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Walker, Knuble Lead Caps over Bolts, 5-4

Posted on 04 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

It was old man night at the Verizon Center on Thursday evening as newly acquired 36 year old Scott Walker and 37 year old Mike Knuble each scored twice to lead the Capitals to a 5-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Walker, who was playing his first game with the Caps after coming over from Carolina for a 7th round pick, notched two third period tallies sandwiched around two markers by a fighting for their lives Bolts squad. The victory improves the Caps record to 43-13-8 (94 points) and bumps their Eastern Conference standings lead to 14 points over the second place Pittsburgh Penguins. Washington now has a five point lead over the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks in the race for the President’s Trophy (both of them have a game in hand).

Here are the highlights, quotes, & analysis from this one:

Washington owned Tampa coming into this season having defeated them all six times last year and when they easily beat the Bolts, 3-0, back in November they pushed their win streak against the Lightning to 12 straight games. That run ended in Tampa in January in a 7-4 loss and the last two meetings here at the Verizon Center have resulted in one goal victories for the Caps. The secret for the Lightning in keeping things tight with the Caps has been a potent power play and the Bolts were 2 for 5 in this one. A win is a win but Knuble felt the Caps were sloppy after taking a 4-2 lead with 9:49 left and he also says that Washington will see the opponents best games down the stretch, especially from teams like Tampa on the playoff bubble.

“We were a little bit sloppy and I think we just need to bear down a bit more. We got timely goals, Scott [Walker] got a couple goals and I thought the new guys came in and played well. I’ll call [what we need] bearing down a little more, maybe we need to feel threatened and we didn’t seem to be taking their attack seriously. There was a bounce or two there where they were inches away from tying the game. So we got a couple of breaks, a couple of lucky bounces again and ended it. It’s a little sloppy but it’s a win too,” started the man who has scored 15 goals in his last 18 games and 18 in the last 22, “We need to get the idea that these last 20 games are going to be a lot harder than the first 60…Tampa’s season is on the line, they’ve got to get points and make the playoffs. We’re going to get everyone’s best effort…We can’t just slough off and hope that someone makes a play to score a goal or keep it out, we’ve got to bear down.” finished the man who leads all players 33 or older in goals.

Lightning Coach Rick Tocchet, whose team is now three points out of playoff position, was not happy with his club as a whole.

“It’s always frustrating when you lose. There are certain guys, Martin St. Louis, obviously Steven Stamkos, I thought Vinny [Lecavalier] the last couple games came to play. Some other guys, I don’t know. I really don’t know. You got to block a shot or dive to get the puck out of your own end. Bite the puck to get it out of your own end. We need those types of players. There’s five or six of those guys that are costing us right now. Bottom line. The positives are that there are enough guys here that want to win and are playing hard. I’m really proud of those guys.”

Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau thrust all three new acquisitions, Walker, defenseman Joe Corvo, and center Eric Belanger into the line-up forcing out Matt Bradley, Dave Steckel, and John Erskine from Wednesday’s victorious roster in Buffalo. Clearly Walker was the most noticeable in just 7:33 of ice time. Boudreau wanted to play him more but because of all of the penalties in the second period he “had to sit.” Boudreau felt that Corvo (20:19) had a good game and the coach tried him on the point on the power play with Mike Green in the first period, forcing Alexander Ovechkin down low. The 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner was critical of that decision saying “the coaching sloppiness resulted in the team becoming sloppy.” Washington was 0 for 3 with the man advantage on Thursday. Belanger logged 14:50, went +1, and won 5 of 12 face-offs.

The Capitals raced to a 3-1 advantage 28:21 into the contest but they then took four minor penalties in the next six minutes, three of which were within 56 seconds. Lecavalier (two goals) scored to make it 3-2 and after Green, Laich, and Poti all took minor infractions the Lightning had nearly three minutes to tie it up and then take the lead. Then Nicklas Backstrom, on a 4 on 3 penalty kill, broke his stick but managed to throw himself in front of successive Kurtis Foster blasts and lead his team in a momentum changing sequence. The work from #19 drew a lengthy ovation from the Verizon Center faithful and Boudreau felt that moment was a major key to the victory.

“I don’t know how many other superstars would be doing that, which is what makes him special, it was definitely a turning point. They had made it 3-2 and if they score when Nick is out there they still have a 5 on 4 again and they could have gotten the lead. It’s a lot different story playing with the lead than playing from behind,” said Boudreau on the importance of Backstrom sacrificing himself for the good of the team.

The difference in this game was the goaltending. Tampa’s Mike Smith gave up five tallies on 34 shots, some of which were of the soft variety, while Semyon Varlamov (25 saves) didn’t allow any questionable goals. Three of Tampa’s goals came in the slot as a result of poor Caps coverage and the other marker was from Lecavalier on a breakaway. Varly spoke with Russian newspaper reporter Slava Malamud afterwards and Slava told me that #40 felt he should not have gone for #4’s fake that got the young goalie out of position. Malamud mentioned that goaltending coach Arturs Irbe said that is something the 21 year old goalie will learn with experience. It is good to see Varly upset about giving up that goal but to be fair to him, Lecavalier has a Stanley Cup ring, was the first overall pick in the 1998 NHL draft, and is still one of the top players in the game when he wants to be. Malamud also added that Varlamov is totally healthy and learned alot about positioning from Vladislav Tretiak during his time with the legendary Russian goalie during the Olympics.

