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Manny Machado or Jonathan Schoop?

Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop jog in Spring Training.

The hot stove has been heating up the past couple of weeks with some minor O’s chatter about the likes of Jason Vargas, Tyler Chatwood and Andrew Cashner. Those acquisitions would do very little to help the O’s World Series odds at the best sports betting sites, and are mere peanuts compared to the pending expiring contracts that the Orioles are facing from within; Manny Machado, Zach Britton and Adam Jones are all set to be UFA at the conclusion of the 2018 season, with Jonathan Schoop following just behind at the conclusion of 2019. The popular opinion around town has been to lock up Schoop now, and let Manny walk due to the presumed outrageous numbers he would command.

So whom should the Orioles invest their money in, Machado or Schoop?

Jonathan Schoop vs Manny Machado

Both! They should invest in both.

The Orioles have a rare opportunity to build around two superstars – one established and one budding, and both set to enter the prime of their careers – and to let this chance pass them by would be criminal.

Consider what we have seen.  Schoop spent the majority of 2017 batting right in front of or behind Machado for the first time in his career. The result?  His best season by far, .293/.338/.503 slash line with 32 HR, 105 RBI, and 182 hits. Don’t think for a second that his position next to Machado in the lineup is not directly correlated to these MVP-ish (he finished 12th in the voting) numbers.

Further, those of us who drink the orange kool-aid have every reason to believe Schoop will sustain his improvement, all while Machado rebounds from a disappointing offensive 2017 in which his slash line dipped to career lows at .259/.310/.471. Despite that however, he still provided power with 33 HR and 95 RBI, and was much improved from the first half to the second.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and think about this logically. The Orioles have two players who have come up through their system together, are young, and happen to be the very best of friends. Could you ask for a better PR marketing scenario? OH and by the way, they’re both All Stars who bat in the middle of your lineup and you can build around for the next 5-7 years.

How can you pass this opportunity up?

YOU CAN’T.

Coming off the books this offseason is approximately $51 million from Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Wade Miley, Seth Smith, Welington Castillo, Hyun Soo Kim and Ryan “The GOAT” Flaherty. $50 million split between them (say, ~$30M/yr for Machado and ~$20M/yr for Schoop) should be enough to get the job done.

Payroll will go up; that’s unavoidable. But it’s time for the Orioles, as an organization, to stop pretending they want to win a World Series and go out and do it. For the first time in recent memory, the O’s cracked the top 10 in 2017 MLB payroll, coming in at number 10 (largely due to arbitration numbers and a phenomenal contract for Chris Davis).

Guess what? That’s not good enough when the top 5 is made up of 3/5 of your own division (Yankees, Red Sox and Jays).  The whole point of player development and organizational success is to acquire guys like Machado and Schoop.

Now that we have them, we can’t let them go.

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Do Andrew Cashner and/or Eduardo Nunez Excite You?

We’re into mid-November now, and after one of the most exciting World Series in memory (maybe ever), we’ve been without baseball for what feels like eons. However, the Hot Stove season has yet to really get rolling, as baseball “news” since the Fall Classic ended has been confined to blockbuster trade speculation, and an award or two.

(Then, of course, there was the tragic Roy Halladay incident, and we’d like to add our heartfelt condolences to those already expressed throughout the sports world.)

As for our O’s, the only thing that’s really happened so far is Welington Castillo declining his player option for 2018. While “Beef” was a pleasant surprise at the dish in 2017 (almost single-handedly winning a series over the Toronto Blue Jays back in May – including a game on Maryland Flag Jersey Day – comes immediately to mind), I’m perfectly comfortable going into 2018 with Caleb Joseph and Chance Sisco set to split reps behind the plate. O’s pitchers need all the help they can get from their backstop, though Castillo’s reputation as a sub-par framer (or “receiver” if you prefer) didn’t exactly show up in the results.

Baseball Prospectus data ranked Joseph fifth among all MLB catchers with 15 FRAA (Framing Runs Above Average). They had Beef ninth overall at 7.9. Just for fun, Matt Wieters came in 108th out of 110 catchers.

(I’ll be honest – I expected to have some anti-Castillo ammo in that section. Instead, I’m left saying that I hope Sisco can be even half the receiver that Beef was last season. Still, I’m not too torn up about him deciding to leave…just more than I was, say, five minutes ago.)

(P.S. You should probably read this, from FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan, regarding Beef and pitch framing in general, if you’re into that sort of thing. h/t our friends at Bird’s Eye View.)

What will help the O’s pitching more than good pitch framers though? Good pitchers, for a start! Fans are counting on the team addressing the rotation after years of neglect, in hopes that they will sign at least one *real* number one or two starter, along with a solid #3-4 as well. We’re O’s fans, so we know that we can cross Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta – the only “Aces” available – off our lists immediately. That leaves guys like Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, Tyler Chatwood, and Jason Vargas as pitchers who Birdland should be ready to accept (some, gladly!) as non-Ace options.

Well, how about Andrew Cashner?

That’s who Baseball Prospectus’s Bryan Grosnick has the O’s picking up.

Observations: A rate of 4.6 strikeouts per nine innings is a giant, flashing, neon sign saying, “STAY AWAY!” However, Cashner is capable of taking the ball every fifth day. Somehow, that allows him to qualify for this list. (Please don’t be fooled by his ERA last year!)

Prediction: His contract also should be proportional to a team’s desperation to acquire starting pitching innings. Welcome to the Orioles, Andrew.

Quite a ringing endorsement, huh?

I want no parts of Cashner. One, he’d be forced to shave his awesome beard if he came to Baltimore, which at this point in his career, is quite literally the only thing he has going for him.

Since striking out 8.04 batters per nine innings in 2015, Cashner has seen his K/9 dip to 7.64 in 2016, and then, as pointed out by Grosnick, to a dismal 4.64 in 2017 with the Texas Rangers. That was with a career-low swinging strike % of 6.1 (career 8.0). The Birds need more guys who can miss bats, period. Could Cashner rebound? Perhaps, but at this point in his career, he strikes me as nothing more than another low-ceiling innings-eater – basically a right-handed Wade Miley, O’s lame/outdated facial hair violations and all.

Excited yet? No?

Hang on, let me try again.

Earlier in that same article, Grosnick offers up something that might actually raise an eyebrow or two – in a good way – in Birdland.

Observations: Hello. It’s me. The high guy on Eduardo Nunez. I don’t even know what I’ve become. Over the past two seasons, Nunez has taken his combination of contact hitting and versatility to the next level. I think almost any team would benefit from a player who can fill in at multiple positions, hit at or above the league average, and provide his offense in the way many field staffs love to see it: through good at-bats and loads of hard contact. His injury issues may scare some teams away, but he should be carrying the reputation as a legit first-division starter.

Prediction: Staying with the Red Sox would be perfect for Nunez, as he can spell Dustin Pedroia during his early-season injury absence and be a backup in case Rafael Devers slumps or needs a break come the end of the season. But I think Boston’s priorities might lay elsewhere this offseason, so Nunez takes a compelling offer from the Orioles.

Many Orioles fans have a (silly, in my estimation, but that’s not the point) seething hatred of Ryan Flaherty. This year, they’re very likely getting their wish, as Flash is finally a free agent, and will by all indications be flying the coop. That leaves the Birds with a utility infielder need, and Nunez would be a definite step up.

He still won’t turn 31 until June, has been a 2+ fWAR player in consecutive seasons, and can provide some competition for Tim Beckham at shortstop, should the Birds not want to simply hand him the job after his blistering August. He also played 163 innings in the outfield last season, proving that he can offer more versatility than even our dearly departed Ryan could.

Nunez would be a nice addition. He has AL East experience, having played with the Yankees from 2010-13, then again with Boston in the second half last season, can hit, and offers the versatility that Buck loves.

Sports betting at SportsBetting.ag currently lists the O’s as +3300 to win the 2018 World Series. That’s tied for lowest odds in the AL East with Tampa.

Would either of these moves push those odds higher? Doubtful.

Of course the Birds need pitching – REAL pitching – AND they need guys who can get on base.

For now though, how would you feel about Andrew Cashner and/or Eduardo Nunez? Let me know below – I’m curious to hear everybody’s thoughts.

 

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Trey Mancini Named Rookie of the Year Finalist

Trey Mancini in his O's batting helmet.

O’s rookie Trey Mancini got some good news tonight, as he was named a finalist for the BBWAA Rookie of the Year award.

Mancini was a revelation at the dish for the Birds in 2017, putting up a .293/.338/.488 line with 24 home runs and 78 runs batted in. That was good for a .349 wOBA and 117 wRC+ (both second to only Jonathan Schoop among players who played the entire season in Baltimore), and 1.8 fWAR (2.2 bWAR).

Even in a normal season, Mancini likely wouldn’t have a particularly strong case to win the award. Let’s take a look at how his numbers compare to the previous five non-pitchers to win the AL ROY:

Of the above players, Mancini’s stats really only compare favorably to Wil Myers in 2013. As far as his WAR goes, of course, Trey is hurt a bit by the fact that he plays left field – corner outfielders are SUPPOSED to put up big offensive numbers, especially in Oriole Park at Camden Yards (which, we should note, also drags down his wRC+ a bit).

