Tag Archive | "Orioles"

upton

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Orioles with little to offer at upcoming trade deadline

Posted on 20 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The trade deadline is in sight and the names reportedly being linked to the Orioles are enticing.

San Diego outfielder Justin Upton.

Milwaukee outfielder Carlos Gomez.

Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto of Cincinnati.

Even the mighty Cole Hamels in Philadelphia.

Despite being just 46-45 less than two weeks away from the trade deadline, the Orioles remain in the thick of the American League East race and trail the first-place New York Yankees by just four games entering a three-game set in the Bronx on Tuesday. Any of the aforementioned names would certainly help a club lacking corner outfield talent and needing better starting pitching than it received over the first four months of the season.

But the sound of snapping fingers should bring the Orioles back to reality.

After an offseason in which veterans Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis departed via free agency and the Orioles completely whiffed in their plan to replace them, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette now faces the task of trying to improve a corner outfield situation that’s largely been a wasteland in 2015. But he’ll keep coming back to the same problem while engaging in discussions with other clubs about potential trade targets between now and July 31.

What exactly do the Orioles have to offer in return?

Opposing clubs will immediately bring up Kevin Gausman’s name, but are the Orioles in a position to trade the 24-year-old away when there are already questions about the starting rotation now and for the long haul with Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris set to become free agents?

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop has often been targeted by opposing clubs, but the 23-year-old is too valuable as part of a core group that will be expected to lead the way with the likes of Matt Wieters and Chris Davis possibly — if not likely — departing as free agents following the season.

What about Dylan Bundy?

The 22-year-old right-hander remains shut down with a right shoulder issue and is unlikely to pitch again this year. On top of that, he’s out of minor-league options next year and would need to remain on any club’s 25-man roster despite having thrown all of 167 innings in the minor leagues. His value has never been lower, but he’s still young enough that it wouldn’t make sense to move him unless another club is willing to buy high despite these concerns.

Hunter Harvey drew plenty of interest at the deadline last year, but the 20-year-old pitcher is in the midst of a throwing progression and is an injury risk with a right flexor mass strain — an injury that sometimes leads to Tommy John surgery — until he proves otherwise. Again, not exactly a situation that screams for other teams to buy high on him.

There’s a substantial drop-off in upside after these currently-injured names.

That’s not to say the likes of outfielder Dariel Alvarez, catcher Chance Sisco, and pitchers Zach Davies, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson wouldn’t offer some appeal to other clubs, but it’s difficult envisioning any of them headlining a trade for an impact outfielder or pitcher. And with so many pending free agents this winter, the Orioles need to be careful selling off the few pieces they currently have in their farm system for rental players or veterans with limited ceilings, the only commodities they’re likely to be able to afford at the deadline.

It’s certainly nice to hear the Orioles are interested in a high-impact outfielder — and pending free agent — like Upton or a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter like Johnny Cueto, but those options just don’t seem realistic unless the Orioles are willing to trade Gausman or Schoop — or both.

Perhaps Duquette will find a poor man’s Andrew Miller — hopefully for a price far less than an Eduardo Rodriguez this time around — or a spark plug reminiscent of Nate McLouth in 2012, but the reported interest in high-profile names feels hollow if the Orioles are going to be honest with themselves.

Duquette and the organization are trying to make up for what they failed to do last winter.

And they have very little to offer in order to do it, making it far more likely that the Orioles will need to count on what they already have rather than any hope of finding a real difference-maker.

Comments (3)

machado

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Pondering next Orioles roster move, Machado, Tillman

Posted on 19 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With Kevin Gausman set to make Wednesday’s start against the New York Yankees, the Orioles will be faced with their latest decision to make room on the 25-man roster.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Detroit that it is likely to be a position player since a seven-man bullpen that now includes Bud Norris is without a pitcher holding a minor-league option. Even if the Orioles could option a reliever, you can only go with a short bullpen so long in this modern age of baseball.

So, who will be the next position player to go?