After Wednesday’s victory in Buffalo, Boudreau said he thought that the Olympic guys were tired and on Thursday it looked like Alexander Oveckhin (1 assist) and Alexander Semin (-1 in 19:00 of ice time) were still a little sluggish. The Great #8, who has not scored a goal for the Caps since his hat trick against Pittsburgh on February 7th (five game drought), had a breakaway in the second period but the puck rolled of his stick as he was making a move on Smith. He had some other decent chances but the biscuit is not bouncing Ovechkin’s way right now, but the good news is the Caps continue to win.

Next up for Washington are the New York Rangers on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. That game is the second on a five game home stand that sees the Capitals take the ice every other night.

Notes: Washington won the face-off battle, 33-28. Rookie defenseman John Carlson (20 years old), after two early giveaways, set up Tomas Fleischmann for a breakaway and broke up several passes in the second period. #74 had an overall strong game and was +1 in 14:46 of ice time. For Tampa, St. Louis had three assists in 21:35 of ice time and simply brings it on every shift. I spoke with him after the game and he was very disappointed with the loss while praising the Caps. “They are a good team, they are a division rivalry, we seem to give them good games but not good enough, you have to get a win with the playoff race right now.”

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Caps Knock Off Sabres, 3-1, on Wild Deadline Day

Posted on 04 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

On a wild NHL trade deadline day that saw Caps GM George McPhee make four separate deals, the Washington Capitals opened up their post Olympics break in Buffalo, a place the franchise has struggled in like no other. Making matters seemingly worse was that Washington was going to have to face the 2010 Olympic MVP, Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, in his first post-Olympics start in his own building. Miller (37 saves) was very good, as expected, but the Capitals were the better team on the night and broke a 1-1 tie on Mike Green’s goal off of a super Tomas Fleischmann feed just past the 10 minute mark of the third period. Then fourth line grinder and penalty killing specialist Boyd Gordon banked one off of the boards the length of the rink and into an empty net with 41 seconds remaining to seal a Capitals 3-1 victory.

The win pushes the Caps to 42-13-8 overall and restores their 13 point lead over the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference with 19 games remaining. Washington now owns a three point lead on the San Jose Sharks in the race for the President’s Trophy. Let’s start with the highlights, quotes, and analysis of this victory and then I’ll provide some quotes and analysis on the trades the Caps made today.

Washington started slowly in this one taking two minor penalties and getting outshot 7-3 in the opening 10 minutes. After that, the Capitals dominated territorially holding a 37-17 shots advantage over the last 50 minutes. Even though the score was 1-1 in the second period you could see that the Caps were winning almost every battle.

“I think the rustiness was we were shorthanded for four minutes and guys just needed to get their legs going. I told them that was our best game in 10 games..by far our best game defensively where we didn’t leave the goalie out to dry too many times,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau summarizing the victory.

Defensively the Caps were much more sound and another factor in the victory, I thought, was Washington’s superior conditioning and one can’t help but point to Boudreau’s practice regimen that started last Wednesday, February 24. The Caps could have won this one in bigger fashion, though, if not for some overpassing and an inability to convert on odd man rushes.

“Six good practices I thought and [our team] got back to the basics and [Buffalo] turned the puck over so many times in the neutral zone from our pressure that if we could have scored on our 2 on 1’s we would have had an easier game,” added Boudreau attributing the solid play to time spent at Kettler Ice Plex while noting the bad execution by his team in finishing off their potential scoring opportunities.

The best line on the ice for Washington was the Fleischmann, Eric Fehr, and Jason Chimera unit. They were each plus two on the evening and set up the only two markers that beat Miller. Flash, despite not getting an assist, made the play behind the Sabres net to set up Jeff Schultz for a point blast that was first deflected by Fehr and then tipped again by Chimera to open the scoring. On the game winner #14 carried the puck into the offensive zone on a nice rush then hit a streaking Green in the slot and the 2009 Norris Trophy finalist whipped it past Team USA’s superstar goaltender.

The Gordon-Dave Steckel-Matt Bradley line was also very good on Wednesday so it was nice to see #15 rewarded with an empty net marker.

“That whole line was really good tonight, evidentally with 15 forwards they don’t want to sit out, so they were showing that they want to play and they’re highly energetic and very smart defensively,” commented Boudreau on his fourth line and the threat of them losing ice time due to the trades made on Wednesday.

As for Alexander Ovechkin and his linemates, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble, they had some chances but mostly did not convert due to overpassing. Ovechkin struggled all night to get shots off (he only had 4 on goal) as did fellow Team Russia comrade Alexander Semin (2 shots on goal). Boudreau had an explanation for the lack of production.

“[Ovechkin] looked a little tired, I don’t think it had anything to do with disappointment. I thought all of our Olympian guys looked tired and all our other guys gave us lots of energy,” added Boudreau, although Fleischmann could be considered the lone “Olympic” exception to that statement.

Finally, this game is not a win without another super effort by Jose Theodore in goal (23 saves). #60 made the big save when he had to and did not allow many rebounds. The only tally that went by him was the result of a defensive zone miscommunication between Brooks Laich and Green that caused the puck to pinball around and right onto Jochen Hecht’s stick in the slot.

The Caps will fly home on Wednesday night and take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Verizon Center on Thursday evening at 7pm. Three of the four players acquired on Wednesday (forwards Scott Walker and Eric Belanger plus defenseman Joe Corvo) should get in the line-up while defenseman Milan Jurcina is out with a sports hernia and likely won’t be ready for action until the playoffs.