But how about his competition here in 2017? The other finalist for the award is Boston’s Andrew Benintendi. Ben Nintendo, as I call him, hit .271/.352/.424, with 20 homers and 90 driven in, good for a .332 wOBA and 103 wRC+. Ben racked up 2.2 fWAR and 2.6 bWAR, and added 20 stolen bases for good measure.

Since he plays in Boston, his slight edge in OBP and better defense than Mancini will very likely be enough to get him more first-place votes.

Hm? What’s that?

There are THREE finalists for the award?

Oh. Right.

Whatever.

Congrats on being named a finalist, Trey!

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In Addition to Pitching, O’s Must Address OBP Woes

The Orioles’ ongoing goal of finding a high-On Base Percentage corner outfielder continues as we officially enter the 2017-2018 offseason – as they said on Independence Day, “Target Remains.”

Want to make the playoffs? Get on base. Seems like a simple enough idea, but it’s one to which the 2017 Baltimore Orioles did not subscribe.

Every single member of the 2017 playoffs had a team OBP in the top 12 of Major League Baseball.

The NL Wild Card Arizona Diamondbacks were the lowest ranked playoff team coming in at number 12, with a team OBP of .329. Meanwhile, the World Champion Houston Astros not surprisingly lead the charge at the top spot with a .346 OBP.

Where did our beloved Orioles rank? 27th, with a team OBP of .312.

Jonathan Schoop and Trey Mancini led the Orioles with an OBP of .338 – which, to lead a team in that category with such a low number, is hardly worth celebrating.  In fact, only one other organization had a team-high OBP that was lower, and that was the San Diego Padres and Will Myers, with a .328 mark.

It simply isn’t good enough, and as recent history has shown us, when you couple sub-par starting pitching with a one dimensional offense, the results are going to be less than ideal.

So who should the O’s target this offseason to address this repeated need that comes up over and over and over and over?

I would LOVE them to go out and sign Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates are most likely not going to be pick up his $14.75 million option, and he would bring a .279/.363/.486 line with him from 2017. Not only that, he would slot perfectly into the leadoff spot, as he only struck out 116 times in 650 PA last year (or as Chris Davis calls it, June). He also plays serviceable defense (1.4 UZR/150 as a RF last season – to compare, Mark Trumbo? -18.9). This would allow the O’s to move Tim Beckham down to the 7 or 8 slot, and instantly create a more balanced 1-9.

(There’s also this other lesser known guy, with a career .351 OBP, I think his last name is Kim… nah, he probably wouldn’t help).

With pending free agents and a core that is most likely about to be broken up, the 2017-2018 offseason may be the most important one for the Orioles in recent memory. They are unquestionably at a fork in the road, and face numerous decisions that will impact the franchise both short and long term.

It seems unlikely that they are going to deal any of the high profile free agents, so I really hope they make a go at this thing in ’18. Unless they can get on base more often, any efforts to address the pitching will probably be for naught.

Fingers crossed.

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O’s Primed for a Playoff Run in 2018?

empty baseball field with postseason 2014 written on field

What if I told you… that the 2018 Baltimore Orioles are primed for a playoff run?

If you haven’t already clicked off this article in disgust, thanks for staying.

After one of the most disappointing seasons of Orioles baseball in my lifetime, and their first losing record since 2011, it may seem a bit facetious to feel confident about a bounce back year in 2018. However, when you delve into the numbers, it all becomes a bit clearer.

The 2017 squad had a historically (embarrassingly) bad starting rotation. Buckle up your chinstraps because it is about to get ugly. The combination of Wade Miley, Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jeremy Hellickson started 53% (86 games) for the O’s. This band of brothers amassed a combined 17-39 record, with a 6.80 ERA.

How can a team win with a near 7 ERA put up by their starters in over half of the games played? Well, 2017 taught us that it can’t. Truthfully though, it’s even worse than the 17-39 record would indicate.

Ubaldo and Miley combined for 14 wins, meaning that 29 starts from “ace” Tillman and playoff push acquisition Hellickson combined for 3 wins and an ERA near 7.50.

It’s honestly a bit laughable how bad the rotation was in 2017.

Okay, I’ve taken a shower to wash the stench of those numbers off.  Let’s try to be positive for a moment.

Despite one of the most disgusting pitching staffs ever assembled, the O’s did win 75 games, as the makeup of this lineup and bullpen has remained largely unchanged since 2012. There were stretches where they made us believe, if only for a moment, that they were playoff bound.

So how do we eclipse 85 wins next year and make a playoff push? Thankfully, none of the aforementioned starters are under contract for 2018.  nd, a quick glance at the available free agent pitchers produces hope: Alex Cobb, Jhoulys Chacin, Andrew Cashner, and Lance Lynn would all look good in black and orange, and although they would obviously have other suitors besides the O’s, wouldn’t be outrageously expensive as will Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish.

Could the Orioles take a look at a vet like CC Sabathia or R.A. Dickey? “Why not?” would be my answer, because we aren’t talking about signing aces here, just improving upon the unsightly 6.80 ERA that was produced in 53% of games by starting pitchers (if you scoffed at the mention of Sabathia or Dickey, Sabathia would have had the best ERA on the O’s by almost a full run, and Dickey would have been second just behind Dylan Bundy).

Regardless of who they sign (which presumably will be 2-3 guys), if they can just move the 17-39 mark to 28-28, which is not being outrageous in expectation, it immediately puts them in the playoff picture.

Add a high OBP corner OFer that can lead off, and I’ll see you at the yard in October. First round on me.

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Embracing My First Losing Season as an O’s Fan

Buck Showalter scowls from the dugout.

On Saturday, August 25th, 2012, I went to see the Orioles for the first time while on holiday from the UK. They won. I should have known then that it was too good to last.

There was a lot to admire about the Orioles. Camden Yards was everything I’d imagined a baseball stadium would be, filled with countless touches to give it a warmth and a sense of history while also incorporating the trappings of modernity so often lacking in the soccer stadiums I’d grown up frequenting in the UK. The sounds, the smells, the sights; it was everything I’d dreamed of, made flesh.

On the field, the team I saw romp to an 8-2 victory over the Blue Jays seemed entirely befitting of such a wonderful stadium: slick, powerful, confident. Keeping an eye out for updates on the team throughout the rest of my trip, it was of little surprise to learn they were one of baseball’s best organizations that year.

It wasn’t until I went away and learned more about the Orioles, however, that I truly fell in love. I am a lifelong Bolton Wanderers fan. For those of you not acquainted with middling-to-average English soccer teams, Bolton hold the distinction of having spent the longest time in the top division without ever winning the league championship. In fact, in 73 attempts, they’ve never even finished second. To be so consistently mediocre is a statistically remarkable achievement, one that is as endearing and part of the club’s identity as it is crushingly frustrating.

That’s why I first really connected with the Orioles when I learned that their 2012 season, which ended in glorious defeat in the ALDS, was an exception, not the rule. As sad as it sounds, I felt a much greater affinity with the Orioles of the 14 consecutive years of almost unanimously terrible baseball, the Orioles who contrived to lose 30-3 to the Rangers, the Orioles who haven’t reached a World Series for 34 years.

That isn’t to say I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed the last few years of relative success. I’ve stayed up beyond midnight many dozens of times to see a first inning blowout from one of our venerated starting pitchers, who have done their level best to keep up the proud Birds tradition of being aggravatingly bad, even if our position players apparently didn’t get the memo. Many a night has ended with me doing my best Buck impression, staring with a look of indignance mixed with resignation towards the mound, chewing furiously. I’ve also celebrated walk-offs wildly, breathed sighs of relief at the sight of Zach Britton collecting another improbable save, and have consistently annexed Sunday evenings as prime baseball watching time, much to the annoyance of my girlfriend.

I’m not suggesting that I’m glad of how this season has gone. Nor am I suggesting that the Orioles are returning to their ‘rightful status’ by losing this year. Besides, if we’ve learned anything from the last five years, it’s that being bad – sometimes deliberately so – can reap great rewards; just ask the Cubs. As sad as it has been to watch a potentially promising season flounder, the emotional rollercoaster that can soar one night and plunge the next is what makes baseball so fantastic, and it’s certainly what makes the O’s the O’s.

submitted by Matt Clough

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Thursday Thoughts: Why Keep Pushing it With Dylan Bundy?

Dylan Bundy looks in for a sign.

This is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. This year, I’ll be cutting it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl WeaverBrooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.

1. Count me among those who are puzzled by the way the Orioles have handled Dylan Bundy this season. Entering the campaign, there was no real plan for Bundy’s workload. That’s been proven throughout the long, hot summer. Bundy is up to 169.2 IP after Monday’s outing against the Red Sox, and there are apparently no plans for him to stop pitching down the stretch.

