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Gausman shines like an ace in high-stakes win for Orioles

Posted on 15 September 2016 by Luke Jones

A talented young pitcher rarely becomes an ace overnight.

It’s often an organic process including some bumps along the road and requiring patience.

The Orioles and their fans have waited a couple years for Kevin Gausman to take that step from solid starting pitcher to something special. For the better part of the last six weeks, he had pitched a lot like a No. 1 starter, but the eighth inning of Wednesday night’s 1-0 win over Boston sure felt like the “aha” moment of his young career.

Having already thrown 104 pitches over seven superb innings, the right-hander returned to the Fenway Park mound and was a batter away from facing the top of the order for a fourth time. Manager Buck Showalter’s decision to send the 25-year-old back out there against the best lineup in baseball in a one-run game appeared to be debatable — at least on paper.

It really wasn’t as Gausman pitched a 1-2-3 eighth.

His 120th and final pitch of the night was his second fastest at 98.5 miles per hour as Xander Bogaerts fouled out to retire the side. It came after he’d touched 98.8 just three pitches earlier.

Talk about saving your best for last in a game where the stakes couldn’t have been much higher in mid-September. It was the stuff of top-of-the-rotation starters, frankly.

We’ve been so conditioned that even when the Orioles receive a good outing from their maligned rotation, you’re waiting for that moment to hand it over to a bullpen that’s been the backbone of their success out of necessity over the last five years. But after watching Gausman shut down an imposing Red Sox lineup all night, there was no one else you wanted pitching in that tight game other than All-Star closer Zach Britton and even that might have been an interesting debate had the starter’s pitch count been lower after eight innings.

He was that good.

His fastball command was impeccable as he threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 29 hitters he faced, something that’s been a challenge for him this year. He effectively threw his split-changeup and once again mixed in an improved breaking ball, the pitch that’s held him back for most of his career. Boston squared up a couple balls early in the game, but the 2012 first-round pick got stronger and induced mostly weak contact as the game continued.

Since a disastrous July 29 outing in Toronto in which he allowed three home runs to the first five hitters of the game and gave up six runs over three innings, Gausman has pitched to a 2.06 ERA over nine starts covering 56 2/3 innings. He’s struck out 62 batters and allowed just four home runs over that stretch.

He lowered his season ERA to 3.43 in winning his fifth straight decision.

The surge has come at a time when the Orioles needed it most with veteran starter Chris Tillman missing most of the last month with a shoulder injury.

Wednesday wasn’t a playoff game, but it sure felt like October baseball with Gausman pitching on the road like an ace against a right-handed-heavy lineup that hit him hard twice earlier this year. It was the best and most important start of his career and the exclamation point on a strong 6-3 road trip that moved the Orioles to just one game out of first place in the American League East as they return to Camden Yards to begin an 11-game homestand on Thursday.

We’ll see how the final 17 games of the regular season play out in a tremendous division race.

But Wednesday was one hell of a statement from the Orioles.

And perhaps the clearest signal yet of an ace having finally arrived.

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Long, painful week for Orioles ends with no relief

Posted on 22 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles had a chance to stop the bleeding on Sunday after a difficult 1-4 start to an eight-game homestand.

Waiting out a rain delay of more than four hours on the heels of two of their worst losses of the season, the Orioles watched first-place Toronto squander another late lead in a loss at Cleveland. Second-place Boston fell hard in Detroit. Even Seattle — who entered the day one game behind Baltimore for the second wild-card spot — blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning to lose to lowly Milwaukee.

A victory in the finale of the four-game set with Houston would have shrunk the Orioles’ American League East deficit to just 1 1/2 games and increased their lead over the Mariners. It wasn’t a must-win game, but it represented a valuable opportunity to salvage a four-game split, exhale, and regroup after allowing an unseemly 27 runs to the Astros the previous two nights.

Yovani Gallardo gave the Orioles exactly what they needed after poor performances by Wade Miley, Chris Tillman, and a host of long relievers had decimated the bullpen to the point that infielder Ryan Flaherty pitched the ninth inning of Saturday’s loss. Enduring two different rain delays, Gallardo allowed one run over the first four innings on Sunday.

Then, the fifth came.

Two-time Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado bobbled a chopper off the bat of Teoscar Hernandez for an error to begin the inning. Four batters later, a Carlos Correa line drive to right-center went off the glove of right fielder Chris Davis for a two-run double that would give the Astros a 4-1 lead. Manager Buck Showalter said after the game that his normal first baseman had lost the ball in the lights, but the two defensive miscues led to three runs for Houston.