In my blog on Tuesday night about the trade deadline and the Caps, I mentioned the holes the team seemed to have but also pointed out that Washington had great team chemistry that they did not want to disrupt. To address the weaknesses, it was noted that some of the team’s young players were likely off limits. Well, what GM George McPhee and his staff managed to do today was follow the plan that the GM had been preaching to the media all along:  Improve the club if they can but don’t allow it to subtract from being good next year. Based on the moves McPhee made today combined with what some other contenders did or did not do, Washington’s chances to win their first Stanley Cup have improved.

The Philadlephia Flyers, who were touted as being a top team in the East after acquiring Chris Pronger last summer, did not add a goalie and they will go with Michael Leighton in net, a guy the Capitals have rarely had trouble solving. In addition, the Flyers were in the running for Corvo but Washington beat them to the punch. The Devils already made their big splash before the Olympic break adding Ilya Kovalchuk and the Penguins tried to improve their squad with d-man Jordan Leopold and forward Alexei Ponikarovsky on Tuesday. Getting the players the Caps acquired it appears that they gained ground on their pursuers but the Washington GM said what those teams did was not a factor in how he and his staff operated on Wednesday.

“You look at a Kovalchuk, we have those kind of players, and you look at a Ponikarovsky and we have have four left wingers and who does he replace? Basically, what it comes down to is we look at the positions we want to sure up. It is hard to go over someone so you look to fill the holes you have. We wanted to add a top 4 D and add another center who is good on face-offs and has speed and can play both ends of the rink. We got both of those guys [in Corvo and Belanger] and then to add Walker and Juice was nice,” added McPhee on the transactions Washington made on Wednesday.

Addressing team chemistry and an in game incident that occurred between Chimera and Belanger earlier in the season when #25 was a Blue Jacket and the man who will wear #18 was with Minnesota, the Washington GM was confident the deals he made would not cause any locker room friction.

“It’s not a concern. In our business guys play hard against each other and often when they become teammates they are the first two guys to go to dinner together. It is a contact sport but people end up on the same team and they become teammates so I am not worried about [past Belanger-Chimera incident] and we moved one player off of our team so we kept our team basically intact and we have alot of good guys and a lot of committed people that want to win a Cup,” said the former Hobey Baker Award winner that goes to the nation’s top collegiate player.

As for each individual move, it is hard to not see the logic the GM had for making each deal and here is what he had to say about them, in the order they occurred:

Walker trade:

“Scott Walker is tough, tougher than me, and he is a guy that we can play up and down the line-up. We drafted him as a defenseman in Vancouver,” commented McPhee on the versatile Walker, who some hockey announcers compared to the Caps GM from a hard nosed while on the ice standpoint.

Belanger deal:

“We talked about [how loaded the Penguins are down the middle] a lot and we like his experience and ability to shut people down but he’s on pace for 18 goals this year and that’s fine. He can help us on our penalty killing and we just got another guy who is hard to play against,” added McPhee on a player Boudreau projects to be the team’s third line center.

Jurcina addition:

“He had success here in our system. We know Juice, I know Walker, and Bruce knows Belanger and Corvo so we know the personalities that we are getting.”

Corvo acquisition:

“Brian Pothier was a good guy and I want to thank him for everything he did for us but we thought Corvo would be a little bit better for us.”

One area where the Caps did not make a move was in goal, something many pundits, who don’t watch this team on a day to day basis like many of us locally do, were calling for Washington to upgrade.

“We are happy with our goaltending. We’ve got two young kids in Varly (Semyon Varlamov) and (Michal) Neuvirth and an experienced one in Theodore and (Braden) Holtby is playing alot. People asked alot about (the three young goaltenders) but they are untouchables, we were not moving those goalies,” McPhee said on what looks to be the best young goaltending trio in any NHL system.

The Capitals GM was not surprised that there were “no huge deals” made and he said draft choices were the asking price in many transactions. Washington gave up two second round picks plus sixth and seventh round markers, as well. The key for Washington was not losing any of the three goalies nor their top two defensemen prospects in Karl Alzner and John Carlson.

“These days it is hard to make trades and going in I didn’t sense any big trades happening. 2nd round picks were the currency of the day. We had an untouchable list and we didn’t give away any of those players.  I don’t think [giving up 4 picks] does hurt us, we’ve had a lot of picks recently and we have a lot of young talent in our system and I’m really pleased with the way we’ve been drafting. We’ve done well with the [Stefan] Della Rovere’s, the Cody Eakins, [Dmitri] Orlov, so we have a lot of kids coming,” commented McPhee on the importance of youth in the organization.

Today was definitely the day where moving the contracts for Michael Nylander and Chris Clark really paid off. After the trade deadline a team can carry as many players as they want as long as they stay under the salary cap. Washington now has 15 forwards, 8 defenseman plus Jurcina on IR and Alzner in Hershey, and three goalies (counting Neuvirth in Hershey as well). Prior to the lockout, when there was no salary cap, typically teams with a big budget could stockpile players for the post season. McPhee has now found a way to do this post lockout setting the Caps up to handle any injuries much better than they were able to react in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring.

“We’re real deep now, we have alot of players. Bruce and I talked about if we wanted to move people out, but we have the cap space to keep everybody..so let’s keep everybody and we did all of this with the playoffs in mind,” said McPhee on the logic in adding so much depth to the team, which will give Boudreau some minor headaches in trying to figure out which players to dress each night.

