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Hammel confident in taking ball for Game 1 of ALDS

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Hammel confident in taking ball for Game 1 of ALDS

Posted on 06 October 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The last time we saw Orioles starting pitcher Jason Hammel on the mound at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, he was limping off the field with severe disappointment after reinjuring his right knee in his second start back from surgery.

He’ll now take the mound Sunday night in Baltimore’s first home playoff game in 15 years as the Orioles welcome the New York Yankees to town for Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

So, did Hammel ever expect to find himself in this position after hurting his knee again nearly a month ago?

“Honestly, no,” he said. “At that point, I was very disappointed with the way it felt. It was exactly the same feeling. We were a lot slower moving it along this time, very careful with it. … I’m confident that the knee will not be an issue.”

Following that outing on Sept. 11, it appeared all but certain the Orioles’ best pitcher in the first half of the season had thrown his last pitch of the 2012 season. Hammel took his time working his way back into shape, explaining how doctors and the training staff directed him to take an extra week after feeling he was 100 percent again.

After throwing a simulated game in Florida on Monday and a bullpen session Friday in Arlington, Hammel was tabbed the starter in the series opener by manager Buck Showalter just a few minutes before meeting with the media prior to Saturday’s Division Series workout at Camden Yards. He’ll sport a bulky brace on his right knee, but Hammel said it doesn’t restrict his movement despite resembling one a football player might wear.

Hammel wasn’t afforded an opportunity to pitch in a major league game since tweaking his right knee early last month, but the Orioles have expressed supreme confidence in him based on his ability to keep his arm strong while being sidelined after undergoing knee surgery in mid-July. He finished the regular season with an 8-6 mark and a 3.43 earned run average in 20 starts.

The 30-year-old now pitches in one of the biggest games of his career after only making three starts since the All-Star break, with two of those being cut short due to injury. Showalter believes Hammel has finally reached a level of confidence in which he won’t be thinking about the knee and will be focused on a much bigger test Sunday.

“It’s as much mentally, knowing [his health] shouldn’t be a challenge for him,” said Showalter, who confirmed Hammel will not be on a restricted pitch count. “The challenge will be the Yankees, and they’ll let him know how he’s pitching. We’re excited about getting ‘Hamm’ back.”

The Orioles are expressing confidence in Hammel that he will resemble the pitcher they saw in the first half of the season, which landed him on the “Final Vote” list for the 2012 All-Star Game.

Hammel carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning of his first start with the Orioles on April 8 and pitched a one-hit shutout on June 16 against the Atlanta Braves. The right-hander thrived in the first half of the season despite dealing with a loose piece of cartilage in his right knee that eventually forced him to have the surgical procedure.

Now deeming himself fully healthy, Hammel is hoping to recapture the magic he enjoyed early on that made everyone forget about the unpopular reaction to the Jeremy Guthrie trade that brought the former Colorado Rockies pitcher to Baltimore in early February. But it won’t be easy against the Yankees, who Hammel held to seven earned runs in 16 innings covering three starts this season.

“Jason’s a competitor,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “When he had his time off and came back for his last start, his stuff was right there and his competitive spirit was there until he did have the setback. I know the knee feels good and when he gets out there, that competitive spirit’s going to get going and he’s going to be fine.”

It’s that same competitive spirit employed by the Orioles all season on their way to a 93-69 regular season and a win over the Texas Rangers in the first ever AL Wild Card game.

And much like a plethora of other moves and decisions made by Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, the choice to start Hammel appears unconventional and risky, given the infrequent work he’s received since early July.

“Obviously, I want to be a part of this,” Hammel said. “The guys have done an outstanding job of getting us to this point. I’ve only pitched for half of the season. It shows a lot of dedication from a lot of guys to go ahead and put me out there since I haven’t pitched in a long time. But, I’m a professional and I take care of what I need to do to get ready.

“We’re ready to go.”

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After fighting all year long, Orioles’ extra wait to clinch very fitting

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After fighting all year long, Orioles’ extra wait to clinch very fitting

Posted on 30 September 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It was unlike any scene we’ve ever witnessed as the Orioles remained on the field after the final out of their 6-3 win over the Boston Red Sox Sunday.

An outpouring of raw emotion that better belonged in a storybook or movie script as fans applauded their efforts and hoped for a post-game celebration.

Joining most of the 41,257 spectators who remained in the ballpark in the moments following the game, players and coaches became fans themselves as they watched the top of the ninth inning of the Angels-Rangers game on the video board at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles hoped to celebrate the guarantee of a postseason berth with their home fans on their home field, but the Angels’ dramatic comeback victory against Texas closer Joe Nathan ended those thoughts as the club walked off the diamond with mild disappointment.

The standing ovation they received while walking to the dugout felt like the perfect ending for an imperfect finish to the day. Everything started so promising for the Orioles, who held up their end of the bargain by completing a three-game sweep of Boston. But as they’ve learned all season long, little comes easy as the teams they needed to lose didn’t on Sunday afternoon.

