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Not all 2012 similarities provide feel-good reminder for Orioles

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Not all 2012 similarities provide feel-good reminder for Orioles

Posted on 27 May 2014 by Luke Jones

Nearly two months into the 2014 season, the similarities are there between this year’s Orioles and the 2012 club that broke a streak of 14 straight losing seasons and advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

Contributions from unexpected heroes, a 5-1 record in extra-inning games, an 11-6 mark in one-run contests, and an ability to overcome a slew of injuries to this point are all themes reminiscent of two years ago. A bullpen that ranks fifth in the American League in earned run average and now appears stabilized — knock on wood — with Zach Britton stepping into the closer role appears to be emerging as a strength for manager Buck Showalter.

But another similarity to 2012 doesn’t make one feel inclined to print the playoff tickets just yet as the Orioles currently rank 11th in the American League in starter earned run average and tied for 13th in innings pitched by starters entering play on Tuesday. Two years ago, the Orioles ranked ninth in starter ERA and starter innings, but that improved ranking only came after substantial improvement in which they had the fifth-best ERA in the AL in the second half.

Of course, it didn’t take a shrewd prognosticator to anticipate struggles with the starting pitching this season, but the current state of the rotation still has an upside-down feel to it. Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez occupied the top two spots in the Opening Day rotation and have been the weakest — or, at least, the most frustrating — links through the first two months of the season. Jimenez’s inconsistency shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who’s paid close attention to his career and his unorthodox mechanics, but Tillman’s struggles after his first three starts of the season in which he posted a 0.84 ERA have become very alarming.

In his last eight starts, the 2013 All-Star selection has posted a 6.64 ERA, and that’s even including a complete-game shutout against Kansas City on May 16. What initially looked like a stretch of simple inconsistency is quickly becoming a long-term concern with Memorial Day now in the rear-view mirror and many fans wondering if the de facto ace is hiding an injury.

The 26-year-old right-hander has maintained he’s fine physically aside from some minor groin tightness a couple weeks back, but his fastball command has failed him, making it difficult to use his other pitches effectively. He’s walked 24 batters in his last 42 innings after walking only three in his first 21 1/3 innings of work in 2014.

Meanwhile, the trio of Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Wei-Yin Chen have pitched more effectively despite plenty of clamoring for upgrades to replace any combination of the three earlier this spring. Norris has quietly been the club’s best starter with a 3.83 ERA and has averaged more than six innings per outing, the only member of the rotation to do so.

Fans were screaming for Gonzalez to be removed from the rotation after he allowed 10 earned runs in his first two starts, but the right-hander has posted a strong 3.19 ERA since those horrific outings and has turned in three consecutive quality starts. Chen may cause plenty of nerves once he hits the 90-pitch mark in a given outing, but his 4.08 ERA is acceptable in the AL East.

Despite Norris, Gonzalez, and Chen keeping the rotation afloat while Tillman and Jimenez try to rebound from their poor starts, Showalter and the Orioles clearly need more from the starting pitching. It’s a common theme that played out in 2012 — when Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter occupied the top two spots in the Opening Day rotation — before Tillman and Gonzalez provided second-half shots in the arm to a rotation that improved over the course of a 93-win campaign.

Making changes may prove more complicated this time around as Tillman’s track record suggests Showalter will continue running him to the hill every fifth day — and he probably should for the time being. Of course, there are 50 million reasons why you shouldn’t expect Jimenez’s spot to be in any real jeopardy despite a 4.98 ERA, and you simply hope he discovers one of his customary hot stretches at the right time in what’s been a consistently inconsistent career.

But it’d be difficult to convince anyone that the Orioles will make the postseason with the same five starting pitchers in their rotation all year. Reinforcements will be necessary as they are for any team in any season.

At this point, it appears that 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman and veteran reclamation project Johan Santana are the most likely candidates to receive opportunities.

Putting aside an ill-advised call-up to start on three days’ rest earlier this month, Gausman remains the crown jewel of the minor-league system and is still expected to be a contributor for a large portion of the 2014 season. His 2.41 ERA in eight starts at Triple-A Norfolk has kept him on the fast track to Baltimore, but it remains to be seen if his slider has developed enough to make him the kind of pitcher that can go through a lineup three times in a given night.

The most intriguing pitcher to watch over the next couple weeks will be Santana, who appeared to be nothing more than a lottery ticket the Orioles purchased in spring training as he was recovering from a second surgery on his left shoulder. His fastball velocity is now in the high 80s — about where it was with the New York Mets — giving him the desired 10-miles-per-hour difference with his famous changeup that the Orioles feel is necessary to be successful.

