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Wednesday’s O’s Links: 1st Week Conclusions, Rushing Stewart Along

baseball player at bat right before hitting baseball

The O’s fell in Boston last night in quite ugly fashion. Dylan Bundy was very good, if not as dominant as he was in his first start, limiting the Red Sox to just two runs over 6.1 innings. He was already the only O’s starter to go 7 innings, and now he’s the only one to go 6, as well. The final score was much worse, of course, thanks to a comedy of errors and misplays after Dylan exited. The Birds’ bats are still quiet, though we can excuse that just a bit given the fact that they’ve had three off days already, and hitters need to get into a groove.

Here’s to splitting the two-game set tonight. Let’s see what’s up in the world of links.

Machado in Pinstripes? A Worse Possible Outcome Exists

Baltimore Sports and Life’s Chris Stoner writes that, while Manny playing in New York remains nightmare #1 for Orioles fans, it might not be the absolute worst possible outcome. There’s a way that the front office could handle Machado’s contract situation that nets them absolutely nothing for losing one of the best players in baseball, and that would be as unforgivable as the fact of letting him go.

Aggressive Minor-League Assignment for D.J. Stewart Makes Sense

D.J. Stewart has been a disappointment in the minor leagues since the O’s drafted him in the first round of 2015. He was drafted for his bat, and he’s shown very little power thus far. He is starting this year at AA Bowie despite all this, and Nate DeLong of Camden Depot says it makes perfect sense for the organization to nudge the 24-year-old 23-year-old along, instead of allowing him to develop (or not) at his own pace.

Should You Trust Dan Duquette?

MLB Daily Dish’s Mike Bates reignites the ol’ “Are the Orioles successful because of Dan Duquette or in spite of him?” debate. Personally, I think it’s a bit ridiculous, and that fans don’t give Dan enough credit. That said, I recognize that he’s done absolutely nothing to set the team up for longer-term success once the current “window” closes.

Bird’s Eye View Episode 196: Tell Me What You See

Jake & Scott recap the first week of O’s baseball, which was a good one. Listen up.

Drawing Big Conclusions from One Week

Still haven’t gotten enough knee-jerk reactions to five games of baseball? Lucky for you, our own Andrew Stetka, writing in his weekly MASN guest column, can help you get your fix. About that whole, “defense is a constant” thing though…yeah, let’s just forget last night ever happened.

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Series Preview: Orioles (4-1) @ Red Sox (3-3)

A shot from inside Fenway Park during a game.

After opening up the season with a bang in front of the Camden Yards faithful, the Orioles will now jet out of town on a nine-game, three-legged road trip.

The first stop is a two-night stay in Boston for a set against the reigning AL East champions.

The Orioles (4-1) will be looking to remain in first place in the early goings of the season, while the Red Sox (3-3) will be looking to bounce back after dropping three of four in Detroit over the weekend.

Dylan Bundy (1-0, 1.29 ERA) will take the mound tonight against southpaw Drew Pomeranz, who will be making his season debut.

Bundy was magnificent in his effort to shut down the Blue Jays last Wednesday and looks to take that momentum into a game against a club that hasn’t treated him so nicely so far in his young career. Bundy owns a 1-2 record along with a 6.53 ERA in seven games (three starts) versus Boston.

Pomeranz can relate, as he also owns dreadful numbers versus Baltimore in the form of an 0-2 record and an 8.10 ERA over four career games.

Ubaldo Jimenez (0-0, 10.38) will look to shake off his brutal season debut against the Yankees tomorrow night against Steven Wright (0-0, 5.40 ERA), but it won’t be easy against a team that has owned him in the past. Over 14 career starts against the Red Sox, Jimenez has posted a 2-6 mark with a 6.82 ERA.

On the other hand, Wright owns a perfect 2-0 record and a 2.45 ERA over four games against the Birds, while the current Orioles squad owns a paltry .129 batting average (8-for-62) against the knuckleballer.

The Orioles should be up and ready to go for this match-up, as after a few years of having the upper hand over the Red Sox, Boston took the 2016 series 11-8.

Here’s to a little bit of payback at Camden North.

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The Rundown: Big Day for Chris Tillman’s Recovery

Chris Tillman winds up to pitch.

The Orioles kick off the second week of their season by heading to Boston, currently sitting in first place in the American League East. After having three off days already to start the year, the O’s will finally get into a routine, playing 15 games in the next 16 days.

Bundy Makes His Second Start of Season

It was nearly impossible to not get excited watching Dylan Bundy carve up the Blue Jays in his first start of the year. Bundy brought back his slider/cutter into his repertoire and it immediately paid off in a big way, making many Toronto hitters look silly. That pitch is what launched the right-hander up the prospect list and it is also what led to him undergoing Tommy John surgery and eventually having a setback before the Orioles scrapped that pitch until this season.

It will be interesting to see how much he uses that pitch tonight. The Red Sox will have more left-handed hitters than the Blue Jays did, but they are still a prominent righty lineup. Bundy will get Toronto again in his third start and that may be a true indicator of what to expect moving forward, as we will see if the Blue Jays hitters make any adjustments and if Bundy attacks them differently.

Regardless, it’s hard not to think about the season Bundy can have by bringing back a pitch that was considered his best and adding that to an already impressive arsenal.

 

Big Day for Tillman

The Orioles ace is scheduled to throw two innings or 30 pitches in Sarasota this afternoon and if all goes well, Chris Tillman will head out on a rehab assignment as he continues to progress from his shoulder injury.

The O’s can’t afford a setback. Outside of Bundy, the starting pitching staff has been a disaster through the first five games. I’m not worried about Kevin Gausman and still believe he’s in for a big season. However, Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley will always be inconsistent.

There will be a need for a fifth starter very soon, but no one in the minors has stepped up which is concerning, especially if Tillman isn’t ready to return by early May.

Birdland will be focused on tonight’s game in Boston, but the biggest news of the day will be what happens in Sarasota.

 

O’Day’s Struggles

Have we seen the best of Darren O’Day? We all obviously hope not, but after battling injuries last year, the right-hander has started the 2017 season poorly, highlighted by his awful outing in the series finale against the Yankees.

Buck Showalter blames it on his lack of strength as he continues to recover from the flu, but O’Day says he is completely healthy.

Whatever the reason is, the O’s need to figure it out quick and get one of the most reliable relievers in all of baseball over the last five years back to his old self.

I have to trust O’Day’s track record, but the reality is, Showalter can’t put the veteran in any high-pressure situations until he shows he is back to his pre-2016 form. Depending on the situation, Showalter will more than likely look to Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart before he turns to O’Day.

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A Look Back on a Successful First Week in Birdland

Zach Britton and Welington Castillo of the Baltimore Orioles high five after a win.

It seems as though the sunshine has finally broken through and spring is here to stay. Which means…you guessed it!

Baseball is back in Birdland! After a long, long offseason to ponder things, the O’s have started their 2017 campaign the same way they started off 2016.

By racking up a bunch of notches on the good side of the hash mark.

