Posted on 06 October 2015 by WNST Staff
Posted on 05 October 2015 by Luke Jones
Chris Davis hit two home runs, Matt Wieters drove in two runs, and Darren O’Day pitched a scoreless eighth inning in the Orioles’ 9-4 win over the New York Yankees on the final day of the 2015 season.
A day earlier, Wei-Yin Chen pitched six solid innings to earn the win.
For their four biggest free agents, the weekend served as a final reminder of just how important they’ve been to the club’s turnaround as the Orioles finished their fourth consecutive non-losing season on Sunday, something they hadn’t done in three decades. Of course, 81 wins in 2015 were disappointing after 96 victories and an American League East title a year ago, but even a .500 standard felt unreachable just five years ago when Buck Showalter first arrived.
Now, it’s considered a failure.
“Every time there’s the first hint of fall in the air, I want people to think about playoff baseball and the World Series,” said Showalter, who managed Sunday’s game after his mother passed away on Saturday. “That’s why we get up in the morning, that’s why you go to spring training, that’s why you do the things we’re going to do between now and next February. We’re not giving in.
“It’s not good enough though. It’s not good enough. [A record of] 81-81 ain’t good enough. We’re trying to win. We want to be the last team standing, the last city standing. Our city deserves that.”
By now, no one should doubt Showalter leading the way in the dugout, but even the most optimistic fans are questioning the future after the Orioles posted the best record in the AL over the last four seasons with a .543 winning percentage. With so many pending free agents and the Orioles’ offseason track record, many doubt whether 81 wins will even be a reasonable goal for the 2016 club without ownership making significant financial commitments.
The general consensus is that the Orioles will survive without Wieters, who still hasn’t proven he can be an everyday catcher again after last year’s Tommy John surgery. For a fraction of the price, Caleb Joseph can provide respectable offense and better defense than Wieters at this stage of his career.
But replacing the other big-ticket free agents is a different story.
Davis just led the majors in home runs for the second time in three years and has clubbed 159 over his four full seasons in Baltimore. It’s the kind of power rarely seen in this pitching-rich era of baseball, but are the Orioles willing to offer a nine-figure contract to even sit down at the negotiating table with agent Scott Boras?
We know what history says until executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and owner Peter Angelos prove us wrong. If not, the Orioles will be allowing a major league home run champion to depart for a second consecutive winter.
Though far from an ace, Chen was the Orioles’ best starting pitcher in 2015 with a career-best 3.34 ERA. The 30-year-old lefty has never pitched 200 innings in a season and will likely command more money than he’s worth as a middle-of-the-rotation starter on the open market, but Baltimore lacks the pitching depth to replace him from within like the best organizations will often do. For a club that finished 14th in the AL in starter ERA and gave up 100 more runs than it did a year ago, replacing Chen will be much more difficult than letting him leave.
And then there’s O’Day, who was claimed off waivers after the 2011 season and has been the backbone of the Orioles’ biggest strength over the last four years. The right-hander just made 68 or more appearances for the fourth consecutive season and lowered his ERA each year. Rarely is it wise to spend significant money on relievers, but the 32-year-old has arguably been the best non-closer relief pitcher in the majors over the last four years. Baltimore has other young relievers such as Brad Brach and Mychal Givens who pitched well in 2015, but weakening the club’s biggest strength would be a dangerous proposition.
The Orioles will also need to make decisions on the likes of Gerardo Parra, Steve Pearce, and Nolan Reimold as they try to fix the corner outfield spots that were a disaster in 2015. Parra disappointed after being acquired from Milwaukee at the trade deadline while Pearce and Reimold should only be viewed as reserves at most.
Reinforcements in the minors appear few and far between at this point as outfielder Dariel Alvarez and first baseman Christian Walker barely garnered a look in September promotions. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson may eventually settle into bullpen roles, but neither are viable options to pencil into the 2016 starting rotation if the Orioles have visions of contending. Oft-injured pitching prospect Dylan Bundy is out of minor-league options next year, but to expect anything more than a bullpen role for him to begin 2016 would be foolish.
The harsh truth is that the aforementioned decisions all involve players who were already part of a .500 club. The goal is to be better than 81-81, right?
For example, even if the Orioles were to re-sign Davis, O’Day, and Parra, what do they do to improve their starting rotation and the other outfield spot flanking Adam Jones in center?
