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Showalter lets down when Orioles needed him most

Posted on 05 October 2016 by Luke Jones

You may not think so right now, but Buck Showalter is a very good manager.

To borrow a phrase he likes to use, I’ve got a long memory.

Without him, the Orioles wouldn’t be the winningest team in the American League over the last five years and wouldn’t have three trips to the playoffs under their belts, but that doesn’t change the truth about what happened in the AL wild-card game on Tuesday night.

He let his players down in the 5-2 loss to Toronto in 11 innings.

The story of the defeat that ended the season really should have been about an Orioles offense that continued its second-half swoon by managing only two runs and four hits in the biggest game of the year. Baltimore rarely made good contact and didn’t even register a hit over the final five innings against a mediocre Blue Jays bullpen. The offense falling off a cliff — not the pitching — was the biggest reason why the Orioles struggled to play .500 ball after the All-Star break.

It was frustrating to watch on Tuesday, but players don’t always perform the way you want them to. That’s just the way it goes sometimes in the athletic arena with the opponent trying to win, too.

But there’s no defending not using your best pitcher — the closer many believe could be the 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner — with your season on the line.

The clamoring for All-Star selection Zach Britton began in the eighth inning when Brad Brach entered and continued when the right-hander got into trouble against the heart of the Toronto order in the ninth. Instead of turning to Britton to escape the jam, Showalter summoned veteran right-hander Darren O’Day, who missed much of the season due to injuries and had rarely even pitched since being activated from the disabled list in mid-September.

But the moves worked, whether you agreed with them or not. At the very least, you could concede that Showalter was showing trust in two individuals who had been All-Star relievers the last two years. Brach and O’Day have pitched in plenty of high-leverage spots and likely would have pitched if the game had stretched into one or two extra frames anyway.

That’s when any attempt to defend Showalter has to end, however.

Lefty Brian Duensing had pitched well in a handful of appearances down the stretch, but the journeyman with a career 4.13 ERA started the bottom of the 11th inning. Even so, he struck out Ezequiel Carrera to once again save face for the manager.

Now was finally the time for Britton with one out in the 11th and the top of the Blue Jays lineup coming up, right?

Right?

Instead entered the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, who had pitched admirably over the last six weeks but fared poorly as a reliever earlier in the season. In reference to his unorthodox mechanics alone, he’s a high-maintenance pitcher who undoubtedly benefits from the lengthier warm-up session in the bullpen and the normal routine before a scheduled start.

Simply put, he was out of his element in a high-leverage relief setting and looked like it, giving up two singles and the game-winning three-run home run to Edwin Encarnacion on three consecutive pitches. Jimenez clearly didn’t do his job, but he was being asked to fulfill a role he wasn’t used to and hadn’t done well out of the bullpen earlier in the year.

That wasn’t the spot for him with better options available, and that’s on the manager.

This all took place as Britton — with his historic 0.54 ERA — watched from the bullpen and was forced to wait for that save situation that never came.

Inconceivable.

Showalter said after the game that Britton was healthy and available, the last morsel of information observers needed before crushing the Baltimore skipper. He preferred saving Britton while going to other options in the bullpen – inferior ones – despite the fact that the lefty had warmed up a few different times.

It’s true that using Britton in a tie game on the road deviates from the tired by-the-book way managers have handled closers for the last 25 years, but we thought Showalter was better than that. In fact, he had used Britton in the ninth and 10th innings of a tie game at Rogers Centre back on July 31, a contest the Orioles eventually won in 12 innings as Logan Ondrusek pitched the final frame.

If a game was important enough in late July to use Britton in a non-save situation on the road, how can you not use him with your season hanging by a single thread?

Maybe pitching him wouldn’t have mattered with the Orioles failing to generate any offense beyond Mark Trumbo’s two-run homer in the fourth, but you could more easily stomach Jimenez or Duensing or Tommy Hunter or Dylan Bundy – or even Britton himself — giving up the game-winner if they’d at least exhausted their best options to that point.

