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Hardy returning Saturday with Machado suspension looming

Posted on 17 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With All-Star infielder Manny Machado expected to begin serving his suspension next week, the Orioles welcomed veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy back to Camden Yards on Friday.

The 33-year-old was not activated for the series opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, but he will return to the Baltimore lineup on Saturday. Buck Showalter had left open the possibility of Hardy playing another minor-league game at Single-A Frederick after he went 4-for-11 with a walk in three games at Double-A Bowie earlier in the week week, but the manager confirmed after Friday’s 13-3 loss to Toronto that Hardy would be reinstated from the 15-day disabled list on Saturday.

Hardy has been on the DL since breaking his left foot on May 1.

“We’re leaning on J.J. on this. He knows he’s real close. I know there’s one little thing he wants to feel good about,” said Showalter on Friday afternoon. “He’s moving around well defensively. Plus-plus speed has not been his forte, so we’re not looking [for that]. I do know he wants to be able to score from second on a single and [from] first on a double and do the things he needs to do, but we’re looking forward to getting him back. It’s been a long road.”

Hardy’s return is an encouraging development with Machado slated to miss up to four games for charging the mound against Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura in a June 7 brawl. The 23-year-old has appealed his four-game suspension, but the Orioles are not overly optimistic about the chances of the ban being reduced, which could lead to Machado potentially dropping his case ahead of Tuesday’s scheduled hearing.

Such a decision could allow Machado to begin serving his suspension on Monday when the Orioles play a makeup game against Texas in Arlington and would then mean he’d miss only the opener of next weekend’s four-game set with Tampa Bay. The fear is that Machado’s hearing could delay the start of his suspension and prevent him from playing in the bulk of that series against an AL East opponent.

Though miffed that Ventura will likely only miss one start with his nine-game suspension compared to Machado missing multiple games, Showalter is trying to put a positive spin on the situation.

“I think Manny could use a few days [off]. He won’t ever admit it,” said Showalter about the young infielder who was playing in his major-league-leading 228th consecutive game on Friday. “I think we’ll be glad to get it behind us.”

It remains unclear how the Orioles will make room for Hardy on the 25-man roster, but infielder Paul Janish being designated for assignment or utility man Ryan Flaherty being optioned to the minors would appear to be the most likely of the possible moves. Baltimore must also make roster space for the returning Yovani Gallardo, who will make Saturday’s start against the Blue Jays.

Machado has played very well at shortstop in Hardy’s absence, but Showalter made it clear there would be no controversy with the former returning to his regular position at third base where he’s won two Gold Gloves. Hardy is a three-time Gold Glove winner at shortstop and is considered the leader of the defense.

“Manny’s got a lot of respect for J.J. and so does Jon Schoop,” Showalter said. “I was talking to [Machado] a little bit the other day and he’s really looking forward to [Hardy] coming back because it makes us a better team.”

In 86 plate appearances this season, Hardy is hitting .244 with two home runs, eight RBIs, and a .701 on-base plus slugging percentage.

NOTES: On Friday, the Orioles agreed to terms with first-round pitcher Cody Sedlock at the reported slot bonus value of just under $2.1 million. The right-hander from the University of Illinois will begin his professional career at short-season Single-A Aberdeen after completing some bullpen sessions in Sarasota. … Though he won’t be cleared to catch in games until June 27, backup catcher Caleb Joseph (testicular surgery) began his rehab assignment Friday serving as the designated hitter for Single-A Frederick. He is now allowed to catch bullpen sessions, but the possibility of a foul ball to the groin area as he continues to fully heal from surgery is the reason why he won’t catch in games for 10 more days. … Despite his slow recovery from a hamstring injury, All-Star reliever Darren O’Day “had a good day” on Friday, according to Showalter. He is eligible to be activated from the DL as early as Saturday, but it remains unclear when he will able to return. … Right-hander Vance Worley continues to feel the effects of the groin injury that landed him on the DL earlier this week, but Showalter still thinks he’ll be ready to return after the minimum 15 days.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 11-6 loss to Blue Jays

Posted on 11 June 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 11-6 defeat to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 61st game of the 2016 season.

