Tag Archive | "toronto"

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Dear Buck Showalter: One bad night in Toronto cemented your Orioles legacy

Posted on 03 October 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

Dear Buck:

We would’ve had fun together – you and me, if we knew each other. I like smart guys and folks that other “wise” people refer to as a genius. I like storytellers. And I love baseball. Even our mutually departed pal Johnny Oates, the first Baltimore Orioles manager I stalked and questioned and infuriated and learned from back in the early 1990s, managed to love me in the end.

So I’m sure you would’ve found my candor and baseball intellect to be simply delightful in those post-game pressers and pre-game dugout scrums but alas I only attended two of your press conferences.

I was there the day you were hired and talked about “piledivers” – the day when I waved my arm like Arnold Horshack and was never afforded a question by your Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

And I was in the back of the room in Kansas City at Kaufman Stadium when Major League Baseball credentialed me as a legitimate media member during the 2014 American League Championship Series. A beaten man, you conceded the season after a four-game sweep to the Royals and I didn’t have the heart to ask you a tough question at that point. I took mercy on you. That week was tough enough without a guy like me hijacking you with some real questions. And there really wasn’t much to say because the silence of the bats did all of the talking for the Orioles.

Buck, you’ve been a standup guy on most public fronts during your eight years here. Even when those post-game interviews with Gary Thorne on the Mister Angelos And Sons Network bring back the rare sincerity of the Mean Gene-Hulkamania days or the Vince McMahon-Bruno Sammartino teasers of professional wrestling lore of my youth. You even got Rick Dempsey on your side after finishing “second” in the managerial pursuit about five times! On the tough nights on the network of the PGA, it was co-workers in love chatting about another road loss. On the good nights – and there were plenty of those, too – it was a yuck-a-thon of pies, piledivers and aww-shucks comments about “the best players in the world out there.”

And then there was the night Mike Flanagan killed himself – but we’re not allowed to talk about that around here. It’s like it never happened. Especially if you’re at WBAL.

But now that this biblical shit show is over – and you somehow ended this legendary mess as a sub-.500 manager in your totality here (15 games under at 669-684) – it’s time to take stock of your accomplishments and failures within a franchise that never knew success before you and certainly doesn’t look like there’s much coming over the steep hill as you see this dumpster fire blazing a bright orange hue in your rear view mirror.

We all know that you’ve been better than that here – even if your record is what it says it is.

First, I want to apologize for telling your wife that winning would be impossible here the day you were hired at the press conference. I’ve witnessed the Peter G. Angelos era here over 25 mostly dreadful years and I believed that no one could penetrate such an awful place with a Warehouse full of incompetence and incompetents and win against the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox.

I also know that most of the other MLB owners would’ve never hired you – and you needed a gig and wanted one last try at winning a World Series. At the time, most of your friends and baseball insiders were telling you not to take the job as the manager of the

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Dear Zach Britton: We’ll forever salute you as Mister ‘What If?’ in Baltimore

Posted on 25 July 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

Dear Zach:

Your time has come to leave Angelos Island and trade in the orange and black for your most unlikely second MLB franchise – the Evil Empire and the pinstripes of the dreaded New York Yankees.

Instead of back in black, you’ll be back in blue next week.

Start spreading the news, you’re leaving today! And much like Manny Machado, this is very likely the road to City Y on the way to City X.

On the grandest stage and pitching into October – well, we think they’ll actually put you in the game in The Bronx – you’ll have a chance to throw your way back into something that looks like the contract you probably deserved after what you did here from 2014 through 2016.

I remember Don Stanhouse from my youth. I saw Gregg Olson drop deuces on 33rd Street into his prime. And I watched all of the rent-a-hats from Don Aase to Lee Smith to crazy-ass Randy Myers around here and you are the king of the firemen in the Charm City.

The closest thing I ever saw to Eckersley – and that’s high praise even if you’re not on the Red Sox charter!

No one ever did it better than you, Zach!

And I’m not holding my breathe to think we’ve ever going to see it again, late into summer nights, as Orioles fans with games on the line in money spots. The first thing we’ll need to see to ever replicate anything resembling you will be late-inning leads. And methinks there won’t be a lot of those in the pipeline in the coming years in Baltimore.

