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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-0 loss to Minnesota

Posted on 01 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles dropping their first series of the season with a 7-0 loss to Minnesota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You know it’s been a sobering weekend when there’s a question over whether the pitching or offense was worse. The Orioles batted .117 against the Twins and allowed 13 runs over the final two games of the series. I suppose the answer to the debate is … yes.

2. Kevin Gausman giving up a home run on the first pitch of his season wasn’t an encouraging sign for his first half being different this time around. He followed that by giving up six runs and three homers in four innings. It was only one start, but a brutal one.

3. His average fastball velocity of 92.3 miles per hour was the lowest single-game average of his career, according to FanGraphs data. Gausman said he felt fine physically, but his average fastball velocity was 95.0 last season. That’s something to monitor.

4. Gausman absolutely needs to be able to succeed throwing to catchers not named Caleb Joseph, but he posted a 2.62 ERA with him (113 1/3 innings) last year and a 7.85 mark with others (73 1/3 innings). I would have stuck with that partnership at least to open this season.

5. No matter how unhappy you want to be with the Orioles bats, Jose Berrios deserves much credit. The 23-year-old was terrific in nearly pitching a “Maddux” before finishing with a three-hit shutout on 107 pitches. That’s quite a statement after a solid 2017 campaign.

6. Just imagine if Eddie Rosario hadn’t misplayed Chance Sisco’s fly to the left-field wall into a double in the third inning. The Twins could have taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning two days in a row and Berrios might have had a perfect game into the ninth.

7. It’s too soon for Buck Showalter to pull the plug on the Chris Davis leadoff experiment after committing to it in the first place, but an 0-for-12 start doesn’t bode well for his early-season confidence.

8. I dislike the unwritten rules of baseball as much as anyone, but I figured Sisco’s bunt single against the shift with one out in the ninth inning of a seven-run game wouldn’t go over well in the Minnesota dugout. That doesn’t make those complaints any less ridiculous though.

9. Minnesota starters combined to allow zero runs and five hits over 21 innings. For what it’s worth, Showalter was singing the praises of the Twins even before the series began.

10. Richard Bleier, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens all had good outings. So, there’s something positive to take away from Sunday.

11. When you’re about to go on the road to face the defending World Series champions followed by the American League runner-ups, a series win would have been a nice confidence boost. Instead, there wasn’t much evidence of a pulse this weekend.

12. As ugly as the final two games of this series were, remember to exhale and allow the new season to breathe. Whatever your 2018 expectations were a week ago really shouldn’t be any different at this point.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-2 win on Opening Day

Posted on 29 March 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles recording their third straight Opening Day walk-off victory in a 3-2 win over Minnesota in 11 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Two days shy of the 10th anniversary of his first game with the Orioles, Adam Jones provided another memory with his game-winning homer in the 11th, his first walk-off blast since 2012. He owns a .341 average with two homers, six doubles, a triple, and eight RBIs in 11 openers.

2. Manny Machado’s future has understandably been the focus for months, but Jones remains the heart and soul of the Orioles. Drafted a few months after the center fielder was acquired from Seattle in 2008, Caleb Joseph described what he’s meant to the organization perfectly:

3. Dylan Bundy didn’t receive the win, but his Opening Day start was exactly what the Orioles envisioned when they drafted him. He was up in the zone early as Minnesota made some loud outs, but he was superb as the game progressed, tossing seven shutout innings on 88 pitches.

4. Twelve of Bundy’s 15 swinging strikes came on his slider, which had terrific downward movement. All seven of his strikeouts came on that pitch. What a weapon.

5. Bundy’s best work came in the fifth inning after Byron Buxton stole second base with one out. That’s when a starter needs to bear down in a scoreless game, and he proceeded to strike out Jason Castro and Brian Dozier to end the threat.

6. The defense didn’t help and Robbie Grossman’s game-tying single was a bloop, but Brad Brach blowing the save doesn’t inspire confidence with Zach Britton’s return at least a couple months away. Going back to last year, Brach seems to fall into protect mode rather than attacking hitters in save situations.

