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Orioles must slow speedy Royals in quest for AL pennant

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Orioles must slow speedy Royals in quest for AL pennant

Posted on 09 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles manager Buck Showalter almost sounded coy when asked about the speed of the Kansas City Royals as his club made final preparations for the American League Championship Series scheduled to get underway Friday night.

With five Royals players recording double-digit steals in the regular season and another rookie — Terrance Gore — stealing three bases in his first four postseason games, the Orioles face a tall order in slowing Kansas City’s speed demons, a factor many view as a potential tipping point between two clubs that are very similar beyond their contrasting offensive styles.

“They’re not automatically going to all of a sudden run slower tomorrow,” Showalter said. “If anything, they’re going to run faster. You don’t control that. It’s impossible. It’s one of those givens. Try to keep them off base as much as you can.”

Sure, there’s no better remedy for neutralizing speed than preventing runners from reaching first, but the Orioles don’t sound nearly as concerned about the Kansas City running game Thursday as the many outsiders trying to break down this matchup. As some ponder whether the season-ending elbow injury to Gold Glove catcher Matt Wieters will finally catch up to Baltimore in this best-of-seven series, the Orioles spent Thursday pointing out that their regular style of play always involves containing an opponent’s running game.

Most of the attention falls on the shoulders of the catching tandem of Nick Hundley and Caleb Joseph, but the ability to stop potential thievery runs deeper.

Even with the two-time Gold Glove selection Wieters limited to just 22 games behind the plate this season before an elbow injury eventually led to Tommy John surgery, opponents still attempted the fourth-fewest number of steals in the AL against Baltimore this season. The Orioles ranked sixth in the AL by throwing out 28 percent of runners trying to steal with Joseph — a 28-year-old rookie not known for his defensive work in the minors — and the veteran Hundley handling the catching duties for much of the season.

And that’s when you begin to see where the real responsibility lies in controlling an opponent’s running game.

“The easiest way [to neutralize it] is quick times to the plate, no question,” said former Orioles outfielder and current vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson, who swiped 315 bases in his 15-year career. “As a base stealer, you steal bases off the pitcher. It doesn’t matter to me if [13-time Gold Glove winner] Ivan Rodriguez was behind the plate; if the pitcher was slow, I’m going.”

Look no further than Game 1 starter Chris Tillman to see how much emphasis the Orioles have placed on pitchers being fast to the plate and holding runners since Showalter’s arrival during the 2010 season. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was admittedly poor when it came to holding runners during his early years with the Orioles before Showalter and Wieters preached the need for him to shorten his delivery to prevent runners from going wild on the bases.

It was a mindset that several pitchers have needed to learn the hard way during Showalter’s tenure, with some even earning demotions to the minors as a result.

Tillman has not only posted back-to-back 200-inning seasons to emerge as the ace of the Baltimore rotation, but the 26-year-old has allowed only two stolen bases since the start of the 2013 season.

“When Buck got here, it was a big pet peeve of his,” Tillman said. “You’ve got to be quick and give your catchers a chance. Anytime the opposing guys get an extra 90 feet for free, you’re not doing yourself a favor. It’s an organizational thing now. Early on, I don’t think it was. I was young and immature and didn’t know any better, to tell you the truth.”

Of course, the Royals aren’t just any other club in stealing 153 bases to lead the majors in the regular season, and they appear to have only gotten better in that department with the addition of the speedy Gore to go along with Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar, and Nori Aoki. They have gone a remarkable 12-for-13 attempting to steal in four postseason games.

But the Orioles feel confident in their scouting and preparation and their biggest weapon in helping to neutralize an opponent’s running game, which is none other than bench coach John Russell.

“A lot of it comes from the bench,” Hundley said. “John Russell does an unbelievable job knowing tendencies, knowing when to throw over, knowing when to pitch out. He doesn’t get enough credit. He controls all the pick-offs and all that stuff. How good he is at it helps us out — me and Caleb — a bunch. And it takes a lot of pressure off the pitchers, because they know he’ll put them in a very successful position.”

