall of Fame skipper would be impressed with Machado’s continue development.

As for that elusive beer, Machado won’t ever need to worry about buying one in this town if he continues on the same track.

More than a few Orioles fans will be willing to pick up the tab.

When he’s old enough, of course.

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