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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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Message to Dan Duquette: Stop Slippin, Start Callin

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Message to Dan Duquette: Stop Slippin, Start Callin

Posted on 02 July 2012 by Big Chee

Not sure how many of you out there reading this article would consider yourselves DMX fans, but when I think of the Orioles right now, losers of 5 of their last 6 games, I can’t help but keep thinking about the song “Slippin” he had out back in the 90s. The chorus starts off with the line “I’m slippin, I’m fallin, I can’t get up.” As far as Baltimore in the AL East Standings, this song sure sounds fitting. A month ago, the Orioles were first place, riding a wave of optimism. Jason Hammel was 6-2 with a 3.06 ERA. Rewind a month and a half ago, and Nick Markakis still had both of his arms in tact.  Don’t get me wrong; the O’s have plenty to feel good about heading into the All Star Break. Pending they do not lose all seven games out on the West Coast, the O’s will finish with a record above .500 for the first half of the season. That’s not too bad in arguably the toughest division in baseball year in and year out.

 However, it’s not good enough. This team has given the fans in this city a taste of success, and the last thing people want to see is management taking their foot off the gas because they do not believe that they should trade prospects to win now. And to win now, make a move now. Do not wait until the trade deadline on July 29th to make a move, by then this team could easily fall back to mediocrity and pave the way for Ravens preseason talk to dominate the airwaves before August begins. There should be no All-Star “Break” for Dan Duquette, he needs to keep this team in contention before it is too late.

Now, I am not suggesting the Orioles get crazy and give up the house for Zach Greinke, the unheralded best starting pitcher at the deadline. The Brewers will want the house for a guy who will hit the Free Agent market after the season and command top dollars. Leave that to your neighbors to the north in the Bronx to make that move. The other name mentioned as a possible back of the rotation starter is Francisco Liriano of Minnesota. Let me give you real world business guys a scenario before you consider him a good move. A kid comes out of college at 23, cannot find a job in this tough economy so he decides to sell cars. He comes in fired up out of the gate and crushes his numbers, he clearly has talent. Six years later, you can still see the talent; he cannot seem to push those cars out the door like he once did. That is what I think of with Liriano. He burst onto the scene in 2006, going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 144 strikeouts. Now, the strikeouts are still there (70 strikeouts through 12 starts), but his ERA is over 5 and his record is 2-7. Plus, he reminds me too much of Daniel Cabrera. Remember that name, O’s fans? Sorry I am sure you would like to forget some of his atrocious outings.

Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago reported a couple of weeks back that the Cubs are looking to move Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano. Dempster is their most attractive piece, even at 35 years old. He is spotting a 2.11 ERA through 12 games started this season. The Cubs are so desperately trying to ship out Soriano, rumor has it that they would be willing to pay 90% of his salary to the team who takes him.

If I am Dan Duquette, I am calling Theo Epstein and I am trying to bring the veteran Dempster along with Soriano to Baltimore. To me, the trade makes sense on so many levels for the O’s. First and foremost, the O’s lack a veteran, durable presence in their rotation. Forget about the fact that Dempster is currently on the 15-day DL with Right Lat tightness, he will be back right after the Break. Since he underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2003, Dempster has been a rock in both the Cubs bullpen and starting rotation. Thus far in 2012, Dempster has spotted a 2.11 ERA in 12 starts, compared to Matt Garza who is more expensive and has a 4.01 ERA. Plus, Dempster at 35 would be the oldest pitcher on the O’s rotation, and that is by no means a bad thing. Who better for the 26 year old of the rotation, Wei-Yin Chen and Jake Arietta to learn from than the described laid back Dempster? I mean come on, the guy told the Arizona media in 2007 if that if his career were to tumble, he planned on taking up ninja training. How cool is that?

As far as Soriano is concerned, even if you are a casual baseball fan, you probably know his career has been in a steady decline since the Yanks shipped him out for A-Rod back in 2004. But if the Cubs really would pay 90% of his salary, would it kill you to have him as your 4th Outfielder? He is a seven time All Star and two-time World Series Champ, it cannot hurt having a guy who has been in a winning atmosphere in your clubhouse.

For the sake of this article, I won’t dive in too deep to the O’s prospects they would look to ship out to acquire this package deal. I will leave it up to the Front Office to make those decisions. One thing would be evident: the O’s would not have to risk trading potential significant prospects for the future to acquire 35 and 36 year old veterans. However, they need to make some sort of moves if they want to continue this phrase I have heard thrown out this year called “Orioles Magic.”

I believe the next verse of the chorus of the song “Slippin” by DMX goes something like this: “Ay yo I’m slippin’ I’m fallin’ I gots to get up, Get me back on my feet so I can tear sh*t up!” If Dan Duquette does in fact share the same enjoyment from rap music as I do, he should listen to this song and get the O’s back on their feet by calling Epstein not at the trade deadline, but right now.

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