Improving from .500 in 2016 will also depend on at least a few incumbents bouncing back from underwhelming seasons. Starting pitchers Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez were clear disappointments while the 24-year-old Kevin Gausman didn’t take the step forward you would have liked to see. Given the track records of the previous three seasons for Tillman and Gonzalez and the potential of Gausman, it’s probably reasonable to expect at least two of those three to be better in 2016 than they were this season.
But that still leaves an open rotation spot and doesn’t even consider the enigma that is Ubaldo Jimenez, who has two years remaining on his $50 million contract. To be serious about contending in 2016, the Orioles need to find another starter to at least slot into the top half of the rotation and should probably add another arm to compete for the No. 5 spot at the very least.
Easier said than done.
More improvement from within is always possible as the Orioles hope that shortstop J.J. Hardy can be better at the plate after playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder all season. Even a return to his 2014 production would be welcomed after Hardy was a liability at the plate with a career-worst .564 on-base plus slugging percentage this year.
Can Jonathan Schoop be even better have improving his OPS from .598 as a rookie to .788 this season?
Is there yet another level for the 23-year-old Manny Machado to climb after he already became one of the best players in baseball this year? It’d be unfair to expect that, but he’s certainly a special talent.
Many questions and few answers for the Orioles as they potentially say goodbye to a number of key contributors from the last four years while exploring ways to not only fill those voids but improve from an 81-81 record in 2015. And that’s not even taking into account the concerns surrounding the working relationship of Duquette and Showalter.
No, the Orioles reaching the .500 mark in Sunday’s finale wasn’t the end goal they had in mind.
But you wonder whether they can even reach that plateau next year with such an uncertain offseason ahead.
Posted on 02 October 2015 by Luke Jones
Chris Davis had an exceptional 2015 campaign for the Orioles.
Leading the majors with 45 home runs and ranking fourth with 112 RBIs entering the weekend, the first baseman would have been the obvious choice as Most Valuable Oriole in most seasons. Despite being named just that by the local media on Friday, Davis wasn’t the club’s most valuable commodity this season.
That distinction belonged to All-Star third baseman Manny Machado.
While Davis may have edged Machado as the club’s best offensive player, the 23-year-old infielder did it all for the Orioles at the plate, in the field, and even on the bases as the biggest positive in an otherwise disappointing season for the 2014 American League East champions.
Machado entered the weekend ranked second on the club with 33 homers and tied for second with 82 RBIs. His .287 batting average and .360 on-base percentage lead the club while Davis has hit .258 with a .355 OBP. In other words, you can make a sound argument that Machado wasn’t terribly far behind the first baseman as Baltimore’s best offensive player.
And considering the Orioles lacked a true leadoff hitter all season, Machado did an admirable job in the top spot in the order, hitting .300 with an .877 on-base plus slugging percentage in 111 games there this season. He’s also the only player in all of baseball to play in each of his team’s games in 2015, an impressive feat after undergoing two serious knee surgeries in the last two years.
But the third baseman’s value goes far beyond his bat when you consider his superb defense — 1.8 defensive wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference — and 20 stolen bases to lead the club. In contrast, Baseball Reference says Davis was worth minus-0.8 wins defensively while the slugger stole only two bases.
There’s no arguing that Davis displayed superior home run power this season, but the difference in RBIs is something that needs to be examined further. Considering he hit leadoff for much of the season and suffered from the woes experienced at the bottom of the lineup, one could argue that Machado’s 82 RBIs are as impressive as Davis’ 112 as the latter remained in the heart of the order all season. Through the first 159 games of the season, Machado received 55 fewer plate appearances with men on base and 32 fewer plate appearances with runners in scoring position than Davis.
According to Baseball Reference, Machado was worth 6.9 wins above replacement while Davis owned a 4.6 WAR.
The voting by local media likely reflects the difference in opinion in the value of RBIs, which remain the Cadillac of old-school baseball statistics but are viewed by modern stat-heads as a reflection of a batter’s opportunities more than his true run-producing ability. If you’re all about home runs and RBIs, Davis was your guy in 2015 and he certainly performed at a high level in what could be his last season with the Orioles.
But if you dig deeper and recognize the value Machado brought to all phases of the game, he was the rightful choice as Most Valuable Oriole this season.
Posted on 30 September 2015 by WNST Staff
Posted on 30 September 2015 by WNST Staff
Posted on 28 September 2015 by WNST Staff
Posted on 25 September 2015 by Luke Jones
Not only did the Orioles complete an impressive sweep of the Washington Nationals to keep their remote playoff hopes alive, but they did it without two of their four 2015 All-Star selections over the three games.