There are so many “what ifs?” around your dozen years with the Baltimore Orioles organization. I’m sure you were taking that all in – out in the bullpen for the final time on Tuesday night. Like Machado and Markakis and a few others of the modern era who “made it out” with big-time productivity and contracts with lots of zeroes, you remember the slums of Fort Lauderdale every spring and that time long ago when all the organization that drafted you did was finish in last place.

We do, too!

You were a part of changing that around here and we’ll forever salute you!

I remember your youth and promise. The whole Arrieta, Matusz, Tillman class of “growing the arms.” And now a decade later, we start to see the history of buying the bats.

Those of us who have been paying attention can easily piece together who is where, and why?

As much as the folks who watched you dazzle and become the most automatic finisher this side of the best of Eckersley in his prime, you will always be remembered – and tied to – Buck Showalter’s epic fail in Toronto in October 2016. It will forever be the black hole of modern day Orioles baseball – how a baseball genius left Ubaldo Jimenez on the hill and you in your prime on the pine at Skydome with the season on the line in extra innings.

As you kinda pointed out last week on your media exit tour, it’s still inexplicable and irreversible. It always will be, even for Buck.

It took the Baltimore Orioles 14 years to solve the Armando Benitez-Tony Fernandez bomb in 1997.

Who knows how long this current back in (the) black hole era will last? And who made who?

We’re just getting started around here with the coronation of Dillon Tate, Josh Rogers and Cody Carroll and the eight new baby Birds on the farm from this July haul and heist of the Dodgers and Yankees.

In the future, the Orioles will need dirty deeds done dirt cheap in the late innings.

Buck will fairly get his chunky and complex #DearOrioles letter later – and it certainly would be unfair to judge him solely on a pitch you never threw in Canada – but his story and yours are forever tied to Toronto and that fateful night. It’ll be the last time the Baltimore Orioles will have a chance to win a postseason MLB game for a long

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Orioles halt Trumbo’s rehab assignment, option Harvey back to Bowie

Posted on 11 April 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles have hit the pause button on Mark Trumbo’s rehab assignment just a day after it began at Double-A Bowie.

The right-handed slugger went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts serving as the Baysox designated hitter on Tuesday, but he didn’t feel fully confident with the quadriceps he strained last month, prompting the training staff to shut him down for the time being. Trumbo returned to Camden Yards on Wednesday and will travel with the major league club to Boston this weekend, but it remains unclear when he’ll resume his rehab assignment and be activated from the 10-day disabled list.

 

“He just felt like last night, he just didn’t feel like pushing it,” said manager Buck Showalter, who didn’t want to classify the shutdown as a setback. “He thought he still wasn’t comfortable with that. I’m proud that he felt comfortable telling us that because you don’t want that setback that pushes it way back.”

The Baltimore lineup has struggled mightily to open the season, but Pedro Alvarez has been very effective as the designated hitter, the job primarily occupied by Trumbo last season.

The Orioles recalled infielder Engelb Vielma from Triple-A Norfolk and optioned right-handed pitcher Hunter Harvey back to Bowie. The move once again gives Showalter a full bench after the Orioles had carried an extra pitcher in the bullpen over the last few days, a result of some short starts and two extra-inning affairs at Yankee Stadium last weekend.

Harvey, the organization’s top pitching prospect, was called up to the majors on Monday, but he did not appear in a game. He will now make his Double-A debut for the Baysox at Harrisburg on Saturday and is expected to pitch two or three innings.

According to Showalter, the results of the magnetic resonance imaging exam on outfielder Colby Rasmus’ left hip were favorable with no surprises, but it remains unclear when he’ll return from the DL.

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Orioles designate struggling Rule 5 pitcher Cortes for assignment

Posted on 10 April 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles’ peculiar attempt to carry three Rule 5 picks on their 25-man roster didn’t make it through the second week of the season.

After giving up his second grand slam in only his fourth appearance in Monday’s 7-1 loss to Toronto, left-handed pitcher Nestor Cortes has been designated for assignment. The Orioles recalled right-hander Yefry Ramirez from Triple-A Norfolk to take his roster spot, giving them another fresh arm for a bullpen still trying to recover from a taxing four-game series against the New York Yankees.

