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Orioles rookie pitcher Zach Britton on surprise call-up and debut: “I’m happy to be here”

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Orioles rookie pitcher Zach Britton on surprise call-up and debut: “I’m happy to be here”

Posted on 07 April 2011 by Ryan Chell

For all the debate going into spring training as to whether prized pitching prospect Zach Britton would join the big league club at the start of the season and fit right into the starting rotation, that argument came to an end last weekend when one of the Orioles’ highly touted rookie made his major league debut against the Tampa Bay Rays Sunday in a 5-1 victory.

Zach Britton

Britton, a third round pick by the Orioles in the 2006 MLB Draft out of high school, quickly made the rise throughout Baltimore’s minor league system.

He quickly earned national prominence as the Orioles’ top-rated prospect, and was the 10th best in the nation according to an early Baseball America poll.

And he put the numbers up in spring training to back those opinions.

And after going 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA in Sarasota in five games, Oriole fans-and now we know the coaching staff had similar desires-wanted Britton to join the 25-man roster and the Orioles’ five-man pitching rotation.

And at the expense of fellow teammate Brian Matusz going on the DL with a back injury, he was able to do so Sunday versus the Rays and make the most of it.

Britton in six innings of work allowed only three hits, one run, while striking out six for his first ever major league win.

His performance completed the three-game sweep of the defending AL East Champion Rays, and on top of piggy-backing fellow “rookie” Chris Tillman’s six no-hit innings on Saturday, his performance set the team up for success in the hope-opener against Detroit Monday this week-another 5-1 win by Baltimore.

Britton joined “The Mobtown Sports Beat” with Thyrl Nelson Tuesday on the Orioles off-day as both he and his team’s emotions have been riding high given the team’s surprising start.

“I’m just excited to be here,” Britton told Nelson. “You know, it’s been pretty exciting the last couple days, especially with Opening Day. We’re riding a pretty good streak right now. Hopefully, we’ll continue it.”

Britton told Nelson that he had some jitters going into Sunday’s game playing in a professional stadium like Tropicana Field, and if there was any criticism of Britton’s performance on Sunday-it could have been problems with control and his pitch count at times.

Britton backed up that argument, and said that his adrenaline may have got the best of him in some key situations.

“It’s all about sharpening my command,” Britton said. “I wasn’t happy with the three walks.”

But, Britton said he’s never been a negative person, and his manager in Buck Showalter told him that looking at the things that went wrong in a special event for him would just be the wrong thing to do.

“Once I get a couple starts under my belt, then I’ll start looking at the negatives,” the Orioles rookie said. “The first couple starts I’m just going to look at the things I did well and things I can improve on like throwing strikes…making sure I’m being aggressive and making them beat me, not beating myself.”

It was also a testament to Britton’s character regarding the fact that he rebounded from being sent down the week before to having to quickly adjust being mentally prepared to face a big-league ball-club.

“I’m happy to be here,” he said. “With the situation that happened in camp, I understood the decision was just business, and they told me I wasn’t going to be down in Norfolk very long, and I wasn’t down there at all.”

Britton’s next start will come Friday versus another AL Champion-in this case the pennant-winning Texas Rangers.

And ever since taking in both his first ever win and start on Sunday to enjoying the environment of Opening Day the following afternoon, his focus has solely been on that Texas lineup of Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Adrian Beltre.

But yet, he’s not going to get himself worked up by the next step in his progression as an Orioles starting pitcher.

“When it’s my turn to get out there, it’s business as usual. I’m not trying to psych myself up or over-hype the hitters. I’m just going to try to go out there and pitch my game,” Britton replied.

And when fellow southpaw Brian Matusz finally does become healthy yet again, he hopes that the team will be far enough along that welcoming him back will be the best thing that could happen.

“Unfortunately Brian got hurt but I’m just hoping to fill in and when he does get back, we’ll have a pretty good rotation,” Britton said. “We’re looking forward to getting him back hopefully so he can continue what we started.”

WNST thanks Zach Britton for joining us to talk about the start of the season and hope to continue following his progress in an Oriole uniform! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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Rougher waters loom for the Orioles young, depleted pitching staff

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Rougher waters loom for the Orioles young, depleted pitching staff

Posted on 06 April 2011 by Rex Snider

We are four games into the 2011 season and the optimism of a “brand new start” is resonating throughout this city. I suppose four consecutive wins, featuring solid pitching and good fundamentals will attract the wandering eye, huh?

In this span of just five days, the Orioles have garnered a splash or two on the national stage, as well. Such exposure also rallies the attention of many casual, local baseball fans who’ve lost interest over the past several seasons.

This renewed excitement is certainly noteworthy and even if it’s short-lived, the feeling is rekindling for many of us. I applaud the reborn enthusiasm, but I will also take this moment to serve as the cautious voice of reason …..

I’m not casting a conspicuous warning that 158 games remain on the balance of the schedule. Everybody can count, and we’re all aware of the slight fraction of a season that has expired. Plenty of good (and bad) baseball remains.

I have been pleased with a product that appears to be building on last season’s late success. However, I’m also very cautious about the immediate schedule of opponents looming directly ahead.

I’m not looking beyond the Detroit Tigers, as two games remain in this first series on the home slate. At some point, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Magglio Ordonez are likely to awaken to find the deliveries of Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman appetizing.

But, starting this Friday, the action and potential threats to this young pitching staff will arrive front and center. In defense of their American League Championship, the Texas Rangers will become the kinda guests we won’t welcome for a weekend series to wrap-up the first homestand.

The Rangers are not the Rays.