7. Who would have predicted Joseph hitting the first triple and picking up the first RBIs of the season? He’s done a commendable job putting his historically-nightmarish 2016 season behind him.

8. The Orioles scoring two runs while striking out four times in the seventh inning felt very Oriole-like, didn’t it?

9. An 0-for-4 performance in the leadoff spot is nothing over which to fret, but two defensive miscues — including one that started the Twins’ ninth-inning rally — and nearly getting thrown out at second base on Machado’s ninth-inning single made for a forgettable day for Chris Davis.

10. Craig Gentry starting in right field over Colby Rasmus raised a few eyebrows, but watching him rob Eddie Rosario of a home run in the second inning made Buck Showalter look like a genius. That was a tremendous catch.

11. Jake Odorizzi did an excellent job changing speeds and the eye levels of Orioles hitters with his splitter, curve, and elevated fastballs on the inner half of the plate. The Twins starter and Bundy put on a good show.

12. The Orioles have won eight straight season openers under Showalter. It’s one of 162 games, but the manager always talks about wanting to send a big crowd home happy in hopes that they’ll come back, and that’s certainly been the case with the last three openers ending in walk-off wins.

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Davis leading off on Opening Day as Orioles finalize 25-man roster

Posted on 29 March 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After much speculation about the Opening Day lineup in recent days, first baseman Chris Davis will indeed begin the season as the Orioles leadoff hitter.

Prior to Wednesday’s workout, the veteran slugger welcomed the possibility of hitting in the top spot in the order before manager Buck Showalter officially penciled in his name there against Minnesota. Davis served in the leadoff spot a number of times toward the end of the Grapefruit League schedule, but that also served the purpose of giving him extra at-bats after he missed action with an elbow issue.

It’s certainly an unconventional move as Davis tries to rebound from a 2017 season in which he batted only .215 with a .309 on-base percentage. Prior to Thursday, the leadoff spot was the only position in the batting order in which he’d never hit in his major league career, but Davis does own a respectable .328 career on-base percentage and the Orioles lack ideal options for the job.

“It’s something that everybody felt like was a good way to start,” said Showalter, who isn’t committing to Davis as the long-term leadoff hitter. “Chris is a very important part of our club, potentially, and I hope this kind of helps us. Sometimes you’ve got to give a new toy, something that signifies a new start. We’ll see.”

Showalter went out of his way to mention left fielder Trey Mancini as another candidate he’d considered this spring, perhaps a hint that he was the manager’s initial preference for the role. Mancini finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting last season and was in the No. 5 spot in the order on Opening Day after hitting in the top spot a few times in spring games.

Third baseman Tim Beckham saw extensive time as Baltimore’s leadoff hitter last year after being acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline, but he was slotted into the sixth spot on Thursday and owns a career .310 on-base percentage.

“I didn’t like Trey there. I tried [that],” Showalter said. “You could tell Trey was a little uncomfortable with it. Anytime a player kind of embraces things [like] it’s as much his idea as somebody else, those usually get a good return.”

The Orioles finalized their 25-man roster Thursday morning by selecting the contracts of outfielder Colby Rasmus and Craig Gentry and infielders Danny Valencia and Pedro Alvarez. To make room for those four on the 40-man roster, pitchers Alex Asher, Stefan Crichton, Michael Kelly, and Jesus Liranzo were designated for assignment.

As expected, outfielder Mark Trumbo (right quadriceps strain) and right-handed pitcher Gabriel Ynoa (right shin stress reaction) were placed on the 10-day disabled list. Both moves are retroactive to March 26, and Showalter indicated Trumbo is “not too far away” from returning to action.

Closer Zach Britton remains on the 60-day DL as he recovers from a torn Achilles tendon.

