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Orioles’ rare victory against Price not one to take for granted

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Orioles’ rare victory against Price not one to take for granted

Posted on 02 April 2013 by Luke Jones

The Orioles’ season-opening win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday had just about everything you’d like to see.

A five-run seventh inning turned a 3-2 deficit into a 7-4 a comeback victory over an American League East foe.

Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Chris Davis combined to go 6-for-12 with two home runs, three walks, and seven runs batted in. Wieters’ two-run home run provided the early lead, Jones’ two-run double in the seventh put the Orioles back in front, and Davis’ three-run blast later that inning finished off Tampa Bay for good. You can’t ask for much more from the heart of the order.

Starting pitcher Jason Hammel pitched six solid innings and allowed only three runs despite being up in the strike zone for a good portion of the afternoon. The de facto ace earned his first victory of the season and was picked up by Troy Patton and Darren O’Day in the seventh and eighth innings.

All-Star closer Jim Johnson earned his first save in an uneventful ninth inning.

20-year-old third baseman Manny Machado picked up where he left off in the field last year with a couple smooth plays and collected a single and a walk hitting in the No. 2 spot.

Even Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold, two players the Orioles are depending on to remain healthy this season, went a combined 4-for-8 at the plate.

The euphoria accompanying any Opening Day win aside, we know pennants aren’t won or lost in April except in the most extreme cases, but a victory in a game pitched by 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner David Price is one to put in your back pocket over the course of a 162-game schedule. Price didn’t factor into the decision, but the patience and tough at-bats put together by Baltimore hitters — including a 13-pitch walk drawn by Wieters in the third — pushed the left-hander’s pitch count to 100 through six innings and forced Rays manager Joe Maddon to go to his bullpen earlier than he wanted to with his ace on the mound.

The Orioles made life more difficult than it needed to be for themselves by going 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and leaving four runners stranded on second or third with Price in the ball game, but that’s as much a credit to the 27-year-old pitcher as any shortcoming of Buck Showalter’s lineup. Jones finally broke the 1-for-9 drought overall with runners in scoring position with the double off lefty Jake McGee, who relieved Price to start the seventh.

In three starts against Baltimore last season, Price was 2-0 and allowed one earned run and 13 hits in 22 1/3 innings. No player on the current 25-man roster had ever hit a homer against Price until Wieters launched one into the left-field seats to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead in the first inning.

The Orioles weren’t fazed by the power lefty, even after he threw four shutout innings against them in Sarasota last week. And they came away with a win in the first of 19 meetings with the Rays, who are regarded by most as a division favorite along with the Toronto Blue Jays this year.

Tueday’s victory is only one in a 162-game marathon, but it’s one you put on the positive side of the ledger that you typically wouldn’t expect to have when facing one of the best pitchers in the game. Of course, it means nothing if you don’t win the close games in which you have a chance, an area in which the Orioles excelled last year with their 29-9 record in one-run games, 16-2 mark in extra-inning affairs, and astonishing 74-0 record when leading after seven innings.

As we would have said had they lost 11-1 at Tropicana Field on Tuesday, it’s only one game. But it is one game just as important as the 161 to follow. And for what’s expected to be an extremely tight division race, Tuesday’s victory represents one the Orioles won’t have to make up in September.

It’s a new season and the improbable 2012 season is only a memory, but the Orioles have already come away with one that you would not have expected.

And that was a familiar feeling.

 

 

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Orioles don’t stand out in “ifs, coulds, and maybes” AL East division

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Orioles don’t stand out in “ifs, coulds, and maybes” AL East division

Posted on 01 April 2013 by Luke Jones

From the moment catcher Matt Wieters grounded out to end Game 5 of the American League Division Series and the Orioles began setting their sights toward the 2013 season, the same question has been asked over and over.

Will they build upon the surprising success that resulted in their first postseason appearance in 15 years?

Regardless of what executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter try to tell you, it wasn’t a successful offseason. The stated goals of acquiring a middle-of-the-order bat and an established starting pitcher were never realized unless you count the minor-league signings of Jair Jurrjens and 36-year-old Freddy Garcia, who will each begin the year at Triple-A Norfolk.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Orioles can’t and won’t compete in the AL East this season. Critics arguing that the Orioles won’t repeat their 29-9 record in one-run games and 16-2 mark in extra-inning affairs overlook the fact that the club was built to excel in late-and-close situations with a stellar bullpen and arguably the best tactician in the game with Showalter in the dugout.

