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dwightsmith

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Twelve Orioles thoughts after first 20 games of 2019 season

Posted on 19 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles off to an 8-12 start after their second road trip of the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the pitching staff, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles entered Friday with the majors’ third-worst run differential — defending World Series champion Boston was shockingly second worst — but a 3-4 trip left them a respectable 7-6 road record. The 2018 club had 19 away wins all season. A roster overmatched on paper nightly has played with good energy.

2. Credit Baltimore for getting off the mat to win in extra innings Thursday, but that doesn’t wipe away the bullpen squandering a 5-2 lead with five outs to go. Orioles relievers have allowed seven more homers than any other team in baseball. Who can you really trust out there?

3. The top answer could be John Means if he doesn’t settle into the rotation. The lefty will fill a hybrid role for the time being with Alex Cobb returning, but a 1.72 ERA and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings have made him fun to watch in whatever capacity he’s pitched.

4. I’m glad to no longer be tracking a historic hitless streak for Chris Davis, but we’re a long way from suggesting he’s made meaningful improvement. I will note his average exit velocity (91.1 mph) is the best it’s been since 2015, but we’re talking about a very small sample size.

5. An 0-for-5 Thursday dropped Cedric Mullins to an .089 batting average. Patience is warranted and he’s defended well in center, but you wonder how hard a healthy Austin Hays — who’s just beginning a hitting progression after recovering from the thumb injury — might have been knocking at the door.

6. The Orioles own only two starts of six innings or more so far this season. It’s fair mentioning the handful of times they’ve used someone who wasn’t fully stretched out as a starter, but that still doesn’t say much for veterans like Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy.

7. Jesus Sucre and Pedro Severino have combined to hit barely above the Mendoza line, but the catchers have thrown out eight of 13 runners attempting to steal this season. I would like to see Severino receive a few more opportunities since he’s five years younger.

8. Trey Mancini has been far and away Baltimore’s best hitter, but Dwight Smith Jr. has been the biggest surprise so far as he’s shown some power with a .474 slugging percentage and gone 9-for-24 with four extra-base hits against lefties. He has a nice swing.

9. After a slow start at Triple-A Norfolk, Ryan Mountcastle has homered in three of his last four games and has received all but two of his starts in the field at first base. His development is the most relevant baseball-related factor in the Davis saga at this point.

10. In his first three starts for Single-A Delmarva, 19-year-old Grayson Rodriguez has pitched to a 0.54 ERA and struck out 28 batters in 16 2/3 innings. I suppose that’s not too shabby for the 2018 first-round pick.

11. Brian Roberts has been impressive as a color analyst on MASN, especially considering his limited experience in the role. He clearly does his homework and presents those insights in an entertaining way. I’d like to hear more of him on broadcasts.

12. This FanGraphs article offered a look at Brandon Hyde, his daily routine, and how he interacts with Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal. It’s also a reminder the infrastructure of baseball operations is far from complete as the manager notes the current size of the front office and analytics department.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on struggling pitching staff

Posted on 12 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles having lost seven of eight before embarking on their second road trip of the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the pitching staff, each in 50 words or less:

1. Chris Davis’ record hitless streak is national news, but allowing 37 home runs in 13 games borders on the unthinkable. No other team entered Friday surrendering more than 26. The major league record for a season is 258 allowed by Cincinnati in 2016; Baltimore’s current pace is 461.

2. Watching Dylan Bundy strike out five — four on sliders — and not allow a hit the first time through the order before giving up four home runs Thursday makes you wonder if he’s better suited to relieve. It could help an average fastball velocity that’s down to 90.8 miles per hour.

3. Miguel Castro has never missed as many bats as you’d expect despite a mid-90s fastball and a slider that’s often shown good movement, but he’s been a mess so far. After posting a solid 3.77 ERA the previous two years, Castro should have been ready to graduate rather than regress.

4. There was never a guarantee Richard Bleier would be ready for the start of 2019 following last June’s lat surgery, so sending him to the injured list with shoulder tendinitis is the responsible move. He and that sinker that sparked a 1.97 ERA the last three seasons clearly weren’t right.

