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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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Wednesday’s O’s Links: Austin Hays Called Up

Bowie Baysox OF Austin Hays swings.

Quite a game last night, huh? After a two-hour rain delay, the O’s took a 1-0 lead early, only to watch as their third consecutive starter failed to get through even five innings. In this case, Jeremy Hellickson was yanked in the third after completely losing the strike zone. New York was up 6-1, and most of Birdland went to bed early.

Those who didn’t, of course, were rewarded greatly at around 1:05 AM Eastern.

Let’s get the series today. To the links.

Austin Hays Called Up

The Birds shockingly called up Bowie OF Austin Hays yesterday, which could be viewed as quite an indictment on Joey Rickard more than anything else. While Hays would have probably been up soon anyway, Bowie just made the playoffs, and they’d probably liked to have kept him around for a few more days. The Baltimore Sun’s Jon Meoli has more.

Mark Trumbo and the Career Year

If 2016 Mark Trumbo had been bellyaching about pies, we probably would have forgiven him. However, the 2017 version of Trumbo needs to shut his…wait for it…pie hole. Joe Wantz of Camden Depot tries to figure out what happened to the guy who was mashing in Baltimore last year.

The Orioles are Really Bad at Baserunning

Camden Chat’s Tyler Young goes into the gory details of Orioles baserunning statistics. A brave young man he is. Along with the obvious (they’re bad!), he uncovers a not-so-obvious fact (one that had Tyler as surprised as it did me, apparently).

BEV Episode 216: Mas Pies

Jake & Scott discuss PieGate 2.0, the impending return (?) of J.J. Hardy, and plenty more O’s topics in another fun-filled episode of Bird’s Eye View. Listen!

Hunter Harvey Ends Rehab with Strong Start

A double-dip from Meoli today (he’s good). Here, he details Hunter Harvey’s final rehab start – and game action – of 2017. Includes are quotes from the young pitcher himself, who will, hopefully, make an appearance in Baltimore around this time next season.

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Series Preview: Orioles (70-67) vs. Yankees (73-63)

fans standing in stands with yankees player standing in front

After splitting a wild series versus Toronto over the weekend to stay hot on Minnesota’s heels for the final playoff spot in the American League, the Orioles will look to make a great home stand even better against the New York Yankees in the final three-game set at home before embarking on a ten-game road trip.

From double-sweeping the Red Sox and the Mariners to walking it off twice against the Blue Jays, this red-hot Orioles squad is simply buzzing at the moment and they now face a prime chance to make some noise in the wild card race against the Yankees.

The third-place Orioles (70-67) have won ten of their last thirteen contests, and thanks to their recent winning surge, they now trail the Twins by just a game and a half for the final wildcard spot in the American League. The Orioles have been propelled by a stellar 43-28 record at home this season, and an 18-9 mark over their last 27 games at home has served as a launching point for their challenge on the wild card holders.

It just so has it that the Orioles seemed to snap into form after getting embarrassed by the Chicago Cubs at home in the first series of the second half. Since that ill-fated three-game series, the Orioles have notched an excellent 28-18 record.

Wake-up calls are always fun – but the heart of this team has been on full display in the second half. Give credit to them for grinding it out and getting to the spot that they’re in now. From here on out, it’s game on.

The second-place Yankees (73-63) are fresh off winning three of four versus the Red Sox in the Bronx over the weekend, and now trail the division leaders by just 3.5-games. Currently the AL’s “home” wild card, they also own a 1.5-game lead over the Twins for the first wild card spot and a 3.5-game lead over their closest contending challengers (Orioles & Angels). Barring a collapse over their last 26 games, the Yankees should be bound for October baseball.

The Yankees also own a 7-5 advantage over the Orioles in the season series to date, and as a result, these two rivals have now gone an even 25-25 against each other since the start of the 2015 season.

Who will re-gain the upper hand? We’re about to find out.

All I know is that it’s going to be an intense three-game clash. September baseball at its finest.

Let’s go to the starters.

 

Game One

Dylan Bundy (13-8, 3.94 ERA) will take on Jordan Montgomery (7-7, 4.15 ERA) in today’s series opener.

Bundy threw a one-hit gem over nine innings during his first career complete-game shutout against the Mariners during his last start, and is lighting the world on fire as of late. Over his last five starts, Bundy has gone a clean 4-0 with an amazing 2.00 ERA and has racked up 45 strikeouts over 36 innings during that span. He’s also still undefeated during the second half of the season with a perfect 5-0 record and a 3.04 ERA over seven starts.

Montgomery allowed four runs on six hits over just four innings during his last start versus the Indians, and may be hitting the “rookie wall” for the Bombers as we enter the month of September. After going 6-4 with a rock-solid 3.65 ERA over sixteen starts in the first half, the southpaw has gone just 1-3 with a 5.35 ERA over eight starts in the second half. He hasn’t won a game since July 25th versus Cincinnati.

 

Game Two

Jeremy Hellickson (8-8, 5.15 ERA) will take the mound against CC Sabathia (11-5, 3.71 ERA) in Tuesday’s contest.