Instead, Showalter was too worried about not having Britton around later in the game if that save chance ever materialized. He’ll spend all winter pondering what might have been if he’d simply been more concerned with extending the game.

As a man often praised for being two steps ahead of the opposition, Showalter needed to be more in the now and not thinking so much about the hypothetical inning or two later in an elimination game. It was overthinking, not terribly different from the decision to leave Wade Miley in too long during Saturday’s costly loss at Yankee Stadium.

That failure late in Tuesday’s game coupled with the invisible bats ultimately cost the Orioles their season.

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Orioles choose body of work over hot hand for AL wild-card game

Posted on 03 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The question would have been a terrible joke in mid-August.

Who should pitch for the Orioles in the American League wild-card game: No. 1 starter Chris Tillman or the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez?

Manager Buck Showalter has chosen experience over the hot hand with Tillman slated to take the ball against Toronto’s Marcus Stroman at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night. It’s not difficult to make an argument in favor of the 28-year-old who’s served as the club’s de facto ace over the last four seasons and started the opener of both playoffs series in 2014, but Jimenez was arguably the biggest reason the Orioles stayed afloat in September to qualify for the playoffs for the third time in five seasons.

Less than two months ago, Tillman was in the midst of a career year and had improved to a sparkling 15-4 with a 3.46 ERA after a win over Oakland on Aug. 11. Meanwhile, Jimenez sported an ERA just south of 7.00 and was lucky to be pitching out of the bullpen in mop-up duty once per week as questions persisted about his future with Baltimore.

Circumstances changed, however, with Tillman missing the better part of a month with a right shoulder issue that surfaced the morning after that outing against the Athletics. In his four starts since being activated from the 15-day disabled list on Sept. 11, he’s posted a 3.79 ERA with 14 strikeouts and eight walks in 19 innings.

Solid, but not great.

Meanwhile, Jimenez has experienced an improbable renaissance with his two-seam fastball and improved command of his other pitches over his last seven starts, producing a 2.45 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 13 walks over 47 2/3 innings. Over that stretch, he tossed the only complete game of the season for the Orioles and allowed three or fewer runs in all but one start.

Both performed well against the Blue Jays in Toronto last week, but Jimenez was better with 6 2/3 scoreless innings in which he allowed only one hit. Tillman gave up one earned run over 5 1/3 innings last Wednesday.

Tillman infamously pitched to an 11.72 ERA in six starts against Toronto last season, but his 3.63 mark in four starts against the Blue Jays this season has been more in line with what we’ve come to expect from the right-hander over the years. In 2016, Jimenez has a 6.43 ERA against the Blue Jays in six games — five of them starts — this season and retired only one batter against them in his worst start of the year on June 12.

And that’s where the decision likely comes down to trust for Showalter and the Orioles.

Jimenez deserves plenty of credit for turning his season around, but who do you trust more pitching in a game of this magnitude? Jimenez probably provides the greater upside right now, but Tillman still feels like the one who has the best chance to figure out a way to keep the Orioles in an elimination game if he doesn’t have his best stuff. The last thing you want is the “bad” Jimenez showing up in the biggest game of the season and not being able to even throw a strike in the bottom of the first inning.

If we’re being realistic with both teams having a specialized roster for a single game, this one is more likely to come down to the bullpens with neither Tillman nor Stroman being a great bet to hang around much longer than two times through the order. Under such a scenario, the Orioles have the edge with the better bullpen and the best closer in baseball looming at the end of the game.

Showalter told reporters that both Jimenez and rookie Dylan Bundy will be available out of the bullpen, giving the Orioles plenty of long-relief options should Tillman struggle early.

