Tag Archive | "Wei-Yin Chen"

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 10.57.53 AM

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Orioles still trying to recapture starter success from last year

Posted on 23 April 2015 by Luke Jones

You don’t have to look far to figure out why the Orioles are off to a 7-8 start to begin the 2015 season.

They’ve been sloppy in other areas of the game, but Orioles starting pitching entered Thursday ranking last in the majors in innings pitched (4.87 innings per start) and 27th in ERA (5.30). In looking at the first 15 games of the season solely through that lens, Baltimore might be fortunate to be just a game below .500. The bullpen hasn’t been much better with a 4.55 ERA, but relievers have already been overworked because of the starters’ failures.

Bud Norris’ struggles have garnered plenty of attention as the right-hander currently sports a 17.42 ERA, but No. 1 starter Chris Tillman entered Thursday’s start with a 5.52 ERA through three starts. Meanwhile, Wei-Yin Chen can thank his shoddy defense in Boston on Monday — one of the errors were committed by the lefty starter — for a 3.07 ERA that doesn’t accurately reflect how shaky his performance has been thus far. Chen sports a 1.70 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) and a 6.49 FIP (fielding independent pitching mark), which paint a better picture of how he’s pitched.

The poor performance of the rotation has left many to wonder why the talented Kevin Gausman isn’t starting, but the 24-year-old is trying to rebound from a rough beginning of his own in the bullpen and owns a 5.40 ERA in 10 innings of work. The 2012 first-round pick finished 2014 with a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts.

The rocky start has been a stark contrast from the second half of 2014 when the pitching became one of the Orioles’ biggest strengths, finishing fifth in the American League in starter ERA (3.61). Baltimore went 53-27 over the final three months of the season, a clip that translates to a 107-win season over the course of a full year. Aside from Ubaldo Jimenez, who made only five starts in the final three months of 2014, every member of the rotation finished with an ERA of 3.65 or better.

Though many continued to criticize Orioles starters for failing to go seven innings consistently last year, the more realistic standard in today’s game has become six innings as Cincinnati led the majors last year in averaging 6.32 innings per start. Over those final 80 games when the Orioles ran away from the rest of the AL East, starters completed at least six innings 49 times and seven or more innings 23 times.

So far in 2015, starting pitchers have gone six innings just four times in 15 games. And only Ubaldo Jimenez and Miguel Gonzalez have completed seven innings in one start each.

It’s easy to point to the offseason departures of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller as reasons why the Orioles might fail to repeat as AL East champions, but the shortcomings of the starting pitching have told the bigger story in the early stages of 2015.

One of their biggest strengths of last season has been the weakest link of Buck Showalter’s club in April.

Comments (1)

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 4.01.17 PM

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Jones not missing his pitch in hot start for Orioles

Posted on 20 April 2015 by Luke Jones

Even after an 0-for-2 showing in Monday’s 7-1 loss that snapped a nine-game hitting streak, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones is off to one of the best starts of his career through the first two weeks of the 2015 campaign.

The numbers resemble something from a video game as Jones is hitting .438 with five home runs, 16 RBIs, and a 1.294 on-base plus slugging percentage, but the most encouraging stat that could make room for Jones to sustain improvement in 2015 is his impressively-low number of strikeouts. Entering Monday with a career 19.3 percent strikeout rate, Jones has gone down on strikes just five times in 54 plate appearances this season.

Jones has only walked three times, but he’s making more contact on pitches in or out of the strike zone. Of course, we’re dealing with a small sample size, but even a reasonable improvement from his career 73.5 percent contract rate — Jones entered Monday making contact on 78 percent of his swings — could make an already-dangerous hitter even better.

Manager Buck Showalter has also noted that several of Jones’ big hits early in the season have come on pitches well outside the zone, which should serve as a reminder for those who like to harp on his lack of plate discipline and inability to draw walks. You take the good with the bad with Jones, and there’s been much more of the former in his eight years with the Orioles.

** The final numbers showed that all five runs that Wei-Yin Chen surrendered on Monday were unearned, but anyone who watched his performance knows nearly all of the damage was self-inflicted for the Taiwanese lefty.