After Mark Trumbo‘s electrifying opening day walk-off and Dylan Bundy‘s dominant 2017 debut sent the Blue Jays out of Camden Yards with a zero in the win column, these cardiac O’s were back at it again versus the infamous New York Yankees over the weekend.

Not only did the O’s manage to come back once, but they came back TWICE to steal a pair of wins away from their long-time rivals. Sure, the ninth inning on Sunday didn’t go as planned, but take nothing away from the Orioles in what was an otherwise excellent team showing for the first week of the season.

Can I get an O Yeah?!?!

But what did we learn, and what can we take away from just the first week of baseball? Let’s dive into a few key observations:

– One thing that stands out already about this Orioles squad is that their heart and toughness seems to continue to grow year by year. Erasing a 5-1 deficit and a 4-1 deficit past the half-way point of a game is easier said than done on the MLB level, and they did it twice in two days.

– A huge mark to put in the ”pro” category is that the Orioles boast a 3-0 record in one-run games to start the season. A true mark of a playoff baseball club.

– Despite the implosion on Sunday starring Darren O’Day, the Orioles bullpen looks to be as solid as ever and will continue to be the team’s secret back bone. What’s new? Before Sunday’s series finale versus the Yankees, Orioles relievers had posted 16 2/3 straight scoreless innings. These guys are probably too close to mid-season form already….

– But other than Dylan Bundy’s fantastic season debut against Toronto in which he held the potent Blue Jays offense to just one run on four hits over seven innings while walking zero and striking out eight in a 3-1 win, the Orioles starting pitching has been worrisome yet again. Kevin Gausman looks nervous. Chris Tillman is still on the shelf. And Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley are up to their usual routines. The starters have a respectable ERA of 4.10 through the first week of the season, but averaging five innings per start as a unit will not cut it.

– And while the Orioles aren’t putting up the best numbers with a .227 team batting average (22nd in MLB), and a .284 team OBP (26th in MLB) while scoring 20 runs (4.0 per game) on five homers (t-20th in MLB)…who cares when you’re 4-1? Situational offense is better than a high-octane offense sometimes, and the O’s have gotten their share of clutch hits from the likes of Mark Trumbo, Manny Machado, Seth Smith, Mark Trumbo (again) and Hyun-soo Kim. More of the same, please!

As you all know, I have hockey deeply embedded in my DNA, so to pay homage to my first love, we’re going to do a ”three stars” at the end of each week for your Orioles. Here are the first week’s results:

 

3rd star

Manny Machado. A massive home run against the Yankees and a slew of excellent defensive plays at the hot corner? Welcome back, Manny!

 

2nd star

Dylan Bundy. He was really that good against the Jays. A pure gem of a start, and hopefully a sign of things to come for the Orioles’ future ace.

 

1st star

Mark Trumbo.  After the opening day walk-off homer versus Toronto, Trumbo remained the catalyst of good vibes in the series versus New York and ended the first week of the season hitting .263 with a double, one home run and a team-leading five RBI.

Zach Britton, who went 3/3 in save opportunities, gets an honorable mention nod here.

Well, that’s it for now Birdland…It’s great to be back!

Next, the Orioles will kick off their first road trip of the season with two games in Boston before jetting to Toronto for a four-game set and then back down to Cincinnati for a three-game set.

Tonight, Bundy (1-0, 1.29 ERA) will look to build onto his phenomenal first start against the Red Sox and southpaw Drew Pomeranz (0-0, 0.00 ERA). Tomorrow, Ubaldo Jimenez (0-0, 10.38 ERA) will take the mound versus knuckleballer Steven Wright (0-0, 5.40 ERA) in the series finale.

Here’s to staying in first place.

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Orioles Starters Letting the Team Down Already

Ubaldo Jimenez pitches as Chris Davis gets ready in the background.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Baltimore Orioles starters need to pitch deeper into ballgames.

Shocking, I know.

Yet, just five games into the season, here we are already, talking about the starters’ short outings taking a toll on the bullpen.

Five MLB teams have only played five games so far. Here are the total number of innings pitched by starters for those five teams:

Boston Red Sox: 31.0
Chicago White Sox: 29.0 (and that includes a 6.0-inning start by Miguel Gonzalez, in case you were curious)
Pittsburgh Pirates: 29.0
Detroit Tigers: 27.0 (a 2 1/3-inning start is dragging down their total)

And finally:

Baltimore Orioles: 26 1/3

I didn’t dig into the numbers for teams that have played more games, but I’d imagine it paints a similarly ugly picture as far as O’s pitching goes. Other than Dylan Bundy‘s 7.0-inning gem in game two against Toronto, only two other O’s starters have even gone deep enough to qualify for a win (Kevin Gausman on Opening Day, and Wade Miley on Sunday). Twice, pitchers have exited in the fifth inning (Gausman on Saturday, Ubaldo Jimenez on Friday).

With Chris Tillman still at least a few weeks away from returning, there’s no help on the immediate horizon. The guys who are here need to be better, especially Gausman, whom the team is relying on to build upon his strong 2016 second half to have any hopes of contending in 2017. The 26-year-old is struggling to throw strikes, having walked three batters in each of his first two starts, something he did just three times total in 30 starts a season ago.

Miley was ridiculously wild on Sunday, leading to his short outing. He matched a career-high with seven free passes in just five innings of work. He allowed no runs on just one hit in that time, adding insult to injury, since he was in a position to go much deeper into the game, had those walks not elevated his pitch count.

So yes, the Birds got off to a hot start, and sit atop the AL East at 4-1. The bad news is that we’re already wading into the familiar territory of “umm…guys, this isn’t sustainable.”

Bundy takes the mound again on Tuesday at Fenway Park against the potent lineup of the Red Sox, with a bullpen behind him that already desperately needs a rest.

No pressure, young fella.

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Monday’s O’s Links: Taxed Bullpen Finally Falters

Darren O'Day of the Orioles enters his windup.

So the O’s won’t go 162-0. They were the final MLB team to lose in 2017 though, finally falling to the New York Yankees on Sunday, 7-3, despite building a 3-0 lead early. It was a bit of revenge on the part of the Bombers, who blew 5-1 and 4-1 leads en route to losing the first two games of the series.

The Birds have – ugh – another off day today, before kicking off a two-game set at Fenway Park, followed by four in Toronto.

To the links.

Bullpen Implosion was Inevitable – Starters Must Pitch Deeper

Yup! Five games in, and we’re already talking about taxing the bullpen. That doesn’t seem to bode well. Kevin Gausman throwing 97 pitches in 4 2/3 innings on Saturday was particularly inexcusable. Wade Miley going five innings isn’t ideal, but it *could* be fine, if the guys in front of him in the rotation were turning in six or seven. Hurry back, Tilly.

The AL East is Off to a Chaotic Start

We’re ONE WEEK into the season, and these writers are already shocked that the Red Sox haven’t ran away and hid with the AL East title. Of course, they’re at the ready with excuses, the first of which is that Boston has the flu.