Major League Baseball announced the schedule for the first three games of the best-of-five AL Division Series (see below) as the winner of Tuesday’s game will face the top-seeded Texas Rangers with games being televised on TBS. Should the Orioles advance to the ALDS, they would host Texas for Game 3 at 7:38 p.m. on Sunday, the same day the Ravens host Washington at M&T Bank Stadium at 1 p.m., which would likely create plenty of traffic headaches in the afternoon.

2016 ALDS vs. Texas
Game 1 (at Texas): Thursday, 4:38 p.m.
Game 2 (at Texas): Friday, 1:08 p.m.
Game 3 (at Baltimore or Toronto): Sunday, 7:38 p.m.

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It’s now or never for road-challenged Orioles

Posted on 05 September 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have one winning road trip all season.

One.

It was an abbreviated two-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins in mid-May that was sandwiched between two longer homestands. In other words, that’s not a real road trip in the way we typically view a multi-city one lasting the better part of a week or two.

Buck Showalter’s club has avoided disastrous road trips of the 1-9 or 2-8 variety, but a 29-37 mark away from Oriole Park at Camden Yards speaks for itself. While holding the third-best home record in the American League this season, the Orioles have been a bad team on the road.

Entering Labor Day three games behind first-place Toronto in the AL East and tied with Detroit for the second wild-card spot, Baltimore is aware of what’s ahead. A nine-game, three-city road trip precedes the final 11-game homestand of the year and then six more on the road to conclude the regular season.

It’s now or never.

“We’ve got to win games. It’s real simple,” Showalter said. “We have to win games, regardless of how we get there. I don’t care how it looks or how it happens, but we need to have more runs than them after nine innings or 10 or 11 or 12 or so on. It’s a pretty simple equation right now.”

But that been the equation all year on the road. Camden Yards is certainly a ballpark suited for an Orioles lineup constructed to win via the long ball, but that doesn’t fully explain the chasm between home and road performance this season.

At home, the Orioles have hit .266 with a .331 on-base percentage and a .470 slugging percentage. They’ve batted .254 with a .309 OBP and a .431 slugging percentage on the road.

The difference in pitching is even more dramatic with Baltimore pitching to a respectable 3.94 ERA at home compared to an alarming 4.93 away mark. If the Orioles can pitch effectively at hitter-friendly Camden Yards, there’s just no explaining being a full run worse on the road.

Overall, the Orioles aren’t as good as their sparkling 45-25 home record, but they’re also not the poor quality of a 91-loss team as their road record would suggest. They have lost nine of their last 15 home games, so the Orioles can only hope that the worm finally turns on the road.

They need it to.

After three-game sets at Tampa Bay, Detroit, and Boston, the Orioles will return to Baltimore on Sept. 15 with a good idea of where they stand in the playoff picture. If they follow their season-long road profile with no better than a 4-5 trip, the chances of a division title would likely be bleak and they’d be scratching and crawling the rest of the way to secure a wild card. A good road trip — say 6-3 or better — keeps them within striking distance of the division with games remaining against both the Red Sox and the Blue Jays in the final two weeks.

“One at a time,” first baseman Chris Davis said. “That’s got to be the mentality this time of year. You can’t win them all at once; you’ve got to go one at a time.”

That sounds good, but the Orioles haven’t been able to consistently stack wins on the road all year.

It’s now or never.

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Out-of-sync Orioles in danger of falling out of AL East race

Posted on 01 September 2016 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t help but cringe at the pitching matchups as the Orioles returned home to begin a critical three-game set with Toronto on Monday.

Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Yovani Gallardo going up against the Blue Jays’ three best starters? Even the most optimistic of Baltimore fans feared it could get ugly at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Instead, the embattled trio turned in three quality starts against the second-highest scoring offense in the American League. And the Orioles still lost two of three to the division leader to fall four games back in the AL East.

The term “must-win” is one of the most overused descriptors in sports, but that series win was one that Buck Showalter’s club surely wanted to have, especially playing at home where the Orioles have looked quite mortal over the last few weeks. It’s just been that kind of a second half as Baltimore fell into a tie with Detroit for the final wild card spot on Wednesday.

