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Different Season, Same Problems

Miguel Sano of the Twins swings and watches the ball fly.

On Saturday night, Andrew Cashner did something he had only done three other times is his entire big league career.

He gave up three home runs in a start.

The ground ball specialist had only allowed 15 home runs in 2017, but he was up in the strike zone all night.

Unfortunately for the Orioles, the Twins didn’t miss.

The outing was certainly not what the Orioles expected when they inked Cashner to a potentially $41 million deal in February. While it is just one start in the first series of the season, it was important for Cashner to throw a good one to get a sour taste out of the collective mouths of the team and its fans.

What Kevin Gausman did the following day only added to the acidity.

Gausman’s first pitch of the season was right down the middle of the plate to Brian Dozier, who promptly deposited the ball into the left field stands for a quick 1-0 lead. Gausman allowed three more runs in the first inning, and six on the day, including two more home runs in just four innings of work. It was hardly the start envisioned when he switched his number from 39 to 34 to honor the late, great Roy Halladay.

After a dismal performance by the starting rotation in 2017, the Orioles’ number two and three starters in 2018 combined to allow 11 runs (10 earned) on 13 hits and six home runs in nine innings. To put that into perspective, Gausman’s counterpart on Sunday, Jose Berrios, threw nine innings of three hit, shutout baseball.

Bad would be an understatement.

Of course, the pitching isn’t only to blame. After the opening series with Minnesota, the Orioles offense is the coldest in all of baseball, batting just .117, last in the Majors. While they certainly aren’t the only team with playoff aspirations to get off to a cold start — the Cubs struck out 47 times in their opening series and the Indians are batting .186 in their 1-2 start — it is particularly alarming given what is staring the team directly in the face.

The Orioles now must go to Houston for the Astros’ home-opening series. As if that weren’t enough, they then travel to New York for four games before coming home to play Toronto. After Toronto, they head to Boston for a four-game series over Patriots Day weekend, and then they have a series with the Cleveland Indians the following weekend. That’s like taking a drive down tornado alley in late June.

While the Orioles appear to be a good baseball team, they likely are not as talented as the Yankees, Red Sox, Astros and Indians. (I did pick the O’s to finish ahead of Boston this season). A quick start against the Twins out of the gate was crucial to the Orioles negating a bit of the top heavy schedule, but the team fell flat on their faces.

The Gausman start was especially alarming because of his past struggles in the first half of a season. For his career, Gausman pitches to a 4.94 ERA in the first half, and 3.69 ERA in the second half. For the Orioles to be successful, it is important that he puts together two good halves. The talk out of Sarasota was that he was primed to do just that.

Instead, he treated Birdland to more of the same.

It is certainly too early to be up in arms about three games, just like if the Orioles had swept the Twins out of Baltimore it would have been too early to call the team world-beaters. Still, the alternative would beat reality, and the Orioles have a tough stretch staring them in the face. Chris Tillman gets the ball on Monday night in Houston.

Here’s hoping he can keep it in the ballpark.

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Monday’s O’s Links: April Fools’ Day, or Groundhog Day?

Orioles OF Trey Mancini watches a home run at the wall.

After a magical Opening Day, where the Magic was on full display, Birdland was ready for a weekend of fun, dongs, solid starts, and shutdown bullpen innings. Alas, that was not to be. Minnesota took the final two games of the series – in distressingly dominant fashion – as the O’s bats were completely MIA, and Andrew Cashner’s egg Saturday night pale in comparison to the one Kevin Gausman poetically laid on Easter Sunday.

The Birds now head to Houston and New York, so they’d better find their offense in a hurry or this thing could get ugly quick.

Welcome back, baseball

To the links…

One series down, and these orioles have struggled in the same way as 2017

It all looked distressingly familiar, didn’t it? Crappy starts, the entire team slumping at the same time…Dan Connolly has more details, if you can stomach them.

If Cashner’s Slider is Back, Expect More Strikeouts

Before his start on Saturday, we got some optimistic words about Andrew Cashner from Matt Kremnitzer of Camden Depot. Cashner DID have five K’s, so that was nice. The home runs kinda put a damper on them, of course.