1st — With the Orioles not having as much quality in the bullpen these days with Darren O’Day on the disabled list and Buck Showalter needing to stay away from Mychal Givens and Brad Brach, T.J. McFarland offered no relief in the sixth inning. Many questioned why the lefty long man didn’t begin the bottom of the sixth with no one on, but having a leadoff runner on first can’t excuse the poor performance. You can’t walk Russell Martin and Ezequiel Carrera with Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion looming, and Toronto’s big guns made McFarland pay with a sacrifice fly and a three-run homer, respectively. Making matters worse, the lefty gave up another run in the seventh that loomed big when the Orioles lineup made the game interesting again in the top of the eighth. Five runs, five hits, and two walks over two innings certainly didn’t make his manager happy.

2nd — He somehow managed to keep the Orioles in the game into the sixth inning, but Mike Wright’s inability to throw strikes led to his downfall as just 49 of the 103 pitches he threw were in the strike zone. Trying to build off an encouraging start against Kansas City, the right-hander walked a career-high five in five-plus innings and threw first-pitch strikes to just eight of the 24 hitters he faced on Saturday afternoon. His fastball command was especially poor as he got away with a number of pitches over the course of his outing that could have made the final results even worse. After temporarily being sent to the minors before his strong outing against the Royals acted as a mulligan, this clearly wasn’t what the Orioles were looking for from the 26-year-old.

3rd — It’s difficult to find too much fault with an offense that scored six runs on the day, but the Orioles went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Baltimore stranded a runner on third with one out in the fourth, a runner on second with no outs in the sixth, and scored only one more time after Mark Trumbo’s RBI single that kept the bases loaded with no outs in the seventh. Six runs should be enough to win most days, but the Orioles did have plenty of chances to add more.

Home — The Blue Jays removed all doubt about the outcome after Brian Duensing gave up solo homers to Encarnacion and Michael Saunders in the eighth. The veteran lefty has allowed four runs in his first 3 2/3 innings with the Orioles. … Chris Davis homered in his fourth consecutive game and collected the first two extra-base hits by a left-handed batter against Toronto starter J.A. Happ this season. … Joey Rickard collected his first three-hit game since April 21 and hit his fifth homer of the season. … Manny Machado hit his 16th homer of the season and raised his average to .306 with a three-hit afternoon. … Ubaldo Jimenez goes to the hill in search of a series split on Sunday while right-hander Aaron Sanchez starts for the Blue Jays.

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Machado receives four-game suspension, will appeal

Posted on 09 June 2016 by Luke Jones

The punishment is in for Orioles infielder Manny Machado for his role in Tuesday’s brawl with the Kansas City Royals.

The 23-year-old will receive a four-game suspension and $2,500 fine for charging the mound and punching Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura, who was suspended nine games and fined for hitting Machado in the ribs with a 99 mph fastball in the fifth inning and had twice thrown inside to the shortstop in the previous at-bat. Both benches emptied before order was restored and both Machado and Ventura were ejected from the game.

Machado will appeal the suspension and was in Thursday’s lineup as the Orioles began a four-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Veteran center fielder Adam Jones said after Tuesday’s game that he intended to pay Machado’s fine, a clear show of support for his teammate’s actions.

It’s not the first time that Machado has been disciplined by Major League Baseball as he was suspended five games for throwing a bat two years ago in a weekend-long conflict with the Oakland Athletics. Unlike that incident, however, Machado’s actions on Tuesday have generally been viewed with more understanding while Ventura has been perceived as the main culprit.

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Nothing good comes from Tuesday’s brawl for Orioles

Posted on 08 June 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Yordano Ventura was the culprit in Tuesday’s brawl between the Orioles and the Kansas City Royals, but don’t be fooled by the crowd’s chants for Manny Machado after he charged the mound.

There was nothing to be proud of from the confrontation. Nothing good comes from this for Machado or the Orioles, even if they weren’t the ones at fault. And let’s not sing the 23-year-old’s praises when it was just two years ago that he embarrassed himself and the organization by being on the wrong side of another conflict by flinging a bat at the opposition. He has his own reputation for being a bit of a hothead, which may or may not have made him a prime target for Ventura’s behavior.

If you want to see a fight, check out a UFC pay-per-view or even WWE Monday Night Raw, which offers more believable grappling than what you’ll find in 90 percent of baseball brawls. I’d much prefer using this space to focus on a 9-1 victory in which the Orioles clubbed four home runs to improve to 11 games over .500 and remain in first place in the AL East instead of the rubbish we witnessed on Tuesday — no matter who’s to blame.

In a perfect world, Machado bites his tongue in anger and walks to first base as the Royals starter is ejected for the deplorable act of using a 99 mph fastball — his fastest pitch of the night — as a weapon, but you can understand an emotional reaction when your livelihood is being threatened. The 23-year-old shortstop wasn’t entirely blameless and did play a part in escalating the hostility in the previous at-bat when Ventura twice came inside without hitting him, but no amount of jawing warranted being hit in the bottom of the fifth inning.

