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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 2-1 defeat to New York

Posted on 19 July 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 2-1 defeat to the New York Yankees on Monday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 91st game of the 2016 season.

1st — Yankees starter Ivan Nova deserves credit for his six strong innings, but he entered the night with a 5.18 season ERA and the Orioles are still waiting for their bats to wake up in July. They made the right-hander work over the first four innings by driving up his pitch count to 75 through four innings, but Baltimore stranded six runners over those four frames with Jonathan Schoop providing a solo home run in the third for the lone run of the night. Of course, the Orioles’ chances then plummeted against the intimidating trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman. They went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position with Pedro Alvarez leaving the bases loaded and a runner at second in his first two at-bats. The one run was the club’s lowest output since being shut out by Seattle on May 17. Expecting the Orioles to sustain what they did offensively in their historic June would be unfair, but they’re now hitting just .253 and averaging an underwhelming 3.7 runs per game in 13 July contests.

2nd — It may have only been the fourth inning, but Nolan Reimold’s baserunning gaffe short-circuited a promising scoring opportunity for the top of the order. He slipped after rounding second base on Ryan Flaherty’s single inside the third-base bag with one out, but Reimold was way too far off the base anyway on a ball that Yankees third baseman Chase Headley recovered quickly. Instead of having runners at first and second with one out for Adam Jones and then the red-hot Schoop, the miscue left only Flaherty on second with two outs. The bailout was the precursor to Nova retiring the final seven hitters he faced before turning a 2-1 lead over to the back end of the New York bullpen.

3rd — Kevin Gausman turned in a very good outing that lacked proper run support, but the long ball continues to be a problem for the young right-hander as he allowed a solo shot to the struggling Alex Rodriguez in the second inning. It’s hard to fault Gausman too much as he retired 12 of the final 13 hitters he faced and allowed just two runs and six hits in his 6 2/3 innings, but the 25-year-old has now allowed a team-high 16 homers in his 93 1/3 innings this season. Thirteen of those have come in his last 56 2/3 innings — an ugly 2.06 per nine innings over that stretch — after he surrendered only three in his first 36 2/3 innings of 2016. The long ball is the biggest factor holding Gausman back as he’s improved both his strikeout and walk rates from a year ago, but he clearly deserved much better from his offense on Monday night.

Home — It was probably a long shot to throw out the speedy Brett Gardner at the plate, but center fielder Adam Jones’ throw on Brian McCann’s sacrifice fly in the third inning was uncharacteristically poor as it bounced multiple times to the plate and skipped past the cutoff man. … The Orioles have lost each of the last 10 series openers at Yankee Stadium, a stretch dating back to the start of 2013. Their club record of scoring at least two runs in 53 consecutive games was snapped. … Schoop’s homer was his 16th of the season, matching his career high set in 2014. … Manager Buck Showalter told reporters after the game that Matt Wieters would have an X-ray after being hit on his right foot by a Nova pitch in the first inning. The catcher played the entire game. … Chris Davis was unavailable after being hospitalized with a stomach virus on Sunday night while Hyun Soo Kim remained sidelined with a hamstring injury. … Vance Worley will make his first start since April 15 when he takes the ball against Yankees right-hander Nathan Eovaldi on Tuesday night.

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Patience, perspective needed for Bundy in Orioles rotation

Posted on 18 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Questioning the Orioles’ decision to put Dylan Bundy in the starting rotation is fair, but scrapping the experiment after one disappointing start as some have already suggested would lack patience and perspective.

The results weren’t pretty on Sunday as Bundy was too slow to establish his secondary stuff and gave up three home runs — matching the total surrendered in his first 38 innings this season — but his 70 pitches were the most he’d thrown in a professional game since a 73-pitch outing for Single-A Frederick on Aug. 5, 2014. It was an important step for a 23-year-old who has experienced a cruel number of physical ailments since being selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft.

We all know that the Orioles giving Bundy this opportunity isn’t as much about his success out of the bullpen as it is a reflection of the failures of their starting rotation, which entered Monday ranked 14th in the American League and 28th in the majors with a 5.14 ERA. Given his restrictions in terms of pitch counts and innings, expecting Bundy to be the rotation savior would be unfair, but he could at least help stop some of the bleeding as executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette looks for starting pitching help on the trade market.

