Tag Archive | "Zach Britton"


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Jones, Britton undergo MRIs as Orioles sweep Washington

Posted on 25 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Not only did the Orioles complete an impressive sweep of the Washington Nationals to keep their remote playoff hopes alive, but they did it without two of their four 2015 All-Star selections over the three games.

Center fielder Adam Jones (back spasms) and closer Zach Britton (lat strain) underwent magnetic resonance imaging exams on Thursday. The test revealed only inflammation in Jones’ back while Britton’s MRI confirmed the diagnosis of a strained left lat muscle.

It remains unclear when either player will be ready to return as the Orioles begin a three-game set with Boston at Fenway Park on Friday. All-Star setup man Darren O’Day secured the save in each of the three wins over the Nationals with Britton unavailable.

With 10 games remaining, the 76-76 Orioles enter Friday trailing the American League’s second wild card spot by 3 1/2 games. The Houston Astros continue to struggle down the stretch, but they lead the Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins by 1 1/2 games while the Orioles desperately try to pass all three clubs to secure the final postseason spot in the AL.

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It’s time for Orioles to start looking toward future

Posted on 23 July 2015 by Luke Jones

The 2015 season isn’t over, but it’s time for the Orioles to look in the mirror and acknowledge what they’ve seen for almost four months.

A mediocre club.

No, Baltimore isn’t as bad as a 5-12 record in July would indicate, but we can’t be fooled again into thinking a run of 18 wins in 23 games last month is the real indication of who the 2015 club is when the Orioles have just one other winning streak of even three games outside that lone extended stretch of prosperity. They were bound to level off after their hot June in which they briefly climbed atop the American League East, but losing 14 of 19 is an unacceptable way for a streaking club to cool off — if not freeze entirely — if it wants to be taken seriously as a contender.

Trailing the New York Yankees by a season-worst seven games after being swept in the Bronx this week, the Orioles should not be in full-blown fire-sale mode with more than 60 games to go, but trying to be buyers with so few assets in their farm system would be irresponsible at this point. The truth is that with seven notable players set to become free agents this fall, the Orioles need to have more than just an eye toward the future with this year’s outlook not looking promising anymore.

For fans remembering the dark days of 14 consecutive losing seasons, this situation shouldn’t resemble the purge of 2000 that netted only Melvin Mora and what amounted to several bags of cheap fertilizer for the likes of B.J. Surhoff, Mike Bordick, Harold Baines, Charles Johnson, Will Clark, and Mike Timlin in a series of lousy trades. Baseball’s new qualifying offer system makes it clear that the Orioles shouldn’t trade Matt Wieters, Wei-Yin Chen, or Chris Davis for anything short of a return markedly exceeding the value of the draft pick they would receive for any of their departures as free agents.

In other words, this isn’t an endorsement to sell just because of frustration and a desire for change.

But executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should look to move pending free agents for returns that could help position the Orioles nicely as early as next year. With a core of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Zach Britton in place and secured beyond next season, the Orioles aren’t in a position where they need to completely rebuild, especially when remembering how much money will come off the payroll in the offseason.

Some forward thinking would help that cause, however, and the Orioles cannot have a repeat of the unimaginative and poor offseason that included problems beyond the obvious free-agent departures of Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, and Andrew Miller last winter.

If a club is desperate for an All-Star reliever like Darren O’Day and is willing to part with major league talent or prospects close to being ready for the big leagues — remember what the Orioles gave up for Andrew Miller last July? — Duquette should pull the trigger, especially if he isn’t willing to re-sign him after the season.

A contender willing to put together an impressive package for Chen, Wieters, or Davis should be heard and negotiated with. If you can somehow move what remains of the salaries of Bud Norris or Tommy Hunter, you do it without giving the compensation much thought.