Their lineup doesn’t expose an easy out, with combinations of power, speed and plate discipline clogging nearly every spot from top to bottom. They’re obviously the real deal and quite capable of knocking the Orioles young pitching staff down a couple notches.

If Zach Britton turns in a duplicate performance of last Sunday’s debut, one of the game’s lesser known legitimate rockstars will likely plant a “WELCOME TO THE SHOW” souvenir on the flag court:
.

And if it’s not Nelson Cruz, it will be Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre’ or just about any other guy in that lineup. In truth, Britton was hit pretty hard, and he benefited from a bit of luck when it came to scorching liners finding gloves.

I get it …. Sunday’s game marked his first time on a big league mound and the “butterfly effect” was most certainly a factor. But, excuses won’t save the young phenom if he surrenders early counts in his favor, as he did numerous times against Tampa.

The same cautionary suggestions apply to Jake Arrieta if he deals the very hand witnessed in Monday’s home opener. He fell behind, while customarily wrestling with command and benefited from a less than patient approach by the Detroit lineup.

When the curtain comes down on the Texas series, the birds head to the Bronx for the first of three visits. The Yankees will pose a similar threat to the Rangers; they’re going to force these young pitchers to work and they’ll KILL mistakes.

Robinson Cano has emerged as the team’s best hitter and he feasts on poor pitching performances …..
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Mark Teixeira has started the season on a hot streak and the Jeter/A’Rod combination is not going to hit a substandard .270 again. Tillman will avoid the Texas bats, but he’ll be forced to protect Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field against a compliment of 6 hitters from the left side of the plate.

It is what is, I suppose …..

The Orioles are manning an unblemished 4-0 record, and all of us understand its a bit of an aberration. Losses on the scoreboard await this team in the very near future and everybody who loves baseball comprehends the realities of a 162 game schedule.

Many of us have claimed that we want to see improvement, beyond anything else. And, while the win/loss record usually dictates success, I think the overall performances we witness from this impressionable pitching staff is just as vital.

In an ironic way, a pitcher’s statistical performance can be as misleading as a perfect 4-0 record. I’m not buying high, nor selling low, I’m just taking a wait and see approach with the likes of Tillman, Britton, Arrieta and company.

Some notable bumps in the road await each young arm in this rotation, and quite honestly, I’m betting a few of those bumps are just a few days ahead of us.

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Several ‘O’-bservations from Monday’s 5-1 victory over Tigers

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Several ‘O’-bservations from Monday’s 5-1 victory over Tigers

Posted on 04 April 2011 by Ryan Chell

Well, the weather could have not nicer on an Opening Day in Baltimore. 80+ degrees and the Orioles fans were out in support of their first place team.

A day like Monday certainly proves that God is a baseball fan.

And the first-place Orioles did their part in their home-opener defeating the Tigers 5-1, as starter Jake Arrieta continued the trend of quality starts by Orioles pitchers, as the fourth-starter in the rotation scattered six hits in six innings of work while only allowing one run to pass home plate.

Jake Arrieta

He struck out three and only walked two Tigers.

The Orioles offense also did its part in the bottom of the fifth against Tigers starter Rick Porcello, whose only mistake was giving up a three-run bomb to Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts after shortstop JJ Hardy doubled and left fielder Felix Pie walked.

Roberts has both of Baltimore’s home runs this year.

Jason Berken came in to relieve  Arrieta, and continued his fantastic start to the season as he struck out another three batters in his two innings of work.

In his two games to start the season, Jason Berken has six strikeouts in three innings pitched.

The Orioles are now 4-0 and still sit atop first-place in the AL East.

The last time the Orioles finished with that unblemished record was 1997, when Davey Johnson’s team reached the ALCS to lose to the Cleveland Indians in six games.

If the Orioles were to take two of three from the Tigers on Wednesday with Brad Bergesen taking the hill for a sick Jeremy Guthrie, the Orioles’ 5-0 start would be the best since 1970, when the team won the World Series.

And like I’ve said, it may be early-especially with the defending AL Champs-the Texas Rangers-coming in over the weekend, but it’s better than being 0-4 that’s for sure.

Some ‘O’-bservations from the team so far four games into the season:

1. Starting Pitching

Jake Arrieta kept up with the pace that Jeremy Guthrie, and rookie pitchers Chris Tillman and Zach Britton set over the weekend in Tampa, as he earned yet another quality start for the Orioles starting rotation.

In 26 innings so far in this early season, the Orioles’ four starters have an ERA of 0.69.

As a whole, the pitching staff has an ERA of 1.00 allowing four runs in as many victories. They have struck out 30 opposing batters, which is tied for third in the majors.

We’ve seen before in recent years young pitching staffs who had to go through some growing pains before taking the next step, and the Orioles young staff ( Guthrie-31, Tillman-22, Britton-23, Arrieta-25, along with Matusz-24, Bergesen-25) could be in a position to take the next step.

And don’t forget. Both starters Justin Duchscherer (hip) and Brian Matusz (back) are on the DL and should pose intriguing questions to manager Buck Showalter when they return.

A problem I would like him to have by the way.

2. Bullpen

There could be concerns toward the back end of the bullpen after closer Kevin Gregg faced five hitters in the top of the ninth Saturday in the Orioles 3-1 victory.

In the same game, lefty Michael Gonzalez-who struggled last year as the Orioles closer-had similar issues with his control as he only lasted a third of an inning and walked two.

A big concern considering as of now “Gonzo” is the only lefty in the bullpen-one making 6 million dollars.

But, on the bright side, Jason Berken appears to have made the right decision to rehab his labrum injury in the off-season as opposed to have surgery.

