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Tillman continues rehab process in Sarasota

Posted on 08 April 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles starting pitcher Chris Tillman took the next step in the rehabilitation process for his right shoulder by throwing live batting practice in Sarasota on Saturday morning.

Monitored by pitching rehabilitation coordinator and former Orioles hurler Scott McGregor, the veteran right-hander threw 25 to 30 pitches and used all of his pitches in what amounted to a workday. McGregor told manager Buck Showalter that the session went well, but they will monitor how he feels on Sunday as they have the morning after every throwing sessions he’s completed this spring.

Tillman is scheduled to pitch on Tuesday when he goes two innings — or 30 pitches — in an extended spring game.

“He’s going to have to get built up,” Showalter said. “We had a [radar] gun and we filmed it today, but I’m not going to broadcast that. But he’s not where he’s going to be or needs to be, but that’s expected, especially at 10 o’clock in the morning with not a whole lot [going on]. You have to really push the intensity level.”

Showalter would like Tillman to rejoin the major league club after Tuesday’s outing to continue the rehab process, but a return to the Baltimore rotation is not expected until early May at best. The Orioles have mapped out a schedule for Tillman to pitch in minor-league home games with local affiliates, which would allow him to continue working out of the clubhouse at Camden Yards.

While reiterating that Tillman’s session went well on Saturday, Showalter went out of his way to be cautious in assessing his progress and the long-term outlook.

“I don’t know if they’re ever going to really feel like there’s a point where Chris is completely [where they say], ‘OK, he’s done that, so everything’s fine,'” Showalter said. “Each time he takes a workday and each time he throws, you’re anxious to see how he feels the next day. I’d really like to keep him in that environment down there [in Sarasota] as little as possible. I’m hoping after his two-inning stint that we can get him back in this environment.

“We’re really lucky to have Scott down there, a guy who’s had a lot of history with Chris and knows when it’s right and when it’s not. But he was positive in his report today.”

NOTES: Closer Zach Britton said his right ankle was fine after rolling it in the ninth inning of Friday’s win, but Showalter still wanted to see how he would respond to throwing on flat ground during batting practice. The lefty has pitched in each of Baltimore’s first three games. … Several candidates are still in play to pitch in Toronto next Saturday when the Orioles need a fifth starter for the first time. Showalter mentioned Jayson Aquino, Gabriel Ynoa, Mike Wright, and Alec Asher by name. … The Orioles have reaped the benefits of a five-man bench and eight-man bullpen over their first four games, but that will change Sunday when starting pitcher Wade Miley is activated from the disabled list to start in the series finale against the New York Yankees. … Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander (elbow) has been cleared to swing the bat, but he has not been cleared to throw and is not close to being ready to start a rehab assignment, according to Showalter. The Orioles would love to keep him in the organization, but they will be faced with a tough decision when he’s ready to be activated from the DL.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-5 win over Yankees

Posted on 08 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles topping the New York Yankees in a 6-5 final to improve to 3-0 on the infant season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Seth Smith picked the opportune time to hit his first home run as an Oriole, not only getting in the tying run from third base with less than two outs but giving his club the lead in the seventh inning.

2. I had to laugh at the Orioles still cashing in via the long ball after J.J. Hardy had bunted Jonathan Schoop to third base before Smith came to the plate. Who needs small ball anyway?

3. Despite striking out three times, Manny Machado hit the three-run shot off the hard-throwing Luis Severino with two outs in the fifth that shrunk a four-run deficit and breathed life into a lineup that hadn’t done much to that point.

4. Friday marked the 18th time in his Orioles tenure that Ubaldo Jimenez allowed five or more earned runs in an outing. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty for the veteran starter in his season debut as Matt Holliday and Gary Sanchez hit homers off his ineffective splitter.

5. It’s apparent that Buck Showalter still isn’t keen on giving Hyun Soo Kim opportunities against left-handed pitching as Joey Rickard hit for him in the sixth against southpaw reliever Tommy Layne. Kim is still looking for his first hit of 2017.

6. Darren O’Day made his 2017 debut in the sixth inning, marking just the sixth time since the start of 2013 that the reliever has appeared in a game before the seventh. There’s some impressive depth in that Baltimore bullpen.

7. Walks were an issue in O’Day’s injury-plagued 2016 campaign, and he issued two in his 1 1/3 innings of work. It’s fair to note, however,  that the right-hander hadn’t pitched in a while after a bout with the flu.

