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Live from Camden Yards: Orioles, Matusz welcome winless Yankees to town

Posted on 09 April 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — As if the Orioles’ three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins wasn’t enough to whet your appetite for the start of the baseball season, the Yankees come to town having not won a game after being swept by the Rays in Tampa over the weekend.

Of course, that means Joe Girardi’s club isn’t in a jovial mood as left-hander Brian Matusz takes the hill for his 2012 debut. To say Matusz’s 2011 season — in which he was 1-9 with a 10.69 earned run average in 12 starts — was nightmarish would be a disservice to unpleasant dreams as the 25-year-old battled injury and ineffectiveness throughout the season.

However, a new training regiment in the offseason and a strong spring in which he pitched to a 3.65 ERA in 24 2/3 innings led to Matusz making the Baltimore rotation as the No. 4 starter. Showing velocity more in line with his first two seasons in Baltimore, Matusz consistently sat in the low 90s as he led the Orioles with 22 strikeouts and had just three walks.

“I’m proud of him. He’s done everything possible to get this opportunity,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Now comes the biggest step of all of them, and that’s pitching competitively at the highest level of baseball in the world against one of the best teams in the world. You can’t shield him from that competition.”

He’ll certainly be thrown to the wolves tonight against one of the most imposing lineups in baseball.

Showalter also provided injury updates on Japanese southpaw Tsuyoshi Wada and left-hander Zach Britton. Wada pithced six innings and threw 88 pitches in an extended spring training game on Monday and “looked good” as observers described to Showalter. Wada will make at least two more starts before the Orioles make a decision regarding his status and potential activation to the 25-man roster.

Britton will begin throwing in Sarasota on Thursday in what will be the first time he’s picked up a ball since undergoing platelet-rich plasma therapy in late March. Showalter was cautious when asked to offer a definitive timetable for his return to the big leagues and wouldn’t even rule out the possibility of Britton being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk depending on the state of the rotation.

“He’s got to jump through some hoops to get there,” Showalter said. “But, I’m hoping by the first part of May we’re getting some definitive idea about when [he’s back]. I think the next couple weeks will be key — provided this is where he goes when he’s ready.”

Based on those comments, it would be ambitious to expect Britton back before the middle of May, but that’s mostly speculation at this point in time.

Second baseman Brian Roberts was taking batting practice early on Monday as he continues to work his way back from concussion-like symptoms. There is still no timetable for a potential rehab assignment for the 34-year-old, who is on the 15-day disabled list.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

New York
SS Derek Jeter
RF Nick Swisher
2B Robinson Cano
DH Alex Rodriguez
1B Mark Teixeira
CF Curtis Granderson
LF Andruw Jones
C Russell Martin
3B Eduardo Nunez

SP Ivan Nova

Baltimore
LF Nolan Reimold
SS J.J. Hardy
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
3B Mark Reynolds
DH Wilson Betemit
1B Chris Davis
2B Robert Andino

SP Brian Matusz

Follow WNST on Twitter for live updates from Oriole Park at Camden Yards and visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear Buck Showalter’s pre-game comments right HERE.

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Bovada Sets Orioles Win Total At 69.5, Second Longest Odds to Win World Series