Even if Bundy isn’t going to be unleashed for a 110-pitch outing in the immediate future — nor should he be with his history since undergoing Tommy John surgery three years ago — giving him the ball for abbreviated starts still beats the alternative of giving more starts to Ubaldo Jimenez, doesn’t it? Other internal options physically equipped to throw 100 pitches haven’t exactly gotten the job done this season, have they?

It’s certainly against the norm, but I’d rather take a multi-start look at Bundy for 70 or 75 pitches — with a long reliever behind him — over any other internal option the Orioles have behind Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, and Yovani Gallardo in the current rotation. It’s not as though Baltimore was getting consistent and successful 100-pitch outings from Jimenez, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson to preserve its bullpen anyway.

We just can’t expect Bundy to morph into a conventional starter overnight. The fact that he’s already contributed in meaningful ways is a great bonus for a contending club, but the most important goals for him this season continue to center around his long-term health and development, the reason why some were opposed to making Bundy a starter this soon in the first place.

His 1.42 ERA and 23 strikeouts over his last 19 innings in relief put Bundy in the rotation conversation, but starting is a different animal when the opposition is specifically preparing for you to take the hill that night.

It will be interesting to see how the Orioles proceed with Bundy, whose fastball velocity dropped to the low 90s in his final inning of work on Sunday after it sat in the mid-90s over his first three frames. That isn’t exactly a sign that he’s ready to further increase his pitch count — his 2016 high before Sunday’s 70 was 57 — but remember he wasn’t blowing hitters away through the first two months of the season until manager Buck Showalter began giving him at least three days of rest between relief appearances.

Let’s see how the young right-hander responds to the heavier workload and a set schedule between outings before we just send him back to the bullpen for the rest of the season.

Whether you agree with making Bundy a starter right now or not, drawing definitive conclusions from Sunday’s outcome is premature. The fact that we’re even having this conversation shows how far Bundy has come after a long and frustrating three years.

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Orioles prospect Harvey again dealing with forearm soreness

Posted on 17 July 2016 by Luke Jones

The night before Dylan Bundy was set to make his first major league start, the Orioles saw another health concern arise with the top pitching prospect in the organization.

Right-hander Hunter Harvey left Saturday’s start with short-season Single-A Aberdeen with right forearm soreness. The 21-year-old lasted just 1 2/3 innings and threw 23 pitches before being removed from the game.

Manager Buck Showalter didn’t offer many specifics regarding Harvey prior to Sunday’s series finale at Tampa Bay, but he noted that his velocity was in the mid-90s and expressed hope that it was more of a precautionary move. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Harvey has experienced arm problems as he was shut down with right flexor mass soreness in 2014 and again experienced elbow discomfort last year.

Those concerns coupled with a fibula fracture in 2015 and sports hernia surgery earlier this year have limited the 2013 first-round pick to just 12 2/3 minor-league innings since July of 2014.

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Bundy to make first major league start on Sunday

Posted on 15 July 2016 by Luke Jones

After weeks of questions regarding Dylan Bundy’s role in the second half, the Orioles announced that the 23-year-old right-hander will start the series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

Bundy has spent the entire season in the Baltimore bullpen since he is out of minor-league options, but he has pitched to an impressive 1.42 ERA with 23 strikeouts and four walks in his last 19 innings of work. This improved performance coincided with manager Buck Showalter giving the 2011 first-round pick at least three days of rest between outings beginning in late May.

His velocity has also spiked since receiving more rest between appearances as his average fastball has been 94.6 mph since May 31 and was 93.2 before that.

It remains to be seen whether this is anything more than a spot start as Showalter said as recently as last month that the goal was to get Bundy between 60 and 75 innings out of the bullpen in 2016 to get him ready to pitch as a starter next year. In 38 innings this season, he has posted a 2-1 record with a 3.08 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 12 walks, but he has thrown no more than 57 pitches or three innings in an outing this season.

His last outing took place on July 6 at Dodger Stadium when he pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings, recording all seven outs via strikeouts. He has not allowed an earned run in his last 15 innings.

Desperate to improve a starting rotation that ranks 14th in the American League and 28th in the majors with a 5.15 ERA, the Orioles must be careful not to push Bundy too hard from a physical standpoint. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2013 and missed most of last season with a right shoulder issue, meaning he entered this season having thrown just 63 1/3 minor-league innings from 2013-2015.

The Orioles announced before the All-Star break that Yovani Gallardo and Chris Tillman would start the first two games of the Tampa Bay series with Kevin Gausman taking the hill for the opener of a four-game set at Yankee Stadium on Monday.

