Tag Archive | "Zach Britton"

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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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Unorthodox as they might be, Orioles won’t apologize for success

Posted on 27 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Orioles manager Buck Showalter likes to warn against overlooking an orchid when in search of a rose.

A mantra repeated often over the last several years in Baltimore, perhaps it’s never been more appropriate than now as the Orioles take a 45-30 record and a multi-game division lead out west for a nine-game road trip.

We know the starting pitching is a substantial weakness. Everyone beyond the Oriole Bird and his mom will remind you of that. It’s become the required caveat to attach when trying to compliment a club that began the 2016 season with seven straight wins and has rarely stumbled, remaining in first or second place in the AL East all season.

Perhaps our not-so-lofty preseason expectations — from media and many fans alike — have conditioned us to dwell on the negative while anticipating the fall that simply hasn’t happened despite a 4.96 starter ERA that ranked 12th in the AL entering Monday. But that mindset shouldn’t diminish the many ways in which the imperfect Orioles have been special this season.

Unorthodox as it might be, it’s working.

The Orioles have followed a blueprint echoed in every team sport by thriving at home and trying to hold their own on the road. Their 31-13 record at Oriole Park at Camden Yards is sensational, but they now begin a stretch of 16 of their next 19 on the road where they have been an underwhelming — but hardly disastrous — 14-17.

Having already stacked 45 wins in their first 75 games, merely playing .500 ball on the road is an acceptable outcome in terms of playoff aspirations. Going just three games above .500 overall the rest of the way is the simple formula for 90 wins, which puts into perspective how good the Orioles have been to this point despite their starting pitching.

Baltimore begins the week ranked second in the AL in runs, first in home runs, second in doubles, fourth in hits, third in batting average, and first in slugging percentage.

Impressive for sure, but what about that on-base percentage for all these free-swinging sluggers who lack plate discipline?

The Orioles rank second in the AL with a .332 OBP and are a respectable seventh in walks, significant improvement from each of the last three years when they ranked 13th or 14th in the AL in free passes. The additions of a few more patient hitters such as Hyun Soo Kim, Joey Rickard, and Pedro Alvarez have certainly helped, but the movement goes beyond that.

Unconventional leadoff hitter Adam Jones has already drawn 20 walks, four shy of his total from last year and more than he drew in all of 2014 when the Orioles ran away with the division. Jonathan Schoop, more of a free swinger than Jones, has two more walks than he had last year in 29 fewer plate appearances. Incremental improvement is still improvement.

That’s fine, but they still don’t play “small ball” and are too homer-happy, aren’t they?

“I don’t want them to apologize for being strong,” Showalter said. “It’s the product of a good approach and a good swing and a good process that that’s the endgame — that [the ball] goes a little further than maybe some of them do. I love how some guy scratches out a walk and maybe they bunt him over and he gets over to third and some guy hits a sac fly and it’s 1-0. Then, the [opponent’s] first two guys strike out, a guy walks, and a big hairy guy hits it in the bleachers and it’s 2-1. Boy, you worked real hard for that one run. That’s good.

“But there’s a time and place. We try to play to our team’s strength.”

The home run is unquestionably a strength as the Orioles have four hitters — Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Jones — on pace for 30 or more home runs. Schoop is currently on track for 28 and two others — Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez — aren’t far off the pace to hit 20.

With three games remaining in June, the Orioles are seven shy of the major league record for homers in a single month — the 1987 Orioles and the 1999 Seattle Mariners each hit 58 in May — and are on pace to hit 259 this season, only five shy of the major league record held by the 1997 Mariners.

But the explanation for the prosperity goes beyond the powerful offense as the Orioles displayed over the weekend by turning double plays and making sparkling defensive plays throughout the four-game sweep over Tampa Bay. A superb infield defense can go a long way in helping your questionable-at-best starting pitching to survive just long enough to turn the ball over to the bullpen.