Posted on 14 March 2012 by WNST Staff

Odds to win the 2012 World Series     

Philadelphia Phillies                   11/2

New York Yankees                    13/2

Los Angeles Angels                   7/1

Detroit Tigers                             8/1

Texas Rangers                          10/1

Boston Red Sox                        10/1

San Francisco Giants                 15/1

Tampa Bay Rays                       18/1

Miami Marlins                            20/1

Cincinnati Reds                         20/1

Atlanta Braves                           22/1

St. Louis Cardinals                     25/1

Arizona Diamondbacks               28/1

Milwaukee Brewers                    28/1

Washington Nationals                30/1

Los Angeles Dodgers                 40/1

Toronto Blue Jays                      40/1

Chicago Cubs                            40/1

Colorado Rockies                       40/1

Cleveland Indians                       60/1

Chicago White Sox                    65/1

Minnesota Twins                        75/1

Kansas City Royals                   80/1

New York Mets                          80/1

Oakland Athletics                      80/1

Pittsburgh Pirates                      100/1

San Diego Padres                      100/1

Seattle Mariners                        100/1

Baltimore Orioles                       150/1

Houston Astros                          200/1

Odds to win the 2012 AL Pennant       

New York Yankees                    13/4

Los Angeles Angels                   7/2

Detroit Tigers                             4/1

Boston Red Sox                        11/2

Texas Rangers                          11/2

Tampa Bay Rays                       9/1

Toronto Blue Jays                      22/1

Cleveland Indians                       28/1

Chicago White Sox                    35/1

Kansas City Royals                   40/1

Oakland Athletics                      40/1

Minnesota Twins                        40/1

Seattle Mariners                        60/1

Baltimore Orioles                       75/1

 

Odds to win the 2012 NL Pennant       

Philadelphia Phillies                   9/4

San Francisco Giants                 7/1

Atlanta Braves                           9/1

Cincinnati Reds                         9/1

Miami Marlins                            9/1

St. Louis Cardinals                     11/1

Milwaukee Brewers                    14/1

Washington Nationals                15/1

Arizona Diamondbacks               14/1

Colorado Rockies                       18/1

Los Angeles Dodgers                 18/1

Chicago Cubs                            22/1

New York Mets                          40/1

Pittsburgh Pirates                      40/1

San Diego Padres                      50/1

Houston Astros                          100/1

Odds to win the 2012 AL East

New York Yankees                    2/3

Boston Red Sox                        3/1

Tampa Bay Rays                       9/2

Toronto Blue Jays                      12/1

Baltimore Orioles                       100/1

 

Odds to win the 2012 AL Central         

Detroit Tigers                             1/4

Cleveland Indians                       10/1

Kansas City Royals                   12/1

Chicago White Sox                    12/1

Minnesota Twins                        16/1

 

Odds to win the 2012 AL West

Los Angeles Angels                   4/5

Texas Rangers                          1/1

Oakland Athletics                      30/1

Seattle Mariners                        45/1

 

Odds to win the 2012 NL East

Philadelphia Phillies                   1/2

Miami Marlins                            11/2

Atlanta Braves                           6/1

Washington Nationals                8/1

New York Mets                          50/1

 

Odds to win the 2012 NL Central         

Cincinnati Reds                         7/5

St. Louis Cardinals                     2/1

Milwaukee Brewers                    11/4

Chicago Cubs                            18/1

Pittsburgh Pirates                      30/1

Houston Astros                          100/1

 

Odds to win the 2012 NL West

San Francisco Giants                 5/4

Arizona Diamondbacks               2/1

Los Angeles Dodgers                 11/2

Colorado Rockies                       7/1

San Diego Padres                      15/1

Over/Under Regular Season Win Totals

Arizona Diamondbacks               86½

Atlanta Braves                           86½

Baltimore Orioles                       69½

Boston Red Sox                        90½

Chicago Cubs                            73½

Chicago White Sox                    75½

Cincinnati Reds                         87½

Cleveland Indians                       78½

Colorado Rockies                       80½

Detroit Tigers                             91½

Miami Marlins                            85½

Houston Astros                          63½

Kansas City Royals                   78½

Los Angeles Angels                   91½

Los Angeles Dodgers                 80½

Milwaukee Brewers                    85½

Minnesota Twins                        72½

New York Mets                          73½

New York Yankees                    93½

Oakland Athletics                      72½

Philadelphia Phillies                   93½

Pittsburgh Pirates                      72½

San Diego Padres                      73½

San Francisco Giants                 87½

Seattle Mariners                        71½

St. Louis Cardinals                     85½

Tampa Bay Rays                       86½

Texas Rangers                          91½

Toronto Blue Jays                      81½

Washington Nationals                83½
courtesy of Bovada, (www.Bovada.lv, Twitter: @BovadaLV).

 

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Miller, Flaherty Homer As Birds Tie Rays

Posted on 13 March 2012 by WNST Staff

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mjs

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The 15-7-0 Doesn’t Have a Diploma To Burn Even If It Wanted To

Posted on 03 October 2011 by Glenn Clark

You know how it works. 15 positive football observations, 7 “not so” positive football observations and one “oh no” moment from outside the world of football.