I have no clue as to why the O’s would continue to throw the 24-year-old out there with nothing to play for. Throughout the season, I’ve been one of the most vocal in questioning Buck Showalter leaving Bundy in games with a high pitch count. It’s not that I think he can’t handle it, but more a question of why they would push him.

Bundy is still a young arm coming off Tommy John surgery, so there always has to be a consideration for his health going forward. Bundy knows his body best, and I’m sure he wouldn’t put himself in harm’s way intentionally.

But the team has some responsibility here to be cautious, especially when the games mean nothing.

2. I’m brainstorming ways to have Kevin Gausman start his 2018 season after the All-Star break. That appears to be when he figures it out. Or perhaps if he starts pitching in December, by the time April rolls around he’ll be good to go.

Either way, second-half Kevin Gausman is the pitcher the Orioles want to see going forward. He has been a joy to watch, just as he was in the second half of 2016. As it stands, Gausman and Bundy are the only stone-cold locks for the rotation next season. Having those two as the anchors is something O’s fans likely dreamed of just a few short years ago, but now they have to prove it.

Both showed great promise this year, but both also showed a propensity to struggle mightily. They’ll both be crucial to any hopes the Birds will have to compete next season.

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GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

3. We very well may be seeing the swan song for J.J. Hardy in Baltimore. Hardy got his second start last night as Tim Beckham was out following a dental procedure. All signs point to Beckham taking over for Hardy as this team’s shortstop going forward.

While there were a lot of questions about the Beckham trade at the deadline, it appears on the surface to have been a bit of a savvy move for the future. The Orioles will be able to pretty easily transition from the aging Hardy. While Beckham is no blue-chipper, he is a former first-overall pick with tons of talent.

His career certainly hasn’t gone perfectly as planned, but he could be in line for a nice re-birth in Baltimore.

4. The biggest question for the Orioles entering the winter has nothing to do with the roster. It remains the future of Dan Duquette, and what exactly this team’s plans are going forward. The organization needs to quickly figure out if Duquette is sticking around, and for that matter, if manager Buck Showalter is as well.

It’s been fairly well-documented through numerous unconfirmed reports (mostly from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal) that Duquette and Showalter don’t see eye-to-eye very often. There needs to be some hugs and hand-pounds between the two if there is to be any productivity.

Part of the larger issue for the Orioles and their roster construction is that there never seems to be a direction. The Beckham trade is perhaps the most obvious answer of fixing a roster issue entering next season, but there are still many questions.

If Duquette is making the decisions for the direction of this franchise, it’d be nice to know he’s doing it with a purpose.

5. Tragedy struck the Orioles organization once again this past weekend with the sudden death of minor leaguer Miguel Gonzalez. The 21-year-old pitcher was killed in an automobile accident in his native Dominican Republic. Sadly, he joins a growing list of baseball players killed in the same manor. Promising Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura and former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Tavares both lost their lives in crashes in the DR. In January of last year, Orioles’ infielder Ramon Ramirez was killed in a motorcycle accident there.

I’m not smart enough to have answers for how to fix this problem, which appears to be growing. I just know that it’s tragic to be losing any life so regularly in this way.

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O’s Getting Little Bang for Their Buck

As the season comes to a disappointing end, I decided to take a look back at the production we got for our buck. Here is a glorious reminder of what we are paying some of our talent in 2017:

Chris Davis                         $21,118,782

Adam Jones                        16,333,333

J.J. Hardy                           14,000,000

Ubaldo Jimenez                13,500,000

Manny Machado               11,500,000

Zach Britton                       11,400,000

Mark Trumbo                    11,000,000

Chris Tillman                     10,050,000

Wade Miley                        8,916,668

Darren O’Day                     7,000,000

Just in case you are scoring at home, these 10 Orioles make up 68.42% of the 2017 Payroll…I’ll wait while you pick your phone or your body back up from the floor. Coming into Wednesday evening’s action, here are some interesting numbers that will help you bury this season into the books as we can’t wait to wake up in Sarasota.

 

CRUSH

If you are at the top of the money train, you deservedly are going to take – pitches right down the middle…I mean – heat, I mean…you get it… Look, we almost HAD to pay the guy to keep the fan base happy a few years ago after whiffing on any other significant moves that offseason. I think Crush is very underrated defensively, and a great teammate…however this may end up being our Ryan Howard deal.

Crush has racked up over $117,326 per strike out, or a whopping $879,949 for each long ball.

 

Jones

He’s our Cap10, and honestly he’s had a pretty nice season this year. The guy plays the game the way it should be here in Baltimore and is a constant in the community. The # that I think stands out the most with Jonesy are pies. I’m not 100% on this stat, but I think we only had about six pies this season. I saw numerous tweets from O’s faithful in disgust for the organization’s decision to get rid of what kind of became a tradition with this group.

At six pies this season, the cream and crust tallies a little over 2.72 MILLION DOLLARS per pie…SIMPLYunacceptable. Whoever is to blame!

 

Hardy

We only saw #2 for 65 games so far this season, and he will most likely give way to Mr. Beckham at shortstop. I’m not sure what A-Rod was making in his prime, but a little over $2.33 Mil per game will pay some bills.

 

Ubaldo

When your ERA (6.57) is higher than your wins (6) for the season, it will lead to a very frustrated fan base. $2.25 Million per WIN. It is not all bad, of course, as we heard throughout most of the year in the post-game interviews that Ubaldo “felt pretty good out there, thought my stuff was there.”

I’m glad he’s a great guy and all, but he just needs to go!

 

Manny

Pay the MAN…

 

Britton

Tough year with injuries and setbacks for Zach. He’s been as valuable as anyone on this team the last couple of years. It will be interesting to see what happens with him moving forward, as the game has placed such an emphasis on late-inning specialists. Even if we look at the $760k per save in 2017, it’s hard not to give him a pass. His record-breaking year last year had him accumulate $143,617 per save…so we owe him.

 

Trumbo

I wish I was writing the name Nelson Cruz above, and Orioles management must be thinking the same. My belief is the Trumbo signing happened because of the swing and miss with the Boom Stick. $500k per HR, and not even having to play in the field…where do I sign?!?!?!

 

Tillman

Ohhhh Tilly, maybe the most disappointing on this list. Overall we have benefited such a great deal from the Tilly/Jonesy trade. It’s obvious he’s not healthy and there is probably plenty here that we will never know as outsiders.

The ERA is 7x the amount of wins…7! Our “ace” was only able to get out there on the bump 18 times, which comes out to $558,333 per start.

 

Miley

As bad as these numbers may turn out, one thing I like about Miley…he owns up to it. I have a feeling we are going to see the soft throwing lefty back in orange and black as well.

Let’s hope he produces a little better than the $1.11 Mil we shelled out per W this year.

 

O’Day

Another guy who just wasn’t right from the get go. We got so spoiled with the outer space like maneuvers his sidewinder style produced.

Darren has a pass in my book, let’s hope he gets back into form and is healthy going into 2018.

submitted by Andrew Stoner

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No, the Orioles Shouldn’t Fire Dan Duquette

head shots of dan duquette with orioles manager

So here we are at the end of another disappointing season in Birdland, and fans are starting to call for the firing of Orioles’ Executive VP of Baseball Operations, Dan Duquette once again, just like they did back in 2015 after the Orioles missed the playoffs and narrowly avoided a losing season finishing 81-81.  This season, it would take a small miracle for the Orioles to avoid their first losing season under Dan Duquette’s tenure but  I defended keeping Duquette after 2015 so I’ll defend him here again.

Why?

As I’ll discuss, the problems the Orioles have are largely due to ownership and the management structure that exists within the Warehouse between Duquette, Buck Showalter and Brady Anderson.  That relationship clearly needs to end, but firing Duquette isn’t the way to do it.

Let’s go through some things that fans are blaming Duquette for and we’ll see how he is not at fault as much as some people think:

 

The pitching is terrible

Yes the pitching is terrible, yes Dan Duquette is the GM but there’s more to it.   Let’s talk about three reasons why the pitching continues to be problem:

Time to home plate

This is something Buck Showalter has an obsession about and he’s gone so far as to convince ownership to allow him as a major league manager to dictate to all the Orioles’ pitching coaches that every Orioles minor league pitcher must have their deliveries altered or quickened to make sure they can get the ball to home plate within an acceptable timeFor pitchers with timing problems in their delivery already like Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey (check the side note), this can be potentially harmful and I don’t think it’s a coincidence we’ve seen these pitchers along with others like Cody Sedlock go down with injuries and/or be ineffective after joining the Orioles’ system and forced to throw more quickly to the plate.

Interestingly enough, a pitcher that the Orioles (and likely Buck) had no use for in Parker Bridwell suddenly became a major league starter when he slowed down his time to the plate.

Supposedly there’s a term called “de-Oriole” for Orioles pitchers when they are acquired by other clubs and time to home plate is surely a factor.

The worst part about the whole scenario is that base stealing, statistically, is at its lowest point since the 1970s, therefore there is no need to potentially screw up a young arm purely to satisfy a manager’s fetish of watching would-be base stealers get thrown out.

