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Twelve Orioles thoughts following series split with Detroit

Posted on 06 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning two straight to salvage a four-game split with Detroit, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A series split is an underwhelming result on the heels of the five-game winning streak, but the Orioles bouncing back from Friday’s brutal defeat with two victories was encouraging. A 7-3 West Coast trip would sure make you start thinking differently about their wild-card chances.

2. Manny Machado had a five-RBI game Sunday and is hitting .352 since the All-Star break. With an improved approach and better luck, he’s raised his average from .215 on July 6 to .257 a month later. He’s so dangerous when he isn’t trying to pull the ball exclusively.

3. Despite allowing 12 batters to reach over 5 2/3 innings, Ubaldo Jimenez was serviceable and made big pitches when necessary to protect a sizable lead. That’s three straight respectable outings for the maddening right-hander.

4. The optics were cringeworthy, but the Orioles received competitive starts from Wade Miley and Jimenez over the final two games of the series. Yes, the bar is very low for both, but Buck Showalter’s club has a chance when they’re able to turn in results like that.

5. Tim Beckham continues to be a spark plug as he’s gone 14-for-24 with seven extra-base hits in six games with Baltimore. J.J. Hardy has deep respect within the organization, but Beckham would have to fall off a cliff — perhaps literally — to justify the former returning to the starting role.

6. Beckham hit the 10,000th regular-season home run in club history Saturday and the 2,505th for the Orioles in 26 seasons at Camden Yards. They hit only 2,490 long balls over 38 seasons at Memorial Stadium. Yes, the current park is a homer haven, but the game has sure changed.

7. Jonathan Schoop tied his career high with his 25th home run of the season Sunday, matching his total from 2016 in nearly 200 fewer plate appearances. He continues to amaze in a breakout 2017.

8. The bullpen let him down, but Kevin Gausman pitched another gem on Friday and has posted a 0.65 ERA over his last 27 2/3 innings since his disastrous July 14 start to begin the second half. This is the pitcher we saw over the final two months of 2016.

9. Caleb Joseph caught all four of those Gausman starts and the staff ERA is 4.12 when he catches compared to 5.75 with Welington Castillo this season. The improvement with the bat stands out, but his work behind the plate is why the playing time is virtually even since the break.

10. Sending Chris Tillman to the bullpen wasn’t an easy conversation, but the Orioles had no other choice. It will be interesting to see how often he pitches and how a relief role will impact his nightmarish 8.10 ERA in 66 2/3 innings.

11. With his fifth-inning blast Saturday, Adam Jones reached the 20-homer mark for the seventh straight season, a streak that ranks third in Orioles history behind only Cal Ripken (10) and Eddie Murray (nine). He won’t be a Hall of Famer, but few have been more important over this club’s history.

12. Thanks to Justin Upton’s grand slam off the typically-superb Mychal Givens, the Orioles suffered their ninth straight Friday loss with a few of those occurring in gut-wrenching fashion. Maybe it’s time to retire the Friday “O’s” cap that’s an inferior look to the regular home and away caps anyway.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-1 win over Toronto

Posted on 27 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their third straight game in a 3-1 final over the Toronto Blue Jays, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles jumped ahead early with Mark Trumbo’s two-run double with two outs in the first, but Adam Jones drawing a walk after falling behind 0-2 was the biggest at-bat of the inning. It was an impressive way to finish an eight-pitch battle with Joe Biagini.

2. Kevin Gausman showed good fastball command low in the strike zone as he pitched 5 1/3 innings to collect his first victory since May 31. You’d like to see him get deeper into the game, but he was able to build on encouraging signs from his last outing.

3. His command was shaky early in the game, but double plays in the first and second innings went a long way in allowing Gausman to settle down. He retired eight in a row after the twin killing in the second.

4. Toronto made some loud contact in the fourth, but Gausman dotted a 3-2 fastball at the bottom of the zone to strike out Josh Donaldson looking. That was one of his best pitches of the night.