Committing an error and walking four batters in the third — he walked no more than three in any of his 31 starts last season — Chen struggled to shake off the fielding miscue and allowed it to affect his performance on the mound. Of course, the error committed by Manny Machado with the bases loaded led to two more runs and a 5-1 deficit.

The defensive gaffe and the control problems are uncharacteristic for Chen, who is regarded as an exceptional fielder and walked only 1.7 hitters per nine innings last year. For now, you chalk it up as one of those days even though he’s now walked eight batters in 14 2/3 innings in 2015.

** With another strikeout on Monday, Chris Davis has now gone down on strikes 21 times in 50 plate appearances to begin the year.

It isn’t news that Davis strikes out a lot as he fanned 199 times in his 53-homer season in 2013, but the left-handed slugger striking out in 42 percent of his plate appearances is alarming even for his standards. Despite this, Davis has still managed to produce with two home runs, seven RBIs, and a .457 slugging percentage.

What might be more concerning than the strikeout rate is the fact that Davis has only drawn two walks this season. Despite his nightmarish 2014 season that included a .196 average, Davis still drew 60 walks in 525 plate appearances to at least salvage a .300 on-base percentage.

With the increased use of the shift against him, Davis will do himself no favors if he doesn’t have patient at-bats. Of course, pitchers may not feel the need to pitch him as carefully this season, which could also impact his ability to earn free passes.

** Once J.J. Hardy returns, many assume Everth Cabrera will become the primary second baseman in place of the injured Jonathan Schoop, but I’m not convinced.

Cabrera has just 12 games of major league experience at the position while Ryan Flaherty has proven he can play above-average defense at second. The former has also shown little at the plate with a .244 slugging percentage this season after posting a .572 OPS in his final season in San Diego last year.

Flaherty is a polarizing figure among Orioles fans, but he’s off to a strong start in 2015 with a .333 average and two homers in 24 at-bats. If you view him in his proper context as a utility player who can play six different positions well, it’s easier to see why manager Buck Showalter likes him so much.

Because of Flaherty’s power potential and his ability to play good defense at second, I’d be inclined to give him an extended look at the position before automatically handing the job over to Cabrera when Hardy is back at shortstop.

** The silver lining in Monday’s rain-shortened game was the Orioles bullpen receiving a breather aside from Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia, who pitched for the first time since April 10.

Orioles relievers pitched 12 1/3 innings in the first three games at Fenway and will now travel to Toronto to take on a potent Blue Jays lineup that entered Monday ranking first in the majors in runs scored. On top of that, Baltimore will not have another day off until April 30.

** The Orioles Hall of Fame has come under criticism in recent years with a number of players being inducted who were viewed as unworthy, but Melvin Mora shouldn’t be mentioned in that group after it was announced that he and former platoon partners John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke will be enshrined this August.

Mora, a two-time All-Star selection, is 13th in all-time wins above replacement in club history and ranks in the top 10 in a number of categories including doubles, RBIs, home runs, runs, and total bases. That sounds like a player deserving of inclusion, regardless of whether you think the overall standard has dropped.

His 2004 campaign in particular goes down as one of the most underrated seasons in franchise history and Mora was one of the lone bright spots in a very dark time period for the Orioles.

In the same way that we don’t attach the stench of 1988 to Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray, Mora shouldn’t be classified as an unworthy inductee for the Orioles Hall of Fame because of the terrible teams on which he played.

Comments (0)

britton

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Numbers behind Orioles’ 6-5 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 08 April 2015 by Luke Jones

A 6-0 lead through two innings typically leads to a relaxing night of baseball, but it was anything but that for the Orioles Tuesday as they held on for dear life in an eventual 6-5 victory against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Despite being staked to the early lead, starter Wei-Yin Chen struggled his way through 4 1/3 innings as his fastball velocity was down and he lacked his normal crispness with his off-speed pitches. Kevin Gausman worked 2 1/3 innings in relief to earn the victory, but the right-hander allowed a two-run shot off the bat of Kevin Kiermaier in the sixth to make it a one-run game.