The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner completed his final extended spring training start on Monday and has an opt-out clause that can be used at the end of the month, but he’s expected to be assigned to a minor-league affiliate with the potential to receive a shot in the Baltimore rotation in the not-too-distant future. Reports and results from Sarasota have been favorable on the 35-year-old, but there’s no way of knowing whether his health or current stuff will hold up at the major league level.

Even with all the feel-good comparisons to the 2012 Orioles tossed about by media and fans alike, this year’s club knows it needs better starting pitching to stay afloat in what’s been a mediocre AL East this season. Their best hopes are with Tillman or Jimenez — preferably both — to reverse their early-season struggles, but the Orioles will inevitably need to lean on reinforcements because of injuries or ineffectiveness at some point.

Those reinforcements worked in 2012, but it remains to be seen if that’s another trend that will resurface for the Orioles.

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Gausman to make 2014 Orioles debut on Wednesday

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Gausman to make 2014 Orioles debut on Wednesday

Posted on 13 May 2014 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 5:30 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — The Orioles announced right-hander Kevin Gausman will make his 2014 season debut in a start against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday.

The news comes as a surprise considering Gausman was dealing with a bout of pneumonia less than two weeks ago and made his most recent start for Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, meaning the 23-year-old will be working on just three days’ rest. Gausman is scheduled to be opposed by former American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander on Wednesday afternoon.

“I threw kind of a shorter bullpen two days ago,” Gausman said. “I feel good. I feel good physically. I had a little bit of sickness there for a little bit, but [it] ended up being nothing too serious. Just happy to be feeling healthy, 100 percent, and feeling great.”

The Orioles had originally listed Wei-Yin Chen as Wednesday’s starter as it was his regular turn in the rotation, but manager Buck Showalter preferred giving the Taiwanese southpaw an extra day and implied that he didn’t want to use the lefty against a Detroit lineup dominated by right-handed hitting. Chen will start the opener of a four-game set against the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night.

Gausman threw a season-high 77 pitches in 4 2/3 shutout innings at Indianapolis Saturday night as the Orioles have been limiting his innings in hopes of keeping the 2012 first-round pick fully available late in the season. Considering he will be working on short rest and hasn’t been fully stretched out this season, Gausman will unquestionably be on a limited pitch count with Miguel Gonzalez available in long relief.

“I feel good about all my pitches,” said Gausman, who feels he would be fine to throw 90 to 100 pitches against Detroit. “It was just good to get out there especially after being on the [minor-league disabled list]. That was my first time being on the DL. It’s kind of frustrating to be around baseball all day and not play.”

In six starts for the Tides this season, Gausman is 0-1 with a 2.08 earned run average and has struck out 26 and walked 14 in 26 innings of work. The right-hander missed nearly two weeks of action with what was initially diagnosed with an intercostal strain before it was determined he was suffering from pneumonia.

Gausman appeared in 20 games and made five starts for the Orioles last year, going 3-5 with a 5.66 ERA in 47 2/3 innings. However, he completed the best start of his career against Detroit last season when he allowed one run and five hits in six innings on June 2, 2013.

Chris Tillman is tentatively penciled in to pitch on Friday, but he’s been dealing with some groin soreness and Showalter wanted to make sure he made it through his bullpen session before declaring him ready to go. The Orioles are also waiting to hear about any potential discipline handed down from Major League Baseball for Saturday’s starter Bud Norris after his incident with Torii Hunter on Monday.

Gonzalez would be the prime choice to fill in for either Tillman or Norris if necessary.

“It kind of fits best for our club and some of the situations that changed over the last couple of days that we needed to be prepared for down the road,” said Showalter about Gausman’s promotion. “Obviously, some guys pitch better with extra rest and some guys don’t. Kevin, because of some of his inactivity down below and where they’ve shortened him up, his innings management is in good shape right now as we sit here in the middle of May.”

In injury news, Showalter said Norfolk outfielder Henry Urrutia’s sports hernia surgery was successful as he’ll need six to eight weeks to fully recover.

Right-handed pitcher Dylan Bundy threw live batting practice for the first time since Tommy John surgery on Tuesday. The 2011 first-round pick threw 20 pitches and reached 93 miles per hour with his fastball.

Outfielder Nolan Reimold is now participating in all baseball-related activities and is getting closer to becoming an option again for the 25-man roster. He is currently on the 60-day disabled list as he continues to work his way back from a second spinal fusion surgery and is eligible to come off the DL on May 29.

Left-handed pitcher Johan Santana (shoulder) will pitch in his next extended spring training game on Friday. Young lefty Eduardo Rodriguez will pitch four innings Wednesday in Sarasota as he’s currently on the minor-league DL with a knee injury.

Rule 5 selection Michael Almanzar will have a doctor appointment regarding his knee later this week.

Veteran relief pitcher Luis Ayala was assigned to Double-A Bowie.