Much of the discussion from when the organization parted ways with Delmon Young earlier this month still applies now, but the continuing struggles of first baseman Chris Parmelee appear to have landed him in a vulnerable position. Since homering three times and going 5-for-9 in his first two games with the Orioles, Parmelee was hitting just .183 with a .216 on-base percentage and a .338 slugging percentage in 74 plate appearances entering Sunday’s game.

Parmelee started two of the three games against Detroit over the weekend, but the fact that Showalter has lowered him to ninth in the order speaks volumes about how much the 27-year-old has struggled. Meanwhile, Steve Pearce — who has platooned with Parmelee at first base — is hitting .292 with a respectable .779 on-base plus slugging percentage since June 1.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see outfielder Nolan Reimold designated for assignment as he’s hitting just .224 and is not playing much, but Parmelee is clearly in more danger than he was the last time the Orioles needed to part ways with a position player.

Machado continues rolling

Can we put to rest any concerns about the aftermath of Manny Machado participating in the Home Run Derby?

The 23-year-old hit his 20th home run of the season on Saturday night, becoming the youngest Orioles player to hit his 20th of a season since Cal Ripken did it just a few days after his 23rd birthday in August 1983. In his first two games after the All-Star break, Machado went 3-for-6 with a homer, a double, and four walks.

Facing All-Star lefty David Price in the third inning of a scoreless game, Machado hammered a slider an estimated 434 feet down the left-field line, an impressive display of power against one of the finest pitchers in all of baseball. For those wondering what Machado can aim for in terms of Orioles players age 23 or younger, Boog Powell holds the highest single-season homer total with 39 in 1964.

Eclipsing the big first baseman would be difficult, but Machado appears to have a solid chance to hit more home runs this year than he did in his first three seasons combined (33). As frustrating as the 2015 season has been at times for the Orioles, watching the young third baseman blossom into a superstar has been a blast.

Tillman’s masterpiece

How good was Chris Tillman on Saturday night?

After allowing a leadoff single to Ian Kinsler and walking No. 3 hitter Victor Martinez in the bottom of the first, the tall right-hander retired 23 hitters in a row in what was arguably the best start of his major league career. His eight strikeouts were a season high as he masterfully used his high fastball to help induce 18 swinging strikes from Tigers hitters.

Tillman’s game score of 87 was not only tied for the 24th best in the majors this season, but it was the highest of his career, even surpassing his shutout in Kansas City last May. Saturday’s win also marked his sixth career outing in which he allowed no more than one hit.

The 27-year-old lowered his season ERA to 4.96 with his eight shutout innings. His ERA against non-Toronto clubs is now 3.14, illustrating how skewed his numbers are by a horrendous 15.00 ERA in four starts against the powerful Blue Jays. It’s not an excuse for pitching so poorly against a division rival, but any remaining talk about Tillman potentially losing his spot in the rotation should cease when you acknowledge how good he’s been against everyone else.

 

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , ,

Orioles fail to sign second-round pick Hughes

Posted on 17 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles failed to come to terms with 2015 second-round pick Jonathan Hughes before Friday’s signing deadline.

The right-handed pitcher was the 68th overall pick out of Flowery Branch (Ga.) High, but he will instead attend college at Georgia Tech. As compensation for not coming to terms with Hughes, Baltimore will receive the 69th selection in the 2016 amateur draft.

At 6-foot-2 and 184 pounds, Hughes possesses a fastball that sits in the low 90s along with a slider, curve, and changeup, a repertoire that made him an attractive prospect to the Orioles. The slot in which he was drafted carried a bonus-pool value of $907,000.

Hughes is the highest Orioles draft pick to go unsigned since pitcher Wade Townsend in 2004, but the organization was able to sign 35 of their 41 selections in the 2015 draft.

In other news, the Orioles have signed veteran left-handers Dana Eveland and Andy Oliver to minor-league deals. The 31-year-old Eveland spent part of the 2012 season in Baltimore, pitching to a 4.73 ERA in 32 1/3 innings.