5. Brandon Hyde expressed optimism about Alex Cobb’s back issue not lingering beyond the 10-day minimum, but even a rebuilding club still needs starters to eat innings and provide stability. Especially with a contract that will be difficult to move, Cobb needs to be a big part of that.

6. Many expected Mychal Givens to be the closer, but Hyde said he “wants to use Mike when the game’s on the line,” whether that’s the ninth inning or sooner. It’s a refreshing stance, especially for a club without the options to have a paint-by-numbers bullpen like Buck Showalter enjoyed.

7. Even having pitched his first two games as an “opener” and being on a schedule, Nate Karns showed diminished velocity in each of his outings before going to the IL with forearm tightness. You hope for the best, but his injury history is why he was available for $800,000.

8. Paul Fry has been the Orioles’ best reliever so far with a 1.59 ERA in 5 2/3 innings and the highest game-entering leverage index on the team, an indication of the kind of game situations in which Hyde has used the lefty. He was a nice find by Dan Duquette.

9. Despite the apparent Houston influence from Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal that has Andrew Cashner throwing more sliders and fewer fastballs, his swinging-strike percentage has decreased from last year. The veteran just isn’t missing bats, which makes it much more challenging to succeed.

10. John Means pitched into some bad luck in his first start, but he’s been a pleasant surprise early, especially with a changeup that’s fetched 18 swinging strikes out of the 73 times he’s thrown it. Hyde wants to give him more starting opportunities.

11. The Dan Straily signing made sense for a club eyeing rotation stability and a possible trade chip, but he’s allowed 10 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. His spring was disrupted by Miami releasing him, but he probably needs to lean more on his changeup to be successful.

12. If the intention behind optioning Tanner Scott to Triple-A Norfolk after a poor spring was to make him succeed at that level after he originally went from Double A to the majors, recalling him after just two appearances for the Tides didn’t seem to make much sense.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-2 loss on Opening Day

Posted on 28 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering a 7-2 loss to the New York Yankees to begin the 2019 season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Last year brought the joy of a walk-off win on Opening Day and hope before the soon-to-follow revelation of the Orioles being the worst team in baseball. There would be no falsehood of optimism this time with Luke Voit’s blast giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead in the opening inning.

2. File “an Oriole runner being struck by a batted ball to end the first half-inning of 2019” into the category of stuff you just couldn’t make up when pondering what this season was going to look like.

3. It was a disappointing day for Andrew Cashner in his second career Opening Day start — the other with San Diego — as he lasted only four innings. Brandon Hyde needs his veterans to at least eat innings if this pitching staff is going to survive on even a functional level.

4. If you’re looking for a sign of the Houston analytics influence, Cashner threw fastballs 45.3 percent of the time, a lower percentage than in any 2018 start, and used sliders 32 percent of the time, a higher mark than in any 2018 outing. You still have to execute, of course.

5. Fourteen of the first 17 pitches thrown by the Orioles in the fifth inning were balls, leading to two more runs. They issued eight walks and hit a batter in the season opener. Then again, I’d probably walk everyone too if I had to face that Yankees lineup.

6. Trey Mancini was a rare bright spot with two infield hits and a run-scoring double that chased New York starter Masahiro Tanaka with two outs in the sixth. Mancini accounted for half of Baltimore’s six hits off Tanaka.

7. Striking out three times was the last way Chris Davis wanted to start 2019, but Hyde batting him seventh and removing him for a pinch hitter couldn’t signal any louder a new brain trust being in town. He batted seventh — and never lower — only 18 times last year.

8. The off-day helps, but Hyde using David Hess — Monday’s expected starter in Toronto — behind Cashner and Mike Wright seems less than ideal with Alex Cobb already on the injured list until next Thursday. I suspect the Norfolk shuttle will be as busy as ever sooner than later.

9. Richie Martin looked smooth defensively at shortstop, but late-spring struggles resulted in him finishing with a .582 on-base plus slugging percentage in the Grapefruit League. Some patience is definitely warranted for someone who had never played above the Double-A level until now.