Trying to hold on, but seemingly losing their grip bit by bit as the summer transitions into fall. Out of sync and trying to avoid falling out of a tough division race in which Toronto and Boston aren’t going anywhere. A wild-card spot that appeared likely now looks in doubt with the likes of Detroit, Houston, and Kansas City surging.

The pitching remains the biggest concern — even two of the top three bullpen arms surrendered runs in Wednesday’s 5-3 loss — but an offense that thrived in the first half has been among the worst in the league since the All-Star break. Sure, the Orioles still hit home runs — they tied the major league record for long balls in August with 55 after hitting a record 56 in June — but they’ve all but stopped doing anything else offensively.

Remember how Baltimore ranked third in the AL with a .333 on-base percentage in the first half? Those more disciplined at-bats and the willingness to draw a few more walks have evaporated with the Orioles ranking last in the AL with a .293 OBP in the 46 games since then. They rank 12th in runs scored since the break despite continuing to lead the league in home runs, illustrating how much more dependent on long balls they’ve become to score runs as the season has progressed.

We knew all along that the Orioles lineup was constructed to win with the home run, but the all-or-nothing outcomes are as extreme as ever. Consider Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, who have combined to hit 22 home runs and bat .180 in 305 at-bats since the break. They haven’t been alone in the second-half struggles, but you just aren’t going to consistently score runs with that kind of production from your No. 4 and No. 5 hitters.

Because the offense produced at such a high level over the first half of the season, it’s still reasonable to think — at least hope? — a prolonged hot streak could be right around the corner.

But then we come back to the pitching, which ranks 13th among 15 AL clubs. Other than the first few weeks after the All-Star break when the rotation performed at a respectable level — and the offense failed to capitalize — you just can’t trust this starting pitching, especially with Chris Tillman unlikely to return before the middle of September. The bullpen continues to wilt without Darren O’Day, who is just now working out the final remnants of discomfort in his right shoulder.

The Orioles will say they were encouraged by the way Miley, Jimenez, and Gallardo pitched against the Blue Jays this week, but that kind of success feels more like an aberration than a breakthrough for the final month.

Despite exceeding expectations for most of the season, this club just isn’t firing on all cylinders and hasn’t been for quite some time. When the rotation does offer a stretch of decent outings, the offense fails to do its job. When the bats are lively, the pitching struggles to even be competitive. Or, neither phase performs well and it gets downright ugly.

On Wednesday, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette added Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn, veterans who can help the abysmal outfield defense late in games and add some speed off the bench. Maybe these spare parts will help spark a struggling club, but the Orioles simply look like a team struggling to keep their heads above water these days.

The losing spells have been more frequent while the good times have been fleeting. In the first four months of the season, the Orioles had three seven-game winning streaks, two five-game winning streaks, and a four-game winning streak. In August, they won as many as three in a row just once while dropping three straight on three separate occasions.

Going just 21-25 since the All-Star break, the Orioles have been trying to hold on, but they’ll need to do more than that in September to secure their third trip to the postseason in the last five years.

You should never count out the Orioles under Showalter with so much baseball left to play, but an increasingly one-dimensional offense, a poor starting rotation, and a bullpen short on trustworthy arms aren’t inspiring confidence in the final month of the season.

It’s just not looking good.

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Long, painful week for Orioles ends with no relief

Posted on 22 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles had a chance to stop the bleeding on Sunday after a difficult 1-4 start to an eight-game homestand.

Waiting out a rain delay of more than four hours on the heels of two of their worst losses of the season, the Orioles watched first-place Toronto squander another late lead in a loss at Cleveland. Second-place Boston fell hard in Detroit. Even Seattle — who entered the day one game behind Baltimore for the second wild-card spot — blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning to lose to lowly Milwaukee.