Hellickson was tagged to the tune of allowing seven runs on seven hits over just 4 2/3 innings during his last start against Toronto, and will be looking to bounce back against a familiar foe. Over seven career starts versus New York, Hellickson has gone 4-2 with a 3.21 ERA. In six starts since joining the Orioles, Hellickson owns a 2-3 record and a 6.55 ERA.

yankees player yelling in dugout

Sabathia turned in a great outing after holding the Red Sox to just a single run on four hits over six innings en route to his eleventh win of the season his last time out, and has been pretty solid for the Yankees as of late. Over eight starts in the second half of the season, the former Cy Young award winner has gone 4-2 with a 3.53 ERA. Sabathia will also be looking for win number twenty against the Orioles on Tuesday, as he owns a 19-10 record and a 3.47 ERA over forty career starts against the Orioles.

 

Game Three

Kevin Gausman (10-9, 4.79 ERA) will go head-to-head against Sonny Gray (8-9, 3.36 ERA) in the series finale on Wednesday.

Gausman allowed just four hits over six shutout innings during his last start versus Toronto, and has been simply outstanding for the Orioles for quite some time now. Over his last nine contests, Gausman has gone 5-2 with a sparkling 2.03 ERA. Over his last thirteen outings, Gausman boasts an impressive 7-2 record and a 3.04 ERA.  To make it even better, the Orioles fireballer has routinely silenced the Yankees in the past and owns a 7-4 record and a 3.18 ERA against them over fifteen career starts.

Gray pitched well again during his last start against Boston and allowed four runs on five hits over seven innings, but ended up in the loss column. Gray has been excellent for the Yankees since being acquired at the deadline and boasts a 3.16 ERA over six starts in pinstripes despite going just 2-4. He’s allowed two earned runs or less in five of six starts since the move to the Bronx. However, Gray is just 1-3 with a 5.57 ERA over four career starts against the Orioles.

 

That’s it for now, Orioles fans!

Here’s to more notches in the win column!

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Week in Review: Game On!

Mark Trumbo and his Orioles teammates celebrate a walk-off.

Well folks, this roller coaster of a season has served up a few more loops and twists over the past week, and I really hope you all are buckled up for the home stretch.

And if recent times have revealed anything, it’s that we’re in for a wild ride to the finish line, and the Orioles are going to be in the thick of this scrap until the very end.

After sweeping the Mariners mid-week to extend their winning streak to a season-high seven games, the Orioles then followed up by splitting an insane four-game set versus the Toronto Blue Jays.

While a sweep would have been ideal, there’s nothing like two amplifying walk-off wins in the span of three days to get the club buzzing in the right direction.

Now, the Orioles will focus their sights on ending an outstanding home stand on a high note versus the current wildcard-holding Yankees to kick of the new week before jetting over to Cleveland over the weekend.

With the Twins and the second and final wildcard spot just 1.5-games out of reach, if the in-form Orioles continue to rack up notches in the win column through the final 25 games of the season, it could very well just be enough to crash the party.

Let’s take a look at the highlights from the past week of Orioles baseball.

– Orioles starters in between Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, and as of late Wade Miley can’t seem to find consistency and as a result, the rotation has posted an ERA of 5.40 over the last eighteen games.

– The bullpen had an uncharacteristic weekend versus the Blue Jays, but has been superb as of late. Despite the rough weekend, they’ve posted a stellar 2.47 ERA over the past sixteen ballgames.

– The Orioles offense was hit-and-miss over the weekend after a big showing versus the Mariners, but rest assured – these guys are hellbent on firing the Orioles to a playoff spot.

– Over the last thirteen games, the Orioles are hitting .304 while scoring six runs per game (79 total) on 28 homers.

– Over the last thirty games, the Orioles are hitting .298 while scoring 5.6 runs per game (169 total) on sixty home runs.

Let’s go to the three stars of the week!

 

Third Star

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Jonathan Schoop. After going 4-for-12 with two homers and four RBI in the series versus Seattle which included his 30th homer of the season in the finale, Schoop then followed up by going 8-for-21 versus the Blue Jays over the weekend in a series in which he recorded his 100th and 101st RBI on Thursday and Friday.

Schoop has been not only the Orioles MVP this season, but a major catalyst in the club’s resurgence during the second half. Over the last twenty games, the O’s star second baseman is hitting a sparkling .345 with five homers and sixteen RBI.

 

Second Star

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Welington Castillo. Another huge part of the Orioles recent surge has been Castillo. After torching the Mariners by way of going 8-for-11 with two homers and six RBI, he then went 3-for-5 with two solo homers, one of which forced extra innings in the ninth in the Orioles 5-4 victory over the Blue Jays on Sunday.

Castillo has been quietly lighting it up for quite some time now. Over his last 37 contests, the Orioles red-hot backstop is hitting a phenomenal .321 with ten homers and 23 RBI.

 

First Star

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Dylan Bundy. Is this even a debate? Not only did he throw his first career complete-game shutout versus the Mariners on Tuesday, he did so by allowing just one bunt single in the fourth inning and struck out twelve Mariners over a highlight reel-esque nine-inning gem.

Bundy has been on top of the world as of late with a perfect 4-0 record and a sparkling 2.00 ERA over his last five outings. He’s also struck out 45 batters over 36 innings of work during that span.

Add it all up, and Dealin’ Bundy is your first star of the week.

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#Staturday: Dingers, Dongs, & Long Balls

Manny Machado watches a home run fly.

Happy Staturday Birdland! What an amazing week of baseball. We’re three games above .500 and things are starting to look good. Let’s check out some stats.

This August has been full of home runs. Let’s get some historical perspective:

The Orioles hit 57 home runs this August. That’s the most by any team in any August in MLB history and the third most in any month in MLB history.