Entering the day tied for first place with the Orioles, the Yankees bounced back from an early deficit to win in Toronto. The Angels’ win in the first game of a doubleheader in Arlington kept the Orioles’ magic number at one for clinching a postseason berth as they boarded a plane to St. Petersburg for the final three-game series of the regular season.

The Orioles would finally clinch their first postseason berth since 1997 late Sunday evening as the Angels dropped the second game of the doubleheader in Arlington.

“It would have been a neat moment to share had it worked out, but you can’t really expect anybody to lose,” left fielder Nate McLouth said. “You’ve got to kind of take care of your business, but it was nice to kind of wave goodbye to the fans. It would have been neat to have clinched right there, but it was kind of a cool moment, anyway.”

There was nothing phony about the on-field viewing party as the Orioles planned to watch the conclusion of the Angels game together and thought it appropriate to watch with the fans. Players and fans hung with every pitch before Torii Hunter’s two-run double with two outs sent players toward the clubhouse and fans toward the exits for an anticlimactic finish to an incredible scene.

As special as it would have been to see the Orioles clinch at home and celebrate on the field at Camden Yards, you’re reminded of what this club is all about. Scratching and clawing their way to victories in 28 one-run games and 16 straight extra-inning games over the course of the season, there’s something fitting about the Orioles — and their long-suffering fans — having to wait just a bit longer to secure their first postseason spot in 15 years.

“It definitely was a little awkward because everything was kind of working [our] way, but we’ve had to fight for everything this year,” closer Jim Johnson said. “With the way that game finished up, this [race] is going to come down to the wire. Look at how last year finished; it was ‘March Madness’ in September. This game’s crazy. You never know what’s going to happen, and that’s the way this team’s been fighting all year.”

For manager Buck Showalter, the post-game scene was a reminder of just how far the Orioles have come since he arrived in Baltimore late in the 2010 season. He’s continually preached the need to win back fans by putting forth a product they’ll want to see over and over.

The Orioles have done that and then some — even if the crowds haven’t always reflected that — but the manager isn’t interested in taking any of the credit. Showalter wants the focus on his players, even if we all know how big a part he’s played in restoring that pride in the organization.

“I spent more time watching the players and their reactions,” Showalter said. “As I’ve gotten older, I try to really step back and take in a moment. I took a couple of scans around behind me in the stands. We want to keep that. That’s our responsibility. It’s our responsibility to play good enough baseball and conduct ourselves in a way that people want to come back and see what’s going on here with our team.”

The post-game clubhouse was what you’d expect as plastic tarps were folded up on top of lockers for a champagne celebration that wasn’t to be. To call it a letdown would be an overstatement with players aware they would clinch a postseason berth late Sunday evening if the Angels dropped the second game of the twin bill against the Rangers.

To clinch at home would have been exciting, but to clinch anywhere is what’s really important. And the Orioles were so close, they could taste it before departing for their series against the Rays..

“Who cares? If you’re in, you’re in,” said center fielder Adam Jones about not being able to clinch a spot at Camden Yards. “Nobody cares. I don’t care. You can do it home, road. We can clinch on the plane. We’re going to party somewhere.”

If Sunday was the final day of baseball at Camden Yards this season, the spontaneity of that scene between fans and players will go down as one of the most memorable moments in the history of the franchise.

And it was just the latest example of how far the Orioles have come by owning a Sunday in late September — even if the Ravens weren’t playing this weekend.

The Orioles hope they haven’t seen the last of Camden Yards this season, but the next few days will determine their fate.

“Hopefully, we can bring them something fun,” said Johnson, who’s noticed fans becoming more and more involved without being prompted by the scoreboard or public address system. “They’re into the game. They understand the situations, they stand up by themselves, they start their own chants, they’re into it. It puts more pressure on the other team, but it also gives you a little boost of adrenaline at the same time. If you can harness that, that’s a huge advantage.”

It’s an advantage the Orioles haven’t had — or needed to have — in a very long time.

And we’ll have to wait a little longer to see if they can take advantage of it in October.

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Final Thoughts on My Wieters Debate

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Final Thoughts on My Wieters Debate

Posted on 24 September 2012 by Brett Dickinson

If you are reading this, then you most likely already know my stance on the Orioles catcher. This is the last article I will write on the topic for this season; as I would like to clear the air with everyone who disagrees with me (which apparently from the responses, is about everyone anyway). I do believe Wieters is a good catcher, I do believe he has helped the Orioles and I do believe he is one of the many pieces that has propelled this team from (pardon my language) utter shit into a contender.

My personal thoughts may differ from the greater Baltimore/Maryland area, but moving on from him in the offseason could benefit this team a great deal looking into 2013 and beyond. I do not believe he is overrated nationally as he is probably the 5th best catcher in baseball, but here in Baltimore he is revered as the greatest thing since Ray Lewis; he is nowhere near that realm of respectability. I have heard he is the only untouchable on the Orioles roster, on more than 10 different occasions, which I find disrespectful to others on the roster especially the centerfielder.

