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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-4 win over Washington

Posted on 10 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles earning their sixth straight win in a 5-4 final over Washington in 12 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles snatched a comeback victory from the jaws of defeat when Mark Trumbo singled in the winning run. It’s been a rough start to 2017 for the major league home run champion from a year ago, but the liner into left was his second walk-off hit of the season.

2. Trumbo’s heroics wouldn’t have been possible if not for J.J. Hardy tying the game with an RBI single with two outs in the ninth. The shortstop’s offense hasn’t been pretty, but he came through in a big way after stranding two in scoring position in his previous at-bat.

3. Logan Verrett is making a name for himself in extra innings as he tossed three scoreless frames less than two weeks after pitching two scoreless in an 11-inning win at Yankee Stadium. Unlikely contributions from pitchers on the Norfolk shuttle continue to make a big difference.

4. Ubaldo Jimenez deserves plenty of credit for pitching into the eighth inning against the best offense in baseball so far this season. Considering the defending NL Cy Young Award winner was dealing on the other side, he answered the challenge and then some for his club.

5. It’s fair to question Buck Showalter leaving Jimenez in to surrender a pinch-hit three-run homer to Adam Lind, but he’s trying to preserve the long-term health of a bullpen without All-Star closer Zach Britton and already a pitcher short overall due to a five-man bench. It just didn’t work out.

6. You have to feel for Max Scherzer, who was brilliant over eight innings for Washington. Amazingly, that was the 10th time he’s taken a no-hitter into the sixth since joining the Nationals in 2015. His slider is a thing of beauty and fetched 13 of his 22 swinging strikes.

7. Just when it looked like the Orioles were in real danger of being no-hit, Seth Smith delivered a one-out home run to right-center to tie the game in the sixth. I continue to be impressed with how consistently calm he is at the plate to have great at-bats.

8. It didn’t feel like it mattered much at the time, but Adam Jones homering off Scherzer in the eighth put the Orioles in better position to tie the game an inning later. He also got a great read going first to third on Manny Machado’s single in the 12th.

9. Considering the bullpen was short and it took great execution on Bryce Harper’s throw home to Matt Wieters in the 11th, I didn’t have nearly as much of a problem with Bobby Dickerson sending Hardy — as slow as he is — as most fans reacting on social media.

10. Even with Britton expected to miss more than a month and the real danger of overworking the likes of Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, and Mychal Givens, I’d still happily take the Orioles’ relief concerns over the Nationals bullpen. What a mess for an otherwise great team.

11. Daniel Murphy’s home run in the second gave the Orioles their first deficit since the fourth inning of last Thursday’s game at Fenway Park. It doesn’t get much better than that over a six-day period.

12. Despite their well-documented problems and so much weirdness to start the season, the 2017 Orioles currently have the best record in baseball and are 12 games above .500 faster than any other club of the Showalter era. Talent is paramount, but never question their intestinal fortitude.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-4 win over Washington

Posted on 09 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their season-best fifth game in a row in a 6-4 victory over the Washington Nationals, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. With the recent challenges for his pitching staff, Buck Showalter wanted to see Kevin Gausman go deep into the game and couldn’t have asked for much more against the best statistical offense in the major leagues. This was the Gausman we saw over the final two months of 2016.

2. Gausman had his best fastball command of the season, especially over his first four innings as 41 of his first 53 pitches were fastballs. He had some difficulty with it leaking to his arm side after that, but he finished strong with a 1-2-3 seventh inning.

3. His seven innings, 116 pitches, and eight strikeouts were season highs, but the most encouraging statistic was only one walk issued. His 5.2 walks per nine innings over his first seven starts were unseemly for a pitcher who rarely had control issues over his first four seasons.

4. After hearing about how potent the Washington offense has been so far, the Orioles hit three home runs in the first to remind us of their firepower. Staking any pitcher to a 4-0 lead is a plus, but it meant more for one who’s struggled over the first five weeks.

5. Mark Trumbo would be the first to tell you that the result didn’t stem from a conventional approach or pitch location, but his first-inning tomahawk shot was nothing short of amazing to watch.

6. Caleb Joseph collected his first four-hit game since Aug. 31, 2014 and his fourth RBI of the season. Regular playing time has certainly helped his cause with Welington Castillo on the disabled list, but he’s beginning to show respectable offense more in line with what he did in 2015.

7. I can’t help but wonder if having Joseph behind the plate is a positive for Gausman right now. It’s not a knock on Castillo, but someone with more familiarity catching the struggling young pitcher might have been just what he needed to get back on track.