That success rate will be very difficult to repeat, but the Orioles will point to last year’s injuries to Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold, Jason Hammel, and Brian Roberts and the overall lack of progress by their young starting pitchers last year as evidence that they didn’t need a perfect set of circumstances to win a year ago. Better overall health for the aforementioned group as well as the emergence of just an arm or two from the likes of Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Dylan Bundy, and Kevin Gausman would do wonders in overcoming a more realistic record in games decided by one run.

“I like our guys” has been Showalter’s battle cry since the end of last season, and the Orioles will need to validate that feeling if they’re to break the 90-win mark for the second straight year. It’s difficult not to trust the Baltimore skipper after orchestrating a 24-game improvement from 2011 to 2012.

A core group of position players including Adam Jones, Wieters, Manny Machado, and Markakis as well as top pitching prospects Bundy and Gausman paint a very bright future in Baltimore in the years to come. The ceiling for the 2013 Orioles — and even more so in the next few years — is substantially higher than it’s been in a very long time.

This year’s AL East lacks Yankees and Red Sox teams — or even one of them — that will inevitably run away with the division crown. The parity existing top to bottom has made this race more difficult to forecast than any in recent memory.

Toronto appears to be the best on paper, but will a plethora of new additions mesh quickly or experience growing pains as many revamped teams often do?

Tampa Bay has more than enough starting pitching to offset the departure of James Shields, but will the Rays have enough offense to separate themselves?

The Yankees are old and banged up and the Red Sox are coming off their worst season in 47 years, but both clubs still have enough talent to hang in the division race with enough good fortune.

It’s a division full of ifs, coulds, and maybes everywhere you look, but there aren’t enough answers present to place the Orioles a cut above the rest.

The lineup has quality but not enough depth to overcome an injury or two, whereas the starting rotation has plenty of options but lacks the necessary quality to give you great confidence in the Orioles getting what they’ll need on the mound for 162 games.

Baltimore’s Opening Day order top to bottom is good enough to compete, but there’s little help waiting in the minors if the injury bug strikes virtually any position on the field. The club will depend on the return of Reimold and the continued development of Machado to offset the loss of power hitter Mark Reynolds for a club that finished ninth in the AL in runs score last season.

The starting rotation was in flux most of last season but was able to depend on Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and a revamped Chris Tillman in the second half of the season. You have to wonder if Chen and Gonzalez can duplicate their rookie success with the book now out on how they work and it’s difficult to trust any other young pitchers to simply put it together after the underwhelming results of the past few years. Even Hammel, the de facto ace, doesn’t have a track record you’d like to see in a No. 1 starter. Any combination of hurlers put together by Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair feels too much like a group of third, fourth, and fifth starters.

The late-season arrival of Gausman or Bundy would spark plenty of excitement, but expecting either young pitcher to thrive in the thick of a pennant race is — again — asking a lot.

Lots of promise, but more questions than answers at this point.

A bullpen that competes with Tampa Bay to be the best in the division will again be asked to shoulder an extremely heavy load, but it’s difficult to demand Jim Johnson and his mates to do what they did last year in throwing more innings than all but two bullpends (Minnesota and Kansas City) in the American League. Johnson’s club-record 51 saves sent the 29-year-old to his first All-Star Game, but an underwhelming rate of 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings pitched strongly suggests the sinkerballer is in line to come back to the pack when pitching to contact so frequently as a closer.

The performance of relief pitchers is more difficult to project than any other position, with peaks and valleys consuming most careers like unpredictable investments on Wall Street.

The Orioles don’t have the lineup or starting rotation of the Blue Jays, but Toronto’s bullpen has plenty of uncertainty.

Baltimore’s lineup tops the Rays’ order, but the starting five doesn’t stack up to Tampa Bay’s rotation.

Ironically enough, the Orioles appear to match up well against the traditional heavyweights that beat the rest of the division like a drum for the better part of 15 years, but New York and Boston are no longer the class of the AL East.

The outlook of the division appears murky, with the Orioles having enough going for them to envision them at the top if all goes well but not enough to feel strongly about that possibility.

These questions have answers that are tough to predict as the Orioles aren’t terribly different from the rest of the division in that regard.

It could mean an AL East title or even a last-place finish if most of their questions fetch negative answers this season.

You could even draw the order of finish out of a hat if you’d like, which might be as accurate as any expert trying to look into a crystal ball.

My guess is the Orioles will fall somewhere in the middle, but that doesn’t mean anything as Showalter’s Orioles are used to hearing their critics doubt them.

And they know ifs, coulds, and maybes will only be answered on the diamond.

To view The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction 2013 MLB Predictions, click HERE.

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Orioles’ listless offseason leaves sour taste instead of excitement

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Orioles’ listless offseason leaves sour taste instead of excitement

Posted on 12 February 2013 by Luke Jones

This was supposed to be the most exciting start to spring training of the last 15 years as Orioles pitchers and catchers reported to Sarasota on Tuesday.