While Wieters does have a gold glove and can hit for power, as he has certainly displayed over the past several weeks since my last article on him (basically throwing somewhat of a wrench in part of my argument), Adam Jones physically carried this team offensively all season. Look at Orioles.com or MLB.com or ESPN.com or anywhere else you get your baseball news, and it will all show the same exact thing; Jones leads the O’s in all major hitting categories.

This has been true all season long, with little protection in the lineup, as Markakis is now on his second major stint on the DL, Mark Reynolds did not come on until August and Wieters has spent 90% of the season below the .250 mark. Now Jones had his slumps over the season, but has been consistently the dominant factor in the heart of an otherwise underperforming lineup. He also leads all of the MLB with the most walk off hits this season; coming up big when it counts most. Jones too has a gold glove for a premium position; if anyone, he should be the only untouchable on the team, which the Orioles build their future around.

That is besides the point, as the idea of moving Wieters came about following one of the best organizations in baseball.  He is a classic catcher in the mold of a Charles Johnson (which I previously stated months ago); as he can do everything asked of his position well, but can you really say that a guy hitting .250 (which is by far his best since the beginning of the season) is really one of the best players in the league. He struggles at certain aspects of the game, but makes up for it as a smart, heady guy, with a good arm. That would be a very valuable asset for teams with most of their roster in place, looking for someone to put them over the edge; the Texas Rangers come to mind, as they have fallen just short two seasons in a row. Don’t you think they would pay handsomely for a guy like Wieters? With the team they have put together, not only in the majors but in the farm system, they could send some highly touted players to Baltimore for his services behind the plate. A realistic sample trade, which is fair to both teams includes:

Baltimore Orioles send Matt Wieters to the Texas Rangers.

Texas Rangers send LHP Derek Holland, 1B Mitch Moreland and OF Julio Bourbon to the Baltimore Orioles.

Both teams can improve problem areas without reaching beyond their means. The Orioles will obviously need to fill a hole behind the plate, but have a golden opportunity to fix several key issues with the roster for the foreseeable future. I understand that catcher is more valuable than any of those positions individually, but combined, if the Orioles get 2-3 young starters for several years, the thought has to cross Showalter and Duquette’s mind.

Now maybe nobody wants to give up enough to make it worth-while, but it never hurts to explore a trade. Moving Wieters now may change the Orioles to a consistent contender, similar to the move the Rangers made in 2007 to put themselves in their current position, amongst the league’s best. They sent Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves for Elvis Andrus, Nefalti Feliz, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Beau Jones. Besides Jones, each of those players has made at least one All-Star appearance; each is 27 years old or younger. That is the type of haul that turned Texas from a possible playoff team, to back-to-back AL champions; that is the type of haul the Orioles could receive for Wieters from that very team.

I don’t think anyone would ask, “Is this a joke?” then. Or would they?

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Not Enough Said: Still Trade Wieters

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Not Enough Said: Still Trade Wieters

Posted on 12 September 2012 by Brett Dickinson

Now obviously, I understand this is a virtual impossibility at this point of the season with the trade and waiver deadlines already passed and the Orioles in a pennant race. But the fact still remains that Wieters is severely overrated in Baltimore by almost everyone including, Manager Buck Showalter. I am not going to pretend that I know more about baseball than the heads of the Orioles organization but out of any sport, baseball stats are the most relative to play on the field, which also display Weiters’ definitive struggles for someone supposed to be a face of the franchise.

My main point in the argument months ago was his lack of production at the plate; that has only gotten worse. His current batting average at .244 (all stats as of 9/11/12) ranks ninth among all catchers in the league. That doesn’t sound too bad but only 10 catchers have recorded enough At-Bats to factor into the statistic. Wieters average currently ranks 122nd among all Major Leaguers; not very impressive for a guy recently pushed into the cleanup role because of Nick Markakis’ injury.

Now to take look at the other side of the argument; I have heard how great he is defensively all season long; well that simply is not the case. Out of the 12 catchers that logged enough innings to qualify for Fielding Percentage, Wieters ranks dead last. He also leads the entire MLB with 10 errors on the season. And for those who say “nobody steals on Wieters,” he ranks only fourth among eligible catchers in Caught Stealing Percentage; trailing league leader Ryan Hanigan by over a full percentage point (.360 to .466 respectively).

The final argument I hear around Baltimore is how great he is at calling games for their young pitching staff. Well, if you take a look back to three seasons ago, the Orioles were supposed to have the 90’s Braves pitchers all coming up through the farm system at the same time. Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and Troy Patton were all can’t miss prospects; going into next season, the organization is unsure if any will even be in the rotation. Patton is permanently in the pen and Matusz is on the fast track to join him. And Arrieta, Britton and Tillman cannot hold a roster spot in the big leagues; all being shuffled back and forth from AAA throughout the entire season.