The Orioles rank second in the majors with a 2.91 bullpen ERA, and they’ve done that without Darren O’Day for almost a month. Closer Zach Britton is 23-for-23 in save opportunities and sports a 0.83 ERA while setup man Brad Brach owns a 1.05 ERA that should also draw All-Star consideration.

The bullpen’s 253 1/3 innings rank 10th in the majors, but Showalter is better at handling a bullpen than any manager in baseball and will do whatever he can to preserve his best arms, even if that means living to fight another day during the occasional close games in which his best relievers need rest.

Kansas City won the World Series last year despite sporting a starting rotation that pitched fewer innings than any other AL club in the regular season. It’s not that great starting pitching is any less valuable these days, but teams are finding success using a collection of high-impact bullpen arms in lieu of pushing the envelope with non-elite starters going through a lineup a third or fourth time in a game. Of course, there’s a critical balance between game strategy on any given night and maintenance of your pitching health over a 162-game schedule that Showalter seems to understand better than anyone.

To be clear, the Royals’ reliance on their bullpen is not a blueprint to proudly follow as much as it’s proof that you can survive — even thrive — without having strong starting pitching.

You just have to be exceptional in other areas of the game.

And the Orioles are doing that.

Yes, they’d really like to improve their rotation and should try to over the next several weeks leading up to the trade deadline, but the Orioles have been so good in other ways that it’s becoming more difficult to doubt their ability to remain in contention, especially with their divisional rivals having their own flaws.

It may go against conventional wisdom, but the Orioles won’t apologize as they keep winning.

The starting pitching may not be a rose, but the rest is blooming like an orchid as we approach the halfway point of the season.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 8-6 win over Rays

Posted on 26 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 8-6 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader?

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 74th game of the 2016 season.

1st Adam Jones provided more than his share offensively with a solo homer in the fifth, the game-tying RBI single in the seventh, and a walk, but the center fielder made arguably the biggest play of the night with a diving catch in right-center to leave the bases loaded in the third. With Chris Tillman and the Orioles already trailing 4-0, Jones’ defensive gem prevented the game from getting out of hand and allowed manager Buck Showalter to squeeze two more innings out of Tillman and keep his bullpen in better shape. Jones has now hit safely in 13 of his last 14 games to raise his average to .254. He is now one homer shy of tying Brady Anderson (209) for sixth place on Baltimore’s all-time homer list.

2ndMatt Wieters recorded his first multi-homer game since Sept. 16, 2012 as his two-run shot in the fourth shrank the deficit to one and his solo blast in the eighth provided some breathing room in the final inning. His first long ball was the third of the 2016 season to land on Eutaw Street and the second of his career to land there. Wieters is now sporting an .803 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2016.

3rd Chris Davis homered into the Orioles bullpen in the sixth and provided the go-ahead RBI single to right in the seventh inning as Baltimore completed its 24th comeback victory of the season. The first baseman is now one homer shy of tying Frank Robinson (179) for ninth place on the Orioles’ all-time home run list.

HomeT.J. McFarland allowed three of the first four hitters to reach in the sixth inning, but the left-hander tossed two scoreless frames to record his second win of the season after being recalled to serve as the 26th player for the doubleheader on Saturday. He induced two of the three double plays turned by the Orioles defense, matching a season high. … Joey Rickard drove in the first Orioles run of the night and hit a leadoff double and scored the tying run in the seventh inning. … Zach Britton recorded his 23rd save in as many tries to begin the season. … Tillman matched a season high by allowing six earned runs and gave up a season-high 10 hits while registering a game score of 23, his lowest of the season. … The Orioles improved to a season-best 14 games above .500 and opened up a three-game lead in the American League East, their biggest since April 23. … Tyler Wilson takes the hill on Sunday with the Orioles aiming for their first ever four-game sweep against Tampa Bay, who will start left-hander Drew Smyly.