10. Mike Elias joining the MASN telecast for a lengthy conversation was a good decision and one the Orioles should repeat as often as possible with the current state of the major league club. Without compromising ideas, he offered insight on the big picture and what’s going on behind the scenes.

11. If Elias is able to eventually build a championship club, will we look back on the 2019 opener and see a keeper or two in such an anonymous group or merely look at these names in the way we remember the likes of Pete Stanicek, Jay Tibbs, and Rick Schu?

12. The Orioles lost their first opener since 2010, the last time they were managed by someone other than Buck Showalter. That’s no knock on Hyde, but it’s a nod to the man who was at the helm for an enjoyable run that’s not erased solely because of last year.

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Nine questions on the 2019 Orioles entering the season

Posted on 27 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With a new season upon us, here are nine questions on the rebuilding Orioles entering the 2019 campaign:

Will the Orioles be even worse than last year?

Their 115 losses last season set a club record and were the fourth most in the majors since 1900, but the Orioles now begin 2019 without Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zack Britton, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Darren O’Day, and Brad Brach, who all began 2018 with the organization and made meaningful contributions to previous playoff runs. Of the four other clubs to lose 115 games in a season since 1900, all won at least 11 more games the following year and only the 1962 Mets suffered triple-digit losses again. In other words, the probability of the Orioles plummeting to the same level of ineptitude remains low with many projection models forecasting somewhere between 98 and 105 losses. Still, looking at that Opening Day roster reminds you of those early scenes in Major League, doesn’t it?

How will manager Brandon Hyde handle his first season?

The former Chicago Cubs bench coach received positive reviews in his first spring camp for creating an upbeat and efficient working environment, but now the games count and the dark shadow of losing lingers. No one expects Hyde to be a miracle worker with a club that wasn’t constructed with any intention to contend, but how he handles a young clubhouse and how hard players compete on a nightly basis will reflect on his managing acumen more so than the AL East standings. The 45-year-old knew what he was getting into when he accepted this job in December and understands the organization’s focus on the big picture, but the reality of a long season is upon him. No matter how ugly it might get, the Orioles still have to show up and play the games.

Who will begin — or continue to — establish himself as a piece for the long run?

The late-spring demotions of catcher Chance Sisco, outfielder Austin Hays, and lefty reliever Tanner Scott took much of the air out of this balloon for fans desperate to at least watch interesting prospects in what’s expected to be a losing season, but Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins certainly stand out on a 25-man roster consisting mostly of fringe placeholders and veterans likely to be long gone before Baltimore’s next competitive window opens. With so many changes over the last year, we forget Mancini has just two full seasons under his belt as he tries to find more consistency after a rough first half in 2018. Meanwhile, Mullins opens 2019 as the starting center fielder, but Hyde and general manager Mike Elias have shared the potential they see in Hays as an eventual center fielder, which should serve as motivation for the incumbent. There are fair questions about his throwing arm and ability to hit from the right side, but the switch-hitting Mullins will have his opportunities to establish himself as an everyday player this season. Though not exactly prospects, Miguel Castro, David Hess, and Jimmy Yacabonis are under-the-radar pitchers who could benefit from the analytical advances introduced by the new regime.

Which veterans will play well enough to become trade chips?

The reward for guys like Jonathan Villar, Andrew Cashner, Nate Karns, and Mark Trumbo having good seasons is a likely ticket out of Baltimore as Elias aims to add more talent in the farm system. That’s just reality in the early stages of a rebuild, regardless of how much an organization might say it values veteran leadership. The cases of Dylan Bundy and Mychal Givens will be more interesting to monitor as they’re both under club control through 2021 and would carry more trade value than the aforementioned names if they can rebound from their underwhelming 2018 performance levels. Some might add Alex Cobb to the list of potential trade chips, but the 31-year-old would have to pitch exceptionally well for another club to be willing to commit to the additional $29 million he’s owed beyond 2019.

What will happen with Chris Davis?

