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MLB Needs To End This All-Star Game Charade

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MLB Needs To End This All-Star Game Charade

Posted on 16 July 2014 by Peter Dilutis

Fast forward three months. Our Baltimore Orioles have made it to the World Series for the first time since 1983, matching up against the Atlanta Braves. It’s the situation that we all dream about when we’re kids playing catch in the backyard or taking batting practice on the neighborhood fields.

Game 7 of the World Series. Bottom of the 9th inning. Tied game. Bases loaded. Two outs. Full count. The fans are going absolutely bonkers. Baltimore is a ball four, walk, hit or error away from walking off with their first World Series win in 21 years.

And why is it they are in position to walk off with the win?

Because just three months earlier, Pat Neshek entered the All-Star Game, played at Target Field, home of the 44-50 Minnesota Twins, and gave up three runs to the American League, including a sacrifice fly from Jose Altuve, member of the 40-56 Houston Astros.

Wait…what?

It has absolutely nothing to do with what team had the better regular season record. Where the seventh game of the World Series is played has nothing to do with either of the teams participating in the series, unless of course members of those respective teams made an impact, positively or negatively, in the All-Star game.

Rather, representatives from all 30 teams, 20 of which will not make the postseason and 22 of which will not make it past the play-in games, determine where that legacy-defining Game 7 is played.

In what alternate universe does that make sense? You’re telling me that a bunch of millionaires in $25,000 suits got together, deliberated in a boardroom and came out with this solution?

Imagine if Luis Gonzalez’ hit over Derek Jeter’s glove in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series would have simply put the Diamondbacks up 3-2 rather than ending the game? What if history was re-written and that Game 7 had actually been played in New York? In 2001, the American League won the All-Star game. Under our current All-Star game rules, that legacy-defining game would have in fact been played at Yankee Stadium. How might that have changed the legacy of Derek Jeter? He could have six rings instead of five. Joe Torre would have another World Series under his belt. Even Mike Mussina could have a ring to display on his mantle had the location of the seventh game been switched to the Big Apple. Crazy stuff.

We’re talking about a game in which AL manager John Farrell admitted that his main objective was not to win, but to get as many players in the game as possible. And let’s be honest – why does John Farrell care who wins the game? His Boston Red Sox are 43-52, 9.5 games behind the Orioles and they’re more concerned with what kind of young haul they can get for Jon Lester at the deadline than what stadium they’re going to be playing in come October. We’re talking about a game in which Adam Wainwright admitted to grooving pitches right down 5th Avenue to leadoff man Derek Jeter in his final “farewell” All-Star Game sendoff. Jeter doubled in his first at bat and later scored. The American League went on to score three runs in the first inning.

Ultimately, they won the game by two runs, 5-3.

Had Adam Wainwright actually tried to pitch to Derek Jeter, the National League very well may have won the All-Star Game on Tuesday night, awarding them home field advantage in the 2014 World Series. Meaning, of course, that in my above scenario, a run would not walk the game off for the Orioles. Instead, the Atlanta Braves, or whoever their opponent would be in our dream scenario, would get one more at bat in the bottom of the inning with a chance to tie or win the game.

Hundreds of years from now, when all of us are dead and gone, the 2014 World Series winner will live in infamy in countless record books and libraries throughout the sports world. Legacies will be defined. Future contracts will be signed. Statues may very well be erected. Hall of Fame candidacy will be voted upon.

And all of that history could be changed in a flash – because of an All-Star Game played in July amongst members of all 30 MLB teams that served more as a spectacle and farewell tour to Derek Jeter than it did as a real game.

The NBA All-Star game is nothing more than a glorified dunk contest. Roger Goodell has threatened to put an end to the NFL Pro Bowl because the players just won’t take it seriously. And as we saw from Adam Wainwright on Tuesday night, major league baseball players don’t REALLY care about winning. Derek Jeter’s 4th inning moment yesterday was always going to more important than the end result of the game. Undoubtedly, more people know about that moment than know the end result of the game. The same thing happened last year at Citi Field when Mariano Rivera was paraded out in the 8th inning as Enter Sandman blasted over the speakers.

The All-Star Game is an entertainment spectacle. It is NOT a competitive game. Not even close.