Overall this was a tremendous win for the Capitals on NHL deadline day. Not only did they get a top four defenseman and add depth to their lineup, they did not take on any players that have any more years on their contract. Each guy acquired is a free agent this summer, something McPhee said factored into the decision making process in trades.

“There was one guy [we looked at that was not a free agent this summer] but we just didn’t want to take on any term. We are a good team now and we will be in September so we didn’t want to take on any bad contracts and with respect to the cap we will be in good shape. That is why I am really happy today, we made our team better today and we are going to be really good again next September,” finished McPhee.

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Caps Get Scott Walker, Eric Belanger in Trades (Updated)

Posted on 03 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals traded a 7th round pick today to the Carolina Hurricanes for right wing Scott Walker. Walker, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer (making $2.5M this season), is a physical right wing that will mix it up and go to the net. He adds depth and toughness to a very talented Caps forward crew.

In addition, the Caps have just acquired Minnesota Wild center Eric Belanger for a second round pick, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie. Belanger is a center, a position I have said the Caps were thin at depth wise. He also is an unrestricted free agent making $1.75M this season. Accoring to Tim Leone, who covers the Hershey Bears, Belanger played for Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau in Lowell in the AHL.

I caught Walker’s interview with Hockey Night in Canada Radio a few minutes ago and he said it was a no-brainer to wave his no trade clause to go play for the Capitals. He is excited to join the team. Walker also has a history with Caps GM George McPhee having played for him in Vancouver when McPhee was assistant GM there.

The trade deadline is at 3pm today and more deals are expected around the league so later on tonight, when the dust settles, you can look for another blog from me with analysis on the moves that impact the Capitals and their quest for the Stanley Cup.

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A Glorious Festivus Day for Ravens

Posted on 10 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

It was a super day for the Baltimore Ravens franchise as they put on a first quarter clinic en route to a 33-14 whipping of the New England Patriots on their home turf in the opening round of the NFL Playoffs. There were lots of firsts for the Ravens on Sunday, as chronicled by Drew in this blog, and a city that seemed a little bit skeptical of this team’s ability to win in the post season will no doubt be going purple crazy all week as Baltimore gets ready to head to Indianapolis. We have several days to analyze that matchup and as Glenn mentioned in his blog, there are things that need some correcting. However, for tonight, this blog is just going to primarily talk about the positives (my dad would call this the anti-Phil Jackman blog – and Phil you know I still love ya!):

– I don’t think I am going out on a limb in declaring this the best performance by the team all season. They defeated an elite club that has a one of the best QB’s in the NFL by lining up and just physically beating the Patriots in nearly every aspect of the game. New England had the deer in the headlights look after Ray Rice went 83 yards on the game’s opening play from scrimmage followed by the Terrell Suggs sack and fumble of Tom Brady that set up the Ravens second touchdown. It was smash mouth Ravens football, no doubt.

– After the game Ray Lewis, who was outstanding with 13 tackles and a sack on Sunday, praised defensive coordinator Greg Mattison for coming up with a great game plan. Mattison, however, said that it was not his schemes, it was the players execution that did the job. Whatever the case, the Baltimore defense was the most aggressive it has been all year and clearly that style fits the personnel. New England only had 196 total yards, wow! Charlie Frye threw for 180 yards on the Ravens in the 1st half alone in last week’s victory in Oakland. #52 talked in the post game about disguising the blitz until the last second for fear of Brady recognizing it and checking off, something the 3-time Super Bowl Champion excels at. Well today, #12 had no clue what was coming most of the time and he played like it. Mattison felt that the team could generate pressure rushing just four players and for the most part he was right. If there is one thing I would like to see less of, it would be the three man rush. The NFL rules are set up so much for the offense that if you give the receivers time to get open they either will or likely draw a penalty.

– Speaking of penalties, Baltimore only was flagged 3 times for a total of 15 yards! That was incredible focus and discipline by a team that has struggled to maintain its composure in several instances this year. Yes, the team was winning so it was easier to stay in control, but mentally that may have been the best the squad collectively has executed all year. Not a single personal foul or pass interference infraction was whistled on the Ravens today.

– Did the offense remind you a bit of the 2000 Ravens in Tennessee? Baltimore only threw the ball 10 times and Joe Flacco completed just four passes (but two were huge ones to Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton to keep second half drives going). But when you get an early lead after an 83 yd scamper why not keep pounding the ball like the Ravens used to do with Jamal Lewis? The rushing totals were 52 carries for 234 yards, a 4.5 yard per carry average. The backs were good and the offensive line was flat out dominant. It is clear that a healthy Jared Gaither at left tackle plays a huge role in offensive success.

– The much maligned secondary was superb today forcing 3 interceptions and holding Randy Moss to 5 catches for 48 yards (and most of those came in garbage time). Dominique Foxworth, Frank Walker, and Dwan Landry might have had their best games of the season. The pressure put on Brady certainly helped and having a healthier Ed Reed at safety contributed as well. Ravens fans can only hope that #20 continues to progress physically this week because they will need his smarts against Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and company. Reed even had a good lateral today to Landry on his INT that put the Ravens in the red zone.

– Special teams were fairly solid. Tom Zbikowski’s 30 yard return after New England cut the Ravens lead to 27-14 put the ball near midfield and on the shorter grid the Ravens drove for the score that put the nail in the coffin in this one. Sam Koch punted well with two good kicks that pinned the Pats inside their own 20 yard line and even Matt Katula’s long snaps were better allowing kicker Billy Cundiff to hit on both of his field goals and all three PATs.