The homer-licious August also put the Orioles on a list they already occupy:

Most home runs in a month in MLB history:

Orioles – 58, May of 1987
Mariners – 58, May of 1999
Orioles – 57, August of 2017
Orioles – 56, June of 2016

Tim Beckham’s hot start has not cooled off and it made for an historic month:

Tim Beckham became the second Oriole to record 50 hits in one month. He joins Cal Ripken.

Jonathan Schoop is having a beast season. He joins some impressive company:

Jonathan Schoop is 9th player in Orioles’ history to record 30+ HR, 100+ RBI, with a .300+ batting average. He joins Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson, Aubrey Huff, Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro, Cal Ripken, Boog Powell, and Jim Gentile.

Here’s to another awesome week of baseball! Check out more stats like these at @BirdlandStats on Twitter!

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The Orioles Swapped One Useful #50 Miguel for Another

Orioles fans are – understandably – a bit annoyed at the news that the team was trying to make a trade at the waiver deadline (last night) for Chicago White Sox pitcher Miguel Gonzalez. Gonzalez, of course, pitched for the Birds for four seasons, and while he was never consistently dominant, he was reliable with a flash of brilliance every now and again.

To wit:

MiGo’s best season in orange and black by ERA was 2014, when he posted a 3.23. By FIP, it was his first year, 2012, at 4.38. By fWAR, it was 2013, when he threw 171.1 innings at a 3.78 ERA/4.45 FIP, good for an fWAR of 1.6.

You’ll notice that none of those bests were during his final year in Baltimore, 2015. That season, Gonzalez put up a 4.91 ERA, along with career highs in BB/9 (3.17), HR/9 (1.49), BABIP (.295), and HR/FB rate (15%). Combine that with a career low LOB% (to that point) of 73.1, and you had a recipe for the down year he experienced. However, you also had indicators that he just went through some bad luck, and may have been due for a rebound.

Unfortunately for Gonzalez, in the spring of 2016, he tanked, putting up a 22.24 ERA in his first three Spring Training starts. He rebounded in the second half of March, but it wasn’t enough. Though he had an option remaining, Duquette decided to simply part ways with him instead of paying him the $5.1M he was owed.

Chicago picked him up and fixed…something. Whatever it was that was ailing him, I suppose. In his first season in the Windy City, Gonzalez racked up 2.6 fWAR (a full win above his previous career high) in just 135.0 innings at the MLB level. He wasn’t quite as good here in 2017, with 1.6 fWAR in 133.2 IP and a 4.56 FIP that’s much more in line with his career average (4.63) than was last year’s 3.71.

Chicago was able to flip their reclamation project for Texas’ 2014 second-round draft pick. Good for them!

If the Orioles had indeed been able to win the bidding war for Gonzalez this week, it would have been eerily similar to the Steve Pearce situation of a year ago – Duquette letting a useful player go for nothing, only to then turn around and need to use an asset to reacquire that player not long after.

But hey, that’s the bad/annoying news. Let’s talk about the good news.

 

New Miguel, Different from the Old Miguel

The good news is also named Miguel.

On April 7, Duquette traded cash or a player to be named later (who has not, to my knowledge, yet been named) to Colorado for Miguel Castro. Castro, 22, was a 2012 International signee by the Toronto Blue Jays. He made his MLB debut in 2015, at 20 years and 103 days, the youngest Blue Jay to ever appear in a game at the time (since beaten by Roberto Osuna). Later that summer, Castro was part of the deal that sent Jose Reyes to the Rockies for Troy Tulowitzki.

Castro pitched 13.2 relief innings for Colorado’s AAA affiliate in 2015, with a 1.32 ERA and 3.89 FIP. His 2016, however, was a disaster – a 10.34 ERA in 15.2 IP at AAA, and a 6.14 in 14.2 IP for the Rockies. It’s not hard to see why Colorado saw him as expendable, I suppose, though at 22-years-old, you’d think they wouldn’t be so quick to write him off.

In swooped Duquette, though, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive for Castro so far in Baltimore.

Looking at a stat called Win Probability Added (click here for a lesson), we can get an idea of just how valuable Castro has been.

Last year, Zach Britton led all O’s pitchers in WPA at 6.39. Here is this season’s leaderboard:

If Castro finishes at the top of the list, he’d be the first Oriole other than Britton to lead the team in WPA since 2013, when Tommy Hunter claimed the honor.

Castro has thrown at least 2.0 innings in 12 of his 31 appearances, including four of at least 3.0 innings, and one 6.0-inning appearance back on August 3rd (in which he allowed no runs). These outings of long relief – plus a Baltimore rotation that is ALWAYS, let’s say…lacking – have many wondering if the team could give him a chance to start next season.

Camden Depot’s Matt Kremnitzer explored this possibility last week.

At the very least, it seems like stretching Castro out to become a starter wouldn’t be a difficult transition. […]

Still, his lack of strikeouts with his current pitch arsenal causes hesitation. In 2017, the average major league starter has a K/9 of 7.9. Only one qualified starter this season has a lower K/9 than Castro’s 4.89. That would be Ty Blach of the Giants at 4.38. Blach is a former fifth-round pick who’s doing an even better job of avoiding walks and home runs. Maybe Castro could do something similar, but it’s tough to find success and maintain it year after year when you’re not missing bats. Major league hitters are too good at finding ways to maximize damage when they make contact.

