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toronto

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2016 American League East preview

Posted on 04 April 2016 by Luke Jones

The Toronto Blue Jays became the first team with fewer than 95 victories to win the American League East since the 2000 season, a trend that will continue in another parity-driven season in 2016.

The AL East also held the best last-place team in the majors in 2015 as Boston finished just six games below .500

Below is a capsule of the five AL East clubs in their predicted order of finish:

1. TORONTO (2015 record: 93-69, first place)
Notable additions: SP J.A. Happ, RP Drew Storen
Notable losses: SP David Price, OF Ben Revere, LHP Mark Buehrle
Why to like them: This wasn’t just the best offense in baseball, but the Blue Jays scored 127 more runs than any other club in the AL while leading the way in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Why to dislike them: The free-agent departures of Price and the dependable Buehrle put a lot of pressure on a starting rotation that was solid but unspectacular in 2015.
Player to watch: The 24-year-old Marcus Stroman is being counted on as the ace despite having only made seven total starts (counting the postseason) after a serious knee injury last spring.
2016 outlook (91-71): Toronto’s pitching is a notable question mark, but that lineup is far and away the biggest strength that any of the five clubs in this division have.

2. TAMPA BAY (2015 record: 80-82, fourth place)
Notable additions: OF/DH Corey Dickerson, SS Brad Miller, 1B Logan Morrison, OF Steve Pearce
Notable losses: SP Nate Karns, RP Jake McGee, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, 1B/DH John Jaso
Why to like them: The Rays sport the best starting rotation in the AL East and are on track to get the accomplished Alex Cobb back from Tommy John surgery later this season.
Why to dislike them: Tampa Bay’s bullpen was ninth in the AL in ERA before trading away the hard-throwing McGee and the lineup is improved but still doesn’t scare you.
Player to watch: Should Drew Smyly and Matt Moore show that their injuries are finally behind them, the Rays rotation that already led the AL in ERA a year ago will be scary.
2016 outlook (88-74): The Rays made just enough offensive improvement to propel themselves into contention and will snag one of the two wild cards in the AL.

3. BOSTON (2015 record: 78-84, fifth place)
Notable additions: SP David Price, RHP Craig Kimbrel, RHP Carson Smith, OF Chris Young
Notable losses: SP Wade Miley, SP Rich Hill
Why to like them: The Red Sox acquired the ace that they desperately needed and a dominant closer to go along with one of the best offenses in the AL.
Why to dislike them: There are still too many question marks in the rotation behind Price and there may not be enough bullpen depth to get to the dominant Kimbrel in the ninth inning.
Player to watch: The Hanley Ramirez outfield experience was a disaster in 2015, so the Red Sox are hoping a move to first base will help them collect on their hefty free-agent investment.
2016 outlook (85-77): There is clear upside with a club that played better late in 2015, but there are still too many questions about the pitching to make Boston the AL East favorite.

4. BALTIMORE (2015 record: 81-81, third place)
Notable additions: SP Yovani Gallardo, OF Mark Trumbo, DH Pedro Alvarez
Notable losses: SP Wei-Yin Chen, SP Miguel Gonzalez, OF Steve Pearce, OF Gerardo Parra
Why to like them: An offense that finished third in the AL in homers added two more bats with 30-homer power and the AL’s third-best bullpen could be better with Mychal Givens and Dylan Bundy.
Why to dislike them: The Orioles finished next to last in the AL in starter ERA and lost their most dependable starter (Chen) while replacing him with Gallardo, a solid veteran with declining stuff.
Player to watch: Kevin Gausman will begin the year on the disabled list, but his development is key in determining whether the starting rotation can improve enough to make the Orioles a viable contender.
2016 outlook (80-82): An offense that will hit a ton of home runs and a terrific bullpen won’t be able to overcome a starting rotation that needed to be upgraded and wasn’t this winter.

5. NEW YORK (2015 record: 87-75, second place)
Notable additions: RP Aroldis Chapman, 2B Starlin Castro, OF Aaron Hicks
Notable losses: SP Adam Warren, RP Justin Wilson, OF Chris Young
Why to like them: Once Chapman returns from suspension, the Yankees will sport the scariest bullpen trio in the majors and will be able to shorten games even more than they did in 2015.
Why to dislike them: New York finished 10th in the AL in starter ERA and is depending on too many veteran position players in the heart of the lineup to fight off Father Time.
Player to watch: Much attention will fall on Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, but the key for the rotation will be whether Michael Pineda establishes himself as a legitimate No. 1-caliber starter.
2016 outlook (78-84): The lineup is littered with too many older players who won’t manage to stay as healthy and productive as they did last year when the Yankees secured a wild card.