– The Ravens came out as healthy as you can be after 17 weeks of football and tight end Todd Heap’s back injury appears to be minor. So could a team that has been banged up so badly since starting 3-0 finally be getting healthier in some key areas (see Gaither and Reed)? One has to hope that is true and Flacco will likely have an easier time getting his aching hip loose in a dome instead of the freezing north east.

– All in all it was a very good day to be affiliated with the Ravens and somewhere heading south on I-95 at 1000pm on Sunday night there are two full buses of very happy people who decided to go on the WNST road trip to Gillette Stadium. Those people, and any other Ravens fan who attended the game in person, are truly great for showing such faith in a team that many thought would get beat today, including myself. As anyone that has traveled with WNST knows, WNST bus trips, whether to a Ravens game, a Caps or Bears hockey game, or to a horse race, is a ton of fun. I’m sure this weekend to Indianapolis will be no exception so sign up, if you can. By the way, it was great to hear Ravens Coach John Harbaugh mention and praise the support the team received from the Ravens fans who attended the contest today. So how about we more than double that for next week’s Saturday night contest and get at least five WNST buses going to Indy?

Happy Festivus! (que the Ravens Mania music now…)

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A somber locker room in Minnesota

Posted on 18 October 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

All of the videos are up now here at WNST.net. I’m sure folks will be crazy in the Purple Haze in a little while as well.

If you ever want to know what I’m thinking during the games, I’ve been TWEETING LIKE A RAVEN on Twitter each week during this season. It’s a LOT of fun for me to share my thoughts via the internet from my seat in the upper deck of the Metrodome surrounded by people in braids. Simply follow us on Twitter and you’ll know every stupid thought that’s on my mind.

It was a tough, tough loss today. The Ravens were outplayed dramatically in the first half and the comeback should’ve been good enough to save the day. Honestly, I was filing out of the upper deck before Ray Rice caught that pass thinking the game was over.

It was an amazing, memorable comeback and it leads you to believe that anything is possible with this team.

The final Frank Walker penalty was so blatant that it’s not even worth discussing. And, if you have a kicker who can’t hit a 43-yarder with the game on the line on the road, you’re not good enough to win.

The Ravens “victims” were very upfront in their candor after the loss and everyone in the locker room went out of their way to not throw teammates under the bus.

Steve Hauschka had bloodshot eyes a few minutes after the game when he faced the media.

And Frank Walker was somber at his locker…

Meanwhile, Ray Rice talked at length about the comeback and how strong mentally his offensive teammates were in getting back in the game with such a large deficit…

The Purple Haze chat begins in a bit. Hope you come in and chat with the crew. I might be a little late getting into the sphere but I’m going to try to participate.

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May Orioles report card

Posted on 02 June 2009 by Keith Melchior

Here’s my May Orioles report card.

Brian Roberts – A … still the catalyst on the team. A very solid player

Adam Jones – A+… He still plays too shallow in CF sometimes and balls fly over his head, but he has been a pleasant surprise. With the solid 2 months he’s had, he definitely deserves All-Star recognition.

Nick Markakis – B+..production has fallen off a bit, stuck out a few too many times with runners on base, deserves All-Star recognition too.

Aubrey Huff – B.. playing a solid 1st base, hoping he’ll heat it up soon. If he does, he is the first one I’d look to trade out.

Melvin Mora – C.. I don’t think he’s 100%. He’s turned into a singles hitter as his power numbers dwindle.

Luke Scott – B+.. In a heck of a hot streak as of late, so they’ll probably trade him in July. He’s just what they Orioles need.

Nolan Reimold – B..(qualifies for an incomplete) He probably saved his job in LF and his spot on the team when he hit that GW HR last week.  He could hit better in his sleep than Felix Pie. He was helped by Lou Montanez’ injury and trip to the DL. Here’s hoping he gets settled in .

Gregg Zaun – F.. Did playing on an artificial surface pad this guys numbers? He has lost it at the plate and behind the plate, and rather quickly.

Ty Wigginton – B.. not playing every day hurts his ability to perform consistently, but he is an adequate utility player. Much better than the other 3

Felix Pie – F.. He should be sent to Norfolk so he can play every day and work on his game. Sitting on the bench here in Baltimore isn’t helping. When Lou Montanez returns from the DL, I’ll drive Pie to Norfolk.

Cesar Izturis – C.. has been pretty decent in the field and producing at the plate is all you can ask for at this position. They got him for his defense

Robert Andino – C.. not lighting it up but he’s not supposed to. He’s a “band-aid player” in case of injuries. There’s no need for him to have to play once or twice a week.

Jeremy Guthrie – B.. has shown flashes but still somewhat inconsistent and struggles to get into 7th inning

Rich Hill – B+.. a pleasant surprise, so McPhail is batting .500 with his ex-Cubs

Koji Uehara – C.. guts alone can’t win ball games, ask Kyle Boller. Runs into trouble after 5 innings way too often. Hopefully he can improve his stamina when off the DL.

Jim Johnson  – B.. looks like he picked up where he left off last season before he was shut down. Dominant at times.

Danys Baez – B-.. Quite different than the guy who couldn’t get anyone out 2 years ago, but he still lacks that consistency that middle relievers need. Probably trade material come July.