By placing such a high importance on the result of a glorified exhibition game, Bud Selig and the powers that be within Major League Baseball are putting the integrity of this great game on the line. It may not seem like such a big deal right now. It’s hard to really understand the significance of something, whether we’re talking sports or life in general, until your life and/or interests are directly impacted.

But when you’re favorite baseball team is on the mound in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 of the World Series, watching the opposing team walking off the field with a one run win in front of the home fans, perhaps you too will question the logic and integrity of the current All-Star Game format.

In the meantime, I guess all of us Orioles fans should be thankful that the American League won, right?

 

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Baltimore-related Observations from the ASG

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Baltimore-related Observations from the ASG

Posted on 17 July 2013 by Brett Dickinson

The Mid-Summer Classic has passed and as we all expected, was somewhat of a dud.  Though watching four Orioles participate (and one in Chris Tillman watch from the bullpen) is nice for Baltimore, a 3-0 victory for the AL, giving up only three hits, was kind of a bore for the average baseball fan.  But there are some things to take away from the festivities and the game itself.

This is my four Baltimore-related observations from the All-Star Break:

 

1.  The Orioles are a very close knit team.

This was never more evident than watching rival Detroit Tiger (and resident big man), Prince Fielder leg out a triple.  This GIF says it all (seen here), as the three Orioles starters are seen in the dugout chucking it up; not sure if they were laughing with or at Prince, but he didn’t seem to mind.

But if you go back to Chris Davis’ Home Run Derby performance, Adam Jones was there to support him (and wipe his forehead).  These players just seem to really like hanging out with each other; which can only make Buck’s job that much easier.  This fun-loving group of young stars should be entertaining to watch for several years.

 

2. Manny Machado may have been the best defensive player on either roster.

There have been rare moments when a defensive play was the defining moment of the game (Tori Hunter robbing Barry Bonds comes to mind), especially with the amount of power bats each lineup throws out.  Yet, Manny wowed both benches (and all of Twitter) with his snag, deep in the third base hole, to rob Paul Goldschmidt of a base hit (seen here).

The play had shades of his “Web-Gem” from Yankee Stadium a week and a half ago; but considering the moment, it actually may be more impressive.  Orioles’ fans have been watching his fantastic leather and arm for almost a full season, but now the entire baseball world was able to bear witness.

 

3. Baseball is in good hands with its young players.

As already mentioned, Manny Machado stole the show defensively, but other youngsters like: Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez and Mike Trout also shined.  That core of players (all under 25 years old) could be ambassadors for the game for years to come.  Harvey embraced the moment, as the NL starter and host, while displaying his infectious personality during his Jimmy Fallon skit.

Trout has already been widely regarded as one of the best all-around players in baseball, while Machado inserted himself into the conversation with his first-half performance.  The blend of fielding and plate discipline the two display may be unparalleled, come 20 years from now.  Fernandez also dominated in a tough game for the NL, while all of them acted with maturity beyond their years; on and off the field.

Now only if MLB could get Bryce Harper to grow the hell up (nice hair bro!).

 

4. Mariano Rivera is the most respected player in the MLB, since Cal Ripken.

In “Mo’s” last All-Star game, his renowned respect was clearly evident; the players gave him a touching moment on the field by himself, when he came into the game in the 8th (seen here).  The whole game was about Rivera and he was going to win the MVP, as long as he threw one pitch in the game.  The entire display had shades of Cal’s last Mid-Summer Classic; where Alex Rodriquez and Joe Torre forced him to play shortstop and he had that shining-moment home run off Chan Ho Park.

Players in the MLB, no matter the generation, seem to always have an understanding for greatness.  Watching legends, like Ripken and Rivera, receive amazing ovations (as only two players to win the All-Star MVP in their final season) is what makes baseball such a tremendous sport.

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Orioles Relievers In Need of Relief

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Orioles Relievers In Need of Relief

Posted on 21 May 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

There are lots of theories about what’s been wrong with Jim Johnson over the last week or so. The analysis (or over-analysis) of baseball can lead us down a lot of different roads, seeking an explanation for why the bottom has dropped out so dramatically on the Orioles’ closer. Sometimes that analysis might lead us to overlook the easiest of answers, but sometimes the easiest answers are the right ones.

The inability of the Orioles starting rotation to simply eat innings has been an issue all season. Now it seems that issue could be taking its toll on the bullpen.

 

It’s not as if last year the O’s did a much better job of covering innings with their starters, but what they were able to do was better hide their issues with a steady stream of arms passing through the revolving door between the big club and its minor league affiliates.

