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Orioles-Tigers Game 1 lineups and pre-game notes

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Orioles-Tigers Game 1 lineups and pre-game notes

Posted on 02 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — October has arrived as the Orioles welcomed the Detroit Tigers to Oriole Park at Camden Yards for Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

There were no real surprises for Baltimore’s Game 1 lineup as Ryan Flaherty was slotted to hit seventh at third base as most assumed after manager Buck Showalter used a carousel of candidates at third base over the final two weeks of the regular season. Showalter was noncommittal when asked how reserves and fellow third-base candidates Kelly Johnson and Jimmy Paredes would be used in the series, leaving the door open to either receiving a start at the hot corner.

The Orioles will send Wei-Yin Chen to the hill in Game 2 against right-hander Justin Verlander. Chen pitched Game 2 of the 2012 ALDS against the New York Yankees, earning the win after allowing just one earned run in 6 1/3 innings.

Asked why he elected to keep right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez in his bullpen, Showalter pointed to his experience against the Tigers as well as the Detroit lineup’s strong .285 average against left-handed pitching this year. Left-handers Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland were left off the ALDS roster earlier in the day, but both will remain with the club in the event of an injury and would be options if the Orioles advance to the AL Championship Series.

Right fielder Nick Markakis will make his postseason debut Thursday night after nine seasons with the Orioles. He was sidelined with a broken thumb when Baltimore advanced to the 2012 playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Tigers had center fielder Rajai Davis in the Game 1 lineup despite the fact that he’s been dealing with a groin injury recently. His 36 stolen bases were only eight fewer than the Orioles stole collectively during the 2014 regular season.

Here are Thursday night’s lineups:

DETROIT
2B Ian Kinsler
RF Torii Hunter
1B Miguel Cabrera
DH Victor Martinez
LF J.D. Martinez
C Alex Avila
3B Nick Castellanos
SS Andrew Romine
CF Rajai Davis

SP Max Scherzer (18-5, 3.15 ERA)

BALTIMORE
RF Nick Markakis
LF Alejandro De Aza
CF Adam Jones
DH Nelson Cruz
1B Steve Pearce
SS J.J. Hardy
3B Ryan Flaherty
C Nick Hundley
2B Jonathan Schoop

SP Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34 ERA)

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Jimenez surprisingly included on Orioles’ ALDS roster

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Jimenez surprisingly included on Orioles’ ALDS roster

Posted on 02 October 2014 by Luke Jones

On the morning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series, the Orioles announced their series roster with right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez the most surprising inclusion against the Detroit Tigers.

Manager Buck Showalter kept 11 pitchers and 14 position players for the best-of-five series with Jimenez and fellow right-hander Brad Brach included in the bullpen and left-handers T.J. McFarland and Brian Matusz left off the roster. With the Tigers lineup leaning heavily to the right side and feasting off southpaw pitching this season — hitting .285 against lefties — Showalter likely preferred Jimenez over McFarland as his long man in the pen.

With Jimenez’s ability to provide length in the event of extra innings or a starter being knocked out early, Showalter will have the luxury of shortening up right-hander Kevin Gausman to pitch in high-leverage situations in the late innings. Though he finished his first season in Baltimore with a 4.81 ERA and lost his spot in the starting rotation, Jimenez posted a 3.27 ERA in 11 innings during the month of September.

Of the Orioles’ 14 position players, infielders Kelly Johnson and Jimmy Paredes both made it along with speedy outfielder David Lough as it was unclear if all three would make the cut. Lough made it over outfielder Quintin Berry, who was primarily used as a pinch runner in the month of September.

Below is the ALDS roster, which can be altered should the Orioles advance to the AL Championship Series.

CATCHERS
Nick Hundley (R)
Caleb Joseph (R)

INFIELDERS
Ryan Flaherty (L)
J.J. Hardy (R)
Kelly Johnson (L)
Jimmy Paredes (S)
Steve Pearce (R)
Jonathan Schoop (R)

OUTFIELDERS
Nelson Cruz (R)
Alejandro De Aza (L)
Adam Jones (R)
David Lough (L)
Nick Markakis (L)
Delmon Young (R)

STARTING PITCHERS
LHP Wei-Yin Chen
RHP Miguel Gonzalez
RHP Bud Norris
RHP Chris Tillman

RELIEF PITCHERS
RHP Brad Brach
LHP Zach Britton
RHP Kevin Gausman
RHP Tommy Hunter
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Darren O’Day

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Sizing up the Orioles-Tigers American League Division Series

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Sizing up the Orioles-Tigers American League Division Series

Posted on 02 October 2014 by Luke Jones

With the start of the American League Division Series now upon us, here’s how I see the Orioles and Tigers stacking up in their first-ever postseason meeting …

Offense
Advantage: DETROIT
Skinny: The Orioles led the major leagues with 211 home runs, but the Tigers ranked only behind the Los Angeles Angels in runs and finished first in average and second in on-base percentage and slugging percentage in all of baseball.