Now a lot of their struggles are blamed on their own lack of development, but wasn’t Wieters a major part of that? Did he not come up through the minors with these young arms? I can understand giving him a pass if one or two did not pan out, but none have proven to be anything more than bullpen arms.

So here we stand, again, a few months later and I am still preaching the same thing; trade Matt Wieters. Now there is just more evidence of why he is not the building block to the future. The Orioles could pull in a hefty haul for teams close to a title but without a catcher, such as the Angels and Rangers, and need to exhaust all possibilities before next season.

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wieters jones

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Why the 2012 Orioles are Different

Posted on 21 July 2012 by Big Chee

Think back to the past decade of Orioles baseball and try and recall moments of success. Yes, this dismal decade might be a bit of a blur; however, the 2005 season had some moments of hope, at least in the first half of the year. Baltimore spent 62 days in first place in the AL East, and came into the All-Star break 47-40. The O’s came out of the break, and won two straight over Seattle. Shortly after, the O’s traded outfielder Larry Bigbie to the Colorado Rockies for slugging outfielder Eric Byrnes. The team believed they could be contenders. However, the deal at the deadline for Byrnes, as well as their success in the first half, could not be sustained. By the end of August, the O’s were 51-53. Rafael Palmeiro was busted for steroids and lying to congress. By season’s end, it was more of the same sad story for the Orioles. Their combined record post All-Star break was 27-48, and their 74-88 record was 21 games behind both the Red Sox and the Yankees.

There have been pessimistic comparisons out there, from fans and media alike, that 2012 will turn out like 2005. Heck, maybe you can’t blame people for thinking that way. The Orioles came into the All-Star break with a 45-40 record. They also enjoyed a stint in first place during May and early June. Dan Duquette has been telling the media and the fans that he has been given the green light to buy at the deadline, in hopes of continuing the push towards the team’s first potential postseason appearance since 1997. However, the trigger has not been pulled on any one of significance yet, a la Ryan Dempster or Zach Greinke. The Yankees are still eight games ahead of Baltimore in the AL East. After struggling out of the gate post-ASB, losing 4 of 5, the O’s have won three straight, including their 10-2 drubbing of the Indians last night in Cleveland. Their ace, Jason Hammel, is on the DL with a knee injury. Could the comparison to 2005 come to fruition?

Whether or not the Orioles are able to make their first postseason appearance since 1997 is irrelevant to this argument; 2012 will be different than 2005. To begin the comparison, one must look at the man who leads the players every day, the manager. Lee Mazzilli, who led the Orioles for the first half of 2005, had not even managed in the Majors for two years. Sam Perlozzo, who succeeded Mazzilli after the midseason firing, had a career record of 128-172; not much better.

Buck Showalter has won AL Manager of the Year twice. He managed both the Yankees and Diamondbacks, and left right before they both became World Series Champions. His experience and style has changed the culture in a locker room, which has been accustomed to losing for a long time. Buck is not going anywhere. However, if he was to leave, and if history is any indication, that means the Orioles will be World Series champions soon; right?

Secondly, the 2012 Baltimore Orioles lineup has been built much differently than seven years ago.  In 2005, the Orioles had sluggers, and supposed-to-be Hall of Famers, with Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro in the heart of the lineup. I think we all know how that turned out. Before the season started, Rafael Palmeiro adamantly denied steroid use, after Jose Canseco mentioned, in his book, that he had. Palmeiro went to Congress, looked them dead in the eyes, and said, “Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.” Well, on August 1st, he was suspended 10 days after testing positive. From then on, Palmeiro would need ear plugs the rest of the season to drown out the boos in Baltimore and opposing stadiums when he would come to the plate.

Sammy Sosa? He hit a dismal .221, with only 14 home runs and 45 RBIs. Tejada had a down year, compared to an MVP like season in 2004. Eric Byrnes, who was acquired at the 2005 deadline, hit .192 with 11 RBI in 31 games with the O’s.

The 2012 Orioles lineup is infused with young talent that will be part of the nucleus for years to come. Adam Jones, who signed a 6 year deal worth $85.5 million this year, made the All Star team and currently leads the Orioles in Average (.294), HRs (22), RBIs (63), Runs Scored (63) and SBs (11). Chris Davis, at 26 years-old, is a consistent power threat, and is second on the team in homeruns with 15. Matt Wieters, also age 26, is second on the team in RBIs with 46, and has been one of the best defensive catchers in the league. Nick Markakis is off the DL, trying to build on some of his strong moments in the first half of the season, before his injury. In this post-steroid era of baseball we now live in, the younger, fresher lineup allows for guys to play fundamentally sound baseball, on an everyday basis.