 

Comments (1)

paredes

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Five biggest Orioles surprises of the first half

Posted on 16 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Though standing at just 44-44 and in third place in the American League East, the Orioles have benefited from their share of surprises as they now look toward the second half of the 2015 season.

A staple of the prosperity during the Showalter-Duquette era has been the emergence of at least a couple relative unknowns to make key contributions each season while counting on established players to either rebound from previous disappointments or to take their talents to a new level. Even if their season hasn’t gone exactly to plan through the All-Star break, the Orioles have experienced a little bit of everything in terms of pleasant surprises.

Below are my five biggest individual surprises of the first half of the season:

Honorable mention: Darren O’Day, Ryan Flaherty

5. Zach Britton

Why does an All-Star closer with an ERA just a shade higher than it was a year ago belong on the list of surprises? A deeper look at the numbers shows just how dominant Britton has been in his second year as the Orioles’ ninth-inning man.

Relying on a heavy sinker to induce grounder after grounder last season, Britton converted 37 of 41 save opportunities and pitched to a 1.65 ERA, slightly lower than his 1.72 mark this year. However, the lefty benefited greatly from opponents batting .219 on balls in play (BABIP) in 2014, much lower than the league average of .297.

Such numbers would have made it reasonable — if not very likely — to expect some regression similar to what fellow sinkerballer Jim Johnson endured in 2013, but Britton has been even more imposing despite not being nearly as fortunate. Opponents have a .304 BABIP against Britton, but he’s overcome that with an improved slider to help increase his strikeout rate per nine innings (7.3 in 2014 to 10.1) while decreasing his walk rate per nine (2.7 to 2.0).

Simply put, Britton hasn’t been nearly as “lucky” as he was a year ago, but he’s pitching to less contact and still inducing a boatload of grounders when opponents do hit the ball. Britton had a great season in 2014, but he’s established himself as one of the best closers in the game by converting 23 of 24 save chances so far in 2015, numbers that rightly earned him a trip to his first All-Star Game.

4. Manny Machado

It was difficult to know what to expect from the 23-year-old third baseman after he suffered a second serious knee injury in less than a year last August. Machado’s defense and gap power established him as an All-Star-caliber player in 2013, but he’s blossomed into one of the best players in the AL this season and the kind of performer the Orioles hoped he might become one day.

Serving in the leadoff role out of necessity — who else could even handle the role right now? — Machado is hitting .298 with a .361 on-base percentage, 19 home runs, 35 walks, and 13 stolen bases, numbers which are all already career highs. And while the Orioles will continue to knock on wood and keep their fingers crossed for his health, Machado has started all 88 games at third base and you’d never know he has two surgically-repaired knees while watching him play.

Machado has been the club’s best player by a significant margin, continuing to play Gold Glove defense and providing the kind of offense that’s turned him into an MVP candidate in 2015. According to Baseball Reference, the 2010 first-round pick ranks second behind only Mike Trout in the American League with 4.8 wins above replacement.

Taking nothing away from Adam Jones who is having a fine year and has been the club’s best player for several years, we could be seeing the passing of the torch this season with Machado emerging as the kind of rare superstar who makes the game look easy. The Orioles and their fans just pray the injuries are finally behind him.

3. Chaz Roe

Though it’s also a reflection on a disappointing winter, I doubt anyone would have projected the minor-league signing of a 28-year-old reliever with a career 4.44 ERA last December to be their best offseason addition so far in 2015.

Beginning the season at Triple-A Norfolk, Roe quickly established himself as a viable option for manager Buck Showalter in the late innings with a two-seam fastball and a devastating slider that’s helped him strike out 30 hitters while posting a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings with the Orioles.

Roe has struggled of late by allowing six earned runs in his last five outings, but it’s clear the Orioles saw something in the right-hander as he’s throwing his two-seamer more than ever and the movement on his slider has baffled hitters since he was called up in May. His stuff should allow him to remain an effective member of the bullpen even as he’ll need to make adjustments in the second half.

