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Saturday’s loss illustrates problem keeping Jimenez in Orioles bullpen

Posted on 04 June 2017 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We got our answer Saturday night.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-2 win over Boston

Posted on 03 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their third straight game in a 3-2 victory over Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Alec Asher bounced back from his last start in a major way, registering his second quality start against the Red Sox and validating Buck Showalter’s decision to give him the ball again despite a disastrous showing in Houston.

2. After setting a major league record for home runs in June last year, the Orioles have hit six long balls in the first two days of the new month with two in the first inning Friday. Giving Asher an early lead was critical after his last outing.

3. Manny Machado becoming the first hitter to reach the second deck at Camden Yards since Mark Reynolds in 2011 was an amazing feat, but I was impressed with him admitting that the mammoth blast messed up his approach for his remaining at-bats Friday. He’s slowly getting himself straightened out.

4. Asher didn’t pitch out of the stretch until the sixth inning. It’s easy to see that the Boston lineup isn’t firing on all cylinders right now, but that’s quite an accomplishment for a pitcher who began the season in the minors.

5. His stuff doesn’t scare anyone, but Asher effectively commanded his two-seam and four-seam fastballs, throwing those two pitches 68 percent of the time and inducing plenty of weak contact throughout the night.

6. Hyun Soo Kim delivered the eventual game-winning RBI double in the fourth inning on an 0-2 pitch from Rick Porcello. The emergence of Trey Mancini has understandably diminished Kim’s role, but I’d still like to see his name in the lineup more frequently.

7. The Orioles missed a golden opportunity to add to their lead in the sixth inning when they had runners at the corners with one out. You’d really like to squeeze across one run there in a close game.

8. Despite Asher throwing more pitches in an outing than he had in a month, I didn’t have a problem with him starting the seventh. Showalter was wise to pull him when he did, however, and admitted after the game that he let him go a little longer than he intended.

9. Caleb Joseph throwing out Jackie Bradley Jr. attempting to steal to end the seventh inning was a big play, especially when you consider that the Boston center fielder had been caught stealing only two other times in his major league career.

10. There was much angst about Darren O’Day at the beginning of the season, but he’s now struck out 20 batters over his last 11 innings of work dating back to May 5. I’d say he’s put the rough start behind him.

11. Brad Brach has now converted all three of his save opportunities and has pitched five scoreless frames since his blown save at Detroit on May 16. Regardless of what happens with Zach Britton in the coming weeks, that’s an encouraging development.

12. Many were ready to give up on the Orioles just five days ago after they had lost 13 of 16 games, but they improved to a superb 21-11 against the American League East on Friday. Some home cooking and familiar opponents were just what they needed apparently.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 8-3 win over Boston

Posted on 05 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles finishing off a rocky 3-4 road trip with an 8-3 win over the Boston Red Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles didn’t enjoy their four-game series in Boston for a variety of reasons, but you had to be impressed with their fortitude when it would have been easy to just look forward to going home Thursday night. Salvaging a split really showed something underneath the hood.

2. Considering he found out he’d be starting less than 24 hours before first pitch, Tyler Wilson turned in a crucial six-inning performance to not only give the Orioles a good chance to win but also save a pitching staff that had its rotation turned upside down a day earlier.

3. Retiring 12 of the final 13 hitters he faced, Wilson again showed he isn’t intimidated pitching at Fenway, the same place where he threw eight shutout innings in a win last season. It remains to be seen whether he can succeed in the majors long term, but the kid battles.

4. His profanity-laced rant garnered some unflattering attention — even if he made very sound points — but Manny Machado can hold his head up over how he handled himself on the field. He clobbered his third homer of the series to give the Orioles the lead in the fourth.

5. An unusual number of opposing lefty starters has limited the at-bats for Seth Smith early on, but the veteran collected four hits to raise his average from .222 to .286. His .397 on-base percentage thus far is exactly what the Orioles were looking for when they acquired him from Seattle.

6. Smith’s swipe of home on the back end of a double steal gave the Orioles their eighth and ninth stolen bases of the year after a total of 19 in 2016. With the offense not exactly firing on all cylinders, it’s been good to see them force the issue some.

7. I’m guessing more than a few fans were afraid early on that the Orioles were going to be shut down by Kyle Kendrick in his first major league appearance since 2015. It took a little while, but the third time through the order did the trick.