(As a reminder, we don’t do Ravens analysis here. We do PLENTY of that elsewhere. This is about the rest of the world of football.)

15 Positive Observations..

1. The Packers are the best team in the NFL, but you already knew that

I’m not really sure what else can be said about Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers is amazing. The team is incredibly deep.

I was wondering the other day why the NFL wouldn’t put a Super Bowl at Lambeau Field if they’re going to have one in New Jersey. Then I had a sandwich. It was quite a day.

Side note: I’m extremely jealous of sports fans in Wisconsin. They the Packers, the Badgers (more on them next) and the Milwaukee Brewers rocking and rolling. SportsGrid.com noted that Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel headline is the happiest in sports history…

mjs

2. Kellen Moore leads the way, but Trent Richardson and Russell Wilson have joined my personal Heisman Trophy Top 5 list



The others in my Top 5 are South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore and Baylor QB Robert Griffin III. Lattimore had a tough day Saturday and Griffin threw his first interception of the year (really) in the Bears’ loss to Kansas State. After you watch the profile ESPN’s College Gameday did of him Saturday morning you’ll certainly forget that ever happened…

3. It’s clearly a mistake that I DON’T have Andrew Luck or Tyrann Mathieu on my Heisman Trophy Top 5 list right now

Andrew Luck is a quarterback. So explain to me how he did THIS in Stanford’s win over UCLA Saturday night…

Side note: A few sites found this video of the ESPN ticker showing an odd UCLA-Stanford score during the Nebraska-Wisconsin game. I don’t believe it was accurate…

stanforducla

Few people know who Tyrann Mathieu is. Fewer know how to pronounce his name. No one knows how to spell it. But Kentucky fans will never forget any of those things about the LSU CB I assume…

4. It’s crazy how good Devin Hester is at returning punts

Also stemming from Sunday in the Windy City…

-I don’t know if Steve Smith is still happy the Carolina Panthers didn’t trade him, but it was the absolute right decision based on wanting to develop Cam Newton.

-Matt Forte also ran all over the place and the Chicago Bears looked good in a win. I’m still not buying into them, but I’m a Jay Cutler hater so my opinion should only matter so much.

-Here’s Marion Barber faceplanting after attempting a backflip when he scored a touchdown in the game. Enjoy!

5. Maybe the Tennessee Titans CAN survive without Kenny Britt?

Nate Washington looked good and Jared Cook finally showed why I drafted him to my fantasy team this year (although I already dropped him needing depth), but I’m still not convinced they can keep treading water without Britt…

…in other news, I told Cleveland Browns fans last week to take a picture of the AFC North standings. I hope they took my advice.

6. I want to put Tajh Boyd on my Heisman watch list too. Can I have a Top 10 instead of a Top 5?

I’m confused. Clemson looked good against Auburn, then again against Florida State, then AGAIN against Virginia Tech. Who are these Tigers and what have they done with the roller coaster team we’ve all come to know and not love?

I still think the Hokies are a factor in the ACC before the season is over. I think a lot of things. Like for example, who is Melissa Giraldo and why is this the first I’ve heard of her? (Thanks Busted Coverage!)

7. Not only is the SEC better than the other conferences in the FBS, SEC fans are better than fans in other conferences in the FBS

Here are the highlights from a thrilling Arkansas win over Texas A&M at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, which included an incredible 510 passing yards from Razorbacks QB Tyler Wilson…

And here’s the .gif of the shirtless “man of a larger carriage” celebrating SOMETHING the Hogs did Saturday…

hogs

That’s just fantastic.

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Dear Football, Please Just Come Back Already

Posted on 15 June 2011 by Glenn Clark

Dear Football-

It didn’t hit me until Tuesday night. To be totally honest with you, I’ve been really enjoying some of the other things going on in the world of sports since you left my life in February.

My favorite NHL team (the Phoenix Coyotes) were quickly swept out by the Detroit Red Wings, but the Stanley Cup playoffs have been really good otherwise. Most of the cities I don’t like have already seen their teams eliminated (Pittsburgh, Washington, New York) and the Vancouver Canucks have the opportunity to deliver the most painful heartbreak to Boston Wednesday night, with a chance to win a Game 7 at home against the Bruins.