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Orioles stats to ponder in late June

Posted on 23 June 2016 by Luke Jones

As we rapidly approach the halfway point in the 2016 season, below are some statistics to ponder as the first-place Orioles prepare for a four-game weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

1. Baltimore is thriving at Camden Yards and against sub-.500 opponents.

“Protect your home field and beat the teams you’re supposed to beat” is the oft-quoted formula for winning teams in any sport, and the Orioles have fit that description beautifully with a 27-13 home record and a 17-7 mark against clubs under .500 entering Thursday. Their .675 winning percentage at home ranks third in the AL behind only Kansas City and Texas and fourth in the majors. Twenty of the Orioles’ next 23 games come against teams who were .500 or worse entering Thursday, but only seven games during that stretch will be played at Camden Yards, making it critical for Baltimore to improve upon its underwhelming 14-17 road record.

2. Despite their reputation, the Orioles lineup is walking at a respectable rate.

We’ve heard plenty about their free-swinging ways and lack of plate discipline over the last several years, but the Orioles quietly entered Thursday sporting the third-best on-base percentage (.328) in the AL and ranked a respectable seventh in walks. This represents dramatic improvement from 2015 when they finished 12th in OBP (.307) and 13th in walks in the AL. Baltimore’s 8.1 percent walk rate is slightly above the league average (8.0) and is substantially higher than last year (7.0 percent) or even 2014 (6.5 percent). Patient approaches from the likes of Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Pedro Alvarez aren’t surprising, but even free-swinging hitters such as Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop have shown some modest improvement in the walk department.

3. The bullpen workload is as concerning as it looks.

We know the starting pitching has been ugly with a 4.93 ERA ranking 13th in the AL, but the bullpen has held up remarkably well with a 3.07 ERA that ranks behind only Kansas City in the AL and fourth in the majors. The problem is the heavier workload as relievers have pitched 38.2 percent of the Orioles’ innings compared to 36.1 percent last year and 34.7 percent in 2014. June has been particularly taxing with the bullpen handling 41 percent of the innings after handling 40 percent in April and a more-reasonable 34.4 percent in May. With limited trade chips in their organization, the Orioles might want to consider adding another impact bullpen arm to go with Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens. That would likely be easier to acquire and might provide similar value to the kind of starting pitcher the Orioles can realistically afford with few attractive assets to offer in a trade.

4. Hyun Soo Kim and Jones are at opposite ends of the spectrum for batting average on balls put in play.

Both have had their best months of the season in June, but Kim is sporting a .389 BABIP — fifth highest in the majors among those with 120 or more plate appearances — compared to Jones’ .261 mark this season. The 2016 league average mark has been .298 and BABIP typically normalizes for players over time. The South Korean left fielder has been an important contributor, but his 59.4 percent ground-ball rate leads the team and will unsurprisingly make it difficult for him to sustain his .339 average over time, especially if more teams begin successfully shifting on him. The good news is that Kim has the fourth-lowest soft-contact rate on the club, which should help more of those grounders find the outfield for hits. Meanwhile, Jones owns a career .309 BABIP and is sporting his best hard-contact rate since 2013, indications that he should expect a much better second half after dealing with an early-season rib issue and some tough luck at the plate.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-2 win over Blue Jays

Posted on 18 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday 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 67th game of the 2016 season.

1st Jonathan Schoop started in the No. 2 spot in the order for just the third time in his career and responded with a home run, a double, a single, three RBIs, and three runs scored in a game in which runs were at a premium. The 24-year-old’s free-swinging ways are hardly conducive to hitting in the second spot in the order, but Schoop provided the early spark against Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey with a one-out double in the first inning and hit the deciding solo shot to the opposite field with two outs in the bottom of the third. The Orioles own a 32-7 record in games in which he hits a home run in his career, which is a remarkable coincidence if nothing else.

2ndYovani Gallardo wasn’t great in his return as he walked four and lasted just five innings, but he surrendered only two runs to earn his second win. It was his improved velocity that was the most encouraging aspect of his first major league start since going on the DL with right shoulder tendinitis on April 22. His fastball sat in the range of 88 to 90 mph, and he touched 92 on a few occasions, including consecutive pitches to strike out Troy Tulowitzki with the bases loaded in the third. He can be more competitive carrying that kind of stuff, but just turning in an outing like this one was a dramatic improvement over what the Orioles were getting from Ubaldo Jimenez and Mike Wright.

