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O’s Well Represented Among Worst AL Players So Far

Caleb Joseph swings.

Looking for an uplifting article to give you hope for the remainder of 2018? SPOILER ALERT, turn away now this piece is not for you. The futility that this team displays on a nightly basis can partially be explained by the failure of some of our key position players, of which the Orioles have three who rank in the bottom 10 of bWAR in the American League. No other team has more than one player in the bottom 10. Yowza.

 

Adam Jones

.236/.253/.375, with a bWAR of -0.6.  These numbers are well complemented by his 20 strikeouts in 75 PA, and the only player in the AL with a lower bWAR is Neil Walker (-0.7). Jones was very vocal during the offseason about his desire to play for a team next year that could get him a ring. Interesting sentiment for a guy with this level of production.

 

Caleb Joseph

.088/.114/.147, with a bWAR of -0.6.  Tied with Jones in terms of WAR, I can’t even bring myself to comment on Joseph’s slash line. I know he brings a veteran leadership and is regarded as a defensive upgrade over Chance Cisco, but he has an OBP of .114.  He literally never gets on base.  Woof.

 

Chris Davis

.125/.234/.196, with a bWAR of -0.5. The (K)King of Westeros, Davis continues to earn his $161 million. If not for his contract, I’d have to believe he would have been DFA’d by now. To go along with these abysmal numbers, he has ONE home run. With declining defensive metrics and the lack of offensive production, there’s no longer an upside to his strikeouts.

Looking forward to when Trumbo joins the troops!

 

Tim Beckham (Honorable Mention)

.167/.211/.258, with a bWAR of -0.4. Beckham just misses the bottom 10 of American League bWAR rankings, coming in at number 14. The hot start from a year ago is a distant memory, and he actually bests Davis and Jones with 24 strikeouts on his resume.

So what does this all equate to? Losses, and lots of them. Looking back at the last 39 games (stretching back to last year) the Orioles have won nine times, which comes in at a cool .230 winning percentage. Not Great! When we talk about a team being unwatchable, this is it.

Perhaps these struggles will usher in the much needed sell-off, and allow the O’s to recoup some value for Manny Machado, Zach Britton & Co., and put them in a position to be competitive next year. I fear however, that they will simply trade Brad Brach and call it a “rebuild.”

Hello Darkness My Old Friend.

(WAR numbers via baseball-reference.com, prior to Wednesday’s games)

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Series Preview: Orioles (5-11) @ Tigers (4-9)

Tiger statue at Comerica Park in Detroit.

After getting swept out of Fenway, the Orioles will now look to recover and pick up a few much-needed wins against a slumping Tigers squad over the next three games in Detroit.

The Orioles (5-11) have been battling through rough seas since the start of the season and find themselves six games below .500 as a result. And just when you thought they were waking up in the Bronx a week ago, they have now dropped five of their last six while getting outscored 32-14 in the process.

The bats have been nearly non-existent in the early goings, and the Orioles have now scored two runs or fewer in seven of their sixteen contests so far this season. Something’s got to give sooner or later, right?

The Tigers (4-9) are still in the midst of a five-game losing streak after having three straight games against the Yankees postponed over the weekend. They can also point to their slumping lineup as the catalyst behind their lowly start after getting outscored 26-11 over their current losing skid.

 

Probables

Andrew Cashner (1-1, 2.50 ERA) will stay in turn and face Francisco Liriano (1-1, 2.13 ERA) in tonight’s series opener.

Cashner was supposed to take the mound on Monday in Boston, but mother nature had other plans. He’ll look to stay in form after allowing just four hits over seven shutout innings during his last outing versus Toronto.

Liriano ended up on the wrong end of a pitchers’ duel during his last start versus Cleveland and took the loss despite allowing just two runs on three hits over six innings. The veteran hurler has been in great form for the Tigers to start the season, as he owns an impressive 0.95 WHIP over his first 12 2/3 innings while holding opposing hitters to a .167 batting average.

Kevin Gausman (1-1, 6.60 ERA) will take on Matthew Boyd (0-1, 1.38 ERA) in Wednesday’s match-up (note: it’s already been moved to a 1:10 PM start).

Gausman earned his first win of the season after holding the Jays to three runs over six innings while notching seven strikeouts during his last outing, and will be looking for a second straight quality start.

Like Dylan Bundy, Boyd has been phenomenal for the Tigers over his first two starts of the campaign but doesn’t have a win to show for it. He took a no-decision in his last start against the Indians despite holding them to a single run on three hits over seven innings. Over his first 13 innings this season, the southpaw has posted an excellent 0.62 WHIP while holding hitters to a .159 batting average.

Alex Cobb (0-1, 17.18 ERA) will presumably take the mound against Jordan Zimmerman (0-0, 8.18 ERA) in the series finale on Thursday.

Cobb was tagged for seven earned runs on ten hits over just 3 2/3 innings during his Orioles debut at Fenway, and will be looking to shake it off against a slumping Tigers offense.

Zimmerman has had a literal nightmare start to the 2018 campaign. After giving up ten earned runs over his first 10 1/3 innings, he then took a line drive to the face in the first inning during his last start against Cleveland.  Thankfully, he avoided serious injury and won’t face any time on the DL.

 

Notes

Manny Machado remains the only hitter in top form for the Orioles. The star shortstop is now hitting .308 with six runs, five doubles, three homers, nine RBI and a .392 OBP

Trey Mancini, however, seems to be heating up. He’s now recorded multi-hit contests in five of his last ten games and currently owns a four-game hitting streak.

– Nick Castellanos has yet to hit a home run this season, but still owns a .302 average along with two doubles, two triples, and five RBI.

Miguel Cabrera leads the Tigers in RBI (9) despite having hit just one home run over his first twelve games on the year. He’s also hitting an uncharacteristic .245 at the plate.

That’s it for now, folks!

Here’s to a few in the win column.

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The Orioles Offense has Been (Mostly) Bad for a Long Time

Chris Davis swings.

When we think of the Orioles, several things come to mind: good bullpen, bad starting pitching, and an offense that is good enough to make up for the latter sometimes, and to give the former a lead late often enough, usually through the use of a large amount of home runs.

That’s been the formula in Baltimore for as long as most of us remember, and for at least as long as Buck Showalter‘s Birds have made themselves relevant again in the American League East on a mostly annual basis.

Unfortunately, it isn’t completely accurate. The final piece of that equation has been sub-par more often than not for far too long, and it’s a lot more responsible for this team’s recent failures than most O’s fans likely realize.

Do the Orioles hit a lot of home runs? Yes; that part hasn’t changed. The O’s were second in MLB in home runs in 2012 with 214, first in 2013 with 212, first in 2014 with 211, third in 2015 with 217, first in 2016 with 253, and fifth in 2017 with 232 (that fifth place finish was their lowest since finishing 21st in 2010).

But as we all know, hitting home runs doesn’t necessarily correlate with scoring a lot of runs. The Birds’ OBP problems have been a source of much bellyaching for years, and have resulted in far too many of those aforementioned dongs being of the solo variety. Their final ranks in runs scored haven’t been nearly as impressive as those standings in the home run derbies.

2012: 15th (712)

2013: 5th (745)

2014: 8th (705)

2015: 9th (713)

2016: 12th (744)

2017: 16th (743)

So far in 2018, the offense has been abysmal. They’re not hitting home runs (20th in MLB with 14), not hitting with runners in scoring position (25th in MLB at .212), and not scoring runs as a result (23rd in MLB with 51,  but it gets worse on a per-game basis):

Anybody who’s been watching knows that the O’s offense has been non-existent this season. What I’m here to unfortunately point out though, is that while they’ve been uncharacteristically bad so far in 2018, they’ve been mostly bad going back several seasons.

Using wRC+ (read about it here if you’re unfamiliar), we can see that the Birds have had a below-average (that’s below 100 on the wRC+ scale, or the red horizontal line on the following graphs) offense in two of the last four half-seasons, and a significantly above-average offense only once – in the first half of 2016.

If we break it down by month, it looks even worse.