Defense
Advantage: BALTIMORE
Skinny: Comparing defense isn’t close as the Tigers have above-average fielders at second base (Ian Kinsler) and catcher (Alex Avila) and average or below-average defenders everywhere else while the Orioles ranked third in the AL in defensive efficiency. 

Starting pitching
Advantage: DETROIT
Skinny: This category isn’t nearly as lopsided as the casual observer will tell you as the Orioles sported a better starter ERA (3.61 to 3.89) this season, but you can’t ignore a staff with the three most-recent Cy Young Award winners in a short series. 

Bullpen
Advantage: BALTIMORE
Skinny: The Orioles’ 3.10 bullpen ERA is dramatically better than Detroit’s 4.29 mark as manager Buck Showalter has a slew of options in the late innings while Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus holds his breath with 39-year-old closer Joe Nathan on the hill.

Speed
Advantage: DETROIT
Skinny: The status of outfielder Rajai Davis will dramatically impact this phase, but the Orioles stole fewer bases than any club in the majors and the Tigers also have Kinsler and Andrew Romine as threats on the bases. 

Intangibles
Advantage: BALTIMORE
Skinny: You might be inclined to go with the Tigers in this department considering they have more postseason experience, but how can you not be impressed with the Orioles enduring everything they did this season on the way to winning 96 games?

Coaching
Advantage: BALTIMORE
Skinny: The rookie skipper Ausmus was always respected as having a great baseball mind in his playing days, but Showalter has the experience and the better bullpen, the area in which a manager manipulates a game the most. 

Unsung hero – Darren O’Day
Skinny: When you look at how right-handed heavy the Detroit lineup is, the Orioles will need a strong series from the submariner and a 1.70 ERA in 2014 suggests O’Day is more than ready. 

Prediction – Orioles in five games
Skinny: The Tigers have the advantage with their offense and starting pitching, but those gaps aren’t as dramatic as the Orioles’ edge on defense and in the bullpen. Those two factors will be the difference in what should be a very competitive and entertaining series.

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Tillman ready for next step as Orioles’ postseason ace

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Tillman ready for next step as Orioles’ postseason ace

Posted on 01 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Just a few years ago, not many would have believed Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman would be the one taking the ball for the opening game of a playoff series.

Acquired with outfielder Adam Jones as the centerpieces of the Erik Bedard trade in February 2008, Tillman carried a career 5.58 ERA in 36 starts over his first three major league seasons in which he shuffled back and forth between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk. The struggles left him as an afterthought in many minds as the Orioles embarked on what turned out to be a surprising 2012 season that resulted in their first postseason appearance in 15 years.

It wasn’t until that July that Tillman finally got another chance in the rotation and established himself as a major league starter by going 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 15 starts. Even with Tillman having such an impressive second half, manager Buck Showalter elected to send him to the bullpen in the 2012 playoffs where he did not pitch.

Last year, he established himself as the staff ace and was named to his first All-Star Game. And after being named the Opening Day starter for the first time earlier this year, Tillman will take another step in his dramatic progression by making his postseason debut against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Thursday night.

“It has been a journey, to say the least,” Tillman said. “I had a couple of rough years early on and kind of turned things around come 2012. I think that goes to show where the organization is at, not just personally, but all the way throughout. … For myself, like I’ve always said, it’s a big puzzle, and you’re trying to find the pieces to it and put the puzzle together.”

Completing his second consecutive 200-inning season and posting a 20-start streak of allowing three or fewer earned runs that wasn’t snapped until his final outing of the regular season, Tillman’s final 2014 numbers that included a 13-6 record with a 3.34 ERA weren’t such a sure thing as late as early June. Slow starts in the early innings and poor fastball command led to Tillman holding a 5.20 ERA through his first 13 starts.