He and late-inning specialist Koji Uehara-also re-signed in the off-season-have combined for 4 2/3 innings of work, seven strikeouts, while only allowing one hit.

Koji Uehara

If Gregg and Gonzalez continue to struggle, could these two be the guys to lock down the eighth and ninth innings? Uehara closed games for Showalter last year, and Berken has always thrived in his one-inning-of-work appearances.

3. The Outfield

I saw this “proposal” in the baseball preview of Sports Illustrated, and at first I disagreed with Ben Reiter, who wrote the AL East preview for SI.

His “proposal” was along the lines of leaving the outfield of Pie in left, Jones in center, and Markakis in right the way it is to make sure the defensive range in the outfield remains at a peak variable.

Felix Pie

Clearly, Felix Pie doesn’t offer the pop at the plate Luke Scott or Vladimir Guerrero would should they be in the lineup, but his range so far has been an asset to this Oriole pitching staff. Reiter’s proposal dealt with leaving Pie out in left on a regular basis and having a “streaky” Luke Scott-who clearly doesn’t have the speed and range Pie possesses-and an aging Vladimir Guerrero split time at DH.

Pie had a huge outfield assist in Saturday’s game pitched by Tillman, gunning down B.J. Upton at the plate to keep the game tied at 0-0.

And Markakis saved the game later with his up-against-the wall catch to end the game.

At short glance, the defensive outfield could be an asset to this team and young pitchers. It could be in their best interest to take a hit at the plate (pun intended) while making sure opposing hits don’t drop in front of Luke Scott.

4. Home-grown hitters on fire

The Orioles three first-round picks in their lineup (2B Brian Roberts, RF Nick Markakis, and C Matt Wieters) right now are hitting .294, .429, and .385 respectively.

Roberts has both of the team’s home runs, and Markakis appears to be very comfortable in the two-hole in front of Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, where all he needs to worry about is getting on base.

Both he and Wieters recorded their first doubles Monday against the Tigers, and if you’ll notice with Wieters, there is a small change in his batting stance from a year ago.

Last year, Wieters stood straight up the batters box, and now it appears as if he has a small bend in his knees, which not only will help a tall 6’5” catcher shrink the strike zone, but hopefully will get his lower legs more involved in his swing-hopefully bringing that power Baltimore fans have waited for.

5. Free-agent thumpers-are not

Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee meanwhile have not been able to provide that huge spark in the three-hole and cleanup spots in the lineup. Neither of them have an extra base hit, an RBI to their credit, and the two’s batting average is .214 for Lee and .125 for Guerrero.

But, I wouldn’t expect their hitting struggles to continue though. It may only take a week for them to return to their true form.There are still 158 games to play gentleman.

Lee even got a stole base Monday. At least that’s something.

-Chell

ryan@wnst.net

(photos courtesy Rob Carr-Getty Images)

WNST-We Never Stop Talking!

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Tuesday 3-Pointer: Buck Show-Wieters, Prime Time Reimold & Beefing Up Riley’s Angels

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Tuesday 3-Pointer: Buck Show-Wieters, Prime Time Reimold & Beefing Up Riley’s Angels

Posted on 01 March 2011 by Thyrl Nelson

Tuesday 3-Pointer

 #1 – Buck’s Biggest Impact: Walks on Water or Wakes Up Wieters?

 

While it’s easy to get caught up in the inherent euphoria of the Buck Showalter experience so far, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago I’m having a hard time envisioning Showalter (or anyone for that matter) possibly living up to the expectations set forth by the team’s stunning turnaround since his arrival, set to the backdrop of historical ineptitude in the midst of 14 straight miserable seasons. At least part of the Orioles success under Buck could be attributed to an expected “market correction” of sorts, another to the infusion of Brian Roberts, Koji Uehara and other key contributors arriving at the end of the season with Showalter. Still, to this point Showalter has seemingly garnered most of the credit (deservedly or not) and will likely take more than his share of the blame too if things go south (again deservedly or not).

 

My reasoning for trying to minimize Showalter’s impact is simple, it seems to me that even if Buck Showalter had the right answers to every question that seemingly vexed these Orioles before his arrival, it still seems inconceivable that he could have imparted all of that wisdom on his new charges quickly enough to have had the impact that we saw by way of the team’s turnaround last year.

 

If there was a place however, that Buck may have been able to implement his own philosophy on the fly, it was through catcher Matt Wieters. Pretty much immediately after Wieters’ arrival with the big club, Dave Trembley made it known to the fans and media that he’d be charged with calling his own game, how true that was is still actually anyone’s guess. If Showalter’s arrival though brought with it simply a better called game through Matt Wieters, either by changing his approach in calling pitches, or by calling the pitches himself from the dugout, that’s the one place where I’d be prone to believe that Showalter could have had an immediate and sizable impact.

 

After beating the Texas Rangers last year on July 11th, the Orioles were 29-59 on the year (32.9%). In games caught by Craig Tatum at that point however, they were 10-13 (43.4%). Maybe the biggest single factor in the O’s struggles last year was the game being called by Wieters. It’s inconceivable that Showalter taught nearly every pitcher on the team how to throw more effectively, but it’s highly conceivable that he taught Wieters how to set them up better for success themselves. If that is indeed the case, I can’t wait to see what he can do for him with the bat in his hands this season.