A quick count tells us that the O’s have had an above-average offense in five of the last thirteen months – April/June/August 2016, and July/August 2017 (thanks, Tim Beckham!). They’ve been below average in eight, and woefully below average in three of those – July 2016, September/October of last year, and this month.

In September/October of 2017, the Birds posted a team wRC+ of just 60. That’s 40% below average, and nearly twenty full points lower than the next lowest teams on the list (Pittsburgh and Boston were at 79). What’s more alarming is that such a bottoming out doesn’t, so far, look like just a blip on the radar, as they’ve barely rebounded to a 75 so far this year.

(One of the four teams lower than the Birds so far is next on the schedule – the Tigers at 73 – so maybe they can actually out-slug someone this week?)

Yes, it’s been cold. When the weather finally breaks for good, then starts to really heat up, the baseballs will again be flying out of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I fully expect the O’s to be right there atop the HR leaderboard come September.

Unfortunately, overall, this offense just doesn’t look good enough to carry the team like we all hope they will. If the last two months of swinging wet noodles just looked like an anomaly, I’d be less worried.

Perhaps Mark Trumbo will be back soon, and inject some much-needed life. Hopefully, the early-season slumps of Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, Beckham, & others will all cease simultaneously, and soon.

It’s just that, looking at the longer-term trends, it’s hard to be too optimistic about a quick about-face from the O’s bats.

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The Rundown: So Much for Bouncing Back

Chris Tillman, Orioles pitcher, wipes his brow with his arm.

After it appeared the Orioles were getting their season back on track when they took three of four from the Yankees in New York, the team has reverted to the one that started 1-5. Since the big series win in the Bronx, they’ve dropped two of three to the Blue Jays and lost the first three to the Red Sox before the final game of the series (scheduled for today) was postponed.

 

Offense Continues to Struggle

We can blame the weather, we can blame the quality of starting pitching the O’s have faced, we can blame lady luck, but in the end, the bottom line is that the offense has been sleepwalking since last September. If Jonathan Schoop is sidelined for multiple weeks, it may not get better anytime soon. The problem is, I have no idea what it will take for this to get fixed which is extremely concerning.

Does the organization fire hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and hope that gives the team a spark? Maybe, but will that really be the right solution when the team is filled with veterans? It’s at least encouraging that Buck Showalter has stopped the usual “trust the track record” talk we often hear from him in recent days and acknowledged that the offense needs to start performing.

Outside of Trey Mancini, Pedro Alvarez, and Manny Machado, there is no hitter in the lineup to fear. Right now, I have more confidence that Craig Gentry is going to have a productive at bat than I do with Chris Davis and Tim Beckham. It should be noted that Gentry currently leads the team in pitches seen per at bat at 4.46 and also leads the team in stolen bases with four.

 

I Miss the Old Tillman

Chris Tillman has no confidence and it appears he will at least have one start skipped due to the series finale postponement against the Red Sox. Tillman looks exactly like he did last year: like a pitcher that should be nowhere near a major league roster.

What I don’t understand is, he worked out in Sarasota while he was a free agent with numerous decision makers around. How did they come to the conclusion that he looked like his old self? It’s unacceptable and someone should explain how they thought he would be able to get big leaguers out.

It remains to be seen if Tillman will get another start. Unfortunately, the track record from the organization suggests he will.

 

Delmarva Shorebirds Rotation

The big league team may be off to a bad start, but at least there are numerous individuals in the minor leagues who have started the season strong, headlined by the Shorebirds rotation. Delmarva’s rotation is filled with draft picks from the last two years and each pitcher has been effective. Michael Baumann, third-round selection in the 2017 draft, has highlighted the talented group with 19 strikeouts in 11 innings. It appears the organization will have their first-round pick from 2017, D.L. Hall, work three innings to begin the season. In his only start, Hall allowed one hit and struck out two. Zac Lowther is another pitcher to highlight as he was also selected in 2017 and in his only start this season he pitched six innings and struck out 13.

O’s fans should make it a priority to check the box scores for Delmarva every morning, and to stop by Purdue Stadium for a game at some point this summer.

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A Frigid Start

A baseball player breaks his bat over his knee.

Many of us at Eutaw Street Report started writing about the Baltimore Orioles because of our love for the team. We were fans before we became journalists. In some cases, like mine, we went to school to become journalists so that we could write specifically about the Orioles.

At times, our fandom comes out, the same as you. Knee jerk reactions are part of the process. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve screamed at my television, or told Chris Davis or any other struggling player that he sucks, knowing full well that nobody can hear me.

It is because of this fandom that often, for the sake of staying away from bias in journalism, I tell myself to take some time before writing an article after an Orioles cold streak, and even hot streak; it goes both ways. At this moment, however, no amount of time between the end of the last miserable loss and the writing of this article will cause me to venture from the cold, hard truth, and that is this:

The Orioles are a lost and foundering franchise.

At 5-11, the Orioles are off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. It should tell you all you need to know that Dylan Bundy has a sparkling 1.40 ERA in four starts covering 25.2 IP, yet has a 0-2 record to show for it.

Chris Tillman, perhaps saddled with some bad luck having to face the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox in his first three starts coming off a disastrous 2017, has an ERA of 11.91. Meanwhile, Alex Cobb allowed seven earned runs is his first turn with his new team after being labeled by many as a savior of sorts for the franchise.

The best options in the minor leagues to help the backend of the rotation are David Hess, who leaves much to be desired (read his scouting report here), and Hunter Harvey, who has logged just 146.1 professional innings since being drafted in the first round in 2013.

As per usual, the Orioles turned to the Rule V draft in December to try to bolster their pitching staff. While most teams make just one selection, the Orioles made three selections in addition to their Rule V layover from last season, Anthony Santander.

For the math whizzes out there, that’s four Rule V picks on the spring roster, and three of them actually made it to Baltimore for Opening Day. Pedro Araujo and Anthony Santander remain, but Nestor Cortes, Jr. and Jose Mesa, Jr. have both been returned to the New York Yankees. Still, two Rule V picks on one roster is not a way to chase a pennant.

Look at all the playoff teams from 2017. Only the Twins and Angels have a Rule V player on the roster. The Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, Nationals, Cubs, Dodgers, and Rockies didn’t even make a pick. Neither did Toronto, who didn’t make the playoffs in 2017 but are currently in second place in the AL East. Again, the Orioles took three.

Offensively, the Orioles seem to go ice cold as a unit for extended periods. If the ball doesn’t leave the ballpark, the team doesn’t win. Only four teams have hit fewer home runs than Baltimore in the American League in 2018, not a good sign for a team that relies so heavily on the long ball.

The Orioles rank 29 out of 30 teams with a .216 batting average and are hitting .217 with runners in scoring position after finishing second in the AL in that category a season ago (.287). Their .286 OBP is 28th in the league and they are averaging just 3.19 R/G. In fact, the Orioles have scored three runs or less in 11 of 16 games this season.

Chris Davis is hitting .132 with two extra-base hits and 18 strikeouts in 53 at-bats. Adam Jones’ average is down to .221, and that average dips down to .118 with RISP. Jonathan Schoop’s bat heated up just in time for him to go on the disabled list with a strained oblique, an injury known to keep players sidelined for up to a month.

The two bright spots in the lineup have been Trey Mancini (.349/.429 in 10 games batting leadoff) and Manny Machado (.308/.392 in 16 games), the latter of which has been at the center of trade speculation for the better part of the last two seasons.

Speaking of trading Machado, does anybody have heightened expectations of what the Orioles could get for him? The team and its collective brass haven’t done much to instill confidence that they can competently get a return to match the caliber of player Manny has become.

Dan Duquette admittedly hasn’t talked to Machado or his representatives about an extension in a couple of years, and Duquette himself appears to have one foot out the door as his contract expires at the end of the season.

In addition to the possible (probable) departures of Duquette and Machado, Buck Showalter, Adam Jones, Brad Brach, and Zach Britton all have expiring contracts after the season, and Schoop’s is up after 2019. Are the Orioles going to make the same mistake with Schoop that they made with Machado? They seem to be venturing down the same path.