If the runner steals second or third but never advances to home plate before three outs, the pitcher has still done his job regardless if he takes 1.7 seconds to get the ball to home plate or not.

I’m thoroughly convinced Buck Showalter is now a major part of the problem the Orioles have developing pitchers in the organization because of this obsession.

If the Orioles can’t develop pitchers because of Buck’s meddling, then they have to acquire them elsewhere and free agency is one avenue.

There’s a problem there though…

Nobody wants to pitch at Oriole Park at Camden Yards

OPACY is the best park in baseball to watch a ballgame; unfortunately, it isn’t the best park to pitch in because it’s is much less forgiving for mistakes.  The telling comment was when Jeremy Hellickson, who wasn’t exactly some prize acquisition, made these comments:

“’I never liked coming here. I think that had to do more with the offense I was going to have to face than the park, but it’s definitely not a pitchers park. I definitely agree that a lot of guys don’t like pitching here,’ said the newcomer.”

It’s needless to say if somebody like Hellickson doesn’t want to pitch at OPACY if they had a choice, then your top free agent pitchers aren’t going to want to pitch for the Orioles either unless you significantly overpay, which Peter Angelos does not believe in, historically.

Thus, the Orioles are left with the mid-tier free agent pitchers, which as we’ve seen, they must – and have – overpay to sign. And with those mid-tier pitchers, there are going to be ups and downs, and unfortunately for the Orioles, it’s mostly been downs with pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo. Ervin Santana was another option the Orioles were pursuing after 2013, but Ubaldo signed first out of the two. Gallardo was the only mid-tier pitcher willing to pitch for the Orioles after 2015, as the other free agent arms on the market preferred other locations and even then, signed for more than Gallardo did.

Free agency just seems less likely as an option for quality starters for the Orioles. The only starting pitchers to have a season’s worth of success as Duquette acquisitions with the Orioles were cast-offs such as Miguel Gonzalez, low-key international signing in Wei-Yin Chen, and Bud Norris, who was crucial to the Orioles’ AL East title run in 2014.  Kevin Gausman, the Orioles’ 2012 first round pick, has shown promise but he has yet to put a full season together.

Duquette does not have an easy job acquiring pitching to begin with given a ballpark that has a poor reputation with pitchers, and yet he’s done a pretty phenomenal job of acquiring bullpen talent for cheap, with Brad Brach and now Miguel Castro as major bullpen arms.

Do people remember the days when the Orioles spent $32 million on bullpen arms in one offseason, or the time when they spent $12 million just to get Kevin Gregg to pitch for the team for 2 years?  You don’t really see those types of signings under Duquette unless ownership intervenes, which leads to the third and final point.

Ownership

It is well-documented that Peter Angelos doesn’t believe in paying huge prices for good pitching because those contracts rarely work out. To be fair, it’s really hard to argue with him in that aspect, however that doesn’t exactly help when the Orioles are desperate for quality arms.

It also doesn’t help when ownership steps in to sign players that should have been allowed to walk like Darren O’Day. Vice President of Baseball Operations Brady Anderson represented ownership when he struck a four-year $31 million deal with O’Day, which has a been largely a disappointment as O’Day has struggled with injuries and is performing worse than he did before he reached free agency.

Anderson – again acting for ownership – negotiated another deal for Mark Trumbo this past offseason. Though not a pitcher, the contract took away valuable payroll room for the Orioles to sign a pitcher for the rotation or bullpen.  Trumbo’s contract also looks like an albatross compared to what the Orioles could have spent for a platoon of Pedro Alvarez and Trey Mancini.

Likewise, ownership locked up a lot of money in Chris Davis, but at the time given his good health, defense and power potential, it seemed like an OK move. That one isn’t as indefensible, but it still ties up payroll that could be used to improve pitching.

In addition, there are still several front office members and player development staff that Duquette can’t replace because of their ties to Angelos. He can re-assign duties, but like with every GM under Angelos, a true housecleaning isn’t a reality and that’s what is going to need to happen for the Orioles to truly fix their player development.

So that answers the pitching complaints, now let’s talk about position players.

 

The hitters are too impatient

Yes, the Orioles constantly acquire hitters that swing for the fences, but once again it’s important to know who has the major input on that decision.

Duquette built his teams in Montreal and Boston around hitters that worked the count and got on base. It’s a staple of his. Every offseason, you always hear he wants to improve the team’s on base percentage and every season it never happens to the extent that it needs to.

Why?

The important thing to notice is in spite of his supposed attention to detail, who isn’t saying a peep about improving the ability of his team to get on base?

That’s right, Buck Showalter. I challenge any reader to find a quote of Buck saying the team needs to work the count and get on base more.

It’s pretty much a unicorn.

He’ll never say it directly, but it’s pretty obvious from the hitters he champions and the hitters he benches, Showalter wants hitters to be aggressive in the box and try to hit the ball out of the ballpark.

That’s also why I believe Duquette continues to acquire mainly free-swingers because it’s been proven that’s all Showalter will play. If you are a patient hitter, much like his obsession with times to home plate, you are going to be benched if you don’t adapt and start swinging more often.

For example, Seth Smith, known for his patient approach, had a 22.7% O-Swing% in Seattle last season.  This season he’s at 27.0%, the highest he’s had since he played for Oakland back in 2012.

However, the only hitter to have 100+ PAs that had a better O-Swing% than Smith this season is Hyun-Soo Kim with 21.0% – and Buck benched him! He made sure Duquette had no other choice but to jettison Kim as soon as he could line up a deal for somebody to take him.

Speaking of international players…

 

International Players? No Thanks!

Once again, you’ve got to look at ownership.

Duquette even threw ownership under the bus a little when he talked about why the Orioles weren’t signing international amateur free agents to large bonuses like almost all the other clubs and trading the money instead.  You can tell it’s something he struggles with because it’s how he built his previous teams. Using every avenue of talent out there was a staple of the Duquette playbook – until he came to work for the Orioles and Angelos and had to adapt.

But Duquette, smartly, is at least spending the money to try to acquire talent from other clubs. Chris Lee is an intriguing arm that might pay off as a dominant reliever or a back end starter and he was acquired for international bonus slots from the Astros’ deep farm system.

It’s certainly better for Duquette to buy a lottery ticket from another club with that money than to not spend it at all.

That’s something he should be praised for instead of being criticized.

So let’s go back to that pitching problem again to deal with the final complaint:

 

Duquette has traded away good pitchers

Hi there, Zach Davies and your league-leading 17 wins.

Do we really honestly think he would have reached that level with the Orioles though?

Fans also want to critique Duquette for trading away other arms that have already seen the majors like Josh Hader and Steven Brault. Well who were those pitchers drafted under in the first place? It seems they had plenty of talent compared to picks around them that didn’t make the majors, so scouting director Gary Rajsich should be praised for picking those pitchers in the first place.

Remember when the Orioles drafted arms like Richard Stahl, Beau Hale and Chris Smith? How about Matt Hobgood?

Duquette’s scouting staff is also hitting on these guys after the first round. Again, this is an improvement in scouting that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Also, as I asked, with Showalter’s time to home plate insistence, how many of these arms like Davies would have truly reached the level they did if they stayed in the Orioles organization and weren’t “de-Orioled” by their new teams?

I look at these trades as Duquette trading these arms for players to help the major league team before they have a chance to get screwed up in the Orioles’ system and lose value – unlike previous GMs before him who relied on these arms in the past to develop and become part of the rotation.

Remember “The Cavalry?”

They didn’t exactly live up to the hype.

As you can see, it’s pretty easy to point out that Duquette is being blamed for a lot of things out of his control yet fans still believe this ultimate myth:

 

Replacing Duquette will help the Orioles

Let’s take a look at the scenario.

The first question that needs to be asked:  who are the Orioles going to replace him with?

I’ve seen some fans suggest it should be Showalter.

I don’t want to even imagine what would happen if Buck was in charge of the entire baseball operations department.  I’ve talked about what a disaster that would be elsewhere but all you have to do is look at the mess he made in Texas and the fact he was fired with several years left to go on his contract just so the Rangers could be rid of him.

Turning Alex Rodriguez plus millions of dollars into Brad Wilkerson is not something the Orioles need to see happen, especially not with Manny Machado.

Considering we’ve seen how personal he can get with players, imagine him making trades and signings of the same players. Can he really keep his personal feelings out of it like a GM has to do for the better of the team? I highly doubt it.

So then there’s Brady Anderson.

I give you the O’Day and Trumbo contracts as Exhibit A and B as to why that would be a bad idea. Trumbo has a no-trade clause. That itself should be a fireable offense. Also, for all the praise he gets for taking players to work out in California, who has actually come back better from that training? How exactly has Brady made the Orioles better?

Let’s not forget he was also a big reason the team held onto Nolan Reimold forever.

It seems he can’t keep personal feelings about the players out of his deals either.

So if it is not Brady or Buck, then who will replace Duquette?

Well if you look at how the last round of interviews went before Duquette was hired, we’ve reached the end of the list.

