Tag Archive | "Wei-Yin Chen"

Starting rotation performance headlines Orioles’ uneven start

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Starting rotation performance headlines Orioles’ uneven start

Posted on 08 April 2013 by Luke Jones

Before anyone goes off the deep end over the Orioles’ 3-4 start to the 2013 season, consider this your much-needed reminder that it’s early.

It’s very early, in fact, as Baltimore has completed just over four percent of the 162-game schedule. That’s the equivalent of the Ravens approaching the end of the third quarter of their season-opening game if you needed a football comparison to put it in the proper context.

But issues have already begun to arise, specifically with the injuries to Wilson Betemit, Nolan Reimold, and Brian Roberts that have left designated hitter and second base as early albatrosses in the lineup. Ryan Flaherty is 0-for-14 to begin the season and Steve Pearce has yet to collect a hit in his first 10 at-bats after securing the final spot on the 25-man roster at the end of spring training.

Fortunately in Reimold’s case, the Orioles are hoping the 29-year-old outfielder will be ready to return to the lineup as early as Wednesday after leaving Sunday’s game with a tight hamstring.

The bullpen experienced a hiccup against Tampa Bay and a Chris Davis error contributed to Jim Johnson taking the loss in Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Twins, but there’s little other evidence to suggest the group won’t be up to the task this season. It just might not be as dominating as it was a year ago with a plethora of relievers pitching at their absolute best for the better portion of six months.

After going 29-9 in one-run games last year, the Orioles have dropped their first three contests decided by one run, but no one could have reasonably expected the club to repeat that type of a historically-efficient performance.

The biggest concern – again, based on a week’s worth of games – has been the starting pitching with both the numbers and, more importantly, the eyeball test. Though Wei-Yin Chen pitched well in a 3-1 loss to the Red Sox on Monday, the Orioles entered Tuesday ranked last in the American League in starters earned run average at 5.45.

Of the seven outings turned in by the starting five, only three have been quality starts (if you subscribe to the minimum requirements of six innings pitched and no more than three earned runs allowed being anything special). The numbers don’t mean much when you’re not even through the rotation a second time, but the eyeball test raises bigger concerns.

De facto ace Jason Hammel is struggling to command both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, a deadly combination that baffled opposing hitters prior to the knee injury that largely derailed his 2012 season. He hasn’t looked like the dominating pitcher he was in the first half last season and his lower strikeout numbers (five in 12 2/3 innings pitched) confirm that.

The Orioles need Hammel to be the veteran standing at the front of the rotation and not just another pitcher in the starting mix.

Chen’s 3.75 ERA is perfectly acceptable, but the same issue of running out of gas right around the 85-to-90 pitch range that we saw last year has resurfaced in his first two starts. Entering the seventh inning having thrown 87 pitches on Monday, Chen gave up a three-run homer to Daniel Nava before departing with one out.

Many will criticize Buck Showalter for not pulling the Taiwanese lefty sooner, but the manager likely wants to see if Chen can add another gear for the late innings or whether this is as good as it gets for the 27-year-old. Entering Monday, Chen had pitched to a 7.42 ERA after the sixth inning in his major league career. If that’s the best the club can expect when the lefty approaches 90 pitches and beyond, it’s difficult to view Chen as anything better than a fourth starter for the long haul.

Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez appeared the best of any starter the first turn through the rotation, but Showalter has elected to push the 28-year-old’s next start back to the Yankees series, citing a desire to give him a few extra days of rest. That action sounds prudent in August and September, but it raises a red flag this early in the season despite the manager insisting there are no health concerns with Gonzalez.

If making a start every fifth day is a challenge already, you have to wonder how much the Orioles can expect from Gonzalez over an entire season.

Jake Arrieta? He looked very much like the same Arrieta we’ve seen in past seasons on Friday, pitching well in spurts but allowing a four-run fourth inning to derail his overall outing. It’s the same inconsistency that landed him out of the rotation and in the minor leagues midway through last season.

The 27-year-old power arm figures to have the shortest leash of any of the current starters.

Coming off the 15-day disabled list to make his first start against Minnesota on Saturday, Chris Tillman was all over the place and looked nothing like the successful pitcher we saw in the second half of last season in allowing five earned runs and walking four in 3 2/3 innings. It was one start, but it won’t quiet those who question whether the 24-year-old’s 2012 campaign was more fluke than transformation.

It’s a very small sample size — just like this piece is one of many that will examine the various stages of the season – but these seven games will count as much as any seven-game stretch over the course of the year. It’s not a definitive indictment or a final verdict by any stretch of the imagination but rather an honest assessment of what we’ve seen so far.

The injuries and shortcomings in the lineup and questions of how closely the bullpen can match its 2012 performance are all manageable concerns if the starting rotation rises to the occasion like it did for the final two months last season. Showalter said countless times this spring that the Orioles will only go as far as their starting pitching will take them.