Below are the Opening Day lineups:

MINNESOTA
2B Brian Dozier
1B Joe Mauer
3B Miguel Sano
LF Eddie Rosario
DH Logan Morrison
SS Eduardo Escobar
RF Max Kepler
CF Byron Buxton
C Jason Castro

SP Jake Odorizzi

BALTIMORE
1B Chris Davis
SS Manny Machado
2B Jonathan Schoop
CF Adam Jones
LF Trey Mancini
3B Tim Beckham
DH Pedro Alvarez
RF Craig Gentry
C Caleb Joseph

SP Dylan Bundy

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 24-16 loss to Minnesota

Posted on 23 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens enduring their fourth loss in five games in a 24-16 final in Minnesota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Resignation might be the Ravens’ biggest opponent at this point. Based on many of the post-game comments, they’re fighting doubts over whether this will improve. Terrell Suggs sounded as despondent as I’ve ever heard him and summed it up by saying, “Right now, we stink.” Indeed.

2. When Griff Whalen comes off the street to play 58 snaps, how do you expect anything different from this offense? Injuries don’t forgive the poor organizational approach, but “next man up” is merely a nice T-shirt slogan when an offense built to be average at best suffers this many.

3. Amazingly, seven NFL teams failed to score an offensive touchdown on Sunday as the Ravens avoided being the eighth with Chris Moore catching a touchdown as time expired. Since scoring five offensive touchdowns over the first two weeks, the offense has five in five games. Just brutal.

4. I didn’t buy Brandon Williams’ absence being the only reason the run defense was faring poorly, and the Ravens allowed over 160 rushing yards in his return. The defense isn’t getting any help from the offense, but too many resources have been used on this unit to be so underwhelming.

5. Mike Wallace didn’t always have the best reputation on some of his previous NFL stops, but I admire his strong desire to go back in the game after being concussed. And I’m glad he wasn’t allowed to.

6. How ironic it is that a litany of injuries at wide receiver left Michael Campanaro as the No. 1 guy still standing. He’s already set a career high for games played in a season, and I’m glad to see him stay on the field for an extended stretch.

7. After years of being the Achilles heel of the defense, cornerback has been its biggest strength as Brandon Carr has been a quality acquisition and grabbed his third interception of the season. It’s a shame to see the drop-off elsewhere.

8. Which was the more embarrassing moment for the offense Sunday: Buck Allen needing to line up at wide receiver or Joe Flacco tripping over his own two feet in the pocket? It’s a shame Todd Heap couldn’t come down from the radio broadcast booth to catch some passes.

9. Jaylen Hill performed well in his first NFL action, registering a tackle and a pass breakup in nine defensive snaps. I still wouldn’t be surprised to see him emerge as the nickel corner sooner than later.

10. How many times have you heard game broadcasters note the lack of urgency in Baltimore’s two-minute offense over the last couple years? It’s more like a two-hour offense too many times.

11. I’ve chuckled seeing some ask whether this offense is worse than the 2000 one. The answer is a resounding yes, and it’s not close. That group had the league’s fifth-ranked running game and a much better offensive line. This year’s offense might be the worst in team history.

12. I suppose it depends how the Ravens fare against Miami Thursday, but I don’t know how John Harbaugh doesn’t at least consider making some significant change with the extra break looming and the bye soon after that. How do you maintain the status quo with things trending this poorly?

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Ravens-Vikings: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 22 October 2017 by Luke Jones

The injury hits keep on coming for the Ravens.

For the second straight week, Baltimore doesn’t have a single healthy scratch on its inactive list for Sunday’s road encounter with the Minnesota Vikings. The wide receiver position is in especially poor shape with wide receivers Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), Breshad Perriman (concussion), and Chris Matthews (thigh) out and Mike Wallace at less than 100 percent with a back injury.

The offense struggled immensely without Maclin last week, and it faces an even bigger challenge on the road Sunday against the Vikings’ fifth-ranked defense. Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes will likely match up with Wallace as much as possible, leaving Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore, and the recently-signed veteran Griff Whalen to try to make plays for quarterback Joe Flacco.

The good news for the Ravens is the return of star defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who had missed the last four games with a foot injury. The presence of Williams as well as the return of top reserve Carl Davis should pay dividends for a run defense that’s plummeted to 30th in the NFL.