To be fair, it still is as the Orioles come off their first playoff appearance since 1997, but that wasn’t exactly a daunting standard to top after a string of 14 consecutive losing seasons was snapped last year. However, that positive feeling isn’t nearly as overwhelming as it should be as we hear the predictable reports this week of players being in the best shape of their lives and others eyeing career seasons after making adjustments over the winter.

Even with the memory of the Ravens winning the Super Bowl fresh in our minds, the city should be abuzz over the Orioles after one of the most exciting seasons in the 59-year history of the franchise in which a club expected to finish fifth in the American League East won 93 games and prevailed in the inaugural AL Wild Card game to advance to the AL Division Series. But instead of using the success of 2012 to springboard the Orioles to new heights and capitalizing on their karma with a productive offseason, the Orioles and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette largely stood pat.

The Orioles appeared dormant to put it mildly while harsher critics believe Duquette and the front office rested on the laurels of the unlikeliest of seasons instead of striking while the iron was hot to add talent to a roster that overcame countless flaws last season. No matter how you want to describe or justify it, the Orioles didn’t do enough to make improvements to a club that deserved better after one of the most remarkable seasons in team history. They didn’t spend money or even pull the trigger on a notable trade like they did last year when they sent veteran starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie to Colorado for pitchers Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, a move that worked beautifully for the Orioles.

This winter, Baltimore parted ways with first baseman Mark Reynolds and pitcher Joe Saunders, re-signed left fielder Nate McLouth, traded second baseman Robert Andino, and acquired infielders Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia, and Travis Ishikawa. That essentially brings you up to speed if you were hibernating all winter and aren’t concerned with a few other waiver-wire additions and minor-league signings, which — in fairness to Duquette — could bring this year’s version of Miguel Gonzalez or McLouth to light at some point.

The idea of parting ways with Reynolds would have been acceptable had the Orioles found an upgrade such as signing veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche or trading for Kansas City’s Billy Butler, but they elected to solve the problem from within by sliding Chris Davis to the position. In turn, that’s created a question mark at designated hitter as a platoon of Wilson Betemit and a right-handed bat to be named later will be counted on to hold down that spot in the order.

Instead of looking to the free-agent market to find an established bat such as veteran Torii Hunter — who signed a two-year, $26 million deal with Detroit — to man left field, the Orioles will pray for the health of Nolan Reimold and hope McLouth can build on two strong months of play last season that resurrected his big-league career from life support.

Few expected the Orioles to be players for the top commodities on the market — outfielder Josh Hamilton and starting pitcher Zack Greinke — but “kicking the tires” was as far as the organization was willing to go on any free agent of even modest note. Avoiding a $150 million contract is understandable and even prudent, but avoiding the open market like the bubonic plague is disappointing.

Duquette vowed that the Orioles would look to acquire a middle-of-the-order bat and another veteran starting pitcher but has done neither to this point. While it’s true the free-agent market was lukewarm in terms of talent, take a look at the number of trades that went down around the big leagues this winter and you’ll find plenty that didn’t involve an organization parting with its top prospect, dispelling the notion that the Orioles would have needed to part with top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy to fetch anything of value.

Their payroll did climb as the Orioles dealt with a number of arbitration-eligible players in line for raises, but that’s simply the price of doing business and not a real reflection of trying to improve your club. The payroll increased from an estimated $84 million in 2012 to closer to the $90 million range at the start of spring training.

All those excuses sound too familiar for an organization that appeared to turn the corner last season. Instead of building on their success, the Orioles didn’t spend money or make a single addition — and, no, re-signing McLouth wasn’t an addition since he was already in Baltimore — that appears primed to help move the meter in the AL East.

It’s disappointing after such an enjoyable year.

In truth, there are still plenty of reasons for optimism as All-Star players Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are in their respective primes, talented 20-year-old third baseman Manny Machado will play his first full season in the majors, and Bundy and 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman could make an impact before the season is over.

A rotation including Hammel, Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, and Chris Tillman appears promising, but all four are also coming off career seasons that will need to be built upon. The names vying for the fifth spot in the rotation haven’t changed as Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, and Steve Johnson are all in the mix.

One of the best bullpens in baseball from last season remains intact, but relievers are also as unpredictable as the stock market from year to year.

Maybe the Orioles will be poised to finish 29-9 in one-run games and win 16 straight extra-inning games as they did last season, but both figures were historically remarkable and more anomalies than standards you could possibly expect to repeat, even with a shrewd manager such as Showalter.