5. Despite the Blue Jays featuring seven right-handed bats in their starting lineup, Gausman continued to use his split-changeup as his go-to secondary pitch and didn’t throw a single slider, according to Statcast. That’s an interesting development.

6. Thanks to the off-day, Buck Showalter was able to deploy his bullpen earlier than normal as Gausman was pulled after 99 pitches with a one-out jam in the sixth. That’s the kind of bullpen chain the Orioles have too frequently lacked over Zach Britton’s absence.

7. Mychal Givens was wild in the sixth, but he got Kendrys Morales to expand the zone for a strikeout to leave the bases loaded and then calmed down to toss a perfect seventh. His ability to pitch more than one inning as been huge all season for an undermanned bullpen.

8. The last seven weeks of Orioles baseball haven’t been easy, but watching Jonathan Schoop continue to grow as an offensive force has been fun. His two-out hits in the first and third started both of Baltimore’s scoring rallies on Tuesday.

9. I’ll never grow tired of watching encounters between Darren O’Day and Jose Bautista. The veteran reliever came out on top this time and has looked sharp in three scoreless innings since returning from the disabled list Friday night.

10. Brad Brach allowed a two-out home run to Troy Tulowitzki in the ninth, the first run he’d allowed since May 16. Other than his struggles from late April through early May, he’s done a commendable job filling in for Britton.

11. Hyun Soo Kim drew two walks, but he’s only 7-for-31 without an extra-base hit since the Chris Davis injury more than two weeks ago that led to more playing time for the left fielder. His season on-base plus slugging percentage is just .620.

12. The Orioles were one strike away from pitching a shutout four days after tying the major league record for allowing five or more runs in their 20th consecutive game. Baseball’s funny.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 15-7 win over St. Louis

Posted on 17 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles scoring a season-high total of runs in a 15-7 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles lineup took out some frustration by scoring nine runs over the first two innings and producing their highest single-game total since Aug. 16, 2015. With Baltimore scoring 10 or more runs twice in the last four games, you hope it’s the start of some extended prosperity.

2. Jonathan Schoop continues to be one of the club’s best players as he homered twice and tied a career high with four hits. He’s struggled defensively as an error led to a run in the first, but his .888 on-base plus slugging percentage is easily a career high thus far.

3. Even with 15 runs, Buck Showalter was forced to use his best two active relievers to record the final 10 outs after St. Louis had cut the deficit to five and loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth. The current state of this bullpen is frightening.

4. Mychal Givens cleaned up the mess created by others and calmed down a suddenly-uncomfortable situation with a strikeout of Eric Fryer to end the top of the sixth. He would throw a career-high 42 pitches in completing 2 1/3 scoreless innings. That was critical work.

5. Wade Miley would have liked to have been more productive after being staked to a 9-1 lead, but the standard is so low with this rotation right now that he received a standing ovation after 5 2/3 frames. At least his outing wasn’t as awful as others we’ve seen recently?

6. Manny Machado sent a 113.2 mph missile into the Orioles bullpen for a two-run homer in the second and made a fantastic defensive play to end the top of the eighth. Yes, he has struggled in 2017, but he’s still special to watch.

7. J.J. Hardy delivered a two-run double to begin the scoring in a seven-run second and later added another RBI double. Any offense you get from the 34-year-old shortstop is a rarity at this point, but he had a strong day.

8. Alec Asher was moved back into a relief role this weekend in an effort to help solidify the bullpen, but he couldn’t record an out in the process of giving up a home run and two singles in the sixth inning. Yikes.

9. Adam Wainwright has now allowed nine earned runs in two of his last three starts. I suppose it’s comforting to know Orioles starters aren’t the only ones putting ugly numbers on the scoreboard recently.

10. Had you ever heard of Paul DeJong before? The No. 9 hitter extraordinaire has looked like Babe Ruth against Baltimore pitching this weekend as he homered for the second straight game.

