Posted on 15 September 2015 by WNST Staff
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Posted on 15 September 2015 by WNST Staff
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Posted on 08 September 2015 by Luke Jones
The Orioles’ offseason departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis need to be rehashed about as much as Chris Tillman desires another start against the Toronto Blue Jays at this point.
We get it.
Even if you might have agreed with the decision not to sign either outfielder to a four-year contract, there’s no excusing an offseason plan that essentially consisted of writing checks to a long list of arbitration-eligible players and trading for a failed former first-round pick (outfielder Travis Snider) after one good half in 2014.
But even with the corner outfield woes that have lingered all year, the reeling Orioles entered Tuesday averaging 4.36 runs per contest, a mark nearly identical to last season’s 4.35 scored per game. It may not feel that way with the offense’s extreme peaks and valleys during a difficult 2015 season, but the numbers don’t lie.
Would the Orioles still be in contention for a playoff spot with Cruz and Markakis? Certainly.
But would Buck Showalter’s club be even with Toronto and the New York Yankees in the American League East race? Based on the way the starting rotation has performed, probably not.
That failure has ultimately sealed the Orioles’ fate as they entered Tuesday a season-worst seven games below .500 and 7 1/2 games out of the second wild card spot.
After ranking fifth in the AL with a 3.61 starter ERA in 2014 — the rotation was even better after the All-Star break with a 2.98 ERA — Orioles starters had a 4.59 ERA through their first 137 games, ranking 13th in the AL. Baltimore posted no worse than a 3.55 ERA in each of the final four months of 2014 while this year’s rotation has pitched to no better than a 3.84 mark in any single month.
You simply can’t expect to sustain success when your starters have been nearly an entire run worse per nine innings than they were a year ago. When you strip away the names and perceptions, the offensive numbers and bullpen ERA are very similar to 2014 while the starting rotation has woefully fallen short of last year’s pace.
Entering Tuesday, the Orioles had scored three or fewer runs in 46 percent of their games this season and held a 9-54 record under such circumstances. A year ago, Baltimore scored three or fewer 44.4 percent of the time and was 21-51 in those games.
Say what you will about the offensive struggles putting pressure on the pitcher, but it’s a two-way street when only one member of the starting rotation holds an ERA below 4.00. The offense has prompted much hair-pulling over significant stretches of 2015, but the times when Orioles starters have picked up the lineup have been few and far between.
Even if Dan Duquette anticipated the Orioles offense matching last year’s overall run production, he failed in leaving no margin for error for a rotation that exceeded expectations in 2014. That said, even the executive’s biggest detractors couldn’t have expected the starting pitching to be quite this poor.
Short of the Orioles making a marquee signing for an ace such as 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, few called for Duquette to make significant changes to the rotation this offseason after such a strong 2014. Less than a year later, the Orioles are left wondering who will even fit into the 2016 equation.
Tillman sports an ERA above 5.00 after three straight years of pitching to a 3.71 mark or better to establish himself as the club’s de facto ace.
After three straight years as a reliable starter, Miguel Gonzalez has been a disaster since late June and is currently on the disabled list.
Kevin Gausman was not only mishandled at the beginning of the season, but the 24-year-old hasn’t been able to build on a 2014 season in which he posted a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts.
A 15-game winner a year ago, Bud Norris didn’t even make it to August with a 7.06 ERA.
Ubaldo Jimenez has followed the narrative of most of his career with a strong first half (2.81 ERA) followed by a 6.88 ERA since the All-Star break, but there has been no attractive option to replace him like there was with Gausman last year.
Wei-Yin Chen is the only starter you can feel good about this season, but even he has allowed a club-leading 28 home runs. On top of that, the Taiwanese lefty is set to become a free agent at the end of the year and appears unlikely to return.
It’s easy to say the Orioles would be fine if they still had Cruz and Markakis — they’ve clearly been missed — but the story of last year’s 96-win club was more about a starting rotation that took off over the final four months of the season than offensive firepower. At a time when the Orioles needed to bear down this season, the starting rotation has instead saved its worst performance for August (5.23 ERA) and September (8.76 in the first six starts).
Most of the attention has naturally remained on an inconsistent offense after such a failure of an offseason, but the starting rotation that picked up the Orioles a year ago has instead helped hammer the final nails into the coffin for 2015.
Posted on 03 September 2015 by Luke Jones
Chris Davis’ longest home run of the year and the emphatic bat flip that followed are unlikely to save the season, but the Orioles could breathe a temporary sigh of relief on Wednesday night after they hadn’t led over their previous 51 innings before the walk-off blow against Tampa Bay.