Tight end Benjamin Watson is also active despite missing practices this week with a knee issue.

Rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill will make his NFL debut after missing almost two months with a hamstring injury suffered late in the preseason. Whalen and veteran linebacker Steven Johnson will also debut for the Ravens on Sunday.

The Vikings will be without wide receivers Stefon Diggs (groin) and Michael Floyd (hamstring). Diggs was officially ruled out Friday while Floyd had been listed as questionable.

Minnesota left tackle Riley Reiff (ankle) is active after being added to the injury report at the end of the week.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Carl Cheffers.

Weather obviously won’t be a factor with the game being played at U.S. Bank Stadium. This marks Baltimore’s first game at the domed facility that opened last year.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with white pants while the Vikings don purple tops with white pants.

Sunday marks the sixth all-time meeting between these teams with the Ravens enjoying a 3-2 advantage. However, the Ravens lost their only game in Minnesota back in 2009.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Jeremy Maclin
WR Breshad Perriman
G Matt Skura
RB Terrance West
TE Max Williams
LB Tim Williams
WR Chris Matthews

MINNESOTA
QB Sam Bradford
WR Stefon Diggs
WR Michael Floyd
CB Mackensie Alexander
G Nick Easton
OT Aviante Collins
DE Tashawn Bower

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Ravens remain banged up at receiver ahead of Minnesota game

Posted on 19 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As if a poor performance in the Chicago loss weren’t bad enough, the Ravens offense remains banged up at the pass-catching positions ahead of their trip to Minnesota on Sunday.

Wide receivers Mike Wallace (back) and Breshad Perriman (concussion) were absent during the portion of Thursday’s workout open to the media while No. 1 wideout Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) was once again practicing in a red non-contact vest over his practice jersey. The status of those three remains unclear as Perriman left in the first half of last Sunday’s game and Maclin did not suit up against Chicago.

Wallace expressed optimism about his availability in the locker room after Thursday’s practice.

“My back’s just a little sore. I got hit with a helmet in my back [last Sunday],” Wallace said. “It’s just like a bone bruise. It’s just a matter of feeling better, but I should be fine for Sunday.”

Listed as a limited participant on Wednesday, Wallace being absent took concern at the position to a new level as general manager Ozzie Newsome re-signed veteran Griff Whalen to the 53-man roster. The 27-year-old Whalen was with Baltimore over the summer, making four catches for 32 yards in the preseason before being cut in early September.

To make room for Whalen, the Ravens cut offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom. Cornerback Sheldon Price was also waived from injured reserve on Thursday.

Tight ends Benjamin Watson (knee) and Maxx Williams (ankle) were also absent for the second straight day. Williams re-injured his left ankle in Sunday’s loss and is once again wearing a walking boot, making it unlikely that he’ll play against the Vikings.

Other absences from Thursday’s practice included defensive backs Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) and Lardarius Webb (undisclosed), running back Terrance West (calf), wide receiver Chris Matthews (undisclosed), guard Matt Skura (knee), and outside linebacker Tim Williams (thigh).

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley was practicing in a red non-contact vest for the second straight day, but he did not appear on Wednesday’s injury report.

In better news, defensive tackles Brandon Williams (foot) and Carl Davis (hamstring) both practiced for the second straight day as they hope to return to action in Week 7. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (mouth) also returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Vikings welcomed back standout outside linebacker Anthony Barr (concussion/ankle) to practice on a limited basis. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs (groin) and quarterback Sam Bradford (knee) were non-participants once again, but Diggs reportedly did some work off to the side of the practice field.