Twins Look Silly for Taking Offense After Catcher’s Bunt

Judd Zulgrad of ESPN 1500 takes the Twins to task for their ridiculous whining over Chance Sisco’s bunt in the ninth inning yesterday. As if unwritten rules weren’t bad enough, now we apparently have to deal with unwritten rules that teams MAKE UP ON THE SPOT. Seriously, who has ever heard of “you can’t bunt against the shift in the ninth inning when you’re down a bunch of runs?” If you want to play that game, how about DON’T SHIFT IN THE NINTH WHEN YOU’RE UP A BUNCH? When did the Twins turn into the Red Sox? Just awful. Fans don’t care about this crap. If he really wants younger fans to embrace the game, Rob Manfra should work to abolish all unwritten rules during his tenure.

Showalter Speaks After 7-0 Loss

Roch has quotes from Buck on the stagnant offense, Davis as a leadoff hitter, Gausman’s concerning velocity, and more.

How Orioles Could Extend Recent Positivity

Think Andrew wrote this one before Sunday? But seriously, let’s end on a high note. The Birds have pleasantly surprised us in many respects recently, from the Kids Cheer Free initiative, to lowering concession prices, to signing Alex Cobb. There’s one thing they could do to really put a cherry on top.

That’s all the Bird talk I can stomach today. Here’s to finding the bats on the plane.

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Let’s Draw a Bunch of Conclusions from One Game

Another O’pening Day, another walk-off. Ho hum.

Buck Showalter moved to 8-0 on Opening Day as the Birds’ skipper, and the O’s became the first team in history to walk it off on three straight Opening Days.

Cool!

Of course, it was annoying that yesterday even required a walk-off, as the O’s had a 2-0 lead entering the ninth inning, and it was even still 2-0 with two outs. Of course, it couldn’t be that easy, because Orioles.

With that, let’s get into our second annual (admittedly ridiculous) “things we learned on Opening Day.”

 

Bundy is Ready to Keep Dealin’

Dylan Bundy was getting a lot of the plate with some elevated pitches in the first couple innings. There were two very loud outs in the first, then Craig Gentry‘s rob of a would-be Eddie Rosario home run in the second. After that though, Dylan settled down nicely.

His final line (7 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 7 K, 0 R) pretty much matched what we saw with our eyes. He kept Minnesota hitters off balance all day with a nice mix of pitches, held his fastball velocity in the 92-94 MPH range through his final inning, and had two breaking balls working nicely. Most impressively, he threw 24 slides, and got 12 whiffs on those 24.

Although the Birds pushed two runs across in the seventh after he departed, putting him in line for the win, of course that didn’t materialize.

Bundy got beat around a bit in Sarasota, and I said that he was pretty much the only O’s pitcher (this was pre-Alex Cobb) who I trusted was just “getting his work in.” He justified my confidence.

As long as I have you here, it’s a fine time to tell you that our friends at Breaking T have relaunched this awesome Dealin’ Bundy shirt, and you can get yours here.

Dealin' Bundy t-shirt design.

 

Caleb is a Better Hitter than he gets Credit for

I was having an argument with a friend at a pre-game party yesterday, the subject of which was Caleb Joseph. He was poo-pooing Caleb’s offensive ability, and using his futile 0-RBI 2016 season as his main ammo. He backed off a bit when I reminded him of the quite gruesome injury the backstop suffered that season, but even I have to admit that yes, Joseph was pretty bad with the stick in 2016.

Still, I am not ready to hand the everyday catching duties over to Chance Sisco solely because of his offensive ability. Joseph makes the O’s pitchers better, and we all know they can use all the help they can get. On top of that, when he plays regularly, he can hit OK!

In 2015, he managed a wRC+ of 88 in 355 AB. In 2017, 82 in 266. Admittedly, these are below average, but they are nowhere near the 8(!!) figure he posted during that awful 2016 campaign.

Joseph isn’t an offensive force by any stretch. But for any bit that he “hurts” the team with his bat, he more than makes up for with his defense. With that in mind, sign me up for a near 50/50 split between he and Sisco this season.