Now look, it is entirely too early to write the season off after a 5-11 start, just like it was too soon to crown the ball club after they started 22-10 in 2017. The Orioles most certainly will play better baseball as 27 of the team’s next 38 games are against sub-.500 teams, and 18 of the next 27 games will be played at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. We could be having a very different and very refreshing conversation about the Orioles by the time the Nationals come to town on May 28th.

Still, a 58-88 record since May 10, 2017 speaks for itself, and the lack of starting pitching depth in this organization remains a huge problem. One injury to Cobb, Cashner, Bundy or Gausman could be the final nail in the coffin for the Baltimore Orioles.

The season is by no means over on April 16, but as Yogi Berra used to say, “it’s getting late early,” here in Baltimore.

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Monday’s O’s Links – We Could Have Used More Rain

Certainly not the weekend any of us were hoping for up in Beantown. The O’s lost all three games they played, and today’s brunchtime tilt has already been rained out. The weather gods are showing the Birds some mercy at least, even if the Red Sox hitters were in no such mood.

Hopefully the Birds can regroup a bit today before they head out to face Detroit. This will be just their second series of the year against a team that didn’t make the playoffs in 2017, so it would be a great time to rack up a few wins and get back on the right side of the ledger for a bit.

To the links.

Dylan Bundy’s Fast Start

Dylan Bundy was awesome again yesterday, but this time, in addition to the offense letting him down, the defense behind him did the same. Hey, what can go wrong when you stick Danny Valencia in the field and Tim Beckham at 2B? Ugh. . Anyway, Matt Kremnitzer of Camden Depot digs into Bundy’s fast 2018 start.

O’s in Upheaval, From Field to Front Office

This piece is on The Athletic, which means you need to subscribe (that is, pay) to read it. I’m linking it because I hear a lot of great things about The Athletic, so if you were on the fence about subscribing, Ken Rosenthal digging into the current turmoil at The Warehouse might be enough to push you over the edge.

An Early Look at the Manny Machado Market

Oh, just jump right into our nightmare, Jon Heyman, the water’s great! Spoiler: the Orioles aren’t atop the list. Some former Orioles front office members are, though.

Sunday Notes: Trey Mancini Who?

FanGraphs has a funny little Trey Mancini story, and we could all use a smile.

Firing Buck Would Answer Just One of O’s Many Questions

Apparently Bovada of Las Vegas has Buck Showalter as their manager most likely to be fired this season, at last look. Only people with no sense of context at all about the Orioles would say such a thing, but our own Andrew Stetka, in his weekly MASN guest column, addresses the silliness.

 

 

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Gregg Olson Writes Down Baseball’s “Unwritten Rules”

Gregg Olson baseball card.

The Otter’s Dozen

One of the earliest controversies of this baseball season involved the Orioles, when Twins second baseman Brian Dozier accused Baltimore’s Chance Sisco of breaking one of baseball’s unwritten rules by bunting in the ninth inning of an April 1 game that was seemingly already decided, with the Twins holding a 7-0 lead.

Never mind that, fittingly on April Fool’s Day, there was no no-htter or perfect game on the line, and the Twins had employed a defensive shift that afforded the rookie catcher a wide-open left side of the infield to drop a bunt to try to spark a rally.

The claim universally outraged fans, at least here in Baltimore (and, for the most part, around MLB). Dozier figured that Sisco’s overstep was so egregious was that he was confident that the Orioles clubhouse leaders would surely agree with him and set Sisco on the right path.

Outside of a small segment of the Minnesota Twins fan base, all of baseball appeared to disagree with Dozier — even a good number of Twins faithful even showed disagreement — but it dusted off the generations-old debate on what baseball’s “unwritten rules” really are, and if they’re still valid.

One respected member of the baseball community who spoke out on social media after Dozier’s accusations was former closer Gregg Olson. The first six years of his 14-season career were with the Orioles, including his 27-save effort in the legendary “Why Not” season in 1989. By the time he moved on away from the home bullpen at Camden Yards, he had compiled 160 saves, which still is the most in team history. One of those saves capped a shared no-hitter in which “Otter” made history with Bob Milacki, Mike Flanagan and Mark Williamson against the A’s in Oakland on July 13, 1991. Olson struck out Jose Canseco and Harold Baines on six pitches to tie a bow on the 2-0 victory.

By the time he retired after the 2001 season, he had also suited up for the Indians, Royals, Tigers, Astros, Twins, Diamondbacks and Dodgers.

That’s a lot of clubhouses in a decade and a half. He was exposed to a lot of philosophies and ideals within baseball at that time.

That’s why he felt compelled by the occasion to offer an unwritten rule for his followers every few days over the last couple weeks. Some had some sarcasm involved and most are understandably from a pitcher’s perspective, but, hey, at least someone has finally thought to write ’em down. Once again, Olson gets the save.

Olson graciously allowed Eutaw Street Report to publish his “Closer’s Dozen,” which he admits could grow to more entries, when so inspired, on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. His (first?) 12 follow below.
* * *

Be sure to follow Gregg @GreggOlson30 for more unwritten rules…it doesn’t seem like he’s quite finished yet.

He has also been engaging with fans who express disagreement with the rules, explaining them and himself in more detail. It’s been a great conversation to watch for any fan of baseball.

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Series Preview: Orioles (5-8) @ Red Sox (10-2)

A shot from inside Fenway Park during a game.

After narrowly avoiding the sweep against the Blue Jays, the Orioles will look to reel off a few notches in the win column against a red-hot Boston squad over the next four games at Fenway.

The Orioles (5-8) find themselves 5.5-games behind the ‘Sox after their incredible start to the 2018 campaign, so to pull a few of those back right away would be ideal. Thankfully, it is only April 13th. We’ve got some time to play catch up.

The Red Sox (10-2) have been firing on all cylinders to kick off the season. The ‘Sox line-up ranks third-best in the majors with 69 runs and their pitching staff ranks third in the AL with a stout 3.08 ERA. They’ll be looking to keep the fire blazing after taking two of three in a hotly-contested match-up against the Yankees earlier this week.

Chris Tillman (0-2, 8.68 ERA) will get the ball rolling against Eduardo Rodriguez (0-0, 7.36 ERA) in today’s series opener.

Tillman struggled through his last outing against the Yankees and allowed five runs on eight hits over 5 1/3 innings in an 8-3 loss. The O’s veteran hurler is still on the hunt for his first win in eleven months.

Rodriguez looked rusty during his season debut versus the Rays last week and allowed three runs on five hits over 3 2/3 innings. Interestingly enough, he notched seven strikeouts out of just eleven outs.

Alex Cobb (0-0, 0.00 ERA) will make his highly-anticipated Orioles debut versus Hector Velazquez (1-0, 3.12 ERA) on Saturday.

Cobb will be looking to make a big impact on the club after signing a four-year, $57 Million contract this offseason.

Velazquez will be making his first start since he shut down the Rays to the tune of one run on five hits over 5 2/3 innings on April 1st.

Dylan Bundy (0-1, 1.35 ERA) will be looking to notch his first win of the season against Chris Sale (1-0, 1.06 ERA) on Sunday.

Bundy took the loss during his last start against Toronto after giving up a two-run shot to Steve Pearce. He was magnificent outside of this and finished his outing having allowed just two runs on four hits over seven innings while recording 10 strikeouts. He’s now given up just three earned runs over his first 20 innings of 2018.

Sale dominated the Yankees during his last start and allowed just a single run on eight hits over six innings to go with eight strikeouts. The ‘Sox ace has allowed just two runs over his first 17 innings of 2018 and has notched 23 strikeouts in the process.

Andrew Cashner (1-1, 2.50 ERA) will take on Brian Johnson (1-0, 2.70 ERA) in the series finale on Monday.

Despite allowing just four hits over seven stellar shutout innings during his last start against Toronto, Cashner took the no-decision in the Orioles eventual 2-1 loss. Cashner has been rolling for the Orioles to start the season and has held opposing hitters to a lowly .194 batting average through his first three starts.

Johnson will be making his first start since he took on the Marlins on April 2nd. During that start, he allowed just a single run on six hits over six innings en route to his first win of the year.