Instead of a night in cruise control for the Orioles, the pitching staff consistently found deep counts and needed a whopping 176 pitches to secure the victory, including a combined 42 from Darren O’Day and Zach Britton. With O’Day (24 combined pitches) and Britton (42 total pitches) having pitched in each of the first two games and potentially unavailable for the series finale, the Orioles will need a strong outing from No. 3 starter Miguel Gonzalez.

Fortunately, Baltimore will receive a day off to rest up before the home opener at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Friday afternoon.

* One of the biggest questions facing Steve Pearce in his quest to prove his 2014 campaign wasn’t a fluke will be whether he can sustain the success against right-handed pitching that he found a year ago.

The soon-to-be 32-year-old owns an underwhelming career .700 on-base slugging percentage against right-handers, but that’s including his .856 mark in 272 plate appearances last year. Pearce has always hit southpaw pitching well (a career .878 OPS), which is the main reason why major league clubs continued to give him opportunities despite a reputation as a “Quad-A” player over his first eight major league seasons.

The all-too-early verdict in 2015 has been encouraging to say the least as Pearce has clubbed two homers against right-handed pitching in two games.

It’s remarkable to think how important Pearce has become to this club after he was designated for assignment less than 12 months ago.

* When he acquired outfielder Travis Snider from Pittsburgh in late January, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette cited his strong second half in 2014 as a sign that the former first-round pick had finally begun realizing his potential.

After the All-Star break last year, the former Pirate posted an .880 OPS with nine homers and 24 RBIs. Small sample size alert aside, Snider has reached base in seven of eight trips to the plate and already has three RBIs in two games.

The Orioles hope Snider is just hitting his stride at age 27 and can give them good production this season for a fraction of what Nick Markakis commanded in free agency.

So far, so good.

* You think Chris Davis was eager to make his 2015 debut and play in his first real game since Sept. 10, 2014?

Serving as the designated hitter on Tuesday, Davis swung at six of the first seven pitches he saw in his first two at-bats and appeared too anxious early in the game. However, his best at-bat came in the eighth when he flied to deep right after a nine-pitch encounter with Rays right-hander Kevin Jepsen.

Davis finished 0-for-3 and was hit by a pitch in the sixth inning.

It goes without saying how critical a bounce-back season from Davis would be in replacing the power production left behind by Nelson Cruz. And it’s even more critical for the 29-year-old’s future as he’s set to become a free agent this coming offseason.

* The Orioles collected six runs and five hits over the first two innings against Tampa Bay starter Nathan Karns, but Everth Cabrera had their only hit the rest of the way as he collected a single in the top of the seventh.

Yes, the pitching staff should have been better in minimizing stress after an early six-run lead, but the offense essentially checked out after Pearce’s two-run homer in the second.

 

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Taking stock of Orioles starting rotation

Posted on 25 March 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have a problem with their starting rotation less than two weeks away from Opening Day.

It’s far from the worst dilemma as many clubs don’t have two or three quality arms, let alone enjoy the luxury of choosing among six starters for five spots. It’s a good problem to have quite frankly, even if you roll your eyes thinking about the possibility of Ubaldo Jimenez taking the ball every fifth day.

Fans and critics will understandably remain skeptical, but the steady improvement of Jimenez this spring has the veteran right-hander in position to be in the rotation to begin the season. After averaging 5.5 walks per nine innings last season, Jimenez has walked just one batter in his last three outings spanning 13 innings. A new windup and a quieter delivery have led to better results for the 31-year-old with a career 4.00 ERA in nine major league seasons.

The reality is that short of a disastrous spring, Jimenez — who’s owed more than $38 million over the next three years — was always likely to at least receive a chance in the rotation to start the year. Whether he remains in the rotation for long will be the question.

Assuming Jimenez doesn’t implode over his final couple spring outings — far from a given, of course — manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette will have interesting decisions to make in how to proceed with the rest of the rotation.

If Ubaldo Jimenez makes the starting rotation, who is the odd man out and where does he end up??

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

The possibility of Duquette trading one of his starting pitchers has been discussed since the start of the offseason, but the chances of needing only five starters all season is extremely remote, making that a dicey plan of attack unless the return in the trade provides a major boost elsewhere.

Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen are obviously safe and both have pitched well this spring.

Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman each have a remaining minor-league option and have been discussed as the two likeliest candidates to be the odd man out to make room for Jimenez, but neither has had a poor spring.