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hardy

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Orioles should copy Mets’ plan for David Wright with one of own

Posted on 15 February 2016 by Luke Jones

Last spring, the question was whether shortstop J.J. Hardy would bounce back from a season in which he hit only nine home runs, by far his lowest total in four years with the Orioles.

A year later, the Orioles would gladly take his 2014 production — which still included a .268 average and a .682 on-base plus slugging percentage —  after the worst season of his 11-year career in the majors in 2015. Playing all year with a torn labrum in his left shoulder and also dealing with back and groin issues, Hardy hit just .219 with eight homers, 37 RBIs, and an anemic .564 OPS.

The 33-year-old was a shell of the hitter who clubbed 25 homers and posted a .738 OPS just two years earlier as an All-Star Game starter and the AL Silver Slugger winner at shortstop.

With Hardy still owed $26.5 million over the next two years, manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles must figure out the best way to maximize the veteran infielder’s production, especially after he elected to rehab his shoulder in lieu of surgery this offseason. Hardy told reporters at FanFest in December that he underwent labrum surgery on the same shoulder when he was playing in the minor leagues and didn’t want to repeat a process that took 12 months until he felt like himself again.

The Orioles would be wise to adopt a plan similar to what the New York Mets intend to do with veteran third baseman David Wright, who is also 33. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said over the weekend that Wright, who missed more than four months last season due to spinal stenosis, will play a maximum of 130 games in 2016 in hopes of keeping him fresh with scheduled days off.

Hardy’s shoulder injury coupled with chronic back issues over the last few years should make it an easy call for the Orioles to treat their shortstop in a similar fashion. Though he missed 48 games in 2015, 39 came with Hardy on the disabled list and he rarely received routine days off that weren’t related to injury, evident from the 59 consecutive starts he made from June 5 through Aug. 11.

With Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado more than capable of playing his natural shortstop position and utility man Ryan Flaherty filling in at third, there’s no reason not to give Hardy routine days off over the course of a 162-game schedule at this point, especially if it helps keep him more productive at the plate.

More rest doesn’t mean Hardy will return to his pre-2014 levels of offense, but his strikeout rate increased from 11.3 percent in 2013 all the way to 20.1 percent in 2015. He’s also not pulling the ball (40.1 percent of the time in 2015 compared to his 44.5 percent career mark) or making hard contact (23.7 percent in 2015 compared to 29.9 percent in 2014) as frequently, according to FanGraphs.

Hardy’s rapid decline probably isn’t all because of injuries as middle infielders don’t age well historically, but the Orioles would be wise to do everything they can to keep him as productive as possible at the plate and in the field. That plan should no longer include the expectation of him playing every day.

If the Orioles can slow Father Time’s impact and Hardy can post numbers at least closer to what he did in 2014, the club will be better for it as he was worth 3.3 wins above replacement that season, according to Baseball Reference. The three-time Gold Glove winner posted a 0.0 WAR last season, and only his above-average defense (a 1.1 defensive WAR) neutralized his negative offensive value.

Even Hardy acknowledged that more scheduled days off would “probably” help his production when asked about the possibility in mid-December.

“It’ll be up to Buck,” said Hardy, who reiterated that he wants to play as much as he can if healthy. “If he puts me in there, I’m going to do what I can.”

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superbowlxxxv

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Super Bowl XXXV provided happy end to long wait for Baltimore

Posted on 28 January 2016 by Luke Jones

“They don’t know how fast we are. They don’t know.”

Those words were uttered by Ravens coach Brian Billick in the opening moments of Super Bowl XXXV 15 years ago, a game for which Baltimore had waited a very long time.

It had been 30 years since a team representing Charm City had played in the Super Bowl, a period of time that included the final gloomy seasons with the Colts before they left for Indianapolis in 1984 and the 12 years that followed without an NFL franchise. In their first four seasons, the Ravens were only known to the rest of the league as Art Modell’s renamed franchise that had broken hearts in Cleveland by moving to Baltimore in 1996.