8. Collecting his first major league win, Donnie Hart gave up a hit to the lefty-swinging Jacoby Ellsbury in his season debut after lefties went 5-for-38 against him last year. It was good to see the lefty specialist retire the right-handed Starlin Castro to end the top of the seventh.

9. Brad Brach was sensational in the eighth, striking out Chase Headley, Aaron Judge, and Pete Kozma on just 11 pitches. That was the All-Star version of Brach that we saw in the first half of 2016.

10. The Orioles didn’t want to see Zach Britton roll his right ankle on a Gary Sanchez comebacker in the ninth, but that was easily his best performance of his first three outings. Showalter seemed to think his All-Star closer was OK after the game.

11. Britton may have converted his 51st consecutive save dating back to the end of 2015, but Chris Davis deserves an assist by picking low throws from Britton and Machado for the final two outs in a one-run win.

12. You had to feel for fans braving a cold and windy night with a less-than-stellar version of Jimenez on the mound. That’s not a pleasant combination, but the Orioles provided the desired result for the home crowd in the end.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-1 win over Toronto

Posted on 06 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles besting Toronto in a 3-1 final to complete a brief two-game sweep, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Dylan Bundy was nothing short of exceptional, giving up one run and striking out eight over seven innings in his first start of 2017. Making his first career start against the Blue Jays, he set the tone early by striking out the side in the first inning.

2. Bundy induced 17 swinging strikes, a career high and a total Chris Tillman reached only one time last season. Getting that many swings and misses without issuing a single walk reflects how nasty his stuff was on Wednesday.

3. After shelving his slider last year with a focus on staying healthy, Bundy used the pitch extensively to keep Toronto hitters off balance throughout the night. As long as it doesn’t create arm issues, that pitch could do wonders for the 24-year-old.

4. Going through the order for a third time presented a significant challenge for the right-hander last season, but the Blue Jays were 1-for-7 with three strikeouts in the sixth and seventh innings. That’s how you put an exclamation point on a performance.

5. After hitting only three home runs and posting a .580 on-base plus slugging percentage against left-handed pitching last year, Adam Jones homered off Toronto starter J.A. Happ in the third inning. His career numbers against southpaws suggest 2016 was much more of an aberration.

6. The two-run shot tied Rafael Palmeiro on the Orioles’ all-time list as Jones now trails only Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Boog Powell, and Brooks Robinson. That’s really impressive company for the veteran center fielder now in his 10th season with Baltimore.

7. Chris Davis also homered, his 200th as a member of the Orioles. Jones quipped after the game how Davis is only 23 behind him despite the latter having played just five full seasons here. It’s typically a good sign seeing the first baseman drive the ball to the opposite field.

8. A 2016 Gold Glove finalist, Toronto center fielder Kevin Pillar showed why by robbing Manny Machado of extra bases in the third inning. You never want to see someone crash into the wall as hard as Pillar did — he stayed in the game — but what a sensational catch.

9. Zach Britton found the reliable 6-4-3 double play off the bat of former Oriole Steve Pearce to nail down his first save of 2017, but the Orioles closer labored through a second straight outing and is still searching for his usual command.

10. Other than the two home runs allowed, Happ pitched very well for Toronto as he struck out nine and walked none over seven innings. His career renaissance going back to the second half of 2015 with Pittsburgh has been nothing short of impressive.

11. Trey Mancini wasn’t tested extensively in his first start in right field, but he made a good throw to the plate on a Devon Travis RBI single and handled both fly balls hit his way without incident. So far, so good with this experiment.

12. The new LED lights at Camden Yards have been a topic of conversation this week, but Jones didn’t exactly provide a great endorsement after Wednesday’s game (go to the 1:55 mark). They’re markedly brighter and at least provide the decorative perk of blinking during Britton’s entrance from the bullpen.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on Opening Day win over Toronto

Posted on 04 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles topping Toronto in a 3-2 final on Opening Day, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Asked Sunday whether he was concerned that he hadn’t hit a home run in the Grapefruit League, Mark Trumbo cited how he didn’t hit any in the spring of 2013 before hitting 34 in the regular season. I’d say he further proved his point on Monday.

2. It takes a lot for Manny Machado to surprise me with anything he does in the field at this point, but his diving stop and throw to get Toronto’s Devon Travis — who has good speed — reminded us how lucky we are to watch him work at the hot corner.