Gonzalez has posted a 4.26 ERA and has yet to walk a batter in 12 2/3 innings of Grapefruit League action. The right-hander could be used in long relief, but you run the risk of him not being stretched out enough to rejoin the rotation if he’s in the bullpen for too long.

The Orioles have handled Gausman differently than the other starters this spring as he comes off the biggest workload of his professional career a year ago. Brought along more slowly, Gausman has pitched primarily in minor-league spring games and has logged only three Grapefruit League innings. Perhaps it’s a sign that the Orioles envision the 24-year-old beginning the season at Triple-A Norfolk despite the fact that he was one of the club’s best starters last season. It wouldn’t make sense to relegate Gausman to a bullpen role early in the year where he either wouldn’t pitch regularly or would be shortened up and used too frequently to safely return him to a starting role at some point later in the season.

Optioning Gonzalez or Gausman to the minors would give the Orioles more flexibility to potentially stash one of their two Rule 5 picks — Logan Verrett or Jason Garcia — in the bullpen, but it’s difficult to argue that being the best possible 25-man roster for a club trying to defend the American League East title.

Bud Norris might be the most interesting case of any of the Baltimore starting pitchers at the moment. The 30-year-old is out of options and is coming off arguably the best season of his career, but he has dealt with back stiffness this spring while posting a 9.26 ERA, which includes nine walks in 11 2/3 innings.

It would be crass to draw a strong conclusion from such a small sample size, but Norris’ struggles might indicate his back is a bigger problem than he’s leading on. Either way, the Orioles need to see better results from the right-hander in his final outings before the start of the season or they may need to look at his health with more scrutiny. The bullpen would also be a possibility for Norris should his woes continue over the next couple weeks and into the regular season.

So, how should the Orioles proceed if we’re to assume Jimenez begins the season with a shot in the rotation?

It isn’t the worst problem to have, but there’s no easy answer for Showalter with the season rapidly approaching. And whatever decision he makes will come while holding his breath that Jimenez’s improvement isn’t just a brief aberration.

 

 

Comments (0)

Tags: , , ,

2015 Orioles preview: Wei-Yin Chen

Posted on 14 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day just over three weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton
March 13 – Chris Davis

LHP Wei-Yin Chen

Opening Day age: 29

Contract status: Becomes a free agent after the 2015 season

Minor-league options remaining: Three

2014 stats: 16-6, 3.54 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 6.6 K/IP, 23 HR, 185 2/3 innings

Why to be impressed: The Taiwanese lefty has been the model of consistency since arriving in Baltimore in 2012 and turned in his finest season yet in 2014 with a career-best ERA and WHIP and ranked 11th in the American League with a 3.89 strikeout to walk ratio. He is the only Baltimore starter to make at least 23 starts in each of the last three seasons.

Why to be concerned: Though the strikeout has never been a major part of his makeup, Chen’s strikeout rate per nine innings pitched has dipped gradually from 7.2 in 2012 to 6.6 last season. Averaging just under six innings per start in each of the last two years, Chen doesn’t pitch as deep into games as you’d like from an otherwise consistent starter taking the hill every five days.

2015 outlook: Chen is working on a new grip for his changeup as he prepares for his final season before hitting the free-agent market next winter. He often runs out of gas quickly when trying to retire hitters the third time through the order, but his excellent command and consistency make him a good bet to post an ERA of 3.80 or better and to continue to be a mainstay in the starting rotation.

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , ,

Orioles pick up options on Chen, O’Day as expected

Posted on 30 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles offered no surprises in their decisions to exercise 2015 contract options for pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Darren O’Day on Thursday.

And as expected, the Orioles declined options for right fielder Nick Markakis and catcher Nick Hundley, making both free agents. Of course, the organization continues to negotiate in hopes of reaching a long-term extension with the longtime outfielder, but Markakis will now receive a $2 million buyout. Hundley’s $5 million club option did not include a buyout.

After going 16-6 with a 3.54 ERA, Chen will make $4.75 million in 2015 as he’s been one of the Orioles’ most dependable starting pitchers with a 3.86 ERA in 86 starts over the last three seasons. The Taiwanese lefty originally signed a three-year, $11 million contract on Jan. 10, 2012.