His early-inning pains and a lingering groin issue led many to wonder if a market correction was finally taking place after his superb 1 1/2 years, but the 26-year-old instead made adjustments and went on the most successful run of his career, posting a 2.38 ERA over his final 21 starts to not only silence doubters but make it an elementary choice for Showalter to choose him as the Game 1 starter against the Tigers.

“He’s just a really hard worker. I know his talent is really immense,” catcher Nick Hundley said. “I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for how good he is. It’s a tough game. You don’t roll out here and put up Nintendo numbers like he has the last three or four months without being really good.”

Tillman will be opposed by 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, leading many to overlook the tall right-hander once again, but his numbers since early June suggest he is as dangerous as any starting pitcher remaining in the postseason. The only question will be how he responds to the limelight of his first playoff appearance, but Tillman is often praised by teammates and coaches alike for his even demeanor, which should allow him to handle what’s sure to be a raucous crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

For the California native, it’s just another step and just another start, even while anticipating some butterflies.

“The only difference is the stakes are higher. I take every game the same way,” Tillman said. “They’re all important. There is not one that’s less important than the other. Once the game starts and the bell rings, that’s where we’re comfortable as a team. Might have extra feelings before the game, be nervous, but if you’re not nervous, you need to find another job.”

Hot corner, hot topic

When asked about how he anticipated handling the third base position, Showalter wasn’t tipping his hand Wednesday as the Orioles have given starts to Ryan Flaherty, Jimmy Paredes, Kelly Johnson, and Alexi Casilla at the hot corner since Chris Davis was suspended for amphetamine use on Sept. 12.

The growing pains have been clear as the Orioles had appeared to settle on Davis as their regular replacement for the injured Gold Glove winner Manny Machado before the slugger was banned for 25 games, a stretch that makes him ineligible until the ninth game of the postseason should the club advance. Baltimore made seven errors at third base over the final 10 games of the regular season.

“I feel confident in the people that will be playing and they’ve got a good track record,” Showalter said. “I don’t think anybody is trying to be as good as Manny. [He] had a historical year defensively, but we’ve been able to present ourselves well over there. I feel confident that we will continue to do that.”

Most believe Showalter will go with the strongest available defensive option in the postseason, which would be Flaherty despite the utility infielder committing three errors over his final four starts at third.

The 2012 Rule 5 pick said he is feeling more comfortable after getting extensive time at third base for the first time since the beginning of the year when he was filling in for the still-rehabbing Machado. Flaherty has made five errors in 27 starts and 255 1/3 total innings at third base this season.

“Part of my job here was to be able to be flexible and move around,” Flaherty said. “Getting over there the last couple weeks with Manny being gone, with Chris being gone [has helped]. You feel a little more comfortable the more you’re there.”

Rotation, roster remain secret

Showalter said Wednesday that he won’t announce the rest of his starting rotation until the conclusion of Game 1, but Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris will be the three starters behind Chris Tillman — in some order.

The 23-year-old Kevin Gausman was told to be ready for Game 1, a surefire sign that he will pitch in relief during the Division Series. However, it remains to be seen how many will be joining him in the bullpen as the Orioles are debating whether to go with a six-man group of relievers and a six-man bench or seven relief pitchers and five on the bench. A six-man bullpen would include Gausman, closer Zach Britton, right-handers Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter, lefty Andrew Miller, and either righty-hander Brad Brach or left-hander Brian Matusz.

“The decision for us is going with 10 or 11 [pitchers], and we’ve kicked it around until we’re blue in the face like everybody does,” Showalter said. “If you knew exactly what was going to be needed for each game, it would be real easy to do.”

The deadline to finalize the Division Series roster is 10 a.m. Thursday.

“Cheerleader” Machado progressing well

Machado was back at Camden Yards to watch Games 1 and 2 of the Division Series before reporting to Sarasota to continue rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee.

The 22-year-old remains optimistic that he’ll be 100 percent for the start of spring training in February.

“I’m doing everything,” said Machado, who is embracing the role of cheering for teammates despite not being able to play. “Activating the muscles and trying to get my quads back. I’m basically full-go [in a] couple weeks, hopefully. I have full range of motion already, and hopefully in a couple weeks, I’ll start riding the bike and get that going.”

Mr. Oriole pays visit

Hall of Fame third baseman and Orioles legend Brooks Robinson was a special guest speaker before the 2014 Orioles completed their workout at Camden Yards on Wednesday.