Castro may not project as a solid starting option or even as any kind of long-term, shutdown reliever, but he is helping right now and does possess a couple of pitches that flash his potential. The Orioles don’t need him to be amazing; they just need him to do a decent Miguel Gonzalez impression. Is that too much to ask for?

Hey, another MiGo reference! Fancy that.

Castro’s 4.89 K/9 are certainly a concern. However, we need look no further than our own Dylan Bundy to see just how quickly pitchers – especially young ones – can figure out how to get whiffs.

Looking at a similar graph for Castro, we see that, once upon a time (last year), he had no problem striking guys out:

As Matt also points out, batters are swinging more against Castro and making more contact:

Another strange thing for Castro is that he’s getting batters to chase more, but they’re making more contact. His O-Swing% went from about 25-26% in 2015/2016 to almost 37% this season. But after posting O-Contact% numbers of 48% and then 55% in 2015/2016, that number has jumped to almost 66%. Overall, batters are swinging more against him, and they’re making more contact.

So guys are swinging MORE against Castro than they did back when he was a high K/9 pitcher, yet his K/9 have fallen off a cliff. This is certainly odd, and perhaps he’s due for a bit of a regression to the mean in this regard. In fact, you can see a recent uptick in his K/9 on the chart above.

He’s slightly above his season average lately, which we can see if we zoom in on 2017 (the dotted line is his season average):

Perhaps it’s as simple as saying, “Hey Miguel! Strike more guys out!” (it’s not). Maybe it’s just a matter of waiting for his contact numbers to regress (it might be). And maybe Castro just isn’t really a high-strikeout guy (though perchance, like Bundy, he could suddenly become one).

For now, it’s certainly something to keep an eye on, as Castro continues to work out of the bullpen. Hopefully his WPA will continue to rise, as he keeps on bailing out O’s starters from the miserable showings that you just know are bound to pop up.

Longer term though, given the Birds’ many questions at starting pitcher entering the 2018 campaign, it would seem logical that the organization give Castro every opportunity to show that he can make the transition to starter. If he flames out, you can always move him back to the bullpen. If he succeeds – the bar for which is depressingly low in Birdland – then you’ve truly swapped one useful Miguel for another, nearly one-to-one.

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Friday’s O’s Links: Schoop & Bundy Leading O’s Resurgence

Dylan Bundy winds up in a spring training game.

Well, the winning streak is over, thanks to Jeremy Hellickson and Kendrys Morales. Despite putting up eight more runs, it wasn’t enough for victory number eight in a row, as Morales smacked three home runs and drove in seven on his own.

The Birds were bound to lose again eventually. It’s fine – as long as they don’t follow up their seven straight wins with a few consecutive losses. With Marcus Stroman scheduled to pitch for Toronto Saturday, and Chris Tillman going for the O’s Sunday, tonight’s game suddenly looks pretty darn important.

Let’s look at our final links before Labor Day.

How the Orioles Have Performed Against Top Pitching

A few years ago, the meme in Birdland, fair or not (probably not) was that the O’s mashed good pitchers, but routinely got shut down by nobodies. Matt Perez looks at how the team has done against good, mediocre, and bad pitchers this year. He concludes that any postseason appearance may be short, because they are below average against good pitching. My question would be this: isn’t everybody? Otherwise they wouldn’t be, ya know…good pitchers.

September Call-Ups Will Include Chance Sisco

The O’s are set for some September call-ups, and those will include, among potential others (especially, hopefully, pitchers), Joey Rickard, Pedro Alvarez, and catcher Chance Sisco. Sisco, a top O’s prospect, will have trouble finding playing time behind Welington Castillo and Caleb Joseph, but he’ll at least get a taste of the bigs.

Jonathan Schoop has Been One of the Best Second Basemen

Some love for Johnny Beisbol from one of my favorite writers, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs. Sullivan details the many ways in which Schoopy has become a more disciplined hitter here in 2017, by swinging both less overall and especially less against balls. The data points to a true improvement. Dope!

Dylan Bundy is Looking the Part

TWO Sullivan articles about the O’s in one day – and both…positive?! Be still, my orange heart. In this one, Jeff goes into Dealin’ Bundy’s second-half dominance. That ol’ pitch that he wasn’t allowed to throw for so long – the slider, we’ll call it, instead of the “c” word – has been a big factor.

Orioles Fall Short in Pursuit of Miguel Gonzalez

It should would be nice to have a reliable starter like, say, I dunno…Miguel Gonzalez to throw out there instead of Tillman, wouldn’t it? Apparently Dan Duquette agreed, as the O’s were trying to trade to bring MiGo back to Baltimore, only to see Chicago send him to Texas instead. Kinda infuriating that the Orioles let him go for nothing back in Spring. Damn it Dan! (Tim Beckham, Tim Beckham, Tim Beckham…)

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Series Preview: Orioles (68-65) vs. Blue Jays (62-71)

The Orioles Jeremy Hellickson and the Blue Jays Marco Estrada pitch side by side.

After opening up their ten-game home stand with a statement-making sweep over the visiting Mariners, the red-hot Orioles will carry an amazing seven-game win streak into their four-game clash versus Toronto.

The Orioles (68-65) have used their stellar run of form to launch themselves onto the Minnesota Twins’ doorstep for the final wild card slot in the AL and now trail by just 1.5-games. They’ve also pulled themselves to just 2.5-games behind the Yankees for second place in the division and the first wild card spot in the American League. Make no mistake about it: a 17-11 month of August and an impressive 26-16 mark over their last forty-two ballgames has turned these Orioles from hopeful challengers into prime contenders.