It remains to be seen how Showalter will distribute the catching duties over the course of the series, but Hundley is expected to start Game 1. The 31-year-old veteran acquired from the San Diego Padres in late May handled a larger portion of the playing time down the stretch despite throwing out only 19 percent of runners trying to steal this season. In contrast, Joseph gunned down 40 percent during his rookie season even though his defense was often viewed as a hindrance in his minor-league development for years.

Regardless of who might be behind the plate, the mindset isn’t expected to change for Orioles pitchers as they will do what they always do — even against the speedy Royals.

“All the pitchers feel comfortable with it, because it’s something we’ve always put the onus on,” Wieters said. “It shouldn’t be anything different in their minds as far as what they need to do. They stick with their same times to the plate, and it gives us a chance. As a catcher, that’s all you want. There are certain guys that you won’t throw out, but we feel like every pitcher out there is giving the catcher a chance to make a good throw and hopefully get an out.”

Ultimately, the Orioles know they can’t reinvent the wheel when trying to slow a club that ran wild against the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card Game and continued their aggressiveness against the Los Angeles Angels in a three-game sweep in the AL Division Series. They’ll simply stick with their regular habits of being quick to the plate and holding runners effectively while likely being savvy in attempting to interrupt runners’ timing with pick-off attempts or by simply holding the ball a little longer in some instances.

Showalter isn’t going to change who the Orioles are at this late stage, nor should he try to with a club that won 96 games this season with plenty of its own strengths. And he saw firsthand in September how a pitcher can fall apart on the hill if he’s dwelling on a fast runner and not focusing on the hitter at the plate.

“We’ve talked about it, but we’re not going to rob from Peter to pay Paul,” Showalter said. “I think one time we had Quintin [Berry] pinch‑running for us late in the year, and without naming the [opposing] pitcher, you could tell his whole delivery changed trying to keep him from stealing second. He gave up three hits, back to back to back. We didn’t steal a base, but we didn’t have to.

“But we’ve got some things that they might have to adjust to, too.”

The biggest key will be maintaining their mental toughness by not allowing Kansas City’s preference for a track meet to take away from what they do best.

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Orioles sign shortstop Hardy to three-year extension

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Orioles sign shortstop Hardy to three-year extension

Posted on 09 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On the eve of their first appearance in the American League Championship Series in 17 years, the Orioles didn’t wait to wait any longer to lock up shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year extension to keep him in Baltimore beyond this October.

The Orioles announced a new contract with the 32-year-old infielder Thursday evening. The deal is for three years with an option and worth upward of $40 million, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

“I knew that I liked it here, I knew that I liked playing with all my teammates,” Hardy said. “The whole coaching staff, I enjoyed playing for them. I believe that Dan [Duquette], Buck [Showalter], and the Angelos family, they’re all going to continue doing everything they possibly can to make this organization better. Bottom line [is] it comes down to winning, and I think we’ve got a good thing here.”

Hardy has spent the last four years in Baltimore and was in the final season of a three-year, $22.5 million extension signed during the 2011 campaign, his first with the Orioles after he was acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Twins on Dec. 9, 2010. The two-time Gold Glove winner was expected to draw heavy interest from other clubs this winter with the New York Yankees topping the list as they look to replace the retired Derek Jeter.

While the Orioles remain focused on advancing to their first World Series in 31 years, the Hardy signing crosses one item off the list of offseason priorities that still includes the impending free agency of outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz as well as lefty reliever Andrew Miller.

“Why not now really?” said Duquette when asked about the unusual timing of the shortstop’s extension. “When we looked at the market, we thought the best chance to sign J.J. was before he went to free agency, because he’s distinguished himself as one of the top shortstops in the league, and J.J. let us know that he wanted to continue his career here in Baltimore.”

Battling back issues at two different points this season, Hardy hit .268 with nine home runs and 52 runs batted in over 141 games. The shortstop slugged 22 or more homers in each of his first three seasons with the Orioles and acknowledged his back issues impacted his swing, which likely explains the drop in power.