And with the club sporting a 3-4 record in the first week of the season, the very early return in that department has been underwhelming.

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Orioles don’t stand out in “ifs, coulds, and maybes” AL East division

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Orioles don’t stand out in “ifs, coulds, and maybes” AL East division

Posted on 01 April 2013 by Luke Jones

From the moment catcher Matt Wieters grounded out to end Game 5 of the American League Division Series and the Orioles began setting their sights toward the 2013 season, the same question has been asked over and over.

Will they build upon the surprising success that resulted in their first postseason appearance in 15 years?

Regardless of what executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter try to tell you, it wasn’t a successful offseason. The stated goals of acquiring a middle-of-the-order bat and an established starting pitcher were never realized unless you count the minor-league signings of Jair Jurrjens and 36-year-old Freddy Garcia, who will each begin the year at Triple-A Norfolk.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Orioles can’t and won’t compete in the AL East this season. Critics arguing that the Orioles won’t repeat their 29-9 record in one-run games and 16-2 mark in extra-inning affairs overlook the fact that the club was built to excel in late-and-close situations with a stellar bullpen and arguably the best tactician in the game with Showalter in the dugout.

That success rate will be very difficult to repeat, but the Orioles will point to last year’s injuries to Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold, Jason Hammel, and Brian Roberts and the overall lack of progress by their young starting pitchers last year as evidence that they didn’t need a perfect set of circumstances to win a year ago. Better overall health for the aforementioned group as well as the emergence of just an arm or two from the likes of Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Dylan Bundy, and Kevin Gausman would do wonders in overcoming a more realistic record in games decided by one run.

“I like our guys” has been Showalter’s battle cry since the end of last season, and the Orioles will need to validate that feeling if they’re to break the 90-win mark for the second straight year. It’s difficult not to trust the Baltimore skipper after orchestrating a 24-game improvement from 2011 to 2012.

A core group of position players including Adam Jones, Wieters, Manny Machado, and Markakis as well as top pitching prospects Bundy and Gausman paint a very bright future in Baltimore in the years to come. The ceiling for the 2013 Orioles — and even more so in the next few years — is substantially higher than it’s been in a very long time.

This year’s AL East lacks Yankees and Red Sox teams — or even one of them — that will inevitably run away with the division crown. The parity existing top to bottom has made this race more difficult to forecast than any in recent memory.

Toronto appears to be the best on paper, but will a plethora of new additions mesh quickly or experience growing pains as many revamped teams often do?

Tampa Bay has more than enough starting pitching to offset the departure of James Shields, but will the Rays have enough offense to separate themselves?

The Yankees are old and banged up and the Red Sox are coming off their worst season in 47 years, but both clubs still have enough talent to hang in the division race with enough good fortune.

It’s a division full of ifs, coulds, and maybes everywhere you look, but there aren’t enough answers present to place the Orioles a cut above the rest.

The lineup has quality but not enough depth to overcome an injury or two, whereas the starting rotation has plenty of options but lacks the necessary quality to give you great confidence in the Orioles getting what they’ll need on the mound for 162 games.

Baltimore’s Opening Day order top to bottom is good enough to compete, but there’s little help waiting in the minors if the injury bug strikes virtually any position on the field. The club will depend on the return of Reimold and the continued development of Machado to offset the loss of power hitter Mark Reynolds for a club that finished ninth in the AL in runs score last season.

The starting rotation was in flux most of last season but was able to depend on Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and a revamped Chris Tillman in the second half of the season. You have to wonder if Chen and Gonzalez can duplicate their rookie success with the book now out on how they work and it’s difficult to trust any other young pitchers to simply put it together after the underwhelming results of the past few years. Even Hammel, the de facto ace, doesn’t have a track record you’d like to see in a No. 1 starter. Any combination of hurlers put together by Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair feels too much like a group of third, fourth, and fifth starters.

The late-season arrival of Gausman or Bundy would spark plenty of excitement, but expecting either young pitcher to thrive in the thick of a pennant race is — again — asking a lot.

Lots of promise, but more questions than answers at this point.

A bullpen that competes with Tampa Bay to be the best in the division will again be asked to shoulder an extremely heavy load, but it’s difficult to demand Jim Johnson and his mates to do what they did last year in throwing more innings than all but two bullpends (Minnesota and Kansas City) in the American League. Johnson’s club-record 51 saves sent the 29-year-old to his first All-Star Game, but an underwhelming rate of 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings pitched strongly suggests the sinkerballer is in line to come back to the pack when pitching to contact so frequently as a closer.

The performance of relief pitchers is more difficult to project than any other position, with peaks and valleys consuming most careers like unpredictable investments on Wall Street.

The Orioles don’t have the lineup or starting rotation of the Blue Jays, but Toronto’s bullpen has plenty of uncertainty.