They Are Who We Thought They Were

Bird’s Eye View’s Jake English wrote some words about Friday’s win over New York, which was Orioles baseball in a nutshell. From up-and-down Ubaldo, to the heroic dingers, to the lights-out bullpen, the Birds followed their preferred recipe to the letter.

O’Day on his Struggles in the Ninth, Plus More Bullpen Quotes

The O’s bullpen was perfect through the season’s first four games. On Sunday, Mychal Givens gave up a game-tying home run to Aaron Judge, and then the flood gates opened. Darren O’Day was unable to get any close calls from the home plate ump, and was thus unable to stop the bleeding  as New York hung five runs on the Birds’ pen. The guys talk about the rough afternoon.

Could Manny Machado be One of the All-Time Great Third Basemen?

Ken Rosenthal, full-time Fox Sports reporter, part-time O’s shit-stirrer, asked Manny Machado about moving to shortstop as part of Fox’s pre-game show before Saturday’s game. Manny said that he still thinks about it, and Rosenthal muses about how it could affect the O’s and/or Manny’s upcoming free agency. If you’re like me, and would rather just live in the damn present, I’d understand if this was a link that you skipped today.

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GIF: Manny & Schoop Didn’t Look Too Worried About Britton

Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop horse around as Zach Britton warms up.

Let’s be honest: we all want the Bromance that Manny Machado & Jonathan Schoop have with each other.

During last night’s game against the New York Yankees, Zach Britton was taking warm-up pitches after rolling his ankle fielding a ground ball for the second out in the ninth inning. Birdland was holding our collective breath at that moment, but it seemed that Manny & Jon weren’t very worried.

In fact, they were adding another item to their entertaining Bromance list: ball tapping.

See, they’re just like us! Only one is a Brooks Robinson protégé & the other is a linebacker-sized man playing second base. Other than that…just like us!

And as our friends at Bird’s Eye View put it: “I love that Hardy is all ‘boys, don’t make me turn this car around.”

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#Staturday: Opening Day Walk-Offs Rare, Hot Starts Not (Under Buck)

Chris Davis of the Orioles watches a ball fly after swinging.

Baseball is back and so is Staturday! If it’s your first time to Staturday, you can find these and other stats on Twitter: @BirdlandStats. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

The Orioles opened the season with a bang, winning on an historic walk-off dinger:

Mark Trumbo became the first Oriole with a walk-off home run on Opening Day.

Manny also made some Opening Day history:

On Monday, Manny Machado recorded his 700th hit, becoming the 34th Oriole to do so.

In their second game of the season, Chris Davis launched the long ball, reaching a major milestone:

On Wednesday, Chris Davis launched his 200th home run in an Orioles’ uniform, becoming the 8th Oriole to do so.

Games (with the Orioles) to reach 200 home runs:

Robinson 1909
Anderson 1625
Ripken 1277
Jones 1217
Powell 1095
Murray 1057
Palmeiro 872
Chris Davis 776

Zach Britton started the season in a dominant fashion, picking up right where he left off:

On Friday, Zach Britton successfully converted his 51st consecutive save opportunity.

The Orioles have yet to lose a game in 2017. As it turns out, ever since Buck took the reins, hot starts are the norm:

The Orioles have started the season 3-0 in four of their seven seasons with Buck at the helm.

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Zach Britton’s Shaky Early Outings No Cause for Concern

Zach Britton looks into home plate.

The other day, I wrote a post titled “Let’s Draw a Bunch of Conclusions from One Game.” It was fun, but it was also, of course, a bit tongue-in-cheek.

Certainly, we can’t draw any meaningful conclusions from one baseball game, whether it’s the first game of the year or the 101st. Still, we baseball-starved fans needed something to talk about, and I was far from the only blogger to publish a post on what the Birds showed us on Monday. Full disclosure: I stole the idea from a San Francisco Giants writer, Grant Brisbee, (whom you should be reading).

One of my “conclusions” was that Zach Britton is Zach Britton. He allowed a couple hits Monday, sure, but they were on ground balls, and he still got the outs that he needed to.

However, Britton’s second outing of the year made Birdland even more uneasy. He again allowed two base hits, and as Mark Viviano pointed out on Twitter, at no point in all of 2016 did he give up multiple hits in consecutive outings.

He again got the ground ball he needed at the exact moment he desperately needed it, when Toronto had loaded the bases with just one out. But twice in a row, he played with fire. That’s not something we saw very often from Great Britton last season.

Zach has allowed seven baserunners – on five hits and two walks – in three innings pitched.

Queasy yet?

Fortunately, you shouldn’t be. Britton warned us about this before the season started, after he was only able to rack up five innings of work down in Sarasota, about half as many as he’d like to feel comfortable. Now he’s at eight innings of work this spring, so he should be getting more into the rhythm of things.

He was mostly missing below the zone, and one of the hits off him came on a pitch at the bottom corner of the rectangle, as we can see thanks to BrooksBaseball.net:

Zach Britton's strike zone plot vs. the Jays from game 2 of 2017.

He left a couple pitches up though, but thankfully his stuff is so good that the Jays weren’t able to do anything with them.

Just like you can’t draw *real* conclusions from one game, you can’t draw them from two. At this point, it’s just a little blip on the radar that we’re likely to not even remember in a week’s time.

Britton still owns baseball’s nastiest pitch. We aren’t likely to see many more bases-loaded or multiple-hit outings from him going forward.

Still, we’ll all be just a bit more nervous the next time AC/DC cranks up. Here’s to Zach quickly assuaging our fears.

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Friday’s O’s Links: Can Ubaldo Put it Together in his Contract Year?

Ubaldo JImenez prepares to wind up.

The O’s finally get into their real schedule starting tonight, with no more of this on-a-day, off-a-day nonsense. It looks like a chilly and windy night at the Yards this evening, so bundle up if you’re headed down. The weather looks much nicer for the final two games against the Bombers.

Let’s see what’s up in the Blog O’sphere today.

Why I think Ubaldo Jimenez is Going to Have a Good Season

Ubaldo makes his season debut against the Yankees tonight, hoping to carry over some of the momentum he managed to put together during his September surge last season. This is the final year of his four-year deal, and the first where, if he’s awful again, it might not be complete silliness from a financial standpoint for the team to just outright let him go. Hopefully, that won’t happen. Dan Connolly tries to convince us that it won’t.

Dylan Bundy Made the Blue Jays Look Silly

Nicolas Stellini of FanGraphs describes what we all witnessed the other night, which was Dylan Bundy completely goofing the Toronto Blue Jays’ potent lineup. Click over for the sweet 30-second clip of Bundy’s night, stay for lots of words articulating his particular brand of filth.

How to Enjoy Baseball

ESPN.com’s Sam Miller wrote a neat piece about ways to better enjoy baseball. The audience is folks who are only casual baseball fans, but even us diehards can pick up a thing or two here. Sage advice, Mr. Miller.

How Dylan Bundy Won: He Brought Back an Old Friend

We double-dip on both Dylan Bundy and ESPN this morning. Mark Simon has more on Bundy’s dominant outing against the Blue Jays. There’s a tidbit in there on Jose Bautista’s “efforts” that is sure to bring a smile to the faces of O’s fans.