A victory in the finale of the four-game set with Houston would have shrunk the Orioles’ American League East deficit to just 1 1/2 games and increased their lead over the Mariners. It wasn’t a must-win game, but it represented a valuable opportunity to salvage a four-game split, exhale, and regroup after allowing an unseemly 27 runs to the Astros the previous two nights.

Yovani Gallardo gave the Orioles exactly what they needed after poor performances by Wade Miley, Chris Tillman, and a host of long relievers had decimated the bullpen to the point that infielder Ryan Flaherty pitched the ninth inning of Saturday’s loss. Enduring two different rain delays, Gallardo allowed one run over the first four innings on Sunday.

Then, the fifth came.

Two-time Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado bobbled a chopper off the bat of Teoscar Hernandez for an error to begin the inning. Four batters later, a Carlos Correa line drive to right-center went off the glove of right fielder Chris Davis for a two-run double that would give the Astros a 4-1 lead. Manager Buck Showalter said after the game that his normal first baseman had lost the ball in the lights, but the two defensive miscues led to three runs for Houston.

The bottom of the fifth wasn’t much better as Adam Jones singled home Nolan Reimold to make it a 4-2 deficit, but the center fielder overslid second base as he advanced on the throw home and was then tagged out, ending the inning and adding a baserunning mistake to the poor defense in the top half of frame.

Taking nothing away from a strong eight-inning performance by 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, the Orioles cost themselves dearly in that fateful inning. Of course, it didn’t help that the bats largely fell silent again after the Baltimore pitching hadn’t given them much of a chance on Friday or Saturday.

Gallardo deserved better over his seven solid innings of work, but the Orioles have done whatever it takes to lose on this current homestand. In a two-game sweep against Boston, little went right across the board. After a 13-5 blowout victory over the Astros in the series opener, the Orioles made major league history Friday night by homering four times before recording a single out and amazingly lost by seven as Miley and the bullpen surrendered a combined 15 runs.

Despite falling to just 11 games over .500 for the first time since June 22, the math tells you the Orioles are still in fine shape and only a modest winning streak away from potentially being back in first place. But it doesn’t feel that way with a maddeningly inconsistent offense, a shorthanded bullpen, and a starting rotation reverting to its first-half form after showing some improvement since the All-Star break.

Since a four-game winning streak in which they swept Cleveland and won the opener of a series with Colorado to improve to an AL-best 58-40 on July 25, the Orioles have gone 9-16 and have been passed by both the Blue Jays and the Red Sox in the division.

It isn’t panic time yet, but losing the final three games against Houston — a team that came to Baltimore having lost four in a row and 13 of its previous 19 — felt alarmingly reminiscent of last year’s four-game home sweep to Minnesota that led to a stretch of 12 losses in 13 games ending any real chance of making the postseason. Of course, the Orioles are in better position now than last year at that point, but their 2016 season appears to be at a crossroads.

The offense has slumped for the better part of six weeks now, once again too dependent on the home run. Dating back to the last West Coast trip, the last six hits apiece from Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo have all been homers, illustrating the largely all-or-nothing performance from the lineup.

The health of No. 1 starter Chris Tillman remains in question despite him saying his shoulder felt fine after his worst start of the season on Saturday. Acquired at the deadline to fortify the rotation, Miley is sporting a 9.53 ERA in his four starts with the Orioles.

The bullpen is once again without Darren O’Day, who doesn’t appear particularly close to returning from a strained rotator cuff. Closer Zach Britton has been nothing short of brilliant all year, but getting to him is becoming increasingly difficult with fellow All-Star reliever Brad Brach struggling since the break.

The Orioles had been nearly invincible at Camden Yards this season in winning 70 percent of their games there, but they no longer have the best home mark in the majors after dropping six of their last seven in Baltimore.

No, things aren’t always as bad as they seem when a team is struggling like the Orioles are right now. The good news is that they didn’t lose any ground Sunday with their competitors all falling.