The 459-foot blast to the back of the right-center bleachers in the bottom of the 11th came after a 446-foot shot in the fourth inning that had been his longest homer of the 2015 season. His 37th and 38th long balls of the year were instrumental in the Orioles snapping a six-game losing streak, but the precursor for his breakout performance may have come a night earlier.
With Baltimore trailing 11-0 to Tampa Bay in the late innings and Buck Showalter looking to give his biggest stars — Davis, Adam Jones, and Manny Machado — a breather, the first baseman asked his manager to let him stay in the game. Like many of his teammates, Davis was angry and just didn’t feel like throwing in the towel on what would be the Orioles’ 12th loss in 13 games.
The lefty slugger hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to avoid a shutout, inconsequential to the game’s outcome but maybe a trigger for one of Davis’ patented hot streaks.
“I understand Jonesy playing center field every day, Manny playing third every day,” said Davis about his request to remain in Tuesday’s game while his teammates exited early. “I had a DH [day] in Texas and had a chance to get my legs under me a little bit and I wanted to stay in that game. I didn’t like the way things were going. I didn’t like the way I was playing, and I just wanted to try to get something started.
“There may have been some carryover [to Wednesday], but I think more than anything, it was just an attitude. ‘It’s not over. Enough’s enough.’ And just trying to turn it around.”
With the Orioles entering the off-day still five games below .500 and 6 1/2 games behind the second wild card in the American League, now it’s about looking toward the future with Davis set to become a free agent at the end of the season. Fans certainly hope Baltimore’s future involves Davis remaining a fixture in the heart of the lineup, but he won’t come cheap as he closes in on the second 40-homer season of his career.
The 29-year-old has hit 150 home runs since the start of 2012 and has hit at least 33 in three of his four full seasons with the Orioles.
“The guy’s going to hit 40 home runs and drive in 100 runs,” Showalter said. “He posts up every day. And like the story I told you, him playing the last inning or two [Tuesday] night might have been the key to tonight and the rest of our season. Those are the little things that go unnoticed.”
Davis’ rebound campaign from a disastrous 2014 certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed, begging a crucial question to be asked.
After watching Nelson Cruz depart last offseason, can the Orioles really afford to lose a 40-homer slugger for a second year in a row both on the field and in the eyes of their fan base?
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Posted on 01 September 2015 by Luke Jones
(Updated: 11:30 p.m.)
BALTIMORE — Performing poorly for more than two months, Orioles starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam on Tuesday as he’s been experiencing discomfort in his right elbow and shoulder.
Manager Buck Showalter said after the 11-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays that the exam revealed only inflammation and no structural concerns, but the 31-year-old has already received a cortisone injection in his shoulder and is expected to at least miss a start or two. The right-handed hurler could pitch again later this month, according to Showalter.
“It was a positive report. They didn’t find any structural damage,” Showalter said. “We’re going to let that quiet down [and] see if we can get him ready to pitch again. It was as good news as you could expect.”
Gonzalez sported a 3.33 ERA when he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a groin strain on June 11. Since returning in late June, the right-hander has pitched to a 6.49 ERA that’s elevated his season mark to a robust 4.85.
Signed to a minor-league contract prior to the 2012 season, Gonzalez posted an ERA of 3.78 or better in each of his first three seasons with the Orioles and has been a mainstay in the starting rotation for two postseason clubs over that time. The organization had hoped there was nothing structurally wrong with his elbow since he already underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009.
The Orioles no longer plan to place Gonzalez on the DL, which would have allowed them to recall another player who has not fulfilled his 10-day minimum in the minors such as the recently-demoted Henry Urrutia.
On Tuesday, right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson (oblique) threw a four-inning simulated game and fellow right-hander Mike Wright (calf) started for Norfolk, pitching six shutout innings in a win over Charlotte. Wright is considered a strong option to replace Gonzalez in the Baltimore starting rotation.
Showalter had been considering pushing right-hander Kevin Gausman’s start back to Friday in Toronto, but the 24-year-old will pitch the finale against the Rays as scheduled.
Posted on 31 August 2015 by Luke Jones
Hindsight is always crystal clear and it takes no baseball genius to see that the Orioles trading Jake Arrieta to the Chicago Cubs looks like a terrible decision two years later.