8. Gio Gonzalez entered Monday with the best ERA (1.64) among qualified NL starters, but you wouldn’t have known it watching him against the Orioles. The six earned runs and three homers surrendered by the Washington lefty were one shy of his season totals in each category.

9. Of course Trey Mancini was going to hit a long home run on his T-shirt giveaway night at Camden Yards. His production continues to be critical with Trumbo and Chris Davis not providing their usual power in the middle of the order so far.

10. Brad Brach turned in a shaky ninth inning, but he still converted his eighth save in nine chances. Before panicking too much, remember he’s filling in for a closer who was in the midst of a historic stretch. That’s an unfair standard for someone still adjusting to a new role.

11. Even if you’re not familiar with the TOOTBLAN acronym, you won’t see worse baserunning than what the Nationals exhibited in the ninth inning to bail out a pitcher on the ropes. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, right?

12. Matt Wieters received the great reception that he deserved in his return. A video tribute in the first and a standing ovation for his first at-bat were perfect. He never became the next Johnny Bench, but he helped leave the Orioles much better off than they were when he arrived.

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2017 Orioles preview: Welington Castillo

Posted on 25 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than two weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

Manny Machado
Kevin Gausman
Adam Jones
Darren O’Day
Seth Smith
Mike Wright
Caleb Joseph
Donnie Hart
Jonathan Schoop
Mychal Givens
Ryan Flaherty
Brad Brach
J.J. Hardy
Ubaldo Jimenez
Mark Trumbo
Wade Miley

C Welington Castillo

Opening Day age: 29

Contract status: Under contract through the 2017 season with player option for 2018

2016 stats: .264/.322/.423, 14 HR, 68 RBI, 41 R, 2 SB, 457 PA

Why to be impressed: Former Oriole Matt Wieters has received many more accolades throughout his career, but Castillo is a year younger and has posted a .747 OPS over the last two years compared to Wieters’ .723 mark over that same stretch. Not known for his defense, Castillo threw out a career-high 38 percent of runners attempting to steal last season.

Why to be concerned: Arguably the biggest reason why Arizona didn’t tender Castillo was his ranking in the bottom five in pitch-framing metrics from 2013-2015 with only modest improvement last year. And while the Orioles downplay the significance of his absence this spring, Castillo’s participation in the World Baseball Classic eliminated the chance for him to better familiarize himself with his new pitchers.

2017 outlook: There’s little reason to think that Castillo won’t be a solid short-term starting catcher with Caleb Joseph backing him up as the Orioles wait on the progress of top prospect Chance Sisco. However, it is fair to wonder what ultimately turns clubs off from Castillo as he’s been traded twice and non-tendered over the last two calendar years.

Not-so-scientific projections for 2017: .256/.315/.421, 15 HR, 62 RBI, 44 R, 1 SB, 431 PA

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Castillo under microscope as new Orioles catcher

Posted on 17 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles weren’t wrong to move on from Matt Wieters when they signed new catcher Welington Castillo to a one-year, $6 million contract with a $7 million player option for 2018 in December.

If they truly believe Chance Sisco is their catcher of the future, it would have made little sense to commit big money and multiple years to Wieters after they were stuck paying him the $15.8 million qualifying offer amount last season. And even with the veteran backstop still dangling on the open market in mid-February, the thought of the Orioles possibly playing the waiting game for a starting catcher this late into the offseason just wouldn’t have made sense. Wieters clearly wasn’t signing a short-term deal in mid-December like Castillo did.

Despite agent Scott Boras’ best efforts to create a market for his client, the idea of Wieters has always been better than the real product, which began with the unfair amount of hype he received before ever stepping foot in the majors. It’s dangerous investing in a 30-year-old catcher who’s already had an incredible workload behind the plate and has seen his offense decline over the last five years. For all of the praise for Wieters’ handling of a pitching staff, his pitch-framing numbers are below average and the Buck Showalter-era Orioles pitched at their best in 2014 when he missed most of the season due to Tommy John surgery, making you question the true value of those intangibles.

Since being worth 3.5 wins above replacement in the 2012 season, Wieters has been valued at a total of 3.9 WAR in 373 games since the start of 2013.

Of course, none of this will prevent Castillo from being under the microscope this season as he replaces a four-time All-Star selection who was popular in the clubhouse.