The real problem is Major League Baseball’s willingness to allow these types of incidents to continue with little consequence. Instead of pimping highlights of the skirmish via social media, the league should crack down on pitchers who decide to punish someone because they were terrible at their job in the way Ventura was on Tuesday night.

With his own past likely being considered, Machado will be suspended for a handful of games and should be for charging the mound and throwing a punch, but what will the consequence be for Ventura, who committed a more dangerous act and already has a concerning history in his brief career? A suspension that will likely amount to one or two missed starts?

Give me a break with that slap on the wrist.

Adam Jones may have made the most cogent point of the night when citing how Ventura faces no threat of stepping to the plate to face the same music that he dished out. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but at least it’s a deterrent that exists in the National League to help offset baseball’s lack of a backbone over matters such as these.

Manager Buck Showalter said after Tuesday’s win that there were no apparent injuries stemming from the brawl, but we’ve seen them occur before, including one that nearly cost Cal Ripken his consecutive games streak in 1993. Machado’s anger was understandable, but he also put himself in further danger and his teammates in harm’s way when he charged the mound and the playoff-hopeful Orioles will now be without their best player for some number of games in the near future.

But more importantly, Machado could have been seriously injured by a 99 mph missile from Ventura, a reality that needs to be taken more seriously by the league’s decision-makers. More extreme consequences for pitchers intentionally hitting someone would go a long way in not only making the game safer but also putting players’ minds at ease that they don’t have to take matters into their own hands.

There just has to be a better way than players and teams policing themselves because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

Perhaps everyone would be a little more cordial if they knew they’d be banned for many more games and lose much more money when getting caught up in such nonsense.

Make no mistake, Ventura was the villain and the big loser on Tuesday night.

But that doesn’t make Machado the winner, either.

And we primarily have baseball to thank for that.

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

Posted on 07 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-1 win over the Kansas City Royals on Monday 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 56th game of the 2016 season.

1st Mike Wright took full advantage of the mulligan from his minor-league demotion last week with seven strong innings in which he allow one unearned run and five hits while striking out four and walking two. The right-hander did have a favorable matchup against an injury-depleted Kansas City lineup missing two impact lefty bats, but he did a superb job keeping his fastball down in the zone and Royals hitters were just 2-for-8 with a walk in Wright’s third trip through the order, which has been very problematic for him this year. His hold on a rotation spot entering Monday was tenuous at best, but Wright turned in his best outing of the year for his fourth quality start of 2016.

2ndMatt Wieters wasn’t quite tired and ready to go home in the seventh, but he was more than eager to help his starting pitcher get a win by homering to dead center off Royals starter Danny Duffy, who had shut down Baltimore over his first six innings of work. The blast would prove to be the winning run as Wieters slugged the 100th home run of his career as a catcher and is now batting .362 with 17 RBIs over his last 19 games. He also did an excellent job behind the plate with a young starter who was pitching for his job on Monday night.

3rdMark Trumbo was the first Orioles batter to solve Duffy on Monday by homering on the third pitch of the bottom of the seventh after the Royals had taken a 1-0 lead on Jonathan Schoop’s error in the top half of the inning. Trumbo now leads the majors with his 19 homers, just three shy of his 2015 total in 307 fewer plate appearances this season. It was the 150th long ball of his career.

HomeBrad Brach continued his brilliant season by striking out the top three hitters in the Royals order in a 1-2-3 eighth inning. He extended his scoreless streak to nine games covering 10 2/3 innings to lower his season ERA to a microscopic 0.88 in 30 2/3 innings. … Zach Britton induced three quick grounders on just eight pitches to earn his 18th save in as many tries and extend his scoreless streak to 14 games spanning 15 1/3 innings. … Adam Jones’ RBI double in the seventh tied Brady Anderson for first place in extra-base hits (243) in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. … In the eighth, Manny Machado clubbed his 15th homer, the first of the season allowed by standout reliever Kelvin Herrera. … With Monday’s victory, Showalter surpassed former Orioles manager Davey Johnson for sole possession of 29th place on the all-time managerial wins list with 1,373. … The Orioles lead the majors with 19 comeback victories and have won five of their last six with all five of the come-from-behind variety. … Ubaldo Jimenez takes the hill on Tuesday while Yordano Ventura will start for Kansas City.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 12-7 win over Red Sox

Posted on 03 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 12-7 win over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday 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 52nd game of the 2016 season.