The backbone of a strong Orioles bullpen over the last three years, O’Day — who will make $4.25 million next season — may have had the best season of his career in 2014 despite September struggles that crept into the postseason when he allowed four earned runs and two home runs in 2 2/3 innings. In the regular season, O’Day pitched to a 1.70 ERA in 68 appearances, but his 7.00 ERA in the month of September was concerning as he gave up three home runs to left-handed hitters.

The decision to pass on a mutual $17.5 million option for Markakis was expected, but assessing the 2003 first-round pick’s value is a tricky proposition with his offensive decline in recent years. The 30-year-old hit .276 with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs in 642 at-bats this season, but he’s posted slugging percentages below .400 in each of the last two years.

Acquired from the San Diego Padres in exchange for relief pitcher Troy Patton in late May, Hundley hit .233 with five home runs and 19 RBIs. It was always considered highly unlikely that the Orioles would pick up his option with starting catcher Matt Wieters expected back from Tommy John surgery next season.

With Chen and O’Day officially in the fold for the 2015 season, the Orioles have 32 players on their current 40-man roster.

The following members of the 2014 40-man roster are now free agents: Markakis, Hundley, Alexi Casilla, Nelson Cruz, Kelly Johnson, Andrew Miller, Johan Santana, Joe Saunders, and Delmon Young.

Clubs have five days of exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents before other teams are allowed to make offers beginning on Nov. 4.

Comments (2)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Chen, Guthrie scheduled to start Game 3 of ALCS

Posted on 11 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Trying to bounce back from their disappointing extra-inning loss in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, the Orioles named tentative starters for Games 3 and 4 of the series to be played in Kansas City.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters that lefty Wei-Yin Chen is scheduled to make the first start of the series at Kaufman Stadium where he’ll be opposed by former Orioles starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. Chen was roughed up in his only start of the postseason when he allowed five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings in his Game 2 start against the Detroit Tigers in the Division Series, a game the Orioles eventually won.

The Taiwanese lefty is 1-1 with a 4.17 ERA in six career starts covering 36 2/3 innings against Kansas City.

Guthrie will be making his postseason debut on Monday and hasn’t pitched since Sept. 26 when he tossed seven shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox. The 35-year-old went 13-111 with a 4.13 ERA in 32 starats this season and is 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA in four career starts spanning 27 innings against Baltimore.

In Game 4, Miguel Gonzalez is currently slated to take the ball for the Orioles against Kansas City lefty Jason Vargas as Royals lefty Danny Duffy will continue to work out of the bullpen after concerns with his mechanics during the month of September. Showalter confirmed Chen and Gonzalez would both be available in the bullpen for Game 2 as Bud Norris was making his second start of the playoffs.

Gonzalez threw a simulated game earlier this week, but the right-hander hasn’t pitched in a game since the regular-season finale on Sept. 28.

The Orioles entered Game 2 having not lost consecutive home games since June 28-29. They were 31-10 in their final 41 regular-season games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards this year. Of course, they fell to 2-1 in postseason home games after the 8-6 loss to the Royals on Friday night.

Here are the Game 2 lineups:

KANSAS CITY
SS Alcides Escobar
RF Nori Aoki
CF Lorenzo Cain
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Billy Butler
LF Alex Gordon
C Salvador Perez
2B Omar Infante
3B Mike Moustakas

SP Yordano Ventura (14-10, 3.20 ERA)

BALTIMORE
RF Nick Markakis
LF Alejandro De Aza
CF Adam Jones
DH Nelson Cruz
1B Steve Pearce
SS J.J. Hardy
3B Ryan Flaherty
C Caleb Joseph
2B Jonathan Schoop

SP Bud Norris (15-8, 3.65 ERA)

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , ,

What’s next for Gausman in October?

Posted on 04 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Even though Kevin Gausman was the odd man out when Buck Showalter decided his starting rotation for the postseason, the Orioles manager knew the 23-year-old could be a crucial piece out of the bullpen.