11. How often do you see a line drive just past a lunging shortstop go all the way to the left-center wall? Trey Mancini absolutely smoked that ball with a 108.7 mph exit velocity in the second inning.

12. Even in victory, the Orioles allowed at least five runs for the 14th consecutive game, which is a franchise record. The 1924 Philadelphia Phillies hold the major league record at 20 games, according to Baseball Reference play index data going back to 1913.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-5 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 07 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles rallying late to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 6-5 final in 10 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jonathan Schoop was the hero with two home runs, including a 423-foot bomb deep into the right-center bleachers to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. With others in the Baltimore lineup struggling to find consistency, Schoop is leading the way with a .525 slugging percentage.

2. Mark Trumbo provided his third walk-off hit of 2017, but it wouldn’t have been possible had Adam Jones not wisely tagged up on Manny Machado’s fly ball to the left-field wall. It’s the kind of play that more players should make, but that makes you appreciate Jones that much more.

3. Chris Davis not only started the comeback with a solo homer to start the bottom of the seventh, but his single to right-center after being down 0-2 to begin the ninth prompted Schoop to walk to the plate as the tying run. Don’t forget Davis’ contributions in the unlikely win.

4. Kevin Gausman settled in after the second inning, but it’s difficult to recover statistically from a three-run frame. Neither David Freese nor Josh Bell hit their singles hard to start the second, but Gausman allowed run-scoring hits by Andrew McCutchen and John Jaso after being ahead 0-2 on each.

5. Watching Gausman pitch with a lead is bordering on painful now. It was only a 1-0 advantage after one, but you wonder how much his recent track record of failing to protect advantages is wearing on him mentally at this point.

6. Gausman was receiving much of the blame from fans, but the Orioles offense looked like it was on its way to another lifeless night before the late innings. Baltimore entered Tuesday ranked 20th in the majors in runs scored per game. That must get better.

7. Watching Ivan Nova pitch on Tuesday makes you wish the Orioles could steal away Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage for a while. He has done wonders with the former Yankee as well as other reclamation projects like J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano in recent years.

8. Donnie Hart isn’t inspiring any confidence on the mound since his recent return from Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles need the left-hander to find the kind of groove he enjoyed late last year and in the first few weeks of 2017.

9. Seeing Mychal Givens touch 98 and 99 mph on the radar gun was impressive enough in a scoreless eighth, but lefties are now hitting .152 against him after they feasted a year ago to the tune of a 1.025 on-base plus slugging percentage.

10. Darren O’Day was scored upon for just the second time since May 8, but he’d be the first to tell you that walking Adam Frazier after being ahead 0-2 with two outs in the ninth was a bad omen.

11. J.J. Hardy is now slugging .295 and owns a .536 OPS. He still plays good defense and there isn’t a logical alternative beyond moving Manny Machado over to shortstop and opening a new hole at third base, but his offense is becoming a major concern.

12. With the Orioles losing a number of winnable games over the last few weeks, seeing them prevail in a game they didn’t have much business having was encouraging.

 

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Saturday’s loss illustrates problem keeping Jimenez in Orioles bullpen

Posted on 04 June 2017 by Luke Jones

Orioles manager Buck Showalter was criticized as soon as Ubaldo Jimenez jogged in from the bullpen to pitch the top of the eighth inning on Saturday night.

Trailing only 2-1 to the Boston Red Sox, the Orioles still had a decent chance, prompting many fans to see red even before Jimenez gave up two runs to make it a three-run deficit entering the bottom of the eighth. The harsh reaction was fair with the struggling veteran now sporting a horrendous 6.89 ERA, but it illustrates how problematic stashing him in the bullpen is for a club currently without its All-Star closer or a starting rotation consistently pitching deep into games.

Asked why he used Jimenez in a one-run game, Showalter said right-handers Mike Wright and Mychal Givens were unavailable because of their recent workload and that he wasn’t going to use top relievers Brad Brach or Darren O’Day unless the Orioles had a lead. That left Jimenez and Donnie Hart as his only options to begin the eighth after Richard Bleier had already pitched two scoreless innings.