3. Despite showing great fastball velocity, Kevin Gausman struggled with his command and walked four hitters over 5 1/3 innings, but he made good pitches in key spots to give his club a chance to win. He walked more than three in a start just once all last season.

4. The Orioles are now 7-0 in season openers under Buck Showalter. Yes, it’s only game and they even had a good Opening Day record during their 14 straight years of losing, but his clubs have clearly tried to set an early tone during his tenure.

5. Hyun Soo Kim would have been my choice to lead off against right-handed starters to begin the season, but it’s tough to take too much issue with Seth Smith and his .344 career on-base percentage in the top spot for now.

6. After being left in the bullpen in last year’s American League wild-card game loss in Toronto, Zach Britton pitched two scoreless innings against the Blue Jays in a tie game. Baseball’s funny.

7. How important is home-field advantage to the Orioles, who are 241-162 at Camden Yards since the start of 2012? “This is one of those places where you never feel good when they get the last at-bat,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “They’re probably the top power-hitting team in the game.”

8. After left-handed bats posted a 1.025 on-base plus slugging percentage against Mychal Givens in 2016, the right-hander gave up an RBI double to the lefty-swinging Ezequiel Carrera in the sixth inning. He needs to continue to hone the use of his changeup to combat those struggles.

9. It doesn’t show up in the box score, but Chris Davis made several superb scoops at first base to save his fellow infielders over the course of Monday’s game. He doesn’t get enough credit for the dramatic improvement he’s made there since coming to Baltimore in 2011.

10. Kudos to the home crowd for giving former Oriole Steve Pearce a nice ovation during pre-game introductions. Pearce had three hits against his old club, but that reception meant a lot to him and was much deserved.

11. Playing in his first Opening Day, Trey Mancini came off the bench to single off lefty Aaron Loup in the 10th and is 5-for-11 with three homers against southpaws in his brief career. He becomes an intriguing piece for the future if he can play a respectable right field.

12. File this one in the #FashionTweets department, but the Orioles debuted their new matte batting helmets, which better replicate the look of their caps and don’t have the glossy look.

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2017 Orioles preview: Zach Britton

Posted on 26 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day just over a week away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

Manny Machado
Kevin Gausman
Adam Jones
Darren O’Day
Seth Smith
Mike Wright
Caleb Joseph
Donnie Hart
Jonathan Schoop
Mychal Givens
Ryan Flaherty
Brad Brach
J.J. Hardy
Ubaldo Jimenez
Mark Trumbo
Wade Miley
Welington Castillo

RP Zach Britton

Opening Day age: 29

Contract status: Under club control through the 2018 season

2016 stats: 2-1, 47 saves, 0.54 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1 HR, 67 IP

Why to be impressed: Going a perfect 47-for-47 was amazing enough, but Britton set major league records with 43 consecutive scoreless appearances and the lowest ERA ever for pitchers completing at least 50 innings. Using his sinker 91.7 percent of the time, the lefty had a ground-ball rate of 80 percent, which was 14.1 percent higher than second on the major league list among those finishing 60 innings.

Why to be concerned: Expressing concern about the best closer in baseball would be reaching when you look at Britton’s results over the last three years, but he’s bound to blow a save at some point and will need to shake off the disappointment quickly on a club with little margin for error. It’s worth noting that opponents’ .231 batting average on balls in play reflects a level of good luck that will be difficult to repeat.

2017 outlook: The 2016 AL Reliever of the Year could feature even better stuff this season and still not be able to duplicate perfection, making you appreciate what he was able to do last year. The oblique issue that slowed his start to spring training is worth keeping an eye on early in the season, but there’s just no reason to think Britton won’t remain one of the top relievers in baseball in 2017 if he stays healthy.

2017 not-so-scientific projections: 3-2, 45 saves, 1.51 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 3 HR, 64 IP

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on start of Grapefruit League play

Posted on 27 February 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles already playing spring games in Sarasota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Having fetched compliments for his early-spring work, Ubaldo Jimenez induced four ground-ball outs in two solid innings on Monday. Command remains his biggest need, but his average fastball was just 90.1 miles per hour last year, making it even more important for him to effectively use his two-seamer.

2. Jimenez gave up a run thanks in large part to a chopper that Mark Trumbo should have handled. Hyun Soo Kim later lost a routine fly in the sun. Both plays were ruled hits and are examples why error totals and fielding percentage aren’t particularly helpful statistics for evaluating defense.