Cortes will now be exposed to waivers and would be returned to the Yankees, his original organization, if unclaimed by the other 28 teams. Should he clear waivers, the Orioles could attempt to work out a trade with New York to keep the 23-year-old in the organization.

His ability to change speeds and arm angles received favorable reviews early in spring training, but that didn’t translate to the regular season as Cortes allowed four earned runs, 10 hits, and four walks in 4 2/3 innings. With a fastball averaging only 88 miles per hour, Cortes did not appear to have much upside as the Orioles had hoped to carry him in the bullpen as their long man similar to how they used former Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland in 2013.

“We knew it was going to be a challenge,” manager Buck Showalter said. “If we could have gotten a little deeper in our games with our starting pitching, I think I could have protected him more. We were forced into some things. I still think he’s got a chance to be a good pitcher, and we’ll see where it takes us.

“Regardless of what division you’re playing in, it’s the big leagues. Like I said, they’re going to have to pitch.”

Unlike Cortes, Rule 5 right-hander Pedro Araujo has shown impressive flashes over his five appearances, striking out 11 batters in 7 2/3 innings. His underwhelming 5.87 ERA is a product of a poor April 3 outing against Houston in which he was charged with four earned runs while retiring only two batters. On Sunday, the 24-year-old pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings while striking out five in the 8-7 comeback win over the Yankees in 12 innings.

Araujo entered the season having pitched only two innings above the Single-A level, but he’s shown a low-to-mid-90s fastball to go along with an impressive slider and a good changeup.

Outfielder Colby Rasmus underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam on his left hip on Tuesday. Placed on the 10-day disabled list over the weekend, Rasmus was projected to be sidelined five to eight days, but the Orioles want to make sure there isn’t anything more serious going on with the same hip on which he had surgery in 2016.

Mark Trumbo began his rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie on Tuesday, serving as the Baysox designated hitter and batting third. Out with a quadriceps strain since mid-March, Trumbo could be activated as soon as this weekend’s Boston series if deemed ready to go.

Starting pitcher Alex Cobb remains on track to debut at Fenway Park on Saturday and will complete his workday with Bowie on Wednesday.

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Orioles call up top pitching prospect Harvey, set Cobb’s season debut

Posted on 09 April 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On the same day the Orioles announced when Alex Cobb would make his much-awaited 2018 debut, they surprisingly promoted their top pitching prospect to lend a hand to a tired bullpen.

Originally scheduled to make his three-inning debut for Double-A Bowie on Monday, right-hander Hunter Harvey was summoned to Baltimore as manager Buck Showalter was dealing with the fallout of a four-game set against the New York Yankees that included two extra-inning affairs. The 23-year-old will be available to pitch in relief after Showalter said as many as five relievers wouldn’t be available in Monday’s series opener with Toronto. Six relievers combined to throw 186 pitches over 11 1/3 innings in Sunday’s 8-7 win over the Yankees.

To make room for Harvey on the 25-man roster, left-handed pitcher Tanner Scott was optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk after pitching 1 2/3 innings on Sunday. Showalter admitted he’d prefer not using Harvey, but the Orioles needed more coverage behind starter Dylan Bundy with Rule 5 lefty Nestor Cortes and right-hander Mychal Givens being the only relievers not to pitch Sunday.

Baltimore’s bullpen covered an incredible 26 innings over the four games at Yankee Stadium before calling on Harvey, who allowed three earned runs and nine hits over seven innings of Grapefruit League action and spent most of the spring in major league camp. The 2013 first-round pick is less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery, but he posted a 0.96 ERA in 18 2/3 minor-league innings late last season.

“Physically, he’s fine. If not him, then who?” said Showalter, citing his preference to have a fresh right-handed pitcher against Toronto’s right-heavy lineup. “We had some options, but if you bring up a non-roster [pitcher] who’s out of options, you’re going to lose him going back [to the minors]. There’s a lot of variables there, but we think Hunter can serve a need here and potentially help him and the organization.”