We’re all aware of the historic nightmare that was last season for the 33-year-old first baseman, but where does the new Orioles regime go from here with a player who is still owed $92 million over the next four seasons and will be collecting deferred money long after that? Davis fared a little better late in the spring, but he still batted .189 with 19 strikeouts in 44 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League. It will be interesting to see where Hyde uses him in the batting order – Davis batted third or fourth for much of the spring before dropping to sixth in Monday’s finale – or how long he sticks with him as a starter if he looks like the same guy from last year. Everyone hopes a new front office and coaching staff can salvage some semblance of value, but the Angelos brothers will be the ones to make the ultimate call on Davis’ status if he’s no better this year. It’s one thing to talk about Davis as a sunk cost on a losing club, but Mancini has already been pushed to left field and a strong 2019 from Mountcastle — who worked extensively at first base this spring — will have him knocking on the major-league door. You don’t want Davis blocking other young players ready for the majors.

How will the Rule 5 picks fare?

The Orioles will enter a season with three Rule 5 picks on the roster for a second straight year as reliever Pedro Araujo has a couple more weeks to go to fulfill his requirement in the majors and new Rule 5 infielders Richie Martin and Drew Jackson both made the team. It appears Martin will begin the year as the starting shortstop despite a difficult finish to spring training while Jackson was used in a super utility role this spring. A rebuilding club desperate for more talent is smart to carry promising Rule 5 picks, but let’s hope the practice brings more value than it did for Dan Duquette. For all the roster headaches and shorthanded situations the Orioles endured carrying Rule 5 players while trying to contend from 2012-18, those players netted a total of 1.1 wins above replacement in their time with the organization.

When will more interesting prospects be arriving in Baltimore?

Aside from Sisco and Scott, Hays appeared to be the next prospect on the cusp of the majors before spraining his thumb over the weekend. Beyond that trio, many fans will follow how Yusniel Diaz and Ryan Mountcastle fare at Triple-A Norfolk with hopes of them making their major league debut later this season. Of course, how Elias handled Sisco, Scott, and Hays – three prospects already having major league experience – should make everyone take pause about the development timeline for any prospects at this point. The Orioles are prioritizing player development over attempts to squeeze out a couple more wins at the major league level or to appease fans hoping to watch more exciting young players. That said, other names acquired in last year’s deadline deals – many of whom already made cameos in Baltimore — appear likely to show up at some point this season. Lefty Keegan Akin, a 2016 second-round pick, and 23-year-old right-hander Dean Kremer, acquired in the Manny Machado trade, are two starting pitchers to monitor in the high minor leagues.

How much innovation and experimentation will we see from a club with nothing to lose?

Entering a season with expectations lower than they’ve been at any point in the history of the franchise, the rebuilding Orioles should embrace the opportunity to innovate and experiment, making it refreshing to hear Hyde reveal plans to use an opener in the second game of the season against the New York Yankees. Why not dive even deeper into infield and outfield positioning and explore new ideas for pitch sequencing, bullpen usage, and batting orders? Why lose with conventional practices when you can at least explore some new ideas and theories contenders might be afraid to try? Perhaps the Orioles even discover an edge or two that might help in the future when they’re ready to contend again. Much of this work with technology and analytics will remain behind the scenes, of course, but any new ideas making their way to the field will be interesting.

What will attendance look like at Camden Yards?

Asked to give his pitch for why fans should still come to the ballpark this season, Elias offered the following on Tuesday:

“We’re doing things the right way, the way that they need to be done. The end goal here is not to try to cobble together a one-year-wonder .500 club that could be a disaster if it doesn’t work out right and then we spend a few years digging out of that hole. We want to put together a perennial contending organization. And we’re initiating that process. We know how to do it. We’re going about it the way that we need to go about it. In the meantime, there’s going to be young talent on the field. These guys are going to be hustling, playing hard. There are going to be ‘tools’ as we say in the scouting world — big talent out there — that we can watch. And we’re in a wonderful baseball environment here in Camden Yards and here in the Inner Harbor. You come appreciate the sport and see some good baseball and watch this team grow.”