Even as the team rose to prominence in 2000, the dark cloud of Ray Lewis standing trial for murder earlier in the year was all the rest of the country saw as the Ravens advanced to their first Super Bowl by winning the AFC championship in Oakland. The two weeks that followed consisted of media predictably rehashing the trial and then crushing Billick for lashing out at reporters for doing so. And despite the Ravens being the favorite in Las Vegas, many continued singing the praises of the New York Giants after their 41-0 demolition of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game.

But, finally, the day had come in Tampa.

The game on Jan. 28, 2001 wasn’t as much a challenge as it was validation for the Ravens and their fans. What the rest of the country saw as arrogance from the hated Lewis and his teammates was merely knowledge of the inevitable after the Ravens had beaten Tennessee in the divisional round, the game that proved to be the unofficial Super Bowl of the 2000 season.

The Ravens knew they were going to beat the Giants. Now was the time to show everyone else — whether they liked it or not — just how fast and how great they were.

The three-plus hours that followed showcased how special the Ravens defense was, holding New York without an offensive score and forcing five turnovers in a 34-7 blowout. Baltimore was back on top of the football world before Indianapolis had ever reached the pinnacle and after Paul Tagliabue had callously suggested the city build a museum when an expansion bid was unsuccessful seven years earlier.

The NFL commissioner was now forced to hand over the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

For Baltimoreans who remembered the Colts, the success of the Ravens had helped make their football history whole again. And younger fans now understood what they’d been missing all those years as their parents and grandparents shared memories of Johnny Unitas and Lenny Moore and Bert Jones on lonely Sundays in the fall.

Those hugs and embraces with loved ones in the closing moments of Super Bowl XXXV were so special as was the celebratory parade in the pouring rainy just a couple days later.

It was a long wait, but the Ravens had finally shown the rest of the football world that Baltimore was good enough after all.

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angelos1

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Orioles, Nats and MASN Money for Dummies: A complete primer on how Peter Angelos has lied and pocketed your dough

Posted on 03 January 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

“What you can expect, though, that those that comment – putting aside the fellow you mentioned (Nestor Aparicio), who you know is not even worthy of getting into that (chuckles), it really makes no sense to respond to him – the responsible people, who know baseball and who are baseball fans – the writers like you (Stan Charles) – if they want to criticize, they better look at the economics. They owe it to the public to explain to whoever is interested that the problem is disparity in revenues. Now, I have heard some of them mention that this MASN development might really generate some real funds, which would permit the Orioles to spend more money. That’s a pretty strong acknowledgment that the key to all this, to get off the losing years and so on, is more money invested on the field. And obviously, with that becoming available, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to do that because we are hometown and we are sensitive to what the public is thinking. I know a lot of Baltimore fans, and, just personally, I want them to feel like I am responding to their wishes.”

Peter G. Angelos, May 2006

(as told to PressBox via Q&A)

PETER G. ANGELOS DOESN’T WANT YOU to know about the billions of dollars he has collected, dispensed and quietly usurped from local sports fans from six states via your cable television bill. It’s time for someone who is “responsible” to do the math on where all of that money has gone over the last 10 years as the Orioles. and its spinoff cable TV partner the Mid Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), have become a virtual annuity for the owner here in Baltimore.

Clearly, given the dozen years that he’s fought with his Major League Baseball partners, Bud Selig, Rob Manfred and now Ted Lerner and the Washington Nationals over this incredible sum of “found” money, surely there must some large pot of gold somewhere? The Washington Post wrote that it was $298 million in dispute from 2011 to 2015 after the New York Supreme Court hearing in early November. But that’s just the tip of the financial iceberg – a small number compared to all of the money that’s been flushed through MASN since it was berthed as a olive branch to Angelos by then-commissioner Bud Selig for allowing baseball back into the nation’s capital in 2005.

Over the last decade, I’ve been portrayed as a liar or a heretic by Peter G. Angelos and his media partners. After 21 years with a Baltimore Orioles media credential, my access was taken away by the club in 2007.

However, my track record still stands as unblemished heading into 2016.

I always tell the truth and write the truth. (That’s why you’re here.)

As you’ll see, I’ve put in all of the work for you – a little “term paper” for you oldtimers who spent time with microfiche in a lonely library – so you can learn about this history and realities of how the Nationals came into existence and what it’s meant for Baltimore and Washington baseball and the fans.