Harvey hasn’t pitched above Single-A Delmarva in the minors, but other right-handers on the 40-man roster such as David Hess and Yefry Ramirez started minor-league games over the weekend, leaving them unavailable for Monday. The son of former major league closer Bryan Harvey was apparently the last fresh man standing.

While the length of Harvey’s stay in the big leagues likely won’t be long, Cobb is set to make his Orioles debut against Boston at Fenway Park on Saturday. In his extended spring start in Sarasota on Monday, Cobb allowed one earned run and six hits while striking out eight and walking one over six innings. He threw 93 pitches, making it clear that he’s just about ready to go from a pitch count standpoint.

The organization’s top free-agent acquisition in the offseason, Cobb will complete a bullpen session with Bowie on Wednesday before joining the Orioles on the road trip.

Outfielder and designated hitter Mark Trumbo is scheduled to begin his minor-league rehab assignment with Bowie on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Orioles will determine the next step for him after those games as the slugger could receive more minor-league at-bats or be activated from the disabled list in time for the Red Sox series.

Trumbo has been sidelined with a quadriceps strain since mid-March.

“He feels good. He’s going from 80-something degrees [in Sarasota] to 40 degrees [coming north],” Showalter said. “I’m going to let him make the call. It could be all the way through the weekend for that matter. I don’t know. When he feels like he’s ready, we’ll bring him.”

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2018 American League East preview

Posted on 29 March 2018 by Luke Jones

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

1. BOSTON (2017 record: 93-69, first place)
Notable arrivals: DH/OF J.D. Martinez
Notable departures: SP Doug Fister, RP Addison Reed, OF Chris Young, RP Fernando Abad
Why to like them: Most teams dream of having a Chris Sale or David Price atop their rotation, but the Red Sox have both as well as former Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and all-world closer Craig Kimbrel.
Why to dislike them:
Health is a concern with Dustin Pedroia beginning the season on the disabled list, Price needing to prove he’s over his elbow problems, and other pitchers currently ailing.
Player to watch:
Martinez was paid handsomely for his career year at the plate in 2017, but the Red Sox are counting on him to fill the void of David Ortiz, whom the lineup missed dearly last year.
2018 outlook (94-68):
The other AL East giant owned the winter spotlight, but Martinez’s power bat and a healthier version of Price will be the difference in what should be an outstanding divisional race.

2. NEW YORK (2017 record: 91-71, second place)
Notable arrivals:
OF Giancarlo Stanton, INF Neil Walker, INF Brandon Drury
Notable departures: 2B Starlin Castro, 3B Todd Frazier, DH Matt Holliday, SP Michael Pineda
Why to like them: A team that was one win away from going to the World Series added the reigning NL MVP (Stanton) and his 59 home runs to a lineup that led the majors in long balls in 2017.
Why to dislike them: Despite their daunting lineup and elite bullpen, the Yankees didn’t improve a rotation counting on Masahiro Tanaka to rebound and CC Sabathia to fight off Father Time again.
Player to watch: It’s easy to point to Stanton or Aaron Judge, but the 24-year-old Luis Severino building off his superb 2017 season would make the rest of the rotation look that much better.
2018 outlook (90-72, wild card): The youthful Yankees were ahead of schedule last year, but Joe Girardi’s exit can’t be overlooked and even Houston stubbed its toe in 2016 before winning it all in 2017.

3. BALTIMORE (2017 record: 75-87, fifth place)
Notable arrivals: SP Alex Cobb, SP Andrew Cashner, OF Colby Rasmus
Notable departures: C Welington Castillo, OF Seth Smith, SP Wade Miley, SP Ubaldo Jimenez
Why to like them: The lineup will still hit plenty of home runs and the bullpen still has enough firepower to protect late leads until Zach Britton is ready to return to action.
Why to dislike them: The additions of Cobb and Cashner will help, but the embarrassment of finishing with the worst starter ERA in baseball just isn’t forgotten — or fixed — overnight.
Player to watch: How Manny Machado handles the pressure of his pending free agency and the move to shortstop will significantly impact the Orioles’ fortunes — now or potentially for the future in a trade.
2018 outlook (82-80): The late arrival of Cobb offers a more plausible path to a wild-card spot, but a few too many variables must break right for a club facing substantial changes at season’s end.