While I agree with those sentiments, expecting fans to pay major-league prices to watch a rebuilding team is a lot to ask, especially with attendance having already fallen annually since 2014 when the club was coming off a 96-win season and still in the midst of its competitive window. The Orioles ranked 26th in the majors in average attendance (20,053 per game) last year despite there being some hope of contending entering 2018. To be clear, no one should be crying the blues for an organization that’s cut its payroll in half over the last 18 months, but an empty Camden Yards hurts nearby businesses and seasonal stadium workers. The “Kids Cheer Free” initiative is a positive step that will be continued this year, but more ticket deals, promotions, and imagination are required if the Orioles hope to draw people to watch an inferior on-field product.

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Trumbo to start season on injured list; Cobb questionable for Opening Day

Posted on 24 March 2019 by Luke Jones

The Orioles will begin the 2019 season without one of their few established veterans in the lineup as Mark Trumbo will be placed on the injured list.

The 33-year-old designated hitter and outfielder is working his way back to full strength after undergoing surgery to repair cartilage in his right knee last September. Manager Brandon Hyde told reporters in Sarasota that Trumbo simply isn’t ready to play regularly after receiving limited at-bats this spring. The right-handed slugger is 2-for-12 with a walk in 13 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League.

Entering the final season of a three-year, $37.5 million contract, Trumbo was limited to 90 games last year before ultimately electing for season-ending surgery. He batted .261 with 17 home runs, 44 runs batted in, and a .764 on-base plus slugging percentage in 358 plate appearances, a solid rebound from 2017 when he posted a career-worst .686 OPS.

With the organization in the midst of a massive rebuild, the best scenario with Trumbo would be a healthy return in which he produces enough to become a trade chip this summer. He is set to make $13.5 million this season.

How the designated hitter spot will be used in Trumbo’s absence remains to be seen, but Hyde could turn to the likes of Renato Nunez — who’s been nursing a sore right biceps — and Trey Mancini, which would improve Baltimore’s defensive lineup in the process. Nunez has been competing with Rio Ruiz for the starting third baseman job this spring while Mancini again appears destined to play primarily in left field with both Trumbo and Chris Davis still under contract.

The status of scheduled Opening Day starting pitcher Alex Cobb remains unclear after he left Saturday’s spring start with right groin soreness. The injury does not appear to be a long-term concern, but the ailment may prevent him from taking the hill against the New York Yankees on Thursday afternoon. Veteran Andrew Cashner could take his place if Cobb isn’t deemed ready to go in the next day or two.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts at non-waiver trade deadline

Posted on 30 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the non-waiver trade deadline upon as and three pending free agents having already been dealt, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Adam Jones has earned the right to refuse any trade and decide what’s best for him and his family, regardless of what anyone else thinks. He doesn’t owe the Orioles or fans anything after representing the organization and city with great pride for a decade. It’s that simple.

2. On the flip side, the Orioles aren’t obligated to re-sign Jones if they don’t feel he fits with a youth movement that does have several outfielders in the pipeline. The organization just needs to express that in a respectful way to a man who’s been so important to the franchise.

3. Any perceived tension between Jones and Dan Duquette isn’t necessary. Whatever middling prospect the Orioles might receive for Jones isn’t making or breaking the rebuild, and keeping the veteran outfielder for two more months isn’t going to ruin Cedric Mullins’ development. A bitter breakup would be a shame.

4. I do wonder if Jones might reconsider as the remainder of his $17.33 million salary makes him a good candidate to clear waivers for a trade in August. Passing on going to a contender is a missed opportunity from a baseball standpoint, but other factors are understandably important to him.

5. Understanding Manny Machado, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach should have been dealt months or even years ago, Duquette still received good value for rental commodities and has surprisingly done an effective job voicing the franchise’s new direction, but it would mean more if he were under contract beyond this season.

6. It’s a new day when the Orioles are the ones acquiring international signing bonus slots and the stated intentions are encouraging, but let’s see them sign Victor Victor Mesa and increase resources and international scouting in the coming months before offering too much praise. Organizational malpractice shouldn’t be easily forgiven.

7. Brach ultimately being nothing more than a salary dump should be a cautionary tale when the organization expresses reluctance in dealing Mychal Givens — or any other reliever for that matter. Of course, the 28-year-old’s 4.78 ERA doesn’t make him a sell-high candidate at the moment.