With the next three games against Cleveland, and July ending with series against division foes Tampa Bay and New York, this stretch will serve as a test of where this team will go this season. In addition, it will provide GM Dan Duquette a plan, as to the players he needs to target and the teams he needs to call before the July 31st trade-deadline. Regardless, 2012 has been assembled and guided in a much more effective manner than 2005, and the Orioles are finding success they have not had in a very long time.

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Verlander

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For Love of the Game – Afterthoughts on the Midsummer Classic

Posted on 11 July 2012 by hopebirchfield

Since the tragic fall of the Birdland Empire in 1996, the All-Star game has meant little more than some publicity for Orioles stars overshadowed by a losing ball club. Sure, it was always fun to see one of our disciples (Ripken, Roberts, Mora, and Batista to name a few) proudly displaying bird regalia, but the outcome did not really matter. Despite the recent slide of the Orioles and their subsequent drop in MLB power rankings, fans still hold on to hope that maybe the Orioles will be playoff contenders. With that new mentality, the All-Star game completely transforms from a “my bat is bigger than your bat” showdown of baseball’s elite to something that could give Baltimore home field advantage for the World Series.

To be clear, I do not think this is going to be relevant this year with an 11.8% POFF, but as Lloyd Christmas would say to ESPN, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”

On Tuesday night, the American League attempted to avoid their third straight loss to the National League at the Midsummer Classic in Kansas City. The lineup for the AL was so densely packed that powerhouse, David Ortiz, was batting 7th and it almost seemed a given that the AL would finally clinch a win. Though the National League had Sandoval, Chipper Jones and the ominous pitching of Cain and R.A. Dickey, the AL had Weaver and Verlander, the 2011 Cy Young and AL MVP Winner.

As the first inning began to unfold, I felt an unsettling wave of familiarity course through my body. Verlander was not on his game and was reminiscent of a hard-throwing Jake Arrieta. In only one inning of work, Verlander gave up four hits on five runs with two BBs and Ks. He struggled with runners on base, consecutively walking Beltran and Posey and then yielding a bases-loaded triple to Sandoval. After this bleak inning, a lot of people switched to regularly scheduled programming. I felt this was a bit premature because it was only the first inning. The AL had All-Star caliber bats (for the most part) and a five run deficit with such offensive talent as Jeter, Cano, Hamilton, Fielder and Ortiz was surely to be surpassed.

Though six hits were generated by the AL, they struggled with the all too familiar RISP woes and never capitalized with a run. Once the domineering pitching of the National League was realized and the lack of offense of the American League was apparent, I was done. I severed all emotional interest, channeled my inner child and simply watched the game. It was no longer about the final numbers, ERAs, WHIPs, etc. No, it was about watching some of baseball’s finest sizzle (or fizzle) and watching the soap opera of baseball unfold.

With a long history that could be considered a veritable sports epic, Chipper Jones would surely emerge as the hero. In the moments before the game, he delivered a speech to the National League that had quotes from “Major League” and valuable insight about the game. His amicability is was one of the reasons he is a household name and one of the reasons why people root for him to succeed. In his final year in baseball, fans of the Atlantic Braves and fans of baseball feverishly voted so Chipper Jones could end his career on a high point with an All-Star game nod. C. Jones first debuted with the Braves in 1993 and has received 8 overall nods to the All-Star Game with the first coming in 1996.

In the 6th inning, pinch-hitter, Chipper Jones walked to the plate and was greeted by the best reception of the evening. As his name was announced, the sold-out crowd rose to their feet, cheering for a living legend that was a shoo-in for Cooperstown. C. Jones is not known for his speed but he ran as though his career relied on. At 40 years old, he dug hard and managed to reach first base on a ball that rolled into to right field. It was one of the moments that remind you why baseball is the greatest sport ever played. Chipper was ecstatic and all smiles as a stadium with no personal vestige in him erupted. For a moment, it was his moment to shine, and the simple beauty of watching was more emotional than anything a Hollywood blockbuster could provide.

In the eighth inning, Orioles’ fans that had “stayed the course” and watched a game that was very reminiscent of several recent Orioles games were rewarded with a glimpse of orange. The middle was completely represented by the birds with A. Jones in center and Johnson bringing the heat down the middle to the familiar glove of Matt Wieters. Though Wieters and Jones did nothing offensively, the bottom of the 7th was dominated by an Orioles presence. The NL was shutout in a1-2-3 inning that gave Jones a fly ball and registered a K for Johnson.

Most All-Star games receive a lot of criticism. Many call them antiquated and no longer needed. But often people forget that sometimes it is not about who wins or loses, but the moments that will go down in history. Moments like watching Chipper Jones do his best Jake Taylor impression when digging to first, or watching the Orioles completely take up the middle of the field are reason enough to keep these love letters to childhood.