2. Ubaldo Jimenez

Perhaps his track record suggests his rebound shouldn’t have been so surprising, but anyone who watched Jimenez pitch in 2014 couldn’t have easily imagined him being one of their two best starters in his second season in Baltimore.

Simplified mechanics, the heaviest reliance on his two-seam fastball since his 2010 All-Star season with Colorado, and a dramatically improved walk rate (just 2.9 per nine innings this year after an awful 5.5 in 2014) have made Jimenez the pitcher the Orioles envisioned when they signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract last year. His improvement is a major reason why the Orioles remain firmly in contention despite poor seasons from Chris Tillman and Bud Norris.

After throwing his two-seamer just 16.4 percent of the time a year ago, Jimenez has used the pitch more than a third of the time (37 percent) this year to induce more grounders while still striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings. It was a brilliant adjustment to make for the 31-year-old to better take advantage of one of the best defensive infields in baseball.

In the second half, consistency will be the key for Jimenez as it has been throughout his career, but the Orioles couldn’t have asked for much better from him than a 7-4 record with a 2.81 ERA and a 3.21 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark that is easily the best of the rotation. Other than maybe only Wei-Yin Chen, there’s not another starter Showalter would want to take the ball more on a given night as Jimenez will make the first start of the second half in Detroit on Friday.

1. Jimmy Paredes

Who else could it really be?

After hitting .302 in 55 plate appearances late last year, the 26-year-old was a name of interest in spring training but hardly someone most predicted to make the 25-man roster. Paredes was out of minor-league options and lacked a position with the defensive-minded Orioles, but he stated his case by hitting .364 with a 1.005 OPS in 55 Grapefruit League at-bats before a back injury landed him on the disabled list to begin the year.

Once Jonathan Schoop went down with a knee injury in mid-April, Paredes got the call and hit an astounding .353 in his first 143 plate appearances this year. A 4-for-41 slump that dropped his average 59 points in two weeks appeared to signal the end of a nice story, but the switch hitter has bounced back to hit a very steady .310 in his last 91 plate appearances dating back to June 12.

Clearly better from the left side of the plate, Paredes hinders Showalter’s lineup flexibility with his defensive limitations — the Orioles want him to learn to play the corner outfield spots this winter — but it’s difficult to nitpick a man who was such an unknown. Paredes is hitting .299 with 10 homers, 39 RBIs, and an .809 OPS in 277 plate appearances this year and has been the club’s third-best offensive player behind Machado and Jones.

His 69 strikeouts are the highest on the club behind only Chris Davis, but Paredes has drawn six walks in his last 51 plate appearances, which the Orioles hope is a sign of improved discipline at the plate. Time will tell whether Paredes sticks, but it’s hard not to be impressed — and really surprised — with what he’s accomplished so far in 2015.

Comments (0)

norris

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Five biggest Orioles disappointments of first half

Posted on 15 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Standing at 44-44 and in third place in the American League East, the Orioles have faced their share of disappointments as they look toward the second half of the 2015 season.

Though just four games behind the first-place New York Yankees and sporting the fifth-best run differential (plus-39) in the league, the Orioles and their fans could certainly point to the uncertain future of executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and a disappointing offseason as the biggest factors contributing to an underwhelming first half. It’s easy to point to the decisions not to re-sign any of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller, but the problems have run deeper than that.

On Wednesday, left-handed reliever Wesley Wright was designated for assignment, becoming the fifth veteran — joining Ryan Webb, Alejandro De Aza, Everth Cabrera, and Delmon Young — scheduled to make at least $1.6 million this year to be designated since the start of the season. Not only did the Orioles fail to keep their top free agents, but they spent a lot of money poorly elsewhere.

Below are my five biggest individual disappointments of the first half of the season:

Dishonorable mention: Everth Cabrera, Wesley Wright, Travis Snider

5. Alejandro De Aza/Delmon Young

It’s appropriate to lump these two together after they were both designated for assignment in the first half of the season. At the beginning of the year, manager Buck Showalter envisioned De Aza as his leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching while Young was expected to handle a larger role after the free-agent departures of Cruz and Markakis in the outfield.