But Hardy’s value extends beyond his own defensive ability and power at the plate as manager Buck Showalter has credited the shortstop for playing a major role in the development of injured third baseman Manny Machado and rookie second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Baltimore has possessed one of the best defensive infields in all of baseball over the last three seasons as Hardy’s experience and baseball intelligence has helped with the positioning of fielders.

“I hope J.J. ends his career here,” Showalter said. “It makes us a better club. He’s been solid. You’re always looking for things you can count on, and you never take for granted what J.J. brings. It’s so hard to do. I’ve said it before, [but] I think he’s flashy in his own way because he’s not looking for attention. His biggest thing he wants to get out of a day’s work is a win.”

According to FOX Sports, the Orioles are also pushing to complete a contract extension with Cruz, who led the club with a career-high 40 homers and was named Most Valuable Oriole by the local media. However, Duquette said his focus remains on Game 1 of the ALCS when asked if he was working on extensions with any of the Orioles’ other scheduled free agents.

Markakis said Thursday he was unaware of any contract discussions between the Orioles and his agent.

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Ten talking points for Orioles-Royals ALCS matchup

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Ten talking points for Orioles-Royals ALCS matchup

Posted on 08 October 2014 by Luke Jones

As the Orioles prepare to play the Kansas City Royals for the first time ever in the postseason and for the right to advance to their first World Series in 31 years, here are 10 talking points to break down their meeting in the American League Championship Series beginning Friday night:

1. It isn’t Eddie Murray vs. George Brett, but the tradition of yesteryear in each city makes this series a blast.

Yes, it’s been three decades since either the Orioles or Royals found themselves playing in the Fall Classic, but that’s what makes this series so much fun as younger baseball fan will be exposed to the history of each franchise. From 1973 through 1985, Baltimore and Kansas City combined to win two World Series titles, four AL pennants, and 10 division championships and were regarded as two of the model franchises in the major leagues. This history may not mean much to the current players or have any impact on the play on the field, but the fans’ thirst for a World Series will be palpable at both Kauffman Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

2. You won’t find more contrasting offensive styles with the stakes so high.

It’s thunder against lightning as the Orioles led the major leagues with 211 home runs while the Royals stole more bases (153) than any of the 29 other clubs. Meanwhile, Baltimore stole the fewest number of bases (44) in the big leagues and Kansas City ranked 30th with only 95 home runs. Five Royals players hit double digits in swiped bags while the Orioles’ leader in the category was David Lough with eight. Seven Orioles hit 12 or more homers — Manny Machado and Chris Davis will not play in this series — compared to just three for Kansas City. Despite their contrasting styles, the Orioles finished the regular season ranked sixth in the AL in runs with 705 compared to Kansas City coming in ninth with 651. Baltimore has the better offense over the long haul, but the Royals will try to turn a short series into a 100-meter dash while the Orioles emphasize their advantage in the shot put.

3. The Royals stack up more favorably to the Baltimore defense that Detroit did.

The Orioles still have the edge in the field, but Kansas City has a number of Gold Glove-caliber players including catcher Salvador Perez and outfielders Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain. The Orioles rank third in the AL in BaseballReference.com’s defensive efficiency statistic while the Royals came in sixth in the regular season. Baltimore made the third-fewest number of errors (87) in the AL this season while Kansas City ranked 10th with 104. Both clubs made sparkling plays in the Division Series and rely on their defense to make a difference in close games.

4. Scoring early will be a high priority for both clubs.

Unlike the luxury the Orioles had against Detroit in the Division Series, they cannot expect to wait out starting pitchers for scoring opportunities in the late inning against the Royals, whose trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera might be even better than their own triumvirate of Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, and Darren O’Day. The Orioles’ 3.10 bullpen ERA ranked third in the AL while Kansas City’s 3.30 mark ranked fifth, which will cause both lineups to feel the urgency to break through prior to the sixth inning. Even with so many other great names in each bullpen, the wild cards could be right-hander Kevin Gausman and Kansas City lefty Brandon Finnegan, who made a major impact in the Wild Card Game after only being drafted in the first round out of Texas Christian a few months ago.