 

#2 – Prime Time Reimold

 

Nolan Reimold started his 2011 campaign off much better than he left off 2010 with a solo shot off of Pittsburgh’s Paul Malolm in his first plate appearance of the spring. The acquisition of Vlad Guerrero immediately led me to believe that the O’s would be shipping Luke Scott (and his big mouth) to anyone willing to make an offer, so far that hasn’t been the case. As long as Scott remains an Oriole, and the rest of the outfield and Guerrero remain healthy, Reimold looks to be the odd man out. That may not be the worst thing in the world though.

 

One big spring game does not a comeback season make, and Reimold has work to do to bounce back from last year’s disappointment. As the only player in that mix with an option remaining on his contract, Reimold is likely to be shuttled back and forth between the minors and the big club as needs arise throughout the upcoming season. Getting everyday at bats in triple A is probably more beneficial for Reimold and his development anyway than filling the 4th or 5th outfielder role and playing once a week in the majors.

 

What Monday’s line from Reimold reminded me of though, and the impression that I hope he leaves with Showalter no matter where he winds up beginning the year, is all about his mature approach at the plate. After the big shot to start his season, no one could have blamed Reimold for getting aggressive and expanding his strike zone looking for another bomb, especially in the first game of the spring. Instead Reimold compelled 3 walks to compliment the dinger on his line, and scored another run to boot in the O’s 6-4 victory over the Pirates.

 

The day I grew to appreciate Reimold as a hitter is one I’ll never forget. It was the afternoon of May 27th, 2009 against Toronto. The O’s were down 8-3 to the Jays and Roy Halladay after 7 innings. Reimold entered the game for Felix Pie in the 8th and struck out swinging with the bases loaded against reliever John Carlson, still the O’s rallied in the 8th to tie the game at 8. In the 9th Reimold came to the plate with runners at first and second in an 8-8 game and was called out looking on a Jason Frasor pitch that seemed to be a terrible call by home plate umpire Rob Drake. After surrendering a 10-8 lead to the Jays in the top of the 11th, Reimold came to the plate with 2 men on and delivered a game winning 3-run shot for the O’s, delivering the win. Despite feeling gypped at the plate all night by Drake, Reimold never adjusted what he knew to be his strike zone, as a result he came through in the clutch, Reimold seemed at that moment, clearly disciplined beyond his years in terms of approach.

 

I’m sure Buck will grow to love and appreciate the patience of Reimold, if he hasn’t already. Hopefully that patience will translate to patience regarding his relative place in the hierarchy of O’s outfielders. After last seasons disappointment, no one could blame him for being antsy about getting past it, just like no one could have blamed him on that day in 2009 in the bottom of the 11th, having already struck out twice. Let’s hope his approach is the same.

 

#3 – Riley’s Angels Beefing Up

 

With the passing of the NBA’s trade deadline, and the wave of bought out contracts, the last official migration of NBA talent for the season is set to take place, as bought out players can now align their services with the team of their own choosing for the stretch run, provided of course that the team’s interest is mutual.

 

The Heat look to be the early winners here, as the attraction of playing with Riley’s Angels, and their apparent need for someone to steer the ship and someone to take care of the dirty work make them a compelling destination for players not only looking to pick up some hardware as hired guns, but also seeking an opportunity to be the difference maker, the player who puts them over the top. It looks like Troy Murphy and Mike Bibby will be answering that call for the Heat in the next couple of days. It wouldn’t be surprising if San Antonio got a lot more interested in Bibby with the news that Tony Parker may be out for a few weeks, but for now the Heat looks to be his likely destination.

 

In Murphy the Heat may find the front court difference maker that they’ve been looking for since Udonis Haslem went down for the season, in fairness he’d project to be a lot better for the Heat than Haslem ever was, and surely better than Erik Dampier has been. Murphy would finally free up Chris Bosh to be the pick and pop power forward that he was made to be. Bibby, sadly doesn’t seem to be the player that he once was anymore, and probably won’t make much difference in how far the Heat can go this season. He surely doesn’t bring with him as much potential as Murphy in Miami’s system.

 

Ultimately if the Heat hope to be successful they’ll have to find a way to beat good teams and to win close games, they’re 2-6 in games decided by 3 points or less, and 14-15 against teams that are above .500. Maybe Sunday’s showdown with the Knicks shows the biggest reason why. Given a last shot at a tying 3-pointer against New York, LeBron James put a move on a defender and launched an off balance 3 from the top of the key, instead of looking to DeWayne Wade who looked to be wide open and looking for the ball on the wing for 3.

 

When this triumvirate of excessiveness came together the biggest early question was who will get the big shots, now the Heat have to find themselves wondering who can make a big shot in a critical moment for them. If their struggles in close games continue, I fully expect the “who gets the shots?” questions to appear again with renewed fervor, maybe from within the Heat’s own locker room too.

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At a crossroads ….

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At a crossroads ….

Posted on 08 February 2011 by Rex Snider

Take a few moments and slide into the “wayback machine” to February 8, 2001.  Our sports world was a distinctly different place ten years ago, huh?  From nearly every aspect imaginable, looking back just a mere decade paints a different picture for most of us.

From a local perspective:

Baltimore was still basking in the glow of a Super Bowl championship.

Brian Billick and Trent Dilfer were two of the most popular guys in town.

The Orioles were headed to Spring Training, with hopes of ending a 3-year losing skid.

Cal Ripken was entering his final season in uniform.

From a national perspective:

The Oakland A’s, St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Indians, Oakland Raiders and Seattle Mariners were near or atop their divisions.

Cellar dwellers included the likes of the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Falcons, Texas Rangers, New England Patriots and Minnesota Twins.

Highlight footage was dominated by players such as Sammy Sosa, Allen Iverson, Jason Giambi, Marshall Faulk and Daunte Culpepper.