The bottom of the fifth wasn’t much better as Adam Jones singled home Nolan Reimold to make it a 4-2 deficit, but the center fielder overslid second base as he advanced on the throw home and was then tagged out, ending the inning and adding a baserunning mistake to the poor defense in the top half of frame.

Taking nothing away from a strong eight-inning performance by 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, the Orioles cost themselves dearly in that fateful inning. Of course, it didn’t help that the bats largely fell silent again after the Baltimore pitching hadn’t given them much of a chance on Friday or Saturday.

Gallardo deserved better over his seven solid innings of work, but the Orioles have done whatever it takes to lose on this current homestand. In a two-game sweep against Boston, little went right across the board. After a 13-5 blowout victory over the Astros in the series opener, the Orioles made major league history Friday night by homering four times before recording a single out and amazingly lost by seven as Miley and the bullpen surrendered a combined 15 runs.

Despite falling to just 11 games over .500 for the first time since June 22, the math tells you the Orioles are still in fine shape and only a modest winning streak away from potentially being back in first place. But it doesn’t feel that way with a maddeningly inconsistent offense, a shorthanded bullpen, and a starting rotation reverting to its first-half form after showing some improvement since the All-Star break.

Since a four-game winning streak in which they swept Cleveland and won the opener of a series with Colorado to improve to an AL-best 58-40 on July 25, the Orioles have gone 9-16 and have been passed by both the Blue Jays and the Red Sox in the division.

It isn’t panic time yet, but losing the final three games against Houston — a team that came to Baltimore having lost four in a row and 13 of its previous 19 — felt alarmingly reminiscent of last year’s four-game home sweep to Minnesota that led to a stretch of 12 losses in 13 games ending any real chance of making the postseason. Of course, the Orioles are in better position now than last year at that point, but their 2016 season appears to be at a crossroads.

The offense has slumped for the better part of six weeks now, once again too dependent on the home run. Dating back to the last West Coast trip, the last six hits apiece from Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo have all been homers, illustrating the largely all-or-nothing performance from the lineup.

The health of No. 1 starter Chris Tillman remains in question despite him saying his shoulder felt fine after his worst start of the season on Saturday. Acquired at the deadline to fortify the rotation, Miley is sporting a 9.53 ERA in his four starts with the Orioles.

The bullpen is once again without Darren O’Day, who doesn’t appear particularly close to returning from a strained rotator cuff. Closer Zach Britton has been nothing short of brilliant all year, but getting to him is becoming increasingly difficult with fellow All-Star reliever Brad Brach struggling since the break.

The Orioles had been nearly invincible at Camden Yards this season in winning 70 percent of their games there, but they no longer have the best home mark in the majors after dropping six of their last seven in Baltimore.

No, things aren’t always as bad as they seem when a team is struggling like the Orioles are right now. The good news is that they didn’t lose any ground Sunday with their competitors all falling.

But instead of stopping the bleeding and starting to reverse their recent fortunes, the wound grew deeper in another frustrating loss.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-2 win over Texas

Posted on 04 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 3-2 win over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 106th game of the 2016 season.

1st Matt Wieters not only provided the deciding two-run single off Rangers ace Cole Hamels in the bottom of the first, but the catcher also made the biggest defensive play of the evening in the ninth. On a pitch that got away from closer Zach Britton, Rougned Odor took off from first base in an effort to get the potential tying run in scoring position, but Wieters pounced on the ball and fired a strike to Jonathan Schoop, who didn’t even have to move his glove to tag the sliding Odor for the second out of the inning. Entering the night with a .179 average against left-handed pitching, Wieters delivered a big hit as a right-handed batter for the second straight night — he homered from the right side late in Tuesday’s win — and was the offensive standout on a night when runs were at a premium.

2ndKevin Gausman turned in seven good innings to earn his third win of the year, but the final numbers don’t really tell the whole story of his outing. Coming off arguably his worst start of 2016 at Toronto, the right-hander had already allowed a first-inning homer and an RBI single in the second before walking Nomar Mazara to put two runners on with no outs in the second. The outing was teetering toward disaster before he retired the next three hitters to escape trouble. From that point, Gausman commanded his fastball well and needed only 58 pitches to complete the next five innings after he had thrown 50 over the first two frames. Four of his seven strikeouts came on fastballs while he effectively used his split-changeup for the other three. He received some good luck as some squared-up contact was gobbled up by his infield defense, but his strong recovery after a rough start was impressive.