3. Jonathan Schoop hit a monster homer that Yankees left fielder Aaron Hicks didn’t even bother to react to on Monday. The 25-year-old clearly needs to become more selective, but improving further against lefties like he did last year is another key to him finding another level of success.

4. The early reviews from Sarasota have been positive for Welington Castillo, but you still hate to see the new catcher spending so much time away from Orioles pitchers to play in the World Baseball Classic.

5. I like the idea of celebrating a global game, but I hate the timing of the WBC. Yes, injuries will occur anyway — evident by the Orioles’ ailments before Grapefruit League play — but potentially losing a valuable commodity when it’s not even under your watch is a cruel risk.

6. Donnie Hart struck out two in a scoreless inning against the Yankees and could be an important cog. He held lefties to a .347 on-base plus slugging percentage last year and will be a real force if he uses his changeup to hold his own against right-handed bats.

7. Speaking of young lefties, prospect Tanner Scott was consistently hitting the mid-to-upper 90s in striking out two and walking one in an inning on Monday. The 22-year-old averaged an unseemly 8.0 walks per nine innings last year, but he’ll be fun to watch if he can find more control.

8. It was only his first spring outing, but former Orioles right-hander Yovani Gallardo was roughed up for four runs, three hits, and two walks in an inning for Seattle on Monday. No matter how Seth Smith performs this season, I still like that trade.

9. Vidal Nuno was sharp in two scoreless innings against the Yankees and looks like a good fit to fill the Vance Worley role this year. The difference is that Nuno has a minor-league option remaining, which will aid in the flexibility of the bullpen when necessary.

10. On the other hand, Oliver Drake is out of options and gave up the game-winning three-run homer Monday. The 30-year-old has had some success with a 3.48 ERA in 33 2/3 major league frames, but he needs to have a strong spring to be in position to make the club.

11. A cranky back for J.J. Hardy to begin the spring should be a reminder to give the 34-year-old shortstop enough periodic rest. There’s no reason not to do it when you have Manny Machado to slide over to short as well as Ryan Flaherty to help spell the veteran.

12. Buck Showalter wants to move on from last year’s wild-card game, but you hope everyone learned from it. When possible, your best reliever should be deployed for the game’s most critical moment, which isn’t always for the standard save situation in the ninth. That’s not radical “baseball nerd” talk.

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Three key Orioles remain on mend for start of Grapefruit League

Posted on 23 February 2017 by Luke Jones

Three key contributors remain on the mend as the Orioles begin Grapefruit League action on Friday.

Closer Zach Britton (oblique), shortstop J.J. Hardy (back), and starting pitcher Chris Tillman (right shoulder) are said to be improving, but it remains uncertain when any of the three will be ready to play in spring training games. Britton’s injury appears to be the least serious and has not been specifically labeled an oblique issue, but he told reporters in Sarasota on Thursday that he is still feeling lingering discomfort in his side and hasn’t been cleared to begin throwing again.

Buck Showalter told reporters after Thursday’s intrasquad game that Hardy received a cortisone injection for the lower back spasms he’s been experiencing since last month. The Orioles manager said the injection was planned all along, but it comes a week after Hardy underwent various tests to determine whether there were any structural concerns with his back. The 34-year-old has dealt with the spasms at various points during his Orioles tenure, but these have lingered longer than in the past.

Tillman continued his throwing program on Thursday and says his right shoulder has responded well to the work. The 28-year-old won’t be ready for Opening Day and is likely to begin the season on the disabled list, but the Orioles have expressed hope that he can begin pitching in spring games by mid-March if there are no setbacks. Tillman received a platelet-rich plasma injection for his shoulder in December.

The good news is that Opening Day is still more than five weeks away, giving Britton and Hardy ample time to be ready for the start of the regular season.

Relief pitcher Logan Ondrusek is also continuing to recover from an ankle injury suffered earlier in camp.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts counting down to spring training

Posted on 18 January 2017 by Luke Jones

With Orioles pitchers and catchers reporting to Sarasota for spring training in less than a month, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There are valid reasons for the Orioles not to re-sign Mark Trumbo, but nothing about Dan Duquette’s history in Baltimore makes me believe he truly values a compensatory draft pick for the departure of the slugger.