4. TORONTO (2017 record: 76-86, fourth place)
Notable arrivals: OF Randal Grichuk, OF Curtis Granderson, SP Jaime Garcia, SS Aledmys Díaz
Notable departures: OF Jose Bautista, INF Ryan Goins, INF Darwin Barney, RP Tom Koehler
Why to like them: The Blue Jays aren’t that far removed from back-to-back ALCS appearances and still have a strong rotation that finished first in the AL in starter ERA in 2016.
Why to dislike them: The days of Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion anchoring a loaded lineup are long gone as former AL MVP Josh Donaldson doesn’t have nearly as much help these days.
Player to watch: The 25-year-old Aaron Sanchez looked to be on the verge of stardom before his 2017 season was derailed by recurring blister problems that limited him to eight starts.
2018 outlook (80-82): Like the Orioles, the Blue Jays have enough talent to make a run at a playoff spot if things go their way, but the lineup and bullpen won’t give the starting rotation enough help.

5. TAMPA BAY (2017 record: 80-82, third place)
Notable additions: 1B C.J. Cron, OF Carlos Gomez, OF Denard Span
Notable losses: 3B Evan Longoria, SP Alex Cobb, SP Jake Odorizzi, OF Corey Dickerson, OF Steven Souza, 1B Logan Morrison
Why to like them: Chris Archer, Blake Snell, and Jacob Faria still give the Rays enough upside in a starting rotation that should remain competitive despite the subtractions of Cobb and Odorizzi.
Why to dislike them: The long list of Rays’ departures says all you need to know about outside expectations for 2018, even if Tampa Bay’s front office proves to be geniuses with its maneuvering.
Player to watch: The 29-year-old Archer has posted back-to-back seasons with an ERA above 4.00, making one wonder if he needs the change of scenery so many former teammates received this winter.
2018 outlook (73-89): The projection systems are higher on this team than casual observers, but the Rays are relying too heavily on spare parts and youth to be able to seriously contend this season.

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Labor Day weekend illustrates Orioles’ minuscule margin for error

Posted on 04 September 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles still have a pulse in their push for a wild-card spot.

Winning nine of their last 12 games was a must after falling four games below .500 two weeks ago, but the effort required for a 2-2 long weekend fit well with Monday’s holiday celebrating the unofficial end of summer.

Laborious.

Even with a 7-4 loss to the New York Yankees on Labor Day, the Orioles should feel fortunate. Instead of easily disposing of last-place Toronto in a four-game set, they were a bad pitch away on Friday and the subtraction of Welington Castillo’s game-tying home run on Sunday from finishing the long weekend on a five-game losing streak that would have wrecked their work from the previous week. They managed to come away with a four-game split that was an exhausting grind and left them vulnerable on Monday — even with top starter Dylan Bundy going to the hill.

After a blistering August at the plate, the Orioles have scored a total of 12 runs over the last four games, which included seven extra innings of play. In the two extra-inning wins over the weekend, the bullpen had to pitch a whopping 15 frames with much of that work going to Baltimore’s most reliable arms. Those innings took their toll as manager Buck Showalter confirmed after Monday’s loss that he wasn’t going to use three or four unidentified relievers in the opener against New York.

That’s why Bundy’s outing was so deflating as the Orioles needed their best starter to go at least six or seven innings to have any decent chance to win without a huge offensive performance. No one could have expected Bundy to duplicate the brilliance of a one-hit shutout in his last outing, but his short day was a death knell when the bats also went silent after three early runs.

Instead of being able to hand the reins of a close game over to a tough bullpen in the fifth, Showalter tried to squeeze extra outs out of his struggling starter and then had no choice but to turn to Miguel Castro, another young pitcher who’s had multiple long outings over the last 10 days. Castro struggled to throw strikes, eventually giving way to the likes of recent call-ups Richard Rodriguez and Gabriel Ynoa to finish the day. An expanded September roster allowed Showalter to rest his trusted relievers, but you’d prefer not using those extra arms when the outcome hasn’t fully been decided.

Monday’s loss and the weekend illustrated Baltimore’s minuscule margin for error.