Brian Bass – B+.. talk about a guy who seemingly rose from the dead. He was probably on his way out but he turned it around in a hurry after a disasterous April. He has become a solid middle reliever. Hope he stays that way.

Matt Albers – C.. Looks like his choice to rehab instead of surgery is working  as has held his own.  Let’s see what June has in store for him

Jamie Walker – F.. after a decent April, that meltdown over the balk last month transformed  him back into the  Jamie Walker of 2008.

George Sherrill – B.. not the All-Star he was at this time last year, but the best option they have since Chris Ray blew up and did his Walker routine.

Bergesen, Berken, Hernandez – Incomplete – They all look like they belong with the big club thus far.  We’ll see how they progress in June.

Matt Wieters – A+ for hype…..incomplete for grade. rocky start of a major league career going 2-11. Once he settles in and plays more, he’ll be fine.

Dave Trembley – C- .. He locked himself into a rut but playing the B lineup on Sundays and usually the last game in a series. You have to have players who can accept that role and can step in and play to make it work for you. If he is that stuck on getting his reserves in a game, then why not stagger them, that way you don’t have all 3 in the game at the same time…i.e. rest Izturis Friday and play Saturday and Sunday and rest Mora on Saturday and play on Sunday, etc etc.. … His bench players are terrible. Pinch hitting a .200 hitter for a .198 hitter? Why bother?  The team is 5 games under .500 at this point, no thanks to Trembley. The top of the lineup all hit and hit and hit and won games despite the rocky pitching efforts. Some of Trembley’s in-game decisions are highly questionable, he is stubborn about his reserves playing time, and his record on Sundays/ final game of a series is worthy of a firing if he can’t turn that trend around. If he’s trying to win baseball games, he is doing it with smoke and mirrors.

Team Overall – C.. the recent 5 game win streak helped. With their lineup, they should beat teams like Washington and teams that are reeling and slumping.  The comeback win over Toronto was impressive, but the 2 losses to Detroit over the weekend were tough to swallow. How they fare in June and July with the development of the rookies will go a long way in determining whether they are serious in contending in the future or will settle for mediocrity. Hanging onto players like Felix Pie, Gregg Zaun  and Robert Andino drag them down. having 3 bench players hitting a combined .198 gives Trembley no options in late innings or against NL teams. Perhaps Baez and Koji can be used as pinch-hitters. Pie should go to Norfolk, Zaun and Andino can just go, period.  The Orioles are better than advertised at times. Now it appears they have a log-jam on the mound when Koji returns from the DL.

Question – What ever happened to Mike Flanagan?

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A weekend of MASN and Baltimore and Washington and “Battle of Basement”

Posted on 24 May 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

Well, if they weren’t going to get the sweep at least they lost in dramatic fashion. Jamie Walker gave up a prodigious grand slam to Adam Dunn in the 7th inning and the Nats beat the O’s 8-5 to avert a sweep in D.C.

Brad Bergesen pitched well enough. The Orioles battled and the game was pretty nip and tuck through the middle innings with lead changes, big hits and competitiveness. But it all unraveled in the 7th for the O’s bullpen after Bergesen hit the shower.

I’ve spent all three days pretty much glued to the TV watching this series. I was just as amazed by all of the empty seats as I was the full ones. It looks like they sold a lot of tickets and many didn’t come. It was just weird looking at it for 30 innings over the last 45 hours.

I’ve been wanting to write a blog all weekend but I thought I’d just do a “summary” here today about what I’m thinking as I watch all of this pretty-much lousy baseball.

I’m also a little overwhelmed with MASN’s hodgepodge display of Nats and O’s as “friendly rivals” and how chummy the “Battle of the Beltway” feels as they both meet again and are both again headed for the basement of their respective East divisions. I call it the “Battle of the Basement” and it feels like it’ll probably be that way again next year.

With Jim Palmer back in the booth today, it was a refreshing change from the Nats-dominated coverage from Friday and Saturday. And when Cakes talks, I listen. He’s one of the few (Dave Johnson would be another) who actually teaches me stuff as I watch the game. I like that.

So, before I criticize MASN, let me say that Palmer eradicates many of their deficiencies with his brilliance, information, stories and general arrogance and candor. At this point, he’s Howard Cosell compared to what I hear anywhere else on MASN, CBS Radio, 105.7, Pressbox or anyone else who is “on the payroll” with the Orioles, Angelos or the axis of the “powers that be.”

But I’m just overwhelmed with how “templated” the Orioles and Nationals “fan experience” is when they tune their favorite club in on television. Both of their TV ratings are in the dumper and heading south with my last place summer nights. So, I suppose, other than telling us when Matt Wieters comes and pitching more events and MASN house ads and promotions, what else can they do with these teams that will be well into September before they win a combined 100 games?

But I love baseball. And I’m watching. And I’ve been taking some notes this weekend on Baltimore vs. Washington and how “flat” this thing feels.

Some random observations:

* A lot of orange in the seats all weekend in D.C. The O’s fans represented in almost Boston-like color in the seats. I’m not sure if that’s the D.C. side of the fanbase that thought that having a team they knew would suck as opposed to Montreal’s problems and MLB’s ownership would be a better play five years ago?

I’m not really sure how I would feel if I lived in Rockville and loved baseball. Why would I become a Nats fans? (Granted, it’s pretty easy to jump off the orange ship with the way Angelos has behaved with D.C. in general over the past 15 years. He’s more disliked in D.C. than he is here for trying to block the team’s entrance and now summarily screwing up the TV rights and presentation of the games.)