Instead of a offseason that included a couple impact acquisitions to augment the progress made last year, we’re once again left with too many ifs and maybes, a familiar story for a organization with a group of players that deserved much better after the work they put in last season.

To truly feel confident in the Orioles’ ability to build upon the magic of last season — or even maintain it — Duquette, the front office, and ownership needed to take advantage of that fortune and simply didn’t. Finally poised with an opportunity to sell Baltimore as one of the most desirable destinations in all of baseball and Showalter as a manager players would love to play for, the Orioles instead stood pat with the hope that lightning would strike twice this season.

The Orioles may still compete this season, but a listless offseason did nothing to build confidence that they will do it again.

We’ll still look forward to spring training more than we have in a long time, but it could have been that much more exciting.

And I suppose the Orioles will once again need to prove us all wrong.

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Orioles avoid arbitration with Wieters, Davis, Matusz, Patton

Posted on 18 January 2013 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles Friday announced that they have agreed to terms with catcher Matt Wieters, infielder Chris Davis, and left-handed pitchers Troy Patton and Briant Matusz on one-year contracts, thus avoiding arbitration.

Wieters, 26, batted .249 (131-526) and set career-highs with 23 home runs, 83 RBI and 144 games played. Wieters was named to his second All-Star Team.

Davis, 26, batted .270 (139-515) with a team-leading 33 home runs and 85 RBI in 2012. Davis saw action in left field, right field, at first base, served as the designated hitter and recorded a win in his only appearance as a pitcher, May 6 at Boston.

Patton, 27, was 1-0 with a 2.43 ERA (55.2IP, 15ER) in a career-high 54 games for the Orioles in 2012.

Matusz, 25, was 6-10 with a 4.87 ERA (98.0IP, 53ER) in 34 games (16 starts) for the Orioles. In his 18 relief appearances in 2012, Matusz was 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA (13.1IP, 2ER).

The Orioles have also exchanged salary arbitration figures with right-handed pitchers Jim Johnson, Jason Hammel, and Darren O’Day.

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Hardy, Wieters, Jones take home 2012 Gold Glove awards

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Hardy, Wieters, Jones take home 2012 Gold Glove awards

Posted on 30 October 2012 by Luke Jones

In a year in which their overall defense was maligned for much of the season, the Orioles took home three 2012 American League Gold Glove awards on Tuesday night.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy, catcher Matt Wieters, and center fielder Adam Jones won hardware as Baltimore nabbed three defensive awards in the same year for the first time since 1998. The Orioles’ three winners were the most of any team in baseball this season.

The Orioles’ overall defense struggled for much of the season, but the trio of defenders was exceptional at their respective positions throughout the year.

Perhaps the most deserving of the Orioles’ three winners was Hardy, who nabbed his first Gold Glove after a remarkable season at shortstop. The 30-year-old infielder committed only six errors and posted a career-high .992 fielding percentage to lead the AL. His fielding percentage was the highest by an Orioles shortstop since Mike Bordick had a .998 mark in 2002.

Hardy also led AL shortstops in games (158), putouts (244), assists (529), range factor per game (4.89), defensive wins above replacement (2.8) and total zone runs (21).

He is the fourth Orioles shortstop to win a Gold Glove, joining Luis Aparicio (1964 and 1966), Mark Belanger (1969, 1971, 1973-78), and Cal Ripken Jr. (1991-92).

Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus and Seattle’s Brendan Ryan were the other AL finalists at the shortstop position.

The 26-year-old Wieters took home the AL award for the second straight year despite committing a career-high 10 errors and five passed balls. However, the strong-armed catcher threw out 38.6 percent of runners attempting to steal — third in the AL — as he built upon his reputation as one of the best defensive catchers in the game.

His 994 putouts were the third-most in AL history for a catcher and the most since former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada had 996 in 2001.

Detroit’s Alex Avila, Yankees catcher Russell Martin, and Chicago’s A.J. Pierzynski were the other finalists at the catcher position for the award.

Earning his first Gold Glove since the 2009 season and second overall, Jones surprisingly edged out rookie sensation Mike Trout for the center field honor. The 27-year-old committed eight errors and had a .982 fielding percentage, but managers and coaches around the league love Jones’ range and strong throwing arm. Jones led AL center fielders in putouts (439), ranked second in range factor per game (2.75), and third in assists (seven).

Jones is one of three Orioles outfielders who have won Gold Glove awards, with Paul Blair (1967 and 1969-75) and Nick Markakis (2011) being the others.

In addition to Trout, Jones edged out Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson for the AL honor.

This marks the 18th season in which the Orioles have won multiple Gold Glove awards in the same year. Their three winners were the most the Orioles have had in a season since 1998 when pitcher Mike Mussina, second baseman Roberto Alomar, and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro each claimed one. It’s the ninth time in club history the Orioles have had at least three winners.