 

Danger

Mookie Betts has been lighting the world on fire this season. The Red Sox right fielder has posted an astonishing line of a .370 batting average, 14 runs, six doubles, two homers and nine RBI through the first twelve games of 2018.

Xander Bogaerts has been just as incredible. Over just nine games, the Red Sox shortstop is hitting .368 at the plate with seven runs, seven doubles, two homers and nine RBI.

Hanley Ramirez rounds out the ‘Sox three killer B’s at the moment. On the year, The Red Sox slugger is hitting .357 with eight runs, two doubles, two homers and twelve RBI.

– In comparison, Manny Machado is the only Orioles hitter in red-hot form at the moment. The O’s star shortstop is hitting .321 with six runs, three doubles, three homers and six RBI.

 

That’s it for now, folks!

Here’s to a few in the win column.

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Friday’s O’s Links: We Can’t Get Enough Richard Bleier

Richard Bleier throws from the mound.

After a much-needed off day, things get…well, they don’t get easier at all, quite frankly. The Birds travel to Boston to face the Red Sox, who are 10-2, for another four-game stressfest. I hate the MLB schedule-makers, man.

To some links…

Richard Bleier is the O’s Other Groundball-Generating Machine

Camden Depot’s Matt Kremnitzer just can’t get enough of Richard Bleier. And hey, I can’t really say that I blame him. That guy has been incredibly reliable. How’s he doing it? Matt tries to shed some light on the subject.

Your New Favorite Reliever Power Rankings

Need more Bleier? Of course you do. He isn’t the only guy on this list Birdland will recognize, however. It’s like ESPN’s Sam Miller put together numbers three through one just to take all of us O’s fans on an emotional rollercoaster.

Manny Machado Should be Playing Third Base, Not Shortstop

The other day, our own Andrew Stetka joined Justin McGuire’s Locked on Orioles podcast to talk about Manny’s move to shortstop. Of course, that night, Manny did this. I think Andrew’s point is still quite a valid one, however.

Bird’s Eye View Episode 232: Happy Together

I usually get Jake & Scott’s show into Wednesday’s links, but there were none of those this week, for two reasons: one, we were having some work done on the site. Two, I was having some wisdom teeth pulled out of my face. Listening to Jake & Scott talk about the Birds as they were fresh off taking three of four in New York (and hadn’t yet lost two of three to Toronto) is the opposite of “having teeth pulled” from an experiential standpoint.

Adam Jones Q&A

Here’s a long interview with AJ, in which he talks about Jackie Robinson, his kids, his future, Buck Showalter, idiot fans yelling racial epithets at him, and plenty more.

 

Here’s to another successful weekend on the road in Evil Empire-land, O’s fans.

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Bundy, Machado Pacing Orioles Early

Manny Machado jogs the bases.

For a team to have a successful season – one that includes a serious playoff push, and important games well into August and September – unexpected performances must emerge. Think Steve Pearce in 2014 – 4.5 fWAR in 102 games! Mark Trumbo in 2016 – we expected some power, sure, but 47 home runs worth? Hardly.

Whether or not such a player emerges here in 2018 remains to be seen. However, isn’t it also nice when the players a team expects to shoulder the bulk of the load step up and do just that? When your best players perform as such.

That’s what we’ve seen so far this season, as the Birds’ somewhat disappointing 5-8 start could be even worse, were it not for their arguably two most talented players playing as advertised.

Here are the O’s current leaders in WAR, according to FanGraphs:

Dylan Bundy 0.9

Manny Machado 0.8

Chance Sisco 0.3

And according to Baseball Reference:

Dylan Bundy 0.8

Manny Machado 0.7

Richard Bleier 0.5

On FanGraphs, Bundy’s 0.9 is tied for best in MLB with Max Scherzer. Not bad company. On Baseball Reference, his 0.8 is tied for ninth, but still just 0.2 behind leaders, Scherzer and Chris Sale.

Machado’s 0.8 fWAR is tied for fourth in Major League Baseball, and second behind just Didi Gregorius‘s stupid-hot start among shortstops.

Bundy, of course, has been the victim of some bad luck (the bullpen blowing his first two starts) and terrible run support, and thus hasn’t racked up a single “win,” to date, despite a 1.35 ERA and 1.95 FIP.

Manny, on the other hand, may be benefiting from some good luck, but doesn’t he deserve a nice .368 BABIP to start the year, to balance out the terrible fortune he had in the same department to start 2017? His 14.5% walk rate is also great to see, more than double both his number from last year (7.2) and his career average (6.9).

 

The Other Side of the Coin

So if Manny & Bundy are absolutely holding up their ends of the bargain, which players are dragging the Birds down?

Looking at WAR again, but the bottom end of the spectrum this time around:

FanGraphs:

Chris Davis -0.3

Nestor Cortes -0.3

Colby Rasmus -0.2

Caleb Joseph -0.2

Jonathan Schoop -0.1

Baseball Reference:

Adam Jones -0.5

Chris Davis -0.4

Mike Wright -0.4

Mychal Givens/Kevin Gausman/Chris Tillman -0.3

We know all about Davis’ struggles, and there’s no need to rehash them here. Nestor Cortes has already been designated for assignment. Colby Rasmus already found Ubaldo Jimenez‘s pothole in the parking lot and landed on the disabled list.

But Adam Jones? Are we all just still drunk from his Opening Day walk-off, and subsequent Adam Bombs in Houston that we aren’t realizing how bad he’s been? (For what it’s worth, FanGraphs has him at 0.0, and Baseball Prospectus at -0.39, better than just Davis & Rasmus.)

Jones is currently slashing just .228/.254/.404, good for an 82 wRC+ (he was at 107 last season). He is striking out at an absurd 28.8% clip, well above his career level of 18.9%. This despite being more selective than we are used to seeing: he has swung at just 37.7% of pitches outside the strike zone (career 41.5). The problem is that he is making contact with such pitches less as well – on 51.1% of his swings, down from 62.4% for his career. His overall contact percentage on all swings is down early as well, to 72% (career: 75.6%, 2017: 77.7%).

Adam Jones prepares to defend.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Baseball-Reference is also dinging him for his defense, with a -5 Rfield, by far the worst on the team (Machado is second-worst at -1). Baseball Prospectus agrees, tagging him with -2.8 FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average), tied for worst in MLB among centerfielders. Of course, you always want to take defensive metrics with a grain of salt, especially for such a small sample size, but this is something to keep an eye on going forward, for sure. Hopefully, if nothing else, his bat turns around here soon to at least partially make up for it.

Schoop has been frustrating to watch, for sure, and it was great to see him get a couple hits and knock in some runs in Wednesday’s night’s victory over Toronto, before which he had been mired in a 1-for-25 slump. He looks disturbingly like Machado did at this time last year, seemingly trying to hit every ball to the moon. He’s walked in just 1.6% of his AB, well down from his 5.2% figure from 2017, and even down from his still-very-bad 3.6% career mark. His infield fly-ball percentage (pop-ups to you and me) is a hideous 28.6% (15.5% career). There’s plenty of reason to hope for Schoop to be dope again soon – here’s to last night being the start of something good.

As for the pitchers, nobody expects Mike Wright to do anything more than what we’ve seen so far. If you have orange glasses as thick as the spectacles ol’ Harry Caray used to wear, perhaps you’re still banking on Chris Tillman to return to form. Alex Cobb will nudge one of those two out of the rotation here very shortly, and that’s about all the good news we can reasonably hope for on that front, I’m afraid.

Gausman showed some signs of life last night. He’s given up just one home run in two starts after allowing three in his 2018 debut, and his K/9 is up a bit – 9.0 so far (career 8.4, 2017 8.6), though so are the BB/9 (3.6, up from 3.4 a year ago and 2.8 career). Here’s to his slow start lasting just a month or so, as opposed to for the entire first half, as we’ve grown accustomed to over the past couple seasons.

So that’s it – your good and bad Orioles so far. If they’re going to truly get out of this early-season funk and back to .500 (and beyond…baby steps for now though), we’ll need far more “good” Orioles to talk about, and soon.