 

 

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monday morning

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This Year, We All Should Embrace The Mid-Summer Classic

Posted on 09 July 2012 by Big Chee

It is Monday Morning. If you are like me on the first day of the work week you are probably trying to ease the depressing realization that the weekend is over and you have the five day grind ahead of you. For me at the 9-5 desk job I am spending the first hour(s) of my day meticulously analyzing my fantasy baseball team and catching up on sports stories I might have missed during the pregame Friday & Saturday night.

The anxiety could be even higher this week, and I may have to spend the beginning of my day reading about how bath salts turn humans into zombies and why Scientology ruined the marriage between Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise. Baseball is at its All-Star Break. Wimbledon is over. The Olympics have yet to begin in London. Football, basketball, and hockey have yet to begin. Might I actually have to start “working”? Ugh, this could get brutal. I better drink another Espresso double shot. Embrace yourselves everyone; we are about to experience the worst sports week of the year.

I mention the All-Star Break for baseball, for the past ten years I have taken a dissenting attitude towards MLB’s mid-summer event. That differs in my apathetic stance towards the Pro Bowl, NHL & NBA All-Star Games, where I can watch the highlights on SportsCenter and live with myself.  In 2002, Bud Selig and the MLBPA transformed the event from casual to competitive. I used to hate it. It baffled me that home field advantage in the World Series was indicated by which All-Star Team’s pitchers brought their best stuff during the one inning each of them would get on the mound. It drove me nuts that traditional cellar dwellers like the Royals, Pirates and Orioles (sorry everyone) had at least one player on the All-Star Team, even though there was a better shot of Anna Kournikova coming out of retirement to beat Serena Williams to win the Wimbledon than any of those teams winning the Fall Classic.

This year, I have decided to cave in and embrace the All-Star Game, and I suggest all of you fellow sports fanatics do the same. This year, forget about them ludicrous reasons I mentioned in the previous paragraphs. If you love sports, chances are you are someone who craves competitiveness in sports and life alike. Plus this week, you don’t really have a choice, right? The 4th of July relaxed attitude around your office is over. Daily stresses are back and we are on the full five day work week again.

If you are a Baltimore Orioles Fan, as most of you reading on WNST.net probably are, this is the first time in more than a decade that this game has some real meaning to it. Let’s call a spade a spade, does anyone reading truly believe that the O’s are ready to make a push to play in the World Series? I did not think so. However, heading into the All Star Break, Baltimore is six games back of the Yankees, six games above .500. If the season ended now, the first year of expanded playoffs would open with Baltimore at the Los Angeles Angels for the one-game AL wild card. The guys representing the resurgent O’s this year in Kansas City, Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Jim Johnson, make up a trio that marks the first time since 2005 that the Orioles have sent multiple players to the All Star Game.

“It’s pretty cool,” Jones said of the group the Orioles will send to Kansas City. “For the last seven years, it’s been one player. You have to win to get more than one player nowadays. Representing the Baltimore Orioles, it’s a tremendous accomplishment for us as a team, also.”

Wieters, who was the Orioles’ representative in last year’s All-Star Game also added, “It makes it even more fun that you get to share something with your teammates that you’re battling the whole year with.”

Comparing baseball’s All Star Game to the other major sports in the United States, one cannot forget the fact that just because it is an exhibition game, the play of the field does not change. For example, in the NBA’s ASG, there is little to no defense played. There is an open lane almost every time when either squad comes down the court. While alley oops and monster dunks are cool, when it occurs every possession, it can get old very quickly. In baseball, the matchups do not change. When Clayton Kershaw comes to the mound and faces Adam Jones, do you think he is going to toss a 75 mph meatball for Adam Jones to crank towards the fences? Not a chance. He is going to bring it just like he would during a regular start for the Dodgers.

I mention those All-Stars facing each other as just one example of a potential matchup that makes for a great watch. How about the 23 year old phenom Steven Strasburg going head to head with legend Derek Jeter who is 15 years his senior? How cool would it be to see RA Dickey, the arguable front runner for NL Cy Young, tossing his knuckleball and trying to fool slugger Josh Hamilton? And 2012 will be the last All Star Appearance for eight time all star and surefire Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, who is retiring after this season. It will certainly be weird without him in Atlanta next season that is for sure.

Back in February of this year, I explained to Mike Huber on XTSR Towson Radio why I believed that the second calendar month was the worst sports month of the year. The football season was over. Pitchers and catchers report in the middle of the month, but baseball was still months away from beginning. Basketball, both college and professional, was still in their respective regular seasons. Same applies to hockey.  Not to mention on the East Coast, February is typically a cold, dark month (but after this torturous heat wave, I sure would not mind a 35 degree day.) Now we approach arguably the worst sports week, not entire month, of the year. I hope my words give you something to look forward to when it’s quitting time on Tuesday.

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Big Trade Looming?

Posted on 07 July 2012 by Erich Hawbaker

The All-Star break is upon us. And, if the season ended today, the Orioles would be headed to the playoffs. Thursday’s disaster with the Angels notwithstanding, the Orioles have reached halftime without completely faceplanting as most of us expected they would. The bullpen has been the most pleasant surprise, with an ERA still close to the best in baseball. The offense (long balls in particular) has also been a big reason for the success, with Adam Jones on pace for 40 homeruns and several others flirting with 30.