Sixteen different Orioles players have earned a total of 64 Gold Glove awards since the honor was created in 1957. It’s the second most in the AL and one fewer than the New York Yankees.

 

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Three Orioles named finalists for Gold Glove awards

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Three Orioles named finalists for Gold Glove awards

Posted on 29 October 2012 by Luke Jones

Major League Baseball will announce the Rawlings Gold Glove winners on Tuesday night with the Orioles having three finalists this season.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy, center fielder Adam Jones, and catcher Matt Wieters have been named finalists for the 2012 awards at their respective positions. Wieters — along with right fielder Nick Markakis — won his first Gold Glove last season and Jones nabbed his only fielding honor in 2009.

Hardy is competing with Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus and Seattle’s Brendan Ryan at the position. The 30-year-old committed only six errors and posted a career-best .992 fielding percentage in 2012 as he was regarded as one of the finest defensive shortstops in the league.

Jones is up against Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson and the Angels’ Mike Trout. The 27-year-old outfielder committed eight errors and had a .982 fielding percentage in 2012.

Despite committing a career-high 10 errors and five passed balls in his third full season in the big leagues, Wieters is up for his second consecutive Gold Glove. He is competing with Detroit’s Alex Avila, Yankees catcher Russell Martin, and Chicago’s A.J. Pierzynski.

The awards will be announced at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night on ESPN2.

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Orioles get “Sabathia’ed” — My final post-card from The Bronx

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Orioles get “Sabathia’ed” — My final post-card from The Bronx

Posted on 13 October 2012 by Drew Forrester

As I sat in the upper deck of Yankee Stadium on Friday night and watched Game 5, all I kept thinking about was how unbelievably thin the margin of quality was between the Orioles and Yankees in 2012.

They played 23 times.  New York won “the series” 12-games-to-11.  I assume if they started another 7-game playoff series today, the Yankees would win that one, 4-games-to-3.  It truly was “that close”.

Or was it?

Sure, the 5th and final game went right down to the final three outs for the Orioles, but a few things stood out over the last six days that clearly displayed the difference(s) between the two clubs.

Without sounding like I’m part of the TBS broadcast crew, let’s go ahead and give credit where credit is due for the victors.

Make no mistake about it, New York won the series because of one man: C.C. Sabathia.

It’s that simple.  He beat the Orioles twice.  The Yankees won three games total.  That says it all.

Some players get paid 20 or 25 million dollars and put up a season or two worthy of that kind of production before starting to show cracks in the armor.  Sabathia earns every penny of his $23 million salary.  He’s a horse.

With all due respect to what turned out to be an Orioles strength in 2012 – starting pitching – the biggest reason why the Orioles will be on the golf course this Monday and the Yankees will be flying to Detroit is because New York has a true, legitimate #1 starter and the Baltimore team does not.

No disrespect to Jason Hammel.  Or Wei-Yin Chen.  Or Joe Saunders.

Those guys are decent major league starters.  Good pitchers more often than not.

But they’re not even close to Sabathia.

And that’s the biggest reason why New York won the series.  Sabathia beat us.  And, I guess, for $23 million a year, he probably should beat us.

Lesson learned for the Orioles moving forward:  If you want to be a champion, especially coming out of the American League East, you need to spend big money on a #1 starter.   Or Dylan Bundy better wind up being awfully freakin’ good someday down the road.

The play Derek Jeter made in the 8th inning of Game 5 should be the one they show on a continuous video loop in Cooperstown when his bust gets bolted into place sometime around 2020.

He’s no longer even close to the best shortstop in baseball, but when he needed to make a difficult play – with the game and perhaps his team’s season on the line – #2 moved gracefully to the top of the infield grass and made one of the most stylish plays of the year to nip J.J. Hardy at first on the slow chopper that snuffed out the Birds’ 8th inning rally.

If Jeter doesn’t come up with that play, Lord only knows what kind of inning the Orioles wind up producing.  I might be sitting in a coffee shop in Detroit right now getting ready for Game 1 of the ALCS between the Birds and Tigers.  That play from Jeter was a monster.

The final piece of bragging I’ll do on the Yankees centers on Joe Girardi.  Because he manages the Yankees, everything he does gets magnified x 100.  He has his detractors, as nearly all managers do, but Girardi had a spectacular series, aided greatly by the fact that his team swept Boston at season’s end to help give his aging roster a rest and set up the possibility of having Sabathia pitch twice if the series went five games.