Names like Lebron James, Tom Brady, Albert Pujols, Jimmie Johnson and LaDainian Tomlinson didn’t resonate with most of us.

You get the point, right?

I think it’s pretty amazing to see how much any culture, including the AMERICAN SPORTS CULTURE changes in such a relatively brief span of time.  After all, we’re only talking about ten years ….

Another striking phenomenon of our sports world, in 2001, was the popularity of NASCAR.  I think it’s pretty safe to say this highest form of stock car racing was cresting atop its wave of popularity ten years ago.

The sport was dominated by a young Californian named Jeff Gordon.  Major brand sponsors were fighting to get their logos plastered on a hood or quarter-panel.  And, the kickoff to another season was just ten days away.

What could go wrong?

Unlike any other American sport, auto racing poses the threat of death for its competitors.  It’s a reality those same competitors accept. It’s also a reality that proved very true just ten years ago.

NASCAR’s biggest star was killed in the 2001 Daytona 500 ….

The fallout from Dale Earnhardt’s death was immediate and it spurred debate among nearly everyone with an opinion on sports entertainment.  As always, some such opinions were informed and others were both ignorant and ridiculous.

Those who really understood auto racing embraced a need for increased safety technology, while still realizing auto racing is not SAFE and it never will be SAFE.  Conversely, dissenting opinions ranged from outlawing the sport or slowing it down.

However, something that was lost amid all the sensationalism of Dale Earnhardt’s death was the profound effect his absence would have on the popularity of NASCAR.  In each successive year, since 2001, the sport has lost small slices of ratings and overall exposure.

Today, NASCAR is a drastically different environment and entity than it was 10 years ago ….

A playoff system or “Chase” now exists

Cars are fabricated by ideal template of design

The points system or standings has been restructured a couple times

Yet, NASCAR still appears to be losing ground.  Do those who control it realize such losses?  Sure – and they’ve even tried to “replace” the lost character of a Dale Earnhardt.

His son has been “whored” out in every possible marketing campaign.

The participating networks orchestrate supposed feuds among young guns, like Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Brad Keslowski.

Rock stars have replaced country stars.

Trust me, there has been a long list of endeavors aimed at finding NASCAR’s next “American Idol” and propelling the sport back toward popularity.  To date, it hasn’t happened …..

In a couple weeks, NASCAR will host its latest edition of the Daytona 500 – the 10th such edition, since the death of Dale Earnhardt.  This year, Daytona International Speedway features a brand new racing surface and a great event is expected.

But, the core problem still exists.  NASCAR is losing popularity.  The defending champion has won the crown five consecutive times – and he has the personality of a cardboard box.  The most talented driver hasn’t found a checkered flag in two years.  The most popular driver is shaping up to be quite average, at best.

And, they all belong to the same racing organization – Hendrick Motorsports.

Right now, NASCAR is at a crossroads.  Aside from competition and exciting finishes, they must find a CHARACTER.  They must find the next Dale Earnhardt … without replacing Dale Earnhardt.

According to TV ratings and racetrack attendance, time is running out.

If NASCAR doesn’t find an answer soon, it might be relegated to obscurity ten years from now.

Just count me as a guy who hopes that doesn’t happen.

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Tuesday 3-Pointer

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Tuesday 3-Pointer

Posted on 08 February 2011 by Thyrl Nelson

Here are my three points for topical debate on this fine Tuesday morning. I hope to hear from some of you with your thoughts on the following today on the MobTown Sports Beat from 11am – 2pm, or right here as well in the comments section.

Point #1 – Could the Vlad Add Still Go Bad?

 

For all of the good feelings and uplifted expectations that came with the O’s signing of Vlad Guerrero, can you blame fans for still feeling skeptical about and until his arrival? Given the way that he seemingly spurned the O’s years ago in free agency, and worse used their offers to leverage other teams, might we be witnessing an encore performance?

 

Vlad after all, still hasn’t taken a physical. In fact, the O’s haven’t necessarily/officially signed him yet at all. Instead what they have is an agreement in principle, pending a physical and I’m sure a few other details that are beyond my comprehension. The word from the team seems to be that with relocation pending to spring training, Guerrero might meet with team doctors down and hence make everything official then. However, as news begins to build about the supposed trade demands of Michael Young who was cast to be the Rangers DH this season, it certainly doesn’t seem beyond reason or possibility that the Rangers could still re-enter the picture for Vlad with renewed interest. Despite the announcement regarding his agreement to terms with the team, it still seems that Vlad would almost rather be anywhere but it Baltimore. Might he still be able to get his wish?

 

Point #2 – Stacking the Lineup

 

Assuming that the O’s can count on the services of Vlad Guerrero once the season begins, it’s certainly becoming encouraging to envision just what the lineup(s) might look like once that time comes. Here are a few of the ideas that I have, accompanied by the batters 3-year splits for batting average only overall, and vs. lefties and vs. righties respectively. All of the following assume a defensive alignment with Derrek Lee at 1st, Brian Roberts at 2nd, Mark Reynolds at 3rd, JJ Hardy at shortstop, Matt Wieters catching and in the outfield from left to right, Luke Scott, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis.