 

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Britton continues coming up huge for Orioles bullpen

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Britton continues coming up huge for Orioles bullpen

Posted on 16 April 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Miguel Gonzalez earned the win and Tommy Hunter secured his fourth save, but it was Zach Britton who deserved a gold star for his work in the Orioles’ 3-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday.

The left-handed pitcher moved his streak of scoreless innings to 11 1/3 to begin the season after blanking the Rays over three frames to bridge the gap from Gonzalez’s five-inning start to Hunter in the ninth inning as Baltimore swept an abbreviated two-game set in unseasonably cold conditions on Wednesday afternoon. Britton wasn’t perfect in his longest appearance of the season, but his strikeout of Wil Myers on a low-and-away sinking fastball in the seventh not only thwarted a bases-loaded scoring chance but provided the latest example of just how dependable the 26-year-old has been.

Entering spring training without any minor-league options remaining and coming off two straight disappointing seasons in which he battled a tender shoulder and inconsistency, Britton has embraced his middle-relief role while being one of the Orioles’ most valuable players thus far. He’s allowed just four hits and has struck out seven while walking four in his 11 1/3 innings this season.

“The first weapon is that he can get left- and right-handed hitters out,” manager Buck Showalter said. “That’s huge for a relief pitcher. He’s in a good place right now. You can see it presentation-wise as much as physically. We had other people who could pitch, but the situation puts you in a nice little rocking chair sometimes when you have a left-handed pitcher who can defend himself against right-handers. And that comes from his starting background and also comes from a pretty good sinker.”

Britton’s effectiveness with a sinker consistently in the low to mid-90s has led some to question whether the southpaw is worthy of another chance in the starting rotation. Showalter was comfortable in allowing Britton to throw 42 pitches since he hadn’t pitched since a 30-pitch outing on Saturday, but this development was particularly interesting given that the Orioles used only two relievers on Monday, were rained out Tuesday, and will enjoy another off-day Thursday before beginning a four-game set against the Boston Red Sox over the weekend.

Beyond right-hander Evan Meek, who pitched 1 2/3 innings Monday and was dealing with flu-like symptoms over the last two days, the rest of the bullpen was fresh even though Showalter alluded to other relievers potentially feeling the effects of the bug that’s been going through the Baltimore clubhouse over the last week.

Of course, Showalter isn’t going to broadcast any potential desire to stretch out Britton to the point that he would once again become a starting option and the latest turn through the rotation — sans Ubaldo Jimenez — provided improved results, but there’s no harm in having a relief option that can bring both length and results in close games like Britton has done. It’s the same way the Orioles used Arthur Rhodes — another former left-handed starting prospect — with great results in their 1996 and 1997 playoff seasons.

Before arguing that Britton should move into the rotation, it’s important to acknowledge that what he’s done while facing hitters one time through the order is a different story from being entrusted to retire batters three or four different times as a starter. Assuming success in relief translates into being an effective starting pitcher is often fool’s gold, and Britton has found a niche working out of the bullpen.

The temptation is certainly there to envision him as a starter again, even if the memory of his 4.95 earned run average, 1.725 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), and meager 4.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in eight appearances (seven of them starts) last season make it unsettling to try to mess with something that isn’t broken. But Britton hasn’t looked this good since his rookie season in 2011 when he was 5-2 with a 2.35 ERA in his first 10 starts and appeared on his way to becoming a mainstay in the Baltimore rotation.

No changes in the starting rotation are imminent — nor should be at this early stage of the season — but Britton has provided Showalter with a major bullet out of the bullpen who could become an intriguing alternative if the likes of Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, or Bud Norris slip in the coming weeks. The return of Troy Patton from suspension in the near future will also add another left-handed arm to the bullpen.

Regardless of what happens, the Orioles are pleased to simply see Britton back on track.

“He’s throwing the ball with a lot of confidence,” Hunter said. “He’s got a game plan, and he’s sticking to it. Him and [catcher Matt Wieters] are on a good page right now. I’ll pat him on the butt and hope he keeps it up.”

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O’s pitchers failing to go deep into games in 2013

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O’s pitchers failing to go deep into games in 2013

Posted on 22 August 2013 by Max Buchdahl

Ever since taking two of three in San Francisco against the Giants, the Orioles have lost six of their last nine games. During that fateful stretch, Orioles pitchers finished at least seven innings in a start just twice. One of those came in a loss, the other in a win. Due to this unfortunate statistic, the Orioles bullpen has become overworked, as we’ve seen with the demise of the previously feared Jim Johnson.

To try and nail down exactly how ineffective Orioles starters have been in giving the bullpen a break, I turned to the stats. I compared the Orioles to other contending AL teams to see how many times their starting pitchers have gone at least seven innings. I used the Red Sox, Rays, Yankees, Tigers, Indians, Rangers, and Athletics as comparisons to the Orioles.