1stMark Trumbo produced his fourth multi-homer game of the season with the first blast being a two-run shot to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning. His second long ball came in the bottom of the sixth after Ubaldo Jimenez’s disastrous top half of the inning had resulted in Boston taking a 5-4 lead. The timing of the game-tying blast couldn’t have been better for Baltimore’s karma after rapidly losing a 4-0 advantage. Trumbo continues to be a gem for the Orioles as he now has a club-leading 17 homers and 42 RBIs in 52 games and has collected plenty of big hits through the first two months of the season.

2ndManny Machado provided the decisive three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh after it looked like the Orioles were about to squander a golden opportunity to take the lead in a 5-5 game. With runners at first and second and no outs, Adam Jones and Hyun Soo Kim had both popped out and Red Sox right-hander Junichi Tazawa entered to face the Orioles shortstop. Machado was able to hit the “Earl Weaver special” to give Baltimore an 8-5 lead that would only grow in the next inning.

3rdMychal Givens had nothing to do with the Orioles’ seven-homer output, but the right-handed reliever turned in an outstanding performance for a bullpen that needed to rest a couple arms on Thursday. Called upon by Buck Showalter to replace Jimenez with a runner on first and no outs in the sixth after five runs had already scored in the inning, Givens quickly righted the ship for the Orioles with two scoreless frames that included three strikeouts. His work allowed the offense to do its thing.

HomeAdam Jones continues to find success in the leadoff spot as he hit a two-run shot in the fourth and a solo homer in the eighth, his 200th as a member of the Orioles. It was Jones’ first multi-homer game of the season and his three RBIs gave him 367 in his career at Camden Yards, one shy of tying Cal Ripken for first place on the all-time RBI list at the ballpark. … Francisco Pena hit his first major league homer and also singled in his Orioles debut. …  The Orioles hit seven home runs in a game for just the fifth time in club history and for the first time since setting a club record with eight against Philadelphia on June 16, 2015. … Jimenez allowed only two batters to reach over five shutout innings before failing to record an out in the sixth and giving up five earned runs. … Brad Brach lowered his season ERA to a tiny 0.91 with a scoreless eighth inning. … Left-hander Brian Duensing made his Orioles debut, giving up two runs on four hits in the ninth inning. … On Friday, Chris Tillman will take the mound for the series opener against the New York Yankees, who will start right-hander Nathan Eovaldi.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-2 loss to Red Sox

Posted on 01 June 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 6-2 defeat to the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 50th game of the 2016 season.

1st — Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts’ three-homer night started off with two poorly-located Kevin Gausman fastballs in the first two innings. Betts wasted little time giving Boston a 1-0 lead as he hit a low 93 mph fastball that leaked back over the heart of the plate. His second long ball was even more costly as catcher Matt Wieters set up low and away and Gausman’s 95 mph heater ran up and in before Betts muscled it off the bottom of the left-field foul pole for a three-run shot and a 5-0 lead in the second inning. Those drives along with Dustin Pedroia’s first-inning homer provided all the damage Boston would need as Gausman would then settle down to pitch better over his final four innings despite allowing three homers — the second straight start in which he’s allowed that many — and throwing first-pitch strikes to just nine of the 26 batters he faced.

2nd — Former Baltimore prospect Eduardo Rodriguez was solid in his 2016 debut, but the Orioles bats were unproductive and impatient once again. Baltimore went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and failed to draw a walk in a game for just the fourth time all season. The frustrating approach was never more apparent than in the sixth when Manny Machado led off with a first-pitch double before Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, and Matt Wieters were retired on seven pitches — and the trio swung at all of them. If you want to have a good chance against the dangerous Boston lineup, your own offense needs more than four runs over the first two games of a series.

3rdThe best offense in the majors out-“Orioled” the Orioles for the second straight game with a total of four home runs. Betts hit his third homer of the night in the seventh inning off Dylan Bundy to extend the lead to 6-2 while the Orioles hit a few balls well with little to show for them. Filling in for Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field, Chris Young took away a potential two-run shot off the bat of Machado in the third when he made a leaping catch at the left-center wall. In the series’ first two games, the Red Sox homered seven times while Baltimore was without a home run.