3rdMychal Givens struggled in his last appearance against Toronto last weekend, but he did an excellent job bridging the gap to the late innings on Saturday by tossing two scoreless frames on 20 pitches. With the tying run in scoring position with one out in the seventh, Givens induced a grounder from Josh Donaldson and got Edwin Encarnacion to line out to left to retire the side. The 26-year-old has had his issues against left-handed bats this year, but he turned in his 11th scoreless appearance of more than one inning this season, an important contribution to one of the best bullpens in baseball.

Home Zach Britton doesn’t deserve praise for pitching his way into a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the ninth inning, but he reminded us why he’s one of the best closers in baseball by inducing a 4-6-3 double play from Donaldson to convert his 21st save in as many chances to begin the year. Despite allowing a hit and walking two, he extended his scoreless streak to 17 games covering 19 innings since May 5 and lowered his season ERA to 0.93. … In his final action before starting his four-game suspension on Sunday, Manny Machado went 3-for-3 with a double and scored the Orioles’ second run on a passed ball in the first inning. … In his first game since breaking his left foot on May 1, J.J. Hardy went 1-for-3 with a double just inside the third-base bag to lead off the bottom of the fifth and helped turn two double plays. … The Orioles send Chris Tillman to the hill in search of his 10th victory and a series win on Sunday afternoon while Toronto counters with right-hander Marcus Stroman.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-5 win over Blue Jays

Posted on 10 June 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 6-5 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday 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 59th game of the 2016 season.

1st Chris Davis wasn’t certain to play on Thursday after missing the series finale against Kansas City with unspecified physical ailments a day earlier, but he couldn’t have come up much bigger as he drove in three runs in the come-from-behind win at Rogers Centre. Despite entering the night hitting just .175 against left-handers in 2016, Davis homered to left-center off reliever Aaron Loup to tie the game in the seventh. He then stepped to the plate with the go-ahead run on third and one out in the ninth and hit his second sacrifice fly of the game. Davis also made a leaping catch of a line drive off the bat of Justin Smoak in the third, making it a strong all-around performance for the Orioles slugger.

2ndDylan Bundy gave the Orioles what they needed when starter Tyler Wilson was lifted with two outs in the sixth inning of a one-run game. The right-hander pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out three to eventually earn the win and keep the rest of the bullpen in good shape entering the weekend. With Darren O’Day currently on the disabled list, manager Buck Showalter needs to use the likes of Brad Brach and Mychal Givens in the later innings, meaning Bundy needs to not only give them innings but to pitch effectively to bridge the gap in some close games. He did exactly that with his 47 pitches to keep the Orioles within striking distance.

3rdPedro Alvarez hit his sixth homer of the season with one out in the sixth to end Marcus Stroman’s night after the Toronto starter had retired nine of the previous 10 Baltimore hitters to settle in after a rough beginning. The long ball made it a one-run deficit and put the Orioles in position against a shaky Toronto bullpen to secure their league-best 20th comeback victory of the season.

HomeZach Britton needed just eight pitches in a perfect ninth inning to secure his 19th save in as many tries, besting Chris Ray’s 18 in 2006 to set a new club record for consecutive save conversions to begin a season. The lefty is on his way to earning a second straight trip to the All-Star Game and is sporting a 1.03 ERA this season. … Hyun Soo Kim’s double to left-center off tough Toronto closer Roberto Osuna to lead off the ninth put the Orioles in position to play small ball to plate the eventual winning run with a Manny Machado grounder and Davis’ sacrifice fly. … It wasn’t a good night for Wilson, but he managed to recover enough to give the Orioles 5 2/3 innings after allowing four runs over the first two innings. … The Orioles have now secured their third winning streak of five or more games this year and improved to a season-best 13 games above .500. … Kevin Gausman takes the hill against Toronto right-hander Marco Estrada on Friday night.

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