Trying to give Bundy extra rest as much as possible since he’s already thrown a career-high 159 1/3 innings in 2017, the Orioles have continued to hand starts to Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez, who own the two worst ERAs in the majors among all pitchers with at least 80 innings. Those two still being part of a playoff contender’s six-man rotation in the final month of the season is an organizational failure from top to bottom, but the Orioles somehow still find themselves in the race.

Pitching on five days’ rest after a career-high 116 pitches last Tuesday, Bundy showed no dip in velocity, but his command wasn’t sharp from the get-go and the Yankees eventually exposed the deficiency in the fourth inning when he gave up three runs and needed 37 pitches to retire the side. Those struggles conjured unsettling thoughts of last season when Bundy posted a 5.11 ERA in September.

The Orioles’ formula for winning is difficult, but clear with 24 games remaining. They need to score runs at a prolific rate and use their bullpen to protect narrow leads in the late innings. The starting rotation merely needs to be mediocre like it was in August with an underwhelming 4.86 ERA and averaging 5.7 innings per start, which were dramatic improvements from the previous three months. We know this rotation isn’t going to lead the Orioles into October, but it has to be decent enough to keep them in games and not completely cripple the bullpen.

A 2-2 Labor Day weekend didn’t ruin their playoff chances, but it stretched their limits.

And we were reminded how little room the Orioles have for error with the days dwindling.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-1 win over Toronto

Posted on 27 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their third straight game in a 3-1 final over the Toronto Blue Jays, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles jumped ahead early with Mark Trumbo’s two-run double with two outs in the first, but Adam Jones drawing a walk after falling behind 0-2 was the biggest at-bat of the inning. It was an impressive way to finish an eight-pitch battle with Joe Biagini.

2. Kevin Gausman showed good fastball command low in the strike zone as he pitched 5 1/3 innings to collect his first victory since May 31. You’d like to see him get deeper into the game, but he was able to build on encouraging signs from his last outing.

3. His command was shaky early in the game, but double plays in the first and second innings went a long way in allowing Gausman to settle down. He retired eight in a row after the twin killing in the second.

4. Toronto made some loud contact in the fourth, but Gausman dotted a 3-2 fastball at the bottom of the zone to strike out Josh Donaldson looking. That was one of his best pitches of the night.

5. Despite the Blue Jays featuring seven right-handed bats in their starting lineup, Gausman continued to use his split-changeup as his go-to secondary pitch and didn’t throw a single slider, according to Statcast. That’s an interesting development.

6. Thanks to the off-day, Buck Showalter was able to deploy his bullpen earlier than normal as Gausman was pulled after 99 pitches with a one-out jam in the sixth. That’s the kind of bullpen chain the Orioles have too frequently lacked over Zach Britton’s absence.

7. Mychal Givens was wild in the sixth, but he got Kendrys Morales to expand the zone for a strikeout to leave the bases loaded and then calmed down to toss a perfect seventh. His ability to pitch more than one inning as been huge all season for an undermanned bullpen.

8. The last seven weeks of Orioles baseball haven’t been easy, but watching Jonathan Schoop continue to grow as an offensive force has been fun. His two-out hits in the first and third started both of Baltimore’s scoring rallies on Tuesday.

9. I’ll never grow tired of watching encounters between Darren O’Day and Jose Bautista. The veteran reliever came out on top this time and has looked sharp in three scoreless innings since returning from the disabled list Friday night.

10. Brad Brach allowed a two-out home run to Troy Tulowitzki in the ninth, the first run he’d allowed since May 16. Other than his struggles from late April through early May, he’s done a commendable job filling in for Britton.

11. Hyun Soo Kim drew two walks, but he’s only 7-for-31 without an extra-base hit since the Chris Davis injury more than two weeks ago that led to more playing time for the left fielder. His season on-base plus slugging percentage is just .620.

12. The Orioles were one strike away from pitching a shutout four days after tying the major league record for allowing five or more runs in their 20th consecutive game. Baseball’s funny.