That couldn’t have been any truer in Game 2 of the American League Division Series when the right-hander relieved a struggling Wei-Yin Chen in the fourth inning after the Detroit Tigers had suddenly built a 5-2 lead. Not only did Gausman’s work keep the Orioles within striking distance, but he preserved a bullpen that was likely without Andrew Miller and had also seen Darren O’Day, Zach Britton, and Tommy Hunter pitch in the series opener.

“Once I started warming up, I felt pretty good right away,” said Gausman, who made 15 relief appearances as a rookie in 2013. “Usually it takes me a good amount to get loose, but two throws and I was ready to go, ready to get in there. I felt good once I got in the game [and] just tried to establish the fastball in and go from there.”

Throwing fastballs in the high 90s and a nasty split-fingered changeup in the mid-80s, Gausman didn’t allow a run until his final batter of the game, the Victor Martinez double to deep center in the eighth that plated Torii Hunter before Miguel Cabrera was thrown out at the plate by second baseman Jonathan Schoop. In all, Gausman allowed just the one earned run while striking out five and walking one over 3 2/3 innings.

Gausman’s work put him in great company in Orioles postseason history as his five strikeouts were the most by a Baltimore reliever since Moe Drabowsky struck out 11 to earn the win in Game 1 of the 1966 World Series. The young pitcher also recorded 10 swinging strikes, matching Tigers starter Justin Verlander despite throwing 46 fewer pitches.

He didn’t earn the victory, but no pitcher was more important for the Orioles than Gausman on Friday afternoon, unless you count a Detroit bullpen that melted down for a second straight game.

“Kevin has high expectations,” said Showalter about the 2012 first-round pick from Louisiana State. “I mean, this [was] a Friday night pitcher in the SEC. Have you ever been to a Friday night game in Baton Rouge? Obviously [here], there is more people, bigger stage, basically the volume is turned up. You’ve just got to remember to breathe it in. Kevin presented himself really well.”

Needing only one more win to advance to the AL Championship Series, should the Orioles revisit Gausman’s status in the rotation based on how he performed against the Tigers Friday?

In fairness to Chen, who pitched three scoreless innings before melting down in the top of the fourth, nearly everyone acknowledged the difficult task of facing a Detroit lineup that hit .285 against left-handed pitching during the regular season. The Taiwanese lefty pitched to a career-best 3.54 ERA while winning a team-best 16 games this season and shouldn’t be nudged out after faring exactly how many thought he would on Friday.

Gausman’s electric stuff as a starter is even more dangerous in a relief role where he can crank up his fastball for a shorter outing. And it makes an already-terrific Orioles bullpen even better as they compete in October. And he provides a better long-relief option than Ubaldo Jimenez, who probably won’t see the mound unless there’s an injury or blowout situation.

The Orioles hope Gausman’s long-term home is near the top of their starting rotation, but the bullpen appears to be a great fit as they try to advance deep into October.

“We thought he could be a weapon for us in the bullpen in the playoffs,” Showalter said. “Because with their lineup, you’re going to have some challenges pitching to them. It worked out good.”

 

 

Comments (1)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Five questions for Orioles in final 10 games of regular season

Posted on 18 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles may have already wrapped up their first American League East title in 17 years, but a number of questions are left to be answered as they play out the remainder of the regular season.

Here’s a look at what remains on manager Buck Showalter’s mind for his 92-60 Orioles as they enter the final 10 games before the postseason …

1. Is it more important to go for the No. 1 seed in the American League or to rest everyday players?

Even though a 43-31 road record suggests the Orioles shouldn’t be afraid of playing away games in October, it’s difficult to argue with wanting home-field advantage considering Showalter’s club is a remarkable 30-8 at Camden Yards since June 30 and hasn’t lost consecutive home games since June 28-29. Entering Friday, they trailed the Los Angeles Angels by 2 1/2 games for the best record in the major leagues, a deficit that is far from insurmountable with the Angels playing Seattle and Oakland three times each — all six games are on the road — in their final nine games.

But Showalter also knows players who are fresh — or are at least as fresh as possible in October — are even more important to the Orioles’ chances of playing deep into the postseason. The early indications are that we’ll see position players such as Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Nelson Cruz, and Steve Pearce sit on a rotational basis of one or two per game, but Showalter has also said resting pitchers will be the higher priority.