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Five biggest Orioles disappointments of 2016 first half

Posted on 13 July 2016 by Luke Jones

In the midst of the tightest division race in the majors at the All-Star break, the Orioles have still endured their share of disappointing performers during a 51-36 start.

While plenty has gone smoothly for the first-place club, several players have turned in underwhelming performances in comparison to their expectations for the 2016 season. Those shortcomings make it more impressive that Baltimore has been able to excel in the competitive American League East.

After examining the biggest surprises of the first half earlier this week, below are my five biggest individual disappointments:

Dubious mention: Kevin Gausman, T.J. McFarland, Brian Matusz, Tyler Wilson, J.J. Hardy

5. Darren O’Day

The 2015 All-Star reliever’s inclusion on this list is obviously much more about his extended absence than his performance as his hamstring injury has put great strain on a bullpen trying to compensate for one of the worst starting rotations in the majors.

It also came after the Orioles invested a four-year, $31 million contract in O’Day this past offseason, but the club should feel good about the right-hander’s track record in coming back to contribute in meaningful ways in the second half.

Injury aside, O’Day would likely be the first to tell you that he wasn’t pitching at his best despite a respectable 3.15 ERA in 20 innings of work through June 1. His five home runs allowed are still the most surrendered by any Baltimore reliever this season and match his total in 65 1/3 innings last year. His walk rate of 4.1 per nine innings is also the worst of his career and substantially higher than the 2.1 per nine he averaged over his first four seasons with the Orioles.

It remains unclear exactly when O’Day will be ready to be activated, but manager Buck Showalter is itching to have the backbone of his bullpen back in the mix.

4. Caleb Joseph

It almost feels cruel to include the backup catcher on this list after his gruesome testicular injury suffered on Memorial Day that required surgery and sidelined him for a month, but failing to collect a single RBI in 81 plate appearances can’t be ignored.

There was a fair argument this winter that the Orioles would have been better off not extending a qualifying offer to Matt Wieters and going with Joseph as the starting catcher at a fraction of the cost, but the latter has batted .160 with only two extra-base hits and a .409 on-base plus slugging percentage. In his defense, Joseph hasn’t received nearly as much playing time as he did last season when he posted an acceptable .693 OPS with 11 homers and 49 RBIs, but his struggles at the plate have been so extreme that you’d worry about an injury to Wieters at this point.

Joseph’s defense remains a clear strength and Wieters has had no perceived issues moving back to a heavier workload now being two years removed from Tommy John surgery, but the Orioles are likely going to need the understudy to get his bat going at some point in the second half.

3. Mike Wright

Perhaps it’s unfair to include a pitcher who had just 44 2/3 major league innings under his belt entering 2016, but the Orioles thought enough of Wright being in their rotation that they jettisoned veteran Miguel Gonzalez in an effort to save $4 million before the season.

Needless to say, the decision hasn’t worked out as Wright has posted a 5.97 ERA in 69 1/3 innings that included 12 starts. He has twice been optioned to Triple-A Norfolk and did not fare well in his latest return to the major leagues just before the break.

Wright has held right-handed batters to a .237 average, but lefties are hitting .355 with a 1.023 OPS, leaving many to continue to believe the hard-throwing 26-year-old is better suited for a relief role reminiscent of former Oriole Tommy Hunter. He has a plus fastball, but it’s fair to wonder whether his secondary stuff — or his composure — is cut out for a long-term starting role.

The reality is that the Orioles probably could have lived with a 4.50 to 4.75 ERA from Wright at the end of the rotation, but he’s fallen well short of that mark.

2. Yovani Gallardo

This free-agent marriage began on poor footing when the Orioles’ concerns about his right shoulder prompted them to rework the original three-year agreement into a $22 million deal for two seasons.

Struggling to touch the high 80s with his fastball in March and April, Gallardo pitched to a 7.00 ERA in only four starts before landing on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis and missing nearly two months of action. His velocity has improved since then, but the 30-year-old has completed six innings just twice in his nine starts and hasn’t recorded an out in the seventh inning or later since June 27, 2015.

Even at his best this year, Gallardo has been no better than a five-inning pitcher as opponents are hitting .333 with an .801 OPS when he goes through the order a third time. The problem is that Showalter can’t always afford to go to his bullpen that early when considering the struggles of the rest of the rotation.