3rdDarren O’Day once again took the ball after pitching a perfect 1 1/3 innings on 17 pitches on Tuesday, and he did not disappoint. Facing the top of the Rangers order in a 3-2 game, the right-hander needed just seven pitches to retire Jurickson Profar, Ian Desmond, and Carlos Beltran. Since returning from the disabled list late last month, O’Day has pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed one hit and one walk while striking out seven.

Home — Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, and Chris Davis made a collection of fine defensive plays to support a good pitching effort from Gausman. … Britton struggled with his control in the ninth before converting his 33rd save in as many tries to begin the season, which is the major league record for consecutive save conversions to begin a season by a left-handed pitcher. His 106th career save moved him past Tippy Martinez and into sole possession of third on the club’s all-time saves list. … Manny Machado collected his 31st double of the year in the first inning to surpass his total of 30 in 162 games last season. … Steve Pearce went 0-for-2 with a walk and two strikeouts looking in his first game back with the Orioles. … Baltimore improved to 39-16 in games played at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. … Left-hander Wade Miley will make his Orioles debut on Thursday night while the Rangers send right-hander A.J. Griffin to the hill.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-2 win over Colorado

Posted on 26 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 3-2 win over the Colorado Rockies on Monday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 98th game of the 2016 season.

1st Yovani Gallardo continued the run of good work from the starting rotation as he turned in his best performance of the season. Allowing only two runs and five hits while striking out a season-high six over 6 2/3 innings, Gallardo said after the game that he’s trying to be more aggressive in the strike zone and it appears to be working as he’s pitched into the seventh in each of his last two outings. He effectively used the cutter and had good command of all of his pitches, getting eight swinging strikes and walking only two over the course of the night. Gallardo lowered his home ERA to 3.33 in five starts and gave the Orioles a chance to win on a night when they struggled to score against Colorado’s Jorge De La Rosa.

2ndAdam Jones scored the winning run on an error by Rockies pitcher Jordan Lyles, but there wouldn’t have been extra innings had it not been for the center fielder driving in the other two Orioles runs. His single to right scored the first run of the game in the second inning while his grounder to short in the seventh plated the tying run. Some might ask why Jones broke home on a comebacker to the mound in the bottom of the 10th inning, but manager Buck Showalter said he did exactly what he was supposed to do. With runners at the corners and one out, the runner at third is instructed to run on any moderately-hit grounder to try to deter the defense from otherwise turning an inning-ending double play. Jones’ second-inning RBI moved him ahead of Rafael Palmeiro and into sole possession of seventh place on the Orioles’ all-time RBI list with 702.

3rdZach Britton made his fifth appearance in the last six days and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning against the heart of the Rockies lineup, striking out Carlos Gonzalez and Trevor Story in the process. The Orioles closer hasn’t surrendered an earned run over his last 34 appearances dating back to May 5. He lowered his season ERA to a remarkable 0.63 and continues an incredible season.

HomeMychal Givens took over for Gallardo with two outs in the seventh and retired four in a row. Two were left-handed batters, who entered Monday hitting .385 with a 1.080 on-base plus slugging percentage against him this season. … Chaz Roe stranded the potential go-ahead run in scoring position in a scoreless 10th inning and earned his first victory of the season. … The Orioles improved to a season-high 18 games above .500 and increased their lead in the American League East to 2 1/2 games. … Baltimore is now 4-2 in extra-inning games this season. … Jonathan Schoop hit his 28th double of the season and is now just two shy of Manny Machado for the club lead. … Making his return after a six-game absence due to a bruised right foot, Matt Wieters went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. … Playing his second rehab game at Double-A Bowie on Monday night, Hyun Soo Kim went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run and could be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday, the first day he’s eligible to return. … In search of their sixth straight win, the Orioles will send Chris Tillman to the hill on Tuesday night while Colorado hands the ball to right-hander Chad Bettis.

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Orioles activate O’Day prior to series finale with Cleveland

Posted on 24 July 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — More than seven weeks after injuring his right hamstring, setup man Darren O’Day has returned to the Orioles bullpen.

The 2015 All-Star selection was activated from the 15-day disabled list 30 minutes prior to the start of Sunday’s series finale with Cleveland. O’Day last pitched on June 1, but his return provides a signficant boost to a bullpen already ranking second in the American League and fourth in the majors with a 3.10 ERA.