The Orioles shouldn’t feel an intense need to dump all of these players, but trading at least a couple could provide some nice pieces for the near future and may not even completely destroy whatever chance the current team still has to make a run at a wild card. If Buck Showalter’s club is going to rebound from a 46-48 start, the substantial improvement is going to come from within more than anything Duquette might be able to add as a buyer at this point.

Maybe adding a couple young players to the mix is what the Orioles need.

Why not take a look at what 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Dariel Alvarez has to offer? He really couldn’t be much worse that what the Orioles have received from the corner outfield spots so far this season.

If you sell high on Chen, reward 22-year-old pitcher Zach Davies with an audition in the rotation after his strong season at Triple-A Norfolk. Or do the same for Tyler Wilson or Mike Wright.

Over the last couple months, we’ve continued to remember last season as justification for why this year’s Orioles could still turn it around.

But after a disastrous July got even worse in three days of frustration at Yankee Stadium, it might be time to make a few moves to brighten the future instead of continuing to look back at a past further dimming in the rear-view mirror.

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Five biggest Orioles surprises of the first half

Posted on 16 July 2015 by Luke Jones

Though standing at just 44-44 and in third place in the American League East, the Orioles have benefited from their share of surprises as they now look toward the second half of the 2015 season.

A staple of the prosperity during the Showalter-Duquette era has been the emergence of at least a couple relative unknowns to make key contributions each season while counting on established players to either rebound from previous disappointments or to take their talents to a new level. Even if their season hasn’t gone exactly to plan through the All-Star break, the Orioles have experienced a little bit of everything in terms of pleasant surprises.

Below are my five biggest individual surprises of the first half of the season:

Honorable mention: Darren O’Day, Ryan Flaherty

5. Zach Britton

Why does an All-Star closer with an ERA just a shade higher than it was a year ago belong on the list of surprises? A deeper look at the numbers shows just how dominant Britton has been in his second year as the Orioles’ ninth-inning man.

Relying on a heavy sinker to induce grounder after grounder last season, Britton converted 37 of 41 save opportunities and pitched to a 1.65 ERA, slightly lower than his 1.72 mark this year. However, the lefty benefited greatly from opponents batting .219 on balls in play (BABIP) in 2014, much lower than the league average of .297.

Such numbers would have made it reasonable — if not very likely — to expect some regression similar to what fellow sinkerballer Jim Johnson endured in 2013, but Britton has been even more imposing despite not being nearly as fortunate. Opponents have a .304 BABIP against Britton, but he’s overcome that with an improved slider to help increase his strikeout rate per nine innings (7.3 in 2014 to 10.1) while decreasing his walk rate per nine (2.7 to 2.0).

Simply put, Britton hasn’t been nearly as “lucky” as he was a year ago, but he’s pitching to less contact and still inducing a boatload of grounders when opponents do hit the ball. Britton had a great season in 2014, but he’s established himself as one of the best closers in the game by converting 23 of 24 save chances so far in 2015, numbers that rightly earned him a trip to his first All-Star Game.

4. Manny Machado

It was difficult to know what to expect from the 23-year-old third baseman after he suffered a second serious knee injury in less than a year last August. Machado’s defense and gap power established him as an All-Star-caliber player in 2013, but he’s blossomed into one of the best players in the AL this season and the kind of performer the Orioles hoped he might become one day.

Serving in the leadoff role out of necessity — who else could even handle the role right now? — Machado is hitting .298 with a .361 on-base percentage, 19 home runs, 35 walks, and 13 stolen bases, numbers which are all already career highs. And while the Orioles will continue to knock on wood and keep their fingers crossed for his health, Machado has started all 88 games at third base and you’d never know he has two surgically-repaired knees while watching him play.

Machado has been the club’s best player by a significant margin, continuing to play Gold Glove defense and providing the kind of offense that’s turned him into an MVP candidate in 2015. According to Baseball Reference, the 2010 first-round pick ranks second behind only Mike Trout in the American League with 4.8 wins above replacement.