He told reporters in Minnesota that his status is “kind of in the air right now” for Sunday’s game.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Breshad Perriman (concussion), G Matt Skura (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (achilles), WR Mike Wallace (back), TE Benjamin Watson (knee), DB Lardarius Webb (knee), RB Terrance West (calf), TE Maxx Williams (ankle), LB Tim Williams (thigh)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DB Anthony Levine (thigh), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), WR Chris Matthews (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DT Carl Davis (thigh), CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (mouth), DT Brandon Williams (foot)

MINNESOTA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: QB Sam Bradford (knee), WR Stefon Diggs (groin), G Nick Easton (calf), WR Michael Floyd (hamstring)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Mackensie Alexander (hip), LB Anthony Barr (concussion/ankle), CB Tramaine Brock (hamstring)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Emmanuel Lamur (ribs), RB Jerick McKinnon (ankle), CB Xavier Rhodes (shoulder), S Andrew Sendejo (groin), WR Laquon Treadwell (toe)

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Eight offensive players on first injury report of week for Ravens

Posted on 18 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On the same day the Ravens welcomed standout defensive tackle Brandon Williams back to practice, six offensive players were absent with both starting wide receivers also less than 100 percent during Wednesday’s workout.

It’s the latest concern for an already-floundering offense with a challenging trip to Minnesota looming against the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense on Sunday.

In addition to the continued absences of right guard Matt Skura (knee) and running back Terrance West (calf), the Ravens were without left tackle Ronnie Stanley (mouth), tight ends Benjamin Watson (knee) and Maxx Williams (ankle), and wide receiver Breshad Perriman (concussion) as preparations continued for the Week 7 meeting with the Vikings. Making matters worse, wide receivers Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) and Mike Wallace (back) were also limited.

Maclin was sporting a red non-contact jersey during the session and missed last Sunday’s loss to Chicago despite practicing on a limited basis all last week. It remains unclear whether the veteran wideout will play this weekend.

“You just trust the doctors,” said Maclin, who wouldn’t reveal how close he came to playing against the Bears after going through a pre-game workout. “When they sit up there and they think that it’s probably not best for you to play, that’s kind of what you go with. Clearly anytime you’re dealing with any type of injury and you’re off of it, it definitely helps with the recovery process.”

The good news was that Williams (foot) and fellow defensive tackle Carl Davis (hamstring) participated fully in Wednesday’s session. Rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill (hamstring) was also a full participant after missing his sixth straight game Sunday.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith was held out of practice, but that wasn’t surprising as the Ravens continue to provide him rest for his Achilles tendinitis. The veteran defensive back played 69 of 80 defensive snaps against the Bears, his biggest workload in several weeks.

“I want to be in the game,” said Smith, who anticipated a heavy workload in Week 6. “I don’t want to be sitting on the sideline for anything.”

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley practiced in a red non-contact vest during the portion of practice open to media, but he did not appear on the injury report.

The Ravens designated second-year cornerback Maurice Canady to return to practice 2 1/2 months after he underwent knee surgery early in training camp. Canady will now begin a 21-day practice window and could be activated for the Week 9 contest at Tennessee at the earliest.

Baltimore still has one more designation to return from injured reserve as the NFL now allows teams to bring back two players from IR after a minimum eight-week period. That second designation is expected to be running back Danny Woodhead, who suffered a long-term hamstring injury in the season opener and was placed on IR a few days later.

The Vikings are also dealing with a number of injuries to key players as standout wide receiver and University of Maryland product Stefon Diggs (groin), linebacker Anthony Barr (concussion/ankle), left guard Nick Easton (calf) and quarterback Sam Bradford (knee) did not practice Wednesday. Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer was noncommittal about Diggs’ status for Sunday, saying only that he is “getting better” after missing last week’s contest against Green Bay.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Breshad Perriman (concussion), G Matt Skura (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (achilles), OT Ronnie Stanley (mouth), TE Benjamin Watson (knee), RB Terrance West (calf), TE Maxx Williams (ankle), LB Tim Williams (thigh)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DB Anthony Levine (thigh), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), WR Mike Wallace (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DT Carl Davis (thigh), CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), DT Brandon Williams (foot)

MINNESOTA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Anthony Barr (concussion/ankle), QB Sam Bradford (knee), WR Stefon Diggs (groin), G Nick Easton (calf), WR Michael Floyd (hamstring)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Mackensie Alexander (hip), CB Xavier Rhodes (shoulder), S Andrew Sendejo (groin)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Emmanuel Lamur (ribs), RB Jerick McKinnon (ankle)

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Brandon Williams returns to struggling Ravens run defense

Posted on 18 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Wearing his customary Incredible Hulk shirt under his jersey and shoulder pads Wednesday, Brandon Williams practiced fully for the first time in over a month.