Instead, De Aza hit just .214 with a .636 on-base plus slugging percentage and further saw his playing time diminish due to lapses on the bases and in the field. After being traded to Boston in early June, De Aza has provided a spark for the last-place Red Sox with a .323 average, making Orioles fans wonder where that production was earlier in the season.

Young’s .270 average may not have looked bad on the surface, but he offered little else as he homered only twice and posted an anemic .628 OPS in 180 plate appearances. Because of a crowded outfield situation and his limited versatility, Young was designated and eventually released last week.

While neither De Aza nor Young were necessarily projected to be everyday players, both were obvious disappointments after the Orioles committed to paying them a combined $7.25 million to contribute in 2015.

4. J.J. Hardy

It’s often forgotten that Hardy was the one big-name free agent the Orioles were able to keep last fall with a three-year, $40 million extension, making the first half of his 2015 season that much more frustrating after other veterans departed.

A left shoulder injury cost Hardy more than a month, but he hasn’t been able to gain his bearings at the plate beyond a few clutch hits here and there. His defensive ability remains a clear strength, but Hardy’s .226 average and .584 OPS must improve in the second half as the Orioles try to advance to the postseason for the third time in four years.

The fact that Hardy hit only nine homers last year while dealing with a lingering back issue was concerning enough, but a second straight season of diminished power (five homers in 225 plate appearances) creates doubt whether the 32-year-old will ever again approach the power numbers he posted in his first three years in Baltimore. Even if that’s the case, the Orioles need more offensive production in terms of average and at least a few more doubles from the veteran infielder.

You never want to discredit Hardy’s value in the field, but he’d be the first to tell you much more is needed with the bat.

3. Steve Pearce

Even his biggest supporters wouldn’t have predicted Pearce to duplicate his magical 2014 campaign in which he hit 21 homers, posted a team-leading .930 OPS, and was worth 5.9 wins above replacement, but the numbers were so strong that you could reasonably hope the journeyman had finally established himself as a solid everyday player.

That hasn’t been the case as Pearce hit .176 in his first 74 at-bats of 2015 and has largely been relegated to part-time duties against left-handed pitching. An .812 OPS since May 16 shows that Pearce has done a better job over the last two months, but most of that has come against left-handed pitching as he’s hitting just .207 against right-handers and .228 overall this year.

In addition to not matching the same power he found a year ago, Pearce’s walk rate has dropped considerably, a part of his game that was solid even before the 2014 season. What has likely saved the 32-year-old’s roster spot has been his versatility as he’s able to play four or five different positions, including second base for the first time earlier this season.

It will be interesting to see if Showalter will give Pearce more opportunities against right-handed pitching with Chris Parmelee struggling immensely of late, but it’s difficult foreseeing a return to the success from a year ago as Pearce is scheduled to hit free agency at the end of the season.

2. Chris Tillman

Predicting a down season for Tillman after he posted no worse than a 3.71 ERA in three straight seasons might not have been out of the question, but a 5.40 ERA and 3.8 walks per nine innings are numbers that would have landed him in the minors if not for the fact that he’s out of options.

The 27-year-old has been better since a nightmarish start in Toronto last month that elevated his ERA to 6.22, but his struggles are a major reason why the Orioles currently rank 10th in the AL with a 4.20 starter ERA. If you eliminate his 15.00 ERA in four starts against the Blue Jays, Tillman owns a very solid 3.48 mark against the rest of the league, but you can’t dismiss that part of the picture when Toronto is one of the clubs the Orioles are competing with in a tight division race.

His strikeout numbers are fairly similar to the last few seasons, but his walk rate is his highest since 2010 and the lack of fastball command has gotten him in trouble too often in 2015. Opponents have sported a .331 batting average on balls in play against Tillman, indicating he’s run into bad luck that’s made him pay even more for the control issues.