I suppose it’s the same situation for someone in Baltimore who truly fell in love with the Redskins in 1984 and just became a fan of the “nearest” team. I’ve rooted for the Capitals most of my life and considered the Bullets my “home” team until they moved into D.C. and changed their name to the Wizards.

It sucks bad enough being an Orioles fan. Imagine adopting the Nationals and watching them BOTH and trying to hang in there watching two doses of MASN every night to get your baseball fix…

* Debbi Taylor, former NESN girl who got her start as Peter Gammons’ girl wonder about 15 years ago at ESPN, makes Amber Theoharis look like Bonnie Bernstein or Suzy Kolber. The Nats broadcast team in general sounds like vanilla, blah, so what, etc. But again, they do have a 13-30 team that they have to make sense of every day. It ain’t easy talking day after day about losing. Trust me, we at WNST.net feel the same way. How many ways can you “sell” something that’s lousy?

* Palmer is hysterically funny. I’m not sure the guys at Famous Dave’s are happy with his assessment of their food, but it is funny.

* Hall of Famer Bob Feller stopped by in the middle of the game today and was just fabulous with one liners and old stories. Jim Palmer and Bob Feller talking old-school baseball might bore the hell out of some of the 21-year olds in the audience, but I love that stuff. I wish Feller, who is now 90 years young, would’ve stayed for two more innings. My Pop told me all about Bob Feller and the old stories are what sustain my interest in baseball these days.

•    I really wish this rivalry were good. The Redskins-Ravens thing is hot. Even when both teams suck, the game will always be a four-year war and the fans draw up the battle lines. I’m good with that. I hate the Redskins. I want to hate the Nationals. But neither one of these teams gives me any reason to feel any emotion. We had a bus trip planned for today and couldn’t find anyone who wanted to go. That’s pretty sad, I think. The Nationals are – alas — just “another team.” I wonder if sometime in the next 10 years whether it will ever develop into a “Hatfield-McCoy” thing. Right now, that feels a long, long way away…

* The one thing that I have found thoroughly offensive since Friday night has been MASN’s “mixed marriage” coverage. Look, I CLEARLY KNOW AND APPRECIATE that they’re “saving a buck” by combining the coverage. But if I hear Dibble call the Nationals “us” or “we” again or watch one more dorky Nats fan talk about “defining moments” in the same exact canned ads as they play on the Orioles broadcasts as they start the day 12-30, I’m gonna puke.

Angelos really HAS screwed up both cities for baseball. At least it’s comforting to know MASN’s just as lousy as a “templated” D.C. product.

And while I’m on it, the marketing phrase “Birdland” sucks. It’s just awful.

In D.C., they’re clearly “cultivating” Natstown”

As my wife pointed out, what would be wrong with “O-Town”?

Or “O’s Town”?

Anything but “Birdland,” which sounds like a place a last-place team would play to me.

•    I’ve gotta go now. Ray Knight and Johnny Holliday are on talking about the Nats in HD. I have to tune into MASN2 now to see Rick Dempsey and Tom Davis try to make sense of a loss to the Nats.

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Bullpen melts down to Yanks after strong outing from Koji, Orioles lose 5-3

Posted on 10 May 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

4:43 p.m. — Well, I was feeling good when Felix Pie got on base for the third time today but it wasn’t meant to be. The Orioles got a nice effort from Koji Uehara today but the Jamie Walker-Jim Johnson combo couldn’t hold the lead after the 7th and a pair of homers from Robinson Cano and Johnny Damon beat the Orioles 5-3 at Camden Yards. The Orioles are now 13-19 and are 7-17 since beginning the season 6-2.

They get a rare off day tomorrow and will resume action Tuesday night at Camden Yards with Andy Sonnenstine (1-3, 5.79) and Mark Hendrickson (1-4, 5.13) going to the hill.

Below is my running live blog.

4:32 p.m. — I agree with most of the comparisons of George Sherrill to Don Stanhouse, who gave us thrills in the summer of 1979. The only difference? This 2009 team stinks some 30 years later. Either way, he put a couple on and managed to silence Johnny Damon with the game in the balance. They’re already down two with Rivera en route.

They need a happy ending. But they have the dreaded 7-8-9 hitters coming to the plate. Not a good scenario. I need a “defining moment” right about now.

4:20 p.m. — Well, Phil Coke looked like Jeff Nelson or Mike Stanton there for two innings. Melvin Mora managed a single but Ty Wigginon’s double play ended things in the eighth. Now they’re going to need to go through Mariano Rivera. Not good. Snatching defeate out of the jaws of victory. They’ve been losing a lot of these lately. Not a good sign.

4:02 p.m. — Twenty minutes ago, I was thinking “nice series win in progress.” Now I’m thinking this is just a jinxed franchise. Koji’s pitch count was nearing 100. Dave Trembley went to the bullpen to start the 7th inning. Jamie Walker put the lighter fluid on the coals with a solo homer to Robinson Cano, and Jim Johnson lit the match with two-out rally and a three-run homer to Johnny Damon.

They’re losing now. Chamberlain is out. Phil Coke is in.

3:41 p.m. — ORIOLES 3, YANKEES 1 in the 7th…A beautiful afternoon at the Yard. And Koji has silenced the greatest bats in all the land, the Yankees here in Baltimore. Beamed back to a no-doubt enraptured audience in Japan with ARod and Koji, the Birds are threatening to take this series.