Baltimore optioned left-handed reliever Donnie Hart to Double-A Bowie to make room on the 25-man roster.

In O’Day’s absence, Baltimore has leaned more heavily on Brad Brach, who has responded by posting a 1.19 ERA in 53 innings and earned a trip to his first All-Star Game earlier this month. It will be interesting to see how manager Buck Showalter sequences O’Day and Brach before getting to closer Zach Britton at the end of games. Entering Sunday, Britton had pitched on four consecutive days, but he had thrown a total of only 20 pitches.

Signed to a four-year, $31 million contract this offseason, O’Day, 33, posted a 3.15 ERA in 20 innings before going to the DL in early June. However, the right-hander had given up five home runs — matching his 2015 total — and walked 4.1 hitters per nine innings, a career-high rate.

O’Day has been the backbone of the Orioles bullpen since 2012, posting a 1.92 ERA and averaging just under 66 innings per year over his first four seasons in Baltimore.

Hart’s demotion means the Orioles are back to having only one lefty in the bullpen with Britton clearly not used for matchup purposes. The 25-year-old rookie had pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings over three appearances since being promoted to begin the second half.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 5-1 win over Cleveland

Posted on 23 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 5-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Friday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 95th game of the 2016 season.

1st Mark Trumbo embraced the return to Camden Yards by crushing a hanging curveball from Indians starter Trevor Bauer for a long three-run home run in the first inning. The blast to left-center gave the Orioles an early 3-0 lead and provided some cushion for a young pitcher making his second major league start. It was Trumbo’s first home run since July 9 and his 29th of the season as he retook sole possession of the major league lead. The right fielder added a single in the seventh inning to complete a 2-for-4 performance.

2ndDylan Bundy earned the win and showed improvement from his first start as he struck out the side in the first and did a good job using his secondary pitches early on. The right-hander allowed only one unearned run and five hits while striking out five and walking none in his five innings of work on 87 pitches. His changeup was particularly effective as six of his 13 swinging strikes came on that pitch. Bundy also showed impressive composure after the Orioles botched a rundown in the fifth as he calmly induced a double play and a grounder to escape the inning after only allowing the one unearned run.

3rdOdrisamer Despaigne did a superb job spelling Bundy and maintaining a 5-1 lead by tossing 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief. The right-hander allowed three hits and struck out four while walking only one. That free pass of Abraham Almonte came on his final hitter of the game as he was only one strike away from a rare four-inning save, but manager Buck Showalter chose to bring in closer Zach Britton to get the final out. Considering the issues the Orioles have had with their long relief in recent weeks, Despaigne providing that kind of outing kept the bullpen in great shape for the rest of the series.

HomeManny Machado hit his 20th home run of the season and reached base four times on Friday night. It was the All-Star third baseman’s first long ball since July 5. … Britton converted his 31st save in as many tries in 2016 and is now one shy of Tippy Martinez (105 saves) for third place on the Orioles’ all-time list. The All-Star lefty hasn’t given up an earned run over his last 32 appearances since May 5. … Adam Jones hit a sacrifice fly in the second inning to move into a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for seventh place on the club’s all-time RBI list with 701. … J.J. Hardy registered two hits for a third consecutive game. … The Orioles improved to a remarkable 34-14 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which is the best home record in the majors. … Kevin Gausman will take the hill on Saturday night while the Indians will start right-hander Josh Tomlin.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-1 win over Yankees

Posted on 21 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-1 win over the New York Yankees on Thursday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 94th game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Tillman pitched like an ace to close out a rough road trip on a positive note. Needing a strong start as they tried to avoid their fifth consecutive loss and a four-game sweep at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles got seven superb innings from the right-hander, who improved to a sparkling 14-2 and lowered his ERA to 3.18. After allowing five batters to reach over his first two innings, Tillman relied more heavily on his fastball to register four strikeouts in the third and fourth innings and did an excellent job mixing his assortment of pitches the rest of the way. In addition to retiring 16 of the last 17 batters he faced to ultimately tie Chris Sale for the major league lead in wins, Tillman became the first Orioles pitcher since Jim Palmer in 1978 to complete at least seven innings and allow no more than one run in four consecutive starts. Baltimore is now a whopping 18-3 when Tillman takes the mound, the most team wins in any pitcher’s starts this season. Where would the Orioles be without him?