8. It paled in comparison to what happened at Yankee Stadium last week, but the Orioles bullpen made it interesting in the seventh as Donnie Hart and Mychal Givens combined to load the bases with two outs. You hope the group now being back to full strength will stabilize things.

9. Joey Rickard received praise for his inning-ending catch in the seventh, but Statcast rated the play as having a routine 96-percent catch probability. It wasn’t a graceful grab, but Buck Showalter was certainly relieved that he made the play.

10. Zach Britton allowed one hit and struck out Jackie Bradley Jr. on an impressive slider in a scoreless ninth inning, but he didn’t get much movement on his sinker for the second straight outing since his return from the disabled list.

11. Just over nine months removed from Tommy John surgery, Hunter Harvey will complete a 25-pitch bullpen session on Friday. That’s certainly encouraging news for the former first-round pick who’s just 22 years old.

12. Given how mentally draining these last seven games with New York and Boston were, the Orioles have to be happy to conclude a season-opening stretch of 24 of 27 games against the American League East. Nineteen of their next 22 come against opponents outside the division.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-2 win over Boston

Posted on 02 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles opening a four-game road series with a 5-2 win over Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. He was a hated man at Fenway Park after the recent drama with the Red Sox, but Manny Machado reminded us why he’s one of the game’s best players with a monster home run and several defensive plays that were terrific even by his standards. Don’t make him angry.

2. Dylan Bundy quelled recent concerns about his velocity by averaging 91.6 miles per hour with his fastball and turning in his sixth straight quality start. You know you’re off to a terrific start to 2017 when you allow two runs over seven innings and your season ERA increases to 1.82.

3. Despite matching a career high with four walks, Bundy did a superb job pitching out of jams by inducing two double plays and taking a shutout into the eighth. The free passes appear to be contagious, however, as Orioles pitching entered Monday with the highest walk rate in the majors.

4. I was genuinely surprised to see Bundy back on the mound to start the eighth after 99 pitches and with no one warming in the bullpen. Is it really a good idea for him to be throwing a career-high 111 pitches five days after his velocity was markedly down?

5. It was disturbing to learn what Adam Jones had to face on Monday night, making his performance in center field that much more impressive as he made a terrific catch to end a problematic eighth inning and added another nifty grab in the ninth.

6. Trying to protect a slim lead, Bundy didn’t appear to be in a spot to plunk Mookie Betts on purpose, but the optics were shaky after coming inside two pitches earlier. Either way, I’m sick of this saga that started with a slide not even considered malicious by the victim.

7. It’s laughable for anyone in Boston to take offense to Machado’s trot around the bases on his sixth-inning blast considering the retired David Ortiz just now reached home plate on the final home run of his career clubbed last September.

8. After collecting his first RBIs since Sept. 11, 2015 on Saturday, Caleb Joseph picked up an RBI in his second straight start with a double in the fifth. He’s a machine!

9. As if the Red Sox defense wasn’t bad enough, Hanley Ramirez rushing into second as Andrew Benintendi was standing on that very base was a bold strategy in the eighth. The Orioles took full advantage of the Boston ineptitude late in the game.

10. Chris Davis striking out three times isn’t exactly unusual, but I continue to be amazed by how many called strike threes he continues to take. He struck out looking twice and has already done it 17 times this year after shattering a career high with 79 last year.

11. Brad Brach provided an uneventful ninth inning to secure his fifth save and final opportunity before Zach Britton is activated on Tuesday. That was a pleasant change after what went down on both Friday and Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

12. Hyun Soo Kim sat in favor of Ryan Flaherty’s small-sample success against Rick Porcello. With two lefties and knuckleballer Steven Wright starting the next three games, Kim will likely sit more. There sure seem to be a lot of reasons not to play a .302 hitter from a year ago.

(Update: The Red Sox announced after Monday’s game that Wright would be going to the 10-day disabled list with a knee injury.)

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-2 loss to Boston

Posted on 23 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles failing to complete a sweep in a 6-2 loss to Boston on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Manny Machado had every right to be upset after Boston reliever Matt Barnes’ pitch nearly hit him in the head, but the young third baseman showed impressive composure that wouldn’t have been there in the past. The Orioles couldn’t afford to lose him to suspension, and he’s apparently learned that.

2. Dustin Pedroia deserves credit for handling the weekend-long saga with more class and maturity than some of his teammates and even his manager. You only hope his unfortunate knee injury doesn’t keep him sidelined for long.