Orioles Acquire Daniel Faulkner from Rangers; Release Dariel Alvarez

A bad week for Dariel Alvarez just got worse. After finding out that he’d probably need Tommy John Surgery just a couple days ago, last night he discovered that he didn’t even have a job any more, as the O’s let him go to make room for lefty reliever Daniel Faulker. They acquired Faulker from the Texas Rangers for the ol’ PTBNL and/or cash.

 

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Statcast Info Bogging Down MASN Broadcasts Already

A Manny Machado home run with Statcast data.

I tweeted a tweet that wasn’t met with the love I thought it would be, so I’m going to write about it.

My simple social media post:

The comment was panned a bit by the folks here at ESR, despite the fact they already knew I am a 90-year-old man when it comes to baseball. I despise SABRmetrics and the novelty of “Statcast” hasn’t worn off for me because it never wore on.

That being said ESR had a point when they said that it’s all about presentation. Unfortunately, because it’s new, the content is being overused and has become tedious at times. Perhaps, just perhaps, I don’t mind the stuff as much as I think I do.

Broadcasters these days already struggle to help fans understand why/how certain stats matter. Adding MORE of them seems like a bad idea.

I really like Gary Thorne, but I thought he was off his game in the opener.  He was spouting off every stat he had in front of him. Everybody preps for games and you have a myriad of stuff at your fingertips for a broadcast, but from experience I can tell you that you may never (and probably shouldn’t) mention two thirds of it.

Fans don’t need to know and don’t care that Joey Rickard once got licked in the face by a wayward dog while playing in Australia, unless a wayward animal gets on the field at Camden Yards. Similarly, show me the route efficiency of an outfielder on a fantastic catch or on a ball that seems like it should have been caught, but wasn’t. You’d find out if an outfielder is simply slow or if he doesn’t track the ball very well. Great info. However, I don’t need to see a guy catch a can of corn and the TV broadcast tell me there was a 99.4% probability that the ball would be caught.

I hate the way exit velocity is being used right now. It’s interesting, but for crying out loud it is not a statistic. If I hear “it’s the 14th hardest hit ball in the Statcast era,” I’m going to pull an Elvis and shoot my TV.

That being said, it CAN be used properly. Great info in a game last year when a player hit a home run and Statcast revealed that no ball hit with that low an exit velocity and trajectory had ever made it over the fence at that ballpark.

What a great time to declare Oriole Magic!

So, the folks at ESR are sorta right. The Statcast and metrics stuff comes down to presentation, but it also needs to add perspective. The MASN booth suddenly has a boatload more data to fill broadcast time with, and I fear that, at least for a while, they’ll misuse it and have the majority of their viewers – not just the “90-year-old” curmudgeons like me – rolling their eyes.

What do you think of the new Statcast data?
Love it. The more info the better!
Hate it. Give me AVG, RBI, HR!
In between. Announcers need to present it properly.
View Result

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Thursday Thoughts: Gausman, Mancini, and an Opening Day Homecoming

Trey Mancini of the Orioles leans forward in sunglasses.

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. I was fortunate enough to attend my first O’s Opening Day in nearly a decade this past week. I flew out from Arizona over the weekend and got the whole experience of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and it was just as good as my first time. Twenty-five years later, she still has all the charm and majesty that she started with.

Opening Day was not only great because it was another victory, but it was a win over the Blue Jays. Fans treated our neighbors to the north with all of the welcoming spirit you’d expect. The boos for Jose Bautista were wonderful, and his zero in the box score under “hits” was even better. The warm welcome for Steve Pearce was also great, though his three-hit game not as much.

For all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the game, the coolest moment for me was seeing longtime O’s radio voice Fred Manfra stroll out to throw a ceremonial first pitch. Sure, the orange carpet was cool and the win is great, but seeing Manfra toss one over the plate was heartwarming.

2. Aside from all of the surrounding distractions of Opening Day, a pretty good baseball game was actually played. It came with something, however, that concerned me a bit. Kevin Gausman was quite obviously amped up, and it showed in his lack of control. A total of 103 pitches over 5.1 innings isn’t going to get it done, but especially when only 57 of those pitches are strikes.

As our own Derek Arnold pointed out earlier this week, some of that had to do with poor pitch receiving from Welington Castillo. Some of it also could have to do with extra movement on Gausman’s pitches. Either way, he looked especially excited by the moment. After all, it was his first OD start.

Let’s just hope the flow of the season gets rolling and he gets into a better, more controlled groove.

3. News on the injury front continues to get a little better, day by day. Wade Miley is on board to make his first start Sunday while Darren O’Day has recovered from the flu. Chris Tillman is progressing slowly and has had no further setbacks as he continues to build up his arm with a target return of early May. He’s headed back to Sarasota for live batting practice soon.

There is however, a bit of a yellow light on that front after the O’s reportedly agreed to a minor-league deal with Edwin Jackson last night. Perhaps the 33-year-old is just being brought on as an insurance policy. His numbers in recent years certainly don’t indicate he’s stepping right in and helping, but it’s nice to have options I suppose.

On the opposite end of the injury spectrum, the bad news for Dariel Alvarez hit yesterday. The former outfielder, who was converting into a pitcher, has the dreaded elbow injury and is likely heading for Tommy John surgery. Alvarez was slated for Single-A Delmarva, but is now sitting on the shelf as part of the 60-day disabled list.

I was very interested to see if Alvarez could develop as an arm for the O’s, something they were able to do previously with Mychal Givens, a former shortstop. That development will now be put on hold.

4. I was only slightly surprised to see Trey Mancini getting the start in right field last night. Many expected to see Craig Gentry in that spot against left-hander J.A. Happ, but Mancini is up in the big leagues for a reason. Buck Showalter obviously wants his bat in the lineup as regularly as he can get it there.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens when moves are needed to get pitchers on the roster down the road. Will it be Mancini who is optioned, or perhaps Joey Rickard? Gentry would have to be passed through waivers, something I’m sure they organization doesn’t want to risk.

The one thing I would be willing to bet on is that the move comes from the outfield. There are so many options there for so few spots.

5. While it may seem like there’s jumping to a lot of conclusions after just two games, that’s the last type of person I am. A 162-game season is long and takes a while to play out. Conclusions take a long time to be resolved. I’m not going to fret too much over Gausman’s short outing in the same way that I’ll do my best not to get too hyped over Dylan Bundy’s brilliance. I also won’t fret over Mychal Givens’ continued inability to get left-handers out or the offensive stretches where the lights seem to go out.

I’m just happy baseball (that counts) is back. I think we all sit on the same side of the fence when it comes to that.

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Another O’pening Day, Another O’s Win

Oriole Park at Camden Yards from the right field corner.

Another Orioles Opening Day is in the books, and more importantly, another Opening Day in the win column is in the books. Were you one of the 45,667 fans there or were you one of the many who took pregaming to extreme lengths & can barely remember watching the game? I’m thinking there were definitely some folks with hangovers in the stands by the time the 11th inning rolled around.