Home — A long Chris Davis blast down the right-field line stood as foul after a replay angle that could have apparently overturned the call came too late. Manager Buck Showalter said the shot made it clear that the ball was fair and would have made it a 6-4 game in the bottom of the eighth, but other camera angles available to the New York headquarters during the review were inconclusive. … Gausman gave up a season-high five earned runs and matched a career high in throwing 113 pitches. … Davis, Trumbo, Wieters, and Jonathan Schoop combined to go 0-for-16 with seven strikeouts. … Adam Jones’s single in the first inning moved him past Melvin Mora for sole possession of 11th place on the Orioles’ all-time hits list. … In the sixth, Gausman committed the eighth error by Orioles pitchers this season after the staff committed a total of 10 in 2015. … The Orioles have now lost seven of their last nine games and 10 of their last 15. … Mike Wright will go to the hill on Wednesday night while Boston will start right-hander Joe Kelly.

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Machado, Trumbo among leaders in early AL All-Star voting

Posted on 31 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Major League Baseball released its first 2016 All-Star balloting update on Tuesday with two Orioles among the leaders at their respective positions.

Manny Machado was leading all American League third basemen with just over 630,000 votes as Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas trailed in second place by more than 60,000 votes. Entering Tuesday, the 23-year-old was batting .313 with 13 home runs, 29 RBIs, and a robust .998 on-base plus slugging percentage.

Filling in for the injured J.J. Hardy at shortstop since early May, Machado has made more 2016 starts at his natural position than at the hot corner where he’s won Gold Gloves in two of the last three years. Of course, Machado is listed on the official ballot as a third baseman.

Mark Trumbo ranks third among AL outfielders as he holds an advantage over Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr. by more than 86,000 votes for the final starting spot. Acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the offseason, Trumbo has hit .289 with 15 homers, 37 RBIs, and a .912 OPS entering Tuesday’s action.

Other Orioles players appearing in the AL voting update included Chris Davis ranking third among first basemen, Jonathan Schoop fifth among second basemen, Hardy fifth among shortstops, Matt Wieters third among catchers, and Adam Jones ninth and Joey Rickard 14th among AL outfielders.

The 2016 All-Star Game will be played at Petco Park in San Diego on July 12.

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Orioles sitting pretty six weeks into 2016 season

Posted on 16 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Six weeks down, 20 more to go.

Just a simple reminder that it’s still early in 2016 as the Orioles begin a new week holding the best record in the American League by percentage points. But how can you not be optimistic about a club that’s already put together two seven-game winning streaks after no previous run of victories lasting that long since 2005?

Even after Sunday’s disappointing 6-5 loss to Detroit to snap their latest winning streak, the 23-13 Orioles are off to their best start through 36 games in 11 years. It’s quite an improvement from the many preseason forecasts — including this writer’s — expecting Baltimore to be no better than fourth or fifth in the AL East.

We knew the Orioles would hit plenty of home runs — they entered Monday leading the majors in that category — and their bullpen sports the best ERA in all of baseball, but the starting pitching was the major question mark. Through Sunday, Baltimore ranked a respectable seventh in the AL in starter ERA (4.22).

Can the Orioles sustain the success? That’s the question we’ve uttered so many times over the last five seasons whenever Buck Showalter’s club is in the midst of exceeding outside expectations.

No one can predict the future as it relates to injuries or other unforeseen circumstances, but some of the factors their critics have used against the Orioles in past seasons aren’t looking so bad in 2016.

Remember how detractors harped on the 2012 Orioles’ run differential throughout their improbable run to the franchise’s first postseason appearance in 15 years?

Their plus-37 mark so far this season suggests being 10 games above .500 is hardly a fluke. Of course, all it takes is a couple lopsided defeats to throw that mark out of whack when we’re still so early in the schedule, but we are almost a quarter of the way through the marathon.

What about 2014 when Baltimore finished third in the AL with a 3.44 ERA but stat-heads pointed to a 3.96 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark ranking 11th? So far this season, the Orioles sport the AL’s best FIP (3.63) while ranking fourth in ERA (3.53)

Their rotation FIP (3.88) is even better than the rotation ERA, primarily a reflection of Orioles starters allowing fewer home runs than any other AL club. Some regression is likely, but the rotation allowed the second-most homers in the league a year ago, reflecting how much improvement there’s been in that department so far.

Sporting a career-low ERA (2.58) and registering a career-high 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings, Chris Tillman has led the starter improvement and is so far providing the bounce-back season the club needed. We know the starting pitching will continue to be the hot topic as it relates to staying in games and preventing an exceptional bullpen from wearing out in the second half.