3. Even if you buy Barnes’ claim that he wasn’t trying to throw at Machado’s head — it was obvious that he was trying to hit him somewhere at least — that’s why intentionally hitting a batter is dangerous and shouldn’t have a place in the game. Pitchers miss spots all the time.

4. The day was ruined for Kevin Gausman after his first eight pitches as he allowed a three-run home run to Mookie Betts on a fastball and a solo shot to Hanley Ramirez on a hanging slider. His performance after that was OK, but a 7.50 season ERA speaks for itself.

5. How much of an issue has control and command been for Gausman? He walked three batters or more for the fourth time in five starts. He walked three or more in just three of his 30 starts last year.

6. A silver lining to Gausman’s outing was some improvement with his split-changeup, which had largely been nonexistent in his first four starts. However, that pitch failed him in the fifth inning when Mitch Moreland hit one over the center-field fence for a solo shot.

7. Despite giving up a career-high 28 home runs last year, Gausman surprisingly hadn’t had problems with the long ball this season before Sunday. He surrendered three to the Red Sox after giving up only one in his first 18 2/3 innings.

8. Concern with Gausman’s 2017 start is more than fair, but let’s pump the brakes on the hyperbole of him being a bust and comparing him to Jake Arrieta in Baltimore. The 26-year-old posted a 3.77 ERA from 2014 to 2016 and was the Orioles’ best starter last year.

9. Eduardo Rodriguez was impressive over six innings of one-hit ball to earn his first victory of the season. Yes, I’m still fine with the Orioles trading him to the Red Sox for Andrew Miller in 2014.

10. It was a rough day for Trey Mancini, who struck out three times and left five runners on base over his final two at-bats. Of course, he wasn’t alone as the Orioles left 10 men on base and were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

11. Even with Sunday’s defeat, the Orioles still ended the weekend with the best record in the American League at 12-5. With Chris Tillman and Zach Britton out with injuries and Kevin Gausman struggling mightily, who would have guessed that three weeks ago?

12. Watching Barnes throw at Machado in the eighth, I couldn’t help but think of the thousands of kids at Camden Yards who were waiting to run the bases, a great Sunday post-game promotion. I’m sure that nonsensical garbage they had to watch will really help grow the sport though.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-2 win over Boston

Posted on 23 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their fourth straight game in a 2-0 final over Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There was nothing fancy about his outing with a fastball maxing out around 90 miles per hour, but Jayson Aquino fetched the desired results by allowing two earned runs over six innings for his first major league win. He limited hard contact and made good pitches when he needed to.

2. Steven Wright appeared to be on his way to avenging his nightmare outing against the Orioles last week before completely losing the feel of his knuckler in the fourth. One of the good stories in the American League from a year ago is currently a mess for the Red Sox.

3. Wright will have nightmares about Trey Mancini, who now has two home runs in three at-bats against the right-hander. Mancini continues to dazzle and tied the major league record for home runs in his first 17 career games with eight.

4. The only real blemish on Aquino’s night was a hanging slider thrown to Jackie Bradley Jr. for a long two-run homer in the third. That was the first ball hit onto Eutaw Street this season and the 89th in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

5. Aquino’s best moment of the night was his curveball to strike out Hanley Ramirez and strand two runners in the top of the fifth. The rookie needed that shutdown frame after his offense gave him four runs in the previous half-inning.

6. Orioles pitchers have now allowed only three runs over their last 42 innings and have registered quality starts in eight of the last nine games. That’s not too shabby with Chris Tillman and Zach Britton currently on the disabled list.

7. Darren O’Day needed only one pitch to register the save, but Mychal Givens did the heavy lifting in the bullpen. He retired the top six hitters in the Boston lineup over two perfect innings. Lefties are also just 1-for-9 against him so far in 2017.

8. I understood Boston’s displeasure over Manny Machado’s hard slide into Dustin Pedroia on Friday — the All-Star third baseman has to wear his reputation stemming from the bat-throwing incident in 2014 — but it was nice to see no retaliation. Hopefully that continues moving forward.

9. The Orioles are now eight games over .500 less than three weeks into the season. It’s only April, but stacking more wins now means a lighter burden down the stretch. A strong first half last year carried them to the playoffs despite mediocre play after the All-Star break.

10. Adam Jones stole his second base of the season to match his total from 2016. It only took him 16 games to do it this time around.