But instead of stopping the bleeding and starting to reverse their recent fortunes, the wound grew deeper in another frustrating loss.

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After missing out on Upton, Orioles welcome Kim back to lineup

Posted on 26 July 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After learning earlier in the day that veteran outfielder and trade target Melvin Upton was instead going to Toronto, the Orioles thankfully welcomed back Hyun Soo Kim on Tuesday.

The 28-year-old Korean outfielder was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list and was back in the starting lineup for the first time since straining his hamstring on July 10, the final game before the All-Star break. Kim was batting second and playing in left field for the second game of an interleague set with the Colorado Rockies.

With reserve outfielder Joey Rickard out with a thumb injury until September, the Orioles were attempting to acquire Upton in exchange for struggling right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and a prospect or two. However, the sides could not finalize the financial realities of a deal — with one report saying owner Peter Angelos changed an agreement — as Jimenez is still owed just over $18 million through next season and Upton will make roughly $22 million through 2017.

It would have been interesting to see how manager Buck Showalter would have used both Upton and Kim in the outfield. Upton plays better defense and hits more home runs, but Kim’s .410 on-base percentage dwarfs the veteran’s .304 mark and his skill set complements the rest of a homer-driven lineup nicely.

The optimal solution would have been a platoon with Kim playing against right-handed starters and Upton starting against lefties, but might the Orioles have been tempted to overlook the latter’s inferior hitting profile to utilize his speed and defense?

Coincidental or not, the Orioles enjoyed their best offensive month of the season (6.6 runs per game) in June when Kim became a regular against right-hand starters. In contrast, Baltimore has averaged just 2.9 runs per game in Kim’s absence since the All-Star break.

To make room for Kim and right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez — who was reinstated from the paternity leave list — the Orioles designated outfielder Julio Borbon for assignment after optioning outfielder Dariel Alvarez to Triple-A Norfolk late Monday night. This means the Orioles entered Tuesday night’s game with 13 pitchers and 12 position players on the roster.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 11-6 win over Blue Jays

Posted on 19 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 11-6 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 68th game of the 2016 season.

1st Matt Wieters set the tone for Baltimore’s season-high 19-hit game with a long two-run home run into the bleachers off Toronto starter Marcus Stroman in the first inning and matched his career high with four hits on the afternoon. The veteran catcher drove in a season-high four runs and scored three times while finishing just a triple short of the cycle. Three of Wieters’ seven homers on the season have come against Toronto with two of those against Stroman.

2ndJonathan Schoop homered for the second straight day, this time hitting a 458-foot bomb that nearly landed in the left-field club level in the bottom of the seventh. The second baseman’s RBI single in the fourth gave the Orioles the lead for good and put Chris Tillman in position to pick up his 10th win of the season despite a rocky five-inning performance. Schoop went 3-for-5 on the day.

3rdRyan Flaherty filled in at third base for the first game of the Manny Machado suspension and  answered the Blue Jays’ four-run second inning with an RBI single to tie the game at 4-4. The utility infielder added an RBI double in the fourth to push Baltimore’s lead to 6-4 and also made a couple nice plays in the field.

HomeBrad Brach entered with two outs in the seventh to face Josh Donaldson as the potential tying run and struck out the 2015 American League MVP. The right-handed reliever pitched two scoreless innings, striking out three and walking one. … Tillman extended his career-best winning streak to nine games and is now 9-0 with a 2.78 ERA over his last 11 starts. The right-hander surpassed Dick Hall to move into sole possession of 13th place on the Orioles’ all-time wins list with 66. … Chris Davis collected two doubles, scored three times, and drove in a run in a three-hit performance. … Hyun Soo Kim went 3-for-5 for his 10th multi-hit game of the season. … Every Orioles starter in Sunday’s game had a hit except for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was robbed of a potential home run in the bottom of the seventh. … The Orioles completed a 10-game stretch against AL East foes Toronto and Boston with a 5-5 record. … According to STATS, Baltimore will now have its first one-game road trip sandwiched between home games since June 25, 1967. Kevin Gausman will take the hill while Texas will start left-hander Derek Holland on Monday night.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-2 win over Blue Jays

Posted on 18 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 67th game of the 2016 season.