Of that total of eight teams (including the Orioles), the Orioles have had the fewest 7-inning starts, with 24. Chris Tillman leads the way with seven, while Wei-Yin Chen has six. The next worst team in 7-inning starts is the Red Sox, who have 31, still significantly more than the Orioles.

The Tigers have the most 7-inning starts of the eight teams with 61, more than double the number the Orioles have. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander each have sixteen 7-inning starts, making the two tied for the most on this list.

The Orioles have received 676.2 innings from their starting pitchers this season, also the fewest of of the group of eight teams. Given that the O’s have played a total of 1,154 innings coming into tonight’s game against the A’s, starting pitchers have pitched 59% of the team’s total innings. That is the lowest percentage of the eight teams, with the Tigers leading the way at 68% and 805.2 innings thrown by their starters.

If you want to point to something specific to blame for the Orioles struggles, and at the same time have the stats to back it up, it would be the inability of the starters to limit their pitch counts and work later into ballgames. The Orioles bullpen, nearly flawless last year, hasn’t been as effective here in 2013. One possible justification could be the number of innings they have had to throw.  Jim Johnson’s 48 save opportunities thus far this season is by far the most of any closer in baseball. Johnson had 54 save opportunities last year. If he keeps closing games this year, he’ll likely surpass that number by the end of this year.

Last year, Orioles fans learned the importance of a lockdown bullpen. This year, the starting pitching isn’t doing their part of the bargain. If in these final six weeks of the regular season the Orioles rotation can start putting together more 7-inning starts, the bullpen would gain some rest. Then, the bullpen could be more effective and we could be looking at more October baseball here in the Charm City.

The following numbers are the innings thrown by each starting pitcher for the eight teams I’ve talked about. The percentage number is the percentage of innings that starting pitchers have thrown for the respective teams.

Red Sox: 773      65%

Lester-165

Dempster-145.1

Doubront-134

Lackey-139.2

Bucholz-84.1

Aceves-30.1

Workman-18.1

Webster-26.1

Peavy-23.2

Morales-5

Wright-1

Orioles: 676.2         59%

Tillman-152

Gonzalez-134.2

Hammel-123

Chen-101.2

Garcia-52

Feldman-48.1

McFarland-2.2

Britton-34

Gausman-24.2

Arrieta-23.2

Norris-23

Johnson-4

Stinson-5.2

Jurrjens-5

 

Rays: 754   66%

Hellickson-151

Hernandez-136.2

Price-131.1

Moore-121.1

Cobb-94.2

Archer-88.1

Odorizzi-14.2

Colome-16

Yankees: 767.2     66%

Sabathia-171.1

Kuroda-160.1

Pettitte-137.1

Hughes-131

Nova-82

Phelps-65.2

Warren-3

Nuno-17

 

Tigers: 805.2        68%

Verlander-173.2

Scherzer-172.1

Fister-161.1

Sanchez-139.2

Porcello-133.1

Alvarez-25.1

 

Indians: 733.1        63%

Masterson-182.1

Jimenez-128.1

Kluber-117

Kazmir-119

McAllister-97.2

Salazar-23

Bauer-17

Carrasco-33

Myers-16

 

Rangers: 761    65%

Holland-174

Darvish-161

Grimm-89

Tepesch-85.1

Ogando-80.1

Perez-75

Garza-41.2

Blackley-4

Harrison-10.2

Wolf-13

Lindblom-27

A’s: 769.1   66%

Griffin-164

Parker-155.1

Colon-154.1

Milone-138

Straily-113

Anderson-23.2

Gray-21

 

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Opening post-break weekend reminder of Orioles’ tough road ahead

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Opening post-break weekend reminder of Orioles’ tough road ahead

Posted on 22 July 2013 by Luke Jones

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

The Orioles couldn’t have asked for a better weekend in Arlington.

A three-game sweep in which they outplayed the Texas Rangers in every facet of the game lifted the Orioles to a season-best 13 games above .500 and seven victories in their last eight games.

Watching Ron Washington’s club repeatedly kick the ball around the field and run itself out of innings provided a new appreciation of how fundamentally sound the Orioles have been throughout the 2013 season. Three quality outings from Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman reminded how the top three-fifths of the Baltimore rotation can compete with just about anyone in the American League.

But as the dust cleared and the Orioles landed in Kansas City to begin a four-game series on Monday night, a look at the AL East standings showed just how difficult the final two months of the season will be.

Possibly their most impressive series of the season moved the Orioles only one game closer in their chase of the division-leading Red Sox after Boston took two of three from the Yankees at Fenway Park. And Baltimore moved no closer to the white-hot Tampa Bay Rays, who swept the Blue Jays in Toronto to give them 13 wins in their last 14 contests as the hottest team in baseball.