Either way, the “O” during the National Anthem was loud & proud and the boos for Jose Bautista were quite impressive.

Opening Day 2017 had some awesome memorable moments. Of course, Manny was being Manny, throwing runners out from his knees. But let’s not look past Davis’ scoops! Color me impressed with those plays. Maybe we should call him Scoop Davis instead of Crush Davis?

For the sake of our love for the long ball, I can only hope he reminds us this season why we call him Crush.

Oh yeah, remember when half the stadium booed Hyun-soo Kim on Opening Day last year? Not a single boo this year, and I hope everyone who booed last year learned their lesson. Personally, I’m not one to boo my own player, but to each their own. Those boos should be saved for players like Bautista. I’ll boo him until I’m blue in the face.

The Orioles wouldn’t be the Orioles if they didn’t make us stressed out, frustrated & push us to the edges of our seats with extra innings. Of course they would go into extra innings on Opening Day, but thank the baseball gods for re-signing Mark Trumbo.

The first walk-off home run on Opening Day in Orioles history, on the 25th anniversary of Camden Yards. Storybook.

I mean, how else would we have wanted to win this game?

One more game against the Blue Jays & then it’s a weekend series against the New York Yankees, who started their season with an L, a wonderful L. It’s always a good time playing the Yankees, but I’m not going to lie: I will truly miss booing Mark Teixeira this year.

And rumor has it, Zach Britton is just two saves away from save number 122 in an Orioles uniform. Save number 122 would tie him with Jim Johnson (cue The Pretender) for the second most saves in club history.

No pressure, Zach. Birdland has your back.

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Wednesday’s O’s Links: Wade Miley on the Mend

Wade Miley of the Orioles pitches from the mound.

The Orioles won on Opening Day, they have a chance to sweep the Toronto Blue Jays tonight, Dylan Bundy is on the bump, and it looks like a gorgeous evening for baseball. All’s right in the world right now, Birdland.

Bird’s Eye View Episode 195: Get Back

Jake & Scott recorded a day late this week, as they were voiceless on Monday night, for obvious reasons. They review what we saw on Opening Day, debut a new game segment, make some predictions, and of course, blow the save.

On Patience

Camden Depot’s Patrick Dougherty gets mad at the Orioles’ aggressive approach at the plate, as do many O’s fans. This is a case where looking deeper into the numbers can actually make us feel a little better about things, as opposed to confirming our worst suspicions, or raining all over our parade.

Wade Miley Ready to Start Sunday

Hey, we have a fourth starter! Wade pitched a simulated game on Tuesday and felt good, but was elevating the ball a bit more than he’d have liked. Hopefully that corrects itself quickly between now and the weekend.

Updated O’s Prospect List

Baltimore Baseball’s Dean Jones updates his list of Orioles prospects (warning: slideshow. I know. Sorry.) Chance Sisco comes in atop the list, while Cedric Mullins, who Phil Backert phil’d us in on the other day during our Birdland Radio segment, is all the way up to sixth.

Seeking Success Against Lefties, O’s Take on J.A. Happ

We remember it all too well…the O’s couldn’t hit lefties last year. Even guys who had good track records against southpaws struggled mightily. That’s gonna have to change this year, and we get a chance to watch them hack with a lefty on the hill tonight, Toronto’s J.A. Happ. Brian Pinter of All About the Birds talks about the early look we’ll get at Buck Showalter’s platoon plans. How different will the lineup look from Monday’s? Stay tuned.

Here’s to sweeping the Jays!

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Let’s Draw a Bunch of Conclusions from One Game

Mark Trumbo crosses home plate as his teammates douse him in water to celebrate.

Grant Brisbee, who covers the San Francisco Giants for SB Nation’s McCovey Chronicles, has recently joined guys like FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan and Eno Sarris among my favorite baseball scribes. Grant’s been doing his thing for years, but I’m late to the party on this one. Better late than never though, just like Buck Showalter bringing Zach Britton into a tie game against the Blue Jays…

But I digress.

Grant wrote a post yesterday titled “Lessons from Opening Day,” and I enjoyed it so much I decided to yoink it for our own Birdland purposes. Of course, we can’t REALLY learn anything from one baseball game out of 162, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun to pretend that we can. We’re all juiced up from the Birds’ Opening Day walk-off win, so let’s take a dive into the “lessons” that yesterday’s game bestowed upon us.

Manny Machado is Still Awesome

As if there were any doubt, after watching him dazzle the world in the WBC last month. Still, it was great to see Manny come out and remind everyone that he belongs to Baltimore, damn it, and he does this crap ALL THE TIME.

This was the one that’ll be all over the highlight shows today, but it wasn’t even Manny’s only ridiculous play of the afternoon. A few innings earlier, he robbed Kevin Pillar on a “Baltimore Chop” that most likely earns Pillar a base hit if 28 or 29 other MLB third basemen field it. Manny got his feet set as the ball was descending, and fired an absolute rocket to nail the speedy centerfielder.

Zach Britton is Zach Britton

I’m not even gonna bring up the Wild Card game again. Once was plenty (and probably once too many). Britton, who we heard late last week was still struggling a bit to find his delivery after only pitching five innings in Sarasota, looked to have well, found it.

He struck out the first batter he faced. He was then the victim of the BABIP dragon, as the next two batters slapped ground balls that had eyes and scooted through the infield. Another grounder later, and the Blue Jays were back out in the field thanks to a 5-4-3 double play.

Showalter gave him a second inning of work, and he got two more quick ground ball outs. At that point, he’d thrown something like 12 pitches to record five outs on a K and five straight grounders.

That’s Great Britton for ya.

He was robbed of strike three on his sixth out (more on that below), resulting in a walk. Two grounders later, he was out of the jam.

So yes, he may have allowed two baserunners in each of his innings of work, but a closer look at how those guys reached base reveals that we shouldn’t have much to worry about when it comes to number 53.

Kevin Gausman’s Fastball is Moving

This topic will probably be deserving of a post all its own in the near future, but for now, let’s just touch upon it.

Gas Man’s fastball had some movement yesterday. One of the main criticisms of Kevin, throughout his young career, has been that while he can throw 95-99 regularly, the ball is straight as an arrow.

Yesterday, that wasn’t the case, at least some of the time. We heard Mike Bordick and Jim Palmer talking about the “two-seam” action on some of Gausman’s pitches. I don’t know if this is a “new pitch” in Kevin Gausman’s repertoire or what (PitchFX still picks it up as a four-seamer), but something was different in his first start of 2017.

Check out this pitch, on which he struck out Russell Martin in the second inning.


That’s a good bit of horizontal movement. Let’s head over to Brooks Baseball for some data.

Table showing Kevin Gausman's fastball movement.

That’s showing the horizontal movement of Gausman’s four-seamer by month. As you can see, in 2015 it was extremely straight. Last year, it got a little better.