You may disagree with the philosophy of taking O’Day and Brach out of the equation there, but Showalter shying away from using his top relievers when the Orioles have trailed late in a game is hardly a new development. Especially with Zach Britton on the disabled list, the Baltimore skipper is trying to keep his best relievers fresh for the most winnable games, which will lead to some instances such as Saturday’s when he won’t use his best bullets despite facing only a small deficit. It looks strange when it happens and draws plenty of detractors, but there’s a method to his madness that’s worked extremely well for a long time with last year’s wild-card game being the ugly exception.

Yes, Showalter could have used Hart to begin the eighth, but the lefty specialist hasn’t been pitching well, either, and was only recently recalled from Triple-A Norfolk after being demoted last month for ineffectiveness. We don’t know how Hart might have fared against the top of the Boston order in the eighth, but he gave up a run in the following inning to make it a four-run deficit.

There was also the reality of Craig Kimbrel and his 0.75 ERA looming and the Orioles offense having, at most, three outs to work with before the Boston closer would be summoned. Showalter probably would have considered using O’Day — who briefly warmed up in the bullpen after Manny Machado homered to lead off the bottom of the seventh to make it 2-1 — had he known Kimbrel would give up his first two hits of the season against right-handed batters and allow a run for the first time since April 20. Managers don’t have the benefit of a crystal ball when making those decisions, however, and using your best relievers when you’re already losing and will be facing a terrific closer isn’t a great bet and will likely harm you more than help you in the long run.

Critics will say that’s waving the white flag, but you just can’t play every day of a 162-game schedule like it’s the seventh game of the World Series if you want to keep your bullpen healthy and effective.

I won’t argue if you want to blame Showalter for Saturday’s loss, but the real problem is having Jimenez in the bullpen and not having any trust that he can pitch in a semi-meaningful situation from time to time. In today’s game with such heavy bullpen use, few clubs are equipped to carry a long reliever who can neither be optioned to the minors nor be trusted to keep his team close when trailing by a run or two when other pitchers need a break. If Jimenez is relegated solely to mop-up duty, the Orioles will essentially be limiting themselves to a six-man bullpen most nights, and we already saw how that turned out earlier this season.

Asked last month about the possibility of Jimenez moving to a relief role before he was subsequently removed from the starting rotation in favor of Alec Asher, Showalter posed the question of whether that would be good for the Orioles bullpen.

We got our answer Saturday night.

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Time for Orioles to reset bullpen — and find more quality

Posted on 17 May 2017 by Luke Jones

The idea of a six-man bullpen sounded good in theory for the Orioles.

Wanting to keep an extra position player for more flexibility off the bench late in games and having a collection of long relievers with minor-league options on the Norfolk shuttle, manager Buck Showalter tried to maneuver his way through games with at least one fewer reliever available on any given night. The plan may have worked had All-Star closer Zach Britton not re-injured his left forearm upon being activated from the disabled list in early May.

But the failure of the experiment came to a climax in Detroit Tuesday night with the kind of bullpen meltdown that’s been rare in these parts for a long time. Before putting Mychal Givens, Brad Brach, and Donnie Hart on full blast for their efforts in Detroit — and, yes, their performance was brutal — realize there are multiple reasons why the six-man bullpen hasn’t worked.

Many have fairly pointed to the lack of quantity in the bullpen, but the issue is as much about the need for more quality. You can argue that Showalter has relied too heavily on his top relievers in Britton’s absence if you want, but then you have to accept those times when he’s tried others in tight spots — like Alec Asher and Vidal Nuno during the recent four-game losing streak — and it hasn’t worked. Last year’s wild-card game in Toronto reminded us that the Orioles manager is hardly beyond reproach and maybe Darren O’Day’s recent shoulder issue should have landed him on the DL in favor of another healthy arm, but Showalter’s track record for managing a bullpen speaks for itself over the last five years and any skipper is going to look foolish when his top relievers perform like they have recently.