There’s been a ton of scoring but still a ton of close games, and the hockey playoffs in general have been pretty good.

My favorite NBA team (the Phoenix Suns) didn’t even qualify for postseason play, but it had little effect on how exciting the NBA playoffs were. Between the Los Angeles Lakers getting swept out, Greivis Vasquez and the Memphis Grizzlies getting within a game of the Western Conference Finals and the riveting series the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat played in the NBA Finals, the postseason was thrilling.

Even those of us that don’t spend too much time watching regular season hoops found ourselves making postseason games destination television.

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Orioles on cusp of .500 (again), other random thoughts

Posted on 11 June 2011 by Luke Jones

1. Déjà vu all over again.

After Friday’s 7-0 win over Tampa Bay, the Orioles once again find themselves on the brink of the .500 mark with a 30-31 mark entering Saturday night’s test against Tampa ace David Price. A win would put Baltimore at the .500 mark for the first time since May 26.

The problem was the Orioles responding to the achievement with a disastrous 1-5 West Coast trip from which they have yet to fully recover in the win-loss column. They are 2-4 this season when entering the day with a record of one game below .500.

“We understand the math of common denominators of teams that have a good season,” said manager Buck Showalter before the Rays series. “At some point, we’ve got to get to and pass that threshold as an organization.”

Of course, Showalter knows .500 is not the top of the mountain — notice how he said to “pass that threshold” — but it’s still a significant step for a franchise lacking a winning season since 1997. The Orioles have not been above the .500 mark since April 14 when they fell to 6-5 after suffering a two-game sweep to the Yankees in the Bronx.

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2. Hardy the offseason prize

The signings of veterans Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero grabbed the headlines. Third baseman Mark Reynolds was acquired via trade three days earlier in December.

But is there any doubt that shortstop J.J. Hardy — even after missing a month with a strained left oblique — has been the offseason prize for the Orioles?

Entering Saturday, Hardy has more home runs (six) than Guerrero (five) in only half the at-bats (118 to 236). He has more runs batted in than Lee (19 to 15) in 57 fewer at-bats, many coming far lower in the lineup.

His defense has been superb after replacing the slick-fielding, light-hitting Cesar Izturis of the past two seasons.

With Brian Roberts continuing to miss time with concussion-related symptoms, Hardy has recently taken over leadoff responsibilities and responded with two leadoff home runs this week. His .370 on-base percentage entering Saturday’s game is a welcome change at the top of the order from the impatient Felix Pie and allows Robert Andino to hit more comfortably in the ninth spot.

Though there are more than three months remaining in the season, the Orioles should already be contemplating a new contract for Hardy, who is scheduled to become a free agent. Manny Machado may be the future at short, but Hardy has been a pleasant surprise in the present.

3. Arrieta racking up wins while Guthrie and Britton bite the bullet

After pitching seven shutout innings Friday night, Jake Arrieta recorded his eighth win of the season, becoming the first Baltimore pitcher to record eight wins by June 10 since Sidney Ponson in 2003. A season ago, no Orioles pitcher recorded his eighth victory until August 29 (Jeremy Guthrie).

Arrieta’s eight wins equal the total number by Guthrie (two) and Zach Britton (six) despite both holding lower earned run averages. Entering Friday night’s game against the Rays, Arrieta benefited from the fourth-best run support (7.14 runs per game) in the American League. Wins are a poor indicator for how well — or how poorly — a pitcher is performing, but Arrieta has done what’s necessary to win in most instances.

The 25-year-old still walks too many hitters and needs to be more economical with his pitches, but no one can deny his array of four pitches and overall makeup. His strikeout rate per nine innings has increased from 4.7 his rookie season to 7.5 this year, but his walks per nine innings have increased from 4.3 to 4.5.

Britton and Guthrie have been better overall in 2011, but Arrieta has solidified his position in the starting rotation. His command issues may always keep him a notch or two below the seemingly more-polished Britton and Brian Matusz, but you have to be pleased with Arrieta’s progression through 14 starts in 2011.