5. The spotlight will be much brighter on Adam Jones to produce in this series.

It’s cruel to judge any player on a sample size of only 37 at-bats, but the Orioles center fielder has amassed only four hits in his postseason career and will feel the heat if his bat doesn’t wake up in the ALCS. Being an aggressive hitter throughout his career, Jones must fight the urge to over-swing, especially when he has opportunities to drive in runs. The 29-year-old singled and walked in his final two plate appearances of the ALDS, which the Orioles hope are signs of better things to come this October for a player who’s meant so much to the club’s success over the last three years. Nelson Cruz carried the Orioles in the ALDS, but Jones waking up would make them even more difficult to beat in a best-of-seven series.

6. The Orioles are better equipped to handle Kansas City’s jackrabbits on the base paths.

The Royals are an incredible 12-for-13 attempting to steal in the postseason, which has certainly provided Buck Showalter with some restless nights this week. However, the Orioles will have more success in slowing Kansas City runners than either Oakland or the Angels because of their focus on slowing an opposing club’s running game. Baltimore ranked sixth in the AL by throwing out 28 percent of runners attempting to steal, but the fact that they faced the fourth-fewest number of stolen base attempts is a reflection of how well pitchers hold runners and how quick they are to the plate to help catchers Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley. Of the two, Joseph is more adept at gunning down runners (a 40 percent success rate to Hundley’s 19 percent), so it will be interesting to see how much more Showalter might lean on the younger catcher in this series after Hundley started two of the three ALDS games.

7. Former Oriole starter Jeremy Guthrie pitching against his former club in the ALCS will be somewhat surreal.

With apologies to Baltimore reserve Jimmy Paredes, Guthrie is the most intriguing name to face his former team in this series and had the misfortune of being dealt away from the Orioles just before their resurgence in 2012. The classy right-hander has found a home with the Royals where he’s continued to be a solid member of the rotation and has been rewarded with a taste of the postseason after pitching respectably on some otherwise awful Orioles clubs from 2007 through 2011. Though Guthrie probably wouldn’t be slated to start before Game 4 unless the Royals elect to go with Danny Duffy in the rotation and put him in the bullpen, it will be interesting to see the Orioles face the 35-year-old, who acts as a symbol of the club’s past as they seek their first AL pennant in 31 years.

8. Neither club received enough credit for its starting pitching during the regular season.

The Orioles and Royals are known for their stout bullpens, but their rotations have been very effective despite lacking big names. The projected Game 1 starters, Chris Tillman and James Shields, are two of the better pitchers in the AL — the latter for a longer period of time — but each has just one All-Star appearance to his name. Baltimore’s starter ERA of 3.61 ranked just a hair below the Royals’ fourth-ranked 3.60 mark in the AL. The strong bullpens for both sides decrease the chances of any starter pitching particularly deep into games, but there’s no reason to think either side will have problems in this department.

9. This series may feature the two best relievers in baseball right now — and neither are closers.

While Britton and Holland have been two of the best ninth-inning men in baseball in 2014, Miller and Davis are the scariest weapons in their respective bullpens as they combined to strike out 212 hitters in 134 1/3 innings during the regular season. Miller’s ERA was 1.35 in 23 regular-season appearances for the Orioles after being dealt by Boston while Davis posted a 1.00 ERA in 71 appearances for Kansas City this year. Showalter has already demonstrated he’s not afraid to use Miller for more than one inning in the postseason while Davis was a starter as recently as last season, making you think he can be stretched out as well. Regardless of who ends up winning this series, it would be shocking if Miller and Davis aren’t the busiest bullpen arms in the best-of-seven showdown.