You hope the worst is behind Tillman as he pitched too well from 2012-2014 to continue languishing in the second half, but the Orioles wouldn’t figure to have much of a chance to be playing in October if the tall right-hander doesn’t start resembling the guy who had back-to-back 200-inning seasons in 2013 and 2014.

1. Bud Norris

A look at his track record told you Norris was unlikely to win 15 games or match the 3.65 ERA he posted a year ago, but few have had a more dreadful season entering free agency in recent memory than Norris, who was demoted to the bullpen before the All-Star break.

Sporting a 6.86 ERA and being paid $8.8 million this season, Norris has been helpless against left-handed hitters who have posted a 1.005 OPS and hit nine homers against him, prompting opposing managers to stack their lineups with lefties in his starts. The changeup that worked so well against lefty hitters last year hasn’t been much of a factor in 2015, leaving Norris much too reliant on his fastball and slider.

With Kevin Gausman stepping into the rotation, Norris has the stuff to profile as a decent reliever, but the move now leaves Showalter without the “swinging-door” bullpen spot he likes to have to summon a fresh arm from the minors when necessary.

At this point, it doesn’t look like Norris will get another chance in the rotation unless someone else falters or is injured, but he’ll need to be able to pitch effectively out of the bullpen to keep his roster spot as he is out of options. Duquette will undoubtedly try to find a trade partner, but Norris would be difficult to give away at this point with a high salary attached to him.

Very few would have expected Norris to be Baltimore’s best starter in 2015, but the most disastrous season of his career couldn’t have come at a worse time for him or the Orioles.

Comments (0)

wright

Tags: , , ,

Orioles designate lefty reliever Wright for assignment

Posted on 15 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With his minor-league rehab assignment coming to an end, Orioles left-handed reliever Wesley Wright was activated from the 60-day disabled list and designated for assignment.

Signed to a $1.7 million contract in December, Wright made just two appearances for Baltimore in the first week of the season before being placed on the DL with a left trapezius strain on April 11. The 30-year-old allowed one run in just 1 2/3 innings.

Pitching with diminished velocity, Wright posted a 7.71 ERA in 11 2/3 rehab innings for Triple-A Norfolk. Even after he agreed to extend his rehab assignment, the Orioles simply couldn’t find room in the bullpen for a left-hander not pitching effectively.

The Orioles could be in the market for a top-shelf reliever at the trade deadline to ease the workload on All-Star pitchers Zach Britton and Darren O’Day, but Wright did not fit that profile, making him expendable in a bullpen ranking third in the American League with a 2.90 ERA at the All-Star break.

Comments (0)

manny

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Machado falls in first round of Home Run Derby

Posted on 13 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Manny Machado performed admirably, but it was another 23-year-old who got the best of him at the 2015 Home Run Derby in Cincinnati on Monday night.

The Orioles third baseman hit an impressive 12 home runs in the first round before Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Joc Pederson — who is more than two months older than Machado — clubbed 13 with a minute remaining in the new timed format to advance to the second round. Pederson went on to finish second in the competition, falling to hometown favorite Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds in the championship round at the Great American Ballpark.

Making his second trip to the All-Star Game and first appearance in the derby, Machado’s long distance was a 469-foot blast and his average home run distance was 431 feet. His first-round total was the fourth highest of any competitior, but he did not advance in the new head-to-head tournament.

Upon using his timeout in the first round, Machado was greeted by teammate Adam Jones in the home plate area with a sports drink and a plate of tortilla chips with a container of the young infielder’s special salsa. Always a character, Jones later presented the winner Frazier with a WWE championship belt at the end of the evening.

Already with a career-high 19 homers at the All-Star break, Machado has a good chance to surpass his total of 33 bombs from his first three major league seasons combined.

Comments (0)

jones

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Jones starting in left field for All-Star Game

Posted on 13 July 2015 by Luke Jones

After learning late last week he would be in the American League starting lineup, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones will play left field in Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

On Monday, Kansas City manager Ned Yost revealed his lineup, which included the 29-year-old Jones batting sixth in left field. After Royals outfielder Alex Gordon suffered a groin injury last week, Jones was given the privilege of starting his third consecutive All-Star Game as he makes his fifth appearance overall.