4. Interleague Vlad

With interleague play set to pick up again next weekend, the Orioles will travel to D.C. to take on the Nationals followed by a three-game trip to Pittsburgh the following week. That, of course, means the Orioles will be without the designated hitter spot.

What do you do with your cleanup hitter?

Showalter will not reveal his plans just yet, but admitted Guerrero hasn’t made a strong request to play the outfield in National League ballparks. Anyone who watched Guerrero hobble around right field as a member of the Texas Rangers in the World Series last October should hardly be surprised.

Though hitting .288 entering Saturday, Guerrero hasn’t exactly provided the power (.394 slugging percentage and five home runs) that suggests the Orioles absolutely need his bat in the lineup. The defense lost in right field or first base — the only two positions you could conceivably imagine Guerrero playing — creates a simple decision.

The Orioles will likely have “one heck of a pinch-hitter,” as Showalter quipped on Friday, but it’s hard to justify putting Guerrero in the field for any reason.

5. Adams’ splinters continue

If you asked most fans, they probably couldn’t even tell you if Ryan Adams was even on the 25-man roster. The rookie second baseman has 16 plate appearances since being recalled on May 20.

Sixteen.

Instead of an anticipated platoon, Andino has solidified his job at second base, and the 2006 second-round pick continues to waste away on the bench while veteran infielders Brendan Harris and Nick Green hold spots for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides.

Showalter has conceded that Adams needs consistent at-bats somewhere, but the manager has also said the young infielder is gaining exposure to life in the big leagues by being in the clubhouse and dugout during games.

Maybe a hint of truth, but I’m not buying it.

Whether it’s Baltimore or Norfolk, Adams needs to be getting regular at-bats. It’s not helping the future of the club — especially with Roberts’ status becoming cloudier every season — to have Adams sitting on the bench on a nightly basis when he could be playing everyday for the Tides.

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Orioles, Markakis hope 6-RBI night begins turnaround of frustrating season

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Orioles, Markakis hope 6-RBI night begins turnaround of frustrating season

Posted on 11 June 2011 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Nick Markakis shyly quipped to reporters that they finally wanted to talk to him for something good in a nightmarish season for the six-year veteran.

There was no doubt about it Friday night after the right fielder hit a grand slam and added a two-run double to collect a career-high six runs batted in in the Orioles’ 7-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays. It ended a drought of 88 at-bats without an extra-base hit for Markakis and temporarily halted concerns about a disappointing 2011 season. His six RBI matched the total he had over his last 27 games since May 8.

“I guess you could say it was a relief for me, but it was a relief for the whole team,” said Markakis, who entered the game with only eight extra-base hits in 240 at-bats. “We got a big hit in a big situation.”

His grand slam off Jeremy Hellickson in the second inning gave the Orioles a 5-0 lead and provided enough for starter Jake Arrieta to collect his team-leading eighth win. Arrieta carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and pitched seven shutout innings to guide the Orioles to their fourth straight win, but the right-hander could credit his right fielder for driving in six of the Orioles’ seven runs.

“I’m really happy for Nick to get that hit,” said Arrieta, who completed seven innings for only the second time this year. “I feel like he’s been one hit away like that.”

The Orioles and fans alike envision it as the start of a turnaround for the right fielder. Before Friday, endless hours of watching video and working on his swing had appeared fruitless over much of the last two months as Markakis tried to get himself back to the level of production he enjoyed over his first five seasons when he averaged over 61.2 extra-base hits per year.

Always quiet and stoic, Markakis barely cracked a smile when asked whether the weeks of extra work had finally paid off.

“There’s still a lot more hard work to come. I’m feeling better. I still don’t feel like I’m where I need to be. I’m just going to keep plugging away. You got to take it game by game, at-bat by a-bat. You can’t worry about what has happened or what’s coming. You have to stay within yourself where you are right now.”

Only time will tell whether Markakis’ career night was a start of the law of averages swinging back in his favor or a temporary aberration in a season of frustration for the Orioles’ highest-paid player.