The Orioles need to find another bullpen arm — maybe two — who can be trusted in the sixth, seventh, or eighth inning of a close game, whether that guy is currently in their minor-league system or elsewhere. Frankly, a seventh pitcher in the bullpen isn’t going to help much if he can only be relied upon in mop-up situations.

The starting rotation hasn’t helped with Dylan Bundy being the only one offering both quality and length in his outings this season. Wade Miley’s 3.02 ERA looks good at first glance, but he’s averaging just over five innings per start and walking nearly six batters per nine innings. Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez both have ERAs above 6.00 while Chris Tillman is still building shoulder strength in his recent return from the disabled list. It doesn’t take a pitching guru to figure out what strain that kind of a rotation can have on a bullpen.

Until scoring 21 runs over the last two games, the offense also deserved blame for scoring at a below-average level over much of the first six weeks of the season and putting so much pressure on late-inning relief. All those narrow, low-scoring victories that we saw in April and early May take their toll on higher-leverage relievers when the starting rotation is averaging 5.4 innings per start and the best closer on the planet is on the DL. This roster was constructed to have an above-average offense that will hit gobs of home runs to give the pitching some breathing room from time to time at the very least. Instead, the Orioles continue to lead the league in save opportunities.

You can only hope the recent awakening of Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo is a sign of better things to come for the offense.

Even without Britton, the rest of the bullpen is too good to continue like this. There’s little reason to think guys like Brach, O’Day, and Givens can’t return to pitching at a high level if they can stay healthy and relatively fresh, but they also have to take accountability for their own performance and rise up to get the job done without their normal ninth-inning man behind them.

The group must find a way to keep its head above water until Britton returns, which the Orioles hope will be sometime next month.

Still, you get the sense that the Orioles will need to average five or six runs per game more consistently to continue winning games in the short term. That and some reasonable improvement from the rotation would go a long way in calming the current relief crisis.

It’s time to reset the bullpen by adding a seventh man and auditioning the likes of Edwin Jackson, Stefan Crichton, and Jimmy Yacabonis for a legitimate middle-relief role. Perhaps the idea of using Mike Wright in middle relief should be revisited with several starting options ahead of him in the pecking order backing up the current rotation.

But a return to a seven-man bullpen may not matter if the group doesn’t get help from the rest of the roster.

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Orioles offense not making life easier for undermanned bullpen

Posted on 13 May 2017 by Luke Jones

We knew life wouldn’t be easy for the Orioles bullpen with two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton back on the disabled list.

But the sight of recently-recalled long reliever Vidal Nuno pitching in the eighth inning of a 2-2 game in Kansas City on Friday — the night after a rainout, no less — was jarring, and the result was predictable as he allowed the go-ahead run to score. The immediate reaction was to criticize the Orioles’ insistence on carrying a five-man bench in lieu of the seven-man bullpen that’s become standard in today’s game. The sentiment is more than fair when manager Buck Showalter regularly has just three or four relievers available on a given night with designs of keeping the bullpen healthy for the long haul.

Is the problem a lack of quantity or quality in the bullpen, however?

Sure, the Orioles could option Joey Rickard to the minor leagues, designate veteran Craig Gentry for assignment, or even look to trade the buried Hyun Soo Kim to open a roster spot for an additional bullpen arm. But does that merely open the door for another long reliever in the bullpen that Showalter can’t trust in close games or can the club find someone — at least in the mold of a Tommy Hunter or a Chaz Roe circa 2015 — that can be mostly trusted in the sixth, seventh, or occasionally the eighth inning? Perhaps that answer can become an Alec Asher or even a Norfolk reliever such as Stefan Crichton or Jimmy Yacabonis in the near future.

There’s another solution, however, that would help the Orioles as Britton continues to recover in Sarasota and Brad Brach and Darren O’Day try to regain their previous dominant forms of recent seasons.

The offense needs to pick it up.