1st Jonathan Schoop started in the No. 2 spot in the order for just the third time in his career and responded with a home run, a double, a single, three RBIs, and three runs scored in a game in which runs were at a premium. The 24-year-old’s free-swinging ways are hardly conducive to hitting in the second spot in the order, but Schoop provided the early spark against Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey with a one-out double in the first inning and hit the deciding solo shot to the opposite field with two outs in the bottom of the third. The Orioles own a 32-7 record in games in which he hits a home run in his career, which is a remarkable coincidence if nothing else.

2ndYovani Gallardo wasn’t great in his return as he walked four and lasted just five innings, but he surrendered only two runs to earn his second win. It was his improved velocity that was the most encouraging aspect of his first major league start since going on the DL with right shoulder tendinitis on April 22. His fastball sat in the range of 88 to 90 mph, and he touched 92 on a few occasions, including consecutive pitches to strike out Troy Tulowitzki with the bases loaded in the third. He can be more competitive carrying that kind of stuff, but just turning in an outing like this one was a dramatic improvement over what the Orioles were getting from Ubaldo Jimenez and Mike Wright.

3rdMychal Givens struggled in his last appearance against Toronto last weekend, but he did an excellent job bridging the gap to the late innings on Saturday by tossing two scoreless frames on 20 pitches. With the tying run in scoring position with one out in the seventh, Givens induced a grounder from Josh Donaldson and got Edwin Encarnacion to line out to left to retire the side. The 26-year-old has had his issues against left-handed bats this year, but he turned in his 11th scoreless appearance of more than one inning this season, an important contribution to one of the best bullpens in baseball.

Home Zach Britton doesn’t deserve praise for pitching his way into a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the ninth inning, but he reminded us why he’s one of the best closers in baseball by inducing a 4-6-3 double play from Donaldson to convert his 21st save in as many chances to begin the year. Despite allowing a hit and walking two, he extended his scoreless streak to 17 games covering 19 innings since May 5 and lowered his season ERA to 0.93. … In his final action before starting his four-game suspension on Sunday, Manny Machado went 3-for-3 with a double and scored the Orioles’ second run on a passed ball in the first inning. … In his first game since breaking his left foot on May 1, J.J. Hardy went 1-for-3 with a double just inside the third-base bag to lead off the bottom of the fifth and helped turn two double plays. … The Orioles send Chris Tillman to the hill in search of his 10th victory and a series win on Sunday afternoon while Toronto counters with right-hander Marcus Stroman.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 11-6 loss to Blue Jays

Posted on 11 June 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 11-6 defeat to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 61st game of the 2016 season.

1st — With the Orioles not having as much quality in the bullpen these days with Darren O’Day on the disabled list and Buck Showalter needing to stay away from Mychal Givens and Brad Brach, T.J. McFarland offered no relief in the sixth inning. Many questioned why the lefty long man didn’t begin the bottom of the sixth with no one on, but having a leadoff runner on first can’t excuse the poor performance. You can’t walk Russell Martin and Ezequiel Carrera with Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion looming, and Toronto’s big guns made McFarland pay with a sacrifice fly and a three-run homer, respectively. Making matters worse, the lefty gave up another run in the seventh that loomed big when the Orioles lineup made the game interesting again in the top of the eighth. Five runs, five hits, and two walks over two innings certainly didn’t make his manager happy.