8. Jonathan Schoop is hitting .360 with nine home runs, seven doubles, and a 1.056 on-base plus slugging percentage in July, raising his average from .197 to .244. It would have been interesting to see what his trade value would have been if he’d started that hitting surge a month sooner.

9. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy both have underwhelming ERAs hovering around 4.50 this season, but the Orioles are absolutely right to have a high asking price for two young, controllable starting pitchers, even if they’ve mostly been league-average types so far in their careers.

10. Short of signing a contract extension, Schoop shouldn’t be reporting to spring training in Sarasota next February if the Orioles have truly learned their lesson and are serious about rebuilding the right way. Waiting until this offseason to trade him is fine, but it needs to be done then.

11. I don’t think it’s impossible for the likes of Danny Valencia, Mark Trumbo, and Andrew Cashner to be on the move in August, especially with some cash accompanying the latter two. I could see Cashner drawing some interest from a contender trying to shore up the back of its rotation.

12. With trade talk about to calm, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Orioles play a little better the final two months as they’ll be adding youth. Of course, that’s an incredibly low bar as they need to go 31-25 just to avoid 100 losses. I said a little better.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following Memorial Day checkpoint

Posted on 29 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With one-third of the Orioles’ 2018 season officially in the books after the 6-0 loss to Washington on Monday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles reached the much-discussed Memorial Day checkpoint sitting at 20 games below .500 and 20 games out of first place in the American League East. I’d say an extension to Flag Day probably isn’t necessary to determine how this organization needs to proceed.

2. Since plating 17 runs on Mother’s Day, the Baltimore lineup has scored three or fewer in 11 of 13 games. Pitching woes and bad defense haven’t surprised me, but I never expected the offense to be this consistently bad, ranking last in the AL in runs scored per game (3.83).

3. I’m unsure how good the likes of Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart, and Austin Hays will be in the majors, but watching some of the outfield combinations used by Buck Showalter in recent weeks is tiresome. I suppose a 111-loss pace reflects the amount of dead weight on the current roster.

4. Continuing to bat Chris Davis fifth or sixth is even worse.

5. Alex Cobb turned in his longest start of the season Monday, but he was plagued by a 42-pitch third inning that didn’t feature a single swing and miss. He has the worst swinging-strike percentage among pitchers completing 40 innings. His split-changeup still hasn’t returned since Tommy John surgery.

6. Davis’ performance has helped mask the struggles of Jonathan Schoop, who owns a .667 on-base plus slugging percentage and a walk rate on par with his first two seasons. The oblique strain didn’t help, but this isn’t ideal for someone needing to be re-signed or traded in the near future.

7. Many were pointing to Richard Bleier as a possible candidate to represent the Orioles at the All-Star Game if Manny Machado were to be traded before then. A 5.23 ERA in May and opponents batting .438 against him this month have certainly cooled that possibility.

8. Trey Mancini is batting .203 with a .632 OPS since banging his knee against the brick wall on April 20. He hasn’t used the knee as an excuse, but he’s hitting too many balls on the ground and his defense has taken a substantial step back from last year.

9. Concerns about Andrew Cashner being able to miss bats have been quelled by him averaging 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings, but his previously-stellar ground-ball rate has plummeted to a career-worst 37.8 percent and he’s allowed 11 homers in 60 1/3 innings. That hasn’t been a good trade-off.

10. How big has the long-ball problem been for the rotation? Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Cashner, and Cobb all rank among the top 30 for worst homer rates in the majors among those completing at least 40 innings. Chris Tillman would also be on that list if he had enough innings.

11. This past weekend marked the six-year anniversary of Adam Jones inking his $85.5 million contract that was a winner for both sides. It represented happier times when a competitive window was just opening and the Orioles had the vision and urgency to lock up a 26-year-old entering his prime.