2ndJ.J. Hardy has been one of the few to swing the bat well at the start of the second half, and the shortstop set an improved tone early in Thursday’s game. With the Orioles entering the day just 3-for-33 with men in scoring position since the All-Star break and Mark Trumbo having already popped up with runners on the corners, Hardy delivered a hard single past Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius to plate two runs with two outs. The hit allowed Baltimore to match its run total from the first three games of the series and gave Tillman a lead before he took the hill. Hardy added another single in the fourth.

3rdJonathan Schoop gave the Orioles some much-needed breathing room when he hit a soft liner down the right-field line to score two runs and increase the lead to 4-1 with two outs in the seventh. The two-run double came on an outside off-speed pitch from New York starter CC Sabathia, who was then lifted from the game and suffered his fourth consecutive loss. Schoop also started the scoring rally in the first with a one-out infield single and is now hitting .296 on the year.

HomeZach Britton may have been staked to a comfortable three-run lead in the ninth, but the All-Star closer improved to a remarkable 30-for-30 in save opportunities this season by pitching a 1-2-3 frame against the heart of the Yankees order. His 30 saves in as many chances to begin a season is the 10th-best mark in major league history. … Returning to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s game with flu-like symptoms, Manny Machado went 2-for-4 with a run scored. … Brad Brach pitched a scoreless eighth inning and has not allowed an earned run in his last 14 appearances covering 16 2/3 innings. … While Machado and Chris Davis returned to the lineup, center fielder Adam Jones missed Thursday’s games after dealing with back spasms the previous night. Catcher Matt Wieters missed his third straight game while resting a bruised foot. … The Orioles return to Camden Yards on Friday to begin a six-game homestand with right-hander Dylan Bundy making his second major league start against Cleveland right-hander Trevor Bauer.

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Britton shines in otherwise quiet night for Orioles in All-Star Game

Posted on 13 July 2016 by Luke Jones

After going 27-for-27 in save opportunities for the first-place Orioles in the first half, Zach Britton was the right man for the job to close out the 87th All-Star Game in San Diego on Tuesday.

The left-hander became the first Oriole to earn a save in the Midsummer Classic since Don Aase in 1986 when he retired the side in the ninth inning to wrap up the American League’s 4-2 win over the National League, giving the AL home-field advantage in the 2016 World Series and its fourth straight All-Star victory. After surrendering a leadoff single to Daniel Murphy, Britton induced a grounder from Paul Goldschmidt for a fielder’s choice and a 5-4-3 double play off the bat of Nolan Arenado to end the game.

A two-time All-Star selection, Britton has set the club record by beginning a season with 27 consecutive save conversions and clearly earned the respect of AL manager Ned Yost, who used the Baltimore sinkerballer as his closer behind four other relievers used in the game. On Sunday, Britton became the fifth pitcher in franchise history to record 100 career saves with the Orioles, joining Gregg Olson (160), Jim Johnson (122), Tippy Martinez (105), and Stu Miller (100).

The 28-year-old highlighted an otherwise quiet night for the Orioles’ All-Star representatives.

Appearing in his third All-Star Game and becoming the first Oriole to bat third in the AL starting lineup since Roberto Alomar in 1996, third baseman Manny Machado went 0-for-3 and flied out to deep left in his final at-bat in the bottom of the fifth. Making his first All-Star start, the 24-year-old did make a nice play in the field on a chopper off the bat of Arenado on a fielder’s choice in the top of the fifth.

Catcher Matt Wieters entered the game in the sixth and struck out swinging in each of his two plate appearances. The 30-year-old is now hitless in five career at-bats in the All-Star Game.

The four-time All-Star selection did get to catch a one-time teammate for the first time, however, when New York Yankees lefty Andrew Miller pitched in the eighth. Wieters was already out for the remainder of the season due to Tommy John surgery when the Orioles acquired Miller at the trade deadline in 2014.

Mark Trumbo entered the game to play left field in the sixth and reached on an error in his only at-bat of the evening. The right-handed slugger is now 0-for-3 in his two trips to the All-Star Game.

A feel-good story after posting a microscopic 0.91 ERA in the first half, Orioles reliever Brad Brach did not pitch in his first trip to the All-Star Game.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 2016 first half

Posted on 11 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ first half of 2016 that has resulted in a 51-36 start and a first-place standing in the American League East at the All-Star break?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the first 87 games of the 2016 season.