Baltimore’s lineup tops the Rays’ order, but the starting five doesn’t stack up to Tampa Bay’s rotation.

Ironically enough, the Orioles appear to match up well against the traditional heavyweights that beat the rest of the division like a drum for the better part of 15 years, but New York and Boston are no longer the class of the AL East.

The outlook of the division appears murky, with the Orioles having enough going for them to envision them at the top if all goes well but not enough to feel strongly about that possibility.

These questions have answers that are tough to predict as the Orioles aren’t terribly different from the rest of the division in that regard.

It could mean an AL East title or even a last-place finish if most of their questions fetch negative answers this season.

You could even draw the order of finish out of a hat if you’d like, which might be as accurate as any expert trying to look into a crystal ball.

My guess is the Orioles will fall somewhere in the middle, but that doesn’t mean anything as Showalter’s Orioles are used to hearing their critics doubt them.

And they know ifs, coulds, and maybes will only be answered on the diamond.

To view The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction 2013 MLB Predictions, click HERE.

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Five questions to ponder for Orioles spring training

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Five questions to ponder for Orioles spring training

Posted on 13 February 2013 by Luke Jones

The Orioles held their first workouts for pitchers and catchers to officially kick off spring training in Sarasota on Wednesday.

Trying to build on a 93-win campaign that included their first trip to the playoffs in 15 years, the Orioles have several questions marks after a quiet offseason void of significant moves.

Here are five questions to ponder as Baltimore begins preparations for the 2013 season:

1. Can Nolan Reimold stay healthy and be the impact bat the Orioles failed to acquire in the offseason?

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette failed in his quest to acquire a middle-of-the-order bat, but a healthy Reimold would go a long way in providing the extra offense the Orioles are looking for after they finished ninth in runs scored and 11th in on-base percentage in the American League last season. Of course, expecting Reimold to stay injury-free has only resulted in frustration over the years as the left fielder missed most of last season after undergoing spinal fusion surgery.

The good news is Reimold is already taking live batting practice and appears to be 100 percent for spring training as he will compete with Nate McLouth for the starting job in left field. McLouth is the superior fielder and has more speed, but few would argue Reimold’s ability at the plate as he hit .313 with five home runs in 67 at-bats last season.

The club could elect to use Reimold as the designated hitter more frequently to keep him healthy, and he would be an ideal fit in the No. 2 spot because of his plate discipline (a career .338 on-base percentage in 916 plate appearances in the majors) or in the fifth or sixth spot because of his power. At 29, Reimold appears to be running out of time as a viable option on which the Orioles can depend moving forward, but the club signed him for $1 million in the offseason and maintains control of him through the 2015 season.

Duquette didn’t acquire an established veteran bat and also parted ways with slugger Mark Reynolds, so this spring will be critical for Reimold to prove he can provide extra punch to the lineup. If he’s again unhealthy, the Orioles will be forced to lean more heavily on McLouth, who carries his own baggage despite a 2012 renaissance in Baltimore.

2. What will the starting rotation look like when the Orioles come north to Baltimore?

The starting rotation would appear to have a more definitive outline than it did as this time last year as Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman all put forth career seasons in 2012, but none of those four come without questions this spring. Concerns over Hammel’s knee were eased with his ability to pitch effectively in the postseason, but the Orioles hope he can replicate his first half last season when he looked like an ace and was included in the fan vote for the final spot on the AL All-Star team.

Chen and Gonzalez will need to prove their rookie campaigns weren’t flukes as the rest of the league will be more familiar with each and the latter’s 170-pound frame will always cause some to question his durability over a full season. Adjustments made to Tillman’s mechanics by director of pitching development Rick Peterson paid major dividends last year, but the 24-year-old will need to replicate that success over an entire season in the big leagues.

Even if those four pick up right where they left off, manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair must sift through a number of other candidates to replace the fifth spot in the rotation left behind by veteran left Joe Saunders, who signed with Seattle last week. Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson, Zach Britton, and Tommy Hunter will all be in the mix, but each comes with their limitations and concerns.

The Orioles continue to point to strength in numbers as it pertains to the starting rotation as 12 pitchers made starts for Baltimore last season. And to offer some perspective on how quickly things can change due to injury or ineffectiveness, three-fifths of the rotation that began the 2012 season landed in the minor leagues by the All-Star break.

The top four will have the inside track for rotation spots entering the spring, but Showalter won’t hesitate to make changes quickly if anyone isn’t up to the task.

3. Who will step up to play second base?

Yes, Brian Roberts is still with the Orioles as he enters the final season of a four-year contract that’s seen him play 115 games combined in the last three years. The 35-year-old infielder appears to be recovered from hip surgery and an offseason surgery to correct a sports hernia, but viewing Roberts as a viable option feels more like you’re being polite than at all realistic.