12. I’m unmoved about in-season firings in what’s already a lost year, but how refreshing would it be for a member of the Angelos family to speak about this being unacceptable, to vow changes, and to lay out some semblance of a vision? Is that really too much to ask?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-1 loss to Philadelphia

Posted on 16 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles concluding their eight-game homestand with a 4-1 loss to Philadelphia, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Baltimore offense came crashing down after scoring 58 runs in its previous seven games, managing just one run and four hits against the Phillies. It was the 22nd game this season in which the Orioles scored three or fewer runs.

2. A 5-3 homestand brought better baseball and sounds fine if you’re a team that hadn’t already buried itself over the first six weeks. That’s simply not moving the meter unless the Orioles magically start playing well on the road, something they haven’t done consistently in four years.

3. Andrew Cashner kept his club in it, but he ran into trouble going through the order a third time. Entering Wednesday, opponents had a .988 on-base plus slugging percentage seeing him a third time in a game. The Phillies continued that by going 3-for-5 with a homer and a walk.

4. Cashner continues collecting more strikeouts than expected with six in 5 2/3 innings, but the long ball continues to be a problem as he allowed at least one for the eighth time in nine starts. After allowing just 15 in 166 2/3 innings last year, he’s surrendered 11 in 2018.

5. Nick Pivetta deserves praise after matching his career high with 11 strikeouts and inducing a career-best 23 swinging strikes, but the Phillies starter mentioned in his post-game press conference how he took advantage of the Orioles’ free-swinging ways. The flawed approach is hardly a secret.

6. Adam Jones provided the lone offensive highlight of the day with his seventh homer of the season in the first inning, extended his hitting streak to 11 straight games. The Orioles didn’t have another baserunner until the fifth inning and had only two more until the eighth.

7. No one ever confused him with Manny Machado in the two-base department, but Chris Davis hit only his third double of the year. After hitting 31 in 2015, Davis collected only 21 in 2016 and 15 last year. He’s slugging .281, which is barely higher than Craig Gentry’s .270 mark.

8. Expecting Richard Bleier to sustain a 0.40 ERA was always unrealistic, but the lefty surrendering runs in each of his last two outings is a bummer for an injury-plagued bullpen that hasn’t been very good this season. He couldn’t keep the deficit to one run in the sixth.

9. The Orioles and Phillies saw a combined 13 pitches in the fourth inning. Think players were aware it was a getaway day with plenty of rain in the forecast?

10. Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera singled in the opening frame to reach base in his 42nd consecutive game, the longest streak of any major league hitter since 2016. Just don’t tell the Orioles he’s a former Rule 5 pick.

11. After completing a bullpen session on Wednesday, Darren O’Day could be activated from the disabled list as early as Friday. With Zach Britton now throwing live batting practice, the Orioles bullpen could be back to full strength in the not-too-distant future.

12. If you needed a reminder of why the Orioles’ future looks grim, Baseball America’s Ben Badler sheds maddening light on the organization’s continued lack of participation in the international market. This puts an unnecessary ceiling on a farm system in need of more talent.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-3 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 22 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles continuing their struggles in a 7-3 loss to Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After a 3-for-4 performance that included two home runs, Manny Machado is slugging .713, which is higher than the on-base plus slugging percentage of every other member of Sunday’s lineup except for Pedro Alvarez. He’s doing his best to try to carry an inept offense so far.

2. It’s difficult to recall the Orioles starting a less impressive bottom third of the batting order than Anthony Santander, Caleb Joseph, and Luis Sardinas. Of course, the fifth and sixth spots — Chris Davis and Tim Beckham — haven’t been much better.

3. Opponents entered Sunday 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position against Andrew Cashner, but we witnessed a market correction as he allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks over six innings. I’ll still gladly take his 3.60 ERA through his first five starts.

4. Cashner was strong through his first three innings before laboring mightily the second and third times through the order. However, his strikeout numbers continue to be surprising as he recorded seven over his six frames.

5. He received an assist from the strategy to have Rajai Davis bunt with runners on first and second and no outs in the third after Sardinas had just made an error. I understand Cleveland has struggled offensively, but that helped short-circuit a major threat so early in the game.

6. The Orioles struck out only once through the first six innings against two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, but that allowed him to keep his pitch count at a reasonable 74. They weren’t hitting the ball particularly hard despite him lacking his typical swing-and-miss stuff.