Here’s a random start from 2016 (September 20 vs. Boston, when he gave up 5 runs on 10 H in 6.1)

Now, let’s look at yesterday:

table showing Kevin Gausman's fastball movement.

-13.07! That’s twice as much as last year’s average. I’m no expert, but that seems good. This is definitely something that we’ll be watching closely in Gausman’s next few starts. Maybe he was just extra amped-up for Opening Day and that caused a shift in his mechanics that resulted in some anomalous movement. Or maybe this is a great sign of things to come.

The Orioles are still prone to long cold stretches

Of course, the lessons weren’t all good.

On the other side of the coin, we again had a game where the offense went completely dormant for a long time (I said I wouldn’t bring up the last game where this happened again in this post, so you just go ahead and use your imagination.)

But like they did for most of the second half of 2016, the O’s bats took a deep snooze – a “Lumber Slumber” if you will – between the early innings and Trumbo’s shot to end it. After plating two runs in the third, 14 consecutive Orioles were sat down by Jays pitching, until Machado’s eighth-inning single. Trey Mancini‘s pinch-hit single in the 10th was their only other baserunner until Trumbo jogged slowly around the diamond in the 11th.

Dovetailing on this point…

The Approach at the Plate Will Continue to Make You Pull Your Hair Out

The Orioles walked just twice in this game, with Manny and Adam Jones (!!) each drawing one. The walks were early, with Manny’s in the first inning and Jones’ in the third.

After each walk? The next batter (Chris Davis in the former case, Machado in the latter) hacked at the first pitch and was retired.

Maybe this doesn’t bother you like it does me, but it drives me up a friggin’ wall. The guy’s struggling a bit with command, so make him work!

Givens Might Still Struggle Against Lefties

Mychal Givens‘ woes against left-handed batters are well-documented, and were a constant cause of consternation throughout last season. In his career, lefties hit .314/.404/.471 off him, compared to just .161/.248/.263 from righties. Last year, it was even worse – .366/.464/.561 from lefties.

So when Buck left him in to face Ezequiel Carrera in the sixth inning, Birdland puckered our collective sphincters.

And we were justified in doing so, as Carrera promptly doubled in the tying run.

Will Buck continue to just hope Givens can figure out how to get lefties out? Stay tuned.

New Catcher’s Pitch Framing: Same as the Old Catcher’s Pitch Framing

We’ve heard bellyaching for years now in Baltimore (ever since “pitch framing” became a thing that the average baseball fan talked about) that Matt Wieters was extremely deficient in this area.

Well, now Matty Backstop is gone, costing pitchers strikes down I-95 in the nation’s capital. So, yay, right?

Not so fast. Apparently his replacement, Welington Castillo, isn’t very good at “receiving” either. He definitely turned some strikes into balls yesterday afternoon.

I count four “blue” dots in the strike zone on those two examples, which are strikes that are called balls. Something to keep an eye on, begrudgingly, moving forward.

 

Anyway, those are the things I learned on Opening Day. With a day off today, that’s plenty of time to think about them some more. Tell me what you learned (or why I didn’t actually learn what I think I did) in the comments, or tweet at me @EutawStReport.

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Mark Trumbo Walks it Off for Opening Day Win

Mark Trumbo watches a baseball fly.

It took 11 innings, in a game that looked a lot like the last game the Orioles played against the Blue Jays for a while, but the Birds finally prevailed on Opening Day thanks to a Mark Trumbo walk-off solo home run.

Ain’t the beer cold?!

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ESR Joins Birdland Radio to Preview the 2017 O’s

Mark Trumbo of the Orioles stands on the base.

Yesterday, the guys at Section 336 hosted their second annual Birdland Radio day, 12 hours of podcasts to get O’s fans ready for the upcoming season. They were kind enough to invite us on again, and I was joined by ESR’s Phil Backert and Russell Street Report’s Ken “FILMSTUDY” McKusick.

We spent an hour talking about the Mark Trumbo signing (Ken isn’t a fan!), the deficiencies of OPS as an offensive statistic, the Orioles’ outfield defense, the World Baseball Classic, and plenty more.

Give a listen, won’t you?

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PiR: O’s Start Season with Logjam in the Outfield

Mark Trumbo of the Orioles in ready position in the outfield.

REALITY: Baltimore has a crowded outfield, and even more waiting in the wings.

PERCEPTION: Adam Jones, Hyun Soo Kim and Mark Trumbo were obviously going to make the roster, but after that it was a battle.  Joey Rickard, Seth Smith and Craig Gentry won that battle. Trey Mancini also did his part to make the roster. He and Trumbo will share time at DH, and in the field. Plus Anthony Santander is on the 10-day disabled list.

But then you also have Pedro Alvarez in Norfolk whose bat could earn him a spot at any time. Plus, Michael Bourn and Henry Urrutia are on the roster in AAA. And Mike Yastrzemski is thought highly of in the Orioles Front Office.

It is a classic Dan Duquette roster alignment…put as many players as possible on your roster in hopes that a couple have a breakout year. I think it will work well for the Orioles again this year. As long as everyone stays with the club, they are bound to contribute.

REALITY: The Orioles have a refurbished bullpen.

PERCEPTION: Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Darren O’Day, Donnie Hart, and Tyler Wilson return in the O’s bullpen. But Oliver Drake and Vidal Nuno will slide into spots previously held by a number of players rotating in and out last year. The hope is that with another year under their belts that Givens, Hart, and Wilson will be reliable, while Drake and Nuno will shore up spots that had too much inconsistency last year.

In Norfolk, you still have a lot of players that could be on the Shuttle, including Jayson Aquino, Richard Bleier, Parker Bridwell, Jason Garcia, Joe Gunkel, Chris Lee, Logan Verrett, Mike Wright, and Gabriel Ynoa. Most of those players are very young with not much Major League experience, but knowing Duquette and Buck Showalter, at least a few of them will be thrown into the fire.

REALITY: The Orioles starting pitchers will play a huge role in whether the team makes the playoffs or not.

PERCEPTION: We know this team can smash the ball, and will probably shut down games once it gets to the 7th inning, but what about the first six innings?

Ubaldo Jimenez, Kevin Gausman, and Dylan Bundy return as starters. Chris Tillman and Wade Miley will also return, after they spend some time on the DL.

Tillman is the most important player in this discussion. He was, and continues to be, the Ace of this staff. If he misses the first month of the season, the O’s should be okay. But if he misses more than that, the team will really need the rest of the guys to do a better job than they did last year. Gausman and Bundy both have the potential to be top of the line starters, but they need to be more consistent. They haven’t been able to put together a month worth of great starts without a couple of bad outings in there. This year needs to be the year they do it more frequently.

Who the heck knows what we will get from Jimenez and Miley? They both have shown flashes of the ability to be good #3 and #4 starters, but that is rare.

If the Orioles want to be a real contender, and move deep into the playoffs, they will need more than five mediocre innings from their starters.

I really thought Baltimore should have picked up Doug Fister to help their staff, but Buck and DD didn’t. When Tillman went down and nothing was said about the Orioles interest in Fister, then they must know something that I don’t. Because I still think they should have at least given him a look in Spring Training.