2nd — He somehow managed to keep the Orioles in the game into the sixth inning, but Mike Wright’s inability to throw strikes led to his downfall as just 49 of the 103 pitches he threw were in the strike zone. Trying to build off an encouraging start against Kansas City, the right-hander walked a career-high five in five-plus innings and threw first-pitch strikes to just eight of the 24 hitters he faced on Saturday afternoon. His fastball command was especially poor as he got away with a number of pitches over the course of his outing that could have made the final results even worse. After temporarily being sent to the minors before his strong outing against the Royals acted as a mulligan, this clearly wasn’t what the Orioles were looking for from the 26-year-old.

3rd — It’s difficult to find too much fault with an offense that scored six runs on the day, but the Orioles went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Baltimore stranded a runner on third with one out in the fourth, a runner on second with no outs in the sixth, and scored only one more time after Mark Trumbo’s RBI single that kept the bases loaded with no outs in the seventh. Six runs should be enough to win most days, but the Orioles did have plenty of chances to add more.

Home — The Blue Jays removed all doubt about the outcome after Brian Duensing gave up solo homers to Encarnacion and Michael Saunders in the eighth. The veteran lefty has allowed four runs in his first 3 2/3 innings with the Orioles. … Chris Davis homered in his fourth consecutive game and collected the first two extra-base hits by a left-handed batter against Toronto starter J.A. Happ this season. … Joey Rickard collected his first three-hit game since April 21 and hit his fifth homer of the season. … Manny Machado hit his 16th homer of the season and raised his average to .306 with a three-hit afternoon. … Ubaldo Jimenez goes to the hill in search of a series split on Sunday while right-hander Aaron Sanchez starts for the Blue Jays.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-5 win over Blue Jays

Posted on 10 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 6-5 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 59th game of the 2016 season.

1st Chris Davis wasn’t certain to play on Thursday after missing the series finale against Kansas City with unspecified physical ailments a day earlier, but he couldn’t have come up much bigger as he drove in three runs in the come-from-behind win at Rogers Centre. Despite entering the night hitting just .175 against left-handers in 2016, Davis homered to left-center off reliever Aaron Loup to tie the game in the seventh. He then stepped to the plate with the go-ahead run on third and one out in the ninth and hit his second sacrifice fly of the game. Davis also made a leaping catch of a line drive off the bat of Justin Smoak in the third, making it a strong all-around performance for the Orioles slugger.

2ndDylan Bundy gave the Orioles what they needed when starter Tyler Wilson was lifted with two outs in the sixth inning of a one-run game. The right-hander pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out three to eventually earn the win and keep the rest of the bullpen in good shape entering the weekend. With Darren O’Day currently on the disabled list, manager Buck Showalter needs to use the likes of Brad Brach and Mychal Givens in the later innings, meaning Bundy needs to not only give them innings but to pitch effectively to bridge the gap in some close games. He did exactly that with his 47 pitches to keep the Orioles within striking distance.

3rdPedro Alvarez hit his sixth homer of the season with one out in the sixth to end Marcus Stroman’s night after the Toronto starter had retired nine of the previous 10 Baltimore hitters to settle in after a rough beginning. The long ball made it a one-run deficit and put the Orioles in position against a shaky Toronto bullpen to secure their league-best 20th comeback victory of the season.

HomeZach Britton needed just eight pitches in a perfect ninth inning to secure his 19th save in as many tries, besting Chris Ray’s 18 in 2006 to set a new club record for consecutive save conversions to begin a season. The lefty is on his way to earning a second straight trip to the All-Star Game and is sporting a 1.03 ERA this season. … Hyun Soo Kim’s double to left-center off tough Toronto closer Roberto Osuna to lead off the ninth put the Orioles in position to play small ball to plate the eventual winning run with a Manny Machado grounder and Davis’ sacrifice fly. … It wasn’t a good night for Wilson, but he managed to recover enough to give the Orioles 5 2/3 innings after allowing four runs over the first two innings. … The Orioles have now secured their third winning streak of five or more games this year and improved to a season-best 13 games above .500. … Kevin Gausman takes the hill against Toronto right-hander Marco Estrada on Friday night.

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