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Thursday Thoughts: O’s Offense Has Been Biggest Problem in Slow Start

Jonathan Schoop takes a swing.

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. As of last year, I cut it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl Weaver/€“Brooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.

1. This week’s Thoughts are going to start out with a shameless plug. Per usual, I wrote a piece over at MASNSports.com on Monday. I also joined the Locked On Orioles podcast with host Justin McGuire to discuss the piece, as well as the O’s early season attendance struggles. It’s a very easy listen of just over 20 minutes, so I encourage you to give it your time.

2. We’€™re two weeks into the season, and the Orioles are already feeling their comeuppance when it comes to their Rule 5 picks. Earlier this week, the team designated left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. for assignment. Cortes will now be claimed by a team or likely offered back to the Yankees if no deal can be worked out to keep him in the organization. He gave up four runs and 10 hits while walking four in just 4.2 IP. He also gave up two grand slams in his brief appearances.

Things also haven’€™t been all roses for outfielder Anthony Santander, a Rule 5 holdover from last year. He’s hitting just .194/.256/.333 with one homer and two doubles and has also looked like a minor leaguer at times in the field. Santander and Pedro Araujo remain on the roster, but the whole idea of having three Rule 5 players on the roster to start the season is part of the reason the Orioles are so frustrating. It would’ve been nice to have seen them go out and put major league players on their roster to start the season.

Players like Jarrod Dyson or Jon Jay would’ve been better options in the outfield than Santander, or for that matter Colby Rasmus.

3. Speaking of Rasmus, is there a chance he’s already played his last game in an Oriole uniform? After going on the DL earlier this week with a hip issue, there’s still no clear timetable for his return. Originally, the team had said about a week. Rasmus’€™ start to the season couldn’€™t have gone much worse. He’€™s hitting .095/.174/.143 with 13 strikeouts in 21 at-bats. The only thing that could keep Rasmus around a bit longer is Mark Trumbo’s continued absence.

Rasmus was always a curious case to me. He walked away from baseball in the middle of last season when with Tampa Bay. He had been bothered by his hip then as well, but it seemed more like a pseudo-retirement than an injury. Then he all of a sudden reemerged this spring to join the O’€™s outfield battle.

I’m not questioning the motivation of Rasmus, but he’s surely going to have to show something if he wants to stick around. Fans are already restless.

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GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

4. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Andrew Cashner’s last two starts. He obviously didn’t get off on the best foot in his first game as an Oriole but has proven his worth since then. After allowing five runs (four earned) in five innings in his first start, Cashner has pitched to a 0.69 ERA over 13 innings against the Yankees and Blue Jays since, with an 11:6 K:BB ratio. Alex Cobb makes his debut for the Birds this weekend, and it’s expected he will inject something good into this rotation. But if Cashner can keep up even half of what he’€™s done in his past two starts, along with Dylan Bundy at the top, the O’€™s rotation has a chance to be decent.

There are still major issues to be worked out with both Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman, but having 3/5ths of a rotation is more than we’ve been able to say for a long time when it comes to the O’s.

5. The biggest storyline about the struggles of this Orioles roster in the early going is surprisingly not the pitching. The offense has been an unmitigated disaster. What’s most frustrating is that the problems the lineup is having are the same problems we’€™ve seen over the years. The Orioles are built on the home run. It’s something that works well in the middle of the season when the weather is warm and the ball carries. It doesn’t work as well on 40-degree nights in April or when the weather cools in September.

They have failed to go out and get players with high on-base capabilities to supplement the offense. The three-run home run approach only works when you get runners on base. The O’s have already been no-hit deep into games twice this season.

Until the weather warms up, and because of how this roster is built, expect that trend to continue.

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Series Preview: Orioles (4-6) vs Blue Jays (6-4)

Dylan Bundy finishes his pitching motion.

Fresh off of a feel-good weekend in the Bronx, the Orioles will look to keep the good times rolling in their upcoming three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays beginning Monday at Camden Yards.

The Orioles (4-6) overcame a rough start to the season with an impressive showing against the high-powered New York Yankees. After scoring just 14 runs over the first six games of the year, the offense has racked up 23 runs over the last four games and is tied for fifth in the majors with 12 homers.

The Blue Jays (6-4) head into Baltimore in decent form and will look to gain ground on the first-place Red Sox, who are off to the best start in their 118-year history.

The Jays won two of three games against the Texas Rangers over the weekend. Toronto’s offense already appears to be in mid-season form, scoring 52 runs over the opening 10 games, third-best in the American League.

Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy (0-0, 0.69 ERA) will be looking for his much-deserved first win of the season tonight against Toronto left-hander J.A. Happ (1-1, 5.40 ERA).

Bundy was superb in his last start in Houston and allowed just a single run on five hits over six innings. Despite his excellence, he ended up in the no-decision in the Orioles eventual 3-2 loss. The Orioles ace has spun 13 incredible innings so far this season, allowing just the one run on 10 hits while racking up 15 strikeouts.

Happ is trying to bounce back from his last start against the White Sox when he gave up four runs on
seven hits over 5 1/3 innings despite notching nine strikeouts.

In the second game of the series, Andrew Cashner (1-1, 4.09 ERA) will take the mound against Toronto right-hander Aaron Sanchez (0-1, 5.40 ERA) on Tuesday. Cashner earned his first win as an Oriole after shutting down the Yankees to the tune of a single run on two hits over six innings on Thursday. He will be looking for a repeat performance in front of the home crowd.

Sanchez took the loss during his last start versus the White Sox after giving up three runs on six hits over six innings of work.

Kevin Gausman (0-1, 8.00 ERA) will toe the rubber against Marco Estrada (1-0, 2.77 ERA) in the series
finale on Wednesday. Gausman shrugged off his nightmare debut start to the season and turned in a solid outing his last time out in the Bronx, allowing two runs on five hits over five innings.

Estrada has been outstanding for the Jays over his first two starts, and has allowed just one run on five hits over six innings in his last start versus Texas.

Inside Pitch:

– Look out: Manny Machado looks to be catching fire. The Orioles star shortstop is hitting .310 with two
doubles, two homers and five RBI through the first 10 games of the season.

– Toronto first baseman Justin Smoak is tearing the cover off of the ball at the moment. Through just 10 games, Smoak is batting .351 with five doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs.

– Blue Jays second baseman Yangervis Solarte has also gotten off to a nice start to his debut season in Toronto. Through eight games, the native Venezuelan is hitting .308 with five runs, two doubles, two homers and three RBI.

– After stumbling out of the gates, the Orioles offense has now scored five or more runs in three of their
last four games. The Orioles pitching staff, however, might have their hands full with the Jays red-hot line-up. They’ve racked up 49 runs over their last eight games, a click over six runs per game.

That’s it for now, folks!

Here’s to a few more in the win column.

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O’s Should be Feeling Fine After Taking Tough Series in NY

Anthony Santander and Adam Jones in a victory hug.

When the Orioles boarded their train home from New York on Sunday night, their 4-6 record looked a lot better than maybe any other .400 team in baseball. See, it’s how the Orioles got there that was nothing short of remarkable.

After losing two of three games to the Minnesota Twins in the season-opening series, a series in which they looked lifeless, they headed out to Houston to visit the Astros for their home opener.

As if playing the Astros early on wasn’t bad enough, they got to do it while Houston raised its World Series banner before game one, and handed out their World Series rings before game two. Not exactly smooth sailing for a team struggling to find its way after a last place finish the season before.

It was a tough series for the Orioles that sent them to New York looking up in the standings after being swept, but feeling better than a 1-5 record would indicate. Game one was a wash with Chris Tillman missing the strike zone but not many bats. Game two, however, could have been a turning point in the season.

Facing Justin Verlander and opposing him with Mike Wright, the Orioles were destined to fail, but Wright went out and out-dueled Verlander – albeit in five innings, but he out-dueled him nonetheless. In fact, the Orioles led the ballgame 4-3 when Verlander departed, and entered the home half of the seventh inning knotted up at five.