“His message was that he’s excited to see how excited Baltimore is,” Tillman said. “To us, that’s special. He’s been there. He’s been there for the World Series, for the playoffs, and he said this is the most fans he’s ever seen walking around the streets wearing their Baltimore Orioles jerseys and are proud of it.”

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Tigers announce starting rotation for Division Series

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Tigers announce starting rotation for Division Series

Posted on 30 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus announced his starting rotation for the American League Division Series against the Orioles with right-hander Max Scherzer taking the ball for Game 1 as expected.

The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner will be opposed by Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman and posted an 18-5 record with a 3.15 ERA in 33 starts spanning 220 1/3 innings this season. Scherzer is 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA in six career starts against Baltimore with 45 strikeouts and nine walks in 39 innings.

The Tigers will send 2011 AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander to the mound for Game 2 despite an off year in which the right-hander went 15-12 with a 4.54 ERA in 32 starts.

Lefty David Price, the 2012 AL Cy Young winner and acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in late July, will start Game 3 for the Tigers back at Comerica Park and right-hander Rick Porcello is scheduled to pitch Game 4.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter has yet to announce the rest of his starting rotation beyond Tillman in Game 1, but Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris are expected to start with the 23-year-old Kevin Gausman shifting to a relief role in October.

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Ten talking points for Orioles-Tigers ALDS matchup

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Ten talking points for Orioles-Tigers ALDS matchup

Posted on 30 September 2014 by Luke Jones

As the Orioles prepare to play the Detroit Tigers for the first time ever in the postseason, here are 10 talking points to break down their meeting in the American League Division Series beginning Thursday night:

1. The outcome of the regular-season series between these clubs is irrelevant.

It’s generally unwise to make too much out of a six-game sample anyway, but the Tigers’ 5-1 mark against the Orioles during the regular season included taking two of three in Detroit the first weekend of April and a three-game sweep at Camden Yards in mid-May. Even if Detroit easily disposes of Baltimore and sweeps the Division Series, what happened between these clubs more than four months ago isn’t a good predictor when you acknowledge how much change each roster has undergone since then.

2. The Detroit rotation has the better pedigree, but the Orioles posted a superior starter ERA this season.

Yes, the Tigers have the bigger names and former Cy Young Award winners in David Price, Max Scherzer, and Justin Verlander, but the Orioles’ starting pitching ERA of 3.61 ranked fifth in the AL while Detroit’s 3.89 starter mark was only 10th. Consistency has been key for Baltimore as all four projected starters in the Division Series carry an ERA of 3.65 or better. Meanwhile, Verlander, the 2011 Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player in the AL, has been the weak link for Detroit with a 4.54 ERA this season. On paper, the Tigers have the edge in Games 1 and 3 with Scherzer and Price scheduled to pitch, but Games 2 and 4 will be much more interesting with Verlander struggling all year and Rick Porcello posting a 6.20 ERA in five September starts after throwing a career-high 204 2/3 innings this season.

3. Baltimore led the majors in home runs, but Detroit scored 52 more runs over the course of the year.

The Orioles’ offensive identity is clear as they’re very dependent on the home run and ranked 11th in the AL in on-base percentage and 13th in walks, which aren’t promising numbers when you’d prefer not see Detroit starters pitching deep into games. The Tigers also allowed the second-fewest number of homers in the AL this season. In contrast, the Detroit offense was second in the majors in runs scored, first in batting average, and second in on-base percentage. For an Orioles staff that’s been very effective without striking out many hitters (10th in the AL), location is always important, especially against a lineup as consistent as the Tigers. Anything can happen in a short five-game series, but the Orioles would benefit from the ball carrying at both Camden Yards and Comerica Park.

4. The Orioles have a clear advantage in the late innings.

The Orioles ranked third in the AL in bullpen ERA (3.10) while Detroit ranked 13th with a 4.29 ERA and saw its bullpen nearly derail the season on a number of occasions. Baltimore’s late-inning trio of lefty Andrew Miller, submariner Darren O’Day, and closer Zach Britton is as good as any you’ll find in the postseason while the Tigers have held on tight with 39-year-old closer Joe Nathan, who sports a 4.81 ERA and has blown seven saves in his first year with Detroit. The X factors that could make the bullpen better for Detroit are usual-starter Anibal Sanchez — who is back from injury — and Joakim Soria, who has closer experience and has posted a 1.35 ERA since returning from the disabled list earlier this month. But if manager Brad Ausmus blindly trusts Nathan and even setup man Joba Chamberlain, he’s really rolling the dice.