10. Buck Showalter has a sizable advantage over Ned Yost on this stage.

The strong sentiment shared among many around baseball is that the Royals have won in spite of their manager, who prefers the small-ball tactics detested by sabermetricians. Meanwhile, Showalter often speaks of his preference to not waste his offense’s 27 outs per game and rarely calls for sacrifice bunts and other tactics such as the hit and run. You do wonder if the Orioles’ strong bullpen will press Yost to lean even more on manufacturing runs than he normally does, but Showalter is more likely to stay the course with his lineup — even against the Royals’ stingy relievers. As for bullpen management, the skipper who is more willing to break the standard thinking of when to use his relievers will give his team the edge. Showalter is the superior tactician and has already shown his willingness to stretch his best relievers during the Division Series.

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Start times announced for remaining games of ALCS

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Start times announced for remaining games of ALCS

Posted on 08 October 2014 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 9:45 p.m. Wednesday)

Major League Baseball announced the remaining start times of all games of the American League Championship Series as the Orioles will welcome the Kansas City Royals to Oriole Park at Camden Yards beginning on Friday.

Game 1 will begin at 8:07 p.m. Friday as the ALCS will have the stage to itself with the National League Championship Series not getting underway until the next day. The Royals announced that right-hander James Shields will make the start in the series opener while manager Buck Showalter is expected to send Chris Tillman to the hill for the Orioles.

The second game of the best-of-seven series will begin at 4:07 p.m. Saturday before the teams move to Kansas City to continue the ALCS at Kauffman Stadium.

Games 3 and 4 will begin at 8:07 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday while Game 5 would begin at 4:07 p.m. Wednesday if necessary. If the series continues, Games 6 and 7 would also be played at 8:07 p.m. next Friday and Saturday night at Camden Yards.

The entire series will be televised on TBS.

In other news, Zach Britton and his wife, Courtney, became the parents of a baby boy as Zander Lee Britton was born Tuesday night in California. The Orioles closer is expected to be back with his club for Thursday’s workout at Camden Yards.

 

 

 

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Orioles offering new ticket plans with ALCS and World Series options

Posted on 07 October 2014 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEAS

The Orioles are calling on all fans throughout Birdland to “Back the Birds” and support the ALCS-bound home team. To help encourage fans to get on board, the club has introduced new 20-Game and 40-Game Season Ticket Plans which will guarantee access to 2014 ALCS and World Series tickets, among many of the Orange Carpet Benefits enjoyed by existing Season Plan Holders. Such benefits include significant savings over individual game tickets, a flexible exchange policy, early ballpark access, and more.

Fans who place a deposit on a new 20-Game or 40-Game Plan, or on an existing 29-game or 81-Game Plan, by tomorrow, October 8, at 5:00 p.m. will be guaranteed tickets to the ALCS and World Series based on level of commitment as follows:                                   

2015 SEASON PLAN DEPOSIT AMOUNT

YOUR 2014 POSTSEASON TICKET GUARANTEE

20-Game $375 per seat

2 Guaranteed Games: Game 1 or 2 of ALCS and World Series

29-Game $500 per seat

4 Guaranteed Games: Game 1 or 2 and 6 or 7 of ALCS and World Series

40-Game $750 per seat

6 Guaranteed Games: Game 1 & 2 and 6 or 7 of ALCS and World Series

81-Game $1,000 per seat

Guaranteed: ALL GAMES

 

 

 

13-Game Plans that include 2014 postseason tickets are sold out and are no longer available. Existing 13-Game Plan Holders, and those previously placing a deposit on a 13-Game Plan, will be accommodated with any Postseason opportunities that have already been committed.

Fans can place a deposit by calling 1-888-848-BIRD or by visiting www.orioles.com/postseason which also features a Postseason seating chart, schedule, and additional ticket information. The private sale of guaranteed ALCS tickets will take place online on Thursday, October 9 at 9:30 a.m.E

 

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Pondering changes to Orioles’ 25-man roster for ALCS

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Pondering changes to Orioles’ 25-man roster for ALCS

Posted on 07 October 2014 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles advancing to the American League Championship Series to take on the Kansas City Royals, manager Buck Showalter will have the opportunity to reset his 25-man roster before Game 1 on Friday.