Then the wheels fell off as Buck Showalter was forced to use two Rule V picks in Pedro Araujo and Nestor Cortes, Jr. to try to set down the best offense in the American League. A grand slam and five runs later, the game was out of reach and the Orioles would eventually lose 10-6.

And while the Astros finished off the sweep with a 3-2 victory the next day–with a throwing error by another Rule V player (Anthony Santander) allowing the winning run to score–the Orioles had proven, to themselves if no one else, that they could hang with the big boys. They just didn’t have the wins to prove it.

On to New York to face the team the Astros had barely beaten in a seven-game championship series to reach the World Series back in October. With a lineup featuring the likes of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, and Gary Sanchez, it looked to be an uphill climb for a struggling Orioles pitching staff.

In game one, Andrew Cashner shook off the rust from his first start, tossing six innings of two-hit, one-run ball to beat Masahiro Tanaka. A five-run seventh inning sparked by an Adam Jones two-run homer put the Orioles back in the win column for the first time since Opening Day, snapping a five-game losing streak in the process.

In game two, the Orioles overcame a game-tying home run from Gregorius in the eighth inning, and though it took 14 innings, a grand slam from Pedro Alvarez fueled a 7-3 victory for the Birds. Pedro Araujo, the Rule V pick who had taken the loss in Houston three nights prior by allowing four runs in 0.2 IP, picked up his first major league victory, tossing two shutout innings while navigating through the heart of that daunting New York lineup.

The bullpen as a whole was brilliant, pitching nine innings and allowing just one run on two hits. In fact, they should have been credited with two saves, though Brad Brach gets the one that goes in the scorebook.

In the 11th inning, Mychal Givens was pitching with two outs and runners on second and third when he uncorked a wild pitch. With Gregorius racing home, the ball caromed back to Caleb Joseph, who flipped the ball to Givens like a second basemen to a shortstop on a double play.

Givens, on a dead sprint, caught the ball while going into a slide–simultaneously blocking the plate–and apply the tag to Gregorious for the third and final out of the inning. The play was reviewed, and while the out call was controversial given the rules about blocking the plate, the call on the field was proven correct as the path of the thrown ball took Givens into the baseline to make the play.

Game three was tough as Tillman got the start. While he was better than his first go-round, he was still bad, and the Orioles eventually lost 8-3 and headed into Sunday needing Wright to replicate his Houston performance to take the series.

As bad as Tillman was in game three, Wright was that much worse in game four. The much-maligned starter was charged with five runs (two earned) and left the ballgame with an out still remaining in the first inning. Wright compounded his issues with a costly throwing error on a poor decision to attempt a double play, an error that opened the flood gates.

Trailing 5-0 to start the second inning, the Orioles scratched and clawed their way back into ball game and eventually took the lead, 7-6, on a Santander two-run homer in the seventh inning. Refusing to die, the Yankees tied the game in the bottom half of the seventh, and the game would go into extra innings.

In the top of the 12th, the Orioles finally broke through, using an RBI single from Craig Gentry to take an 8-7 lead. In the bottom half, Brach came on attempting to pick up his second save of the series.

Brach walked the first two hitters of the inning on nine pitches; the eight and nine-hole hitters, mind you. Brett Gardner then laid down a bunt that Brach attempted to field with his bare hand, seemingly forgetting about the glove on his left hand. It was a failed attempt and the bases were now loaded for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

In perhaps the biggest play of the game, Brach got Judge to bounce back to the pitcher, starting a 1-2-5 double play to retire both lead runners. Now with runners on first and second and two down, Stanton stepped to the plate 0-6 with four strikeouts on the afternoon. He left the plate 0-7 with 5 strikeouts as Brach struck out the reigning National League home run champion and MVP to pick up a miraculous save and series victory for the ball club. The bullpen was stellar again, pitching 11.1 innings while allowing just two runs and striking out 11.

On a five-game losing streak and reeling after a tough series sweep at the hands of the Astros, the Orioles could have done as Brian Dozier asked earlier in the season and just rolled over and died in New York.

The Birds wouldn’t have it and took advantage of a series that saw the Yankees lose star players Gary Sanchez, C.C. Sabathia, and Brandon Drury to injuries/illness. The series-defining element was the handling of Judge and Stanton. The same duo that combined for 111 home runs in 2017 went 8-36 with one home run and 13 strikeouts in the series.

Now headed back to Baltimore riding high after taking three of four games from the Evil Empire, the Orioles will take on division rival Toronto in a three game series. Dylan Bundy will get the start in game one as perhaps the most confident .400 team in all of baseball looks to build on its recent success.

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Monday’s O’s Links – Birds Bounce Back in Bronx

Anthony Santander, Danny Valencia, and Craig Gentry high five.

Three of four from the Yankees in New York, just as we all predicted, right?

Hey, the Birds only won TWO games in Yankee Stadium all of 2017, and they got dominated most every time they played there. Throw in that dismal 1-5 start – that is now comfortably in the rearview – and you can forgive Birdland for its collective pessimism.

Now that we’re all feeling a bit better about things, let’s hit some links.

Gentry’s Single Gives O’s Win (with Quotes)

“I told Buck I had nine years in the minor leagues, so I had nine years off. I’ll pitch every day the rest of the year. I really don’t care. As long as I’m in the big leagues, I’m available.” – Richard Bleier, new O’s fan favorite.

AL’s Top Teams Offer Fewer Fastballs than Ever

Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun has some sobering news for the Birds: they are seeing fewer fastballs than ever, and it’s just going to get worse. Here’s to a quick adjustment.

Ranking the O’s Farm Stadiums

Towson University Towerlight Senior Editor Jordan Cope ranks the five O’s minor league teams’ stadiums. I have to admit that I’ve been to pathetically few of these. Delmarva just jumped up my to-do list though, and since I have a one-year old whose grandparents live in Salisbury, that should get taken care of here relatively soon. What do you think of these rankings?

Top 20 Prospects: Baltimore Orioles

Someone at FanGraphs forgot to change the heading of a table, but as you’ll see, this article is indeed about O’s prospects, and not Red Sox prospects.

It’s Been a Nightmare Start for Giancarlo Stanton

That sound you hear is the tiniest violin imaginable.

It’s a real shame, I tell  ya.

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Friday’s O’s Links: Off the Schneid!

A Kingfisher smiling bird logo.

It took nearly a week, but the Birds finally picked up their second win of the season. That they did it at Yankee Stadium, where they won only two games in 2017, was a nice little bonus. Here’s to getting at least one more this weekend. Two would be awesome, but I’m not getting ahead of myself.

Brad Brach struck out Brent Gardner to end the game, which was also pleasant.

To the links.

Cashner Cuts Through Yankees for Six Innings

Some nice pun work here from Jon Meoli (‘s editor). In addition to throwing his cutter/slider a ton, I was also impressed with Cashner’s velocity. At one point he went 96-97 on back-to-back fastballs to strike out Gardner.

Is Dylan Bundy an Ace on Extra Rest?

Dylan Bundy has been an ace so far, as he currently leads MLB pitchers in fWAR through two starts. Does Bundy do better when he gets a little extra rest (as he did between his first two starts)? FanGraphs’ Craig Edwards digs into that question.

Your Best Reliever Sometimes Should Not Close Games

Mychal Givens had another rough outing. Darren O’Day put out the fire, but then loaded the bases on a walk and back-to-back HBPs in the eighth before inducing a harmless comebacker. Brach walked the number eight hitter, but ended the game before Aaron Judge could come to the plate as the tying run, which was nice. Anywho, here’s Jon Shepherd with some #nerdtalk about leverage indices.

Fans Still Can’t Stream O’s or Gnats Games, Aren’t Happy

Over at The Washington Post, Jacob Bogage talks to some O’s and Gnats fans who are getting creative in trying to watch the games after “cutting the cord” of cable. Fans of just seven out of 30 MLB teams have to deal with this crap, and we’re lucky to be counted among that number. Get with the damn times, MASN.