But what do I know? Maybe it comes down to money. He made $7 million in 2016. Maybe the O’s think they have enough with Jimenez, Miley, and those in Norfolk to not spend that much. We shall see.

REALITY: Today is Opening Day for the O’s.

PERCEPTION: Today is one of the best days of the entire year. Spring has sprung and the boys of summer return. Everyone has a fresh start and has a chance to make the playoffs and play for the World Series.

There is nothing like walking into Oriole Park at Camden Yards with all the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day, the smell of Boog’s Barbecue, and seeing the stadium packed to the brim in Orange and Black. Kids cut school. Parents skip work. Everyone is excited for the start of baseball.

I have my rituals too. Like wearing orange, even if I am not at the stadium, or watching a couple of YouTube videos.

Let’s start with the Orioles theme of “Orioles Magic”:

Or the 1989 Anthem “Why Not”:

This one came out a few years ago from a local band… the players may have changed, but the chorus is still fantastic… “How Bout Dem O’s”:

And there is nothing better to get you pumped for Orioles baseball like Delmon Young!

So let’s turn off any negativity and let’s get behind this team and fight along with them, pushing them to the playoffs.

Let’s Go O’s!

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2017 American League Preview

Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox pitches.

Last season, I was up and down in my predictions. I correctly predicted the Orioles and Blue Jays in the playoffs and had Mike Trout as the MVP. I incorrectly picked the Astros to make it to the World Series as they failed to reach the playoffs, and I had zero of the finalists for AL Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, or Comeback Player of the Year. So I’m going to try it again this year, because why the hell not? Without further delay, my predictions for the American League in 2017.

[Related: 2017 National League Predictions]

 

American League

East

(see my full AL East prediction here)

Boston Red Sox (95-67) – With a rotation stacked with aces and a lineup nearly just as good, the Red Sox are the team to beat in the American League.

Baltimore Orioles (90-72) – With their window closing, it’s now or never for Baltimore. The American League’s winningest team over the last five seasons, the Orioles will ride their bullpen to back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since 1996-97.

Toronto Blue Jays (87-75) – The loss of Edwin Encarnacion will have a bigger impact than people think, and while the rotation will still be superb, the Blue Jays run of consecutive postseason appearances ends at two.

New York Yankees (83-79) Aroldis Chapman is back to lead the bullpen, and a young and talented lineup will keep the Yankees relevant, but their shaky rotation and overall inexperience will keep them out of the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.

Tampa Bay Rays (78-84) – The rotation will return to form, but as always, the offense will let this team down, as will the bullpen. Still, the Rays will be competitive throughout the season.

 

Central

Cleveland Indians (94-68) – Their rotation can make an argument as the best in the league, and their bullpen can do the same. The addition of Encarnacion and the return of Michael Brantley catches the offense up with the pitching and the Indians run away with the Central.  

Detroit Tigers (85-77) – This team is old, but reliable. Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer anchor the rotation, and there’s always Miguel Cabrera. They’ll play good baseball, but a late-season swoon will knock them out of contention in September.

Kansas City Royals (83-79) – If the Royals can avoid the injury bug that plagued them in 2016, they’ll contend. Unfortunately for Royals fans, Salvador Perez already injured his knee in the World Baseball Classic and though he’ll be ready for Opening Day, it’s likely something they’ll have to monitor all year. The magic that took this team to back-to-back World Series in 2014-15 may be all but gone.

Chicago White Sox (78-84) – The White Sox will be the surprise of the summer in Major League Baseball, hovering around .500 for most of the season. Still, they’re a couple years away from seriously contending, despite the haul they got from the Red Sox for Chris Sale.

Minnesota Twins (63-99) – The worst team in baseball in 2016 (59-103), the Twins gave catcher Jason Castro–who hasn’t hit his weight in either of the last two seasons–a 3-yr, $24.5M deal this offseason in the hopes that his pitch-framing abilities will help the American League’s worst pitching staff (5.08 ERA in 2016). Spoiler: it won’t.

 

West

Houston Astros (91-71) Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran should bring quality veteran leadership to a young and extremely talented lineup, and the addition of Charlie Morton should help a rotation where everyone not named Lance McCullers under-performed in 2016. If Dallas Keuchel, Mike Fiers, and the like can rebound in 2017, the Astros could be scary-good.

Texas Rangers (88-74) Yu Darvish is healthy. Cole Hamels is still Cole Hamels. Despite the loss of Ian Desmond to the Rockies, and Adrian Beltre beginning the year on the DL, the Rangers have a formidable lineup with the addition of Mike Napoli and a full season of Jonathan Lucroy, and their bullpen has some solid arms heading into the season. They’ll compete in arguably the league’s tightest division, and will come away as a Wild Card team, making the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

Seattle Mariners (87-75) Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz makeup one of the most dangerous 3-4 combos in all of baseball, and the addition of Jean Segura, who led the NL in hits in 2016, gives the M’s a legitimate leadoff hitter. Felix Hernandez heads up a decent starting rotation the will have the Mariners in it to the end, but they will ultimately fall just short of the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (81-81) – Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, and Albert Pujols is a prolific run-producer. Any lineup featuring both of them is bound to score some runs. The pitching is what will let this team down in 2017, and they’ll fall short of the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons.

Oakland Athletics (75-87) – The rotation is young and inexperienced. The lineup has some power in Khris Davis and Marcus Semien, but not much else. The A’s just lack the talent to compete with the other heavyweights in this division in 2017, but the future could be bright.

 

Awards

AL MVP

  1. Mookie BettsBoston Red Sox
  2. Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels
  3. Manny Machado Baltimore Orioles

Dark horse candidate: Francisco Lindor Cleveland Indians

AL Cy Young

  1. Jose Quintana Chicago White Sox
  2. Chris Sale – Boston Red Sox
  3. Aaron Sanchez Toronto Blue Jays

Dark horse: Yu Darvish – Texas Rangers

AL Rookie of the Year

  1. Andrew Benintendi Boston Red Sox
  2. Aaron Judge New York Yankees
  3. Yoan Moncada Chicago White Sox

Dark horse: Lucas Giolito Chicago White Sox

AL Comeback Player of the Year

  1. Pablo Sandoval Boston Red Sox
  2. Michael Brantley – Cleveland Indians
  3. Alex Cobb Tampa Bay Rays

Dark horse: Greg Bird New York Yankees

 

Playoffs

Wild Card: Orioles d. Rangers

ALDS:  Red Sox d. Orioles, Indians d. Astros

ALCS: Red Sox d. Indians

WS- Cubs d. Red Sox

The Cubs are just too good for even the Red Sox overcome. A second straight title will take the Cubs from the darlings of Major League Baseball to one of the most hated teams in the country. So there you have it, my American League and World Series predictions. Enjoy the 2017 season. It should be another great one.

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2017 National League Preview

Jake Arrieta of the Cubs screams and gets pumped up.