For weeks, many have pondered what the Orioles will do when suspended slugger Chris Davis is eligible to return, but the three-game sweep in the AL Division Series made it all but guaranteed he’ll remain on the sideline until a potential trip to the World Series. There had been some thought at the start of the postseason that the Orioles could play a man down to begin the ALCS, but the quick elimination of the Tigers left Davis with five games remaining on his 25-game suspension and he wouldn’t be eligible to play until a potential Game 6.

Davis has continued to work out at third base in Sarasota to stay sharp, but it will be interesting to see if the Orioles automatically welcome him back to the 25-man roster if they advance to the Fall Classic. Working out and playing in instructional league games in Florida are fine, but a layoff of more than a month will inevitably leave some rust and the Orioles might not want to mess with their karma should they find themselves playing for a world championship.

With the Royals regularly using four left-handed hitters in their lineup, Showalter may elect to turn to left-handed relievers Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland after they were left off the ALDS roster against Detroit, who feasted off southpaw pitching in the regular season. Kansas City hit .266 against left-handers and .261 against right-handed arms, but the presence of lefty hitters Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alex Gordon — right fielder Nori Aoki hit .363 against left-handers this season — would make you think Showalter would prefer having the situational Matusz as an option to pitch to a left-handed hitter or two in certain spots.

Left-handers hit only .223 against Matusz in the regular season while righties hit .277 with an .876 on-base plus slugging percentage.

McFarland’s addition for the ALCS would appear to be less certain as lefties hit .266 against him compared to right-handers posting a .324 average. There wouldn’t appear to be room for both Ubaldo Jimenez and McFarland in the bullpen, so you wonder if Showalter will once again go with the veteran as his emergency long man to keep Kevin Gausman available to pitch in high-leverage situations.

The Orioles kept 11 pitchers for the best-of-five ALDS, but the next round having a best-of-seven format might entice Showalter to add an extra pitcher, leaving him with a shorter bench. Considering Ryan Flaherty played such strong defense at third base, the Orioles manager might not find it necessary to have both Jimmy Paredes and Kelly Johnson on the bench for this series.

The switch-hitting Paredes did not appear in any of the three ALDS games while the lefty-hitting Johnson appeared once as a pinch hitter and replaced Flaherty at third base for the ninth inning of Game 2.

As for the starting rotation, Showalter is expected to send Chris Tillman to the hill for Game 1, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll slot Miguel Gonzalez into Game 2 after he didn’t pitch in the ALDS or the right-hander will once again fit behind Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris in the pecking order.

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Orioles to face Kansas City in American League Championship Series

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Orioles to face Kansas City in American League Championship Series

Posted on 05 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Two teams chasing their once-glorious histories will now face off for the 2014 American League pennant as the Orioles will meet the Kansas City Royals in the AL Championship Series beginning Friday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Hours after the Orioles completed a three-game sweep over the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, the Royals disposed of the No. 1 seed Los Angeles Angeles in a sweep of their own to set up a series between teams eyeing their first World Series appearance in three decades. Baltimore hasn’t advanced to the Fall Classic since 1983 while Kansas City hasn’t appeared in the World Series since 1985.

The ALCS will bring an interesting contrast in offensive styles as the Orioles led the majors in home runs while the Royals hit fewer long balls than any club in the game. However, speedy Kansas City led the big leagues in stolen bases while Baltimore swiped fewer bags than any team.

Beyond that, both teams profile similarly by playing excellent defense and leaning on their outstanding bullpens to back up solid starting pitching. The Orioles ranked third in the AL with an overall ERA of 3.43 and the Royals were fourth with a 3.51 ERA.

The Orioles went 3-4 against the Royals during the 2014 regular season as they lost two of three in Baltimore in late April and split a four-game set at Kansas City in the middle of May.

Games 1 and 2 will be played at Camden Yards with Games 3 and 4 shifting to Kauffman Stadium. If necessary, Game 5 will also be played in Kansas City with the final two games of the best-of-seven series scheduled to be played back in Baltimore.