The buzzing O’s will look to keep the ball rolling through the weekend. With a sparkling 41-26 record at home on the year and a 9-3 record versus the Blue Jays this season, the Orioles have a prime shot at taking down the Twins and ending the week with a playoff spot in their back pocket.

The Blue Jays (62-71) have been stuck in the cellar of the AL East pretty much all season long, but they weren’t technically out of the playoff picture (as crazy as that sounds) until a current 2-10 skid sent them to eleven games below .500. In fact, Toronto started the month of August on fire with a 10-5 record until crashing and burning over the latter half of the month. The Jays have also won just twice over their last nine games on the road. Lastly, they’ll be looking to snap a current four-game losing skid versus the Birds in tonight’s series opener.

Will the Orioles continue to hammer down versus their division rivals, or will the Blue Jays stun the uber-hot Orioles and come away from Birdland with a shocker?

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

 

Game One

Jeremy Hellickson (8-7, 4.88 ERA) will take on Marco Estrada (6-8, 5.04 ERA) in tonight’s series opener.

Hellickson was magnificent during his last start versus the Red Sox and allowed just two earned runs on four hits over seven stellar innings en route to his eighth win of the season and his second since joining the Orioles. Over five starts since being acquired in July, Hellickson is 2-2 with a 5.46 ERA. The former Ray will provide a nice boost in September by way of having a ton of experience pitching in the AL East. Case in point: over a whopping sixteen career starts versus the Blue Jays, Hellickson owns a 5-5 record and a solid 3.61 ERA.

Estrada turned in a solid performance during his last start versus Minnesota and allowed three runs on five hits over six innings. It’s been a strange season for the Jays veteran, as he carried the torch in the early goings of the season before bottoming out with a 7.86 ERA over the months of June and July. He’s responded by posting a solid 2-1 record and 4.45 ERA over five starts in August. Over eleven career starts versus Baltimore, Estrada has dazzled to the tune of a 5-1 record and a 2.26 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and .184 BAA.

 

Game Two

Kevin Gausman (10-9, 4.98 ERA) will take the mound versus Joe Biagini (3-9, 5.40 ERA) in Friday’s contest.

Gausman turned in a gem of an outing during his last start in Boston and allowed just four hits over 7 2/3 scoreless innings. The Orioles red-hot fireballer has now gone 5-2 with an incredible 2.26 ERA over his last eight starts. Over his last twelve outings, Gausman boasts a sparkling 7-2 record and a rock-solid 3.30 ERA. Over eleven career starts versus Toronto, Gausman has notched a 4-3 record and a 3.59 ERA. Look for the gas man to stay lit in this one. He’s dealing.

Biagini was roughed up by the Twins during his last outing and allowed five runs on nine hits over 3 2/3 innings. The Jays young hurler has not been at his best as of late, and after posting a 7.50 ERA over twelve contests in July, he’s posted an 11.25 ERA over two games in August since re-joining the team. Over thirteen career appearances versus the Orioles, Biagini has recorded a 3.31 ERA over 16 1/3 innings of work.

 

Game Three

Wade Miley (8-10, 4.99 ERA) is set to get the nod against Marcus Stroman (11-6, 3.11 ERA) on Saturday.

Miley turned in a bulldog-esque performance during his last start in Boston and allowed just a single run on seven hits over five innings en route to his eighth win of the season. Miley has been phenomenal as of late with a sparkling 4-1 record and 2.76 ERA over his last six contests, and will look to carry that momentum through September. Over nine career starts versus Toronto, Miley is 2-6 with a 4.65 ERA.

Simply put, the Jays would be in an even worse way if not for the stellar Stroman. While he didn’t get the win despite holding the Sox to just one run on seven hits over six innings during his last start, Toronto is 16-11 with him on the mound this season. Stroman carried the torch through the entire first half of the season with an impressive 9-5 record and a 3.28 ERA over eighteen starts, and he’s been even more impressive during the second half of the season with an awesome 2.78 ERA and a 2-1 record over nine contests.

 

Game Four

Chris Tillman (1-7, 7.91 ERA) will go toe-to-toe with Brett Anderson (2-3, 6.83 ERA) in the series finale on Sunday.

Tillman wasn’t at his best during his last start versus Seattle and allowed six runs on three hits and four walks over 5 1/3 innings. The O’s veteran owns an 8.44 ERA over 10 2/3 innings of work in his two starts since re-joining the rotation and is winless over his last sixteen starts. Over twenty-five career starts versus the Jays, Tillman has gone 5-10 with a 5.40 ERA.

Anderson turned in an impressive Blue Jays debut versus the Red Sox in his last start and allowed just a single run on six hits over 5 2/3 innings, but took a tough-luck loss in the end. The veteran southpaw was released by the Cubs at the end of July, and lasted a little over two weeks on the market before the injury-riddled Blue Jays snapped him up. He’s always been solid when healthy. The former Athletic and Dodger will be making his second career start versus the Orioles in this match-up and his first since April 2010 while he was still in Oakland.

That’s it for now, Orioles fans!

Here’s to keeping the hammer down, and keeping the streak alive!

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Thursday Thoughts: We’re Streaking!

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. The Orioles, like Will Ferrell in “Old School,” are going streaking. After seven straight wins, the Birds are right back in the thick of things in the AL Wild Card race, and I’m as surprised as you are.