The Orioles entered Saturday just 21st in the majors in runs scored per game (4.4) and have scored the fewest per game of the top 10 major league clubs in winning percentage. Known for the long ball, Baltimore ranks only 13th of 30 clubs in home runs so far in 2017.

They haven’t played an extraordinary number of one-run games –Baltimore does own a superb 8-3 record in that department — but the Orioles lead the majors with 21 save opportunities and just four of their 22 victories have come by more than three runs. In contrast, 11 of the New York Yankees’ 21 wins have been by a margin of four or more. In other words, the Orioles have needed to lean heavily on their best bullpen arms despite Britton now being absent for the better part of a month. Even when they’ve been successful in those tight games, there’s a price to pay for at least the next game or two after that.

Showalter wouldn’t have to worry about the availability of Brach or O’Day as frequently if his offense could provide more breathing room from time to time. Drop-off from the bullpen was inevitable with Britton on the shelf, but the Orioles lineup hasn’t really been at less than full strength beyond the current absence of catcher Welington Castillo, who has been more than adequately replaced by backup Caleb Joseph for the time being.

Now more than a fifth of the way through the season, the major league home run leaders from the last two years — Chris Davis (2015) and Mark Trumbo (2016) — entered Saturday with slugging percentages lower than Joseph’s and have hit a combined eight home runs. Shortstop J.J. Hardy has provided a timely hit or two, but his .534 on-base plus slugging percentage was the seventh worst among qualified major league hitters.

Is it more realistic to expect a collection of relievers on the Norfolk shuttle to start pitching like legitimate late-inning arms or to ask the offense to produce at a higher level to ease the relief burden? The Orioles will need some combination of both to continue playing at a high level in Britton’s absence, but the roster was built in the offseason with the vision of having an above-average offense that would hit a ton of homers.

Despite their overall success so far in 2017, the Orioles continue to wait for their lineup to fully awaken.

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Even by Orioles standards, superb start to 2017 tough to explain

Posted on 11 May 2017 by Luke Jones

We’ve been here before talking about the Orioles.

After another offseason in which the projection models and pundits didn’t like their chances in the American League East, the Orioles are off to their best start of the Buck Showalter era. Now a fifth of the way through the season, Baltimore entered Thursday on pace to win 108 games despite playing 24 of its first 27 games against division opponents and 21 contests against clubs currently above .500. It’s hardly been a cupcake schedule for the Orioles, who own a winning record on the road and the best home mark in the majors.

Veteran starting pitcher Chris Tillman and All-Star closer Zach Britton have missed most of the season with the latter not expected to return until the latter half of June at the earliest. Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman has a 6.63 ERA through his first eight starts. Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis have a total of eight home runs and both have slugging percentages under .400 so far. Even Manny Machado is hitting just .227 despite leading the club in homers and RBIs.

Of course, the Orioles have had their share of surprises, too, with Dylan Bundy looking every bit the part of an ace over his first seven starts, Wade Miley overcoming a slew of walks to pitch to a 2.45 ERA, and Trey Mancini ranking second on the club in home runs, but how do you best explain a .667 winning percentage through the first 33 games?

The stock answer for most of their success since 2012 has been home runs and strong bullpen work, but even those assumed strengths have been only slightly above average through the first 5 1/2 weeks of the season.

The Orioles entered Thursday sixth in the AL in both home runs and bullpen ERA. The offense ranks seventh in the league in runs and eighth in on-base plus slugging percentage. The rotation has been better than expected without Tillman, but Baltimore still ranks just seventh of 15 AL clubs in starter ERA. It hasn’t been about elite defense, either, as the Orioles are tied for 12th in the AL in defensive runs saved.

In other words, everything about this club has been ordinary except its win-loss record, which is paramount and clearly nothing for which to apologize. An 8-2 record in one-run games and a plus-13 run differential reflect good fortune in amassing a 22-11 record, but the best way to describe the 2017 Orioles so far is to say they’ve been been really good at being opportunistic.