The Orioles (30-31) hope it’s the former as they once again climbed to within one game of the .500 mark after picking up their sixth win in 10 games against the Rays. With Brian Roberts still out with concussion-related symptoms, the club needs Markakis’ production in the No. 2 spot to produce runs for an offense that’s struggled through the season’s first 61 games.

“Everybody sees the work Nick’s been putting in,” manager Buck Showalter said. “He feels such a responsibility to the team and the Orioles and fans. We see it, he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. He grinds it, almost to a fault, but that’s why you love him. He’s a piece for us because of the things that he does to give himself a chance to be successful.”

To see how excited his teammates were following the second-inning grand slam was a clear indication of just how much Markakis means to the Orioles and how sorely his production has been missed. They wish that it’s only a preview of what’s to come with the Orioles still hanging around in a competitive American League East.

Everyone — including Markakis — can only wait and wonder.

“If it’s there, you’ll see it,” Markakis said. “You’ll see the results. I’ve got a lot more work to do. I’ve been getting as much [work] in as I can and not wearing myself out, and that’s the beauty of this game. We have a whole lot of games left to play.”

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Live from Camden Yards: Orange Crush chat at 7 as Arrieta, Hellickson face off

Posted on 10 June 2011 by Luke Jones

**Join us in the Orange Crush live chat at 7:00 as the Orioles welcome the Tampa Bay Rays to town in the opener of a three-game set with Jake Arrieta and Jeremy Hellickson both in search of their eighth win of the season**

BALTIMORE — Little has made sense through the first nine games between the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays in 2011.

Though holding a 5-4 edge in the season series, Baltimore is 0-3 against Tampa Bay at Camden Yards, but has gone an impressive 5-1 against the Rays at Tropicana Field. The Orioles (29-31) will attempt to break the early trend this weekend and move closer to the .500 mark before embarking on a nine-game road trip next week.

Right-hander Jake Arrieta will take the bump in search of his eighth win despite a 4.93 earned run average and averaging 4.5 walks per nine innings this season. With a win tonight, Arrieta would become the first Oriole pitcher to record his eighth win as early as June 10 since Sidney Ponson did it on June 7, 2003.

Even with a win, let’s hope Arrieta’s career doesn’t follow the same path as Sir Sidney’s.

Opposing him will be right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who is also seeking his eighth win of the season and has pitched 14 shutout innings in two starts against the Orioles this season, both Tampa Bay victories. Something will have to give in tonight’s game as Hellickson has received the second-best run support in the American League while Arrieta’s run support is fourth-best in the Junior Circuit.

In fact, Arrieta’s average run support (7.14 runs per game) is more than that of Jeremy Guthrie (3.15) and Zach Britton (3.84) combined.

First baseman Brandon Snyder has been recalled to take Derrek Lee’s place on the 25-man roster as the veteran first baseman mourns the passing of his grandfather. Lee is eligible to return Sunday, but is not expected to rejoin the club until the Toronto series on Tuesday.

Here are tonight’s starting lineups:

Tampa Bay
DH Johnny Damon
2B Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
1B Casey Kotchman
CF B.J. Upton
C John Jason
LF Sam Fuld
RF Justin Ruggiano
SS Reid Brignac

SP Jeremy Hellickson (7-3, 2.64 ERA)

Baltimore
SS J.J. Hardy
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
DH Vladimir Guerrero
C Matt Wieters
1B Luke Scott
3B Mark Reynolds
LF Felix Pie
2B Robert Andino

SP Jake Arrieta (7-3, 4.93 ERA)

As we do for every weeknight home game, join us in the Orange Crush live chat beginning at 7:00. Talk about the game with us as an array of WNST.net personalities visit the cyber sports bar throughout the evening! Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the latest updates and analysis regarding the happenings from Oriole Park at Camden Yards!

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Orioles’ struggles becoming not so ‘early’ after weekend sweep to Rays

Posted on 08 May 2011 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The old baseball adage is heard countless times in the early weeks of every season, whether a team or player is off to a smoking start or struggling to clear the spring training cobwebs when the games begin to actually count.

It’s early.

Or, it’s still early.