This series of facts is presented with two educational goals:

  • Track everything that was said – and very openly in the “mainstream” media – a decade ago when Angelos began this power struggle for the future money of Washington, D.C. and what he considered his market
  • Document everything that has happened since he began this trail of lies in search of all of the money that was designed and originally earmarked to improve the Baltimore Orioles

Everything presented in this series will be linked to major media entities like Forbes, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, The New York Times, ESPN/Grantland, Sports Illustrated, USA Today and various reports with financial annotations. I’ve always been accountable in my work. Meanwhile, accountability is always completely absent from the mind and spirit of Angelos and his …

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You can not stop the Washington Capitals right now, in fact, you can't even contain them.

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Caps Dig Early Hole, Then Demolish the Rangers, 7-3

Posted on 20 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

In case you’ve been living under a rock since October, I have a memo for you:

The 2015-16 Washington Capitals are really good.

For the second straight contest, the Caps put themselves behind the eight ball stinking up the first period and trailing, 3-1, in Madison Square Garden, before reeling off six straight goals to demolish the New York Rangers, 7-3. Sir Paul McCartney was in the house with his son and actually caught a puck in the 1st period when the Capitals, after taking an early 1-0 lead on a Justin Williams goal (2 goals, 1 assist), played a terrible final 10 minutes of the opening frame. During that stretch they were not physical, made turnover after turnover, and also took a bad penalty that yielded the third Blueshirts tally. Washington was out shot 15-7 in those first 20 minutes and it appeared that the New York curse over the Caps would continue.

But there were still 40 minutes to play and fresh off of their three goal rally on Friday night against Tampa, Washington knew if they settled down and played the heavy style their coach prefers, they would be able to get back in it. From the opening shift of the middle stanza, where Marcus Johansson hit the crossbar, this was all Washington. Shortly after killing off an early unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored after a Rangers turnover, that was pounced on by Dmitry Orlov (2 assists) in the slot. Wilson, who had just returned to the ice from feeling shame, went to the front of the net and distracted King Henrik Lundqvist on a goal that turned things around. Just less than two minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom (three assists) dumped the puck perfectly off of the right wing boards and the biscuit was picked up by T.J. Oshie, who buried it pass Lundqvist to tie the game just 7:01 into the 2nd period. Oshie went flying in the air on that goal and would miss some time in that period, but return and play the final 20 minutes.

At that point you could see the Rangers, who have been banged up and struggling, realize they were in trouble. The Capitals continued to pounce and drew two penalties (Andre Burakovsky and Wilson) that they finished thanks to outstanding power play feeds by Johansson (1 goal, two assists). Alex Ovechkin (17th goal) and Williams buried those passes and following 40 minutes, Coach Alain Vigneault pulled Lundqvist, who I’ve been suspected of being slightly injured for several weeks.

Ovechkin would take a hooking penalty early in period three, but the Capitals PK unit responded with Wilson chipping a puck out that gave Jason Chimera a breakaway on goalie, Magnus Hellberg. Chimmer made it look easy notching his eighth goal of the season to pretty much end this contest. Johansson would close out the scoring off of a sweet Kuznetsov feed from behind the net just over two minutes later and this one pretty much became a glorified preseason tilt from then on.

The musical legend McCartney would get up to leave late in the contest, presumably to go get his new Ovechkin jersey, and I couldn’t help but think that Blueshirt fans would’ve have liked him to crank out “Yesterday” seeing how the Caps have turned the tables totally on New York with the acquisitions of Williams and Oshie in the offseason.

The Caps are now 24-6-2 (50 points) and lead the Metropolitan Division by eight points over the Rangers with three games in hand. In the Eastern Conference, they are seven points up on Montreal with two games in hand and overall they are tied with the Dallas Stars for the best record in the NHL, but they have a game in hand. Bottom line, this team is really, really good.

But they can still get better, and that’s scary. Yes, they brought their “A” game over the last 40 minutes on Sunday, much like they did the last 20 minutes versus Tampa. Still, this team needs to get off to better starts and clean up some things in their own zone. When they do that and play a physical style, they are awfully hard to beat.