But as Orioles fans wondered what might have been Sunday night as Arrieta pitched a no-hitter in Chavez Ravine — his league-leading 17th win of the season — many of those same individuals screamed for the organization to give up on the right-hander in 2013 when he sported a 5.46 career ERA in parts of four seasons in Baltimore. In trading Arrieta and erratic relief pitcher Pedro Strop, the Orioles picked up starting pitcher Scott Feldman (and catcher Steve Clevenger) to help in a push for a second straight playoff appearance that ultimately fell short.
Though executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette fetched an underwhelming return for two flawed pitchers who still possessed plenty of upside and have gone on to have much success in Chicago, the big-picture concern is the Orioles’ longstanding inability to develop young pitching as Arrieta is just one in a long list of talented prospects not to pan out in Baltimore for a variety of reasons.
But that isn’t even the part of the equation that stings the most when you look back at the circumstances of the time. Despite electric stuff that Arrieta flashed on more than one occasion, the 27-year-old made just six career appearances with the Orioles out of the bullpen. There’s no disputing that he didn’t belong in the rotation with a 7.23 ERA in 2013, but why didn’t the Orioles move an arm such as his to the bullpen in a long relief role on at least a temporary basis?
Because the Orioles had Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland stuck there.
If McFarland would have at least developed into a solid No. 4 or No. 5 starter by this point, everyone would still second-guess the Arrieta deal, but at least you could say the Orioles had brought another viable starter into the picture. Instead, the 26-year-old lefty is plugging away in a very similar role two years later and hasn’t been a real difference-maker.
Many have questioned the Orioles’ strange obsession with the Rule 5 draft and you can’t help but wonder if maybe — just maybe — Arrieta would have eventually figured it out after some time in the bullpen to either become a successful starter or at least move into a meaningful bullpen role in a way similar to All-Star closer Zach Britton. Maybe such a strategy would have only been delaying an inevitable release or a different trade down the line, but it would have been another avenue to explore with an untapped talent.
Instead, the organization viewed McFarland as the preferable option moving forward, which makes you doubt its talent evaluation in addition to the ability to develop pitchers.
A change of scenery ultimately worked perfectly for Arrieta as he’s blossomed into one of the best pitchers in baseball this year. No one would have reasonably bet on him finding this dramatic level of success when he was traded, but it’s disappointing that the organization preferred to trade him in order to rent an average starting pitcher — Feldman was never going to substantially move the meter in a playoff race — and to keep a lesser Rule 5 arm in a bullpen role perfectly suited for Arrieta at the time.
It isn’t so terrible that the Orioles gave up on Arrieta after 358 major league innings consisting of more hair-pulling frustration than success. Already 27 at the time, Arrieta may have never figured it out in Baltimore.
But what stings is the organization trading him away for little upside in return and without exhausting every avenue to try to make it work.
Posted on 28 August 2015 by Luke Jones
In the last days before September call-ups, the Orioles have promoted 26-year-old outfielder Dariel Alvarez from Triple-A Norfolk for a three-game series against the Texas Rangers in Arlington.
To make room for Alvarez on the 25-man roster, the Orioles optioned outfielder Henry Urrutia to the Tides on Friday. With Texas sending three left-handed starters to the hill over the weekend, it made sense to add an extra right-handed bat to the 25-man roster prior to Sept. 1 and to recall Urrutia after rosters expand.
Considered one of the few positional talents in the higher levels of the Baltimore system, Alvarez was hitting .275 with 16 home runs, 72 RBIs, and a .729 on-base plus slugging percentage in 541 plate appearances for the Tides this season. The Cuban outfielder has the strongest throwing arm in the organization and was starting in right field and batting eighth in the series opener against the Rangers.
Alvarez ranked third in the International League in total bases, fourth in hits, and fifth in RBIs. He was also selected to this year’s Triple-A All-Star Game and won the Triple-A home run derby.
Opinions have varied on Alvarez’s ceiling as many members of the organization are high on his potential while some outside analysts view him as no better than a fourth outfielder for the long haul. Plate discipline has been a point of concern with the right-handed hitter as he’s walked just 16 times this season.
The Orioles also reinstated catcher Steve Clevenger from the paternity list to take the place of right-handed reliever Jorge Rondon, who was optioned to Norfolk on Thursday.
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Posted on 24 August 2015 by Luke Jones
Adding injury to the insult of being swept in a four-game series by Minnesota, the Orioles placed shortstop J.J. Hardy on the 15-day disabled list with a groin strain.
The club also activated outfielder Steve Pearce from the DL, recalled right-handed pitcher Jorge Rondon, and designated outfielder Nolan Reimold for assignment prior to the start of a four-game series in Kansas City.