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Fingerprints of Duquette all over Orioles’ Game 3 clincher

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Fingerprints of Duquette all over Orioles’ Game 3 clincher

Posted on 05 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter would be the first to tell you much of the foundation of the Orioles’ run to their first American League Championship Series since 1997 was in place before they arrived in Baltimore several years ago.

Others may have been responsible for bringing the likes of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, J.J. Hardy, and Zach Britton to Baltimore years ago, but it was Duquette’s fingerprints all over the Orioles’ 2-1 victory to complete the three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. In fact, a trio of acquisitions made over the last 15 months — winning pitcher Bud Norris, slugger Nelson Cruz, and lefty reliever Andrew Miller — played a critical part in Baltimore sweeping its first postseason series since 1971 and sending the big-name Tigers home for the offseason.

Acquired in exchange for unspectacular outfield prospect L.J. Hoes, 19-year-old pitching prospect Josh Hader, and a draft pick in late July of last season, Norris may not have made the difference in 2013 as the Orioles fell short of the postseason, but the reasonable asking price as well as two extra years of club control made the former Houston Astros pitcher more attractive to Duquette than other seasoned pitchers with expensive or expiring contracts on the trade market.

Making his postseason debut after Miguel Gonzalez was initially slated to pitch in Game 3, Norris pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings while striking out six and allowing two hits to shut down a formidable Detroit lineup that had given him plenty of trouble in two starts earlier this season. Commanding his four-seam fastball and keeping the Tigers scoreless as the Orioles faced 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price, Norris offered a gutsy performance to build on a strong campaign that included a 15-8 record with a 3.65 ERA in 28 starts this season.

It was Cruz who provided Norris with just enough run support as he homered inside the right-field foul pole in the top of the sixth to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead. It was the 34-year-old’s second homer of the series and 16th career postseason homer to pass Babe Ruth on the all-time list, which came after a 40-homer season that resulted in him being named the club’s most valuable player in late September.

No, Cruz wasn’t a diamond in the rough despite no club being willing to invest a long-contract in a player tainted and suspended due to last year’s Biogenesis scandal, but Duquette saw the opportunity to add a slugger on the cheap for a lineup that needed another middle-of-the-order bat. A one-year, $8 million investment made during spring training has never worked out better for the Orioles as Cruz responded with the best season of his 10-year career.

After carrying the Orioles through the first 2 1/2 months of the season and heating up once again over the final few weeks of September, Cruz once again was the offensive hero as the Orioles faced a third straight Cy Young Award winner on Sunday at Comerica Park. His flick of the bat on a high and outside pitch from Price put the Orioles ahead and further depressed what was already a subdued crowd watching their Tigers try to climb out of an 0-2 hole.

The heroics of Norris and Cruz paved the way for Miller, the acquisition that most of baseball ignored while Oakland acquired Jon Lester and the Tigers traded for Price. Those high-profile trades for aces were viewed by many experts as the moves that would automatically send the Athletics and Detroit to a meeting in the ALCS

Miller retired all five hitters he faced in Game 3, including the top three hitters in the Tigers lineup in the bottom of the eighth inning. While many criticized — or at least questioned — the Orioles’ inability to land a top-of-the-rotation starter at the trade deadline, Duquette dealt pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez to the Boston Red Sox for the tall left-hander, who’s dominance has transformed the Orioles bullpen from good to great over the last two months.

Pitching to a 1.35 ERA and averaging 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 23 regular-season appearances for Baltimore, Miller’s 32-pitch performance in Game 1 matched his highest total of the year and he allowed only one runner in 3 1/3 innings in the ALDS.

No, it wasn’t the sexy move and it’s not as though Lester or Price pitched poorly in their new homes, but Duquette and Showalter have constantly preached the desire to acquire players that are the right fit for their club — not necessarily the biggest or most expensive names. Miller certainly fit the bill as a reliever with great strikeout ability and excellent numbers against hitters from both sides of the plate.