Those realities aren’t meant to bring fans down from their weekend high, but they offer a snapshot of how incredibly small the margin for error will be over the final 63 games of the regular season in the Orioles’ bid to advance to the postseason for the second straight year. Of those remaining games, 35 will come against teams with winning marks and only 28 against clubs sporting records below the .500 mark entering Monday’s action.

The old adage of needing to beat the clubs you’re supposed to beat while holding your own against top competition might not be enough to prevail in a division that sports four teams with winning records in the final week of July. Even the underachieving Blue Jays have been a thorn in the Orioles’ side this year, winning seven of the 13 games the clubs have played this season.

The Orioles are a remarkable 33-22 against teams currently owning a winning record while going just 23-21 against clubs who sit below .500 on July 22. Of course, that deviates from the aforementioned mantra for success and speaks well for the Orioles’ ability to rise to the challenge of playing the top teams this season, evident by their combined 9-4 record against Texas and Detroit, the two teams who’ve won the last three AL pennants.

But the Orioles do need to take better advantage of their opportunities against sub-.500 clubs down the stretch and that will start with the Royals in Kansas City this week. To say they need to at least take three out of four would be an overstatement — Tampa Bay and Boston face off in a four-game set of their own beginning Monday — but anything less just makes the climb that much taller in September. With the season-long performance of the Red Sox and the play of the Rays over the last month, there is no time for a breather or to go into cruise control against the lesser competitors in the league.

The eyeball test suggests the Orioles are a better team than the 93-69 outfit from a year ago as they certainly hit better and play better defense than the 2012 club. Their starting pitching appears to be coming together in a similar manner to the way it did in the second half last year, which will help a bullpen that hasn’t been as dominating starting with closer Jim Johnson and his six blown saves.

But the division is better than it was a year ago from top to bottom and Buck Showalter’s club hasn’t been as fortunate, going just 13-14 in one-run games after last year’s historic 29-9 mark. That was to be expected and shouldn’t be misconstrued as a knock on what the Orioles have accomplished this year, but there is no consolation or handicap for the smaller amount of good fortune, either.

An impressive three-game sweep over the Rangers was the perfect way to start the proverbial second half for the Orioles, but the weekend showed how steep the climb will be to win their first division title since 1997. The Orioles will have their opportunities against Boston and Tampa Bay — they have 12 games remaining with the Red Sox and seven with the Rays — and those clubs will experience slow spells at some point, but the challenge will be to capitalize while minimizing their own pitfalls in the process.

As well as the Orioles have played entering their 100th game of the season Monday night, they haven’t been quite good enough in the AL East. The standings say as much, though they would be the second wild card if the season ended today, putting them in the unenviable position of being the road team in a one-game playoff like they were last year.

But the Orioles are fully within striking distance, meaning it’s time to steamroll the clubs who don’t own such a luxury.

Because they’re not going to be able to count on very much help in their quest.

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Handing out Orioles awards at the All-Star break

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Handing out Orioles awards at the All-Star break

Posted on 16 July 2013 by Luke Jones

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

Standing at 53-43 and sending five representatives to Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York, the Orioles had quite the memorable first 3 1/2 months of the season filled with plenty of highs and also some lows.

Before manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles get back to business in Texas on Friday, I’ve composed my list of All-Star break awards. Some are more serious than others, but there was plenty to remember over the first 96 games of the 2013 season.

Most Valuable Player: Chris Davis
Skinny: Manny Machado deserves more consideration here than most will give him if you take his remarkable defense into account, but the Orioles first baseman is on pace to break franchise records for RBIs, slugging percentage, OPS, extra-base hits, and total bases as well as surpass the American League home run record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961. Who else could it really be?

Best Starting Pitcher: Miguel Gonzalez
Skinny: Chris Tillman received the All-Star nod, but Gonzalez has been the Orioles’ best starter, especially since posting a 2.88 earned run average in his last 10 starts upon returning from a May stint on the 15-day disabled list. The 29-year-old posted seven straight quality starts heading into the All-Star break and his 3.48 ERA is the best in the starting rotation.

Best Relief Pitcher: Tommy Hunter
Skinny: Darren O’Day earned consideration here, but Hunter’s ability to pitch more than one inning has saved the bullpen numerous times. With Luis Ayala traded early in the season and Pedro Strop unable to bounce back from his late-season struggles from a year ago, the Orioles would have been in major trouble with their bullpen without Hunter’s 2.41 ERA and 52 1/3 innings of work.