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Johansson’s OT Tally Wins the Series for the Caps

Posted on 24 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

It took six close games, five of them decided in overtime, for the Washington Capitals to finally extinguish the Toronto Maple Leafs with Marcus Johansson tallying his second goal of the night to give the Caps a 2-1 victory 6:31 into the extra session. The Caps will now move on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in round two, starting on Thursday night at the Verizon Center, in what is a rematch of last spring’s second round battle.

Like game five, this was another tight defensive battle with strong goaltending. Neither team scored through 40 minutes, with the Leafs owning the lead in the shot attempt totals, at 47-38, but the Caps had the better of the scoring chances, especially their second line.

In the third period, it was anyone’s game, but Washington started to take over with their depth. The Capitals had several good scoring chances, but then a weird bounce and a missed defensive assignment cost them the first goal.

Morgan Reilly dumped the puck in to the Caps end and it took a crazy carom off of the glass into the slot. Auston Matthews, who is already a star in this league at age 19, jumped on the puck and went in alone on Braden Holtby (37 saves). The kid from the desert went top shelf on the Holtbeast to make it 1-0 just 7:45 into the final frame. It was a fortuitous break for Toronto, but the goal was preventable. Had Evgeny Kuznetsov kept skating instead of gliding at the Caps defesnsive blue line, he could have beaten Matthews to the puck. It’s a good lesson for #92 and the whole team to learn in the playoffs – a single missed stride can cost your team a goal.

In the past, the Matthews tally might have devastated the Caps bench, but not this year. No, this team amped their game up and started taking the play to the Maple Leafs and just over five minutes after #34 had all of Yonge Street thinking there was going to be a game seven, the Caps tied it up.

Lars Eller made a strong offensive zone entry on the left wing boards and he fed a streaking Johansson in the slot. Marcus pushed the puck ahead to escape the Leaf defender and then he pinballed one in off of Frederik Andersen (34 saves) into the net with just 7:09 remaining. It was a monstrous tally and it came because the Capitals started to push the play.

Washington would continue to do that and then in the overtime, they took their game to 11.

The Caps had no thoughts of sitting back on Coach Mike Babcock’s squad and they thoroughly outworked and dominated a young Leafs team in the overtime. They had several scoring chances, Comcast’s Alan May had it 7 to 1, with Jojo getting his second of the night and the series winner on a play where he simply did what he had done all season long to score a career high in goals (24), he went to the front of the net.

A Leafs icing forced Babcock to leave a tired crew on the ice, which included game one goat, Martin Marincin, as well as his fourth line (Kasperi Kapanen-Brian Boyle-Matt Martin). Coach Barry Trotz took his third line off and inserted Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Mr. Clutch, Justin Williams. Kuznetsov, who like many other Caps centers struggled on draws all game, won a huge face off against Boyle. When Stick received the puck from John Carlson on the right wing half wall, he smartly fired it on net. Jojo was parked in the slot above the paint and he appeared to tip the initial shot into Andersen’s pads and then fought off Marincin to bury the game and series clincher.

Wow, what a game and what a performance by the Caps once they were down, 1-0! They pushed the play and looked like the team that won the Presidents’ Trophy this season. It’s the way they’ll need to play in the second round if they want to defeat the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Winning the first round is always the toughest; ask any hockey player, coach or executive and they’ll back me up. It was even harder for Washington because everyone picked them to win quickly and the Leafs had nothing to lose. Simply put, there was a TON OF PRESSURE on the Capitals to win this series and move on to face the Penguins for the rematch from last spring.

As Coach Barry Trotz told me, Nestor Aparacio, and the great crowd at Greenmount Station back on March 20th, every series takes a piece out of you. Toronto took some pieces out of the Caps. Karl Alzner didn’t play after game two due to an upper body injury, Nazem Kadri put a cheap shot on Alex Ovechkin and knocked Ovi out for two plus minutes of game five (but the Russian Machine Never Breaks), and Leo Komarov put a dirty hit on Nate Schmidt late in game six (but the 88 car also returned to play four shifts after the hit, including being on the ice for the game winner).