The Orioles acquired the slick-fielding Alexi Casilla off waivers from the Minnesota Twins after the switch-hitting second baseman played in a career-high 106 games last season. The 28-year-old is a career .250 hitter and provides good speed (21 stolen bases in 2012), but it remains to be seen whether he can handle full-time duties at the plate or he’ll be exposed over a bigger sample of at-bats.

The most intriguing option from an offensive perspective would be Ryan Flaherty, who split duties at second base with the departed Robert Andino at the end of last season. Thought limited defensively, Flaherty hit six home runs in 153 at-bats as a Rule 5 player who stuck on the 25-man roster all season.

Because of Showalter’s preference for strong defense up the middle, Casilla would appear to be the favorite to handle the bulk of the duties at second base due to Roberts’ frailty and Flaherty’s limitations in the field. However, this will remain a very fluid position to watch as the spring progresses.

4. How will Showalter handle the designated hitter spot in the order?

CONTINUE ON NEXT PAGE >>>>>

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Orioles-Yankees lineups for Game 2 of ALDS

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Orioles-Yankees lineups for Game 2 of ALDS

Posted on 08 October 2012 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles will send left-hander Wei-Yin Chen to the mound in hopes of evening the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees at one game apiece.

Here are Monday night’s lineups as the Orioles face off against Yankees veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte for the first time since Sept. 19, 2010. The Baltimore lineup surprisingly includes left-handed designated hitter Jim Thome, who hasn’t faced southpaw pitching very often this season.

The 42-year-old is 5-for-28 against left-handed pitching this season but does have three home runs.

BALTIMORE
LF Nate McLouth
SS J.J. Hardy
RF Chris Davis
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
1B Mark Reynolds
DH Jim Thome
3B Manny Machado
2B Robert Andino

SP Wei-Yin Chen (12-11, 4.02 ERA)

NEW YORK
SS Derek Jeter
LF Ichiro Suzuki
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
RF Nick Swisher
1B Mark Teixeira
C Russell Martin
CF Curtis Granderson
DH Eduardo Nunez

SP Andy Pettitte (5-4, 2.87 ERA)

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Reynolds’ hand good to go and other notes for ALDS opener

Posted on 06 October 2012 by Luke Jones

When Mark Reynolds was plunked on the left hand by Rangers starter Yu Darvish in the second inning of Friday night’s game in Arlington, the Orioles feared the worst for their first baseman.

The club saw Nick Markakis break his thumb after being hit by a similar pitch nearly a month ago, but the news was better for Reynolds, who stayed in the game to finish an 0-for-3 night at the plate. He is expected to be in the lineup against the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

“This guy is a very tough, durable man, but that one had a little different look in his face,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I initially thought it might be broken. I haven’t heard anything yet, but I’d be surprised if he’s not a player [Sunday] night.”

Showalter officially named right-hander Jason Hammel as his Game 1 starter, but he wouldn’t go as far as naming the rest of his rotation. Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez will likely be the next two in line to pitch in the five-game series, but an uncertain weather forecast could alter plans.

Sunday is expected to be a very rainy day, which could put the series opener in danger of postponement. This would mean the Orioles and Yankees would play the entire series in five days without a day built in for travel. A postponement would alter the Orioles’ plans for the 25-man roster, which must be finalized by Sunday morning at 10 a.m.

“Right now, we’re probably looking at Chen and Gonzalez in [Games] 2 and 3, but that could change, depending on the rainout,” Showalter said. “If we have a rainout, then a lot of things change because we can resubmit a different roster provided we don’t exchange lineup cards.”

Showalter would presumably go with Chris Tillman in the fourth game of the series in the Bronx, but what the Orioles decide to do after that remains to be seen. With no postponements, Hammel would be on regular rest for a potential Game 5, but left-hander Joe Saunders made a pretty convincing argument for his spot in the rotation after pitching 5 2/3 strong innings against the Rangers on Friday night.

As for the rest of the roster, Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette were to finalize plans after Saturday’s workout. The Orioles are monitoring the health of several players, including Wilson Betemit since the switch-hitter has seen his wrist improve dramatically since last playing on Sept. 13.

“There are a couple variables, like Betemit swung the bat and felt really good today,” Showalter said. “First time he took extended batting practice and he’s coming along quickly. We’re looking at a few injuries.”

The return of Betemit would give the Orioles a viable left-handed bat off the bench, regardless of whether Showalter would elect to use Thome or Betemit as the designated hitter in a given game. Betemit hit .302 against right-handed pitching this season, posting an .859 on-base plus slugging percentage. In contrast, Betemit is hitting only .140 from the right side of the plate against southpaws.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi revealed the rest of his starting rotation behind Game 1 starter CC Sabathia on Saturday. Veteran lefty Andy Pettitte will pitch Game 2 in Baltimore, Hiroki Kuroda in Game 3, and Phil Hughes in the fourth game of the series if necessary.