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout will lead off and play center while normal Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain will move to right field for the AL squad. Jones had started in center in each of the previous two All-Star Games with Trout playing left.

Former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz will bat cleanup and serve as the designated hitter for the AL after hitting 21 home runs in his first season with the Seattle Mariners.

Of course, the Orioles will have a strong presence in Cincinnati with third baseman Manny Machado and relief pitchers Zach Britton and Darren O’Day also chosen as All-Star reserves. The 23-year-old Machado was scheduled to participate in Monday night’s Home Run Derby despite heavy rain threatening the event.

Comments (0)

davis

Tags: , , , ,

Too many valleys, not enough peaks for Orioles

Posted on 13 July 2015 by Luke Jones

A lot changed in two weeks for the Orioles.

Appearing poised to take off in the American League East after winning 18 of 23 to move into first place on June 28, the Orioles have instead lost 10 of 13 as we take a deep breath at the All-Star break. Falling back to the .500 mark for the first time since June 14, they’re once again facing many of the same doubts that plagued them for the first two months of the 2015 season.

Their impressive June had many convinced they were ready to recapture the success experienced last year when they won the AL East by 12 games, but poor baseball instead returned as the Orioles have gone 3-8 in July and have scored just 32 runs over those games.

Of course, Baltimore remains in the playoff hunt and is only four games behind the first-place New York Yankees, but a look at the schedule tells a simple story of how the first half played out.

Not counting their 18-5 stretch last month, the Orioles have won as many as three in a row only one other time all season. It doesn’t take a mathematician to understand it’s difficult to climb far from .500 when you’re rarely stacking victories.

In contrast, the Orioles experienced two different five-game losing streaks and dropped eight of 11 in the first half of May in addition to their current stretch that’s lowered them from the top of the division to third place. Strictly looking in that context, are the Orioles fortunate to hold a .500 record at this point?

A plus-39 run differential indicates they’ve played to some bad luck, but too many valleys and not enough peaks have left the Orioles middling instead of thriving in their attempt to repeat as division champions.

Much focus has fallen on a schizophrenic offense that was terrific in April and June and terrible in May and the first half of July, but the biggest concern for the second half should be a starting rotation ranking 10th in the AL with a 4.20 ERA. Beyond Wei-Yin Chen and the rejuvenated Ubaldo Jimenez, the Baltimore rotation has struggled with Chris Tillman and Bud Norris — the latter already being sent to the bullpen — sporting ERAs well above 5.00 and Miguel Gonzalez not being the same since returning from the disabled list last month.

The wild card could be the 24-year-old Kevin Gausman, but the Orioles need better from the rest of the rotation as it was a 2.98 starter ERA in the second half last year that was the biggest factor in Buck Showalter’s club running away with the division. They finished fifth in the AL in starter ERA with a 3.61 mark in 2014.

The next couple weeks will be critical for executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette as he tries to find a way to improve the current club. The return of talented second baseman Jonathan Schoop is another reason for optimism as the Orioles are healthier now than they’ve been since early last season, but a steady corner outfielder and another elite bullpen arm to ease the workload of Darren O’Day and Zach Britton should be the top priorities between now and the deadline.

A top starting pitcher would be a major plus, but the Orioles likely lack the inventory to land one that would be a marked upgrade over what they already have in place.

Much like their 10-game West Coast trip to begin the second half last season, a nine-game trip against three clubs sporting .500 records or better — Detroit, New York, and Tampa Bay — starting Friday could set the tone for the remainder of the season. Last July, the Orioles went 6-4 out west against Oakland, Los Angeles, and Seattle and never looked back.

A lousy 17-26 mark away from Camden Yards this year will understandably make fans brace themselves before the Orioles return home again on July 27. Faltering during this road trip wouldn’t necessarily sink their ship, but it could create a very tough climb over the final two months.