5. The Tigers’ speed on the bases will be an issue for Orioles catchers.

Unlike the station-to-station Orioles who stole fewer bases (44) than anyone in baseball, Detroit isn’t afraid to run and ranked fourth in the AL with 106 steals. However, 36 of those came from outfielder Rajai Davis, who is currently nursing a groin injury that could limit him in the Division Series. The Tigers’ speed will force manager Buck Showalter to take pause when choosing between Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley behind the plate. Joseph has thrown out 40 percent of runners attempting to steal this season while Hundley has gunned down only 19 percent. The problem is Joseph is currently mired in an 0-for-30 slump and has been more erratic behind the plate down the stretch, which could indicate late-season fatigue.

6. The Baltimore defense is substantially better than Detroit’s.

Even without two Gold Glove winners for much of the season, the Orioles have still played defense at an extremely high level, committing the third-fewest number of errors in the AL and ranking third in defensive efficiency, according to BaseballReference.com. Meanwhile, the Tigers committed 14 more errors than Baltimore and ranked next to last in the AL in defensive efficiency. The Tigers also had five players — Davis, first baseman Miguel Cabrera, regular designated hitter Victor Martinez, outfielder Torii Hunter, and third baseman Nick Castellanos — with a defensive WAR (wins above replacement) of -1.0 or worse while Baltimore didn’t have a single player with a defensive WAR worse than -0.9, per BaseballReference.com.

7. Camden Yards was a more pitcher-friendly venue than Comerica Park this season.

Historically, Oriole Park at Camden Yards as been a pitcher’s nightmare while Comerica has played pretty evenly to pitchers and hitters alike, but 2014 has painted a much difference picture in Baltimore as Camden Yards has ranked 22nd in runs and 20th in home runs using ESPN’s park factors. Run scoring and home runs hit have been down at Camden Yards this season, which might be explained in part by the mild temperatures experienced in the area this summer compared to most years in which the ball tends to fly out in the summer months. Orioles pitchers allowed fewer homers and posted a lower ERA at Camden Yards than they did on the road while it wasn’t until the final month or so that Baltimore hitters finally started feasting at their home park, finishing the season with three more homers at home than on the road. Will this make a dramatic impact on the ALDS? Probably not with the cooler temperatures of October anyway, but it’s something to remember as analysts constantly mention the comfy dimensions of Camden Yards this October.

8. Defense at third base is an issue for both clubs.

The Orioles’ concerns at third base have been discussed extensively recently with Ryan Flaherty the most likely to handle the bulk of the work at the position during the ALDS, but Detroit has dealt with its own issues at the hot corner with Castellanos, who posted a respectable .700 on-base plus slugging percentage as a 22-year-old rookie but is a much better fit in the outfield. His 15 errors don’t appear to be a major concern on the surface, but fielding metrics show very limited range and his defensive WAR of -2.7 is the worst mark on the Tigers. As a result, Castellanos is frequently replaced by utility infielder Don Kelly in the late innings. While Castellanos has more potential with the bat than any of the Orioles’ current options at third base, it will be interesting to see if defense at the hot corner has a significant impact for either club at some point during the series.

9. It will be intriguing watching a rookie manager match wits with a seasoned skipper.

Always respected for his baseball mind as a longtime major league catcher, Ausmus will be making his postseason managerial debut against Buck Showalter, who is making his fourth playoff appearance and second with the Orioles and carries 16 years of major-league experience as a manager. With Detroit’s bullpen being so inconsistent, how far Ausmus is willing to push his starter on any given night will be a factor to watch. In contrast, Showalter has so many trustworthy bullpen pieces that he won’t hesitate to call to the bullpen sooner rather than later in a tight game. As mentioned before, third base has likely provided some restless nights for Showalter, but there isn’t too much mystery with the lineup beyond that. How the inexperienced Ausmus manages his pitching staff will be one of the big stories of the series.