 

1st Glance Lineup

Vs. Lefties

Vs. Righties

1. (S) Roberts .288 1. (R) Roberts .301 1. (L) Roberts .282
2. (L) Markakis .297 2. (L) Markakis .361 2. (R) Jones .293
3. (R) Lee .286 3. (R) Lee .290 3. (L) Markakis .269
4. (R) Guerrero .300 4. (R) Guerrero .297 4. (R) Guerrero .301
5. (R) Reynolds .234 5. (R) Reynolds .245 5. (L) Scott .297
6. (L) Scott .284 6. (R) Jones .259 6. (R) Lee .284
7. (R) Jones .284 7. (L) Scott .240 7. (R) Reynolds .230
8. (S) Wieters .266 8. (R) Wieters .230 8. (L) Wieters .283
9. (R) Hardy .262 9. (R) Hardy .241 9. (R) Hardy .270

 

If Reimold winds up with the big club, he might be worth a look over Scott against lefthanders with a .270 three-year split. Jones and Lee might also be interchangeable in the vs. right-handers lineup. I’m looking forward to seeing how you think it should stack up.

 

Point #3 – Call it envy, respect or whatever you want, but there’s no denying that Baltimore has a thing for Mike Tomlin.

 

Of all of the Super Bowl reaction that we filtered through on Monday’s show, the most surprising realization for me was the overwhelming outpouring of respect levied on the Baltimore airwaves for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

 

I guess I was remiss in quickly turning away from the pomp and circumstance of the Packers victory celebration, and therefore also missing the post game commentary by Tomlin. Whatever he said, he impressed a number of Monday’s callers to the point that they felt compelled to applaud him for it. Perhaps, from a Ravens fans perspective, anything other than the predictable corporate coach-speak that we’ve come to expect week after week from our own coach is simply viewed as refreshing and genuine. It’s also worth mentioning that the qualities that ingratiated him to fans across the country in the aftermath of Sunday’s game did little to help his team in said game, and that the lineage of coaches that have enjoyed hoisting the Lombardi isn’t exactly a who’s who of fan or media friendly types. Still I found it interesting.

 

With all of the accolades that Tomlin has seemingly achieved in his brief reign as Steelers coach, it’s fair to say that there are still only a handful of impact players on either side of the football whose time with the club doesn’t predate his own. Only time will tell if Tomlin and the Steelers will be able to turn over the roster and remain consistently competitive as his predecessors have done and as a result whether history will regard him in higher esteem than the likes of George Seifert or Barry Switzer, as like them thus far he still bears the “curse” of inheriting a ready to go team and has been smart enough seemingly to simply get out of their way. I’m betting that when the book is closed on Tomlin, he will have achieved distinction above and beyond those others, but still quietly hoping against it. It seems, that in that way at least, Tomlin has gotten to me too.

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Guerrero’s 7-year itch gets scratched in Baltimore

Posted on 05 February 2011 by Drew Forrester

Andy MacPhail finally gave in.

Perhaps it’s four years of losing and the spector of having his Baltimore tenure tied to last place and disappointing results after arriving with such hope and promise.

But MacPhail is apparently going to try and deliver a winner to Charm City before most likely moving on at the end of this season.

I don’t know if we should all say “Thank you, Andy” or “What took you so friggin’ long?” but the diehards like me who have waited so long for a competitive Orioles team just might get their wish in 2011.

It all came full-circle yesterday when word trickled out that Vlad Guerrero was heading to Baltimore, seven years after snubbing the O’s in favor of the Angels.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Vlad Guerrero the-second-time-around is still better than no Guerrero at all.  (BTW, here’s Rex Snider’s blog on the subject if you want to see how he feels about it.)

Vlad is a better hitter than Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie will ever be, period.  Heck, I can’t imagine there’s one player on the Orioles 40-man roster right now who will ever have a career-at-the-plate like Guerrero.  In case you haven’t paid attention for the last 15 years or so, here are THE NUMBERS that have made Guerrero one of baseball’s five best offensive players since 1996.  Hall of Famer?  If not, they should just stop putting people in.

So that’s the summary of Guerrero.  He’s better than either of the team’s two “younger” left fielders – even now at age 36 – and his bat is as productive as anyone the Orioles have had in…well…how about forever?

But there will be criticisms about the move.  People who fancy themselves armchair GM’s will point to the fact that the Orioles had to cough up $8 million to get a guy that no one else in the league wanted.  Some will compare the paltry $2 million that Tampa Bay forked over for Manny Ramirez and wonder how on earth the Birds got bilked out of $8 million for Guerrero.  Sharp-eyes for the game of baseball will say Guerrero is showing obvious signs of wearing down, but his abilities even at the 16-year mark of his career are far greater than Miguel Tejada or Garrett Atkins, the two “prize” signings of last winter (neither of whom made it to August 1 with the club).

Unlike the off-season of 2010 when the Birds tried to convince people they were trying by signing guys on the cheap with little or no hope of making a major impact, this off-season has been quite different.  Yes, guys like Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy are coming to town on the heels of “off” years.  Derrek Lee, like Guerrero, is older and more vulnerable than he was when the O’s tried to get him in the past.  Justin Duchscherer was the club’s marquee pitching acquisition and he threw in 5 more major league games than your’s truly over the last 2 seasons.

But guys like Lee and Guerrero and Hardy — they’re competent, HIGHLY capable players who have a history of excellence. Do they all have (continued…)

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MacPhail hits a HOMERUN on Vlad Guerrero deal …..

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MacPhail hits a HOMERUN on Vlad Guerrero deal …..

Posted on 05 February 2011 by Rex Snider

Is there any chance that you will look back, ten years from now, and recall exactly where you were, or what you were doing when the marriage of Vladimir Guerrero and the Baltimore Orioles spread throughout the sports world?

Probably, not.

While the addition of this sure-fire Hall Of Famer stands to benefit the Orioles in so many distinct ways, the blunt reality is Guerrero is a short-term fix and benefit for the ballclub …. and I’m okay with that.