 

This year with fewer players having options remaining, the Orioles have to be more creative with their roster shuffling or risk losing players with promise to the waiver wire when sending them back and forth between the minors and the big club.

 

Last year the Orioles found themselves on the bad side of the run differential equation too. As a result many cast the team as lucky, and deemed their success unsustainable. While they indeed may have been lucky, it was that luck that in large part made them sustainable.

 

This year’s Orioles have a fantastic offense, and are sitting on the right side of the run differential, but they haven’t been able to come up with blowout wins. The blowout losses that fed last season’s run differential debate are gone as well, which hasn’t provided the team with the “luxury” of rolling out the B-bullpen and living to fight another day. As a result, the 3 arms in the bullpen that the O’s seem to trust are being used at an alarming, and likely unsustainable, rate.

 

Jim Johnson

 

Last year Johnson pitched in 71 games in the regular season. That’s 43.8% of the team’s 162.He pitched in 63 wins (67.7%) and only 8 losses (11.5%).

So far this season, Johnson has pitched in half of the team’s 44 games. He’s been in 73.9% of Orioles wins, and also in 23.8% of their losses.

He’s on pace to pitch an incredible 81 games.

 

Darren O’Day

 

In 2012 O’Day pitched in 69 games. That’s 42.5% of the Orioles total. He threw in 48 wins (51.6%) and 21 losses (30.4%).

So far in 2013, he’s thrown in 21 games or 47.7% of the teams total. . He’s been used in 15 wins (65.2%) and 6 losses (28.5%).

O’Day is on pace to pitch in 77 games.

 

Brian Matusz (relief only)

 

Matusz became a member of the Orioles bullpen on 8/24/12, and appeared in 18 games. That’s 47.3% of the 38 games he was available for. He threw in 14 wins (56.5%) and 4 losses (30.4%).

So far in 2013 Matusz has thrown in 21 games or 47.7%. He’s been in for 13 wins (56.5%) and 8 losses (38%).

Matusz is also on a 77 game pace.

 

The absence of Luis Ayala, the ineffectiveness of Pedro Strop, the inconsistency of Troy Patton and Tommy Hunter, and the inexperience of TJ McFarland has left Matusz, O’Day and Johnson to pick up most of the bullpen load when the Orioles are winning. The inability of the starters to pitch deep into games has left more innings to be picked up. And the lack of blowouts, for or against the Orioles, have led those 3 to be used in many more losses than they were last season too.

 

*Of last year’s 1483 innings pitched by the Orioles, 545.1 were covered by the bullpen. That’s 36.6%.

Of this year’s 385 innings pitched by the Orioles, the pen has covered 142.1. That’s 36.9%, or not much of a difference.

If there is a difference it’s that 60 of the Orioles bullpen innings last season were in extra frames. That’s 11%. This year 6 of the pen’s innings have been in extras. That’s just 4%.

In innings 1-9, the bullpen covered 34% in 2012 and is covering 37% of those innings in 2013.

 

All of this makes Buck Showalter’s decision to pull Freddy Garcia after just 66 pitches on Monday that much more curious as it led to 5 relievers and 76 pitches to cover innings 7-10.

 

For all of the talk of which Orioles the Orioles could least afford to lose, Matusz, Johnson and O’Day should probably be on the list ahead of Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Chris Davis or anyone else. More concerning it seems only a matter of time before one or more of these guys’ workloads cost them their health,

 

Last but not least, while no one is Mariano Rivera, it’s kind of interesting that baseball’s greatest closer has only pitched in 70 or more games 3 times in his career. In 2001 Rivera pitched 71 times and famously blew the World Series against the Diamondbacks. In 2004 her pitched in 74 games and then blew 3 post-season saves. And in 2005 he pitched 71 times and had 2 appearances in an unremarkable post season.

 

If the great Mariano was made mortal in seasons with 70 or more appearances, how much of Jim Johnson’s post-season struggles could we attribute to overuse? What might happen on his way to 81 appearances this season?

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Orioles’ success mirrors their anchor in ninth inning

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Orioles’ success mirrors their anchor in ninth inning

Posted on 11 May 2013 by Luke Jones

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

There was a time not long ago when many doubted that Jim Johnson held the right mindset or ability for the Orioles’ closer role.