Taking nothing away from Adam Jones who is having a fine year and has been the club’s best player for several years, we could be seeing the passing of the torch this season with Machado emerging as the kind of rare superstar who makes the game look easy. The Orioles and their fans just pray the injuries are finally behind him.

3. Chaz Roe

Though it’s also a reflection on a disappointing winter, I doubt anyone would have projected the minor-league signing of a 28-year-old reliever with a career 4.44 ERA last December to be their best offseason addition so far in 2015.

Beginning the season at Triple-A Norfolk, Roe quickly established himself as a viable option for manager Buck Showalter in the late innings with a two-seam fastball and a devastating slider that’s helped him strike out 30 hitters while posting a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings with the Orioles.

Roe has struggled of late by allowing six earned runs in his last five outings, but it’s clear the Orioles saw something in the right-hander as he’s throwing his two-seamer more than ever and the movement on his slider has baffled hitters since he was called up in May. His stuff should allow him to remain an effective member of the bullpen even as he’ll need to make adjustments in the second half.

2. Ubaldo Jimenez

Perhaps his track record suggests his rebound shouldn’t have been so surprising, but anyone who watched Jimenez pitch in 2014 couldn’t have easily imagined him being one of their two best starters in his second season in Baltimore.

Simplified mechanics, the heaviest reliance on his two-seam fastball since his 2010 All-Star season with Colorado, and a dramatically improved walk rate (just 2.9 per nine innings this year after an awful 5.5 in 2014) have made Jimenez the pitcher the Orioles envisioned when they signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract last year. His improvement is a major reason why the Orioles remain firmly in contention despite poor seasons from Chris Tillman and Bud Norris.

After throwing his two-seamer just 16.4 percent of the time a year ago, Jimenez has used the pitch more than a third of the time (37 percent) this year to induce more grounders while still striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings. It was a brilliant adjustment to make for the 31-year-old to better take advantage of one of the best defensive infields in baseball.

In the second half, consistency will be the key for Jimenez as it has been throughout his career, but the Orioles couldn’t have asked for much better from him than a 7-4 record with a 2.81 ERA and a 3.21 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark that is easily the best of the rotation. Other than maybe only Wei-Yin Chen, there’s not another starter Showalter would want to take the ball more on a given night as Jimenez will make the first start of the second half in Detroit on Friday.

1. Jimmy Paredes

Who else could it really be?

After hitting .302 in 55 plate appearances late last year, the 26-year-old was a name of interest in spring training but hardly someone most predicted to make the 25-man roster. Paredes was out of minor-league options and lacked a position with the defensive-minded Orioles, but he stated his case by hitting .364 with a 1.005 OPS in 55 Grapefruit League at-bats before a back injury landed him on the disabled list to begin the year.

Once Jonathan Schoop went down with a knee injury in mid-April, Paredes got the call and hit an astounding .353 in his first 143 plate appearances this year. A 4-for-41 slump that dropped his average 59 points in two weeks appeared to signal the end of a nice story, but the switch hitter has bounced back to hit a very steady .310 in his last 91 plate appearances dating back to June 12.

Clearly better from the left side of the plate, Paredes hinders Showalter’s lineup flexibility with his defensive limitations — the Orioles want him to learn to play the corner outfield spots this winter — but it’s difficult to nitpick a man who was such an unknown. Paredes is hitting .299 with 10 homers, 39 RBIs, and an .809 OPS in 277 plate appearances this year and has been the club’s third-best offensive player behind Machado and Jones.

His 69 strikeouts are the highest on the club behind only Chris Davis, but Paredes has drawn six walks in his last 51 plate appearances, which the Orioles hope is a sign of improved discipline at the plate. Time will tell whether Paredes sticks, but it’s hard not to be impressed — and really surprised — with what he’s accomplished so far in 2015.