Castillo has the edge over Wieters offensively over the last two seasons with a .747 on-base plus slugging percentage compared to the latter’s .723. He’s also a year younger and hasn’t logged nearly as many innings behind the plate in his major league career. Castillo is unlikely to hit in the heart of the order, but his offense shouldn’t be an issue, either.

But there are fair concerns about a catcher now with his fourth major league club since the start of 2015.

You can understand Castillo’s desire to play for his country in the World Baseball Classic, but the Dominican native forgoing the opportunity to better familiarize himself with a new pitching staff can’t sit too well with the organization privately. Whether he’s on the same page with Orioles pitchers early in the season will be something to monitor.

Castillo improved in the pitch-framing department last season — finishing better than Wieters — but he was one of the five worst catchers in the majors over the previous three years, according to StatCorner.com. He worked on this part of his game with former major league catcher Jose Molina — one of the best framers in baseball throughout his career — in the offseason, but spending more time in Sarasota reinforcing these “presentation” principles with bench coach John Russell and projected backup and above-average framer Caleb Joseph would be preferable to playing in the competitive environment of the WBC next month.

The 5-foot-10, 220-pound catcher threw out an impressive 38 percent of runners attempting to steal last year, but his 10 passed balls tied for the National League lead. In contrast, Wieters threw out 35 percent and had just one passed ball in 65 more innings behind the plate.

These concerns aren’t secrets, evident by Arizona’s decision not to tender Castillo a contract after a 2.4 WAR season. The Orioles know they signed a catcher with imperfections, but those flaws aren’t terribly different from the more acclaimed catcher who was seeking a much bigger payday.

The Orioles made the right decision to move on from Wieters, but it will be up to Castillo to show they chose the right replacement.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts counting down to spring training

Posted on 18 January 2017 by Luke Jones

With Orioles pitchers and catchers reporting to Sarasota for spring training in less than a month, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There are valid reasons for the Orioles not to re-sign Mark Trumbo, but nothing about Dan Duquette’s history in Baltimore makes me believe he truly values a compensatory draft pick for the departure of the slugger.

2. Entering Wednesday, Baltimore’s 2017 estimated payroll of $157.9 million ranked eighth in the majors, according to Baseball Reference. I question how wisely the Orioles are budgeting for their roster more than the amount they’re spending these days.

3. Zach Britton is worth every penny of the $11.4 million he’ll be paid in 2017, but I still believe it was organizational malpractice not to pursue a trade this offseason with the lucrative market we saw for closers. A club with other needs and a shrinking window missed an opportunity.

4. Former Orioles prospect Josh Hader is MLB.com’s top left-handed pitching prospect, which will make fans groan in light of their current system. It’s easy to call the Bud Norris trade a failure given his disastrous 2015, but his 2014 season and playoff win against Detroit make it easier to stomach.

5. It’s difficult to believe the 25th anniversary of the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards will arrive this April, and Stadium Journey again recognized it as the top stadium experience in North America. Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium also ranked 14th and topped all NFL facilities on the list.

6. My fondness for Camden Yards aside, the Orioles donning jersey patches and using special baseballs all season for the 25th anniversary after making such a big deal out of the ballpark’s 20th feels excessive.

7. I like the acquisition of Seth Smith and believe he will be a solid addition to the lineup, but the Orioles’ potential reliance on multiple platoons is going to be problematic in this era of extreme bullpen use. Finding another bat who can hit left-handed pitching is a must.

8. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised since Scott Boras represents him, but I’m surprised that Matt Wieters hasn’t found a new home yet. The Orioles were still wise to sign Welington Castillo on the cheap and not endure the waiting game for a catcher turning 31 in May.

9. The retrospectives to Wieters’ time with the Orioles only reminded me that Chris Hoiles is one of the most underrated players in club history. Per Baseball Reference, Hoiles was worth 23.4 wins above replacement in 894 career games while Wieters is at 16.3 in 882 games.

10. I’m interested to see what lingering effect Brad Brach’s arbitration case could have as the 2016 All-Star selection reportedly filed at $3.05 million while the Orioles offered $2.525 million. The right-hander took his second-half struggles hard and undoubtedly would be reminded of those in a February hearing.

11. The Orioles defense led the American League with 50 defensive runs saved in 2014 and followed that with minus-9 in 2015 and minus-29 last year. The outfield ranked last in the AL in 2016 at minus-52. Smith and Castillo alone aren’t fixing such a steep overall defensive decline.

12. Adam Jones is coming off a rough year, but he’s a solid bet to bounce back despite entering his age-31 season. His .280 batting average on balls in play was a career low and suggests tough luck while his walk rate, strikeout rate, and average exit velocity improved from 2015.