11. Regardless of the number of opposing lefty starters and Buck Showalter pointing to his lack of familiarity with knuckleballers — no hitters see them regularly — Hyun Soo Kim should be getting more at-bats and certainly shouldn’t be losing so many to Craig Gentry, who’s hitting .167.

12. The results weren’t pretty, but Chris Tillman told Showalter it was the “best he’s felt” in a rehab outing for Double-A Bowie against Harrisburg on Saturday. The recent performance of the starting rotation should ease some temptation to rush him back before he’s ready.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 8-1 loss to Boston

Posted on 12 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles surrendering a total of six runs in the seventh and eighth innings of an 8-1 loss to Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Infield defense is one of the Orioles’ greatest strengths, making J.J. Hardy’s error on what should have been an inning-ending double play in the seventh so surprising. What followed after that was downright brutal. Kicking the ball around to give the Red Sox lineup extra outs is begging for doom.

2. Lost in the ugliness of the last few innings was the fact that the Baltimore lineup has scored just twice in its last 16 innings. One run at Fenway Park isn’t going to cut it.

3. The final line for Darren O’Day doesn’t reflect him looking better than he did in his first two outings. He induced what should have been an easy double play and a pop fly that should have been caught. Few survive when they have to get five outs in an inning.

4. Dylan Bundy wasn’t carrying stuff or command as dominant as we saw against Toronto, but he gave his club a good chance to win over 6 1/3 innings. He didn’t miss many bats with just nine swinging strikes, but he still turned in a quality start against a superb lineup.

5. Considering how much he labored without a single 1-2-3 inning on the night, Bundy throwing a career-high 106 pitches against a club that led the majors in scoring last year reflects how much confidence manager Buck Showalter has in the 24-year-old.

6. Tuesday marked the latest example of Orioles hitters faltering against left-handed pitching. Baltimore was one of the worst teams in baseball against southpaws last year, a trend that can’t continue in 2017.

7. Give Drew Pomeranz credit for those struggles as he turned in a strong performance after an unsettling spring. The Red Sox lefty’s fastball velocity was strong early, and he did a good job pitching inside against right-handed hitters.

8. Their defensive mistakes in the seventh stood out, but Hardy and Schoop are each hitting .105 through the first six games and aren’t offering much at the bottom of the order thus far.

9. Welington Castillo had two hits and threw out Hanley Ramirez trying to steal, but his baserunning cost the Orioles a run in the second inning and hurt them again in the seventh. The Orioles lack speed, but they have to take extra bases when presented the opportunity.

10. His strong spring earned him a roster spot, but Craig Gentry being in the leadoff spot against a lefty is a tough sell for me. There may not be a natural fit with Joey Rickard sidelined, but I’d still go with virtually anyone else at the top of the order.

11. Trey Mancini did a respectable job playing left field in front of the Green Monster on Tuesday and showed why you like having his bat in the lineup against a lefty when he put a charge into one for a double to deep right-center in the second.

12. Despite Mancini’s potential, Hyun Soo Kim seemed to be a good candidate to hit for him with runners at the corners and no outs in the seventh and right-hander Heath Hembree pitching. The Orioles needed a good at-bat there, and Kim’s approach is one of the best on the club

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2017 American League East preview

Posted on 01 April 2017 by Luke Jones

The American League East has been won by a club winning fewer than 95 games in each of the last two seasons, something that hadn’t happened since 2000 prior to that.

It’s a reflection of how competitive the division has been in recent years after a long period of time in which New York and Boston dominated at the top and the other three clubs languished. However, the Red Sox look like the favorite to finish in first place in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1915 and 1916 when Babe Ruth pitched at Fenway Park.

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

1. BOSTON (2016 record: 93-69, first place)
Notable additions: SP Chris Sale, 1B Mitch Moreland, RP Tyler Thornburg
Notable losses: DH David Ortiz, RP Koji Uehara, RP Junichi Tazawa, INF Travis Shaw, RP Brad Ziegler
Why to like them:
Already sporting the third-best starter ERA in the AL last year, the Red Sox added one of the game’s best pitchers in Sale to go along with the highest-scoring offense in the majors.
Why to dislike them:
Starters David Price and Drew Pomeranz and Thornburg headline the list of current pitching injuries, which put more pressure on an offense that lost the incomparable Ortiz.
Player to watch:
A trimmed-down and healthy Pablo Sandoval had a good spring and could help stabilize the hot corner for a lineup with very few holes elsewhere.
2017 outlook (92-70):
Even with the current concerns in their rotation and the potential emotional hangover of no longer having Ortiz, the Red Sox still possess the most talent in the division.