Sabathia would presumably return on regular rest for a potential Game 5 at Yankee Stadium, but those plans could change if Sunday’s game is rained out.

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Chen

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Chee’s POD’s & O’s Preview for July 24th, 2012

Posted on 24 July 2012 by Big Chee

In an attempt to preface my Baseball Plays of the Day, let me begin by saying I have placed bets on baseball games only a handful of times in my life. Most of the instances occured at the Hard Rock Cafe Sports Book last year in Punta Cana, which was an awesome time, by the way. I hung out with John Rocker, who, at the time, informed me of his belief that he could be an effective asset to the Orioles bullpen.  While I am sure it was the Budweiser talking, he came across like an okay guy to me.   As tempting as it was, I fought hard to stay away from the only relevant topic anyone wants to talk to him about; his racist/homophobic/sexist comments in regards to playing in NYC. After all, the guy, being on vacation like myself, was there to enjoy himself.

Anyway, here are my Inaugural MLB Plays of the Day for Tuesday:

Cleveland Indians/Detroit Tigers OVER  9  (BEST BET)

To say that the Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez has been a disappointment in 2012 would be an understatement. Acquired at last year’s trade deadline from from the Colorado Rockies, the 28-year-old is rarely clocked at over 95 mph on the radar gun these days. In addition to his loss in velocity, he leads the AL in walks and sports a hideous 5.48 walks per nine innings. Jimenez’s July has been more atrocious as he boasts an ugly 7.48 ERA, surrendering 18 earned runs in just four starts.

Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera will be licking their lips when the Tigers roll into town Tuesday and should have no problem teeing off on Jimenez.  However, their teammate and Detroit starter tonight Doug Fister has also been up and down this season. Fister has won his last three starts after losing his previous three starts. Cleveland, winners against Baltimore last night to avoid a sweep, is batting .311 (84-for-270) against fastballs from pitchers like Fister since last season. The lone bright spot in the lineup is Shin-Soo Choo, who homered in two of the last three games.

I expect Detroit to put up roughly 7-8 runs in this contest.   Cleveland should manage at least three.

New York Mets to win ML (-108)

The Mets have certainly been free-falling as of late.  Losers of their last 10 of 11, their starting pitching has compiled a 6.41 ERA during that span.  Not to mention the devastating news that pitchers Johan Santana and Dillon Gee have hit the DL. Their sole victory during those 11 games was last Thursday when R.A. Dickey got the best of the Nats’ Gio Gonzalez. Dickey will go for his 12th consecutive winning decision in the rematch tonight.

Gonzalez hasn’t looked anything like an All-Star over his last five starts. The southpaw surrendered six earned runs in 3 1/3 innings pitched during last week’s matchup against the Mets, ballooning his ERA to 5.75 in July. To make matters worse, Dickey is a perfect 6-0 at home and should make scoring runs very difficult for the Nationals offense.

Dickey certainly has not been lights out either, but expect him to get enough support led by David Wright and a red hot Daniel Murphy to even this three game series at 1-1.

ORIOLES vs RAYS PREVIEW: July 24th, 2012

Wei-Yin Chen takes the mound for the Orioles tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays as the O’s try to rebound after failing to sweep Cleveland last night. The last time the Rays faced the Orioles with Chen on the mound, Rays’ starter David Price overshadowed him with a complete game shutout. Tonight, the Rays are not as fortunate to match Price against Chen once again, as they send Jeremy Hellickson to the mound. The Rays have lost all of Hellickson’s last five starts and his road ERA stands at 4.08. Chen, on the other hand, has an ERA a full point lower at home.  Taking three of four in Cleveland and winning their last five of six overall has given the O’s some much needed swagger after a slow start post All Star Break. The travel from Cleveland to Baltimore will not fatigue them very much either, so jet lag will not be a problem.   All signs point to Baltimore starting this three game set successfully with a win, thus further distancing themselves from the bottom three in the AL East.

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If the season ended today, how much better off would the Orioles be for the future?

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If the season ended today, how much better off would the Orioles be for the future?

Posted on 22 July 2012 by Luke Jones

With Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Indians, the Orioles ended the weekend tied for the American League wild-card lead on the heels of a five-game winning streak in Minnesota and Cleveland.

As I’ve written many times over the last few months, the 2012 season has been a fun and romantic ride for Orioles fans stricken with suffering through listless summers toward losing season after losing season. The late-inning comebacks and unlikely heroes have left nearly everyone scratching their heads in disbelief as the numbers suggest they shouldn’t be nearly as prosperous as they’ve been.

Left for dead less than a week ago after falling to only two games above .500 for the first time since April, the resilient Orioles suddenly have a pulse again with an impressive turn through the current starting rotation that started with Tommy Hunter on Wednesday and ended Sunday with Zach Britton, who tossed six shutout innings to earn his first victory of the season.