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Jones starting in left field for All-Star Game

Posted on 13 July 2015 by Luke Jones

After learning late last week he would be in the American League starting lineup, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones will play left field in Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

On Monday, Kansas City manager Ned Yost revealed his lineup, which included the 29-year-old Jones batting sixth in left field. After Royals outfielder Alex Gordon suffered a groin injury last week, Jones was given the privilege of starting his third consecutive All-Star Game as he makes his fifth appearance overall.

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout will lead off and play center while normal Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain will move to right field for the AL squad. Jones had started in center in each of the previous two All-Star Games with Trout playing left.

Former Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz will bat cleanup and serve as the designated hitter for the AL after hitting 21 home runs in his first season with the Seattle Mariners.

Of course, the Orioles will have a strong presence in Cincinnati with third baseman Manny Machado and relief pitchers Zach Britton and Darren O’Day also chosen as All-Star reserves. The 23-year-old Machado was scheduled to participate in Monday night’s Home Run Derby despite heavy rain threatening the event.

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Predicting the Orioles’ All-Star selections

Posted on 30 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The latest American League All-Star voting update made it clear that no Orioles players will be elected as starters, but that doesn’t mean Buck Showalter’s club won’t be well-represented in Cincinnati.

Starters voted by the fans will be announced on Sunday night while the All-Star reserves and pitchers will be revealed on Monday evening.

Below is a look at Baltimore’s top candidates to be invited to baseball’s All-Star Game on July 14:

The most deserving: 3B Manny Machado
Skinny: The Orioles and their fans still pray that the 22-year-old’s knee problems are finally behind him, but there’s no disputing that Machado has blossomed into a superstar this year. Leading the club in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, stolen bases, and runs, Machado has already set a career high in home runs and will surpass his career mark in walks before the All-Star break. The 2010 first-round pick has played Gold Glove defense at third base from his first day in the majors, but Machado is rapidly developing the kind of bat that could make him an MVP candidate in the years to come. He ranks fourth among AL position players in wins above replacement — according to the rankings from Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and ESPN — making him a lock as an AL All-Star reserve.

The first-time selection: LHP Zach Britton
Skinny: Instead of again spelling out why Britton should become the 10th Orioles closer to make an All-Star Game since 1979, I ask you to check out the piece I wrote over the weekend explaining why.

The mainstay: CF Adam Jones
Skinny: Despite the fact that he’s already missed more than twice as many games in 2015 (11) than he had in his previous three seasons combined (five), Jones still makes a strong case for an invitation to Cincinnati as he entered Tuesday sporting a career-high batting average and on-base percentage. Already a four-time Gold Glove winner in center field, Jones might be having the best defensive season of his career, which is high praise for an outfielder already possessing that kind of a track record. Already a four-time All-Star selection in his career, Jones will likely be given a boost by his league-wide reputation and still ranks third among Orioles players in homers and RBIs despite missing close to two weeks of combined action.

The deep sleeper: RHP Darren O’Day
Skinny: Considering Kansas City manager Ned Yost is managing the AL and loves using a bullpen, I wouldn’t be completely shocked to see him give a nod to O’Day. The submarine hurler has struck out a career-high 12.1 batters per nine innings and sports a career-best 1.21 ERA, which ranks seventh in the majors among relief pitchers. Because the game determines home-field advantage for the World Series, Yost could see the National League’s unfamiliarity with O’Day as enough reason to add him to the roster.

My All-Star picks: In order of most confident to least, I’ll go with Machado, Britton, and Jones to make it, but a deep list of outfield candidates could squeeze the 29-year-old center fielder out, especially with injuries stunting his numbers a bit and because he wasn’t voted in this year for the first time since 2012.

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Britton closing in on deserved All-Star appearance

Posted on 27 June 2015 by Luke Jones

If anyone benefited from Saturday’s postponement due to heavy rain, it was Orioles closer Zach Britton.

Second in the American League behind only Minnesota’s Glen Perkins with 22 saves, Britton pitched for the fifth time in seven days Friday to preserve a 4-3 win over the Cleveland Indians. As the Orioles have played their best baseball of the season with 16 wins in their last 21 games, Britton has earned the save in nine of those victories.