Despite his 3.66 career ERA entering 2016, the warning signs with Gallardo were there this winter with a declining strikeout rate and diminishing velocity. A quarter of the way through the contract, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette’s decision to forfeit a first-round pick and fork over $22 million for Gallardo isn’t looking very wise.

1. Ubaldo Jimenez

Inconsistency has been the calling card throughout Jimenez’s career, but even that doesn’t fit anymore as he’s just been plain bad in 2016.

His 7.38 ERA is the highest in the majors among pitchers with at least 80 innings, leaving most to wonder how the Orioles can continue justifying keeping him on the 25-man roster, let alone in the starting rotation for a contending club. Jimenez is still owed roughly $20 million through the end of next season, but evidence continues to pile up that this is a sunk cost to move on from.

Lost in the countless discussions about his poor command and erratic mechanics is the fact that the 32-year-old’s average fastball velocity has dropped below 90 miles per hour, a far cry from the pitcher whose fastball sat in the mid-90s earlier in his career. His 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings look fine, but his 5.5 walks per nine match his career high and he’s putting on two baserunners per inning.

Jimenez desperately wants to turn around his fortunes to contribute, but his 2.81 ERA from the first half of 2015 — his only extended period of success in his three years with the Orioles — feels like an eternity ago. The command and the stuff may simply no longer be there for Jimenez to turn this ship around in his 11th major league season.

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Britton shines in otherwise quiet night for Orioles in All-Star Game

Posted on 13 July 2016 by Luke Jones

After going 27-for-27 in save opportunities for the first-place Orioles in the first half, Zach Britton was the right man for the job to close out the 87th All-Star Game in San Diego on Tuesday.

The left-hander became the first Oriole to earn a save in the Midsummer Classic since Don Aase in 1986 when he retired the side in the ninth inning to wrap up the American League’s 4-2 win over the National League, giving the AL home-field advantage in the 2016 World Series and its fourth straight All-Star victory. After surrendering a leadoff single to Daniel Murphy, Britton induced a grounder from Paul Goldschmidt for a fielder’s choice and a 5-4-3 double play off the bat of Nolan Arenado to end the game.

A two-time All-Star selection, Britton has set the club record by beginning a season with 27 consecutive save conversions and clearly earned the respect of AL manager Ned Yost, who used the Baltimore sinkerballer as his closer behind four other relievers used in the game. On Sunday, Britton became the fifth pitcher in franchise history to record 100 career saves with the Orioles, joining Gregg Olson (160), Jim Johnson (122), Tippy Martinez (105), and Stu Miller (100).

The 28-year-old highlighted an otherwise quiet night for the Orioles’ All-Star representatives.

Appearing in his third All-Star Game and becoming the first Oriole to bat third in the AL starting lineup since Roberto Alomar in 1996, third baseman Manny Machado went 0-for-3 and flied out to deep left in his final at-bat in the bottom of the fifth. Making his first All-Star start, the 24-year-old did make a nice play in the field on a chopper off the bat of Arenado on a fielder’s choice in the top of the fifth.

Catcher Matt Wieters entered the game in the sixth and struck out swinging in each of his two plate appearances. The 30-year-old is now hitless in five career at-bats in the All-Star Game.

The four-time All-Star selection did get to catch a one-time teammate for the first time, however, when New York Yankees lefty Andrew Miller pitched in the eighth. Wieters was already out for the remainder of the season due to Tommy John surgery when the Orioles acquired Miller at the trade deadline in 2014.

Mark Trumbo entered the game to play left field in the sixth and reached on an error in his only at-bat of the evening. The right-handed slugger is now 0-for-3 in his two trips to the All-Star Game.

A feel-good story after posting a microscopic 0.91 ERA in the first half, Orioles reliever Brad Brach did not pitch in his first trip to the All-Star Game.

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Five biggest Orioles surprises of 2016 first half

Posted on 12 July 2016 by Luke Jones

In the midst of the tightest division race in the majors at the All-Star break, the first-place Orioles have benefited from their fair share of surprise performers in the midst of a 51-36 start.

While there haven’t been any players to seemingly come out of nowhere as we’ve frequently seen in the Buck Showalter-Dan Duquette era, several have turned in performances few would have predicted at the start of the 2016 season. Their accomplishments are major reasons why Baltimore has been able to exceed expectations in the competitive American League East.