The winning streak will inevitably turn up the volume on trade deadline discussion and the Orioles’ wild-card chances, but a much louder question has sounded in my head over the last month as we’ve watched the offense struggle and Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Hunter be demoted to Triple-A Norfolk.

If the season were to end today, how much better off would the Orioles be for the future than they were at the start of the 2012 campaign?

My answer — at least entering the final week of July — sounds like the ultimate wet blanket, especially when you remember where the Orioles currently sit in the standings after 95 games.

But truthfully, I’m not sure the club is markedly improved in terms of being able to compete long-term.

Yes, we can discuss the potential psychological breakthrough of ending a spell of 14 straight losing seasons and the effect it might have on potential free agents viewing Baltimore as a more viable destination, but that only matters if majority owner Peter Angelos and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette make the financial commitment to capitalize in the offseason.

The bullpen has been outstanding with Jim Johnson leading the way to eliminate any doubts that may have lingered last offseason about his ability to close out victories. However, the collective performance of a bullpen from season to season is as dependable as the stock market, meaning the likelihood of getting the same outstanding performances from each Orioles reliever next year and beyond is highly unlikely.

Offensively speaking, center fielder Adam Jones is enjoying a career year and received a six-year contract to keep him in Baltimore, but his production since early June has leveled off, suggesting 2012 is a year of steady improvement for the 26-year-old rather than a quantum leap to MVP candidacy on an annual basis. Catcher Matt Wieters is having another good season in becoming one of the best catchers in baseball, but his offense hasn’t taken a step forward from his first All-Star campaign a year ago. Of course, that’s not a knock on either player as they’re the Orioles’ two most dependable run producers, but we already knew that entering the season.

Aside from the surprisingly versatile Chris Davis looking like a solid — but unspectacular — everyday player, some combination of injury, ineffectiveness, and poor defense has hamstrung every other regular in the Baltimore lineup. The club needs to address multiple positions in the offseason, with the corner infield positions, second base, and left field all included.

And that brings us to the starting pitching, the area in which the Orioles have been most disappointing beyond the surprising performances of newcomer Jason Hammel and Taiwanese rookie Wei-Yin Chen. The regression of Matusz and Arrieta has been discouraging at best and devastating at worst when considering the high expectations for each pitcher.

As encouraging as this last turn through the rotation as been, I’m not ready to sign off on Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, or Britton as mainstays of the rotation a month from now let alone a year from now.

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jim johnson

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Five Question for the Orioles: Start of The Second Half Edition

Posted on 13 July 2012 by Big Chee

1.)    Who will carry this pitching staff through the dog days of summer?

Jason Hammel has undoubtedly been the best pitcher in the Orioles rotation in 2012. He leads the Orioles in wins at 8, ERA at 3.47, and strikeouts with 101. However, he has struggled in his last three starts, losing all three. And while a 3.47 ERA is not too shabby, not even a month ago on June 22nd, Hammel was sporting a 2.61 ERA. Wei-Yin Chen has been the team’s second best starter, with a 7-5 record and 3.93 ERA. However, just like Hammel, Chen has cooled off as we enter the second half of the season.  He has not won a decision since June 17th and he gave up a career high 3 HRs in his last start against lowly Seattle.

Hammel and Chen are both in their 20s and would benefit greatly from a veteran presence like a Ryan Dempster from Chicago. Even a James Shields of Tampa Bay, who is 30, has big game experience from pitching in the World Series and multiple playoff games. Baltimore would greatly benefit from having guys who have been in postseason contention battles leading their staff. Dempster is coming off the DL and James Shields has a sub-4 ERA throughout his career. Both names will be mentioned heavily come the trade deadline, and Baltimore should definitely be hitting the phones to see what they want.

2.)    Can Mark Reynolds be an effective hitter in this Orioles lineup?

The definition of effective for Mark Reynolds in comparison to other Major League hitters is much different. One can never expect that Reynolds will be a guy who gets on base, he has never hit above .280 in his entire career. Nor can one expect Mark to chill with the strikeouts either. Reynolds led the American League last year with 196 K’s, and that was only his 4th highest total of his career! And don’t even get started on Mark Reynolds and his horrific attempt at fielding. He led the majors in 2011 with 31 errors last year.

Mark Reynolds is an effective hitter when he is hitting home runs. In 2011, he was fourth in the majors with 37 HRs. Despite all of his faults, when he was on, he was not a guy you wanted to face if you were an opposing pitcher. If you follow Earl Weaver’s Three Keys to Winning Baseball: Pitching, Defense, and Three Run Homers, you know for sure Reynolds did not fall into the first two categories. But with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth, Mark Reynolds is that power hitter that you want at the plate. That is, of course, when he is not mired in a 3 for 25 slump like he was during interleague play.

3.)    Will Brian Roberts have any effect on the Orioles chances of making a postseason run?