2. Entering Wednesday, Baltimore’s 2017 estimated payroll of $157.9 million ranked eighth in the majors, according to Baseball Reference. I question how wisely the Orioles are budgeting for their roster more than the amount they’re spending these days.

3. Zach Britton is worth every penny of the $11.4 million he’ll be paid in 2017, but I still believe it was organizational malpractice not to pursue a trade this offseason with the lucrative market we saw for closers. A club with other needs and a shrinking window missed an opportunity.

4. Former Orioles prospect Josh Hader is MLB.com’s top left-handed pitching prospect, which will make fans groan in light of their current system. It’s easy to call the Bud Norris trade a failure given his disastrous 2015, but his 2014 season and playoff win against Detroit make it easier to stomach.

5. It’s difficult to believe the 25th anniversary of the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards will arrive this April, and Stadium Journey again recognized it as the top stadium experience in North America. Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium also ranked 14th and topped all NFL facilities on the list.

6. My fondness for Camden Yards aside, the Orioles donning jersey patches and using special baseballs all season for the 25th anniversary after making such a big deal out of the ballpark’s 20th feels excessive.

7. I like the acquisition of Seth Smith and believe he will be a solid addition to the lineup, but the Orioles’ potential reliance on multiple platoons is going to be problematic in this era of extreme bullpen use. Finding another bat who can hit left-handed pitching is a must.

8. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised since Scott Boras represents him, but I’m surprised that Matt Wieters hasn’t found a new home yet. The Orioles were still wise to sign Welington Castillo on the cheap and not endure the waiting game for a catcher turning 31 in May.

9. The retrospectives to Wieters’ time with the Orioles only reminded me that Chris Hoiles is one of the most underrated players in club history. Per Baseball Reference, Hoiles was worth 23.4 wins above replacement in 894 career games while Wieters is at 16.3 in 882 games.

10. I’m interested to see what lingering effect Brad Brach’s arbitration case could have as the 2016 All-Star selection reportedly filed at $3.05 million while the Orioles offered $2.525 million. The right-hander took his second-half struggles hard and undoubtedly would be reminded of those in a February hearing.

11. The Orioles defense led the American League with 50 defensive runs saved in 2014 and followed that with minus-9 in 2015 and minus-29 last year. The outfield ranked last in the AL in 2016 at minus-52. Smith and Castillo alone aren’t fixing such a steep overall defensive decline.

12. Adam Jones is coming off a rough year, but he’s a solid bet to bounce back despite entering his age-31 season. His .280 batting average on balls in play was a career low and suggests tough luck while his walk rate, strikeout rate, and average exit velocity improved from 2015.

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Orioles avoid arbitration with Machado, Britton, Tillman, Schoop

Posted on 13 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Facing a 1 p.m. deadline on Friday to exchange salary figures with players eligible for arbitration, the Orioles came to terms on contracts with four key cogs to their success over the last few years.

Third baseman Manny Machado ($11.5 million), closer Zach Britton ($11.4 million), starting pitcher Chris Tillman ($10.05 million), and second baseman Jonathan Schoop ($3.475 million) all agreed to one-year deals for the 2017 season. Tillman is scheduled to become a free agent after the season while Machado and Britton remain under club control until the end of 2018. Schoop does not become a free agent until after the 2019 season.

After failing to come to terms, the Orioles exchanged salary figures with starting pitcher Kevin Gausman, reliever Brad Brach, and catcher Caleb Joseph. Multiple outlets have reported that the Orioles intend to take a “file-and-trial” approach with any unresolved cases, which would mean they would not negotiate any further with these players before arbitration hearings that would be scheduled for next month.

It comes as no surprise after they played such crucial parts in recent trips to the postseason, but Machado, Britton, Tillman, and Schoop will combine to command nearly $18 million more in salary than they did in 2016. That’s a major reason why the Orioles are projected to have a payroll well north of $150 million for the 2017 season.

Baltimore came to terms on one-year deals with utility infielder Ryan Flaherty ($1.8 million) and left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland ($685,000) on Thursday.

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Ravens take care of business using same flawed formula

Posted on 28 November 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens did what they needed to do to snap their five-game losing streak against Cincinnati.

No matter how depleted the current Bengals might be, you don’t take a victory for granted when you haven’t beaten the division rival in over three years and you need to win. The 19-14 final drew Baltimore even with Pittsburgh for first place with the calendar turning to December this week.