You can forget about any up and coming names because Showalter and Angelos via Anderson are both going to want control and no top GM candidate is going to cede that when they have opportunity for total control elsewhere, just as no GM candidate other than Duquette wanted to be part of that arrangement with Showalter and Angelos in 2011.  Showalter was part of the interview team that hired Duquette and likely would be again for the next GM if he remained as manager. It’s not usually an attractive situation for a GM candidate when your manager has significant input on hiring the person who is supposed to be his boss.

 

Breaking up “The Band”

It’s also important to realize the Orioles also owe a large part of their success to the scouting team and advisors that Duquette has had with him. They have been the reason for his success in both Montreal and Boston, the latter which won a World Series with building blocks he acquired.

If he goes they also go, and “The Band” is really something the Orioles can’t afford to lose.

On the other hand, Showalter has no World Series ring, and the Orioles’ 2014 run to the ALCS is the farthest he’s been in the playoffs. There’s really nothing you lose by jettisoning Buck other than nostalgia. The team already knows it can win and that is credit to Buck, but now the team needs to take that next step and Buck’s never taken it with any team.

So it’s Buck that needs to be shown the door, and Anderson as well, though that’s much less likely because of his close ties to Peter Angelos.

Instead of firing Duquette, the Orioles would be wise to try to lock him and “The Band” up for several more years so they can continue to find players like Austin Hays, Trey Mancini, Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle, Chance Sisco, and the Orioles can continue to find bargains like Miguel Castro as cast-offs that make a major contribution to the team as well as talent in areas like Australia and Korea.

Duquette can then hopefully hire an assistant GM other than Anderson to succeed him just as former Orioles GM Harry Dalton groomed him with the Milwaukee Brewers. He can also hire a manager that will be on the same page as him with talent acquisition, especially the need for players to have a patient approach and get on base.

Duquette isn’t the problem; he’s the solution. As unlikely and as questionable a match it seemed when he was first hired after the 2011 season, he’s been the most successful GM in the Angelos era.

Considering all the losing that happened before Duquette arrived and the success he has had at every stop in his career, that is something for Orioles fans to think twice about before wanting to show him the door.

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The Rundown – Time to Shut Dylan Bundy Down

Dylan Bundy pitches with the White Sox 1B coach in the background.

The disappointing end to the season continued on Monday night for the Orioles, with Dylan Bundy being the latest pitcher to struggle. At this point, the organization should seriously consider shutting Bundy down for the remainder of the season. The 24-year-old has proven that he can be counted on to be a rock steady starter for the 2018 season and has stayed healthy this year. These were two important question marks heading into this season.

The future is bright for the right-hander, but his fastball velocity was the lowest it has been since June 19th according to FanGraphs.com, and he has almost pitched as many innings this season as the last three years combined. If the team was still fighting for October it would make sense to push it, but at this point, let Bundy shut it down and get ready to lead the rotation when spring training begins.

 

Future of the Rotation

When the last out is recorded until the start of spring training, the top storyline for the Orioles will be the starting rotation. The pitching this season was unacceptable and it cannot be status quo heading into 2018. The organization has been able to get away with below average starting pitching the last few seasons due to a shutdown bullpen, but it backfired in a big way this year.

As of now, Bundy and Kevin Gausman are the only locks – a lot of teams would sign up for to have those two talents lead a rotation. Miguel Castro appears to be a favorite to win a spot, and despite tiring late in the season, he has the pitching repertoire to be a starter. However, he has never thrown 100 innings in a season in his professional career. If he is getting tired now as a reliever, how will he feel as a starter in September after pitching over 150 innings?

A wild card would be top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey, but again, he will be working under a strict innings limit.

The answer is clearly through free agency, but as history suggests, the O’s will be reluctant to do that. That needs to change. They will free up a lot of money this off-season with Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, Chris Tillman, J.J. Hardy, Welington Castillo and Seth Smith all hitting free agency. If we add in the fact that there will be many players still on rookie contracts, the money will be there to address the starting staff.

Even if the return won’t be great – and the chances of eating some of the contract is close to a lock – the Orioles should seriously consider trading Mark Trumbo. The roster flexibility and the potential of salary relief would go a long way in shaping a better team in 2018.

Next season is the last ride of what we have grown accustomed to over the last handful of years and Dan Duquette and company need to do everything they can to ensure they are not a team with a losing record in late September yet again.

 

Hays Is a Breath of Fresh Air

The one characteristic that I have always admired about Adam Jones is that no matter how banged up he is, no matter what the score is and no matter how many years he has been in the league with all of his accomplishments, he will still run hard on every ground ball.

We know Manny Machado does not do that. Even Chris Davis with all of his issues at the plate will run out ground balls. Austin Hays‘ reputation in the minors was being like Jones and Davis, and so far that’s exactly what we have seen in his short time in the big leagues.

On their recent trip to Toronto, there were a number of instances where the Blue Jays put pressure on the Orioles and it paid off with them being able to get an extra base. That has never been the case with this team, but hopefully that will change next season with Hays in the lineup.

The offense for next year is pretty much set already with the expectation of Hays playing right field and Chance Sisco taking over at catcher. The added speed of Tim Beckham at the trade deadline at the top of the lineup and now Hays at the bottom of the lineup should give this team a different dynamic in 2018.

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Week in Review: Down and Out

Wade Miley holds up the baseball.

After scrapping away all season long to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Orioles’ October ambitions were dealt a fatal blow over their latest ten-game road trip as they finished the stretch with a 2-8 record. The positives? Austin Hays and Chance Sisco both hit their first career home runs in the Bronx. That’s about it.

The fact that it was the Yankees that served the proverbial ”Knockout blow” to the Orioles’ playoff hopes over the weekend doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. At 73-77 with twelve games remaining on the calendar, the Orioles can officially start planning their golf outings and cruises.

One sole culprit is not at fault, either. The Orioles starters have posted a 6.39 ERA over their last twenty games, the bullpen’s sparkling form faded down the stretch, and the bats pulled a Houdini act.

That’s putting it lightly. After boasting the league’s best offense for most of the second half, the Orioles have hit a dreadful .225 as a unit over the past seventeen games while barely scoring three runs a game (3.2 per game). They’re hitting a woeful .176 (19-for-108) with runners in scoring position during that span as well.

One sole individual is not at fault, either. Over the past two weeks, only four hitters are batting above .200. Trey Mancini, Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop, and Welington Castillo. I’d share some of the stats with you all, but I’d rather not since it was a group failure. You win as a team, you lose as a team. That never changes.

But in reality, these Orioles were unable to improve upon (or hide) their flaws this season, mainly their lack of quality of starting pitching, sporadic offensive performances, and their inability to win against quality ballclubs or on the road. The O’s also never seemed to fully recover from their early-season free fall back in May/June.

Add it all up, and the result is a postseason-less campaign. While the Birds will look to end the year on a high note, the real focus will be on the several tough decisions that will have to be made in the off-season.

Long story short, the 2018 Orioles squad might be missing a few familiar faces on Opening Day. Cherish these next twelve games.

And for those that are now screaming for a total overhaul: be careful what you wish for.

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First-Inning Frowns in Birdland

Wade Miley & teammates huddle on the mound.

So here we are…

Another evening switching over to MASN to watch our beloved Orioles.

So here we are…

Another evening switching the station from MASN because the starting pitcher can’t even get us out of the first inning competitively.

Sounds very familiar, right?

Thursday night, switching the station over to a Seinfeld episode I’ve seen 100 times made me wonder just how many times this year all of us in Birdland out there have made this early switch to “more rewarding programming options.”

I’m just going to dig back into this season, as it could get very ugly if I go much longer.

We consistently have these discussions in Birdland – about how horrific our rotation has been – and it realistically depresses me to think what could have been with just an average rotation the last four or five years.

I know there are many of you out there that share the same feeling – “do I really want to know the stats?”

Please don’t try this at home.

My stomach started to turn as I scrolled through the early box scores…”wow what a start, what promise, what HAPPENED?!?!?!”

Here is what I was able to find, and I’m sure it does not surprise you…

The numbers do not favor the Birds. I looked at every game this season in which the O’s were down in the first inning, looked at how many runs they were down, then went on to see the outcome of the game.

43 times the O’s have come up to bat in the bottom of the 1st inning or the top of the 2nd down on the scoreboard.

So with 15 games left, that is already a quarter of the games in which they spotted the other team and were playing from behind.

The O’s went 13-30 in these games (.300 %). The average number of runs they were down throughout all 43 of the games was 2.4. The average runs scored in the losses rises a little bit to 2.7.

I would imagine if I dug into it a little deeper and looked further into the games when the Birds were down first in later innings, the loss numbers would continue to rise.

We know that scoring first gives a team a slight advantage. However, my point is that there were far too many times this season that this team put themselves in a hole.

Being down changes the entire game and approach, and it is obviously not in the trailing team’s favor.

I’ve had season tickets for years and I’m a die-hard. I love this team, this manager, this organization.

I just do not understand the strategy from the very top to continue to throw these AAA(A)-level arms on the hill and consistently put the team at very telling disadvantage.