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Trumbo rejects Orioles’ qualifying offer to become free agent

Posted on 14 November 2016 by Luke Jones

Outfielder Mark Trumbo rejected the Orioles’ $17.2 million qualifying offer on Monday, officially making him a free agent.

His decision to turn down the one-year offer was expected after Trumbo led the major leagues with 47 home runs in 2016. The Orioles will now receive a compensatory draft pick at the end of the first round of the 2017 draft should Trumbo sign with another club this winter.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and the Orioles have expressed interest in re-signing the 30-year-old to a long-term deal, but they would prefer to make him their regular designated hitter while upgrading their defense in right field. Despite a career-high .850 on-base plus slugging percentage to go along with 108 runs batted in, Trumbo finished at minus-11 defensive runs saved in the outfield, which damaged his overall value as a player.

Because of that below-average defense, Trumbo finished 11th on the 2016 Orioles in wins above replacement at 1.6, according to Baseball Reference.

His career season at the plate earned Trumbo an invitation to his second All-Star Game as well as a Silver Slugger Award, but he hit just .214 with a .754 OPS after the All-Star break. His .256 batting average for the season was just above his career .251 mark.

Trumbo is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to fetch a four-year, $60 million deal that wouldn’t be far off the four-year, $57 million contract Seattle gave former Oriole Nelson Cruz two years ago, but it remains to be seen how the draft-pick stipulation might impact Trumbo’s value on the open market, especially with a number of other attractive outfield options available.

Seven other major league free agents rejected qualifying offers from their former teams before Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline: outfielders Jose Bautista (Toronto), Yoenis Cespedes (New York Mets), Ian Desmond (Texas), and Dexter Fowler (Chicago Cubs), first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (Toronto), closer Kenley Jansen (Los Angeles Dodgers), and third baseman Justin Turner (Dodgers). Two players — Mets second baseman Neil Walker and Philadelphia starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson — accepted offers to remain with their current clubs for the 2017 season.

Trumbo becomes the fourth player to reject a qualifying offer from the Orioles over the last three offseasons, joining Cruz, starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, and first baseman Chris Davis. Of course, Davis eventually signed a seven-year, $161 million deal to remain in Baltimore last winter while Chen and Cruz signed elsewhere.

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Orioles thoughts on Wieters decision, Britton snub, Showalter as finalist

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles gambled by extending a qualifying offer to catcher Matt Wieters last offseason and ultimately chose not to do it again.

Yes, they were able to keep the 30-year-old for another season when he accepted, but the $15.8 million price tag wasn’t cheap and likely altered the rest of their offseason plans. Wieters earned his fourth trip to the All-Star Game in 2016, but his .243 average and .711 on-base plus slugging percentage were his lowest marks since 2013. In fact, his league-adjusted OPS (OPS+) of 87 was the worst of his career and he was worth a decent but unspectacular 1.7 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

Those are numbers unlikely to improve — or to be maintained — as he gets older.

It’s easy to point to Caleb Joseph’s abysmal 2016 campaign as validation for keeping Wieters last year, but there’s no telling how the backup might have fared had the latter moved on. Joseph had been acceptable at the plate with regular playing time in the previous two seasons, and the Orioles would have added another veteran catcher to the mix anyway.

We also don’t know what executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette might have done with an extra $15.8 million at his disposal last winter. As just one example, would the Orioles have been able to sweeten their multi-year offer to outfielder Dexter Fowler — the kind of player they needed at the top of the order in 2016 — to make him change his mind about returning to Chicago?

A year later, arguments for extending Wieters a $17.2 million qualifying offer with thoughts of fetching a compensatory draft pick were certainly valid. Another year removed from Tommy John surgery, the veteran backstop quelled concerns about his right elbow by playing in 124 games and throwing out 35 percent of runners attempting to steal, making him more appealing to potential suitors than he would have been last year. There’s also the reality of Wieters being the top catcher on the open market after Wilson Ramos suffered a torn ACL in September.

Observers have pointed to recent deals awarded to Russell Martin (five years, $82 million) and Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) as benchmarks for Wieters even though Martin is a superior defensive catcher with similar offensive production and McCann was substantially better as a hitter at the time of his signing.

But a qualifying offer would have also depressed Wieters’ value to other teams, who would have then been required to forfeit their first-round pick to sign him. Would that reality coupled with an underwhelming season at the plate have prompted Wieters and super agent Scott Boras to take another great one-year payout from the Orioles with thoughts of being in decent free-agent position again next year?