Love the Orioles or not, you have to feel for Brian Roberts. I get that he was mentioned in the Mitchell Report back in 2007, and admitted to taking a shot of steroids in 2003. The key is that he admitted he this occasion, unlike a certain pitcher from the Yankees who claims he never did while he was throwing 100 mph at 45 years old. Anyway , Roberts has played in just 115 games since the beginning of the 2010 season, and has missed almost 13 months while recovering from multiple concussions. He returned to the Orioles on June 12th, but was back on the DL not even a month later with a torn right hip muscle.

Now, the longtime leadoff 2B for the Orioles is weighing whether or not he should have surgery on the hip or rehab it on its. On one hand it would be great to see Roberts try and get back with the Orioles sooner than two months, if only to help them out defensively as they lead the MLB with 75 errors. On the other hand, if the Orioles are buyers at the deadline and find themselves in contention come September, how great would it be to have his leadership back in the clubhouse as the O’s make a playoff push?

4.)    Speaking of all this poor fielding, who can the O’s acquire now to help?

Did I mention Baltimore was dead last in fielding in Major League Baseball? If one could point a finger at the glaring hole in the infield for this problem, look no further than 3B. Not one of these guys has above average ability to play the hot corner: Robert Andino, Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, Wilson Betemit or Ryan Flaherty. The Orioles are in a tie with Anaheim for the Wildcard, and pitching should not be the only area where the Orioles upgrade to make a legitimate run.

Two names come to mind that can immediately help Baltimore at 3B, without having to include Bundy, Machado or much else from the farm system. The first is Placido Polanco from the Philadelphia Phillies. A 36 year old playing for the last place, 13 games below .500 Phillies should come at a bargain for Baltimore. Polanco has won three gold gloves in the past five years, and has yet to make an error in 30 games at 3B with Philadelphia. His lifetime fielding percentages at 1B and 3B are the best in major league history. No, that is not a typo.

If Philadelphia decides they do not want to shop Polanco, the second team the Orioles  should call is San Diego to inquire about Chase Headley’s services. Headley is 28, eight years younger than Polanco, and possesses more ability to hit for power at this point of his career. Headley is an average defensive 3B, and unfortunately suffers from Mark Reynolds strikeout syndrome (He has twice in his career made more than 600 plate appearances, and in each of those seasons, he has struck out over 130 times). However, with San Diego not being competitive in 2012 and Headley heading into arbitration, his services would come at a bargain and he would at least push the guys who are already here in Baltimore.

5.)    Can the Bullpen perform as well as it did in the first half of the season?

This may be one of the biggest questions the Orioles face heading into the back half of 2012, if only because it has been the most reliable department of their team throughout the first half. The Orioles lead the American League with a 2.75 ERA as well as hold the best record out of the pen with a 17-6 mark. All Star Jim Johnson has been one of the most reliable closers in baseball, converting 26 of 27 save opportunities with a 1.21 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP. Luis Ayala, Pedro Strop, and Darren O’Day all have sub-3 ERAs and have been very efficient in setting up Johnson before the 9th inning.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown and the Orioles own a daunting task to match their outstanding performance post-All Star break. If history is any indicator for Jim Johnson, than the chances of this bullpen holding up are not very strong. His ERA is 3.98 post All Star break, compared to 2.56 before the break in his career. In addition, it has been 22 years since an AL bullpen statistically threw as well as the Orioles have over a full season. Oakland had a combined 2.35 mark in 1990. Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter will be closely monitoring the bullpen to keep those guys fresh and productive down the stretch. Let’s see how they hold up.

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Five biggest Orioles surprises of first half

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Five biggest Orioles surprises of first half

Posted on 10 July 2012 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles limping into the All-Star break after losing 13 of their last 19 games and failing to score a run in their last 22 innings, it’s becoming difficult to celebrate a remarkable start for a club from which so little was expected.

Although nearly everyone predicted Baltimore would suffer through its 15th straight losing season, the Orioles weren’t below the .500 mark at any point during the first half and haven’t dropped lower than third in the American League East, where they have just one finish higher than fourth place — third in 2004 — since 1997.

Sunday’s loss in Anaheim dropped them to a season-high seven games behind first place, but the Orioles spent 53 days in first over the course of the first half of the season. When you consider the Orioles spent a total of 37 days in first place in the previous five seasons combined — none of those outside the month of April — you’ll forgive fans for taking enjoyment despite the club’s struggles over the last few weeks.

Much focus has shifted to the biggest disappointments of the first half (I’ll cover those later this week) with the Orioles falling back to earth recently, but there have been plenty of individual surprises through the first 85 games of the season.

Here are my top five individual surprises of the Orioles’ first half:

Honorable mention: Brian Roberts’ return from concussion-related symptoms, Chris Davis, Darren O’Day

5. Troy Patton

The left-hander entered spring training out of options and knowing his future in Baltimore was in doubt before pitching 10 1/3 scoreless innings in Grapefruit League play to make the 25-man roster. Patton began the season as the only southpaw in the bullpen and has earned manager Buck Showalter’s trust in using him in late-inning situations.