It was a huge victory for Washington on 33rd street on Sunday night with Manhattan fireworks that sent the Rangers faithful home after they thought they were going to get another big win versus the Caps. Barry Trotz and company played the role of “The Grinch” and buried a New York team that looks lost right now (3-9-2 in their last 14 games).

There has been a changing of the guard in the Metropolitan Division and the Caps own the keys to the castle with 50 games left in the regular season.

Notes: Washington plays its last game before the holiday break on Monday night in Carolina. The Hurricanes have been playing better lately (5-4-1), so this has the potential to be a trap game. Coach Trotz may very well go back with Braden Holtby (33 saves) given that the Holtbeast had that break on Friday night…the blowout win allowed the ice time to be spread out in preparation for Monday’s tilt in Raleigh. Taylor Chorney (1 assist, +3) logged 9:49 in the 3rd period and played a total of 18:40, a season high for him. Nate Schmidt, who had a key shot block that stung him early in period three, was able to be rested a bit and only played 15:19…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at a low figure of 22:13. Matt Niskanen logged 21:27, but no other Capital played over 20 minutes…the Rangers won the shot attempt battle, 66-52, but it was 23-12, New York, after one period (h/t to Dan Rosen of NHL.com)…the Caps lost the face off battle, 35-30, but Kuznetsov went 11-7…Washington was 2 for 3 on the power play while the Rags went 1 for 5.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Be sure to listen to 1570 AM Baltimore on Monday since I’ll be on air talking all things Washington Capitals with host and station owner, Nestor Aparacio. Listen Live via WNST.NET on your computer or mobile device.

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The best place to watch baseball in New York is in Queens...and it isn't really close

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MLB #GiveASpit Ballpark Ranking: No. 8 New York Mets

Posted on 07 September 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

NY Mets – While on other side of MLB in Gotham City they tore down the cathedral in The Bronx to build a larger, poorer, version of Yankee Stadium, over here in Queens they’ve upgraded the way George and Weezie once did in Manhattan. It’s just a great, thoughtful, user-friendly ballpark. From the upper deck to the outfield bleachers, from the club seats to the Ebbets Field overtures and Jackie Robinson inspiration, this place has something for anyone who loves baseball. It’s a cozy place to sit and watch a game, easy to get to from the train if you’re staying in Manhattan. And if you need a hubcap or some spare parts for your old Datsun, you can pick one up across the street. It made me wanna invest in a blue Oscar Madison Mets lid and jump on the “I Hate the Yankees train.” Highly recommend this place.

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urrutia

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Unlikely hero Urrutia provides feel-good moment for Orioles

Posted on 20 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Henry Urrutia may never hit another home run and the Orioles still may not qualify for the playoffs despite his dramatic game-winning blast in a 5-4 win over the New York Mets on Wednesday.

But it was a moment to savor as the 28-year-old Cuban outfielder became the fifth player in franchise history to club a walk-off shot for his first major league homer, joining Chris Hoiles (1990), Dave Criscione (1977), Jim Hardin (1969), and Merv Rettenmund (1968) in Orioles lore. Of that group, Criscione became one of the great one-hit wonders in club history in hitting a game-winning homer against Milwaukee despite receiving only 10 plate appearances in his major league career.

If we’re being honest, Wednesday was more likely to be Urrutia’s 15 minutes of fame rather than the start of a long run as the Orioles’ left fielder, but it was easy to feel good for a man who defected from Cuba in 2011 and eventually signed with the Orioles. After a disappointing run that included 58 major league plate appearances in 2013, Urrutia faded from the Orioles’ radar with an injury-riddled 2014 at Triple-A Norfolk and was having a solid but unspectacular season with the Tides before being recalled last weekend.

With Urrutia frequently being criticized for his inability to consistently pull the ball, there was something fitting about the left-handed hitter sending one into the left-field seats on a 1-2 pitch from Carlos Torres to give the Orioles their third walk-off victory of the homestand. As if the congratulatory pie to the face from Adam Jones wasn’t enough, Urrutia was later greeted in the hallway outside the Orioles clubhouse by a Mets fan who had come away with the home run ball.

Emotional as he described what it meant to receive the ball, Urrutia revealed he plans to share the souvenir with his 16-month old son, also named Henry Alexander.

“Wow, that’s the best gift for me tonight,” said Urrutia as he paused to compose himself. “Now, I can give that baseball to my son, and my son one day can say, ‘This is the first homer for my dad in the big leagues.'”