Their .303 batting average with runners in scoring position ranks second in the AL and their pitcher win probability added (WPA) leads the league, which are both indicators of “clutch” performance. The offense has been good when it’s absolutely needed to be while the pitching has been at its best in many high-leverage moments.

Even the most optimistic of fans would concede that the Orioles won’t continue winning two-thirds of their games, but such a strong start has given them some breathing room to tread water if we assume the young and surprising New York Yankees aren’t going to keep winning at their same impressive rate, either.

It’s reasonable to expect the likes of Trumbo, Davis, and Gausman to pick up their production while acknowledging the likelihood of regression for Bundy, Miley, and Mancini, but the bullpen has to be the biggest concern even before Wednesday’s meltdown in Washington. A healthy Britton was never going to be as dominant as he was in his historic 2016, but you just don’t replace the man who ranked second on last year’s club at 4.3 wins above replacement and led all major league pitchers in WPA by a wide margin. The 2016 AL Reliever of the Year made up for plenty of deficiencies last season that would have otherwise prevented the Orioles from qualifying for the postseason for the third time in five years.

Making matters more difficult for Showalter is the current five-man bench, which leaves the Orioles with just six arms in the bullpen on a given night. Yes, the organization has effectively used the Norfolk shuttle to receive some meaningful contributions in long relief, but you’d prefer having another reliable middle-to-late relief option to use in the sixth, seventh, or eighth inning in a given night. It’s a lot to ask of Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens, and Donnie Hart to pick up the slack in Britton’s absence, and we’ve seen each struggle at times with Brach and his 10.29 ERA since April 28 most recently receiving the loudest criticism.

For now, the Orioles can feel good about their terrific start knowing they haven’t come close to firing on all cylinders yet. But if they’re going to continue to flourish, their old reliables must emerge sooner than later. The home runs need to start flying out of the ballpark more frequently and the bullpen must find a way to tighten up until Britton is hopefully ready to return early in the summer.

The latter is easier said than done, but if anyone can figure out the current relief puzzle, it’s Showalter. Once again, his club is showing to be greater than the sum of its parts.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-4 win over Yankees

Posted on 30 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles avoiding a three-game sweep in a 7-4 win over the New York Yankees in 11 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. In what was sure to be one of the strangest games of the entire season, the Orioles battled back to salvage a win in what was a pretty miserable series. I’d imagine that Buck Showalter and his club couldn’t have been happier to leave the Bronx on Sunday evening.

2. The game would have ended in the 10th inning had Welington Castillo not made a terrific short-hop pick on J.J. Hardy’s throw to the plate for a force. Castillo added to that effort with three hits and an RBI single to give the Orioles more breathing room in the 11th.

3. If someone had told you Friday afternoon that Logan Verrett would be pitching in the 10th inning on Sunday, you’d guess that the series didn’t go well, but the right-hander did great work despite his mental gaffe on Brett Gardner’s bunt. He pitched two scoreless frames to collect the win.

4. The Orioles bullpen had done superb work in Zach Britton’s absence prior to this weekend, but Darren O’Day joined Brad Brach in blowing consecutive save chances against the Yankees. Fortunately, the All-Star closer is expected to be activated this week.

5. The Yankees handling an 11th-inning rundown like a Little League team allowed the third run of the inning to score. After what happened in the ninth, the Orioles needed all the scoring they could get to make Verrett’s job easier.

6. Joey Rickard’s stolen base was the pivotal moment in the 11th and the third of the game for the Orioles, the first time they’ve swiped that many in a single contest since Aug. 19, 2015. As former Kansas City nemesis Jarrod Dyson once said, “That’s what speed do.”

7. You won’t find too many pitching lines weirder than what Wade Miley produced as he gave up only two runs in five innings despite allowing a whopping 13 baserunners. His escape acts in the second, third, and fourth innings kept the Orioles in the ballgame.