I don’t think it’s fair to say Girardi “out-managed” Buck Showalter in the five games.  Buck made nearly all the right moves as well, particularly with his stellar use of the bullpen.  But Girardi got an “A” on his report card.  The biggest move, of course, was his decision to sit Alex Rodriguez for Game 5.  I heard lots of Yankee fans on Friday night bemoaning the fact that Girardi sat A-Rod, but it was the right call.  The $30 million man was making Chris Davis look like Babe Ruth.  And it was clearly getting to him.  So Girardi did the right thing, as tough it was.  He went with his “best line-up” for Game 5.  That’s what you do when you want to win.  We might not ever know if Sabathia bucked Girardi late in Game 5 or whether the skipper himself decided C.C. was going to pitch the whole night, win or lose, but the manager won again when he his workhorse finished the game off with runners all over the place and the Orioles foaming at the mouth for one big hit in the 8th or 9th inning.

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Orioles view tough Game 5 loss as only beginning of bright future

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Orioles view tough Game 5 loss as only beginning of bright future

Posted on 13 October 2012 by Luke Jones

NEW YORK — It’s never easy reflecting in the immediate aftermath of a loss that ends any season, let alone one like the Orioles just provided to the city of Baltimore.

Disappointment and frustration are understandable following the 3-1 loss to the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the American League Division Series. The lineup remained silent against CC Sabathia to finish the five-game series with a .187 batting average despite the pitching staff posting a team earned run average of 2.52.

More difficult than anything is the finality of knowing such a fun and unforgettable season has no more chapters to follow and enjoy. The forgotten ritual of hurrying home or to Camden Yards to watch the Orioles play on a daily basis underwent a renaissance this season, as it was once again fun to follow every game, every out, and every pitch.

As he’s done all year, manager Buck Showalter placed the loss in proper perspective in expressing how proud he was of his team’s 24-game improvement that resulted in the Orioles’ first playoff appearance since 1997. But it’s clear he wasn’t viewing Friday’s loss as an end but rather a beginning.

The words echoed in meaning as a message to a fan base that finally had its thirst quenched for postseason baseball.

“It’s always real tough to talk to them after the season is over because there is always another game,” Showalter said. “It is not goodbye to this group, it is ‘see you later.’ They have a very well-deserved rest.”

The clubhouse was disappointed and subdued, but the overall message conveyed wasn’t one of despondence or regret beyond the shortcomings of the offense against an impressive New York pitching staff.

Numerous players offered a sense of not only recognizing what they’d accomplished by going toe-to-toe with the Yankees but an acceptance of the bar permanently being raised in Baltimore. With All-Star players such as catcher Matt Wieters and center field Adam Jones – who both struggled mightily in their first postseason appearance – there’s no reason for the Orioles to believe they can’t duplicate or exceed what they accomplished in 2012.

“It stings right now, but at the same time, this is the baseball the Baltimore Orioles want to play,” Wieters said. “This is a starting point for us. We can move into the offseason and try to improve and get even a better team out there next year.”

The questions will now be directed off the field as the Orioles not only look to make improvements to their 25-man roster but must also address the future of the man most responsible for changing the culture of losing that permeated throughout the organization for 14 seasons. Showalter enters the final year of his contract after emerging as a strong candidate for AL Manager of the Year in 2012.

Arriving in Baltimore in 2010 with a reputation for helping turn around franchises, Showalter’s on-field leadership and fingerprints on various facets of the organization have been vital. His partnership with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette resulted in quirky – and, at times, head-scratching – personnel decisions that repeatedly worked out in the club’s favor in 2012.

Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos met players in the visitor clubhouse at Yankee Stadium following the defeat and addressed Showalter’s future when asked by reporters. He has not engaged in any extension talks with the Orioles manager, but Angelos offered the impression that it would be a priority to keep Showalter in the dugout beyond the 2013 season.

“That’s something that hasn’t come up, but if [he's] interested in staying, nobody’s more interested in keeping him than I am,” Angelos said. “And, certainly, I speak for everyone in the organization. They had Buck as the manger, Dan Duquette as the [general manager], and you certainly couldn’t ask for a better combination.”

In addition to Showalter’s future in Baltimore being secured for the long haul, time will reveal whether the front office capitalizes on the club’s newfound prosperity to attempt to lure more high-profile free agents to Baltimore. A 93-win season might be enough to eliminate the perception of the Orioles needing to overpay free agents as long as they’re willing to at least pay fair market value.

As has been documented countless times over the course of the 2012 season, many variables fell in the Orioles’ favor, including the demise of the Boston Red Sox and more vulnerability in New York and Tampa Bay that resulted in no one in the AL East running away with the division crown. The Yankees and Red Sox didn’t go crazy with free-agent spending last offseason, so it will be interesting to see how the two behemoths respond this winter knowing that the Orioles have become a substantial player in the division conversation.