However, just like last year, the most glaring weakness has been the defense. Unfortunately, the O’s also lead the league in errors, which has cost them at least three or four winnable games already this season. The other coin flip has been the starting pitching, which lately seems to always be either stellar or awful on any given night. Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen are aces more often than not, but the other three rotation spots have been consistently shaky with occasional flashes of brilliance.

The Orioles have already made a splash in the trade market this year by acquiring DH Jim Thome from the struggling Phillies for a pair of minor leaguers. For awhile now, I’d been wondering if they were really serious about being buyers this year like Dan Duquette said, and if, to that end, they would be looking to pick up another legitimate starting pitcher. Today when I checked my fantasy team (the Mercersburg Rebels, currently in 1st place), the news feed told me that the Orioles are trying to make a trade with the Brewers for RHP Zack Greinke. It also mentioned that the O’s have two highly-touted prospects in Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado that might be part of such a deal.

For the last few years, I’ve always made it a point to have Greinke on my fantasy team. He routinely goes deep into games, puts up lots of strikeouts, and has a very good ERA and WHIP. He won the 2009 AL Cy Young with the Royals, no easy feat when one considers that they’ve been about as bad as the Orioles over the last decade. This year, his record is 9-2, while his team is currently under .500 by five games.

So, all indications are that he would be an excellent pickup if the Orioles can pull this off. However, I would not part with Bundy or Machado to make it happen. Since Milwaukee lost Prince Fielder, they’re in need of a firstbaseman. Perhaps Mark Reynolds could be part of this trade? True, he’s not crushing the ball like he was last year, but Miller Park is definitely hitter-friendly. And now that the Orioles have Chris Davis, there isn’t a tremendous need for Reynolds here anymore. It would also make a big dent in that error rate.

Another thing to consider here is that the era of Brian Roberts is, regrettably, over. He’s given us some tremendous years, but unfortunately the Orioles simply cannot depend on him as an everyday player anymore. Therefore, letting go of Manny Machado would be unwise, because he will be coming of age right about the time when Roberts is officially finished. I don’t think I even need to elaborate on why trading Dylan Bundy would be a bad move, unless of course the Brewers are offering significantly more than just Greinke.

I have to admit, it’s a VERY nice thought that the Orioles’ rotation could eventually consist of Hammel, Chen, Greinke, Britton, and whoever gets their act together. That, coupled with Jones, Wieters, Davis, Markakis, Hardy, and our current bullpen would almost have to be a serious contender.

However, I must reiterate that even if this becomes reality, we are not yet free of Peter The Terrible, and I still remain unconvinced that the Orioles have truly turned the corner as long as he remains in the warehouse.

What do you think? Should the Orioles trade for Greinke? Is there someone else out there you’d like to see them pursue? Comments are always welcome.

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Playoffs?!

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Playoffs?!

Posted on 05 July 2012 by ryanhiken

The Orioles are currently 44-37 at the halfway mark of the season.  They are on pace for their best season in 15 years.  However, this isn’t the best start to a season they have had in the last 15 years.  In 2005, the Orioles were 47-40 at the all-star break.  The Orioles have one more series before the all star break.  They begin a four game series with the Los Angeles Angels tonight in Los Angeles.  The Orioles are currently a half game back of the Angels for the first wild card spot in the American League.  This year, Major League Baseball will be adding a 5th playoff team.  The first wildcard team will be hosting a one game playoff with the 5th place team.  This series would be a preview of the one game playoff if the season were to end today.

This is about the time of year when most Oriole fans begin to write them off.  This is the mentality that the average Orioles fan has.  This is unfortunate, because this years team is different from the others.  This team has legitimate star players in Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis.  The pitching staff isn’t perfect, but they have a legitimate starter in Jason Hammel and an all-star closing pitcher in Jim Johnson.  This is a formula for success, along with the leadership of Buck Showalter, the Oriole’s veteran manager.

This upcoming series will tell us a lot about this current Oriole team.  A couple of games ago the Orioles were struggling, but they went into Seattle and won 2 out of 3 games.  They probably should have swept the series, but unfortunate errors cost them the game Monday night.  The Angels began the season slow with a 7-14 record.  Since then, the Angels are 38-22 and have been one of the best teams in baseball.  The Orioles have been excellent this year, but have a combined record of 5-12 against the American League elite of NY Yankees, Texas Rangers and LA Angels.