The Ravens hope the defensive tackle’s return brings a superhero-like impact to their struggling run defense. It’s certainly needed with Baltimore ranking an unheard-of 30th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (141.3) and 21st in yards per carry (4.3). Both marks would shatter franchise-worst records for a defense that’s prided itself in shutting down opposing running games for two decades.

Is the standout defensive lineman the savior as the Ravens try to get back on track in Minnesota on Sunday?

“I’m just a guy,” said Williams, who hasn’t played since injuring his left foot in the first half of the 24-10 win over Cleveland on Sept. 17. “I’m just a guy who’s working to get back on the field. That’s all I’m doing. Today, it felt good. I have two more days [of practice] to go, and then hopefully, I’ll be back soon.”

At the time of Williams’ halftime exit in that Week 2 victory, the Ravens had allowed a stingy 3.4 yards per carry on 34 season attempts. They’ve surrendered an unimpressive 4.4 yards per rush since then as defensive end Brent Urban was lost for the season in Week 3 and emerging reserve Carl Davis has also missed action in recent weeks.

With the defensive line banged up and relying heavily on inexperienced backups, nose tackle Michael Pierce laughed at the notion of Williams proclaiming himself to be “just a guy” for a defense that had extraordinary expectations entering the 2017 season.

“That’s one of our key defensive pieces,” said Pierce, who has continued to play well despite receiving more attention from offensive lines in Williams’ absence. “Anytime you have him back, that frees up other guys to make plays. Double teams will start coming off of me, and they’ll start focusing on him more and free me up and free our ends up. It just frees everybody up. It definitely keeps our linebackers clean and that’s something we take pride in.”

The blame for the porous run defense doesn’t fall solely on the defensive line as both Davis and second-year defensive tackle Willie Henry have performed admirably despite their limited NFL experience. But plugging in solid rotational contributors isn’t the same as having the man who was awarded a $52.5 million contract in the offseason to be the anchor in the trenches.

The “next man up” mantra is the refrain uttered after any injury, but Williams is a difference-making talent on a team frankly in need of more game-changers.

“This machine has working parts to it, and you need all of your parts,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It’s always great to have one of the best interior linemen back on the team.”

With Williams potentially returning to play against the Vikings, the Ravens hope the low point for their defense came last week when they allowed a franchise-record 231 yards on 54 attempts, which allowed Chicago to win with a rookie quarterback making his first career road start.

It’s all been a frustrating experience for the 2013 third-round pick, who hadn’t missed a game since his rookie season.

“Not being in the game and watching your brothers go out to battle, it is always tough to watch,” Williams said. “You want to be out there and you want to help, but there is nothing you can do. It stinks watching from the sidelines, but hopefully I can get right and get back out there soon.”

Williams may not be “just a guy” for the Ravens, but teammates acknowledged Wednesday that they all need to pick up their play after such a disappointing month. The problems stopping the run haven’t solely occurred between the tackles as outside linebackers haven’t set the edge consistently and inside linebackers and safeties have missed too many tackles.

Baltimore will catch a break Sunday with Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook now out for the season after suffering a torn ACL a few weeks ago, but it will take more than Williams’ return for this defense to regroup and reclaim its place as a top-10 run defense, a title held in 14 of the last 18 seasons.

“I think he’s a part of the answer,” said Pierce of his defensive line partner. “Everybody should be accountable for their gap integrity on each and every play. You just see leaks here and there from myself and from everybody on the defense. We have to clean that up, and he’s going to be a big help just taking on those double teams and freeing up guys.

“It’s a big help, but at the end of the day, everybody has to be accountable.”