Last season, my National League Predictions were way off. I correctly predicted the NL East standings and the Rookie of the Year, and that’s about it. But, if PECOTA, FanGraphs, and meteorologists can be wrong every year and get paid for it, then I think I’m okay. This year, for the fifth year in a row I take another crack at it. So here you go, my National League and World Series predictions.

[Related: 2017 American League & World Series Predictions]

 

National League

East

Washington Nationals (94-68) – Bryce Harper tied for the Spring Training lead in home runs and looks to have put his shoulder issues behind him. The rotation, led by two-time Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer, is absolutely filthy, and the lineup is loaded. When Matt Wieters and Ryan Zimmerman are your two worst hitters, you’re in for a fun season.

New York Mets (87-75) – Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, a healthy Matt Harvey, and Zack Wheeler are what make this team a legitimate contender. And when Steven Matz comes off the DL, they’ll get that much better. Still, the Mets usually find a way to let their fans down, and 2017 will be no different.

Atlanta Braves (80-82) – The Braves are going to be a really, really fun team in 2017. There are no easy outs in the lineup, and the rotation has dependable veterans to bridge the gap while they wait for any of their four starting pitchers on the MLB.com top 100 Prospects list to mature. Not to mention, Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albers are two of the top prospects in the game and should get plenty of playing time at the Major League level. The Braves, who went 37-35 (.514) in the second half last year, won’t make the playoffs, but they’ll treat their fans to one hell of a time all season long.

Miami Marlins (77-85) – Many expect the Marlins to rally around each other, using the death of Jose Fernandez as motivation all season long. That may be all well and good, but the fact remains that they don’t have a legitimate replacement for Fernandez in their rotation. And while the lineup has some solid players, Giancarlo Stanton has simply not been the same player since getting drilled in the face in 2014, and he can’t seem to stay healthy. Sorry Marlins fans, this season will not be a good one.

Philadelphia Phillies (74-88) – The Phillies have three good, young pitchers in Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola, and Vince Velazquez. Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera are stars in the making. Still, there will be growing pains in the City of Brotherly Love. The Phils are close, but they’re not there yet.

 

Central

Chicago Cubs (97-65) – They ended the longest championship drought in professional sports in 2016, winning their first World Series title since 1908 (108 years). And though they lost Dexter Fowler to the Cardinals in the offseason, Kyle Schwarber is back and healthy, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are still hitting in the middle of the order, and that starting rotation is still stellar. This is the best team in baseball, ladies and gentleman.

St. Louis Cardinals (93-69) – As stated earlier, Dexter Fowler signed with the Cardinals to bring an added element to their lineup, and though Alex Reyes will miss the season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, and Mike Leake all had excellent springs and are primed for big years. If Adam Wainwright can return to form, this rotation will be special. Not to mention the winning pedigree that has grown in St. Louis. They’re like the Yankees of the National League.

Pittsburgh Pirates (86-76) – The Pirates have a young and talented starting rotation, highlighted by Jameson Taillon, Gerrit Cole, and Tyler Glasnow. The lineup should be serviceable, and if Andrew McCutchen can return to his pre-2016 form, they’re going to play some good baseball in Pittsburgh. Just not good enough to make it to October.

Cincinnati Reds (74-88) – Adam Duvall came out of nowhere to hit 33 HR with 103 RBI. Zack Cozart is oozing with potential. Billy Hamilton is fast. Joey Votto is STILL one of the best hitters on the planet. But that’s about it for the Reds. It’s going to be another long season in Cincinatti.

Milwaukee Brewers (72-90) – Junior Guerra had a nice rookie season in the rotation for Milwaukee in 2016, albeit at the age of 31, and Zach Davies continuously reminded Orioles fans why they hated the Gerardo Parra trade so much two seasons ago. But when your next best pitcher is the oft-injured Matt Garza–who will start the season on the DL–and your starting first basemen is Eric Thames, you’re in for some trouble. The Brewers can’t even pretend to be good in 2017, much like in 2016. Milwaukee fans must be getting tired of this broken record. At least there’s plenty of beer to go around out there.

 

West

San Francisco Giants (91-71) – The Giants had the best record in baseball at 57-33 in the first half of 2016. In the second half, they were 30-42, thanks in large part to a bullpen that couldn’t hold a lead. Mark Melancon has been brought in to fortify that bullpen, and with a starting rotation that features Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Matt Moore, the Giants should find themselves in the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

**Side note: Matt Cain is not good anymore, and he hasn’t been in five years. Can everybody stop pretending that isn’t the case?

Los Angeles Dodgers (90-72) – Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the world. Corey Seager is primed for an MVP season after winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2016. Kenta Maeda is looking to build upon a strong rookie campaign that saw him win 16 games and pitch to a 3.48 ERA. The Dodgers have a lot of talent and should give the Giants everything they can handle in the NL West.

Colorado Rockies (85-77) – Everybody in the lineup can hit, though Ian Desmond fractured his hand and will start the year on the DL, which should be a hit to the lineup. Still, only the Red Sox scored more runs than Colorado last season. What the Rockies are hoping is that everybody in the rotation can pitch. They have two young studs making their MLB debuts in the rotation in Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland. It’s always the same thing in Colorado. They can hit with the best of ’em. If they can pitch, they can win.

Arizona Diamondbacks (79-83) – The return of A.J. Pollock is huge for this team, and Zack Greinke is out to prove that his 2016 season was just a blip on the radar. Paul Goldschmidt might be the best first baseman in the National League, and he would surely be a bigger star if he didn’t play in Arizona. Having said that, the D-Backs need Taiwan Walker, acquired in the offseason in exchange for Jean Segura, to realize his potential, and for Shelby Miller to regain his form from the 2013-15 seasons if they want to be relevant in 2017.

San Diego Padres (68-94) – In the lineup, it’s Wil Myers, Yangervis Solarte, and Hunter Renfroe, and that’s about it. In the rotation it’s Clayton Richards and a bunch of also-ran’s. Not much to say here, the Padres may be the worst team in the National League.

Awards

NL MVP

  1. Bryce Harper Washington Nationals
  2. Corey Seager Los Angeles Dodgers
  3. Kris Bryant Chicago Cubs

Dark horse Candidate: Yoenis Cespedes New York Mets

NL Cy Young

  1. Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. Max Scherzer Washington Nationals
  3. Kyle Hendricks Chicago Cubs

Dark horse: Madison BumgarnerSan Francisco Giants

NL Rookie of the Year

  1. Dansby Swanson Atlanta Braves
  2. Tyler Glasnow Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Josh Bell Pittsburgh Pirates

Dark horse: Ozzie Albies Atlanta Braves

NL Comeback Player of the Year

  1. Kyle Schwarber Chicago Cubs
  2. Bryce Harper – Washington Nationals
  3. Andrew McCutchen Pittsburgh Pirates

Dark horse: A.J. Pollock Arizona Diamondbacks

Playoffs

Wild Card- Dodgers d. Cardinals

NLDS- Cubs d. Dodgers, Giants d. Nationals

NLCS- Cubs d. Giants

My World Series picks will be unveiled in the American League portion to follow.

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