No more than ten days ago, no one would’ve predicted they’d be in this spot. In fact, after Zach Britton blew a save last week to end his AL-record at 60, things looked pretty bleak. Britton was removed from a tied game and Miguel Castro came in and somehow kept things that way. The O’s would go on to win that game in the 12th and as it stands, they haven’t lost since.

This streak is their longest of the season and they are now three games above .500 for the first time since early June. It’s just the kind of run they need to get them back into the mix, but it still doesn’t make them a leading contender to grab one of the two Wild Card spots.

There is still a lot of work to be done in order to make that happen.

2. Dylan Bundy turned in one of the great performances in Orioles history on Tuesday night. A complete game shutout with a bunt single and two walks allowed, paired with 12 strikeouts.

While watching, I was also completing a fantasy football draft. To say I was distracted from my draft is an understatement. Watching Bundy pitch was like watching an artist paint. It was so crafty and designed. He used a great mix of his overpowering fastball and dazzling breaking pitches to keep the Mariners off-balance throughout the game.

To say the start of Bundy’s career has been tumultuous would be putting it gently, but this season he really has shown signs that he can live up to the hype of a first-round pick. I still have massive reservations about the way the Orioles have used him this year, but now that the team is in contention entering September, there’s no real holding back. It just makes me nervous going forward about how Bundy’s arm will hold up into 2018.

That there wasn’t any real plan for his innings entering this season is the larger issue. Bundy’s first half was spectacular, then his ERA ballooned up over 4.00. Now it’s back down under that mark and hopefully will continue to dip as the season rolls to a close.

3. Speaking of the season coming to a close, September really is upon us. It seems to have crept up, but call-ups are on the way and the stretch run is here. If you’d asked me a month ago, I would’ve expected the Orioles to be calling up a bunch of prospects and young kids to give a shot this month.

That’s no longer the case. It’ll be “all hands on deck” for sure, but I don’t expect players to just come up and sit on the bench. Buck Showalter has never shown a propensity for clogging up his clubhouse with players who don’t need to be there. There will be plenty of arms coming up to help out, and that’s important because every game in September must be treated like a playoff game.

Showalter can’t continue to allow starters to go deep in games while allowing big innings. He’ll have the depth in arms throughout the month to get by with short starts.

I’d expect some creativity in hiding struggling pitchers.

4. Just more than a week ago I wrote over at MASNSports.com that Trey Mancini’s season has been outstanding, but won’t get him in the winner’s circle for the Rookie of the Year honors. That may have been premature. Mancini still likely won’t garner the votes that Yankees slugger Aaron Judge is set to receive, but it should be closer than you think.

Judge’s gaudy home run totals are what will win him the race, along with his absurd number of walks and high on-base percentage. But he has also struck out at an obscene rate, and as an overall hitter, Mancini has proven more consistent. This is also not a two-man race. There are other players who deserve consideration, including the Astros’ Yuli Gurriel and Andrew Benintendi of the Red Sox.

But Mancini is showing up in a big way and is a large reason as to why the O’s are still in contention. It’s important to remember that the Rookie of the Year award, like all of them, is voted on by writers.

Most writers are going to have heard more about Aaron Judge than they have about Trey Mancini. That’s just the facts.

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Wednesday’s O’s Links: Dylan Bundy’s Near No-No

Adam Jones gives Dylan Bundy a pie.

Dealin’. Bundy.

What a performance, huh? Bundy’s third 10+ strikeout game THIS MONTH was also a complete game, one-hit shutout that gave the Birds their sixth straight win. The Mariners’ only hit was a bunt single, but it was early enough that there’s no unwritten rules silliness to go along with it. A no-hitter would have obviously been better, but we’re not complaining.

Let’s see what everybody is saying about Bundy & everything else today.

Castillo a Constant in Bundy’s Second-Half Success

Beef gets a lot of flak on O’s Twitter & message boards for his poor defense. Everybody knows that most of the O’s staff fare better with Caleb Joseph behind the plate. However, as The Sun’s Eddie Encina points out, that’s not the case for Bundy, who has fared much better throwing to Castillo of late.

From Suspect to Prospect: 10 Players Who Made the Leap in 2017

The bad news is that you need to subscribe to Baseball America to read this entire article. The good news is that you don’t need to read it all, as the important piece to O’s fans comes on page 1, where Austin Hays tops this list. “With legitimate defensive skills and a center fielder’s range as well as a right fielder’s arm, Hays looks like a future cornerstone in the Orioles outfield.” A prospect! Get excited, Birdland!

O’s Offensive Resurgence Has Been a Group Effort

The Birds still have baseball’s best offense since the All-Star break with a 121 wRC+. How have they been doing it? In short, EVERYONE has hit better. In long…well, click on over to Camden Depot for that.

Surging Offense Near Levels of Record-Setting June 2016

The last time the O’s hit like this was in the halycon days of June 2016, when it seemed like they were poised to mash their way to a World Series. Instead, they fell apart after June, a downturn that culminated in a wholly disappointing offensive showing in the Wild Card game in Toronto. The Sun’s Jon Meoli talked to some Birds about how this month compares to that one.

Bird’s Eye View Episode 215: Like Sands in the Hourglass

Jake & Scott discuss the Orioles’ little remaining time to make a run, with Jake taking the stand that it’s actually a GOOD thing that there isn’t much time left in the season. Ya know what? I like it.