The Mind of “Other Birds as the Orioles Logo” Talks Inspiration & More

Are you following this Twitter account yet? You need to be. This fella is making every bird into a version of the O’s logo, and the results are mesmerizing. I chose my favorite (Kingfisher!) so far as the header photo up there. This one from last night is pretty perfect as well, for obvious reasons.

Keep winning games, Birds!

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Series Preview: Orioles (1-5) @ Yankees (4-2)

picture of a baseball field in New York

After a brutal opening week of the 2018 campaign, the Orioles will now look to bounce back in a hurry during their upcoming four-game set in the Bronx against the in-form Yankees.

The Orioles (1-5) will look to snap their five-game losing streak tonight as well. They’ll need their offense, which has hit just .185 while scoring barely over two runs a game as a unit during the early goings of the season, to wake up much sooner rather than later. On the other hand, the pitching staff is also in the bottom five in ERA (5.43) through six games, so the blame goes both ways. It’d be much worse without Dylan Bundy, who’s winless through two nearly immaculate starts.

Through the first six games, the Orioles have scored two runs or fewer in four of six and have allowed six runs or more in four of six.

And that’s how you start a season 1-5.

The Yankees (4-2) are off to a solid start to the season and looked scary en route to beating the Rays 18-6 over their home opening series against Tampa Bay. They’ve also outscored their opponents 35-21 over the first six games.

Let’s hope the O’s can turn it around against the odds this weekend.

Andrew Cashner (0-1, 7.20 ERA) will take the mound against Masahiro Tanaka (1-0, 1.50 ERA) in tonight’s series opener.

Cashner allowed five runs (four earned) over five innings in his Orioles debut last weekend against the Twins and will look to impress during his first career start in the Bronx. The Orioles struggling lineup might have some trouble against Tanaka if he turns in a performance like his last, in which he allowed just a single run on three hits over six innings against the Jays.

Kevin Gausman (0-1, 13.50 ERA) will look to recover from his season debut against CC Sabathia (0-0, 1.80 ERA) on Friday.

Gausman labored through four innings during his last start against Minnesota, allowing six runs on three homers.  Sabathia on the other hand, allowed just one run over five innings during his season debut against Toronto.

Chris Tillman (0-1, 9.00 ERA) will get the nod against Sonny Gray (0-0, 2.25 ERA) on Saturday.

Tillman worked through a rough day at the office against Houston during his last start, allowing four runs on seven hits and four walks over just four innings. Gray will be looking to turn in a better outing after throwing 89 pitches over four innings of one-run baseball during his season debut in Toronto.

Mike Wright (0-0, 5.40 ERA) will take on Jordan Montgomery (0-0, 1.80 ERA) in the series finale on Sunday.

Wright battled through five innings in his season debut against the Astros, but will be looking for a better result against the Yankees. Montgomery allowed just one run on two hits over five innings during his season debut against the Rays, but took the no-decision in the Yankees eventual win.

Notes:

  • Didi Gregorius is the Yankees danger man at the moment. He’s hitting .364 (8-for-22) through six games with four doubles, one triple, two home runs and nine RBI.
  • In contrast, Chris Davis (1-for-21), Tim Beckham (4-for-23, 1 HR, 2 RBI) and Trey Mancini (3-for-20, 1 HR, 2 RBI) are a combined 8-for-64 (.125) with two home runs and four RBI.
  • Giancarlo Stanton (3) and Aaron Judge (1) have hit four combined homers this season. Get used to hearing things like this.
  • Manny Machado (6-for-23), Adam Jones (6-for-24, 2 HR, 5 RBI) and Jonathan Schoop (8-for-26, 1 HR, 1 RBI) have been the only ones seeing the ball in the early goings, so here’s to hoping they rub off on their teammates.

That’s it for now, folks!

Here’s to picking up a few W’s in the Bronx.

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Thursday Thoughts: Rasmus Skating on Thin Ice Already

Colby Rasmus prepares to throw a baseball.

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. As of last year, I cut it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl WeaverBrooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.

1. It was one of the most under-reported – or at least under-scrutinized – moves the Orioles made this offseason.

Frankly, no one really batted an eye at it, because it seemed so commonplace. The Orioles actually have three Rule 5 picks on their 25-man roster. They figured they could get away with it, and why wouldn’t they?

There hasn’t been nearly enough criticism of such a move, in my opinion.

To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about it in such a way until this past week. The Orioles have been good at “hiding” Rule 5 players in the past, but when you’ve got three of them, they are bound to play. That reared its ugly head on Tuesday when Nestor Cortes Jr. and Pedro Araujo were big parts in the 10-6 loss to the Astros.

How do you hide two bullpen arms among a relief staff that is already missing its closer? It can’t happen. The Kansas City Royals are the only other team in baseball that has multiple Rule 5 picks on their roster, and both of theirs are bullpen arms, too. The difference? The Royals aren’t pretending to be contenders this year. They know they are in re-build mode.

The O’s are supposed to be going for it. That’s what they’ve presented to the fanbase. The bottom line is that the Orioles have never been able to strike gold in the Rule 5 draft. It’s never been something that’s necessary. The roster spots are too valuable to just be given away to players who belong in Single-A.

Perhaps Anthony Santander will turn out to be something. Perhaps he won’t. When the best thing the O’s have ever gotten out of the Rule 5 draft is Ryan Flaherty, it’s probably time to find a new approach.

2. The experiment of placing Chris Davis in the leadoff spot has generated a ton of talk over the last week, and rightfully so. It’s an interesting conversation that would be going so much differently if Davis had done ANYTHING worth talking about in the first few games. The thing is, he hasn’t. He has looked abysmal at the dish and therefore the idea of having him in the leadoff spot looks foolish.

But in principal, it’s not the worst idea. The bigger issue surrounding the leadoff spot for the O’s is that they don’t have a true leadoff hitter, and are therefore forced to make these kinds of decisions. The Orioles didn’t go out and get a player that could improve their on-base percentage, just like they haven’t done in past years. That’s the biggest issue.

In the past it’s been Adam Jones or Manny Machado leading off. Yesterday, when Davis got an off day, it was Tim Beckham in that spot. If Davis is going to continue to struggle at the plate and strike out at the rate he has, he’ll be pushed down in the order quickly.

But the idea of having him at the top isn’t bad, as long as he’s getting on base. Right now, that’s a lot to ask.

3. When the Orioles signed outfielder Michael Saunders to a minor-league deal the other day, I thought to myself, “that’s a silly move.” Then, I realized, he’s probably better than Colby Rasmus. Saunders goes into the mix in the minors with Jaycob Brugman and Alex Presley as potential replacements for Rasmus, who appears lost after time away from the game.

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GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Saunders is also a lefty, which helps in working his way into Baltimore’s right-handed heavy lineup. But truthfully, if the Orioles are going to run out of a bunch of re-treads in right field, why wouldn’t they just give the spot over to someone like Austin Hays and see what happens? At this point, what could it hurt? D.J. Stewart is also down in Norfolk along with Joey Rickard, but Hays is the player many in the organization believe has real potential as a corner outfielder.

Right now, fewer roster spots are more vulnerable than that of Rasmus. Perhaps the only one more at risk is Pedro Alvarez, who could be displaced upon the return of Mark Trumbo.

4. Finally, in this week’s Thursday Thoughts, a quick word on unwritten rules. I have one real rule when it comes to unwritten rules: if you want your unwritten rule to be followed, get it to a point where it’s a “written” rule. What many members of the Twins tried to pull off earlier this week was embarrassing. It wasn’t just embarrassing for players like Brian Dozier and Jose Berrios, but it was a black eye for baseball. There should be no penalty, real or otherwise, for trying to win a game. I don’t care if it’s 7-0, 17-0 or 27-0.

Chance Sisco did the right thing, and everyone knows it. Everyone except a few members of the Twins. You’ll notice that Twins skipper Paul Molitor (one of my personal favorite ballplayers of all-time) even passed on really going in on Sisco. “Some of those unwritten rules of the game are not black and white,” Molitor told the Star Tribune. The manager added, “He did what he thought was right.”