Biggest Surprise: Manny Machado
Skinny: With Davis taking aim at the record books, it’s difficult not to give him the nod here, but I would have predicted Davis to be more likely for a breakout season than Machado, who just celebrated his 21st birthday less than two weeks ago. We now see the third baseman as a doubles machine with a shot at the single-season record, but many thought Showalter had gotten too much Florida sun when he put the unproven Machado in the No. 2 lineup spot at the start of the season.

Biggest Disappointment: Jason Hammel
Skinny: The Opening Day starter was counted on to be the de facto ace and has instead looked like the weak link in the current starting rotation. His 5.24 ERA is worse than his career mark, but most of his other numbers align closely with his career statistics prior to his arrival in Baltimore last season.

Most Overrated Performer: Nick Markakis
Skinny: The Orioles right fielder was close to being voted into the All-Star Game, but he is on pace for career lows in batting average and OPS and has become more of a singles hitter in recent years except for his 2012 injury-plagued campaign. Markakis is still a good player, but the clamoring for his inclusion in the Midsummer Classic was more about his popularity and less about his production. Many will argue that catcher Matt Wieters deserves this distinction, but few tried to say he was deserving of All-Star honors with his poor offensive output this season.

Most Underrated Performer: Nate McLouth
Skinny: Even McLouth’s biggest supporters had to wonder if the second-half success he enjoyed last season was a fluke, but the left fielder continues to be a spark plug at the top of the order and on the base paths with a team-leading 24 stolen bases. He doesn’t do anything that blows you away, but McLouth makes a substantial contribution just about every night, whether it shows up in the box score or not.

Most Improved Player: Ryan Flaherty
Skinny: The second baseman hit .133 in his first 102 plate appearances before being demoted to Triple-A Norfolk and has batted .300 in 94 plate appearances since being recalled at the end of May. The simple fact that many are clamoring for Flaherty to play over veteran Brian Roberts says all you need to know about his improvement since the start of the season.

Biggest Injury: Wei-Yin Chen’s strained right oblique
Skinny: The Taiwanese lefty went down with the injury in mid-May, leaving a major hole in the rotation for nearly two months. Ironically, the long layoff may pay off in the long run for Chen, who tired down the stretch last year and should now feel strong for the remainder of the season after less wear and tear on his pitching arm.

Most Important Win: A 2-1 victory over the Yankees thanks to Adam Jones’ homer off Mariano Rivera on July 7
Skinny: Even Showalter downplayed the significance of the dramatic victory in early July, but the Orioles were on the verge of dropping their third straight one-run game to New York to complete a 1-5 road trip before Jones tagged the greatest closer of all time for his first blown save at Yankee Stadium since 2010.

Most Disappointing Loss: Jim Johnson’s meltdown in Toronto on May 26
Skinny: The Orioles sent Johnson to the mound with a 5-2 lead and needed only three outs to take three of four from the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. A double, two singles, a walk, and a Munenori Kawasaki double later, the closer had blown his fourth save in his last five chances and the Orioles had suffered a stunning 6-5 loss on a Sunday afternoon.

Most Exciting Moment: Chris Dickerson’s walk-off homer against the Tigers on May 31
Skinny: All-Star Game starter Max Scherzer had pitched brilliantly for eight innings before Detroit manager Jim Leyland turned the game over to Jose Valverde with a 5-3 lead in the ninth. Before an electric crowd of over 46,000, the Orioles staged a rally as Markakis hit a homer to lead off the inning and the part-time player Dickerson hammered a three-run blast into the right-center bleachers for one of the most exciting regular-season moments in Camden Yards history.

The Kevin Gregg-Michael Gonzalez Fireman Award: Pedro Strop
Skinny: The Orioles tried to stick with the volatile but talented Strop as long as they could, but you knew time was running short for the 28-year-old on June 29 when Showalter felt the need to warm up O’Day in his bullpen as the struggling reliever was working the ninth inning with an 11-3 lead over the Yankees. Sporting a 7.25 ERA in 29 appearances, Strop was dealt along with Jake Arrieta to the Chicago Cubs a few days later in exchange for starting pitcher Scott Feldman.

The Justin Duchscherer “Yes, He Was an Oriole” Award: Mike Belfiore
Skinny: If you’re asking who Belfiore is, you’re probably not alone as the left-handed reliever has twice been recalled to the 25-man roster this season but hasn’t appeared in a game. Chances are good he’s near the top of the list of players currently on the 40-man roster who could be designated for assignment should the need for a roster spot arise, but Belfiore does have a 3.67 ERA for Triple-A Norfolk this season.