The club’s top relievers have already been rested periodically over the last couple weeks as we’ve seen the likes of Ryan Webb, Evan Meek, and Brian Matusz pitch in some high-leverage situations while Darren O’Day, Andrew Miller, and Zach Britton have gone unused in certain games when they’d usually be available. Showalter could also elect to give a spot start or two to Ubaldo Jimenez or Joe Saunders to align his rotation and give some extra rest to starters who have historically benefited from extra days like Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez.

Entering Friday, the Orioles owned an eight-game lead over current No. 3 seed Detroit, so there isn’t any real danger of losing their grasp on the second seed if the Angels hold a steady lead into next week.

2. “I Don’t Know’s on third?”

While many have focused on the lost power potential of Chris Davis when news broke of his 25-game suspension last week, his absence at third base — where he was doing a solid job filling in for the injured Manny Machado — created the bigger dilemma as we’ve seen the trio of Ryan Flaherty, Jimmy Paredes, and veteran Kelly Johnson share time at the hot corner since last week.

Flaherty is the best defensive option, but his .645 on-base plus slugging percentage creates another weak spot in a lineup that’s already carrying the inconsistent rookie second baseman Jonathan Schoop and one of the catching duo of Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley. Paredes and Johnson have provided some heroics with the bat in recent days, but neither provides a great deal of confidence defensively and they don’t have a track record — Johnson’s numbers in recent seasons are far inferior to the hitter he was four or five years ago — suggesting their offense will make a great impact in October, anyway.

It’s unlikely that Showalter will make a definitive choice for October, but his strong affinity for defense might make Flaherty the best bet of the three to receive extensive time — at least against right-handed starters — unless Paredes or Johnson continue to rake over the final 10 games going into the playoffs. Of course, there’s no guarantee that both Paredes and Johnson make the postseason roster.

3. Who will make up the four-man rotation for the playoffs?

Not counting Ubaldo Jimenez who appears all but certain to be left off the postseason roster, the Orioles really can’t go wrong with all five of their starters currently sporting an ERA of 3.62 or lower.

However, it would appear that Kevin Gausman is the starter left out considering he’s the least experienced of the group. Showalter’s decision to leave Chris Tillman out of the rotation in the 2012 postseason is a good indication that he’ll lean on experience, but the Orioles would be foolish not to put Gausman’s power arm in the bullpen to spell any starter showing signs of early trouble.

For the sake of ranking the remaining four from top to bottom, Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, and Norris would be a fair order based on how they’ve pitched in recent weeks.

4. Which 25 players will make up the Division Series roster?

The Orioles elected to keep 12 pitchers for the Division Series two years ago, which gave them an eight-man bullpen and plenty of flexibility to match up.

There shouldn’t be too much drama in the bullpen as Britton, Miller, O’Day, Gausman, Matusz, Brad Brach, and Tommy Hunter would fill the first seven spots with the final slot potentially going to long man T.J. McFarland or right-hander Ryan Webb. With three of the four rotation members right-handed, McFarland could be Showalter’s preference in the event of an early exit by a starter as he’d be a long reliever throwing from the opposite side to face a lineup designed for the right-handed starter.

Working under the assumption that Jones, Markakis, Cruz, Hardy, Pearce, Schoop, Joseph, Hundley, Flaherty, Delmon Young, and Alejandro De Aza are locks, Paredes, Johnson, and outfielders David Lough and Quintin Berry would be the realistic candidates fighting for two spots. It will be interesting to see if Showalter values having either Lough or Berry as a pinch-running option and late-inning defensive replacement, which would push either Paredes or Johnson off the roster with the other  guaranteed to make it as an option at third base.

The suspended Davis isn’t eligible to return until after the first eight games of the postseason, so his status isn’t a factor for the Division Series.

5. Will the Orioles be able to maintain their edge?

With so much discussion about Showalter needing to rest his everyday players, there’s a fine balance between providing a breather and accidentally turning off a competitive switch that isn’t guaranteed to come back on in October.