“Sometimes, his performance gets taken for granted,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s really hard to do what Zach’s doing.”

While no Oriole currently leads his position in AL All-Star voting, Britton’s performance all but demands an invitation to Cincinnati on July 14 at this point. If selected by Kansas City manager Ned Yost, Britton would become the 10th Orioles closer since 1979 to be named to the All-Star Game.

The lefty has pitched more innings (32 2/3) than any AL reliever with more than five saves and is 22-for-23 in save chances with his only blemish coming on April 25 when suspect defense contributed to a blown save in a game the Orioles won in extra innings. His ERA of 1.93 and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings — he struck out just 7.3 per nine in 2014 — have squashed any lingering doubts that Britton could repeat what he did last season.

After transitioning from starter to long reliever to first-time closer last year, Britton has been asked to carry a heavier workload in his second year as the Orioles’ ninth-inning man. In an era when most closers are only asked to pitch one inning, Britton converted the two four-out saves of his career earlier this season and has twice secured five-out saves this month.

It’s no wonder Showalter made a point to recognize Britton’s heavy workload on Friday night after his fifth save in a week.

“It’s difficult. You physically have to make sure that you’re OK to go — you’re doing stuff in the gym or maintenance,” Britton said. “These are things that I’m learning. Last year, I don’t know if I had that many appearances in that [few] days. It’s just little things I’m learning, but it’s kind of the job title. I’m just adjusting to it.”

Because he doesn’t shy away from pitching to contact, the Orioles closer will go through spells in which he puts runners on base like he has in recent outings. Of his nine saves in the month of June, Britton has allowed at least one batter to reach eight times, but he continues to get that all-important 27th out to preserve victories.

As we saw in the clinching Game 3 of last year’s AL Division Series, Britton escaping trouble is typically only a ground ball away. On Friday, he worked around a leadoff single to convert his 18th consecutive save opportunity, matching his best stretch of 2014.

“It’s not always easy I guess,” Britton said. “The last couple, I’ve had some guys on and had to work out of it a little bit. The hitters up here are so good, and guys are starting to get aggressive on that sinker, so it is just about execution on that first hitter. The last couple times, it just hasn’t been there. It’s not easy; I learned that last year you go through times where you have guys on every time out there. It’s the times where things aren’t going your way all the time that you just got to battle.

“I’m just making pitches when those guys get on and getting out of those jams. I think the big thing is I know I’m one pitch away from getting that double-play ball.”

It may not be easy, but Britton has made it look that way, leaving him more than deserving of a trip to the All-Star Game.

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Orioles continue rolling despite June rotation struggles

Posted on 25 June 2015 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have played their best baseball of the season over the last three weeks.

Having won 15 of their last 20, Baltimore returns home Friday with a 38-34 record, one game better than the club was through 72 games last year. After a nightmarish May, the Orioles lineup has averaged 5.9 runs per game and outscored opponents by a 118-69 margin in the last 20 games.

The bullpen continues to excel with a 2.08 ERA in 164 2/3 innings dating back to April 29, but Thursday’s 8-6 win over Boston offered a tiny glimpse into what has to be a lingering concern in manager Buck Showalter’s mind despite his club’s recent success.

Returning from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday, Miguel Gonzalez lasted just five innings and allowed four earned runs and eight hits while laboring to hold the comfortable 6-1 lead he was presented in the fourth inning. It would have been unfair to expect too much from the right-hander in his first start for the Orioles since June 9, but it was the 14th time in the last 20 games in which a starting pitcher has failed to complete six innings. The Orioles have received only one start of seven or more innings over that time, which was Wei-Yin Chen’s eight shutout innings against Philadelphia on June 15.