The Jack Cust Baserunning Award: Alexi Casilla’s ninth-inning blunder against the Red Sox
Skinny: Trying to rally against Boston closer Andrew Bailey on June 15, the Orioles sent the speedy Casilla into the game to run for J.J. Hardy at first base with one out. After Ryan Flaherty lined a ball sharply to right fielder Shane Victorino, Casilla was inexplicably standing on third base as he was doubled off first to end the game. The utility infielder said after the game he knew the number of outs and simply misread the ball off Flaherty’s bat, but the play may have gone down as the Orioles’ worst pinch-running debacle since Manny Alexander was picked off upon running for Cal Ripken in a 1996 game that then went into extra innings.

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Your Monday Reality Check: Don’t listen to those saying Orioles’ pitching bad

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Your Monday Reality Check: Don’t listen to those saying Orioles’ pitching bad

Posted on 15 July 2013 by Glenn Clark

During the course of Major League Baseball’s All-Star break, there will be plenty of stories written and plenty of analysis offered via radio/TV about the first half of the Baltimore Orioles’ season.

As you almost certainly already know, the Birds finished the first “half” of the season 53-43, 4.5 games back of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East and 1.5 games behind the Texas Rangers in the race for the second AL Wild Card spot. The biggest headlines of the season thus far have surrounded Chris Davis’ 37 home runs, Manny Machado’s 39 doubles and Jim Johnson’s six blown saves.

But if the Baltimore Orioles want to make it a second consecutive trip to the postseason, the headlines in the second half of the season are going to have to be about something that hasn’t gotten much attention through the first 96 games of the season.

Spoiler alert. It’s the starting pitching.

Yes, the same starting pitching that has lead the Orioles to a 4.39 team ERA to this point…good for 28th in Major League Baseball.

It isn’t hard to pick apart why that number isn’t particularly relevant. Allow me the opportunity.

Eliminating pitchers who barely appeared for the Orioles this season (does anyone even remember Alex Burnett), a number of pitchers posted legitimate innings and soaked up miserable ERA’s.

For example, Pedro Strop pitched 22.1 innings for the O’s and posted a 7.25 ERA. He’s gone. Jake Arrieta pitched over 23 innings in Orange and Black this season and posted a 7.23 ERA. For his trouble, Arrieta was dealt with Strop to the Chicago Cubs Kevin Gausman has pitched 33.1 innings at the major league level this season, tallying a 6.21 ERA in the process. He’s currently pitching for the Norfolk Tides. “Sweaty” Freddy Garcia? 5.77 ERA in 53 innings. The veteran is currently riding buses with Gausman in Norfolk himself. Zach Britton managed a 4.76 ERA over 34 IP before returning to the Tides as well.

Of the current Orioles, only one has a miserable ERA in legitimate innings-Jason Hammel with a 5.24 ERA in 111.2. But even taking Hammel’s numbers into consideration-the current group of Orioles pitchers has posted an incredible combined ERA. If you consider a third of an inning to be .333, the current group of twelve pitchers has pitched a combined 658.53 innings this season. In those innings, they’ve allowed a total of 277 combined earned runs. That would be good for a group ERA of 3.78, which would be tenth best in all of baseball. If you were to subtract Hammel’s gaudy numbers, the ERA for the rest of the 11 would be 3.48-which would be best in the American League.

(I hope Mr. Radcliffe will be proud of all of my math.)

Clearly I’m doing a bit of fuzzy math here. Not all 12 pitchers are going to be the exact group of pitchers the Birds use the rest of the way. Gausman in particular is likely to return, with Garcia, Britton and Steve Johnson being likely options to see time in the second half of the season as well. Tsuyoshi Wada may have to be a consideration for GM Dan Duquette again after the All-Star Break. Of the 12 pitchers included in the math, Scott Feldman made just three starts (including an excellent outing Sunday) since being acquired from the Cubs and Jairo Asencio appeared in only one game (one inning) since being called up Friday night.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Drew’s Morning Dish — Mon., June 24

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Drew’s Morning Dish — Mon., June 24

Posted on 24 June 2013 by Drew Forrester

I don’t care if the Blue Jays swept the Orioles over the weekend, I’m still playing Geddy Lee singing the Canadian national anthem at some point during Monday’s show.

It’s not his fault the Orioles’ pitchers can’t get anyone out.

You’re never as good as you look when you’re winning and never as bad as you look when you’re losing, but the Birds pretty much stunk up the joint over the weekend.  Take away the nice effort from Miguel Gonzalez on Saturday and just about everyone got a failing grade for the series with the Blue Jays.

No big deal.

Lots of baseball left.

Granted, it would help boost our hopes here in Baltimore if a couple of decent players were added between now and the trade deadline — and I’m not talking about NOT Bruce Chen and Brian Roberts.  I’m talking about newcomers…guys with a pedigree who might be able to help the club this year and beyond.

But, even with this team and no new arrivals, the Birds will be competing for a post-season spot come September because none of the other teams in the division are anywhere near good enough to pull away in August.