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 14-7 loss to Minnesota

Posted on 23 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles dropping their second straight game at home in a 14-7 loss to Minnesota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. If Monday wasn’t the end for Ubaldo Jimenez, it’s feeling closer and closer based on Buck Showalter’s post-game remarks. He’s had nine lives because of his bulky contract, but that may no longer be able to save him. It’s nothing personal, but a sunk cost is a sunk cost.

2. The final five pitches of his outing resulted in three singles and a double. It was batting practice for the Twins the third time through the heart of the order.

3. Showalter didn’t rule out the possibility of Jimenez pitching in relief like he did in parts of 2014 and 2016, but the current state of the Orioles bullpen without closer Zach Britton makes it extremely difficult to carry a pitcher without options or an ability to contribute meaningfully.

4. Monday’s loss marked the fourth time in the last month that the Orioles have squandered a lead of five or more runs. For a club that’s frequently succeeded despite a small margin for error over the last few years, that’s unacceptable.

5. The Orioles won’t use it as an excuse, but the lineup went 2-for-14 with seven strikeouts in their four turns at the plate after the Twins tied the game in the fifth. Yes, they’re professionals, but the pitching staff continuing to blow so many sizable leads has to be deflating.

6. It’s a shame that Adam Jones becoming the all-time home run leader at Camden Yards didn’t come with a winning result. He passed Rafael Palmeiro with his 125th career long ball in the ballpark to give Baltimore a 5-0 lead in the second inning.

7. Tyler Wilson probably earned himself a trip back to Norfolk by allowing six runs (four earned) in 1 1/3 innings. Inheriting a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the fifth wasn’t fair, but the Orioles needed much better from him in the sixth inning of a 6-6 game.

8. Stefan Crichton’s balk to make it a 12-6 deficit in the sixth felt like an appropriate symbol of futility from the Orioles pitching staff on Monday.

9. Minnesota starter Kyle Gibson receiving the win despite allowing six earned runs in five innings is another example why a pitcher’s win-loss record is such a useless statistic compared to countless other measures of performance. Kill the win, please.

10. Jonathan Schoop’s sixth-inning error led to two unearned runs a day after his first-inning miscue opened the door for three unearned runs in Sunday’s 3-1 defeat. His defense hasn’t been as sharp this season as we’ve seen in the past, and he entered Monday at minus-three defensive runs saved.

11. The replay angles weren’t perfect on Brian Dozier’s leadoff double in the third inning, but how the powers that be in New York couldn’t use those shots in concert to determine the ball was clearly foul is baffling.

12. On a personal note, after missing the weekend series against Toronto because of a wedding, I couldn’t help but watch Monday’s performance and wish my sister could just get married all over again. That was brutal.

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Ovechkin and Oshie Carry the Caps Over the Wild in OT

Posted on 29 March 2017 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie scored 1:52 into overtime after a great feed from Marcus Johansson to give the Washington Capitals a 5-4 victory over the Minnesota Wild. The triumph starts the Caps off on the right foot on their five game, eight day road trip.

On the last Capitals extended road trip, to California just over two weeks ago, Coach Barry Trotz stated that Washington’s star players were repeatedly not their star players in three straight losses.

At the Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night, that would not be the case.

Washington’s first line and power play was simply on fire in this one. It all started in period one when Alex Ovechkin did a great job of fore checking and stole the biscuit from the Wild in the offensive zone. The Gr8 then fed Nicklas Backstrom behind him and #19 quickly fired on net. Devan Dubnyk (15 saves) made the initial stop but the Osh Babe was there for the rebound to make it 1-0.

Pay the Man!

After the Wild tied the game as a result of the Minnesota third line outworking the Caps third line in the middle frame, Washington scored two straight power play goals to take a 3-1 lead. Both of the tallies came from the Gr8 in his favorite spot, the left wing circle.

But the Wild, who would go 0 for 5 on the evening on the power play in 9:33 of extra man time, were carrying the play at even strength, primarily against the Caps bottom two lines. Martin Hanzal, who set up the first goal for Jason Pominville, crashed the net and put home the rebound of a Pominville shot to make it 3-2 with 4:47 left in period two.