As we suffer through these last couple games and think “what could have been,” we look ahead and know that there are enormous decisions to be made this offseason.

Let’s hope they understand the root cause of being behind early in so many games – the dismal starting pitching – and finally address it in earnest.

submitted by Andrew Stoner

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Series Preview: Orioles (72-74) @ Yankees (79-66)

picture of a baseball field in New York

After finally snapping their six-game losing skid in the series finale in Toronto, the Orioles will now look ahead to their next challenge that comes in the form of a four-game set in the Bronx.

As a result of their recent losing streak, the Orioles (72-74) now trail the Minnesota Twins by 4.5 games for the final wild card spot in the American League with just sixteen games remaining on the schedule.

A current 1-5 record over the first two legs of the road trip hasn’t done them any favors, nor has a 4-8 mark through the first twelve games of September. While these Orioles are still scrapping away, the season is getting close to hitting its desperation point. That may not necessarily be a bad thing- a desperate team is a dangerous team.

The Yankees (79-66) on the other hand, have all but assured their spot in the playoffs by starting out the month of September on an 8-4 run. They now own a three-game lead over the Twins for the ”home” wild card spot, and the closest challenger on the outside looking in is a growingly distant 5.5-games in the rearview mirror.

The Orioles will hit the Bronx for the last time this season with their hosts owning the upper hand in the season set, and have gone just 6-9 against the Bombers on the year.

Will the dangerous Yankees land another blow to the hopes of their long-time rivals, or will the Orioles add a few notches in the win column to stay alive in the playoff run?

Only time will tell. Let’s go to the starters.

 

Game One

Wade Miley (8-12, 4.96 ERA) will take the mound against Masahiro Tanaka (11-11, 4.82 ERA) in tonight’s series opener.

Miley wasn’t up to par during his last contest versus Cleveland and exited the game after allowing four runs on six hits over 5 2/3 innings, but the southpaw has been very solid down the stretch this season. Over his last eight starts, Miley has gone 4-3 with a stout 3.25 ERA. However, Miley has gone winless over nine career starts versus New York and owns an 0-3 record and a 4.83 ERA against them lifetime.

Tanaka was tagged for seven runs on eight hits over just four innings during his last start against the Rangers, which came as a surprise due to Tanaka’s recent excellence. During his previous start, he had held Boston to just a single run on five hits over seven innings en route to his eleventh win of the season. Tanaka has also tossed six-plus innings of one-run baseball in four of his last seven starts.

 

Game Two

Gabriel Ynoa (1-1, 4.19 ERA) will take on All-Star Luis Severino (12-6, 2.96 ERA) in Friday’s match-up.

Ynoa will make his second start for the Orioles after allowing three runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings versus Cleveland in his first start as an Oriole. He’s posted a decent 4.19 ERA for the Orioles over six appearances this season and has posted fifteen strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings.

Severino turned in a gem during his last start against the Rangers and allowed just a single run on one hit over seven innings while striking out ten, but received the no-decision in the Yankees eventual 3-1 win. Severino has been an animal for the Bronx Bombers during the second half of the season, and has notched an amazing 7-2 record over eleven starts during that span to go along with a sensational 2.07 ERA.

Game Three

Jeremy Hellickson (8-9, 5.23 ERA) will get the nod against Jordan Montgomery (7-7, 4.24 ERA) on Saturday.

Hellickson turned in a much-improved outing during his last start in Cleveland, but ended up in the loss column despite having allowed just three runs on four hits over six solid innings. Over eight starts since joining the Orioles, Hellickson has gone just 2-4 while notching a 6.54 ERA.

Montgomery was pulled early after allowing three runs on three hits over just 3 1/3 innings during his last start versus the Rangers, and the Yankees standout rookie southpaw seems to have hit the ”rookie wall” in the second half of the season. Over ten starts since the conclusion of the All-Star Break, Montgomery has gone just 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA.

Game Four

The Orioles still haven’t announced who will take on CC Sabathia (11-5, 3.85 ERA) in the series finale on Sunday, but stay tuned.

More than likely, Chris Tillman (1-7, 7.82 ERA) or Ubaldo Jimenez (5-10, 6.75 ERA) will take the mound on Sunday. My verdict: Umm………Flip a coin, maybe? Mike Wright also remains a dark horse option.

Sabathia allowed just one run despite giving up six hits over 4 1/3 innings during his last outing against Tampa, and has been pretty solid overall for the Yanks down the stretch. Over ten starts during the second half of the campaign, Sabathia has notched a 4-2 record and a 3.91 ERA. The former Cy Young Award winner will also be looking for career win #20 versus the Birds, as he’s gone 19-10 over a whopping forty-one outings against the Orioles.

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Thursday Thoughts: That’s All She Wrote

This is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. This year, I’ll be cutting it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl WeaverBrooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.

1. My favorite thing to witness over the last week or so surrounding the Orioles is all of the people claiming that “now they are done.” It’s about the third or fourth time many of those same people have made the same proclamation.

The funny thing is, they were right the first time they said it. At this point, there really isn’t much to say about these Orioles. They remind me a lot of the 2015 version that finished .500 and in third place. They are extremely mediocre, to a point of frustration.

There is the rare game where they get good pitching, and the offense fails to show up. Then there is the game where they hit the cover off the ball but can’t get anyone out. With 16 games to go, the Orioles are 4.5 games out of a postseason spot with five teams to jump over. They aren’t going to pack it in right now, but they are getting prepared to dust off the golf clubs.

We’ve known this was the most likely scenario for quite a while now, it’s just finally coming to fruition.

2. There’s been a big “play the young guys” push over the last few days. Austin Hays, Chance Sisco and Anthony Santander have their own little fan club among Orioles faithful. I don’t really see a big issue with giving more at-bats to some of the unproven players, but I also don’t see the real benefit either.

Buck Showalter isn’t going to throw those guys into the mix until the team is mathematically eliminated. Though, honestly, seeing Hays and Santander in the outfield can’t be any worse than Mark Trumbo (defensively) and Joey Rickard (offensively). I don’t really buy the whole idea that momentum can carry a player from one season to the other, but we did see Trey Mancini get a nice debut in the final week of last season. He’s parlayed that into an outstanding rookie season.

Over the final few games, expect to see these guys in the lineup. Just don’t expect them to duplicate what Mancini did at the end of last year.

3. Zach Britton bounced back with his 14th save of the season last night, inducing a game-ending double-play ball. But on Tuesday it was a different story in Toronto. Britton blew his second save of the season after going all of 2016 without blowing a single save.

I’m not hitting the panic button over the fact that Britton has blown a few saves. His season has been ravaged by injury, and that’s the bigger issue here. Trade talk surrounding Britton is going to ramp up during this offseason, just as it was at a fever pitch near the deadline in July. The issue is that Britton still looks hurt. He was sidelined earlier this year with the forearm issue, then dealt with a knee issue. I joked the other day on Twitter that Britton’s offseason Tommy John surgery is bound to hurt his trade value.

But truthfully, closers are fickle enough from year to year. I can’t imagine a team wanting to give up anything of value for one who is coming off a season full of injuries and struggles. Britton’s trade window may have already closed.

For the Orioles, that could come back to bite them.

4. There’s still some 2017 games to be played, but MLB released the 2018 schedule this week. I always like to look ahead and see if there’s a good road trip the O’s will be on. A few years ago, I was able to make trips to Texas, San Diego and Anaheim from my perch here in Arizona. This season, the Orioles were pretty lucky to only have one trip to the Pacific time zone, but next season they’ll make two. The O’s hit the road to face the Angels and Athletics in early May, and have to return to the west coast as part of a brutal three-city trip that includes Seattle in early September.

That late-season trip includes games in Kansas City before heading to Seattle then St. Petersburg to face the Rays. That’s three different time zones in ten days.

The other quirk I noticed in the schedule is that the Orioles play the Astros on the road in their second series of the year, then don’t host them until their final series of the season. It’s rare you play a non-divisional opponent with that kind of time separating the two series.

There is one thing about the schedule that Buck Showalter will likely be happy with. There’s just one interleague series after the All-Star break, and it’s at home against the Mets. Every other series against NL teams happens prior to the break, including a six-game home-and-home with the Nationals and a four-game home-and-home with the Phillies.

This season, the O’s have to take a trip to Pittsburgh to face the Pirates within the final few weeks – the second to last series of the year is against an NL team. That’s something that will surely bother the skipper.

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Series Preview: Orioles (71-72) @ Blue Jays (66-77)

Rogers Centre in Toronto with the roof open.

After dropping all three games versus the red-hot Cleveland Indians over the weekend, the Orioles will now have to head to Toronto with a ”win-or-die” mentality in order to remain in the thick of the playoff chase.

While going to Toronto and coming away with a series win is usually tough enough, the Orioles will be breathing a sigh of relief to be escaping the confines of Ohio. Now, they must let it go and put the petal to the metal with their backs against the wall.

Don’t count them out just yet. This squad’s pretty good at overcoming the odds in case you haven’t noticed.