Once Labor Day rolls around, most or all of the AL East teams will still have a puncher’s chance of earning a playoff spot.

It’s a long season.

One lost weekend in Toronto doesn’t end it.

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I had to laugh at the folks clamoring for the O’s to retaliate against Jose Bautista after his gesture to Darren O’Day on Saturday afternoon in Toronto.

You people crack me up…almost as much as those asinine “unwritten rules” of baseball crack me up.

Here’s the best way to retaliate LIKE A MAN against Bautista:  Strike him out.

If you want to retaliate like a coward, go ahead and throw a baseball at the guy.  That’s surely going to teach him a lesson.

Here’s one other thing the Orioles could try:  Scoring some runs.  That might help win a game or two in Toronto.

I applaud Buck Showalter for not bowing to the pressure that existed from a lot of baseball nerds out there — and for just sticking to the game and not trying to get any of his players hurt via either a retaliation pitch or a brawl.

Last time I checked, the Orioles have a pretty decent ballclub.

No sense in losing a player – a la Zack Greinke earlier this season – for 6-8 weeks because you decided to incite a riot after some guy on the other team made a gesture at one of your players.

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I’ve been a member at Mountain Branch golf course in Joppa since 2001 and I have to say that over the last two months – including right now – the place is in the best shape I’ve EVER seen it.

You won’t find another daily fee course in the area – in its price range – in better condition.

The new owners (two local Baltimore businessmen) and the new head golf professional have really made a significant impact this spring/summer.

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The Flyers are evidently about to part company with Danny Briere.

I’m not even going to pre-consider what I would do if he, somehow, wound up in Washington.

I would probably take an official hiatus as a Capitals fan.

Seriously…

 

 

 

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Orioles reinstate Gonzalez from paternity list, send Pearce to DL

Posted on 21 June 2013 by Luke Jones

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With right-handed pitcher Miguel Gonzalez rejoining the club after the birth of his first child earlier this week, the Orioles have placed reserve outfielder Steve Pearce on the 15-day disabled list with left wrist tendinitis.

Gonzalez was placed on the paternity leave list earlier in the week, which created a roster spot for first baseman Travis Ishikawa but created a logjam that led to Pearce being sent to the DL. Like Ishikawa, Pearce could not be sent to the minor leagues without being designated for assignment and clearing waivers.

Pearce’s playing time has steadily declined since right-handed hitter Danny Valencia was recalled last month, and he received only four starts this month. He is hitting .235 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 90 plate appearances this season.

With outfielder Nolan Reimold continuing a minor-league rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie, the Orioles have another roster decision looming when the 29-year-old is ready to return. The Orioles continue to look for a trade partner for Ishikawa, but Reimold’s return would also leave Pearce’s long-term status in question as Valencia has emerged to serve as the regular designated hitter against left-handed starters.

Gonzalez and his wife welcomed daughter Leah to the world on Monday night, and the 29-year-old is scheduled to pitch on Saturday against the Blue Jays. He is 5-2 with a 3.75 earned run average in 12 starts this season.

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Orioles place Gonzalez on paternity leave list, designate Navarro for assignment

Posted on 18 June 2013 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles today announced that they have recalled left-handed pitcher Zach Britton from Triple-A Norfolk, who is scheduled to start Tuesday at Detroit, and selected the contract of first baseman Travis Ishikawa from the Tides. To make room for Ishikawa on the 25 and 40-man rosters, right-handed pitcher Miguel Gonzalez was placed on the Paternity Leave List and infielder Yamaico Navarro has been designated for assignment.

Britton, 25, is 3-2 with a 3.28 ERA (60.1IP, 22ER) in 11 starts for the Tides this season. He is 2-1 with a 2.03 ERA (31.0IP, 7ER) over his last five starts, lowering his season ERA from 4.60 to 3.28. Britton has held left-handed hitters to a line of .204/.339/.347 in 49 at-bats against at Triple-A. He made one start for the Orioles earlier this season, taking the loss (6.0IP, 6ER) on April 29 at Seattle.

Ishikawa, 29, has batted .316/.413/.525 with 16 doubles, seven home runs and 31 RBI in 49 games for the Tides this season. He was named the organization’s minor league player of the month in May after batting .413/.489/.787 with all seven of his home runs in 21 games on the month. Ishikawa is a career .257/.329/.428 hitter in five major league seasons with San Francisco (2006, 2008-10) and Milwaukee (2012). He will wear uniform #45.

Gonzalez, 29, is 5-2 with a 3.75 ERA (74.1IP, 31ER) in 12 starts this season. He and his wife Lucia had their first child, daughter Leah, Monday night.

Navarro, 25, batted .286/.333/.357 in 28 at-bats for the Orioles earlier this season.

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