This could be a real concern for many clubs locking up a playoff spot in mid-September, but the mental toughness shown from the likes of Jones and Markakis all the way down to Paredes and De Aza makes you think the Orioles are incapable of losing their focus. Of course, the possibility of still being able to catch the Angels for the top seed provides extra incentive for players to remain engaged over the final 10 games.

Considering they’ve overcome season-ending losses to two All-Star players and haven’t even blinked since Davis’ suspension began last week, it would be difficult to fathom the Orioles finally having a mental letdown at this late stage. The Orioles may ultimately fall short in the playoffs, but it won’t be due to a lack of focus or going through the motions.

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Orioles’ ability to overcome adversity begins with starters

Posted on 14 September 2014 by Luke Jones

With Friday’s surprising news of Chris Davis being suspended 25 games for amphetamine use, the same question that’s been tossed the Orioles’ way all season was uttered once again.

How can they overcome this?

Despite an 88-60 record entering Sunday that had them days away from the American League East championship, the Orioles have faced anything but a problem-free campaign in 2014.

All-Star players Matt Wieters and Manny Machado have suffered season-ending injuries. Top free-agent acquisition Ubaldo Jimenez has not only failed to meet expectations, but has been banished to the last spot in the bullpen and is very likely to be left off the postseason roster. And even before Davis’ suspension that now bans him until at least the AL Championship Series — if the Orioles advance that far — the slugger was hitting only .196 a year after hitting a franchise-record and league-leading 53 home runs.

“The game usually gives you back kind of what you put into it,” said manager Buck Showalter after the Orioles’ doubleheader sweep of the New York Yankees on Friday. “Everybody’s putting something into it.”

The narratives of resiliency and a different hero every night have frequently rung true, but they don’t paint the entire picture of how the Orioles have managed to all but run away with their first division title since 1997. We knew the Orioles would hit home runs and play exceptional defense entering the season, and those skills have certainly been there all year.

But the biggest question would be the pitching, particularly in the rotation. Even with the struggles of their $50 million addition in Jimenez, the starting pitching has not only silenced the doubts, but has been a strength since the first two months of the season. Through the end of May, the starting rotation had posted an underwhelming 4.49 ERA as the Orioles were 27-27. Since June 1, starters have pitched to an impeccable 3.20 mark, which would be tops in the AL if extrapolated over the entire season. The Orioles have gone 61-33 over that period of time, a .649 winning percentage.

Even with the unevenness of April and May included, Baltimore ranks sixth in the AL in starter ERA, which nearly any fan would have gladly taken at the start of the season. The current team ERA of 3.50 would be the Orioles’ lowest in a full season since 1979 when the AL champions posted a 3.26 ERA.

When being compared to the other top clubs around baseball, the Orioles are often sold short for lacking a true ace, but that hasn’t stopped the starting rotation from becoming the strong heartbeat of a club nearly 30 games above .500 in mid-September. All five members of the current rotation sport an ERA of 3.74 or better, making Showalter’s job a difficult one when deciding which four will make the postseason rotation.

Not only has the quintet of Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Kevin Gausman pitched effectively, but the group has been durable with only Gonzalez and Norris spending brief time on the disabled list this season. After using a total of 12 or more starters in each of the previous three seasons under Showalter, the Orioles have sent just seven starters to the hill in 2014 with long reliever T.J. McFarland only receiving one spot start.

Four Oriole starters — Tillman, Chen, Norris, and Gonzalez — have made 24 or more starts. For perspective, only three made 24 or more starts in 2013 and just one did it in 2012 when the Orioles earned their first postseason trip in 15 years.

Upon learning of Davis’ suspension on Friday, the Orioles responded by promptly sweeping a twin bill over the Yankees in which they allowed one run in 20 total innings. The nightcap was particularly indicative of what the Orioles have become as they fielded what looked like a spring training lineup that included only four players from the Opening Day order and three who weren’t even on the 40-man roster at the start of the year. It was no problem for Bud Norris, who pitched seven shutout innings against the fading Yankees in a 5-0 victory.

“Good pitching solves a lot of problems, issues, whatever you might want to call it,” said Showalter as he reflected on the work his club did following the Davis announcement on Friday. “That’s usually where it starts.”

And it’s why the Orioles shouldn’t be counted out, even after this latest blow to the lineup.

 

 

Comments (0)