It’s hard to say, but you can understand the Orioles’ trepidation.

Replacing Wieters will hardly be a slam dunk, but the Orioles proved in 2014 that his presence isn’t the be-all and end-all of their success as they won 96 games despite him missing most of the season and Joseph and journeyman Nick Hundley handling the catching duties. Manager Buck Showalter and teammates have long praised Wieters’ leadership and ability to handle a pitching staff, but there’s also his below-average pitch-framing numbers, his struggles blocking pitches, and sometimes-questionable pitch-calling to consider.

Wieters does offer intangibles that are difficult to quantify, but the perception of him has always been better than the actual player who never met the unreasonable expectations laid out before he even debuted in the majors.

It will be interesting to see how an over-30 catcher already with 7,000 major league innings behind the plate will be valued in the open market without a qualifying offer attached to him.

A draft pick would have been great had Wieters rejected the qualifying offer, but the possibility of having to pay him $17.2 million was too risky with other needs to address and significant raises owed to younger players in arbitration.

He may have been the right player, but it wasn’t the right price.

Britton “snubbed”

I was surprised when All-Star closer Zach Britton wasn’t named a finalist for the 2016 American League Cy Young Award.

Considering the amount of discussion surrounding his candidacy over the last few months, I assumed he would sneak into the top three in the voting conducted at the end of the regular season. However, the Baseball Writers Association of America correctly concluded that very good starting pitchers are still far more valuable than an exceptional closer over the course of a 162-game season.

There’s no disputing that Britton had a historic season with a 0.54 ERA in 67 innings while going 47-for-47 in save opportunities, but the lefty also tossed less than one-third of the innings recorded by Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, or Justin Verlander and only 16 of Britton’s 47 saves came in one-run victories, meaning he was working with some margin for error in roughly two-thirds of those save chances.

That’s not intended to diminish what Britton did, but the context is necessary. A better argument probably could have been made with a bigger workload, but the 28-year-old pitched more than one inning just seven times.

None of the aforementioned AL Cy Young finalists posted an ERA below 3.00, but there’s a reason why virtually all relief pitchers are former starters. It’s far more difficult to succeed going through a lineup multiple times in an outing, and that should still be recognized despite no AL starter standing out with a truly great season in 2016.

Britton absolutely earned the Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year Award and warranted far more consideration for the Cy Young than any relief pitcher in recent years. It would have been great to see him as a finalist, but I can’t go as far as saying it’s a travesty, either.

Showalter as a finalist

It’s unfortunate that Showalter being named a finalist for the AL Manager of the Year now looks like a punchline after his decision not to use Britton in the wild-card game cost the Orioles a better chance of advancing.

A club almost universally picked to finish in fourth or fifth place in the AL East this season qualified for the playoffs for the third time in the last five years, a reflection of the exceptional work Showalter has done since arriving in Baltimore in 2010. You can still consider Showalter to be an excellent manager while also believing he made a terrible move that he’ll likely hear about for the rest of his career.

Great doesn’t mean perfect as the Orioles and their fans painfully learned that night.

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Orioles make qualifying offer to Trumbo, pass on Wieters

Posted on 07 November 2016 by Luke Jones

Facing Monday’s deadline to submit qualifying offers to their pending free agents, the Orioles settled on a split-decision with their two biggest names.

As expected, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette did make the one-year, $17.2 million offer to outfielder Mark Trumbo while passing on the opportunity to do so with four-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters. Should Trumbo reject the offer, the Orioles would be entitled to a compensatory draft pick if he signs with another club this offseason.

While making the qualifying offer to the 30-year-old Trumbo was a no-brainer after he led the major leagues with 47 home runs this season, the decision with Wieters was more complicated. After accepting the club’s $15.8 million qualifying offer a year ago when he was still returning to full strength from Tommy John surgery, the 30-year-old Wieters appeared in 124 games but posted a .243 batting average and .711 on-base plus slugging percentage, his lowest marks since 2013.

With Wieters now considered the top free-agent catcher on the market after Wilson Ramos suffered a serious knee injury in September, this offseason likely represents his last best chance to secure a long-term deal. That reality led many to believe he would have rejected the one-year offer, which would have then led to draft compensation for the Orioles. However, a $17.2 million salary for 2017 would be hefty for a player worth only 1.7 wins above replacement this past season, according to Baseball Reference.