10. Beware of bad blood.

While the Orioles’ 1-5 record against Detroit in April and May might not mean much, there was some bad blood between these clubs earlier in the season that’s worth keeping in the back of your mind. On May 12, Bud Norris was pitching a terrific game into the eighth before surrendering a two-run homer to Ian Kinsler to give the Tigers a 4-1 lead. Norris responded by plunking the next hitter Hunter in the ribs, which prompted the pitcher’s ejection as both benches and bullpens emptied before order was restored. Verlander retaliated two days later by throwing a fastball behind slugger Nelson Cruz, which brought a warning to both sides. You certainly hope that cooler heads prevail with those events taking place so long ago and the high stakes of October now in front of both clubs, but you never know for sure.

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Start times set for Orioles-Tigers ALDS Games 1-3

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Start times set for Orioles-Tigers ALDS Games 1-3

Posted on 29 September 2014 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 11:45 p.m. Wednesday)

After much frustration waiting for start times to be announced for the American League Division Series between the Orioles and the Detroit Tigers, fans have finally received some clarity.

The results of the Wild Card Games are now in the books, which means the times for the first three games of the series have been finalized.

With the Kansas City Royals winning the AL Wild Card Game Tuesday night, we officially learned that Oriole Park at Camden Yards will host Game 1 of the ALDS Thursday at 5:37 p.m with Chris Tillman taking on 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer.

The second game of the series will begin at 12:07 p.m. Friday as a result of San Francisco winning the National League Wild Card Game.

Game 3 in Detroit is already locked into a 3:45 p.m. start on Sunday while times for Monday’s Game 4 and Wednesday’s Game 5 back in Baltimore — if necessary — have yet to be announced.

All ALDS games will be televised on TBS with Brian Anderson, Dennis Eckersley, and Joe Simpson on the call.

Major League Baseball also announced that Jeff Kellogg, Scott Barry, Dan Bellino, Fieldin Culbreth, Paul Schrieber, and Jim Wolf will be the umpiring crew for the Orioles-Tigers series.

Umpires CB Bucknor, Chris Conroy, Ed Hickox, and Brian O’Nora will serve in the replay center in New York during the Division Series.

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Orioles hoping hot corner doesn’t burn chances in October

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Orioles hoping hot corner doesn’t burn chances in October

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles may not be sounding an alarm, but all you need to know about their concern at third base was signaled with the insertion of veteran Alexi Casilla at the hot corner in Saturday’s lineup against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Yes, Casilla brings major league experience and manager Buck Showalter wanted to take a look at him after he was rehabbing a hamstring injury in Sarasota earlier this month, but how many games did the 30-year-old play at third base for Triple-A Norfolk this season you might ask?

None.

In fact, Casilla had made just two career starts at third and appeared at the hot corner just 10 times in his eight major league seasons before Saturday’s game at Rogers Centre. But it reflects the level of uncertainty the Orioles face at the position as Casilla became the fourth different player to start there since the announcement of Chris Davis’ 25-game suspension on Sept. 12.

The concerns at third base have been very real since 2013 Gold Glove winner Manny Machado went down with a season-ending knee injury on Aug. 11, but the Orioles appeared to find an acceptable solution in Chris Davis before the slugger’s 25-game suspension was announced on Sept. 12. Since then, Showalter has shuffled candidates with the results being mixed at best.

Though the Orioles have been playing out the relatively-meaningless regular-season string since clinching the division title on Sept. 16, they’ve committed five errors in their last eight games at third base entering Saturday.

The switch-hitting Jimmy Paredes has shown offensive promise with a .308 average in 54 plate appearances, but the 25-year-old has also displayed poor hands and an erratic arm, committing three errors in 13 games and looking shaky on a number of other plays at third base. Showalter has given Paredes the most extensive playing time at third, but his defense has often led to him being pulled in the late innings.

Veteran Kelly Johnson has shown decent hands, but his throwing arm hasn’t inspired confidence to throw out speedier runners at first base. The left-handed hitter also sports a .215 average in time split among the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Orioles this season.

Considered the strongest defensive option on the current roster, Ryan Flaherty has even shown recent struggles at the hot corner with two errors in his last four starts at third base this past week. And though he’s hitting over .300 in the month of September, Flaherty’s appearance at third creates another hole at the bottom of the order — he’s a career .222 hitter with a .654 career on-base plus slugging percentage — to go with rookie second baseman Jonathan Schoop and one of Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley behind the plate.

It’s unlikely that Casilla makes the postseason roster, but the simple fact that he’s getting a look at third base speaks volumes about Showalter’s lack of confidence in any of the candidates at the position.