Showalter told reporters following Thursday’s game that he needed to rest Darren O’Day, Chaz Roe, and Brad Brach, leaving him to use T.J. McFarland and Tommy Hunter to bridge the gap to Zach Britton. It worked out for the Orioles as they won their sixth consecutive series, but not before the left-handed closer was working in his fourth game in six days to pick up his 21st save of the season.

The bullpen continues to be terrific, but the starting rotation must get deeper into games if Showalter wants to keep his relievers fresh for the second half. In 23 June games, starters have posted a 4.58 ERA and are averaging just 5.22 innings per outing while the bullpen has posted a miniscule 1.80 ERA.

In 2014, the starting rotation pitched to a mediocre 4.49 ERA in April and May before taking off in June with a 3.47 mark and posting an exceptional 2.98 ERA in the second half of the season.

Gonzalez, Chen, and Ubaldo Jimenez have performed well enough this season to feel confident in the trio moving forward, but Chris Tillman is having the worst season of his career thus far and Bud Norris still can’t avoid the big inning as we witnessed again in Wednesday’s loss to the Red Sox. Every time either of the two struggles, there is a growing temptation to turn to Kevin Gausman, who pitched to a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts last season and is the most talented hurler in the organization.

For now, the Orioles continue to benefit from a swinging-door spot in the bullpen that’s been filled by the likes of McFarland, Tyler Wilson, Oliver Drake, and Mychal Givens at various points to give their most reliable arms a breather when possible. But such a luxury would disappear if they’re forced to move either Norris or Tillman to a long relief role since neither pitcher has a minor-league option.

The results of the last three weeks remind us of last year when the Orioles took off in the second half of the season to win their first American League East championship in 17 years. Their offense has come alive, the defense has been excellent, and the bullpen has dominated for two months now.

If the starting rotation can step up like it did right around this time a year ago — at least closer to that  2014 level — the Orioles will not only take off, but they’ll become the clear favorite in the AL East.

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Jones falls, Machado climbs in latest All-Star voting update

Posted on 22 June 2015 by Luke Jones

While the Kansas City Royals continue to dominate the All-Star voting in the American League, the Orioles’ chances of securing a starter appear bleaker.

In the latest AL voting update released on Monday, four-time All-Star selection Adam Jones fell to seventh among outfielders and trails the third-place Alex Gordon by nearly 3 million votes. The 29-year-old center fielder ranked fifth among outfielders in last week’s update.

In the midst of his best season, the 22-year-old Manny Machado climbed to fourth among AL third baseman but trails the first-place Mike Moustakas by nearly 8 million votes.

While seven Kansas City players are currently slated to be starters — Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout are the only non-Royals — the Orioles had no other players appear among the leaders. Voting concludes on July 2 with the 2015 All-Star Game set for July 14 in Cincinnati.

Let’s just take a moment to remember we’re living in a world in which 6,521,733 votes have been cast for a second baseman rocking a .549 OPS. As Buck Showalter put it, Royals second baseman Omar Infante must be having a heck of a defensive year.

Is it too late to start the Ryan Flaherty All-Star campaign?

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Five questions pondering Machado, Steve Smith, Harbaugh, Showalter

Posted on 19 June 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or is Manny Machado rapidly closing the gap with Adam Jones for the title of best Oriole? Because he’s been around since 2012, we often forget that the third baseman only turns 23 next month, making his start to the 2015 season that much more encouraging. Machado has already matched his career high with 14 home runs and is just five walks shy of his personal best set in 2013, a major reason why he’s performed well in the leadoff spot as the Orioles have few options at the top of the order. Two years ago, Machado’s 51 doubles led the league as he made his first All-Star team and many projected some of those two-baggers to eventually turn into homers, something now coming to fruition. His early-season defensive struggles have vanished and the 2010 first-round pick entered Friday leading the club with an .856 on-base plus slugging percentage. Take nothing away from Jones as he’s in the midst of another fine season and remains the heart and soul of the Orioles, you wonder how long he’ll be able to hold off Machado’s youthful talent to remain the best player on the team.