The 33-year-old Hardy had been dealing with the groin problem for several days and was expected to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam. Beginning Sunday’s game on the bench, Hardy entered the game in the ninth inning after Matt Wieters hit for Ryan Flaherty in the bottom of the eighth and remained in the game as it went extra innings.
Hardy reached on an infield single in the 11th, but it was apparent the groin was bothering him as he later advanced to second base. Jimmy Paredes then entered to run for Hardy, forcing the Orioles into a different defensive alignment that cost them dearly in the 12th inning with Manny Machado making an error at shortstop and Paredes making one at third base.
Flaherty will most likely serve as the primary replacement at shortstop in the veteran’s absence.
The injury is the latest development in a very disappointing season for Hardy, who is in the first season of a three-year, $40 million contract extension signed last October. His defense has remained at an above-average level, but Hardy is in the midst of the worst offensive year of his career with a .222 average, a .253 on-base percentage, and a .315 slugging percentage.
Hardy has also missed time due to shoulder and back issues this season.
The Orioles summoned Rondon to Kansas City to assist a bullpen feeling the effects of Sunday’s 12-inning loss to Minnesota.
In his second stint with the Orioles after signing a minor-league deal in the offseason, Reimold had appeared in 39 games while hitting .227 with three doubles, one triple, two home runs, and eight RBIs.
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Posted on 21 August 2015 by Luke Jones
Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).
Five questions …
1. Is it just me or did Thursday bring a cruel juxtaposition with ex-Oriole Jake Arrieta earning his 15th win while T.J. McFarland was mopping up in a blowout loss? More than two years later, it’s painfully obvious that Dan Duquette’s decision to trade Arrieta and Pedro Strop to the Chicago Cubs for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger was the wrong move. The long man spot in the bullpen occupied by the then-Rule 5 pick McFarland would have been the perfect role for Arrieta, who would flash brilliance with Baltimore but was clearly struggling to establish himself with a 5.46 ERA in 69 career games (63 starts) and was out of minor-league options in 2013. Having blossomed into one of the best pitchers in the National League, Arrieta may never have found that success with the Orioles, but seeing McFarland toil as no better than a fringe reliever two years later just reinforces the organization’s strange obsession with the Rule 5 draft and how it’s often hurt them while providing little return.
2. Is it just me or is the perceived difficulty of this year’s training camp preparing the Ravens for a brutal start to the regular season? More than a few players have talked about the challenge of this camp compared to past years even though John Harbaugh already owned a reputation for working his players hard. That reality and the trip to Philadelphia to practice with the Eagles for three days ahead of Saturday’s preseason game have to be considered the tuneup for the start of the regular season that features five of the first seven on the road and two long-term road trips out west in which the Ravens will cut down on travel time between games. Harbaugh loves the expression “iron sharpens iron” and his team will need to be tough early to avoid an uphill climb to the postseason in the second half. If the Ravens can start no worse than 4-3, they should be in good shape for the rest of the season that features three consecutive home games in November and three of the last four at M&T Bank Stadium.
3. Is it just me or does the Miguel Gonzalez situation need to be handled delicately if you’re Buck Showalter? Many disagreed with Showalter stating Friday that the right-hander remains the club’s “best option” for the rotation and there’s little defending a 6.48 ERA since his return from the disabled list in late June, but this is a different situation than the one with Bud Norris when Kevin Gausman was ready and waiting earlier this year. With Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright both sidelined with injuries, there isn’t an alternative beyond bringing up a non-prospect type like Chris Jones just for the sake of doing it. Even if the Orioles do remove Gonzalez from the rotation, it would be wrong to completely bury him for the long haul as he not only has a remaining minor-league option, but he is under club control for a couple more seasons. Unlike Norris who was a pending free agent and little more than an average starting pitcher before 2014, Gonzalez pitched at a strong level for three full years before the struggles of the last two months and that shouldn’t be forgotten when looking toward the future.
4. Is it just me or is the Ravens’ 2015 draft class standing on its head right now? With first-rounder Breshad Perriman injured and second-round tight end Maxx Williams still working to establish himself, you do wonder how quickly the Ravens’ top two choices from this year’s draft will be ready to contribute. However, a pair of late-round picks have earned attention this summer as fifth-round tight end Nick Boyle and sixth-round wideout Darren Waller continue to make plays in practices. Boyle has dropped passes at times, but the football continues to be thrown his way as he turned heads during the practices in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the 6-foot-6 Waller is ahead of where most thought he’d be in his development after playing in a triple-option attack at Georgia Tech. Neither player is going to start, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Waller and Boyle involved more in the passing game — particularly in the red zone — than most would have predicted for their rookie seasons.