Where are all of the Felix Pie “bakers” now? Hey, we’ve been waiting for the “breakout” game. Maybe this is it?

And, Adam Jones is really, really impressive, isn’t he?

He’s no fluke and he’ll be on the mantle of Andy McPhail’s greatest coups if he keeps this up. And Erik Bedard was such a complete jerk. It’s nice to know the Orioles actually “won” a trade. (Been a long time, right? And, factor in the Tejada trade, and McPhail looks like Minnesota Fats!)

Ya gotta admit, when Mark Teixeira hit the homer in the first oh Uehara, you had to have one of those “ugh, oh” moments. But Aubrey Huff answered and has been on a tear lately, another three-run tater again today in the 1st to nullify the Yanks advantage.

But the Orioles have had runners aboard in every inning without getting though to Joba Chamberlain, who’s been crafty since the meltdown in the first inning. Chamberlain is now at 104 pitches, the O’s are about to get into the Yankees bullpen with a lead.

It’s a good sign.

Here comes Jamie Walker in the 7th. A nice outing from Koji. This is what they’re paying him to do.

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Orioles Win a Wild One

Posted on 14 April 2009 by Nicholas Miskelly

 Orioles Win a Wild One

 

If you love offense then you loved watching the Orioles game today.  Pitching was not at a premium as the Orioles out slug the Texas Rangers and hold on late as they take the first game of the series 10-9 to move to 5-2 on the year.

 

The Orioles only scored in three innings today but when they did score-boy did they score.  They started of fast as the jump out early putting 2 runs up in the first.  The offense showed resilience today as they quickly jumped back into the lead in the 4th inning by scoring 5 runs the inning after the Rangers grabbed the lead for the first and only time in the game.

 

The offense continued in the 5th as they scored their final 3 runs of the contest capped by Wigginton’s RBI single to left, his second RBI of the game.  Pie led off the inning with a deep bomb to left, his first of what will hopefully be many homeruns in an Orioles uniform.

 

Things got exciting in the 6th again as the Rangers continued to battle back.  After Uehara loaded the bases, Baez entered and got out of the inning after allowing all three of the inherited runners to score. 

 

Baez got slammed in the 7th by Jones as he hit a 2 run homer to make the score 10-9.  Walker and Johnson combined for a 1,2,3 eight which took us into the ninth when Sherrill entered and as usual with him came a lot of fireworks and some very good fortune. 

Earlier today I blogged about how the Orioles fundamentals were not where they needed to be especially as it pertains to base running.  Well today the Orioles won this game because of the Rangers, in particular Ian Kinsler’s, terrible base running.  Kinsler lead off in the 9th with a double to left.  Trouble loomed as Young followed with a blast to deep right field.  Nick Markakis saved the game with an outstanding running catch as he reached over his head snatching the ball as it was about to hit the wall.  This kept the winning runner from getting on base with what would have been at least a double.  But what really preserved the lead was the atrocious decision on the part of Kinsler not to tag.  In fact, as I watched Nick make the catch, I yelled “get it in!”  Then I realized there was no need to rush it in because for some reason Kinsler did not tag. What a break.   Just as I was explaining how lucky we just got, Hamilton hit a ball to medium deep center.  There’s the answer.  If Kinsler would have tagged as he should have, the game would have been tied and we would have been hoping for extra innings.  Instead, thanks to Markakis’ incredible catch and Kinsler’s equally incredible decision not to tag, the Orioles pulled out a magical victory in an offensively explosive game.

It is games like this in which plays seem to fall our way that has me thinking maybe, just maybe, the magic is back at the yard.  Well see how long the magic sticks around but come August I would love to be able to say ’09 Orioles:

 

Why Not!!!!!!

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Guthrie Continues the Orioles Winning Ways

Posted on 11 April 2009 by Nicholas Miskelly

Guthrie Continues the Orioles Winning Ways

 

Guthrie got off to a hot start tonight as he aggressively attacked the strike zone early in the count.  He quickly got ahead of the first three hitters of the game as he retired the side in order.  He was able to get all of his pitches working early as he effectively kept the Tampa Bay batters off balance by moving the ball from side to side while mixing in his fastball, slider, and change up.  His control was pinpoint accurate for most of today.

 

Unlike much of last year, Guthrie was able to enjoy early run support today.  The Orioles were able to capitalize on Nemann’s early wildness as they capped a five run first inning with Melvin Mora’s first home run of the season, a grand slam to left center field.

 

Taking advantage of the early run support, Guthrie was able to continue to attack the strike zone in the second as he got another 1,2,3 inning.  There is nothing worse than when a pitcher is handed a big early lead, then comes out and tries to nibble around the plate resulting in multiple walks which allows the opposition to get right back in the game.  Guthrie did not allow this to happen as he continued to look sharp with his mastery of the strike zone as he pitched 6 complete innings.  The key to his success today was the location and movement of his pitches as he successfully kept hitters unbalanced as he navigated through tough jams in both the 3rd and the 4th innings. 

 

In the end the Orioles bullpen finally pitched to their expectations as they worked 3 scoreless innings.  Walker came in and looked good in his 1 1/3 scoreless innings.  Chris Ray pitched the 9th using a sharp moving slider to strike out the side. 

 

I can’t wait to catch the game tomorrow to see if the magic continues as the Orioles send Adam Eaton to the mound and they look to sweep the defending American League champions right out of the yard.  

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