Correct, Sisco thought trying to get on base in any way he could to help his team start a rally was “right” in that scenario, so he did. What was refreshing about the whole fiasco was that both the media and majority of Twins fans didn’t take the bait on this one. Both national and Minnesota media didn’t really see the beef the Twins had, and even their supporters found it a bit confusing.

The only way this becomes a real issue is if the Twins try to create fireworks when the O’s visit Target Field in early July. That’s when everyone will have to pay attention, and that’s also why baseball is both the most wonderful and dumbest game on the planet.

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2018 O’s – Same as the Post-May 2017 O’s?

Buck Showalter scowls from the dugout.

Dreadful. Abysmal. Terrible. Rotten. Poor. Foul. Unpleasant. Of all the words I’ve seen describing the 2018 Baltimore Orioles, the one I think is the most fitting is unwatchable. It is honestly difficult to watch them play baseball. Why? A quick recap at where they rank offensively:

Runs/Hits: 27th

Batting Average: 29th

On Base Percentage: 29th

OPS: 27th

Strikeouts: 7th

The pitching hasn’t fared much better, with a team era of 6.00, which ranks them 27th in MLB. It is as if last year never ended, and we are just stuck in the mid-May and onward 2017 loop of Orioles baseball. Awful pitching, awful approaches at the plate, and a team that is as unwatchable for their results as they are for their seemingly lethargic approach. I suppose that the word is out on how to get these guys out, as the type of players that have made up the backbone of this team has remained unchanged since 2012.

I do think the pitching numbers will improve (although currently our team ERA is higher than last year’s historically bad numbers), but I don’t foresee much change in regard to what we are seeing offensively. This is who these guys are, and as the rest of the league has obviously adjusted, it appears as if the O’s keep going out there with the same approach. Part of this could have been helped by bringing in players with a different genetic makeup, which is why I HATED the Colby Rasmus signing (1 hit in 15 PA to go along with 8 Ks so far), and I knew that Buck would get him on the roster and into the lineup. Not to beat a dead horse, and it’s a moot point now, but Jon Jay, who cost the same as Rasmus, is currently sitting with a .389 OBP, which would place him second on the O’s just behind Manny Machado and a full 71 points ahead of Adam Jones.

I know that many people will read this and say, well gee this a glum outlook after five games. Which, true enough, it absolutely is. But, I’ve seen this movie before I already know how it ends. This team in years past has benefited from hot starts that have allowed them to overcome the drastic ebbs and flows of this erratic offense. My goodness, on May 9th of 2017 the O’s sat with the best record in baseball at 22-10. Of course, from that pinnacle of ecstasy they proceeded to go 53-77 to finish the year. Now they’ve continued that trend, as they sit 1-4. The implication therefore, to me, is that this performance is nothing new. The 1-4 start is not an “it’s still early” conversation, it’s a “this is the same team that played 24 games under .500 for the majority of 2017” conversation.

I hope that I’m wrong, I really do. Life is so much better when the O’s are in contention.

Unfortunately, I know what I’ve been seeing for the past year, and as I said at the onset, the best descriptor is unwatchable.

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The Rundown: Couple Experiments Falling Flat

Chris Davis swings his bat

Everyone knew the month of April would be a huge test for the Orioles, but through five games, the O’s are failing that test miserably. The starting rotation has struggled, the lineup looked lackluster until Tuesday night and the bullpen has imploded twice.

This is only the second series of the season, but everything has looked eerily familiar to what happened on a consistent basis in 2017.

 

The Davis Leadoff Experiment

Most O’s fans felt pretty confident that this experiment would fail, and so far, it has. I think even Buck Showalter knew this would fail. Watching the O’s over the last few seasons, we have grown accustomed to not having a prototypical leadoff hitter. However, the difference between Chris Davis and the previous leadoff hitters like Nick Markakis, Manny Machado and Adam Jones? Those guys can actually hit the ball.

I never cared about Davis’ strikeouts, mainly because he was hitting the ball over the fence. Last year was an eye opener as he just never swung the bat. News flash, a player can’t produce if they aren’t swinging the bat.

This year though, something seems different. Again, we’re only five games in and we have seen Davis struggle for months at a time, even in seasons that he has produced at a high rate.

So far? Davis has a hard-hit percentage of only 20 percent, which is utility hitter level. It should come as no surprise then that his ground ball percentage is 46.7 percent.

Davis has cut down the strikeouts so far – even with his four strikeouts on Tuesday night, he has a 21.7 strikeout percentage, which is way down from his career mark of 31.9. Unfortunately, this seeming change in approach has also led to Davis not driving the ball, which has resulted in a lot of weak contact and ground balls into the shift.

Davis needs to get out of his own head. Putting him in the leadoff spot doesn’t seem to be working. I have no idea what will.

Someone needs to remind Davis that he can be one of the top power hitters in baseball if he just lets it fly. Swing for the fences, don’t worry about the shift, don’t worry about the strikeouts, just focus on hitting the ball over the fence.

Every other approach hasn’t worked, so now it’s time to go back to the approach that earned him the largest contract in Orioles history.

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GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

 

The Rule V Experiments

Unfortunately, you can’t be considered a true contender when you have three Rule V players on your roster. Even though Anthony Santander is considered a Rule V player, at least he was in the big leagues last year and has a lot of game experience. The same can’t be said for Pedro Araujo and Nestor Cortes. The two youngsters were asked to get critical outs Tuesday night against the World Champs, and the results were predictable.

If there is one thing we have learned from Showalter over the years, it’s that he usually won’t turn to his elite relievers if the game is tied or the O’s are trailing. However, in his defense, he did go to Mychal Givens earlier than he probably wanted to and was going to ask the righty to pitch two innings. Givens was unable to hold the lead which led Showalter to use Araujo and Cortes instead of possibly asking Darren O’Day to keep the game tied.

One of these pitchers will more than likely be cut when Alex Cobb returns – which needs to happen. The Orioles need more depth in the bullpen and Tuesday night proved they are lacking in that department.

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Dozier, Twins Wrong to Call Foul on Chance Sisco

Chance Sisco bunting.

A lot more came out of Camden Yards on Sunday afternoon than a sluggish offense that collected just nine hits and five runs in 29 innings in the opening series of 2018.

While the Orioles were busy losing the final two games of their weekend series, the Minnesota Twins were busy reading the unwritten rules of the game and messing their diapers over a play they thought shouldn’t have happened.

With one out in the ninth inning and the Orioles trailing 7-0, Chance Sisco came to the plate facing a typical shift seen by a number of pull-happy lefties. Never mind that the left-handed catcher had collected the Orioles’ only hit of the game on a long double to the opposite field earlier in the game.

Facing that shift, Sisco laid down a perfect bunt and reached on an infield single. Chris Davis walked as the next batter, and Manny Machado singled to center to load the bases for the heart of the order, Jonathan Schoop and Adam Jones. A couple of hits would have likely put the Orioles back in the game, but Schoop popped out and Jones fanned to end the contest.

Apparently, Sisco’s bunt was too much for the Twins to handle. After the game, second baseman, Brian Dozier was critical of the play, telling Rhett Bollinger (among others) that, “Obviously, we’re not a fan of it. He’s a young kid. I could’ve said something at second base but they have tremendous veteran leadership over there.”

Starting — and winning in a complete game shutout, mind you — pitcher Jose Berrios was also upset, telling Bollinger, “I don’t care if he’s bunting. It’s just not good for baseball in that situation. That’s it.”

Did I miss something here?

I have played, watched, and studied baseball all of my life, and I have never heard that trying to get on base by any means necessary when down big, regardless of the inning, is “bush league.”

To that point, why is it not being talked about that Byron Buxton was stealing second up by six in the fifth inning? Why was it okay for the Twins to implement a shift in the ninth inning up by seven? So they’re allowed to play a defensive scheme that makes it that much harder for a lefty to get a hit, but then the hitter can’t combat it by “hitting it where they ain’t?”

With rumors now swirling that Sisco could wear one in the next series in July, Dozier should have just taken his two home runs and the Twins their series victory and headed home.

What is ultimately bad for baseball is bean-ball warfare.

Just ask the Orioles.

They know a thing or two about it.

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