The Orioles knew they wouldn’t be able to find an option with the all-around ability of Machado when he was lost for the season, but they appeared to be able to live with Davis’ solid defensive play while knowing the offensive upside he brings despite his .196 average in the 2014 regular season. But his suspension lasting until the ninth game of the postseason leaves the Orioles flapping in the wind at third for at least the American League Division Series and some of the AL Championship Series before Davis is an option.

None of their current options provide enough upside with the bat to endure such shaky defense and only Flaherty — if you’re willing to overlook the recent shakiness — appears to provide steady-enough defense to Showalter’s liking. That’s what makes the 2012 Rule 5 selection the most palatable option over Paredes, Johnson, or the recently-summoned Casilla until Davis can potentially return.

Looking for an answer since Machado crumpled to the ground on Aug. 11 and then again when Davis was banned on Sept. 12, the Orioles have yet to find a solution with the Division Series beginning in less than a week.

While many look at the Orioles’ league-leading home run total and improved pitching numbers, defense remains the heart of their success over the last three seasons. Baltimore ranks third in the AL in team ERA but only 10th in strikeouts, a simple reflection of how hurlers pitch to contact and how important the defense has been. Entering Saturday, the Orioles were tied for first in fielding percentage and had committed the second-fewest number of errors in the AL.

In October when such a premium is placed on pitching and defense in typically low-scoring games, the Orioles defense will need to be at its best as they begin a journey to try to win their first World Series since 1983.

You just hope the uncertainty at the hot corner doesn’t burn their chances.

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Orioles select contract of veteran infielder Casilla

Posted on 27 September 2014 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles announced Saturday that they have selected the contract of infielder Alexi Casilla from Triple-A Norfolk.

Casilla, 30, batted .264/.315/.320 in 56 games for Triple-A Norfolk this season, stealing nine bases in 11 attempts while primarily playing second base (34 games) and shortstop (21 games). Casilla will wear #1.

To make room for Casilla on the 40-man roster, right-handed pitcher Preston Guilmet has been designated for assignment. Guilmet, 27, pitched to a 5.23 ERA (10.1IP, 6ER) in 10 appearances for the Orioles and went 4-2 with a 3.91 ERA (48.1IP, 21ER) in 40 games for Triple-A Norfolk this season.

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Orioles hosting nearly 1,400 at-risk children for ALDS Games 1 and 2

Posted on 26 September 2014 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Orioles are inviting at-risk children to attend Games 1 and 2 of the American League Division Series through a program called the OriolesREACH Knothole Gang. Nearly 1,400 children will be experiencing the excitement of Postseason baseball from Sections 96 and 98 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, courtesy of the Orioles.

Groups participating include:

· Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore

· City Springs Elementary School/Baltimore Curriculum Project

· Dundalk Youth Services Center

· Hampden Family Center

· Living Classrooms Foundation

· My Neighbors Foundation

· My Sister’s Circle

· The Salvation Army of Central Maryland

“Living Classrooms is honored to work together with the Orioles on behalf of the hundreds of inner-city children coming from our schools and programs that will have an amazing opportunity to experience the Postseason,” said JAMES PIPER BOND, President and CEO of Living Classrooms Foundation. “The Orioles are making a wonderful effort to involve the entire community in the Orioles’ playoffs. This will be an experience that these kids will always remember, and for many, it will be their first time at the ballpark to see the Orioles in action.”

Additionally, in an effort to raise funds for these non-profit groups, the Orioles are auctioning off several pairs of front row, field box tickets to ALDS Game 1 and ALDS Game 2. Fans are encouraged to visit www.orioles.com/auction until Tuesday, September 30 at 8:00 p.m. (for Game 1) and Wednesday, October 1 at 8:00 p.m. (for Game 2) to place their bids.

The OriolesREACH Knothole Gang pays homage to the International League Baltimore Orioles’ decision in 1930 to allow kids to see games at the old Oriole Park for free. The children were allowed in at no charge as part of a group dubbed the “Knothole Gang,” created when team management relented after years of children sneaking in (or “hooking in”) to the ballpark by tunneling under or climbing over the fence to watch games.

“The Orioles’ ownership wants children to experience the excitement of Postseason baseball live at Oriole Park at Camden Yards,” said GREG BADER, Orioles Vice President of Communications & Marketing. “We encourage our fans to bid generously on the tickets currently available at auction to help these remarkable non-profit groups doing great work in our community.”

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