Luckily the Gr8 and Schmidt, plus T.J. Oshie, who I could see mouth “I’m all right” to Caps trainer Greg “Smitty” Smith after blocking a shot right before the winning goal, should be ready for Thursday night’s game one against the Penguins at the Verizon Center. The Leafs may have taken some pieces out of the Caps, that’s still to be determined how much, but in my book, Washington was able to ramp their game up to a tempo they’ll need to be at against Pittsburgh. I’m not sure they get to that pace level in a series against the Bruins or Ottawa. So I’m still glad the Capitals faced the Leafs. It was a very hard series, but they overcame an inordinate amount of pressure and persevered.

Anyways, the Penguins series should be one heck of a rematch. The Caps have waited a whole year for it, but we’ll talk more about it as the week progresses, but let’s hope there’s a Rocky 2 type of ending this spring.

Notes: Final shot attempts were 70-67, for Washington. It was all Caps after the Leafs marker…Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts, including seven on goal, in 22:45…the Caps lost the face off battle, 39-22, but they won some key ones, including right before the series winning tally. Kuznetsov was 6-8 (best Caps percentage)…Oshie had another strong game with five shots on goal in 19:35…the Caps were shorthanded for just 22 seconds and they had 2:22 of power play time…the Holtbeast was outstanding in this tilt, which included a huge save on Komarov, who was all alone after he took his run at Schmidt and #88 limped to the bench…Dmitry Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 25:38 and his partner, Matt Niskanen, logged 25:15. They played the hard minutes and that allowed Carlson and Schmidt to help the Capitals drive the play when they were on the ice…the Caps won the last three games of this series, which came after Coach Trotz tweaked his forward lines right before game four (bumped Tom Wilson up to the third line).

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 11-4 win over Toronto

Posted on 16 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning an 11-4 blowout over Toronto on Sunday afternoon, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. What else can be said about Trey Mancini as he homered twice and tied a major league record for home runs in his first 12 games with seven? Buck Showalter has a good problem with Mancini, Seth Smith, and Hyun Soo Kim available for only two lineup spots.

2. Dylan Bundy continues to be superb so far in 2017 as he pitched six shutout innings to earn the win and lower his season ERA to 1.86. He’s allowed one earned run in 13 innings against the Blue Jays this month.

3. I still hold my breath seeing Bundy throw so many sliders given his history with the pitch, but there’s no disputing that being a game-changing pitch for his repertoire. It was a big reason why he struck out six and recorded 15 swinging strikes.

4. Bundy set the tone for the outing in the first inning after allowing a leadoff double and a bunt single. Instead of conceding early damage, the right-hander struck out Jose Bautista with a slider and got Kendrys Morales to ground into a 4-6-3 double play.

5. Craig Gentry went 3-for-5 and hit his first major league homer since 2013, quieting legitimate concerns about his ability at the plate. He shouldn’t be in the leadoff spot, but that was a strong performance from the veteran outfielder.

6. His homer wasn’t exactly a bomb, but Manny Machado needed that after seeing his average drop to .154 before his opposite-field homer off the foul pole in the eighth. I can’t imagine too many are concerned about the All-Star third baseman though.

7. Perhaps it’s only a coincidence that Gentry and Machado homered using one of Mancini’s bats, but that’s still a heck of a post-game story. Whatever works, right?

8. After collecting only two hits and struggling to make solid contact over his first 19 at-bats of 2017, J.J. Hardy is 7-for-16 over his last four games and doubled twice on Sunday. He isn’t the power hitter he used to be, but throwing dirt on him was premature.

9. Seeing Adam Jones crash into the center-field wall in the eighth inning of an 11-1 game was the last thing Showalter and the Orioles wanted to see. Fortunately, he appeared to be OK and has the off-day to rest up.

10. As if things weren’t going poorly enough for Toronto, J.A. Happ left the game with left elbow soreness in the fifth inning after fellow starter Aaron Sanchez was placed on the 10-day disabled list hours earlier. The Blue Jays have to be begging for a mulligan.

11. Zach Britton told reporters in Toronto that his left forearm strain is closer to his wrist than his elbow, but anyone invested in the Orioles will be holding their breath until the All-Star closer is back on the mound and looking like himself.

12. Yes, the Blue Jays have the worst record in the majors at 2-10, but the Orioles should be feeling good about themselves after continuing their division rival’s misery and taking three of four games at Rogers Centre, a place where they’ve struggled historically.

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