1st Manny Machado broke out as one of the game’s best all-around players last year, but many wondered throughout the winter if he could soar even higher in 2016. The 24-year-old has done exactly that, hitting .318 with 19 home runs, 29 doubles, 53 RBIs, and a .944 on-base plus slugging percentage as the club’s best offensive player. Already a two-time Glove Glove winner at third base, Machado filled in admirably at shortstop in place of the injured J.J. Hardy for seven weeks and has been worth a combined eight defensive runs saved and 1.2 defensive wins above replacement so far this season. His 4.2 WAR (Baseball Reference) at the All-Star break ranks fifth in the AL and is easily tops on the Orioles. After serving in the leadoff role out of necessity last season, Machado has now settled into the No. 3 spot in the order and is the first Oriole to bat third in the AL All-Star starting lineup since Roberto Alomar in 1996. 

2ndMark Trumbo was expected to be a solid power addition to the Baltimore lineup after being acquired from Seattle in exchange for reserve catcher Steve Clevenger in December, but the 30-year-old has instead put on a great 2014 Nelson Cruz impression. The right-handed slugger leads the majors with 28 homers, six more than the total he had last year in 170 fewer plate appearances and just six shy of his career high. His .288 average, .923 OPS, and 68 RBIs reflect his consistency, which was even more important with lineup mainstays such as Adam Jones and Chris Davis struggling early on. His defense in the outfield isn’t pretty, but Trumbo has played a major part in turning a good lineup into a great one.

3rdChris Tillman has been the shining star in a starting rotation that ranks 14th in the AL and 28th in the majors in ERA for a first-place club. The Opening Day starter not only leads the rotation with a 3.41 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP, 98 strikeouts, and 12 wins, but he has a chance to become Baltimore’s first 20-game winner since Mike Boddicker in 1984. His strikeout rate of 7.8 per nine innings is his best since 2013, and he can largely credit an improved slider for his career-best swinging-strike percentage. According to Baseball Reference, Tillman’s 3.2 WAR is second only to Machado on the 2016 Orioles.

HomeBrad Brach and Zach Britton both earned All-Star Game invitations with ERAs below 1.00 and combining for an impressive 4.7 WAR pitching out of the bullpen. Brach has been outstanding filling in for the injured Darren O’Day and leading all Baltimore relievers with 49 1/3 innings pitched while Britton has set a club record by going 27-for-27 in save opportunities to begin the season. … The Orioles’ 137 home runs lead the majors and are the club’s most ever at the All-Star break, surpassing the 134 hit in 1996. … Jonathan Schoop is rapidly emerging as one of the Orioles’ best players, ranking second behind Machado with 23 doubles and fifth in home runs. … Hyun Soo Kim began the season as a player the Orioles were convinced they didn’t want on the major league roster, but the South Korean outfielder’s .329 average and .410 on-base percentage lead Baltimore hitters with at least 170 plate appearances. … Despite making a combined $22 million in 2016, Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo have combined to post a 6.84 ERA in 125 innings this season. … Adam Jones wasn’t a conventional choice as a leadoff hitter, but he’s batted .308 with 12 homers and a .345 OBP since being moved to the top spot by manager Buck Showalter on May 27. … Baltimore’s 33 home victories and .702 home winning percentage lead the major leagues. The Orioles have three seven-game winning streaks in 2016 after posting none that long from 2006-2015.

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Which Orioles should receive 2016 All-Star Game nod?

Posted on 27 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles third baseman Manny Machado continues to lead the way at his position as Major League Baseball released the final 2016 American League All-Star voting update on Monday.

The 23-year-old leads Toronto’s Josh Donaldson by more than 600,000 votes with the voting period set to conclude on Thursday night. The All-Star Game starters, pitchers, and reserves will be announced on July 5.

Slugger Mark Trumbo is the only other Baltimore player with a realistic chance to win a starting spot via the fan vote as he ranks fifth among AL outfielders and trails Boston right fielder Mookie Betts by just over 100,000 votes for the final starting spot. Matt Wieters ranks second among AL catchers, but he trails Salvador Perez of Kansas City by more than 2.7 million votes.

Chris Davis ranks a distant third behind Eric Hosmer and Miguel Cabrera among AL first basemen and Adam Jones is 13th among AL outfielders.

With the Orioles off to an impressive 45-30 start and in first place in the AL East, a number of their players have reasonable claims to make the trip to San Diego on July 12.