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Series Preview: Orioles (65-65) vs. Mariners (66-65)

Ariel Miranda of the Mariners pitches.

After flying out of Boston with a three-game sweep over their bitter rivals in their back pocket, the Orioles will now look to keep the good vibes flowing versus a scrappy Seattle Mariners squad over a three-game set at Camden Yards.

The upcoming clash against the Mariners will kick off a three-legged, ten-game home stand for the Orioles. To say that this is the biggest home stand of the year would be an understatement. They’ll take on fellow wild card contender Seattle to begin the week, then host two AL East rivals in the form of the Blue Jays and the currently playoff-bound Yankees before departing for Cleveland.

It’s time to dig the cleats in, protect the house and reel off a bunch of notches in the win column.

The Orioles (65-65) are currently riding a four-game winning streak as they prepare to host the Mariners, and as a result of their recent surge, the Minnesota Twins and the second wild card slot are just two games out of reach. The Orioles should be buzzing at the thought of their upcoming home stand, as they boast an already impressive 38-26 record at home this season. They should also be buzzing after notching a drastically improved 23-16 mark over their last 39 games. Lastly, with a current 14-11 record in the month of August, the Orioles are having their first .500+ month since April.

Simply put, these resilient Birds have turned some heads as of late, and they seem to be hitting their stride at the right time.

The Mariners (66-65) roll into Birdland tied with the Angels for second place in the AL West and just 1.5-games behind the Twins for the final playoff spot in the AL. The Mariners have battled admirably all season long, and remain in the thick of the fight for the playoffs even after their starting rotation was ravaged by injuries. The Mariners have posted an impressive 23-17 mark since the conclusion of the All-Star Break and will be looking to state their case versus a fellow playoff contender as well.

This should be a great series to watch. However, the Orioles will be out for some revenge against the Mariners as they’ve gone just 2-8 against them since the beginning of last season.

Will the O’s continue their stellar run of form, or will the Mariners send their hosts crashing back down to earth?

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

 

Game One

Chris Tillman (1-7, 7.75 ERA) will take the hill against Marco Gonzales (0-1, 7.40 ERA) in tonight’s series opener.

Tillman will be aiming to notch another win versus his former club and snap his fifteen-start winless streak tonight. Over ten career starts versus Seattle, Tillman has had to have stirred up second thoughts in the Mariners hierarchy as he owns a sparkling 7-1 record and 3.30 ERA (That Adam Jones guy has been pretty good, too.). Tillman will be looking to repay Buck Showalter‘s faith after the skipper re-installed Tillman into the starting rotation after an exile to the bullpen, and will be giving him the nod once again despite Tillman having allowed four runs over 5 1/3 innings during his last start versus the Angels.

Gonzalez, a once-promising top prospect in the Cardinals farm system, has went through a recovery campaign after missing all of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery. He turned in a decent outing during his last start versus Atlanta and allowed two runs on six hits over 4 2/3 innings. Acquired by Seattle in July, Gonzales is now 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA over his first four starts with the Mariners.

 

Game Two

Dylan Bundy (12-8, 4.18 ERA) will take on Erasmo Ramirez (5-4, 4.52 ERA) in Tuesday night’s contest.

Bundy turned in yet another impressive performance during his last start against Oakland and allowed three runs on seven hits over six innings. The Orioles in-form hurler is still undefeated since the start of the second half and owns a 4-0 record over six starts during that span. Over his last four starts, Bundy boasts a clean 3-0 record and a glittering 2.66 ERA. He’s also racked up 33 strikeouts over 27 innings of work during that span as well. Simply put, Bundy’s been dealin’.

Ramirez allowed just three runs despite ten hits over 5 1/3 innings during his last start versus Oakland, and will be looking to continue his good run of form versus the Orioles. Over his last eight outings (five starts) since the All-Star Break, Ramirez has gone 1-1 with an impressive 3.18 ERA. In sixteen career appearances (six starts) versus Baltimore, the former Tampa Bay Ray owns a 2-3 record and a sparkling 2.98 ERA.

 

Game Three

Ubaldo Jimenez (5-9, 6.57 ERA) will get the nod against former Oriole Ariel Miranda (8-6, 4.62 ERA) in the series finale on Wednesday.

Jimenez was tagged to the tune of five runs (three homers) on nine hits over five innings during his last outing versus Oakland, and has now lost back-to-back starts while posting a 10.61 ERA over that span. Over his last six starts, Jimenez has gone 1-3 with a 4.86 ERA. Over eight career starts versus Seattle, Jimenez has posted a 2-4 record and a 6.50 ERA.

Miranda battled through 4 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball during his last start against the Yankees, but the second half of the campaign hasn’t been kind to the former Orioles prospect. After lighting it up in the first half of the season with a 7-4 record and a 4.15 ERA over eighteen starts, Miranda has posted a 1-2 record and a 5.79 ERA over eight starts since the conclusion of the All-Star Break. He’s gone 1-2 with a 6.12 ERA over five starts during the month of August as he heads into his first career start against his former club.

That’s it for now, Orioles fans!

Can I get a let’s go O’s?!?!

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Monday’s O’s Links: Back at It, O’s Back in It

Hunter Harvey throws as Darren O'Day watches.

Greetings again, Birdland. After taking my birthday week “off,” O’s Links are back in effect. What’d we miss?

Oh, just a 5-1 week including a three-game sweep in Fenway to crawl back to within two games of the wild card?