So far in 2015, the Orioles haven’t been able to shift into higher gear like they did a year ago. An AL East lacking any heavyweight remains the biggest positive working in their favor, but it’s fair to wonder if the Orioles are capable of getting to the 89 or 90 wins it will probably take to win the division.

Save for one 3 1/3-week stretch in June, the Orioles haven’t been able to get far without stubbing their toe all season.

Too many valleys, not enough peaks.

And that’s what has them sitting at .500 and looking up in the standings at the All-Star break.

 

Comments (1)

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 10.38.27 PM

Tags: , , , , ,

Orioles hear Gausman’s statement loud and clear

Posted on 02 July 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles lost 2-0 to the Texas Rangers on Thursday to drop their first series in a month, but that wasn’t the biggest story as it relates to the remainder of the 2015 season.

Starting pitcher Kevin Gausman staked an emphatic claim to a spot in the rotation with 6 1/3 scoreless innings, and the Orioles appear ready to accommodate after the continued struggles of Bud Norris in the first half. After Gausman allowed only four hits and matched a career high with seven strikeouts, Buck Showalter said the right-hander will accompany the club to Chicago instead of being optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk as many anticipated.

The Orioles manager didn’t confirm that Gausman would receive another start, but he did announce that Miguel Gonzalez would pitch on Sunday, presumably leaving Norris as the long man in the bullpen for at least the near future. Despite those criticizing the patience he’s shown with Norris — a 15-game winner in 2014 — Showalter saw what we all witnessed from Gausman on Thursday.

“Good, real good,” Showalter said. “He was using both depths with his fastball. Pitching down all the time isn’t always [good]. Good hitters get their arms extended, but he changed eye levels a lot with his fastball, which I thought was really good. It’s something he and [pitching coach Dave Wallace] have been working on. He was really good.”

Of course, Gausman made a strong case for a spot in the starting rotation long before Thursday’s performance against the Rangers. Showalter has pointed to Norris’ track record as evidence to stick with him throughout the first half, but you can only overlook a 6.79 ERA so long while acknowledging Gausman pitched to a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts last season, many of them coming in the second half in the midst of a pennant race.

Even if you didn’t like it, you could understand the organization deferring to the five veterans in the rotation to begin the season — especially with the 2015 money tied into Norris and the long-term commitment made to the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez — but the Orioles were shortsighted in sending Gausman to the bullpen in April. The decision likely played a part in the 2012 first-round pick developing right shoulder tendinitis and missing more than a month of action.

Now, there are no more excuses to hold Gausman back as he’s healthy and once again stretched out as a starter after a few outings in the minors and a solid start in Toronto last month. Pitching on three days’ rest, he turned in a performance on Thursday that was superior to any of Norris’ work during the 2015 season.

“I don’t know if I was making a statement, but I just wanted to pitch well,” said Gausman, who quipped that he packed a bag for Baltimore’s road trip in case he wouldn’t be optioned back to the minors. “That’s all I want to do is pitch, whether it’s here or in Triple A. I just want to pitch and throw a lot of innings. Going on the DL was something I didn’t plan. I wanted this to be the year I would get close to 200 innings, but it’s just not going to happen.

“Right now, I’m just focusing on getting more innings and going out there and competing and helping the team win.”

If the Orioles want to have their best chance to advance to the postseason for the third time in four years, Gausman should be in the starting rotation until he proves he’s not one of their best five starters.

Watching him pitch on Thursday, you were reminded of what he possesses that other pitchers simply do not. Seemingly every time he got to two strikes on a hitter, a fastball sitting comfortably around 94 mph in other counts would explode to 96 or 97 on the radar gun. Gausman also had his best split-changeup of the season, a pitch that’s devastating to left-handed hitters when he’s able to command it.

The development of a breaking pitch — a curveball he began throwing this year for the first time since college — is ongoing, but Gausman’s fastball and split were so strong on Thursday that he didn’t need to throw anything else, including his circle changeup. He may not be a finished product and it hasn’t been the easiest year for him, but Gausman is more than deserving of a spot in the major league rotation.

The time is now.

Comments (0)