2. Is it just me or has Steve Smith been better than advertised as he approaches his second season with the Ravens? The 36-year-old will finish his NFL career with numbers that will garner Hall of Fame discussion, but I can’t help but be impressed with his commitment to the organization after spending his first 13 seasons with the Carolina Panthers. Still making his home in Charlotte, Smith could have understandably skipped voluntary organized team activities and simply showed up for this week’s mandatory minicamp, but he was present in Owings Mills throughout the last month to work with first-round rookie Breshad Perriman and a number of other talented but inexperienced wide receivers. The five-time Pro Bowl selection not only practiced, but he continued to look like the best player on the field, which is one heck of an example for his younger teammates to emulate. Even if Smith is unable to match his numbers from a year ago when he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark, the Ravens still got an absolute steal when they signed Smith to a three-year, $10.5 million contract last year.

3. Is it just me or are the Ravens and Orioles both reaping the benefits of continuity with their head men? It’s difficult to believe that John Harbaugh will only be one year shy of Brian Billick’s run with the Ravens after the 2015 season, but it speaks to the stability the franchise has had on the sideline for nearly two decades. As if this weren’t enough, I was shocked to learn that Buck Showalter became the fifth-longest tenured manager in the majors after San Diego fired Bud Black earlier this week. When you consider the Orioles had eight different managers in a 16-year period before Showalter was hired in 2010, it’s strange to think of them as one of the more stable organizations in baseball when it comes to their man in the dugout. Only six current NFL head coaches have been in their positions longer than Harbaugh, an impressive feat when you recall how little fanfare the hiring of the longtime Philadelphia Eagles special teams coordinator received in 2008. Baltimore is very lucky to have these two leading its professional sports teams on the field.

4. Is it just me or does ex-Raven Michael Oher sound ridiculous blaming “The Blind Side” for an underwhelming NFL career? I can understand Oher’s desire to not be defined by a motion picture, but to suggest that he’s been evaluated unfairly because of the movie borders on the absurd. Despite what some fans try to say, Oher was far from a “bust” as a first-round pick — such a label speaks to how spoiled this fan base has been with Ozzie Newsome’s draft success — and probably didn’t benefit from being shifted so frequently between left and right tackle early in his career, but two teams in two years — Baltimore and Tennessee — deemed Oher not to be worth keeping around. His propensity for penalties alone make him a liability unless his blocking grades are through the charts, which hasn’t been the case for most of his career. Oher’s story is a wonderful example of courage and overcoming adversity as he’s etched out a solid career in the NFL. He never became a dominating left tackle, but it has nothing to do with the movie and how people perceive his play as a result.

5. Is it just me or would it make too much sense for the MLB All-Star Game to adopt the Pro Bowl’s system for voting? The mere notion that MLB says it’s canceled 60 million online votes casts even more doubt on the All-Star voting that currently features eight Kansas City Royals in the American League lineup. It makes you long for the days of paper ballots distributed at ballparks and how we’d punch out the little paper holes with a car key or a pencil, doesn’t it? Of course, this isn’t the first time voting changes have been suggested as you don’t have to go back too far to see AL starting lineups littered with Yankees and Red Sox players. While I’d never trade the quality of play in the All-Star Game for what is passed off as football in the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s voting system in which fans, coaches, and players split the vote makes too much sense for baseball not to adopt something similar next year. Especially if you’re going to have home-field advantage in the World Series determined by the outcome, we need to make sure the voting is as legitimate as possible and protected from overzealous fans.

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Promising signs beginning to surface for Orioles

Posted on 12 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Nearly 60 games into the 2015 season, we know the Orioles have their flaws.

They don’t have a great offense, a truth that became painfully obvious in May when they finished last in the American League in average and on-base percentage. The newfound presence of All-Star catcher Matt Wieters and the anticipated return of Jonathan Schoop before the All-Star break will help, but it’s a lineup that can’t be counted on to consistently win high-scoring games despite showing signs of life over the last week.