Below are my five biggest individual surprises of the first half of the season with the biggest disappointments coming later this week:

Who was the biggest Orioles surprise of the first half?

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Honorable mention: Joey Rickard

5. Jonathan Schoop

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised about the 24-year-old’s first half after he hit .279 with 14 home runs and a .788 on-base plus slugging percentage in 321 plate appearances last season, but to see the second baseman take that production to the next level has been impressive.

In addition to being one of only two Baltimore players to play in all 87 games before the All-Star break — a year removed from a knee injury that cost him almost three months last season — Schoop is hitting .304 with 14 homers, 23 doubles, and 52 RBIs. His .847 OPS ranks third on the club among qualified players, which is quite a leap after he produced a .598 mark as a rookie just two years ago.

Schoop has likely benefited from some good fortune with his .348 batting average on balls in play, but he’s also shown some modest improvement in his free-swinging ways with a 3.8 percent walk rate that remains well below average but represents improvement from his 2.8 percent career mark entering the 2016 season. He hit safely in 20 of his 21 games before the break, posting a .414 average and 1.112 OPS over that stretch.

4. Dylan Bundy

One could argue that Bundy would be pitching in the minor leagues in a perfect world, but perhaps he’d be the ace of the Orioles rotation by now if such a sphere existed. Either way, the 23-year-old has overcome an array of injuries over the last few years to contribute meaningful innings out of the bullpen.

Instead of serving as a pseudo Rule 5 pick who’s only in the majors because he’s out of minor-league options, Bundy is rapidly becoming an intriguing candidate to start in the second half despite the Orioles’ plans of trying to keep him healthy while massaging his development in a relief role. Since Showalter began regularly giving him at least three days of rest between outings, Bundy has pitched to a 1.42 ERA with 23 strikeouts and four walks in 19 innings of work.

Bundy’s 3.08 season ERA is even more impressive when noting how opponents have a .371 BABIP against him, an average likely to normalize in the second half. His velocity has also spiked since receiving more regular rest as his average fastball velocity is 94.6 mph since May 31 and was just 93.2 before that.

It remains to be seen what Bundy’s role will look like in the second half, but his continued health and reemergence as an important part of the club’s future are wonderful developments.

3. Brad Brach

How many would have believed that Darren O’Day would miss nearly six weeks of action and the Orioles would still rank second in the AL and fourth in the majors with a 3.12 bullpen ERA at the break?

With no disrespect intended to phenomenal All-Star closer Zach Britton, Brach is the biggest reason why as he’s built upon his first two good seasons in Baltimore with his own All-Star campaign that includes a microscopic 0.91 ERA and a strikeout rate of 10.6 per nine innings over 49 1/3 innings. The right-hander has allowed just one of 19 inherited runners to score and has held lefty bats to a .238 average and a .644 OPS, an important feat given the lack of a lefty specialist in the Baltimore bullpen.

Right-handers are batting .080 with a .326 OPS against Brach in 97 plate appearances as he’s provided occasional length as well as serving as a strong replacement for O’Day, who hasn’t pitched since June 1. The 30-year-old ranks third in strikeouts (58) and second in innings pitched among AL relievers.

According to Baseball Reference, Brach ranks third on the club with 2.6 wins above replacement, an illustration of how critical he’s been to the first-place Orioles.

2. Mark Trumbo

Expecting Trumbo to help fill a void in the heart of the order that wasn’t addressed after the post-2014 departure of Nelson Cruz was realistic, but the right-handed slugger has instead been one of the best offensive players in the AL in 2016.

Trumbo leads the majors with 28 homers, six more than he hit in 170 more plate appearances a season ago and only six shy of his career-high 34 in 2013. His 68 RBIs rank fourth in the majors, and his .288 average and .923 OPS would easily be career bests for the 30-year-old outfielder.

While his strikeout and walk rates are in line with his career marks, Trumbo has swung at fewer pitches outside the strike zone and has shown more consistency than his streaky track record preceding his time in Baltimore. It would be unfair to expect him to hit 50 home runs, but Trumbo has done more than his expected share for one of the best lineups in baseball.

And his offseason acquisition is arguably the best trade pulled off by Duquette during his time in Baltimore.

1. Hyun Soo Kim

Just over three months ago, the Orioles were convinced that Kim wasn’t worthy of being in the big leagues, a reminder that we shouldn’t take spring training performance as gospel.