For the Orioles, Urrutia’s homer helped them to another win in a long season now having 43 contests remaining. But the accomplishment meant more to a man described as having high character and a good work ethic by countless members of the organization.

The mild-mannered Urrutia even apologized for the quality of his English — which is really quite good — during his post-game interview, admitting he was nervous while reflecting on his big moment.

In a performance-driven business where we frequently lose sight of the human beings behind the numbers, fans could not only enjoy a win for the Orioles, but they could recognize and celebrate the top moment of a young man’s career.

Regardless of whether it ultimately leads to anything else for him or the Orioles.

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Why is Yankee Stadium so low on our stadium rankings? Well, because it sucks...

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MLB #GiveASpit Ballpark Ranking: No. 22 Yankee Stadium

Posted on 18 August 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

New York Yankees – So, why so far down the ranking scale for this giant, sprawling mall of a rebuild? Well, it sucks compared to the real thing. Ask anyone. Sure, it took billions of dollars and the painstaking reassembling of every nook and cranny and archway from across the street. They tried but failed. This is very simple – the new stadium has very little to recommend it as being better than the original. Less than 10 miles away, some engineers found a way to take the shell of Madison Square Garden and make it better. Here in The Bronx they had so much money that they believed a wrecking ball and a fresh plot of land would improve Yankees baseball. It hasn’t. It has simply increased the revenue, raised the cost and lowered “the experience.” Yankee Stadium makes you very happy that no one in Boston or Chicago got the bright idea to rebuild Fenway Park or Wrigley Field while promising to increase the space and the nightly receipts. The whole spirit of Yankee Stadium died when they tried to “go Vegas” with this monstrosity that is a monument to how having more money and “improving on the original” being a sad, stupid idea. Someone called it the “video game experience” of Yankee Stadium. I said it was kinda like going to “New York, New York” in Las Vegas once the Billy Joel “Miami 2017” experience happens. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. For the most part, as new stadiums go, this one sucks. I’d rather just go to a real mall rather than one disguised as a kingdom of baseball royalty.

***

On Sept. 8-9-10, I will be releasing an extensive essay documenting my 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit journey of 2015. You can read it and all of my work here: http://wnst.net/author/nestoraparicio/

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Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 7.00.28 PM

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Winning streak helped, but consistency key for Orioles moving forward

Posted on 14 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Even after a 5-3 loss to the New York Yankees on Sunday that snapped a season-high six-game winning streak, there’s a lot to like about the Orioles these days.

At 31-31 with 100 games remaining in the 2015 season, they’re just a game behind their record at this point in 2014 before that club surged in the second half of the season to win 96 games and the American League East title. When Baltimore was six games below .500 less than two weeks ago, players said they weren’t panicking, but even the most positive fans couldn’t help but fear the young season could be spiraling out of control.

Since three straight losses in Houston to start the month, the Orioles have won eight of 10, but manager Buck Showalter never assumed it was just a matter of time before snapping out of the funk. He won’t conclude that everything is just fine moving forward, either.

“It’s never too early to play better baseball,” said Showalter about whether he was worried about the 23-29 start. “It’s not one of those things where you say, ‘It’s just one of those things you’ve got to go through.’ I don’t live in that world. Let’s correct it today, yesterday.”

Those recent corrections have essentially rebooted the season for the Orioles as they’ve won as many as they’ve lost as we sit in mid-June. It may no longer be early, but it’s far from being too late with a month to go until the All-Star break.

A dominating bullpen that allowed only one run over 24 1/3 innings against the Yankees and Boston, superb defense, the return of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters, and an improved offensive attack have been the catalysts for the recent surge, but the Orioles have also received significant contributions from unexpected sources, a familiar theme to the last few seasons of winning baseball in Baltimore. If you had bet at the start of spring training on the oft-injured Nolan Reimold and non-roster invitee Chaz Roe being key cogs in a June hot streak, you probably could have won at least a nickel or two a few months ago.

But contrary to popular belief, Baltimore hasn’t really been firing on all cylinders with the rotation failing to produce a start of at least six innings in eight straight games, making the winning streak even more remarkable. If the bullpen is to continue its run of dominance — a 2.11 ERA in 127 2/3 innings since April 29 — starters need to begin going deeper into games like they did in May, but the Orioles are still enduring the struggles of Chris Tillman and Bud Norris as well as the absence of the injured Miguel Gonzalez.