Center fielder Adam Jones (back spasms) and closer Zach Britton (lat strain) underwent magnetic resonance imaging exams on Thursday. The test revealed only inflammation in Jones’ back while Britton’s MRI confirmed the diagnosis of a strained left lat muscle.
It remains unclear when either player will be ready to return as the Orioles begin a three-game set with Boston at Fenway Park on Friday. All-Star setup man Darren O’Day secured the save in each of the three wins over the Nationals with Britton unavailable.
With 10 games remaining, the 76-76 Orioles enter Friday trailing the American League’s second wild card spot by 3 1/2 games. The Houston Astros continue to struggle down the stretch, but they lead the Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins by 1 1/2 games while the Orioles desperately try to pass all three clubs to secure the final postseason spot in the AL.
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Posted on 17 September 2015 by Luke Jones
Beginning their final road trip of the 2015 season and needing a historic finish to qualify for the postseason, the Orioles have made a change to their starting rotation.
Prior to the start of a four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, the Orioles announced that right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson will start Friday’s game with Wei-Yin Chen and Kevin Gausman each being pushed back a day. Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in St. Petersburg that Ubaldo Jimenez would start in Washington on Monday night.
Wilson’s inclusion in the rotation comes after right-hander Mike Wright was roughed up in his latest start, continuing his struggles at the major league level. In his first two starts for the Orioles this season, Wright tossed 14 1/3 scoreless innings. Since then, the 25-year-old has pitched to a 9.53 ERA in 8 appearances (seven starts) spanning 28 1/3 innings.
The Orioles may have turned to Wilson instead of Wright when Miguel Gonzalez began experiencing shoulder tendinitis, but the former was dealing with a strained oblique at the time. Wilson has a 2.19 ERA in 24 2/3 innings for the Orioles this season with most of that work coming in relief.
In his two starts, the 25-year-old allowed four earned runs in 13 2/3 innings. His best outing came in Oakland on Aug. 3 when he gave up just two earned runs in 7 2/3 innings.
It’s fair to ask whether Wilson will miss enough bats at the major league level as he’s struck out only seven batters in his 24 2/3 innings, but his work earlier in the season as well as his 3.24 ERA at Triple-A Norfolk in 2015 make him deserving of a look.
Showalter also told reporters on Thursday that Gonzalez could be ready to return as early as next weekend in Boston.
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Posted on 17 September 2015 by Luke Jones
It was one year ago Wednesday that the Orioles officially clinched their first American League East title since 1997.
But this Sept. 16 brought a much different feeling as many in an announced crowd of 22,642 at Camden Yards were chased away by an early 9-0 deficit and the Orioles wrapped up their penultimate homestand of 2015 with a 10-1 loss to Boston.
Under typical circumstances, winning three consecutive series and completing a 4-2 homestand are nice consolations in a blowout defeat, but the Orioles now embark on a 10-game road trip trailing the second wild card spot by 5 1/2 games, needing a historic finish to even give themselves a chance. Baltimore not only would need to catch Houston, but three other clubs — Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Cleveland — must be passed in the process, making any loss devastating at this point.
The many reasons for the Orioles’ shortcomings are obvious in mid-September as a terrible offseason led to a maddeningly inconsistent offense and the starting pitching that was so strong last season completely fell apart in 2015. But even with the well-documented free-agent departures, the offensive struggles, and the poor starter ERA, the Orioles can still point to a stretch of 12 losses in 13 games that began in late August and lasted through Labor Day — their worst baseball over that period of time in four years — and wonder what might have been had they avoided such a dramatic slide.
Even going 6-7 over those 13 games — hardly an impressive feat — would have left the Orioles only 1/2 game behind Houston for the second wild card as they began a road trip against Tampa Bay, Washington, and Boston.
Of course, you can pick out any stretch of prosperity or futility over 162 games for these types of arguments as someone else could say the Orioles would be locked into last place had they not won 18 of 23 games in June. Ultimately, they’re right where they deserve to be after playing such inconsistent baseball over 5 1/2 months, but that 1-12 stretch that began with a stunning four-game sweep at home against the Twins will likely eat at Buck Showalter and his players throughout the winter.
Pondering next year’s rotation
With a 4.61 starter ERA ranking 14th out of 15 AL clubs and their most consistent starter Wei-Yin Chen set to become a free agent, the Orioles will be faced with the unenviable task of revamping a rotation that became their biggest weakness after being a strength in 2014.