Whether the organization was foolishly mistaken, he simply improved and adjusted to the majors, or it was a combination of both, the 28-year-old South Korean outfielder took advantage of sparse opportunities early and eventually earned a regular role against right-handed starters by late May. His .329 average and .410 on-base percentage lead the club among those with at least 170 plate appearances.

Kim has provided a steady ability to get on base in a lineup known for its power and free-swinging ways. His 12.7 percent strikeout rate is the lowest on the club among regulars, and his 10.4 percent walk rate has been a helpful addition in the No. 2 spot in the order ahead of the likes of Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Trumbo.

His .370 BABIP suggests Kim will have a difficult time sustaining his current level of production, but he’s done more than enough to suggest he’s worthy of being a major leaguer and that the thoughts of sending him back to the Korean Baseball Organization in the spring were grossly premature.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 2016 first half

Posted on 11 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ first half of 2016 that has resulted in a 51-36 start and a first-place standing in the American League East at the All-Star break?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the first 87 games of the 2016 season.

1st Manny Machado broke out as one of the game’s best all-around players last year, but many wondered throughout the winter if he could soar even higher in 2016. The 24-year-old has done exactly that, hitting .318 with 19 home runs, 29 doubles, 53 RBIs, and a .944 on-base plus slugging percentage as the club’s best offensive player. Already a two-time Glove Glove winner at third base, Machado filled in admirably at shortstop in place of the injured J.J. Hardy for seven weeks and has been worth a combined eight defensive runs saved and 1.2 defensive wins above replacement so far this season. His 4.2 WAR (Baseball Reference) at the All-Star break ranks fifth in the AL and is easily tops on the Orioles. After serving in the leadoff role out of necessity last season, Machado has now settled into the No. 3 spot in the order and is the first Oriole to bat third in the AL All-Star starting lineup since Roberto Alomar in 1996. 

2ndMark Trumbo was expected to be a solid power addition to the Baltimore lineup after being acquired from Seattle in exchange for reserve catcher Steve Clevenger in December, but the 30-year-old has instead put on a great 2014 Nelson Cruz impression. The right-handed slugger leads the majors with 28 homers, six more than the total he had last year in 170 fewer plate appearances and just six shy of his career high. His .288 average, .923 OPS, and 68 RBIs reflect his consistency, which was even more important with lineup mainstays such as Adam Jones and Chris Davis struggling early on. His defense in the outfield isn’t pretty, but Trumbo has played a major part in turning a good lineup into a great one.

3rdChris Tillman has been the shining star in a starting rotation that ranks 14th in the AL and 28th in the majors in ERA for a first-place club. The Opening Day starter not only leads the rotation with a 3.41 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP, 98 strikeouts, and 12 wins, but he has a chance to become Baltimore’s first 20-game winner since Mike Boddicker in 1984. His strikeout rate of 7.8 per nine innings is his best since 2013, and he can largely credit an improved slider for his career-best swinging-strike percentage. According to Baseball Reference, Tillman’s 3.2 WAR is second only to Machado on the 2016 Orioles.

HomeBrad Brach and Zach Britton both earned All-Star Game invitations with ERAs below 1.00 and combining for an impressive 4.7 WAR pitching out of the bullpen. Brach has been outstanding filling in for the injured Darren O’Day and leading all Baltimore relievers with 49 1/3 innings pitched while Britton has set a club record by going 27-for-27 in save opportunities to begin the season. … The Orioles’ 137 home runs lead the majors and are the club’s most ever at the All-Star break, surpassing the 134 hit in 1996. … Jonathan Schoop is rapidly emerging as one of the Orioles’ best players, ranking second behind Machado with 23 doubles and fifth in home runs. … Hyun Soo Kim began the season as a player the Orioles were convinced they didn’t want on the major league roster, but the South Korean outfielder’s .329 average and .410 on-base percentage lead Baltimore hitters with at least 170 plate appearances. … Despite making a combined $22 million in 2016, Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo have combined to post a 6.84 ERA in 125 innings this season. … Adam Jones wasn’t a conventional choice as a leadoff hitter, but he’s batted .308 with 12 homers and a .345 OBP since being moved to the top spot by manager Buck Showalter on May 27. … Baltimore’s 33 home victories and .702 home winning percentage lead the major leagues. The Orioles have three seven-game winning streaks in 2016 after posting none that long from 2006-2015.