I believe the Orioles are good, but I don’t believe they are elite.  Many people have been asking me if I think they will make the playoffs.  I think they will, because I think they haven’t played their best baseball yet.  They have been very successful against their competition outside of the elite teams.  I don’t believe they are going to surpass the Yankees and take the division, but I believe they will make the playoffs.  Therefore, I expect the Orioles to play in the inaugural one game wildcard playoff.  I think this would be incredible, especially if the Orioles could host the game.  The Orioles haven’t played a meaningful game in  Baltimore since 1997, I think its about time.  Fans need to get on the bandwagon now, before its too late.  Believe in this team, don’t write them off and go out to the games and support the team.

Come September, when the Orioles are hosting the first ever one game wildcard playoff, its going to be the hardest ticket in town to get in the last 15 years.  The Orioles need to win at least two games in this series to guarantee their best winning percentage before the all-star break since the 1997 season, when they lost in the ALCS to the Cleveland Indians.  If the Orioles can manage to do this, I think it says a lot about them as a team.  If they get swept I think that will also say a lot about them.  That is why I believe this series is so important.

It is important to head into the all-star break with momentum, now is a great time to do so, and make a statement to the rest of the league.  The Orioles are a good team, they will remain competitive for the rest of the season and they are not to be messed with.  The Orioles have the 2nd best winning percentage in the MLB in one run games with a record of 15-6.  The Orioles are also one of two teams to have a winning record and a negative run differential.  This just goes to show, the Orioles are a tough, gritty and nasty baseball team.  I wish the Orioles the best of luck this weekend in Los Angeles, watch the games, root for your home team and let the chips fall where they may.  I know there is a lot of baseball left to be played, but I think we will know where the Orioles stand come Monday.

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Orioles Well-represented in All-Star Game

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Orioles Well-represented in All-Star Game

Posted on 01 July 2012 by Luke Jones

Off to their best start in seven years, the Orioles will send  three players to the 2012 Major League Baseball All-Star Game on July 10, with a chance at a fourth.

Closer Jim Johnson, center fielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Wieters were selected as reserves to play in the 83rd edition of the Midsummer Classic at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. It’s the first time since 2005 the Orioles have received multiple All-Star Game selections.

Jones and Wieters were selected as reserves.

In his first full season as the Baltimore closer, Johnson has been one of the best in baseball as his 23 saves are tied for the major-league lead. The 29-year-old has blown only one save all season and has already set a career high in saves, more than doubling the 21 career saves he had prior to the 2012 season.

Johnson has only allowed five earned runs in 34 2/3 innings pitched this season, good for a 1.30 earned run average.

He is the first Orioles pitcher to be selected to the All-Star Game since George Sherrill was chosen for the 2008 All-Star Game at old Yankee Stadium.

Though narrowly missing being voted in as a starting outfielder, Jones was the most deserving of the Orioles’ selections as he’s enjoying the finest season of his seven-year career. The 26-year-old leads Baltimore in batting average (.300), home runs (19), runs batted in (41), runs (51), on-base percentage (.343), and slugging percentage (.554) and was rewarded for his tremendous play with a six-year, $85.5 million contract in late May to remain with the Orioles through the 2018 season.

Jones had a career-long 20-game hitting streak in May and became the first player since Mark McGwire in 1988 to homer in the 15th inning or later twice in the same season when he hit game-winning home runs in Boston and Kansas City in the month of May.

This is Jones’ second All-Star selection after he was selected as a representative in the 2009 All-Star Game played in St. Louis.

Named the club’s most valuable player last season, Jones is poised to break the career highs he set in 2011  with 151 games, 26 doubles, 25 home runs, 83 RBI, 12 stolen bases, 53 extra-base hits, and .466 slugging percentage.

Selected as an All-Star catcher for the second straight year, Wieters is hitting .249 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI. Though his seven errors have already surpassed the five he committed all last season, the 26-year-old has thrown out 36 percent of runners trying to steal this season.

Wieters hit his first career grand slam and tied a career high with five RBI in a win over the Chicago White Sox on April 16.

He is the first Baltimore player to be selected to consecutive All-Star Games since shortstop Miguel Tejada was chosen to play in three straight from 2004 through 2006.

The Orioles and their fans have a chance to send a fourth representative to Kansas City with P Jason Hammel a part of the five-man “Fan Vote.”

Hammel is up against Royals closer Jonathan Broxton, Angels closer Ernesto Frieri, White Sox starter Jake Peavy, and Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish.

Acquired in the Jeremy Guthrie trade that was met with much scrutiny, Hammel has emerged as the club’s best starting pitcher in 2012, going 8-3 with a 3.29 ERA in 15 starts. The right-hander has struck out 89 batters while walking 32 in 93 innings this season.

Hammel set the tone for his surprising season by carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning of his Orioles debut in a win over the Minnesota Twins on April 8. He pitched a one-hit shutout against Atlanta on June 16 and followed that outing by allowing one unearned run in eight innings of work in a win against Washington on June 22.

Hammel may have lost a last-second push to the All-Star team. In his last start against the Los Angeles Angels, he only lasted 3 1/3 innings while allowing eight earned runs.

WNST’s Ryan Chell contributed to this report.

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