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Twelve Orioles thoughts ahead of West Coast road trip

Posted on 30 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles coming off just their second series win of the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Dan Duquette said Friday it was a little early” to be talking selling, which is fine considering potential contenders are still evaluating their own rosters. But what’s the Angelos family’s plan? Will Duquette — with his expiring contract — orchestrate trades? Brady Anderson? A new hire? The clock is ticking loudly now.

2. Manny Machado entered Monday leading the majors with a .361 average and his home run, walk, and strikeout rates are career highs thus far. An MVP-caliber start helps his trade value, but failing to re-sign him or secure the optimal return value has been organizational malpractice.

3. Many expected the final two or three years of the Chris Davis deal to be ugly, but Buck Showalter’s comments on Sunday spoke volumes about this nightmare. For context, he’ll remain under contract as long as the just-drafted Lamar Jackson — assuming the Ravens exercise his fifth-year option.

4. Pedro Alvarez being pushed into last-second duty Sunday and hitting two homers was impressive on Sunday. He leads the club in both homer rate (8.6 percent of plate appearances) and walk rate (15.7 percent). Give him credit after playing most of last season at Triple-A Norfolk.

5. Mark Trumbo’s activation in Anaheim will give the Orioles a fifth player on the roster — Davis, Alvarez, Trey Mancini, and Danny Valencia the others — whose best role would be as the designated hitter or first baseman. Trumbo playing right field certainly isn’t going to help a below-average defense.

6. The suggestion of Richard Bleier closing out Sunday’s win would have been crazy even at the beginning of the season, but the fact that some were clamoring for him reflects how terrific he’s been. He’s second on the club behind Machado in wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

7. Orioles catchers have struck out in 36.7 percent of their plate appearances so far this season. I support Chance Sisco playing over Caleb Joseph at this point, but he’s striking out two out of every five times at the plate. That must improve sooner than later.

8. Zach Britton is moving closer to potentially returning in early June, a remarkable recovery from his torn Achilles tendon. Perhaps that’ll be enough time for the former All-Star closer to build enough trade value, but a two-year deal this winter could have made a lot of sense for both sides.

9. This was the first home series win since last August. The Orioles have gone 15-42 since then and are 61-97 since their 22-10 start last season. To recover enough to win 85 games, they’d have to play like a 93-win team the rest of the way. Cue Lloyd Christmas.

10. The Orioles and Kansas City are both in the basement of their respective divisions less than four years after meeting in the American League Championship Series. That feels like a really long time ago, but at least the Royals can take solace in having won a World Series.

11. I’m not sure how many were preparing to stay up late to watch a last-place team on the West Coast this week, but I was disappointed to see Shohei Ohtani’s scheduled Tuesday start pushed back to the weekend after last week’s ankle sprain. His story is incredible.

12. Sunday was the 30th anniversary of the Orioles snapping their historic 0-21 start to begin the 1988 season. I recommend this look back as well as this MLB Network package chronicling that incomprehensible record. The 2018 Orioles are five games better than that club through 28 games.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-1 loss to Boston

Posted on 15 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their third straight defeat in a 3-1 final against the Boston Red Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles led 1-0 three batters into the game and didn’t score again as the bottom six lineup spots were 0-for-20 with one walk and 12 strikeouts. No one expects 10 runs per game with the tough schedule and cold weather they’ve endured in April, but this is ridiculous.

2. Sixteen games into the season, three regulars against right-handed starters — Manny Machado, Trey Mancini, and Pedro Alvarez — have swung the bat well. Two part-timers — Chance Sisco and Craig Gentry — have been OK. The overall performance of everyone else has ranged from poor to below-replacement level.

3. In the four games in which Dylan Bundy has started, he’s posted a 1.40 ERA while the Orioles have scored a total of seven runs. To channel Gisele Bundchen, he can’t pitch the ball and hit the ball. If only he were Shohei Ohtani.

4. Bundy recorded five of his six strikeouts on his slider and has now gotten a swing and miss on 35.3 percent of his sliders this season. That’s up from 24.4 percent last year. Impressive.

5. It’s tough to pitch when you have to get five outs in the sixth inning of a tie game. Maybe it wasn’t a great idea to cut payroll by 10 percent without bothering to acquire a real utility infielder. Danny Valencia’s career minus-36 defensive runs saved aren’t a secret.

6. Until this season, the infield had done a good job masking the Orioles’ overall defensive decline since 2014 when they led the American League in defensive runs saved. Baltimore entered Sunday 12th in the AL in DRS and has finished 11th or 12th every season since its division title campaign.

7. I’ve been a Caleb Joseph guy, but he really needs to start hitting. His defense is his strength, but a .286 on-base plus slugging percentage is unacceptable with Sisco behind him. He needs to produce in the neighborhood of what he offered last year (.700 OPS) or 2015 (.693).

8. Richard Bleier pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings isn’t shocking, but registering two strikeouts is rare after having only three in his first 9 2/3 innings of 2018 and striking out only 3.7 per nine frames last season. The lefty sinkerballer is a fascinating contrast to the strikeout-heavy relievers of today.

9. Even before Monday’s postponement, the Orioles were listing Chris Tillman’s turn in the rotation as TBD for the Detroit series. I expect him to receive a few more opportunities, but that’s still pretty telling. Then again, an 8.28 ERA since the start of last year says it all.

10. Jonathan Schoop expressed hope Sunday that he’d only be on the disabled list for the minimum 10 days before returning. I admire his desire, but oblique injuries can linger all season if not handled carefully. I expect the training staff to protect the All-Star second baseman from himself if necessary.

11. Alex Cobb had an awful debut, but overreaction has been silly. There’s much over which to be concerned, but declaring someone who signed less than four weeks ago a bust is a bit much. That said, Baltimore is already running out of time for Cobb to get up to speed.

12. We’re only 10 percent of the way through the schedule, but Sunday was only the third of 11 losses in which the margin of defeat was three runs or fewer, reflecting the struggle to even be all that competitive. It’s going to start getting late very early if this continues.

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