The Orioles (71-72) will be looking to snap a four-game losing streak in tonight’s series opener, while they remain just three games off the pace of the Minnesota Twins and the second wildcard spot. However, due to the slip-up in Cleveland, the pack of contenders have now all pulled to within 3.5-games of the Twins. As it stands, we’re in for a seven-horse race for one playoff spot.

This should be pretty fun.

The Blue Jays (66-77) remain nailed in the cellar of the AL East after going just 7-15 over their last twenty-two contests. However, they’ve gone an impressive 15-11 at Rogers Centre since the conclusion of the All-Star Break, so they shouldn’t be taken lightly (per usual).

After their Canadian rivals got the better of them over the previous two seasons (and in that one game last fall), the Orioles have gotten semi-revenge on the Jays by going 11-5 against them so far, this season.

Will the O’s snap the skid and reel off a few much-needed wins, or will the Jays crush the Orioles season (again)?

We’re about to find out. Let’s go to the starters.

 

Game One

Ubaldo Jimenez (5-9, 6.80 ERA) will take the mound against Marco Estrada (7-8, 5.00 ERA) in tonight’s series opener.

Jimenez was skipped over during his last turn in the rotation after getting shelled to the tune of giving up six runs on six hits over just 2 2/3 innings in his previous start against the Mariners. Over his last three starts, Jimenez has gone 0-2 with a 12.75 ERA. He’s gone just 1-3 with a 6.00 ERA over his last seven outings. He’ll get thrown back in against a team that’s he’s went 8-5 against while posting a 4.12 ERA over seventeen career starts.

Estrada was marvelous against the Red Sox during his last start and allowed just three hits over seven shutout innings, but got the no-decision in Toronto’s eventual 3-2 loss. Over eleven starts in the second half of the season, Estrada has posted a 2-2 record and a 4.74 ERA. Over twelve career starts versus Baltimore, Estrada boasts a sparkling 6-1 record and a 3.20 ERA.

 

Game Two

Dylan Bundy (13-9, 4.12 ERA) will take on Joe Biagini (3-10, 5.29 ERA) in Tuesday’s match-up.

Bundy was rocked and allowed five runs on five hits over just four innings during his last start against the Yankees, but excluding his latest effort, he’s been a shining star for the Orioles as of late. Bundy has gone an impressive 4-1 with a stellar 2.92 ERA over his last six contests while striking out a whopping fifty batters over forty innings of work. Look for the Orioles young ace to bounce back against the Jays. In six career outings (two starts) versus Toronto, Bundy has gone a clean 3-0 with a microscopic 0.51 ERA over 17 2/3 innings of work.

Biagini was shelled during his last outing versus Boston and exited the game after allowing five runs on six hits over just 3 1/3 innings. However, Biagini was incredible during his previous start against the Orioles and allowed just five hits over seven shutout innings while striking out ten in the process. Even though Biagini has gone through his learning bruises, he’s managed to routinely silence the Orioles. Over fourteen career contests (two starts) versus the Birds, Biagini boasts a sparkling 2.31 ERA over 23 1/3 innings.

 

Game Three

Kevin Gausman (10-10, 4.99 ERA) will take the hill against Marcus Stroman (11-7, 3.18 ERA) in the series finale on Wednesday.

Gausman turned in an off-key performance during his last start versus New York and left the game after allowing five runs on five hits over just three innings. Like Bundy, Gausman’s latest effort was a mere blotch on an otherwise golden run of form as of late. The Orioles in-form hurler has done his fair share of heavy lifting during the Orioles second-half resurgence and owns a 5-3 record and a magnificent 2.67 ERA over his last ten contests. He should be locked in for his next start against the Jays, as he owns a 4-3 record and an impressive 3.30 ERA against them over twelve career starts.

Stroman also turned in an uncharacteristic performance during his last start and allowed four runs on six hits over six innings versus the Tigers. Nonetheless, Stroman has been the biggest shining light on an otherwise lost season for the Blue Jays in 2017. The Jays ace has posted a stellar 3.00 ERA over eleven starts in the second half of the season despite going just 2-2. Over eight career starts against the Birds, Stroman has gone 3-3 with a 4.29 ERA.

 

That’s it for now, Orioles fans!

Here’s to getting back in the win column…

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Week in Review: Into the Buzzsaw

Jeremy Hellickson stands on the mound as an Indians player rounds the bases behind him.

We knew we were up against it, and even though the Orioles fought admirably over the last two games of the series in Cleveland, they simply couldn’t turn the tides of fate.

They were no match for the ridiculously hot Indians and their now 18-game winning streak.

But in all honesty, nobody is at the moment. It doesn’t make the pill of a three-game sweep any easier to swallow, especially now with just nineteen games remaining on the schedule and still being on the outside looking in. Sometimes you just have to accept the inevitable.

All that’s left to do now is to erase the weekend from the memory banks and take it one game at a time from here on out. Despite the winless weekend, the Orioles are still just three games out of the second wild card spot and have a decent chance at gaining ground against the struggling Blue Jays this week before heading to the Bronx on Friday.

The clock is ticking more rapidly by the day, but rest assured, these Orioles will keep grinding away until the hourglass runs out.

The rest we’ll just have to leave to fate.

Let’s take a quick look at the high/low-lights from the past week of Orioles baseball.

– After stepping up for the majority of the second half, the Orioles starters are trending the wrong way at the worst time as of late. Over the last thirteen games, the Orioles starters have posted a 6.68 ERA over 63 1/3 innings of work.

– Over their last six games against New York and Cleveland, the O’s rotation posted a dreadful 8.07 ERA over just 25 2/3 innings of work.

– The Orioles abused bullpen held it down against the Yankees with a solid 3.06 ERA over a whopping 17 2/3 innings of work over just three games, and then followed up by posting a 2.35 ERA over 7 2/3 innings in Cleveland.

– The Orioles bullpen has been the backbone of the team in the second half of the season, and they now own a stellar 2.57 ERA over their last twenty-two games and 91 innings of work.

– The Orioles bats fell silent in Cleveland, which has become an alarming trend in recent times. They didn’t exactly light it up against the Blue Jays or the Yankees before heading to Cleveland, either.

– Over the last ten games, the Orioles are batting just .236 as a unit while scoring only 3.2 runs per game (32 total). Most of their runs have come off fifteen home runs. Their all-or-nothing results have stung a bit, especially after they were swinging the bats so well for the majority of the second half.

– The Orioles, who have been one of the league’s best clubs at driving in runners in scoring position this season, have fallen short in that category in recent times. Over their last ten games, they’ve gone just 10-for-64 (.156) with runners in scoring position.

 

Stars of the week:

Unfortunately, we’re not handing out our three stars this week. This isn’t a time for consolation prizes.

This is a time to put up or shut up, and it will take more than three stars to get the Orioles to the promise land.

With our backs against the wall, the time to come together is now.

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The Rundown: Quiet Bats Again Dooming Birds

Francisco Lindor of the Indians celebrates a HR as Welington Castillo looks on.

The Orioles’ playoff chances took a major hit after being swept by the Cleveland Indians and dropping their last four games. The Indians are on a historic run so it was going to be difficult to win the series, but leaving town without a win is extremely disappointing. As much as we want to hope this team can be playoff material, watching the Indians for three games just shows how far the Orioles are away from being a true contender.

The will now turn to the great Ubaldo Jimenez to stop the losing streak and get back to .500.

 

The Offensive Slide

After an offensive surge in the month of August that helped get the Orioles back into the wild card race, the month of September has been the opposite. We have seen this kind of slump many times from this team, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

It would be nice for Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo to snap out of their season-l000ong slumps and pick up the slack after the rest of the lineup covered up their inefficiencies in the month of August, but that has not been the case.

This offseason will be extremely interesting to watch and we will have many months to discuss what the organization will do. After not selling at the deadline, they are committed to one more run before most of the team potentially leaves via free agency.

As it stands now, only two starting pitchers will return in Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. We know the team won’t spend on pitching so any help will come from the hope someone in the minors steps up, a cheap free agent move or a trade. Due to the immediate emergence of Trey Mancini and the potential of prospect Austin Hays taking over right field in 2018, Davis and Trumbo are expendable.

Unfortunately, the team would be selling low, and baseball as a whole doesn’t put a premium on power so any return would be minimal. I think the O’s are stuck with Davis due to his contract, but they could potentially move Trumbo.

Again, would they really get a quality starting pitcher in return? More than likely no. With the surplus of young hitters ready to make their mark at the big-league level in the very near future, plus the potential of many players deserving of a big contract, Dan Duquette and company are probably in full regret mode over the extensions of Davis and Trumbo.

 

Beckham’s Defensive Struggles

Tim Beckham has been a breath of fresh air since being acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays. He has given this team speed at the top of the order that they haven’t had in years and his energy has been contagious. There’s no doubt that he was one of the top reasons why the Orioles got back into the race last month.

However, that doesn’t mean we can’t state the obvious. He has been below average defensively. The sabermetric community may be more kind to Beckham than the eye test, but he has already made eight errors since the trade and failed to catch a pop up on Sunday night that should have been caught.