Rookie Mike Wright was the latest starter with an early exit Sunday as he was lifted from the game after walking the first three hitters of the top of the fifth, which eventually led to three runs and the Yankees taking a 5-3 lead that they never relinquished. It remains unclear whether he will get another start or if the Orioles will turn to the 24-year-old Kevin Gausman, who is primed to come off the 15-day disabled list this coming week.

Recent good karma aside, the Orioles know that consistency is the real key to moving above .500 and in contention in an AL East looking better of late with Tampa Bay continuing to play better-than-expected baseball and Toronto having won 11 straight games with the best offense in the majors by a wide margin.

“I think we’re definitely starting to hit our stride,” said first baseman Chris Davis about taking five of six from Boston and New York to begin the homestand. “That’s big for us to get everybody healthy and get everybody on the field and start playing together. I think that’s what we’ve done the last few games, and we’re just trying to keep the ball rolling.

“We want to be over .500; I think we expect to be over .500. There’s so much emphasis put on the stats and standings and where you are. But right now, the biggest thing for us is to go out there and try to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

The hallmark of Showalter’s winning clubs the last few years has been consistency in regularly winning series and holding their own on the road, the latter being something the Orioles haven’t done so far in 2015 with an 11-18 record away from Camden Yards. The mere fact that the latest six-game winning streak matches the longest of the Showalter era — done two other times since the 59-year-old skipper arrived in 2010 — reflects that success has been more about steady winning and minimizing losing spells rather than roller coaster rides of prosperity or pain.

While the Orioles have excelled in most facets of the game recently, they know there’s still room for improvement — particularly with the rotation of late — if they want to show they’re more like the club we’ve seen over the last 10 games than the inconsistent one on display over the first two months of the season. They have the next 3 1/2 months to prove which one they are.

“There’s no one phase of the game that overpowers it,” Showalter said on Saturday. “You’ve got to be doing a lot of things well. There’s a good crispness to our defense and guys are very alert to try to do things. You know that the teams you play, you’ve got to be on top of your game because there’s a big inning around every corner for them.”

The Orioles were reminded of that the hard way on Sunday, but they still came out of the weekend feeling much better about themselves than they have all season.

Now, the challenge will be keeping the good vibes going in the coming days.

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Orioles recall Wilson to reinforce burdened bullpen

Posted on 14 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Needing to reinforce a bullpen that’s carried a heavy load over the last week, the Orioles recalled right-handed pitcher Tyler Wilson prior to Sunday’s series finale with the New York Yankees.

Despite winning six straight games to move back over the .500 mark, the Orioles have gone seven consecutive games without a starting pitcher completing six innings, which has placed a great burden on the bullpen. Orioles relievers have more than been up to the task — allowing only one run in 19 1/3 innings in the first five games of the current homestand — but manager Buck Showalter can’t continue to ask his bullpen to pitch roughly four innings per contest if he wants the group to remain effective.

To make room for Wilson on the 25-man roster, the Orioles optioned lefty reliever T.J. McFarland to Triple-A Norfolk. McFarland had pitched on Friday and Saturday and has been struggling with his command, allowing eight walks in 9 1/3 innings with Baltimore this season. Showalter wants to see the 26-year-old work out of the bullpen with the Tides, focusing on entering in the middle of innings with runners on base.

“We want to get him in the bullpen there and simulating situations he’s coming into here in the middle of an inning,” said Showalter, who added that McFarland is also dropping down to the side too much with his arm slot. “He’s had a little problem in the middle of an inning compared to starting an inning. I think some of that’s our fault.”

On the surface, McFarland’s 1.93 ERA suggests his performance has been strong, but walking 7.7 hitters per nine innings and a 2.14 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) tell the real story of how he’s fared this season.

Left-hander Brian Matusz also rejoined the bullpen Sunday after serving the final game of his suspension on Saturday night. With rookie Mike Wright starting the series finale, the Orioles maintained a seven-man bullpen with Wilson and Matusz replacing Wright and McFarland.

In three appearances for the Orioles earlier this season, Wilson posted a 3.38 ERA in eight innings. His one start in Baltimore came on May 28 when he allowed two runs in six innings of work in a 3-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

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