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Kim goes into All-Star break with hamstring injury

Posted on 10 July 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles hit the All-Star break with a two-game lead in the American League East, but they will now keep their fingers crossed regarding the health of an important member of their lineup.

Left fielder Hyun Soo Kim exited Sunday’s game after straining his right hamstring running out a grounder in the first inning of the 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels. Having emerged as the regular No. 2 hitter against right-handed pitching, Kim is hitting .329 with a club-leading .410 on-base percentage in 173 plate appearances.

Further testing will determine the severity of the injury on Monday.

Joey Rickard took over in left field on Sunday and could potentially share duties with veteran Nolan Reimold if Kim were to miss time when the Orioles resume action at Tampa Bay on Friday night. Kim described experiencing “a stinging pain” and told manager Buck Showalter that he sustained a similar injury right before the All-Star break while playing in Korea and was ready to return after only a couple days.

Despite his well-documented struggles in spring training that resulted in the Orioles trying to send him to the minors, Kim became a regular in late May after receiving just 33 plate appearances over the first 43 games of the season. In his 140 plate appearances beginning on May 25, Kim batted .317 with three home runs, nine doubles, 15 runs, 14 walks, and a .400 OBP.

Last December, the Orioles signed the left-handed hitter to a two-year, $7 million contract that included a provision requiring his approval to be sent to the minors.

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Home runs, winning streaks defining 2016 Orioles so far

Posted on 30 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Crab cakes and football might be what Maryland does, but home runs and winning streaks are what the Orioles have been all about this season.

The combination has propelled them into first place in the American League East with their best start after 77 games since 1997. And despite many forecasting the Orioles to finish in last place and very few giving them even a decent chance to win the division, 47 wins in the bank mean they only need to play one game over .500 the rest of the way to reach the 90-win plateau.

Of course, that’s not the ultimate goal, but it does illustrate the good shape the Orioles are in mathematically despite the well-documented concerns regarding the starting pitching.

We knew they’d hit home runs this year as that’s been one of their calling cards under manager Buck Showalter, but the power surge in June has taken them to another level. After hitting a robust 69 homers in their first 50 games in April and May combined, the Orioles have tied the 1996 Oakland Athletics for the major league record with 55 in the month of June.

They would tie the major league mark for long balls in any month — currently shared by the 1987 Orioles and the 1999 Seattle Mariners — with three in the series opener against Seattle on Thursday night. Even playing at the spacious Safeco Field, that would hardly be a rare feat for these Orioles, who have already clubbed three or more homers in a game 18 times this season.

Leading the majors with 124 home runs in 77 games, Baltimore is currently on a pace just shy of 261 homers, which puts them within striking distance of the 1997 Mariners’ single-season record of 264.

Whether it’s merely an extended hot streak, the arrival of warm weather, or a combination of both, the Orioles are concluding a historic month in which they’ve also gone 19-8 to open up a 5 1/2 game division lead entering the final day of June.

Five Orioles hitters — Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Jonathan Schoop — each have 13 or more home runs before the midway point of the season. Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez are both only one blast shy of the pace for a 20-homer season.

To be clear, the prosperity isn’t only because of the long ball as the Orioles have shown improved plate discipline by ranking second in the AL in on-base percentage as well as ranking second in the league in runs score and doubles entering Wednesday. That offense has been complemented nicely by one of the best bullpens in baseball as well as a strong infield defense.

What might be even more encouraging about the Orioles has been their ability to extend the good times and minimize their rough patches. After failing to record a single seven-game winning streak from 2006-2015, Baltimore now has three of them in 2016 alone, including the 7-0 start to the season and the current seven-game stretch.

The Orioles have also posted a five-game winning streak as well as two other three-game streaks.

In contrast, their longest losing streak is just four games and they’ve only lost three in a row two other times. We know tough stretches are inevitable over the course of 162 games, but the best teams are able to minimize the damage.

On their way to a 96-win season and a division title, the 2014 Orioles lost a season-worst four games in a row three times and had only two other three-game losing streaks. In contrast, last year’s 81-81 club had two different six game losing streaks in a 13-game period, three five-game losing streaks, and two four-game losing streaks.

Consistently winning series and extending the good times while climbing out of those valleys quickly will put you in prime position to contend.

Just like most of us never saw this kind of start coming, we don’t know how the next three months will go for the Orioles, especially if their starting pitching doesn’t improve.

But home runs and winning streaks have them sitting pretty with the All-Star break right around the corner.

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