Bobby Dickerson is one of the best infield instructors in baseball so a complete spring training will do wonders for Beckham.

There’s a standard for defense under Buck Showalter, so this will be of high importance heading into next season.

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Series Preview: Orioles (71-69) at Indians (84-56)

progressive field in cleveland

After concluding an otherwise solid ten-game home stand with a 9-1 loss to the Yankees, the Orioles will look to get back in the win column tonight in Cleveland as they prepare to embark on a ten-game, three-legged road trip.

I guess the old saying here is “easier said than done.” The white-hot Cleveland Indians are currently on a remarkable fifteen-game winning streak and do not look to be slowing down anytime soon. The Orioles have been up against it many times before, but to say that they are going into Ohio as the underdogs would be an understatement.

On the other hand, to not say that this is the Orioles’ big chance to beat the odds and gain some crucial ground in the wild card chase would be false. With just 22 games remaining on the schedule, the Orioles can ill-afford another setback away from home.

As it stands, the Orioles (71-69) are just two games back from the Minnesota Twins and the second wild card spot. Despite the setback versus New York, the Orioles have still gone an impressive 11-5 over their last sixteen contests and own a much-improved 23-15 record over their last 38 ballgames.

Alas, no club can match Cleveland’s recent stellar play at the moment. In fact, the Indians’ winning streak has been the longest in the majors since Oakland reeled off twenty straight victories in 2012.

Thanks to their incredible streak, the first-place Indians (84-56) own an eleven-game lead over the Twins for the AL Central title and the second-best record in the American League. They also boast the highest run differential (+199) in the majors. The Tribe look to be poised to make another run at the title, and with a sparkling 27-9 record over their last 36 games and a magnificent 37-16 record during the second half of the season, they look to be hot favorites – and rightfully so.

Will the Orioles bring the Tribe down to earth in their own stadium, or will the red-hot hosts strike a critical blow to the Orioles playoff hopes?

Only time will tell. Let’s take a look at the starters.

 

Game One

Wade Miley (8-11, 4.91 ERA) will take the mound against Mike Clevinger (8-5, 3.50 ERA) in tonight’s series opener.

Miley was pretty sharp during his last outing versus Toronto and allowed just two runs on four hits over six innings, but ended up in the loss column. Nonetheless, Miley has been superb for the Orioles as of late and has gone 4-2 with a sparkling 2.79 ERA over his last seven starts.

Clevinger turned in a great performance during his last start versus Detroit and allowed only three hits over six shutout innings en route to his eighth victory of the season. The Tribe’s in-form righty has now won back-to-back starts while throwing twelve shutout innings in the process. The 26-year-old has been a major catalyst in the Indians’ magnificent run recently and owns a 3-1 record along with a stout 3.00 ERA over his last six contests.

 

Game Two

Gabriel Ynoa (1-0, 3.68 ERA) will get the nod against Josh Tomlin (8-9, 5.20 ERA) on Saturday.

Ynoa will be making his first start as an Orioles after posting a 3.68 ERA through 14 2/3 innings of work at the major league level in 2017. The 24-year-old righty has gone 6-9 with a 5.25 ERA over 21 starts at AAA Norfolk this season.

Tomlin was solid in his latest start versus Detroit and allowed just a single run on six hits over 5 2/3 innings en route to his eighth win of the 2017 campaign. Tomlin has been locked in for the Tribe as of late and owns a clean 4-0 record and an impressive 3.12 ERA over his last six starts. Over his last four starts, the veteran hurler has gone 3-0 with a sparkling 2.35 ERA.

 

Game Three

Jeremy Hellickson (8-8, 5.26 ERA) will take on Trevor Bauer (15-8, 4.39 ERA) in the series finale on Sunday.

Hellickson was roughed up by the Yankees during his last start and ended up allowing five runs (three earned) over just 2 1/3 innings. The Orioles newest member of the rotation has not found his rhythm since moving to Birdland and owns a 2-3 record and a 6.87 ERA over seven starts.

Bauer stayed red-hot during his last start versus the White Sox and allowed just two runs on three hits over 6 1/3 innings en route to his fifteenth notch in the win column. Along with super-ace Corey Kluber, Bauer has been a diamond for the Tribe down the stretch. Bauer has gone a remarkable 8-1 with an impressive 3.05 ERA over ten starts since the start of the second half of the season, and boasts a glittering 6-0 record and a 2.38 ERA over his last seven outings.

 

That’s it for now, Orioles fans!

Here’s to the Orioles pulling off an upset this weekend!

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Thursday Thoughts: In Awe of Manny Machado

Manny Machado prepares to throw the runner out.

This is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. This year, I’ll be cutting it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl WeaverBrooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.

1. If you weren’t aware of the fact that Manny Machado is indeed a very good baseball player prior to the last four weeks or so, I hope you’ve caught on. Machado has three walk-off home runs in the last three weeks, the latest coming Tuesday evening against the Yankees.

It doesn’t need to be said that the Orioles should pay to keep Machado in Baltimore long-term. It shouldn’t need to be said that he’s the most important player the Orioles have had in a generation. Machado had a dismal first half of the season and is now being talked about in the MVP conversation. That’s how good he’s been lately.

It’s almost as if when everyone predicted he’d come along in the second half, they were right.

2. Like every Orioles fan, I want to see the team keep Machado around long-term. I’m not about to fork over any of my own money to help it happen, however. A blogger from Australia by the name of Dan Clark has decided to take matters into his own hands, starting a GoFundMe page to try and keep Machado in Orioles orange. He started things off with a goal of $400-million and donated $100 of his own money (presumably).

I don’t know Clark personally, but I’m sure he’s a wonderful person with good intentions. I only know Clark from his interactions on Twitter. Based on that alone I can say that this is a silly idea that will hopefully only turn out something good (such as a donation to hurricane relief). As of this writing, Clark’s page has garnered a whole $126 worth of donations (including the $100 he put in to start). I can only say that if you actually put some of your hard-earned money into this campaign thinking it will help contribute to Machado’s future, you are foolish (unless you know it’s just going to go to some charitable cause).

For the record, Clark does state on the page that if Machado signs with another team, the money will be donated to the Boys & Girls Club of Baltimore, so there’s that.

Peter Angelos will (or won’t) sign the check that pays Machado, and for that matter the rest of the baseball players for the Orioles. They receive money from fans by way of ticket sales, cable revenue and merchandising.

They don’t need it through a GoFundMe campaign.

3. I found it very interesting that the Orioles decided to call up Austin Hays this week. The 3rd-round pick in last year’s draft out of Jacksonville had an absolutely torrid first full minor league season between Frederick and Bowie, posting a .329/.365/.593 slash line along with 32 homers. He played just 38 games for Aberdeen last season before making the eventual jump this season to Double-A.

Hays has quickly skyrocketed up the franchise’s prospect list, landing at #2 according to MLB Pipeline right behind catcher Chance Sisco. Suddenly, there’s buzz that Hays could be in line to break camp with the Orioles next spring. At first, the move to call up Hays didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Bowie is in the Eastern League playoffs, and seeing Hays stay down and get a few more regular at-bats over the next week or so didn’t seem like an awful idea.

Then I realized that this is more about the current big-league club and a push toward the playoffs. It’s also quite the indictment of Joey Rickard, who has been fairly abysmal at the plate. Rickard still offers some value defensively and as a pinch-runner, but perhaps Hays can provide something more with the bat down the stretch.

I don’t see any issue with getting him some big league at-bats right away, especially if he’ll be relied on to replace Seth Smith next season.

Cal Ripken Jr. posing by dugout during his 2131st consecutive game.

4. Yesterday provided Orioles fans with perhaps the most significant date on the calendar in team history. September 6th is of course the date that Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s all-time mark for consecutive games played. A year later, Eddie Murray clubbed his 500th career home run at Camden Yards. As a child, I was lucky enough to attend both games, and can’t recall a more electric atmosphere for both milestones. It was especially the case 22 years ago, when Ripken took that memorable lap around the warning track. Memories of that game and night will always give me chills in the best way possible.

What Ripken was able to accomplish was one of the more incredible feats, not just in baseball, but in all of sports. In fact, it’s one of the very few individual sports milestones that you can comfortably say will never be matched. There could be another 100-point game in the NBA, and with the way passing is in the NFL these days, we may even see someone eclipse Jerry Rice’s all-time receiving yards record. It’s not even that far-fetched to think someone could get a base hit in 56 straight games to match Joe DiMaggio. Pete Rose came within 12 games back in 1978, and even Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Luis Castillo have had streaks of more than 30 games this century.

No one is touching Ripken’s streak. No one is even getting close. In fact, there’s only one active player who has played as many games total (not consecutively) as Ripken did in his streak. Adrian Beltre has played exactly 2,800 games, and is currently injured and on the disabled list. No one these days even plays a full 162-game schedule. Jonathan Schoop did it last year and Buck Showalter has made sure it wasn’t going to happen again this season.

Ripken’s streak will not only be untouched, it won’t be sniffed. Those days are long gone.

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