In the third period, the Capitals were doing a decent job of keeping the Wild on the perimeter and when Evgeny Kuznetsov made a super move to go by two Minnesota defenders on a rush and draw a slashing call, the Washington top unit took the ice again with 7:39 remaining with a chance to give the Caps a two goal cushion.

It took all of eight seconds for them to do that and the Gr8 got the hat trick after Jojo made a great play in the right wing corner to get the puck to Backstrom. Nicky then slid a beautiful cross ice pass to Ovechkin and he made no mistake about abusing Dubnyk, once again. For the second straight year, Ovi notched a hat trick in this building and it looked like this one was pretty much over, right?

Not so fast. A Dmitry Orlov clear was missed by Lars Eller on the right wing boards and Jared Spurgeon fired the loose puck at the net. It looked to me that Pominville tipped it by Braden Holtby (26 saves) from right in front, but the puck may have hit #9 instead. Either way, it was 4-3 with 4:57 left and the Wild suddenly had a lot of life.

The Caps would prevent the Wild from getting more pressure for the next few shifts, especially the Caps top line, which nearly scored again to get the two goal cushion back. However, with Dubnyk pulled, the Wild tied the game with 26.6 seconds left when Eric Staal put home a shot from the back door that Holtby had no chance on. The goal was reviewed for offside from the Toronto situation room, but even though it appeared to be offside, the league was consistent in claiming that the puck was not touched before the tag up, as they have done in two other exact situations recently, the Chicago-Colorado game on Sunday, March 12th and the Wild-Blackhawks game in this same barn back in February.

Whether you liked the call or not, and it is open to interpretation, the bottom line is that the Capitals blew a two goal lead, primarily because their bottom six had a very bad night. The third line, in particular, was on the wrong side of things in this one. Eller was -4, Andre Burakovsky was -3, and Brett Connolly was -2. Not a good night for those guys, who only had three shot attempts from their line (all from #20). They usually carry the play, but Hanzal, Pominville, and Jason Zucker had their number on Tuesday night.

Overall, the Caps won because of their star players. Ovechkin had the three power play goals and an assist, Oshie had two goals, Johansson had four assists, and Backstrom had three helpers, as well. In addition, the Capitals received good goaltending from the Holtbeast despite the fact that he allowed four goals on 30 shots. #70 made several numerous big saves throughout this contest as Washington struggled at even strength.

For Holtby, this was his 40th win of the campaign for the 3rd straight season and he joins Martin Brodeur and Evgeny Nabokov as the only two other NHL goalies to achieve that feat. Well done, Braden!

The victory improves the Caps to 50-17-8 (108 points) and they lead the Columbus Blue Jackets by three points and the Pittsburgh Penguins by five points with seven games remaining. Home ice is very important for the playoffs, especially since Washington has won a club record 31 of 38 contests at the Verizon Center this season.

Recently the Capitals have struggled on the road, especially the botched California trip. Washington was clearly focused on getting off to a better start on this extended stint away from home and thanks to their star players they found a way to get a “W.” Special teams were the big difference maker in this one as the Caps went three for four on the power play and a perfect five for five on the PK. But at even strength, Washington was deficient, especially the Eller line. That will need to change if the rest of this trip is going to be successful.

Notes: Shot attempts were 51-35 for the Wild (SOG were 30-20)…the Caps were creamed on faceoffs, 33-18. That stat is a good reason why they were dominated in puck possession in this one…Zach Parise took a high stick in the face from Tom Wilson in the first period and didn’t return. #43 received a double minor and then he was bloodied in a fight with Chris Stewart later in the frame…Ovechkin now has 33 goals and the Osh Babe has 32. What a duo they are with Backstrom feeding them the biscuit. To quote the Great Count Floyd, “That’s scary stuff, kids!”…the Caps are right back at it on Wednesday night in Colorado against the Avalanche at 10 pm. Expect Philipp Grubauer to get his first start since March 11th (at Los Angeles).

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