The early-season struggles of starting pitchers Chris Tillman and Bud Norris are now compounded by Miguel Gonzalez being placed on the 15-day disabled list with a groin injury, leaving plenty of uncertainty in what’s been a solid but unspectacular rotation.

Despite those shortcomings, it’s been the emergence of two phases of the game in which the Orioles thrived over the previous three seasons that has been the catalyst for a season-high four-game winning streak and six victories in seven tries. Manager Buck Showalter relied on superb defense and an exceptional bullpen to guide the Orioles to a three-game sweep over the scuffling Boston Red Sox and back to just one game below .500.

To be fair, the bullpen has performed at a high level since a rocky April in which it posted a 4.35 ERA. Since the start of May, Orioles relievers have pitched to a 2.38 ERA in 113 1/3 innings. And though being a man down for the first two games of the Boston series due to the Brian Matusz suspension, the bullpen allowed just one earned run in 12 innings against the Red Sox in the series.

“You can withstand it if the guys who come in to pitch out of the bullpen finish the job that they have to do,” said Showalter about using a six-man bullpen before rookie Mike Wright was recalled on Thursday. “If you have to bring another guy in to finish that, that’s where the problem comes. These guys have done a good job of finishing.”

To see strong contributions from closer Zach Britton and setup men Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is one thing, but the Orioles have received a major lift from the likes of Brad Brach and Chaz Roe in recent weeks. Despite allowing a solo home run to David Ortiz on Thursday, Roe pitching the eighth inning of a tight game against Boston is a bet few would have taken back in spring training. The right-hander currently sports a 1.38 ERA since being promoted from Triple-A Norfolk last month.

The balanced performance was particularly impressive in pushing the Red Sox further into the basement of the AL East. Showalter loves to see his relievers “pass the baton” when necessary, and that’s exactly what the group did as the Orioles earned their first three-game sweep of the season.

“I was kind of having that feeling this series and I hope we can continue,” said Brach, who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings on Thursday. “It just kind of seems that the excitement is starting to get there and everybody is starting to find their little niche. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling.”

Considering the bullpen has pitched so well for over a month, what has been the biggest difference over the last week when the Orioles have played their best baseball of the year?

If you watched the last few games, it wasn’t difficult to tell.

“Our defense,” said third baseman Manny Machado, who made several exceptional plays in the series and has seemingly put his early-season defensive woes behind him. “We’re playing the defense we’re supposed to be playing on the Orioles and this organization.”

Even the likes of Travis Snider and the returning Nolan Reimold got into the defensive act against the Red Sox as the Orioles played the type of defense we’ve come to expect over the last few years. On Wednesday alone, Adam Jones put together a convincing body of work for another Gold Glove as he made three sensational defensive plays.

We shouldn’t overlook the fact that the Orioles homered three times in Thursday’s finale — the long ball has been another key to their success since 2012 — but the vibe accompanying their overall play makes you wonder if things are slowly beginning to fall into place. Improved pitching and exceptional defense were the bread and butter that allowed the Orioles to take off in the second half of 2014 on the way to 96 wins and their first division title since 1997.

That doesn’t mean it will happen in the same way, but few anticipate it taking that kind of a winning clip to prevail in an ordinary division.

The offense will continue to be a concern and there’s uneasiness with the current rotation, but the Orioles hope their current winning streak is a harbinger of what’s to come over the coming days, weeks, and months. They’ll receive an ample test this weekend with the New York Yankees visiting Camden Yards on the heels of winning seven of their last eight.

Baltimore enters the weekend only four games behind New York and with an opportunity to climb back to the .500 mark for the first time since May 5.

“We have momentum until we leave the locker room and get back here tomorrow,” Showalter said after Thursday’s win. “The best team in our division so far this year is coming in. It’s tough because there are a lot of people having trouble beating them. Now, we have to try to see if we can.”

And you have to feel better about their chances than you did a week ago.

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