Realistically, which pitchers make up your starting five next season?
Assuming super agent Scott Boras will command No. 2 starter money and a long-term contract for the 30-year-old Chen, the Orioles are unlikely to sign him and he may not bring the greatest return on a big-money contract anyway. The Taiwanese lefty remains on pace to allow a career-high 31 home runs and has never pitched 200 innings in a season, but he will still be difficult to replace.
Chris Tillman is in the midst of a poor season skewed dramatically by his nightmarish struggles against Toronto (15.50 ERA in five starts), but his track record over the previous three seasons all but guarantees him a spot in the 2016 rotation. That said, extension talks should be tabled for now.
Kevin Gausman hasn’t taken the step forward you’d like to have seen in 2015, but much of that can be attributed to the organization’s poor decision to put him in the bullpen to begin the year. Whether he ever becomes a top-of-the-rotation guy remains to be seen, but he’s shown enough to be one of the five.
Ubaldo Jimenez? You’d love to dump that contract, but there are 26.5 million reasons over the next two years to think a trade is unlikely to happen.
Miguel Gonzalez was in the midst of the worst two-month stretch of his career before going to the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis earlier this month, but he was too good for three years just to bury him. Maybe he shouldn’t be promised a rotation spot, but he’ll enter the spring with every opportunity to earn one.
Dylan Bundy will be out of minor-league options, but his lack of experience still makes him a long shot to fill anything but a long relief role to begin 2016. The former first-round pick needs to prove he can stay healthy before anything else is even discussed.
Sure, young pitchers such as Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright will garner looks — the latter seems destined for the bullpen with his latest struggles — but it’s clear executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should be looking to add at least one impact starting pitcher — a second would really help — to augment the rotation. Beyond that, you can be cautiously optimistic that the track records of the incumbents will lead to at least a couple bounce-back performances in 2016.
Remember the angst over the Orioles needing to re-sign outfielder Gerardo Parra this offseason when he was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for minor-league pitcher Zach Davies at the trade deadline?
The 28-year-old was in the midst of the best season of his career with a .328 average and an .886 on-base plus slugging percentage at the time of the trade, but he’s hit just .226 with a .619 OPS with Baltimore and has been worth -0.6 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference. Instead of providing the spark the Orioles needed for the final two months, Parra has been swallowed up by the Orioles’ 2015 corner-outfield wasteland.
At the time of the trade, the Orioles were essentially hoping to cash in on another club’s version of a 2014 Steve Pearce for the final two months, but Parra has been worse than the player he was over the first six years of his career when he sported a .720 OPS. His career .595 OPS against left-handed pitching makes him an obvious platoon player, which is how Showalter has used him over the last couple weeks.
Even if the club feels inclined to bring him back — to be fair, he’s better than what he’s shown so far with the Orioles — Parra should hardly be viewed as a priority and doesn’t deserve big-time money to stay as he’s been no better for the Orioles than the likes of Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider were this season.
Watching J.J. Hardy post Belanger-like numbers for Ripken-like money in 2015 has been painful, but a portion of the blame probably needs to go to Showalter.
It’s no secret that Hardy has dealt with several physical ailments that have led to his OPS free-falling from .738 in 2013 to .682 last season to a career-worst .552 in 2015, but a simple look at his game log shows inadequate consideration for his long-term health. Not counting time he’s actually spent on the DL or when he’s missed a few games with a specific injury, Hardy has received very few games off over long stretches of time. For example, the veteran shortstop started every game the Orioles played from June 5 through Aug. 11, only enjoying rest provided by the schedule or the weather gods.
In order to salvage the final two seasons of a three-year, $40 million contract signed last October, not only does Hardy need to find a way to get healthy in the offseason and stay that way, but the Orioles can no longer treat him like a player who’s going to play 155-plus games a season. Periodic days off and resting him for day games after night contests like a catcher should become the norm for the 33-year-old dealing with back and shoulder problems. Sliding over Manny Machado or playing Ryan Flaherty at shortstop more often is worth it if it means Hardy can contribute more at the plate.
Hardy’s defense remains good, but his offense has been a substantial liability this season. No one should expect a return to his level of production from 2011-2013, but the Orioles need Hardy to at least offer what he did at the plate in 2014 to prevent his contract from being a total disaster over the next two years. More rest over the course of the season would appear to give him a better chance of doing that.
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Posted on 15 September 2015 by WNST Staff
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