Patton has a 3.46 earned run average to go along with a 1.00 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) in 39 innings this season. Left-handed hitters have batted just .194 against him while right-handers aren’t much better at .233.

His versatility as a former starter has allowed Showalter to use him in longer stretches occasionally — he has five appearances of two innings or more — but Patton has made regular appearances in the seventh and eight innings of close games as a key contributor for the American League’s best bullpen (2.75 ERA).

4. Adam Jones

The All-Star center fielder got off to the best start of his career and looked like a league MVP candidate through the first two months of the season, hitting .314 with 16 home runs and 34 runs batted in over the first 51 games of the season. The fast start not only led Jones to be named to his second All-Star team but prompted the club to sign him to a six-year, $85.5 million contract in late May to keep him in Baltimore through the 2018 season.

While Jones has cooled considerably in June and July — he’s hitting .252 with four homers and 10 RBIs in his last 34 games — while battling two sore wrists, the center fielder’s willingness to commit to the Orioles for the long haul was a major win for an organization trying to escape the shadow of 14 straight losing seasons. The 26-year-old has also established himself as a leader in the clubhouse and a favorite of Showalter.

He is the clear choice for the team MVP for the first half of the season, and the Orioles will need Jones to get hot again to help jump-start an offense that’s struggled mightily over the last month. His .289 average, 20 home runs, and 44 RBIs lead the club.

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Big Trade Looming?

Posted on 07 July 2012 by Erich Hawbaker

The All-Star break is upon us. And, if the season ended today, the Orioles would be headed to the playoffs. Thursday’s disaster with the Angels notwithstanding, the Orioles have reached halftime without completely faceplanting as most of us expected they would. The bullpen has been the most pleasant surprise, with an ERA still close to the best in baseball. The offense (long balls in particular) has also been a big reason for the success, with Adam Jones on pace for 40 homeruns and several others flirting with 30.

However, just like last year, the most glaring weakness has been the defense. Unfortunately, the O’s also lead the league in errors, which has cost them at least three or four winnable games already this season. The other coin flip has been the starting pitching, which lately seems to always be either stellar or awful on any given night. Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen are aces more often than not, but the other three rotation spots have been consistently shaky with occasional flashes of brilliance.

The Orioles have already made a splash in the trade market this year by acquiring DH Jim Thome from the struggling Phillies for a pair of minor leaguers. For awhile now, I’d been wondering if they were really serious about being buyers this year like Dan Duquette said, and if, to that end, they would be looking to pick up another legitimate starting pitcher. Today when I checked my fantasy team (the Mercersburg Rebels, currently in 1st place), the news feed told me that the Orioles are trying to make a trade with the Brewers for RHP Zack Greinke. It also mentioned that the O’s have two highly-touted prospects in Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado that might be part of such a deal.

For the last few years, I’ve always made it a point to have Greinke on my fantasy team. He routinely goes deep into games, puts up lots of strikeouts, and has a very good ERA and WHIP. He won the 2009 AL Cy Young with the Royals, no easy feat when one considers that they’ve been about as bad as the Orioles over the last decade. This year, his record is 9-2, while his team is currently under .500 by five games.

So, all indications are that he would be an excellent pickup if the Orioles can pull this off. However, I would not part with Bundy or Machado to make it happen. Since Milwaukee lost Prince Fielder, they’re in need of a firstbaseman. Perhaps Mark Reynolds could be part of this trade? True, he’s not crushing the ball like he was last year, but Miller Park is definitely hitter-friendly. And now that the Orioles have Chris Davis, there isn’t a tremendous need for Reynolds here anymore. It would also make a big dent in that error rate.

Another thing to consider here is that the era of Brian Roberts is, regrettably, over. He’s given us some tremendous years, but unfortunately the Orioles simply cannot depend on him as an everyday player anymore. Therefore, letting go of Manny Machado would be unwise, because he will be coming of age right about the time when Roberts is officially finished. I don’t think I even need to elaborate on why trading Dylan Bundy would be a bad move, unless of course the Brewers are offering significantly more than just Greinke.

I have to admit, it’s a VERY nice thought that the Orioles’ rotation could eventually consist of Hammel, Chen, Greinke, Britton, and whoever gets their act together. That, coupled with Jones, Wieters, Davis, Markakis, Hardy, and our current bullpen would almost have to be a serious contender.

However, I must reiterate that even if this becomes reality, we are not yet free of Peter The Terrible, and I still remain unconvinced that the Orioles have truly turned the corner as long as he remains in the warehouse.

What do you think? Should the Orioles trade for Greinke? Is there someone else out there you’d like to see them pursue? Comments are always welcome.

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