For the past couple months, I’ve been publicly lobbying for this acquisition.  And, as the weeks toward Spring Training have dwindled, my plea has been getting louder.  It’s an ideal fit for both sides – Guerrero is a lifetime .333 hitter at Camden Yards, and the Orioles sorely needed his lethal stick.

Yeah, I’ve heard the rumblings about the slugger being “over the hill” and an “injury risk”, as well as his perceived lack of appeal to other clubs – especially as camps are set to open in just a couple weeks.

To those who bemoan this signing, I’ll simply question your knowledge of Vlad Guerrero, as well as the intimacies of baseball ….

Oh, and let’s not forget the folks who decry Guerrero’s signing as a figurative BLOCK of Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold.  Are you serious?  Welcome to the big leagues, bunk.  The truth is Pie and Reimold have BLOCKED THEMSELVES.

Both players have garnered opportunities, and while they haven’t necessarily squandered such chances, they haven’t seized them, either.  It can be a cruel business – produce or else.

So, let’s take a quick look at the supposed liabilities involved in bringing one of the greatest hitters of the past decade, to Baltimore …..

OVER THE HILL

Guerrero is coming off a season that yielded a .300 batting average, with 29 homers, 115 runs batted in and 83 runs scored.  And, these statistics were not an aberration – he has batted under .300 just once, since 1997.

But, perhaps, the most telling fact from last season was Guerrero’s .320 batting clip with runners in scoring position.  Ironically, this is also his career average with RISP, as well.

If he’s “over the hill”, just give me a few more geezers …..

INJURY RISK

This is undoubtedly the biggest misconception and overblown worry about Vlad Guerrero.  Yeah, he missed 60 games, in 2009.  Players get injured, but Guerrero has played in 140+ games, per season, in 7 of 8 years.  And, he has played in 140+ games in 11 of his 13 full Major League seasons.

But, since we’re talking about injury risks, let’s bring Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold back into the discussion …..

In his half dozen pro seasons, Reimold has spent time on the disabled list in 5 of them.  Got that?  He’s been on the DL in 5 of 6 seasons.  In fact, Reimold has played in 130+ games in just 3 of his 6 pro years.

As for Pie, he has been injured in 3 of his last 6 pro seasons, and he has played in 130+ games, just twice in those 6 years.  Of course, some of his missed time was simply attributed to poor performance.

That said, if we’re talking about “injury risks”, it’s a pretty safe argument to suggest Vlad Guerrero has been a much healthier option than the two players he’s likely to deprive of playing time.  And, he doesn’t ride the bench for less than stellar production.

LACK OF APPEAL AMONG OTHER CLUBS

This was absolutely the most humorous of the assertions against bring Guerrero to Camden Yards.  Indeed, I’ve heard those who’ve proclaimed “nobody else wants him …. that should say something.”  You’re right, it does.

Guerrero is pretty much limited to designated hitter duties.  Thus, every National League club is eliminated from the discussion.  To compound his narrowed opportunities, only a handful of American League teams entered this past off-season needing to fill the DH slot.

The Twins and Rays went with cheaper options, in Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez.  And, the Rangers wanted to upgrade their defense at 3rd base, which relegated Michael Young to DH, with the acquisition of Adrian Beltre.

That really left the Orioles and Mariners as likely obscure options.  Both teams had the designated hitter role filled, but they could’ve improved with some position jockeying, by adding a player of Guerrero’s caliber.

Finally, I really want to address the naysayers who’ve reasoned “DOES VLAD GUERRERO MAKE THE ORIOLES A PLAYOFF CONTENER?”  Well, that really is a great unknown, huh?  Conventional wisdom suggests that he probably doesn’t raise the team to such lofty expectations – but the games are played on the field, not the blogs.

Regardless of even a modern day version of “Murderers Row”, any team will realize success based on their pitching.  However, Guerrero’s presence in the lineup makes the team better, in both tangible and intangible ways.

He makes the Orioles lineup much more formidable – his .320 batting average, with runners in scoring position, dwarfs the .246 mark achieved by batters in the cleanup spot for the Orioles, last season.  He’s a bonafide run producing hitter.

Along with Derrek Lee, Guerrero will provide Nick Markakis with protection he’s never enjoyed.  Plus, given Brian Roberts’ and Markakis’ knack for working walks and stellar baserunning, Guerrero will most definitely have his RBI opportunities.

In mentioning, Roberts and Markakis, do you realize they’ve never played for a winning team at the big league level?  Together, these guys have played 1,980 games in an Orioles uniform and they’ve never been part of a winning season.

Vladimir Guerrero can change that …..

He might not be the piece that leads the Orioles back to the postseason, but he makes the lineup and team substantially better.  If Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis taste winning for the first time, it might translate their game to another level.

The same can be said for the younger players, such as Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta.  Having them exposed to WINNING at an early stage of their careers could prove invaluable for years to come.

So, for those who decry the Guerrero acquisition as a blocking of Reimold, Pie or anyone else, I say HOGWASH.  I don’t want to hear the foundational excuse about “being ready to win”.

If you’re not ready to win, than you’re ready to lose.

I applaud the Orioles for getting this deal wrapped up.  Perhaps, they overpaid to get their man.  We knew such a reality faced this organization, on the heels of 13 consecutive losing seasons, right?

Welcome to Baltimore, Vlad.  Most of us are happy you’re here …..

 

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Andy MacPhail’s latest excuse?  The San Francisco Giants …..

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Andy MacPhail’s latest excuse? The San Francisco Giants …..