The Orioles dropped their sixth game in seven tries on Sunday, falling 5-3 as the Tampa Bay Rays completed a three-game sweep at Camden Yards. The club now finds itself with a 14-19 record and in last place in the American League East. After a 6-1 start to spark early-season excitement, Baltimore has now dropped 18 of its last 26 games as the lineup continues to sputter and the back of the starting rotation and bullpen struggle to get the opposition out.

After losing 11 of 13 in mid-April, the Orioles and optimists insisted it was simply a bad stretch, claiming it was too early to panic. A brief run of five wins in six games to close April looked like the start of better baseball, but that idea vanished after the Orioles flamed out in Kansas City and the Rays extracted revenge for the Orioles’ sweep in Tampa Bay to begin the season. The lineup has now scored three or fewer runs in the last five games to continue the early-season frustration after the offense was expected to be much better this season.

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At some point — 33 games into the season, or roughly a fifth of the season — you have to ask yourself when it stops being “early” and concerns become more legitimate. And while many — including me — have pointed to the Orioles’ 2010 woes as a sign that things could be a lot worse to begin 2011, should a historically-terrible pace through the first fourth months last season really be the standard by which a supposedly improved club is judged?

“Just keep grinding,” said manager Buck Showalter about the club’s struggles following a third straight loss to the Rays. “What do you do, give in? Pull the dirt around you? That’s not going to happen. I was proud of the effort and the way they came back today. [The Rays are] pitching well and our bullpen came in and gave us a chance to get back in there. It just didn’t happen.”

After a 34-23 finish put him in unique, mystical territory entering last winter, Showalter sounds far more like Lee Mazzilli or Sam Perlozzo or Dave Trembley these days, unable to explain the short-circuited lineup that has done nothing to help alleviate pressure on the pitching. Of course, Showalter can do a lot of things, like change up the lineup as many have suggested, but he doesn’t swing a bat. Entering Sunday, the Orioles ranked 12th in the American League in batting average, 13th in on-base percentage, 11th in runs scored, and 10th in slugging percentage.

Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero have looked old, Mark Reynolds hasn’t hit his weight (.187 after going 0-for-2 Sunday), and J.J. Hardy has 15 at-bats all season. Even worse, Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis aren’t getting on base consistently, the two players counted on the most in that department. Looking up and down the lineup, Luke Scott has really been the only player to produce what you would have expected entering the season. Roberts, Matt Wieters, and Adam Jones have had brief stretches, but the collective result has amounted to a very underwhelming lineup through the first five weeks of the season.

If Scott’s comments following the game were any indication, players are beginning to realize it’s no longer that early in the year. The frustration is mounting.

“I take a lot of pride in what I do and I speak for a lot of these guys,” he said. “We come prepared as a group and we want to see fruit from our labor on the field. For me, I lose sleep over this stuff, it bothers me. Do I have peace during it? Yes, because I know I have done everything I can possibly do. Get in the weight room, get in the cage and take care of my body.

“It’s going to turn for us. If these are our low moments — with everyone struggling — imagine what it’s going to be like when we are clicking. That is what we are looking forward to.”

For now, everyone can only wait, but the poor on-base percentage and lack of plate discipline — despite drawing walks on Sunday — doesn’t exactly scream a turnaround is imminent.

Of course, the pitching hasn’t been much better as the Orioles continue to cringe every time they get to the back end of the rotation. Brad Bergesen again allowed a start to get away from him on Sunday, allowing five combined runs in the fourth and fifth innings in a fifth career loss in five career starts against the Rays. He has now allowed 24 earned runs in 23 2/3 career innings against Tampa Bay. His earned run average ballooned to 5.57 after the loss, and the right-hander will be a strong candidate to be moved to the bullpen when Brian Matusz returns later this month.

However, Bergesen isn’t even the worst — statistically speaking, anyway — pitcher in the rotation through the season’s first 33 games. Chris Tillman’s 7.16 ERA, diminished velocity, and poor command don’t exactly scream for the 23-year-old to remain in the rotation either. The two have a combined 6.30 ERA in 60 total innings this season, a painful duo to continue sending to the hill, but who else is there to turn to with the minor leagues bare?