7. Normally you’d admire Santander forcing Kluber to throw 12 pitches in a seventh-inning strikeout that drove up his pitch count, but that merely paved the way for Andrew Miller to enter in the eighth. Pick your poison.

8. Speaking of Miller, Sardinas striking out on four pitches in the eighth was as predictable as it gets. I suppose that’s the joy of having a two-man bench over the weekend with Trey Mancini temporarily sidelined.

9. Brad Brach needed to keep the deficit at one and give Manny Machado a chance to tie it in the ninth, but he was tagged for three runs. His 5.19 ERA and Mychal Givens’ 5.91 mark haven’t given the bullpen a chance to stay afloat without Zach Britton.

10. The Orioles entered Sunday last in the majors at minus-14 defensive runs saved. The defense may not have factored too heavily into this loss, but it continues to be difficult to watch.

11. Mark Trumbo will resume his minor-league rehab assignment Monday, but he’ll need to stack some at-bats after missing so much action dating back to early March. Meanwhile, Pedro Alvarez has seen his average fall to .214 after going 0-for-11 over the first three games of the Indians series.

12. This is the fifth-fastest Orioles club to fall 10 games below .500 and is tied for the third-worst start in franchise history after 22 games with only the 1988 Orioles (1-21) and the 2010 team (4-18) being worse. At least they have 140 games to turn it around, right? Right?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-2 loss at Detroit

Posted on 17 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles sustaining their fourth straight loss in a 4-2 final against the Detroit Tigers, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Remember the optimism after the Orioles shook off a 1-5 start to win three out of four at Yankee Stadium? They’ve scored a total of 16 runs while going 1-6 since then. This offense has been downright painful to watch.

2. I don’t dwell on strikeouts nearly as much as some, but the Orioles have recorded more hits than strikeouts in a game just once all season. That’s astonishing. They had twice as many strikeouts (12) as hits (six) on Tuesday.

3. Andrew Cashner has provided everything the Orioles could have reasonably hoped for so far. Even after his rough debut, the right-hander has a 3.00 ERA with three quality starts on the young season. It’s a shame he can’t hit.

4. Much was understandably made about Cashner’s career-worst 4.6 strikeouts per nine innings last season, but he’s now struck out 21 batters in 24 frames. His 7.9 strikeouts per nine rate falls in line with where he was in 2015 and 2016. Missing bats hasn’t been a problem for him.

5. I don’t know what to say about Chris Davis. We’ve seen him go through poor stretches over the years, but the strikeouts are piling up — he has 10 on the road trip — and he’s rarely even making hard contact to point to the shift as an obstacle. He’s slugging .196.

6. Manny Machado is a special talent, but getting thrown out trying to advance to third with two outs in the fifth inning is inexcusable, especially with this offense. He’s been in the majors too long to continue to make these types of baserunning blunders as frequently as he does.

7. Since his electric debut month upon being acquired from Tampa Bay at last year’s trade deadline, Tim Beckham is batting .174 over his last 169 plate appearances dating back to last Sept. 1. His offense is a much bigger concern right now than his transition to third base.

8. Trey Mancini hit his second home run of the season and continues to do a commendable job in the leadoff spot with a .377 on-base percentage. Now, is there a way to clone him?

9. Adam Jones drove in a run and collected two hits to raise his season average to .236. His early-season struggles pale in comparison to several others, but the Orioles desperately need their leader to get going if they’re going to climb out of this hole.

10. Considering his defense is the only thing keeping him on the field over Chance Sisco so far this season, Caleb Joseph simply must block the Mychal Givens wild pitch that led to the Tigers’ final run.

11. After being promoted to the majors for his defense earlier in the day, Luis Sardinas committing a throwing error on his first opportunity was right in line with how this season has gone so far.

12. The Orioles have gone 58-89 since getting off to a 22-10 start last season. Buck Showalter’s club has gone 12-32 since the start of last September. Yes, numerous players have come and gone, but Baltimore hasn’t played an extended stretch of good baseball in a very long time now.

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