“The pitching’s been solid,” Showalter said. “That’s the thing that’s going to allow us to maintain the level we’re going to have to have to compete in our division. You’re going to have to take care of your own business every night and not expect any help from anybody. But the pitching has been as good as I could hope for it to be so far.”

Being solid is good enough for the starting pitching, but how great can the offense be?

Beyond hitting home runs, the Orioles entered Monday ranked third in the AL in runs, second in batting average, second in on-base percentage, and second in slugging percentage. Their 8.4 percent walk rate is markedly better than their 7.0 percent mark a year ago, reflecting more patience at the plate.

Manny Machado has looked every bit the part of the 2016 AL MVP after finishing fourth in the voting last year. It was fun wondering this winter if the 23-year-old could be even better than he was in 2015, but he’s been exactly that so far as one of the very best players in baseball.

Newcomer Mark Trumbo was initially viewed as an insurance policy for the potential free-agent departure of Chris Davis in the offseason, but he’s been the club’s second-best hitter while the likes of Davis and Adam Jones struggled through parts of the first six weeks. Expecting him to hit .300 would be unrealistic, but there’s no denying him having a Nelson Cruz-like impact on his new club so far.

Machado and Trumbo have led the way, but the Orioles have three other hitters — Davis, Jones, and Jonathan Schoop — sporting an OPS of at least .770 after recent surges. And that’s not even considering Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez, who are hitting well below their career numbers but are capable of being above-average offensive contributors at their respective positions.

Of course, none of this means the Orioles are a lock to win their second division title in three years and secure their third postseason berth in five seasons as we know there’s a very long way to go. Boston has sported the best offense in the league and lost no ground to the Orioles during the latter’s seven-game winning streak that ended on Sunday. Toronto has lagged behind the other two in third place, but the Blue Jays surprisingly sport the best starter ERA in the AL while they wait for their imposing lineup to heat up.

The Orioles aren’t going to run away with this division, but there’s plenty to like about them through the first six weeks, some expected and some of it not. And it’s been more than just smoke and mirrors.

Yes, Baltimore is sitting pretty.

Prettier than expected, which is really be nothing new for these Orioles by now.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 5-3 win over Minnesota

Posted on 11 May 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 5-3 win over the Minnesota Twins 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 31st game of the 2016 season.

1stAdam Jones has had a difficult start to 2016, but he turned in his best game of the season and did it in a way that will quell concerns about whether he’s over the rib injury suffered in the opening week. First, he ended a 3-for-27 slump by clobbering a 443-foot home run on a hanging curve from Twins starter Jose Berrios in the fifth to extended the Orioles’ advantage to 3-1. Then, he was able to get on top of a high 95 mph fastball from Kevin Jepsen in the top of the ninth to line the game-winning two-run single to left. It’s only one game and Jones will need to build on it with his average still sitting at just .210, but those two feats leave reason to believe he is getting healthy. And if he’s right physically, Jones is bound to heat up sooner rather than later.

2ndManny Machado went 3-for-3 and hit his club-leading 10th homer of the season to give the Orioles the lead in the top of the fifth. The ultimate sign of respect came in the ninth when Jepsen pitched around the red-hot Machado to face Jones, who was able to make the Twins reliever pay. Machado reached base all five times he went to the plate and now sports a .365 average to go along with a .424 on-base percentage. He continues to be the biggest reason why the Orioles are off to a 19-12 start.

3rdKevin Gausman threw a hanging breaking ball that Trevor Plouffe knocked out of the park for the game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth, but the 25-year-old was otherwise good on Tuesday. He struck out a season-high nine batters over his six innings and showed the ability to reach back for fastballs touching 97 and 98 mph when he needed to. His 111 pitches were two shy of his career high, but he he was still carrying excellent velocity late in the outing, a good sign with his right shoulder.

HomeJoey Rickard made the Orioles’ two-out rally in the ninth possible as he was behind 1-2 to Jepsen and worked the count full before lining a double off the base of the left-field wall. He eventually scored the go-ahead run on Jones’ single. … Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, and Zach Britton combined for three scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out three. O’Day earned the win while Britton picked up his eighth save of the season. … Chris Davis collected three hits to raise his season average to .217 while Matt Wieters had an RBI single and another hit to elevate his average to .227. … Jonathan Schoop’s 11-game hitting streak came to an end. … Tyler Wilson goes to the hill on Wednesday afternoon while veteran Phil Hughes will start for Minnesota.

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