“This is where we feel we belong. We can play in this division,” said Jones, who made no excuses for his anemic .087 batting average in the Division Series after a career year in 2012. “The East is going to get stronger. We feel we’re one of the teams in the East to beat now. We’re not just a pushover in the East. We’re going to come out next year ready to bust some heads.”

How the Orioles go about improving their club will be discussed in greater detail in the coming weeks. For now, we’ll remember a season in which the Orioles did something they hadn’t accomplished in a very long time.

It was an act more simplistic than winning a World Series but also more meaningful than the act of raising a trophy.

The Orioles made their fans believe once again. They restored a pride that had disappeared years ago and convinced us that it could still exist.

The challenge will now be keeping those feelings alive next year and in the seasons to follow.

“They were good teammates and people that our city and organization can be proud of,” Showalter said. “And we’ll see them again.”

Baltimore can only hope the Orioles and the exhilarating brand of baseball they brought back in 2012 are here to stay.

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Predictions of Jones, Wieters playing October baseball in New York come true

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Predictions of Jones, Wieters playing October baseball in New York come true

Posted on 09 October 2012 by Luke Jones

There was a time not long ago when many predicted Adam Jones and Matt Wieters would eventually be playing postseason baseball at Yankee Stadium.

The only difference in that prophecy was the Orioles’ center fielder and catcher would be wearing the pinstripes of the New York Yankees after moving on from Baltimore in free agency in a few years. Instead, after an improbable 93-win season, the Orioles head to New York tied 1-1 with Game 3 of the American League Division Series set for Wednesday night.

To survive and advance, the Orioles need only to repeat what they did on three separate occasions at Yankee Stadium in the regular season. Winning two of three means Baltimore advances to play either the Detroit Tigers or the Oakland Athletics in the AL Championship Series.

The Orioles were reminded of their 6-3 record at Yankee Stadium often after their 3-2 victory in Game 2 Monday night, but there was no hubris in describing the task in front of them. The club knows it won’t be easy.

“Everything’s heightened now,” Jones said. “We’ve just got to go there [and] win the inning. It’s not [simply saying], ‘Oh, we need to win Game 3.’ It’s not about that. We need to go out and win every inning of Game 3 first.”

Predictably, the Orioles are viewed as the underdog in this series against the playoff-tested Yankees. It’s understandable when remembering Jones and Wieters were still in grade school the last time Baltimore found itself in this position.

But don’t tell the Orioles they’re the young shepherd boy carrying a sling and a stone into battle against the powerful giant in the Bronx. The analogy doesn’t apply in their minds after finishing only two games behind the Yankees in the AL East and tying the season series at 9-9 this year.

“The David and Goliath or whatever you’re talking about, that’s not something that’s a mentality for us in there,” manager Buck Showalter said. “There are no flukes in baseball. There are no Cinderellas. You play too many games. You play 162 games. And that mentality might go for a short span, but it doesn’t play for very long, believe me.”

The success at Yankee Stadium came at different points in the season as the Orioles finished off three-game series wins in early May, early August and early September. Baltimore outscored New York in those nine games by a 49-32 margin.

The Orioles acknowledged those results in the regular season don’t mean anything now as they walk into a hostile environment to deal with the Yankees’ mystique that can leave opponents intimidated against a club that’s won 27 World Series titles. But the quiet confidence expressed by many players following Game 2 convinced anyone who’s followed the club all season that they won’t be intimidated.

“We played well there, but we haven’t played postseason baseball there,” Jones said. “That’s going to be a totally different atmosphere. Their fans are going to be crazy. Just like our whole stadium was packed full of orange and black, there’s going to be that dark blue. I know there’s going to be some orange and black up there, but you know the scenarios are going to change. It’s going to be their home-field advantage, but we’ve got to go there and try to silence that crowd as much as we can.”

Hearing Jones and Wieters talk about a playoff trip to Yankee Stadium has been surreal for anyone who dared dream of the Orioles finding themselves in the postseason over the last few years. Many feared Jones and Wieters would be long gone by the time the club would be in a position to play October baseball.

Of course, much of that trepidation disappeared earlier this season when Jones inked a six-year, $85.5 million contract extension. Wieters isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season, but their long-term commitment to Jones has reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to keeping their young talent in Baltimore.

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Sabathia simply better than Orioles’ top stars in Game 1 defeat

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Sabathia simply better than Orioles’ top stars in Game 1 defeat

Posted on 08 October 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — There’s no magical explanation for why the New York Yankees bested the Orioles in a 7-2 final to take Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Sunday night.