8. Walks continue to be an issue for Miley and the Orioles staff as he walked at least five for the third time in five starts and Darren O’Day walked two in a brutal ninth. Baltimore is walking 4.2 batters per nine innings this season, up from 3.4 in 2016.

9. Before the blown save and extra-inning theatrics, Jonathan Schoop had been the player of the game for the Orioles with the go-ahead RBI double in the sixth and a sensational defensive play in the seventh. His .538 slugging percentage is tops among Orioles everyday players.

10. He hasn’t been asked to pitch the ninth inning, but Mychal Givens has been the MVP of the bullpen while Britton has been sidelined. Asked to pitch more than one inning again on Sunday, the right-hander pitched two scoreless to lower his season ERA to 1.29.

11. I don’t recall watching a game in which a pitcher threw an inning, moved to another position, and then returned to the mound like Bryan Mitchell did for the Yankees. It was creative maneuvering by Joe Girardi, but Mitchell gave up three in the 11th inning to take the loss.

12. After Mark Trumbo drove in the go-ahead run in the 11th and hit a grand slam on Friday night, the Orioles can only hope that he’s finally getting the bat going after a difficult start to 2017.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-3 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 25 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles hitting three home runs in a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Buck Showalter rarely makes much out of a single win or loss over a 162-game season, but he expressed great pride over his club’s effort on a night when the weather was miserable and no more than a few thousand people were at the ballpark.

2. Adam Jones led that effort with a 3-for-3 performance, which included the game-winning two-run shot in the seventh. He entered the game 4-for-32 in his career against Chris Archer, but he exacted some revenge. His dependability in all conditions is rare and not lost on Showalter or his teammates.

3. Archer hadn’t allowed a home run to the first 130 batters he’d faced in 2017 before the Orioles clubbed three long balls in a five-hitter span in the sixth and seventh innings. That’s the definition of an outing crumbling quickly.

4. Ubaldo Jimenez throwing more balls than strikes and issuing five walks in 3 1/3 innings told the story of his abysmal start. Shane Peterson’s two-run double in the fourth appeared to be foul, but that can’t excuse Jimenez’s inability to build on his strong start in Cincinnati last week.

5. Jimenez was saved from further damage by Vidal Nuno, who struck out both Corey Dickerson and Kevin Kiermaier looking to leave the bases loaded in the fourth. The lefty long man pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings and did a superb job keeping the Orioles in the game.

6. A combined 12 walks between the teams made for a difficult product to watch. During one stretch in the third and fourth innings, eight of nine Rays hitters and five out of six Orioles didn’t even put the ball in play as strikeouts and walks dominated the action.

7. It’s no secret that starts have been sporadic for Hyun Soo Kim due to the high number of opposing lefty starters, but he took advantage of his first start since last Thursday, drawing a walk in the fourth and hitting the first homer of the night off Archer.

8. Jonathan Schoop has been on the back end of all three pairs of back-to-back homers hit by the Orioles this season. There’s nothing meaningful to take away from that, but it’s an interesting coincidence nonetheless. He continues to hit after a rough opening week.

9. Seeing Showalter use his bullpen without Zach Britton is hardly ideal for the Orioles, but it’s been fun as he once again unleashed Mychal Givens for multiple innings like he did against Boston over the weekend. He’s becoming an even more dangerous — and much-needed — weapon.

10. It was another rough night at the plate for Mark Trumbo, who left four men on base in his first two at-bats. He’s started fast most of his career, but that certainly hasn’t been the case in 2017.

11. The crowd at Camden Yards was very small but spirited on Monday. I was particularly amused by the group of fans who heckled Rays hitters by slowly chanting their names à la the classic Darryl Strawberry taunt. If you’re going to brave the elements, why not have some fun?

12. News of Boston pitcher Matt Barnes’ four-game suspension broke shortly before the game. Based on precedent, it’s what I expected. I fear it’s going to take a serious injury occurring for Major League Baseball to ever crack down on the pathetic act of intentionally throwing a baseball at a hitter.

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