2. TORONTO (2016 record: 89-73, tied for second place)
Notable additions: DH/1B Kendrys Morales, 1B/OF Steve Pearce, RP Joe Smith, RP J.P. Howell
Notable losses: DH/1B Edwin Encarnacion, OF Michael Saunders, RP Brett Cecil, RP Joaquin Benoit, SP R.A. Dickey
Why to like them: The Blue Jays finished first in the AL in starter ERA in 2016 with both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman having the potential to be even better this year.
Why to dislike them: You can understand not wanting to invest too much in the 34-year-old Encarnacion, but the Blue Jays are going to miss his dangerous bat in their lineup.
Player to watch: The Toronto lineup looks even more vulnerable if Jose Bautista’s decline in 2016 was more about age and less about the nagging injuries he dealt with.
2017 outlook (88-74, wild card): The Blue Jays offense isn’t quite as dangerous as it was a couple years ago, but the rotation has fewer questions than Boston’s despite lacking the same star power.

3. BALTIMORE (2016 record: 89-73, tied for second place)
Notable additions: C Welington Castillo, OF Seth Smith, RP Vidal Nuno, OF Craig Gentry
Notable losses: C Matt Wieters, SP Yovani Gallardo, 1B/OF Steve Pearce, RP Vance Worley
Why to like them: The home run potential remains impressive, the bullpen dominant, and the infield defense very strong as the Orioles seek their fourth trip to the playoffs in six years.
Why to dislike them: The starting rotation is this club’s Achilles heel every year, but Chris Tillman’s lingering shoulder issue creates more concern than usual in this department for Buck Showalter.
Player to watch: Dylan Bundy enters 2017 as the No. 2 starter in his first full season in the rotation, which is a lot to ask of a pitcher who lost significant parts of three minor-league seasons with injuries.
2016 outlook (85-77): Kevin Gausman might be ready to become a legitimate ace, but there’s too much uncertainty with Tillman and Bundy to trust that the rotation won’t hold back the rest of the club.

4. NEW YORK (2016 record: 84-78, fourth place)
Notable additions: RP Aroldis Chapman, DH/OF Matt Holliday, 1B/DH Chris Carter
Notable losses: C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, SP Nathan Eovaldi
Why to like them: Catcher Gary Sanchez is headlining a youth movement that has many expecting the Yankees to return to prominence soon while the bullpen should be very strong with Chapman’s return.
Why to dislike them: Masahiro Tanaka is very good and Michael Pineda and Luis Severino are talented, but there isn’t much else to really like about a mediocre starting rotation.
Player to watch: After shoulder surgery cost him the entire 2016 season, first baseman Greg Bird had a monster spring and showed the promise he did at the end of the 2015 campaign.
2017 outlook (80-82): The Yankees have some intriguing youngsters to watch, but they’ll have growing pains and there are still too many declining veterans to allow them to seriously contend.

5. TAMPA BAY (2016 record: 68-94, fifth place)
Notable additions: OF Colby Rasmus, OF Rickie Weeks, RP Tommy Hunter, C Wilson Ramos, OF Peter Bourjos, C Derek Norris
Notable losses: 2B Logan Forsythe, SP Drew Smyly
Why to like them: Chris Archer leads a starting rotation that still holds plenty of talent despite injuries and ineffectiveness that led to the Rays underachieving in 2016.
Why to dislike them: The offense lost Forsythe in the offseason and still remains a clear weakness while the bullpen doesn’t inspire much confidence to back up the starting pitching.
Player to watch: Alex Cobb was on his way to becoming one of the top pitchers in the AL before injuries cost him all but 22 innings over the last two seasons, but he finally appears to be healthy.
2016 outlook (74-88): Injuries and tough luck made the Rays worse than their talented suggested a year ago, but the days of Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman still feel like a long time ago.

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Orioles bring back old friend Andino on minor-league deal

Posted on 06 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles are bringing an old friend to Sarasota for a look this spring.

Veteran infielder Robert Andino has agreed to a minor-league contract that will include an invitation to spring training. Originally acquired from the Florida Marlins in exchange for pitcher Hayden Penn in 2009, the 32-year-old spent four seasons in Baltimore, appearing in 360 games and hitting .239 with a .629 on-base plus slugging percentage in 1,223 plate appearances.