Not bad!

Let’s see what else is up…

Red Sox Can’t Buy Key Hit as Orioles Complete Sweep

Oh yeah, drink it in.

After Weekend Sweep, O’s Back to Sniffing Postseason Spot

Writing in his weekly MASN guest column, our own Andrew Stetka marvels at the fact that the Birds have been able to maintain their relevance in the AL postseason chase. It’s had a lot to do with the overall mediocrity surrounding them, but let’s not look past how good they’ve been in August.

What’s Next for Miguel Castro?

Camden Depot’s Matt Kremnitzer takes some of the “Can Miguel Castro be a starter?” talk and dives into the numbers. Castro’s K rate is definitely cause for concern, but he looks to have some very solid potential. If nothing else, he’s a very intriguing option for 2018, and should *hopefully* be a useful piece in Baltimore for several years to come.

Tim Beckham, Free of High Expectations, Finally Hitting Like a Star

If even Dan Duquette told you he saw THIS coming from Beckham, you can rest assured that he’s lying to you. Timmy’s incredible start in Baltimore has gone a long way to making the aforementioned awesome August possible. And check this out!

Prospect Notes: Hunter Harvey

Remember him? He’s finally pitching again, and the results have been very promising.

 

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Week in Review: O’s Heat Up as Summer Cools Down

Well well well, what do we have here?

The clock may be ticking, but the Orioles have been doing a ton of knocking lately…

And it looks like this Orioles squad that just about everyone deemed dead in the water without even a fighter’s chance of making the postseason is out to shock the world once again.

And after an incredible sweep over the red-hot Bo’Sox at Fenway over the weekend, there is no doubt the Orioles are revving up the engine at the perfect moment in time.

The starters were almost flawless, the line-up did major damage and the bullpen was perfect. You couldn’t have asked for a better team performance than the one that we enjoyed over the weekend.

The current four-game winning streak has pulled the Orioles to an even .500 at 65-65, and as a result of their strongest showing on the road of the season, the AL’s second and final wild card spot is now just two games out of reach.

To add the cherry on top, this surging Orioles squad will now dig in their cleats and set their sights on taking down the Twins in the wild card standings over a lengthy ten-game stand at OPACY. If there was ever a time to pull off a major string of W’s, the time is now.

In the meantime, here’s to staying focused and hammering down versus fellow wild card contenders Seattle tomorrow.

That hammer’s getting pretty hot, by the way. Watch out, American League.

Let’s take a look at a few quick highlights from the past week of Orioles baseball.

– As we mentioned earlier, the Orioles starters were simply superb in Boston over the weekend and finished the three-game set with a sparkling 1.37 ERA over 19 2/3 innings. More of the same, please! Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and Wade Miley have been doing a great job of carrying the load lately and have all been major catalysts in the Orioles resurgence.

– Once again, the Orioles bullpen was immaculate over 7 1/3 innings over the weekend, and as a result, relievers have posted a stellar 2.56 ERA over the last nineteen games and a 2.83 ERA over the last 29 contests.

– While it’s hard to top a twenty-hit, sixteen-run explosion like the Orioles pulled off on Friday, I like our chances of carrying the swagger over down the stretch. Mainly due to their fireworks display at Fenway, the Orioles are hitting .293 while scoring over seven runs a game (7.3 per game) on top of thirteen homers and an amazing .407 average with runners in scoring position over their last six ballgames.

– Over the last sixteen games, the Orioles are hitting a stellar .300 with 102 runs (6.4 per game) on 31 homers.

– Over the last 29 games, they’re hitting .289 with 166 runs (5.7 per game) on 51 homers as a unit.

Let’s go to the three stars of the week!

 

Third Star

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Trey Mancini. Talk about perfect timing. Right off the heels of a long-term slump, O’s star rookie Mancini broke on through to the other side by going 4-for-10 with a homer and three RBI versus Oakland. He then followed up by tagging the Sox over the weekend by going 7-for-13 with five RBI. His excellent showing in Boston included a four-RBI night on Friday and the game-winning RBI double on Sunday.

”Boom Boom” is on fire at the moment.

 

Second Star

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Wade Miley (Yes, THAT Wade Miley) gets the nod here over a red-hot Adam Jones and Tim Beckham. Miley pitched a great game versus the A’s during the former part of the week and allowed just two runs over six innings in the Orioles 7-3 win, and then battled relentlessly over five innings of one-run ball at Fenway over the weekend en route to a 2-1 sweep-clinching victory.

Miley has been in excellent form as of late, and as a result of his two well-earned wins this week, he’s now sparkled to the tune of a 4-1 record and a 2.76 ERA over his last six outings.

 

First Star

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Jonathan Schoop. The Orioles star second baseman has caught fire again lately, too. After posting his 27th home run of the season and five RBI versus Oakland, Schoop followed up by being a major catalyst in the dismantling of the Sox over the weekend by going 6-for-13 at the plate with four runs, one homer and two RBI.  His stellar display in Boston included a 4-for-5 night with three runs and an RBI on Friday and his 28th homer of the season on Saturday to tie Manny Machado for the club lead.

Over his last thirteen ballgames, Schoop is hitting an amazing .333 with three homers and ten RBI. In his last 38 games, Schoop is hammering down to the tune of a .331 batting average with ten homers and forty RBI.

Without a doubt, Schoop has been the O’s team MVP this season, and should garner some AL MVP votes.

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