Posted on 09 November 2010 by Rex Snider

I saw this day coming from a far distance. As soon as Nelson Cruz whiffed on Brian Wilson’s fastball to end the World Series, I sensed the Baltimore Orioles and their fans might suffer a setback.

As I said a couple weeks ago, the San Francisco Giants are the ultimate exception to the rule, especially as it regards the construction of a World Championship-caliber organization. To be blunt, they’re a team built on a foundation of strong pitching and a subpar offensive attack.

For better or worse, that’s the Giants.

Stastically, the Giants had Major League Baseball’s best pitching product, in 2010. Touting a 3.36 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, San Francisco’s pitching absolutely served as the catalyst of a late-season run at contention.

Their core starting staff, including Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Baumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez are among the game’s very brightest. And, all four of them are “homegrown”, which really serves as a testament to the organization’s scouting and development wing.

But, does anybody really expect a team with such inconsistent and undependable hitting to be a perennial contender? Do opponents shudder at the prospect of facing pasted-together lineups?

San Francisco Giants' (L-R) Cody Ross, Aubrey Huff, Edgar Renteria and Eugenio Velez celebrate defeating the Texas Rangers in Game 5 of Major League Baseball's World Series in Arlington, Texas, November 1, 2010.   REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

That’s the best way to describe the Giants offensive attack …..

Their lineup posted a collective .257 batting average, coupled with a .720 OPS and 1411 hits to wrap up the regular season. Less than impressive? Well, the Orioles surpassed the Giants in BATTING AVERAGE and HITS. What does that tell you?

I’m not suggesting the Orioles had a better lineup, in 2010. But would you trade Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Brian Roberts for Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Cody Ross and Andres Torres? I don’t think anyone in the right mind would make that deal.

The Giants finished the World Series with only three players from their opening day lineup making significant contributions; Aubrey Huff, Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe.

Not exactly Murderer’s Row, huh?

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Former Orioles skipper Mike Hargrove believes in Buck Showalter as manager and Peter Angelos as owner of Orioles

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Former Orioles skipper Mike Hargrove believes in Buck Showalter as manager and Peter Angelos as owner of Orioles

Posted on 04 November 2010 by Ryan Chell

With a new manager in the mix for the Orioles in Buck Showalter, and with Showalter at work over the last week  building his own personal staff, one former skipper of the Baltimore club joined WNST earlier in the week to weigh his opinion on the direction of his former team and of the World Champion San Francisco Giants.

Mike Hargrove, who managed the Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles in his 16-year professional baseball career, joined Drew Forrester on “The Morning Reaction” this week to discuss Showalter and the state of the Orioles as well as his thoughts on the World Series.

Mike Hargrove

Hargrove managed the Orioles from 2000-2003 for four seasons, and was the team’s first high-profile manager since the team relieved Davey Johnson of his managing duties.

Hargrove recently was the manager of the Liberal BeeJays until 2009, a semi-pro summer league baseball team in Kansas-a team that has produced players like Rangers 2B Ian Kinsler, Rich Harden, Astros OF Hunter Pence, Rays C Kelly Shoppach, former closer Troy Percival, and OF Scott Hairston.

He coached the team immediately after resigning his position as manager of the Seattle Mariners in 2007 despite the team having a 45-33 record and currently on a huge winning streak.

“Contractually, I cant talk about it,” Hargrove told Forrester of the mystery surrounding his departure from Seattle. “I feel a little uncomfortable talking about it.  Let’s put it this way. I never lost my passion for the game, and I really liked the players on that ballclub. They played hard, and they played to win and it was a good situation in that regard.”

His job with Liberal is one that is a little more relieving for Hargrove than his past MLB managerial jobs. When he initially signed on with the BeeJays, his wife-his agent-had Hargrove sign with the team for one season and a very bizarre rate for a salary-one dollar.

“It’s a town in Liberal, Kansas…and growing up there I was always interested in what the BeeJays were doing,” Hargrove said, who before his playing days with the Texas Rangers suited up for the BeeJays. “They won five national championships, and this number may be low, but there is something like 48-52 major league players who have come through and played.

“My wife and I were on our way back from Seattle to Cleveland in ’07 after I resigned, and we stopped by to see my relation in Texas.  Bob Carlisle, the general manager, and my wife conspire all the time anyway, and he mentioned to her in jest that if Mike would like to come back and get it back on the right track. They had really fallen on hard times, and in fact the club was real close to folding up and ceasing to exist. Sharon mentioned it to me on the way home…and I said sure I’ll do it for one year. I’ll come back and do it for one year. Obviously I wasn’t doing anything that next summer anyway.”

“I went back and enjoyed my time…and we ended up fourth in the nation and I had a blast. They asked me if I’d do it for another year, and I said I’d do it for one more year. We finished third in the nation that year, and we got the thing back on track.”

Hargrove said that he sees a lot of himself in the current manager, Buck Showalter, and he said that those Orioles fans looking for a winner have one in Buck.

“I think a big step in that direction took place over this last year with the hiring of Buck Showalter,” Hargrove said. “You saw how Buck made a difference in how the Orioles played the game, and the success they had on the field.”

Buck Showalter

In a way, the transition that Showalter is going through now is similar to his tenure here in Baltimore in the early part of the decade. After the cleaning of house of the previous organization, Hargrove-who enjoyed a ton of success as manager of the Cleveland Indians including five straight playoff appearances-said on top of not being left with much to work with, the young players on the roster kept getting hurt during the four seasons Hargrove was in the dugout for the Orioles.

“At that time I just felt like the team was getting old…(continued),

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