Andino was considered a local hero for his role in helping knock the Boston Red Sox out of postseason contention in the 2011 regular-season finale. His game-winning single not only ended the Orioles’ season on a winning note, but it served as the symbolic turning point for a club that qualified for the playoffs a year later to end a miserable stretch of 14 consecutive losing seasons.

Having appeared in just 42 major league games since being dealt to Seattle after the 2012 campaign, Andino brings more spring depth to the Baltimore infield.

The Orioles also confirmed the minor-league signing of infielder Johnny Giavotella, who appeared in 99 games for the Los Angeles Angels last year and owns a career .256 average over six major league seasons.

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Costly week all but squashes AL East title hopes for Orioles

Posted on 21 September 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — David Ortiz sent one deep into the night and with it went virtually all hope of a division title for the Orioles.

Much of the damage had already been done in the five days leading up to Tuesday’s seventh inning when Kevin Gausman gave up a three-run homer to the Boston designated hitter, turning a one-run deficit into a four-run chasm with the way the Orioles have swung the bats on the current homestand and for much of the second half.

A 21-game winner in Rick Porcello shutting them down on Monday was one thing, but former Baltimore farmhand Eduardo Rodriguez stifled them on Tuesday as Orioles batters expanded the zone and didn’t record a hit until rookie Trey Mancini hit a solo home run with two outs in the fifth inning of his major league debut.

You can question Buck Showalter for not turning to lefty specialist Donnie Hart in that fateful encounter with Ortiz and instead sticking with Gausman, who wasn’t nearly as sharp against the Red Sox on Tuesday as he was in a brilliant eight-inning performance in a 1-0 win at Fenway Park last week. Whether you agreed with the manager’s confidence in his starter or not, the 25-year-old has pitched like an ace over the last six weeks and Hart entered the night with all of 17 major league appearances under his belt, so he wasn’t leaving the second coming of Andrew Miller in the bullpen, either.

Gausman throwing a fourth consecutive fastball instead of trying to bury a split-changeup in a 1-2 count appeared unwise after Ortiz had nearly homered on a fastball in his previous at bat, but catcher Matt Wieters and the starting pitcher both noted that the 40-year-old slugger had laid off several splits earlier in the game. Of course, it didn’t help that Gausman’s fastball intended for the low-and-away corner rose up and over the outer half of the plate.

Still, these were just details in what’s been the harsh truth for the Orioles since coming off their best road trip of the season. With the chance for an American League East title still sitting right there in their return to Oriole Park at Camden Yards last Thursday, Showalter’s club hasn’t risen to the occasion.

Facing the last-place Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles settled for an underwhelming four-game split. Meanwhile, the Red Sox took four straight from the New York Yankees to increase their lead over Baltimore in the division from one game to three by the conclusion of the weekend.

And knowing they needed to take three out of four from Boston to keep themselves in good position to still win the AL East with nine more games remaining after that, the Orioles have scored a total of four runs over the first two games of the series — both 5-2 losses. An offense once among the best in baseball has scored two runs in each of its last four games, losing three of them.

Now a season-worst five games out of first place with 11 to play, the Orioles’ remote chance of winning the division would be to take the final two games of the Boston series and play lights out the rest of the way while hoping the Red Sox stub their toe substantially. At this point, securing a wild card isn’t a sure thing, either, with Toronto now a game ahead for the first spot and Detroit closing the gap to just 1 1/2 games for the second berth currently held by the Orioles.

Even with their division hopes all but gone, the Orioles can still rebound and have managed to do so  several times after rough stretches in the second half despite a disappointing 31-33 mark since the All-Star break. But the last week illustrates how the Orioles haven’t been able to extend the good times like they did in the first half when they strung together three different seven-game winning streaks.

You thought a 6-3 road trip including critical series wins over Detroit and Boston might have been the springboard for the Orioles to retake the division lead, but they have instead drifted in the wrong direction while the Red Sox have reeled off six straight victories since Gausman’s masterpiece last Wednesday night.

A 2-4 start to the final homestand of the season clearly isn’t what the Orioles had in mind, especially after thriving at Camden Yards for most of the season. There’s still time to recover to maintain their grip on a postseason spot, but their hopes for anything better than a wild card have been all but crushed in the matter of six days.

In a costly week, the Orioles just haven’t been good enough while the Red Sox have emerged as the class of the AL East.

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