Baltimore starters have allowed 23 earned runs in 18 2/3 innings in the last four days, with Jeremy Guthrie and Zach Britton also taking it on the chin this weekend. With the collective struggles at the plate and on the hill, the Orioles will benefit from Monday’s day off before the Seattle Mariners come to town to conclude a six-game homestand off to an 0-3 start.

“It shouldn’t matter mentally,” said Showalter after the Orioles were swept in a three-game home series for the first time since he became manager last August, “but it’s a challenge to be mentally disciplined and not let that be a ‘Here we go again’ mentality. And that will change, too. We’ll pitch better.”

Showalter continues to remain upbeat, insisting the “worm will turn” as he often likes to say. But despite popular belief last season, the Orioles skipper doesn’t hit, pitch, run, field, or even walk on water. Juggling the lineup or making another pitching change only goes so far; the players aren’t producing.

And it was the same problem all the previous managers had.

Everyone — players included — keeps waiting around for the Orioles to start playing better. Their brief stretches of strong play have been dwarfed by longer periods of bad baseball.

There’s still plenty of season, but it’s no longer “early.”

If the Orioles are truly a better team, it’s time they start showing it.

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Orioles hit and walk way to 9-5 victory over Tigers

Posted on 08 April 2011 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — This one had a little bit of everything for the Orioles.

Two different lineup changes before the game even started.

An unconventional 8-9 putout in the fourth inning that really wasn’t an out at all.

Five extra-base hits and seven walks for the offense, two areas in which the Orioles had languished in the season’s first five games.

Three separate comebacks.

But most importantly, a second series win in the opening week of the season after a 9-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Thursday. Lest we forget, the Orioles didn’t earn their first series win until May 2 last year and their second until May 13.

Who knows how long this fast start will continue — remember the Texas Rangers are coming to town for a three-game set before the Orioles head to the Bronx to take on the Yankees — but it’s sure been a lot of fun, hasn’t it? A five-game lead over the Red Sox and the Rays might not mean much in April, but it’s a lot better than trailing by five games right out of the gate.

After doing just enough to get by but failing to overwhelm opponents during their 4-0 start, the lineup busted out Thursday with Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds knocking in three runs apiece and Vladimir Guerrero hitting his first home run of the season. It was a good thing too, as Chris Tillman struggled in 4 2/3 innings in a second straight lackluster start for the Baltimore rotation.

With the Orioles currently missing three projected members of the starting rotation, they’ll need potent bats to stick with two of the most prolific offenses in the game over their next six games. But they hadn’t been very potent in terms of power, or simply getting on base, in the first five games of the season. The Orioles had just 11 extra-base hits entering the night before collecting five against Tigers pitching, including home runs by Guerrero and Jones and a two-run double by Reynolds.

They hadn’t been patient either, collecting just eight free passes in five games before drawing seven walks against Detroit pitching.

It was an impressive display of power and patience as every starter except Brian Roberts — who collected two hits anyway — either homered or walked to send the Orioles to their biggest run output of the young season.

The Orioles’ offensive explosion occurred despite the late scratch of shortstop J.J. Hardy, who is dealing with a lower left rib cage injury. Cesar Izturis took his place in a move that wasn’t announced until the Orioles had taken the field to warm up for the top of the first inning. Left fielder Luke Scott was a late addition to the lineup after he proved to be fit to play after a successful batting practice session.

Even the light-hitting Izturis felt the hitting bug, collecting a run-scoring single as part of the Orioles’ pivotal five-run seventh inning that transformed the Tigers’ 5-4 lead into a 9-5 victory to move the Orioles to 5-1 and all alone atop the AL East.

Hardy spoke to reporters following the game, saying he felt minimal pain when swinging hard during batting practice. It was ultimately manager Buck Showalter’s decision to keep him out of the lineup on a chilly night at Camden Yards. Hardy does not believe the injury is serious but wanted to see how it responds on Friday before committing to an immediate return to the lineup.

The injuries keep piling up, but the Orioles have overcome — and thrived — against early adversity in the opening week of the season.

Instead of making excuses, or lamenting over who’s not able to play on any given night, the Orioles continue to get the job done since Showalter took over in early August of last season.

It’s sure been a fun ride so far.

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