Below is a look at each of the Orioles’ All-Star candidates:

3B Manny Machado
The case for: In addition to leading the voting at his position, the two-time Gold Glover ranks fourth among AL position players in wins above replacement and entered Monday fourth in average, seventh in on-base percentage, second in slugging percentage, and tied for seventh in home runs in the league.
The case against: If Machado loses the fan vote, maybe Kansas City manager Ned Yost decide to hold a grudge because of his altercation with Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura in early June?
The prediction: As a starter or not, Machado is a slam-dunk choice to make his third All-Star team.

C Matt Wieters
The case for: The 30-year-old entered Monday ranked first among AL catchers in RBIs and homers and is second behind Perez in on-base plus slugging percentage among catchers with 175 at-bats.
The case against: Wieters has a strong argument behind Perez, but you never know if another team needing a representative could squeeze him out in favor of someone like Oakland’s Stephen Vogt.
The prediction: As a three-time All-Star selection, Wieters has a good reputation around the league and should return to the Midsummer Classic next month.

1B Chris Davis
The case for: Davis leads all qualified AL first basemen in WAR and home runs, ranks second in RBIs, and is third in OPS in addition to playing really good defense this season.
The case against: Hosmer and Cabrera both have strong cases for spots and own far superior averages, and Joe Mauer could factor in as the potential lone representative of the Minnesota Twins.
The prediction: Even with his low batting average, Davis would be a sound choice as a reserve first baseman on the AL squad and will receive the second invitation to the All-Star Game of his career.

2B Jonathan Schoop
The case for: The 24-year-old entered Monday tied for third among AL second basemen in home runs and is fourth in RBIs and OPS.
The case against: Jose Altuve and Robinson Cano are legitimate AL MVP candidates so far this season and Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia are well-known veterans also sporting worthy profiles.
The prediction: Schoop has a .978 OPS in June and is deserving of recognition in a perfect world, but there’s too much strong veteran competition here to expect him to grab a reserve spot this year.

RF Mark Trumbo
The case for: The powerful right-hander entered Monday leading the majors in home runs, ranking third in the AL in RBIs, and sitting sixth among AL outfielders in OPS.
The case against: As terrific as Trumbo has been in the power department, his defense hurts his overall value while other outfielders such as Ian Desmond and George Springer are well-rounded players.
The prediction: Sabermetricians will look at an underwhelming 1.2 WAR and argue others are more deserving, but being at or near the top in traditional categories will earn Trumbo an All-Star invitation.

SP Chris Tillman
The case for: The right-hander entered Monday second in the AL with 10 wins and is tied for seventh among AL pitchers in WAR.
The case against: After back-to-back poor starts, Tillman has fallen to 15th in ERA in the AL among qualified pitchers and is tied for 12th in the league in strikeouts.
The prediction: A brilliant performance in his next start to lower his ERA from 3.52 would help his case, but he’ll be on the outside looking in with pitcher wins no longer celebrated like they once were.

RP Zach Britton
The case for: The lefty closer leads the AL with 23 saves in as many tries and is tied for first in the league among pitchers with at least 30 innings with an incredible 0.83 ERA.
The case against: Barring a dramatic collapse over the next week or closers no longer being selected, there is no reasonable case to be made against Britton being on the team for a second straight year.
The prediction: This might be the easiest call of them all to make, and that’s saying something on a club that includes one of the five best players in baseball in Machado.

RP Brad Brach
The case for: The right-handed setup man is tops among AL relievers in WAR and is 13th overall in WAR among all AL pitchers with his 1.05 ERA in 42 2/3 innings.
The case against: Non-closer relievers are beginning to receive notoriety as we saw with Darren O’Day last year, but Brach isn’t as well known as the likes of Andrew Miller and Kelvin Herrera.
The prediction: The 30-year-old has arguably been the Orioles’ most valuable reliever — maybe even more than Britton — but he’ll unfortunately be overlooked in favor of more established names in the AL.

CF Adam Jones
The case for: A five-time All-Star selection and one of baseball’s more marketable players, Jones has rebounded from a rough start to rank seventh among AL outfielders in homers and eighth in RBIs.
The case against: Even with his impressive resurgence in June, Jones ranks 14th in OPS and 17th in batting average among qualified AL outfielders.
The prediction: His popularity and the fact that he’s from San Diego make him a reasonable candidate to be included among the “Final Vote” candidates, but he’ll fall short of an outright All-Star invitation.

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