5. Is it just me or is Marlon Brown a player who needs to be careful not to land himself on the bubble? While Waller has established himself as a viable option for the 53-man roster, the 6-foot-5 Brown has battled back and hamstring injuries this summer and hasn’t done much to stand out when he has been on the practice field. Even in the spring, I thought Brown needed to have a strong camp to be a roster lock and that simply hasn’t happened, making you wonder if his spot could be in some jeopardy with other young receivers such as Waller, Jeremy Butler, and DeAndre Carter jockeying for roles. The University of Georgia product did improve as 2014 progressed, but he finished his second NFL season with just 24 receptions and no touchdowns after a 49-catch, seven-touchdown rookie campaign. For now, I’d still bet on Brown making the team, but he needs to pick up his play over the next couple preseason games to put a slow start behind him.
Posted on 20 August 2015 by Luke Jones
BALTIMORE — Lost in the excitement surrounding Henry Urrutia’s walk-off home run for the Orioles on Wednesday night was the bounce-back performance from Jonathan Schoop.
After his worst game of the season in which he committed two errors, dropped a relay throw, and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Tuesday’s loss to the New York Mets, Schoop took accountability for his performance, saying he played poorly and needed to be better for his teammates.
A factor often overlooked because he didn’t make it to the majors until more than a year after a then-20-year-old Manny Machado, Schoop is a young player in his own right, just nine months older than the two-time All-Star third baseman. But the Orioles were confident in his ability to bounce back quickly as he shook off two difficult at-bats against Mets starter Noah Syndergaard on Wednesday to belt a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth.
The blast came on a Syndergaard curve, the same pitch that had given fits to Schoop earlier in the game.
“Jon’s right where he should be for a college senior [by age],” manager Buck Showalter said. “I feel confident he’ll be as good as he’s capable of being. He cares, he cares. Like a lot of young guys, he’s impressionable and you want to have the right people around him. Same thing with Manny.
“Jon’s become more and more confident with his take on things, which is good.”
Schoop is also becoming more confident at the plate as he entered Thursday’s series opener with Minnesota sporting a .301 average with nine home runs, 24 RBIs, and an .865 on-base plus slugging percentage in 164 plate appearances. The 23-year-old’s play is impressive considering a right knee injury cost him nearly three months of action at a time so critical to a young hitter’s development.
After hitting .209 with 16 homers, 45 RBIs, and a .598 OPS as a rookie, Schoop has improved his homer rate (3.3 to 5.5 percent) and improved his strikeout rate (25.4 to 20.7 percent) from a year ago. According to Baseball Reference, Schoop was worth 1.5 wins above replacement in 2014 with most of that value derived from his defense, but he has already been valued this year at 1.4 wins above replacement in what amounts to just over a quarter of a season.
Such impressive talent coupled with the words of teammates like Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy made it a foregone conclusion that Schoop would be fine despite a forgettable night on Tuesday.
“To be honest, I’ve got great teammates and coaching staff,” Schoop said. “They talked to me and made me feel like that wasn’t me. Like I said yesterday, I have to play better, especially this time of year with focus. All those guys told me everybody has a bad day. Just flush it out and get it tomorrow.”
Those bad days have been few and far between for Schoop as he’s on the verge of becoming a mainstay in the heart of the Orioles lineup.
Steve Pearce (oblique) began his minor-league rehab assignment for the Gulf Coast League Orioles on Thursday, going 1-for-4.
The outfielder and first baseman will play there again on Friday — including defense after serving as the designated hitter in his first game — before reporting to a minor-league affiliate closer to Baltimore over the weekend. Showalter was noncommittal about the possibility of Pearce being ready to rejoin the Orioles to begin the road trip on Monday, citing that the 32-year-old has missed more than a month of action and will need some time to get back into a groove.
Despite initial optimism that right-handed relief pitcher Chaz Roe (right shoulder tendinitis) would be ready to rejoin the Orioles when eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday, Showalter indicated his activation would be closer to Sept. 1.
Right-handed pitcher Mike Wright (calf strain) will throw a three-inning, 45-pitch simulated game on Saturday.
Pitching prospect Hunter Harvey threw a 25-pitch bullpen session as he continues to go through his throwing progression. The 20-year-old right-hander and 2013 first-round pick has been sidelined all season due to a flexor mass strain in his right forearm, but the Orioles hope to see him pitch this autumn in either the instructional league or the Arizona Fall League.
The Orioles expect Norfolk right-hander Tyler Wilson to get back on a mound shortly as his oblique strain continues to improve.
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