A two-time Gold Glove winner earlier in his career, Wieters threw out 35 percent of runners attempting to steal in 2016, but his pitch framing is rated well below average and he struggled to block pitches in the second half of the season. With early estimates already putting their 2017 payroll above $150 million with club-controlled players owed raises in arbitration, the Orioles ultimately didn’t want to risk having to make such a large one-year commitment to a catcher past his prime.

Of course, there’s always the possibility of Baltimore working out a long-term deal with Wieters should his market be cooler than anticipated, but super agent Scott Boras will be hellbent on finding the kind of deal he didn’t believe was out there a year ago when he accepted the Orioles’ qualifying offer.

It will be interesting to see how the market develops for Trumbo, who is coming off a career season that earned him the second All-Star invitation of his career. The offensive numbers speak for themselves, but his defensive struggles in right field negatively impacted his overall value as he finished with a 1.6 WAR, making him a better candidate to serve as a first baseman or designated hitter moving forward.

Though Trumbo is likely to reject the qualifying offer, he found a home in Baltimore and was very comfortable in the Orioles clubhouse after being traded three times in a two-year period.

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Orioles announce plans for 2017 FanFest on Jan. 28

Posted on 28 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The 2016 World Series isn’t over, but the Orioles have announced the date for their annual FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center.

After the unusual timing of holding the event in mid-December last year and long before first baseman Chris Davis was re-signed to a seven-year, $161 million contract, the Orioles have moved FanFest back to later in the offseason on Jan. 28, 2017 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. As always, it will feature autograph sessions with current and former players as well as question-and-answer forums with management and players, clinics, exhibits, and games for kids.

Access for season-ticket holders begins at 10 a.m.

An event designed to celebrate baseball and drive ticket sales for the new season, the Orioles will have interesting decisions to make between now and then with a group of free agents headlined by 2016 All-Star selections Matt Wieters and Mark Trumbo. In 2017, Baltimore will be attempting to qualify for the postseason for the fourth time in the last six seasons.

Tickets are not yet on sale, but more information will be released at Orioles.com/FanFest as the event approaches.

 

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For better or worse, Orioles keep swinging for the fences

Posted on 24 September 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After taking blow after blow from Boston in a four-game sweep this week, the Orioles were finally able to fight back against Arizona on Friday night.

A night filled with frustration and missed opportunities was finally salvaged when Mark Trumbo homered to lead off the bottom of the 12th inning, giving the Orioles a 3-2 win and keeping them a half-game behind Detroit for the second wild card spot. It was Baltimore’s third solo home run of the night after Buck Showalter’s lineup had left 14 runners on base and gone 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

Trumbo provided the Orioles with just their third win all season when trailing at the end of eight innings.

“It can be a real gut punch if it goes the other way,” said Trumbo, who hit his 44th homer of the year. “It would be a tough one to stomach. Fighting really hard in the thick of things and then to have a couple chances [wasted]. The effort’s there, but someone’s got to get that big hit eventually.”

The big hits absent throughout the Red Sox series eventually came via the long ball against the last-place Diamondbacks, but the Orioles certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves, which has been a defining story for much of an underwhelming second half.

Pedro Alvarez hit a solo shot to give the Orioles their first run of the game in the eighth inning, but that came only after he had struck out with the bases loaded in the first and popped out with runners on second and third and one out in the sixth. Matt Wieters hit the game-tying homer to lead off the bottom of the ninth, but his teammates didn’t capitalize when he led off the 11th with a single to start a bases-loaded, one-out rally.

The Orioles even attempted to play small ball as Michael Bourn bunted twice, once unsuccessfully and the other leading to no runs in the 11th. In the ninth, J.J. Hardy was thrown out at the plate on a very aggressive send by third base coach Bobby Dickerson.

“This was a game where we kind of knew it didn’t matter what the situation was, what we were down by,” Wieters said. “We were going to have to find a way to win this game.”

To no surprise, that way was by the home run as has been the case all season.

This is what the Orioles do, for better or worse. Such a reliance on the long ball will be a blast when they’re hot, but the tough times will leave you wondering if they’re ever going to score runs again.

The club isn’t going to magically change fundamentally in the final week of the season. That’s more of a big-picture discussion for executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and Showalter to have after the season.

The hitter-by-hitter approach certainly needs to be better than it has been over the last week in particular, but the Orioles’ best — and perhaps only — hope of securing a playoff spot is getting hot with the long ball again.

You don’t have to like their chances, but the formula still has us talking about them in the thick of the playoff race in late September. Maybe it can take them a little bit further still.

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