The Ravens couldn’t ask to be in better position, especially when you recall where they were a month ago.

But several offensive starters lamented the inability to build off a fast start that included a Joe Flacco 14-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman and a field goal on their first two drives of the game. Leading 16-3 at halftime, the Ravens went 0-for-6 on third down and managed only one field goal the rest of the way, which gave the Bengals a chance to tie the game before Elvis Dumervil’s strip-sack and Lawrence Guy’s recovery with just over a minute remaining.

Yet again, a good defensive performance and a perfect Justin Tucker played the leading roles in the win while the offense spun its wheels after some early success.

“I’m confident in my ability to play games like this and win down the stretch and do the right thing with the football,” said Flacco, who was a relatively efficient 25 of 36 for 234 yards and an interception to go with the opening-drive score. “But in order for us to take that next step and be the kind of team that we want to be and be a championship football team, we’re not going to survive week in and week out doing things like this. We’ve got to keep the foot on the gas and learn how to put teams away.”

The ninth-year quarterback offered the same sentiment after the Week 3 win in Jacksonville two months ago. Fortunately, the offense has recovered from its miserable — and injury-plagued — October, but Flacco’s words reflect the lack of overall improvement from the opening month of the season until now.

The Ravens have scored just 19 touchdowns this season, ranking 31st of 32 teams in the NFL. The offense certainly deserves credit for the work required to put Justin Tucker in position to go a league-best 27-for-27 on field goal tries, but 18 were from 40 yards or longer, meaning the Ravens haven’t exactly been all that close to the end zone on most of those drives.

Baltimore has managed more than one offensive touchdown in just five of 11 games and has scored fewer than 20 points six times. The Ravens have scored 25 or more in just three games with two coming against winless Cleveland.

It’s scary to think where they might be without Tucker, who is rapidly cementing himself as the league’s best kicker and is an impressive 7-for-7 from 50 yards and beyond after converting three from that range in the first half on Sunday. He’s been to the Ravens what All-Star closer Zach Britton was to the Orioles this past season, the difference in making them a playoff contender despite other flaws.

For now, the offense can only continue working to improve, pointing to the recent stabilization of the offensive line and the steady emergence of rookie running back Kenneth Dixon as reasons for optimism.

“I know that we’re getting better on offense,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I think we’re doing a good job, but we’re striving for more than that. Our guys are going to tell you, we want to put a lot more points up than that. That’s what we’re working towards.”

The most encouraging development from Sunday’s game may have come on the opposite side of the ball with the return of Dumervil, who was rusty in his first action in seven weeks until the final defensive play when he blew past Bengals right tackle Eric Winston to strip quarterback Andy Dalton of the football inside the red zone. The turnover sealed the victory for the Ravens defense, who buckled but didn’t break against a Cincinnati offense lacking its best player in wide receiver A.J. Green.

The Ravens need top cornerback Jimmy Smith to return from a back injury that’s sidelined him for the last two games, but a healthy Dumervil could work wonders for an edge pass rush that’s relied heavily on fellow veteran Terrell Suggs, who collected two strip-sacks of his own on Sunday. It was just the third game of the season for Dumervil, who’s dealt with a frustrating rehab from offseason foot surgery.

“You get a guy and add that to the defense that we already have, it just opens up the possibilities of being even better than what we are right now,” safety Eric Weddle said. “It was huge. He practiced outstanding the last two weeks. We knew it was going to give us a boost, and adding him across from [Suggs] and our other rushers and [to] our game plans, we’re going to be a tough team to stop.”

The Ravens keep hoping for their offense to improve, but maybe the current formula can be enough. After all, it’s earned them a 6-5 mark to this point, which is good enough for a first-place tie with a Steelers team sporting a very good offense but a below-average defense.

Baltimore plays two of the next three at home against Miami and Philadelphia, who are formidable teams but hardly juggernauts. The surprising Dolphins have won six straight, but the last five have been by a single possession and they rely heavily on their running game, a favorable matchup for the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

Whether the Ravens will find enough wins over the final five games to make the playoffs remains to be seen, but Sunday was another reminder that it will probably look the way it has all season — a good defense, a frustrating and below-average offense, and the best kicker in football.

“If it ain’t tough, it ain’t the Raven way,” Suggs said. “I really wish we could have got off the field instead of scaring everybody and having Elvis make a fantastic play. But that’s the Raven way. It ain’t pretty, but we’ll take it.”

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