It wasn’t the wrong tactical decision by manager Buck Showalter or bad luck that cost the Orioles against their AL East rival.

The Yankees’ future Hall of Fame starting pitcher CC Sabathia was simply better than anything the Orioles had to offer in return. The burly left-hander delivered when it mattered most while Baltimore’s All-Star trio of Jim Johnson, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters couldn’t get the job done in the game’s final two innings.

Johnson surrendered a leadoff home run to Yankees catcher Russell Martin on a 2-0 fastball up in the strike zone and gave up five runs (four earned) to turn a nail-biter into a laugher by the time the Orioles collected the final out in the top of the ninth inning.

“I made a mistake, obviously to Martin, and a couple of other mistakes over the middle of the plate and we paid for it,” Johnson said. “It’s unfortunate after the effort we got out of everybody else that I didn’t hold my end of the bargain.”

But Johnson wasn’t alone as the Orioles had their chances to surge ahead against Sabathia, but the veteran southpaw made big pitches when he needed them late in the game. Baltimore tried to break a 2-2 tie by getting a runner in scoring position in the fifth, sixth, and eighth innings, but Sabathia was at his best when the Orioles threatened to retake the lead.

Collecting his eighth career win in the postseason, Sabathia held the Orioles to two earned runs over 8 2/3 innings, striking out seven and stranding the potential go-ahead run in scoring position after a leadoff double by J.J. Hardy in the eighth inning.

Jones struck out swinging on a 2-2 cutter for the first out before Wieters fouled out to first baseman Mark Teixeira as the All-Star hitters could not give the Orioles the lead. First baseman Mark Reynolds grounded to short to end the threat before the Yankees’ bats surged ahead in the final inning.

“We had our chances,” Showalter said. “We had some some chances there, some good people up that had solid years for us, and it’s more a tribute to [Sabathia] than any detraction from our guys.”

Despite some exercising 20-20 hindsight after the series-opening loss, there was no reason to preserve Johnson for extra innings because the possibility of a save situation didn’t exist playing extra frames at Camden Yards. Even with his ninth-inning struggles in Arlington, you don’t shy away from your best reliever who allowed just one run over his last 26 innings and gave up only three home runs all year over 68 2/3 innings of work in the regular season.

You can count on one hand the number of times Johnson didn’t come through for the Orioles this season and still have fingers remaining. The latest occurrence just happened to come at the wrong time for his club.

Others — including Hall of Fame shortstop and TBS analyst Cal Ripken — called for Jones to bunt in the eighth inning with Hardy standing on second with nobody out. While it wouldn’t have been a bad play had Showalter called for his center fielder to lay one down, you can understand the decision to allow his best hitter to swing away with a runner already in scoring position and Wieters and Reynolds not exactly sporting stellar career numbers against Sabathia. There’s also the argument Jones had various ways to move the runner to third even if he couldn’t collect a hit.

Jones hadn’t laid down a sacrifice bunt all season and entered the night with a .341 average in 41 career at-bats against the Yankees left-hander. Even if he does advance Hardy to third, critics are then questioning the Baltimore manager for taking the bat out of the hands of the team’s most valuable hitter if Wieters and Reynolds don’t come through. A Jones bunt may have also led Yankees manager Joe Girardi to walk Wieters intentionally, leading to the strikeout-prone Reynolds and the rookie Manny Machado being the ones needing to cash in. It’s not exactly a successful trip through the order with both your No. 3 and 4 hitters having the bat taken out of their hands.

Going to Johnson in a tie game in the ninth and allowing Jones to swing away in the eighth weren’t the wrong moves. You don’t suddenly change who you are and what brought you here just because you’re playing in the postseason.

The Orioles’ top guys simply didn’t come through while Sabathia did.

When the chips were down late in the game, the Yankees pitcher was simply better than the best on which the Orioles have counted all season long.

The home loss makes Monday’s Game 2 that much more critical for the Orioles to win, with rookie left-hander Wei-Yin Chen going to the mound against the 40-year-old Andy Pettitte. There’s plenty of baseball to play in the five-game series, but the Orioles’ failure to come through on Sunday night made their road to the American League Championship Series that much more difficult.

Now faced with the task of winning three of their next four possible games against the Yankees — and the final three being played in the Bronx — to take the series, the Orioles backs are once again against the wall. And in case you’d forgotten, they’re used to it.

In fact, they embrace it.

“That is why we play five games,” Johnson said. “Every time we take the field we are going to compete. We are going to play hard. Obviously, it’s an unfortunate way to lose this first game, especially at home. So like I said, we’ve battled all year. Why would we make it easy now?”

 

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