And it’s a move that’s been an integral part of the Orioles continuing to play in October while the Tigers and Athletics have already been eliminated.

The Orioles’ executive vice president of baseball operations has often been teased by outsiders for his decade-long absence from the majors as well as his off-the-wall moves that many have even labeled dumpster diving. Not every move has turned to gold — he did sign high-priced free agent Ubaldo Jimenez, after all — but you couldn’t help but tip your cap to Duquette in watching Sunday’s game play out with the Orioles earning the series win.

A one-year contract and two deadline trades that appeared solid but unspectacular couldn’t have paid off any better in Game 3. And while Duquette may not have built the entire core of the current club from the ground up, the pieces he’s added in recent months have helped put the Orioles four wins away from an American League pennant.

 

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Orioles elect to go with Norris over Gonzalez for ALDS Game 3

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Orioles elect to go with Norris over Gonzalez for ALDS Game 3

Posted on 04 October 2014 by Luke Jones

After previously leaning toward starting Miguel Gonzalez for Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers, manager Buck Showalter instead elected to go with right-hander Bud Norris as the Orioles will go for the sweep on Sunday afternoon.

The decision was made following Baltimore’s 7-6 win Friday to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. Showalter told reporters in Detroit that the change allows the Orioles to use Norris out of the bullpen in a potential Game 5 and gives Gonzalez a chance to have a good workday on Saturday after being on standby in the bullpen for the first two games of the series.

With Kevin Gausman pitching 3 1/3 effective innings and Brad Brach and Zach Britton the only other relievers to work in Game 2, the bullpen should be in excellent shape to back up Norris in the event of a shaky outing. Ubaldo Jimenez would still be ready as a long man and all other relief options besides Gausman should be fresh.

“We didn’t need Bud as much in the bullpen [Sunday],” Showalter told reporters in Detroit. “It’s one of the reasons we kind of held off on a lot of it. We wanted to wait this time of year, some of the things that happened in the game, what that means will happen in further games comes into play.”

Norris hasn’t pitched since Sept. 24 and will be making his postseason debut, which might lead you to believe the Orioles wanted him to get his feet wet with the benefit of a two-game cushion in the Division Series. Gonzalez pitched seven strong innings and allowed only one earned run in his only postseason start against the Yankees in Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS.

The 29-year-old Norris went 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA in 28 starts this season. In two starts against Detroit in 2014, Norris was 0-2 with a 6.39 ERA, but it was his second start against the Tigers on May 12 that sparked controversy when he plunked Torii Hunter in the ribs after giving up a late home run to Ian Kinsler, a move that prompted the right-hander’s ejection before both benches and bullpens emptied.

Gonzalez allowed eight earned runs in 5 1/3 innings against Detroit this season, which included a start on April 4 that was the worst of his season. He also made a relief appearance against the Tigers in relief of a Gausman start in mid-May.

 

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Remaining start times announced for Orioles-Tigers ALDS games

Posted on 04 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Though the Orioles can close out the American League Division Series with a win over the Detroit Tigers on Sunday afternoon, start times for Games 4 and 5 were announced if the series were to go beyond three games.

Game 4 would begin at either 12:07 p.m. or 1:37 p.m. on Monday, depending on whether the ALDS meeting between the Los Angeles Angels and the Kansas City Royals is still alive. Owning a 2-0 lead of their own, the Royals closing out a series win over the Angels on Sunday would push the Orioles-Tigers Game 4 start to 1:37 on Monday afternoon.

If necessary, Game 5 would be back at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Wednesday with a start time of 5:37 p.m. unless the other ALDS matchup is complete. Under that scenario, first pitch wouldn’t come until 8:07 p.m. that evening.

After Saturday’s off-day in Detroit, the Orioles will resume their series against the Tigers on Sunday with Game 3′s first pitch at 3:45 p.m. at Comerica Park. Named the new Game 3 starter on Saturday afternoon, Bud Norris will face 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price as Baltimore goes for the three-game sweep.

 

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