The 29-year-old right-hander certainly doesn’t fit the description of most ninth-inning men. Not only does Johnson strike out fewer batters than the typical closer but he fanned fewer hitters per nine innings (5.4) than any regular member of the Baltimore bullpen last season.

But that didn’t stop Johnson from collecting a club-record and major league-leading 51 saves and being named to his first All-Star team in 2012 as the Orioles advanced to the postseason for the first time in 15 years. His heavy sinker that induces ground ball after ground ball has allowed him to convert 35 consecutive save opportunities, breaking Randy Myers’ franchise record in Friday night’s remarkable 9-6 comeback victory in 10 innings.

In many ways, Johnson’s success mirrors the Orioles’ prosperity as it was late in the 2011 season when he took over the closer role for good after mixed results in brief stints prior to that. The club finished that season going 14-8 in what’s now viewed as a precursor to the remarkable 2012 season. Since Sept. 7, 2011, Johnson’s 72 saves are the most in baseball and the Orioles have gone 129-91. Many have struggled to explain the success both have found, but that’s just fine with Johnson.

“I think it is more about knowing what kind of pitcher you are,” Johnson said. “I do it differently than other people. When I first started, I tried to be something I wasn’t. I tried to be a typical closer and strike guys out all the time and that is not who I am. Then, I reverted back to pitching how I normally do and good results followed.”

Johnson’s journey to become arguably the best closer in baseball hasn’t been a smooth one as it was only in 2010 when his career appeared to be at a crossroads. Struggling out of the gate with a 6.52 ERA in 10 appearances, Johnson was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk before it was discovered that he was dealing with right elbow inflammation.

It was during a rehabilitation stint in August of that season when Johnson first met new Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who had traveled to Bowie to see how the reliever was progressing. In one of his favorite stories to tell about his closer, Showalter explained how he saw Johnson give up a home run on a changeup that was clocked at 88 miles per hour.

Upon seeing his new manager when getting back to the dugout, Johnson asked Showalter what he thought. The manager quipped that he needed to work on that pitch, fully understanding the right-hander was working on his array of pitches during the outing against Double-A hitters who were otherwise overmatched. Even then as Johnson was just working his way back to form, Showalter knew he had something special to work with out of the bullpen.

“It was the first time I saw him,” Showalter said. “But that’s what [the good ones] look like.”

For years, the debate continued whether Johnson would be better suited to start or relieve as even Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer believed his four-pitch repertoire — the sinker, a nasty curveball, an underrated changeup, and a four-seam fastball — would make him a successful starter. Coming up through the Orioles system as a starter, Johnson was named the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year as well as the Carolina League pitcher of the year for the 2005 season.

Showalter can’t help but draw comparisons between Johnson and future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, whom he managed at the end of his tenure as Yankees manager. Rivera followed a similar progression in beginning his career as a starter before moving to middle relief and eventually closing out victories for a winning club. Before briefly reconsidering Johnson’s role two years ago, Showalter decided the ninth inning would be the perfect place for him.

“Jimmy’s been through all those same processes,” said Showalter in comparing him to Rivera. “I thought it was the best for him to stay healthy with a lot of the things that go on with pitchers. The biggest thing is his ability as a pitcher. He has multiple ways to get you out.”

The Orioles saw their faith in Johnson rewarded in 2012 as he saved 51 of 54 opportunities to become the first Baltimore closer since George Sherrill to make the All-Star team. He began his current streak of 35 straight save conversions on July 30 of last season, but it was his postseason failure that stung the most for Orioles fans after Johnson had been so outstanding all year.

In Game 1 of the American League Division Series, Johnson entered in the ninth inning with the game tied 2-2 before allowing the go-ahead home run to Yankees catcher Russell Martin and five runs total in the inning as the Orioles fell 7-2. Game 3 brought an even more painful result as Johnson came on in the ninth inning with the Orioles holding a 2-1 lead at Yankee Stadium and gave up the game-tying home run to Raul Ibanez. Baltimore lost the game in extra innings as it was the only time since Aug. 8, 2011 that the Orioles have lost a game in which they held a lead at the end of seven innings.

Johnson took full responsibility for the postseason struggles by waiting at his locker for reporters after both losses. Instead of dwelling on those failures and allowing the disappointment to linger into the 2013 season, the closer has converted all 14 save opportunities and entered Saturday tied for the major-league lead in saves.

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