Caleb also had one of the funnier post-game quotes you’ll ever hear when asked about his triple that put the O’s up 2-0 in the seventh.

 

O’Day is Still the Man

I went into this in great detail last week, so I won’t belabor the point any further.

Darren O’Day had a perfect eighth yesterday, striking out Jason Castro, and then inducing a pop-up and groundout from Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer, respectively, on 12 total pitches.

Should O’Day have pitched the ninth inning instead? That brings us to…

 

Brach Maybe Still Isn’t a Closer

Brad Brach was 18/21 in save opportunities last season, which is probably a little better than you remember. (The 6 Blown Saves he is charged with on some sites isn’t really accurate – three of those came in the 7th or 8th inning, not really what we’d consider save situations). He’s now 0 for 1 in 2018 after blowing that aforementioned 2-0 lead.

He was absolutely the victim of some bad luck. Chris Davis should have flagged down that bouncer – that he perhaps lost in the sun – for an out. The pitch that he walked Max Kepler on could have easily been called strike three to end the game.

The hit that tied the game was a silly little bloop that just happened to fall in.

On top of that, he had some nasty stuff, as was quite evident on his two strikeouts.

All that aside, it took him 34 pitches to get through two-thirds of an inning. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence going forward. I don’t think he should be “replaced” as closer, but nor should he be “The closer,” going forward.

Which brings us to…

 

Buck Will Still Frustrate Us at Times

You guys know I’m a Buck fan. I won’t even bother laying out all the disclaimers about why he’s awesome here, as I’ve done it ad nauseum over the years.

But the guy ain’t perfect. No manager is, of course. Buck, though, has his own specific idiosyncrasies that send fans of his teams into fits from time to time.

Here’s one that was on display yesterday: once it’s clear the closer doesn’t quite have it that night, Buck will still give him enough rope to hang himself.

Now, I had no (or, less of a) problem with Showalter doing this with more established closers like Zach Britton or even Jim Johnson. But Brad Brach? Come on, man! Everyone watching could see that thing going sideways after about the 25th pitch. Mychal Givens started warning, but perhaps a little too late. By the time he came in, the game was already tied.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose. Don’t expect Buck to suddenly develop a quick hook for the guy “closing” the game, no matter which member of the Closer-by-Committee who isn’t quite on his game it happens to be.

I think Jon Shepherd put it quite nicely here:

 

 

The Cap10 Continues to Dazzle Us

Would you believe that that was just Adam Jones‘ third career walk-off home run, and first since 2012? Believe it!

None of us know what the future holds for Mr. Jones, but it doesn’t seem, as we sit here on March 30, 2018, that the chances of him running down the orange carpet a year from now are much better than those of Manny Machado doing the same.

Perhaps that will end up making yesterday all the more special, or perhaps his home run off Fernando Rodney will just be another highlight playing on the video board when life-long Oriole AJ’s statue goes up beyond the OPACY bullpens in 2030.

Regardless, for now, let’s just savor that moment, and watch it again.

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Friday’s O’s Links – One and O!

Adam Jones follows through on his swing.

Everybody feeling alright today? It was another great Opening Day at the Yard yesterday, as Buck Showalter moved to 8-0 in such games thanks to Adam Jones’ 11th inning walk-off home run. The weather was great, the beer was very cold, and the Birds started off on the right foot.

Let’s hit the links.

Gentry’s Clutch Catch an “Instinctual Thing”

Most O’s fans were annoyed to see Craig Gentry’s name on the lineup card, a result of Minnesota starter Jake Odorizzi’s extreme reverse splits. As always, Buck Knows Best. Gentry made a spectacular catch at the right-centerfield wall to rob a home run and keep the game tied at 0-0 early.

Jones Adds to His Legacy

Dan Connolly of Baltimore Baseball on AJ, Gentry, Brad Brach (ugh) and more.

Yes, Chris Davis Should Leaf Off

Maybe Jon Shepherd should LOG OFF, amirite?

Kidding, Jon.

Scratching your head about Davis atop the order? Shepherd actually ran a model a year ago, and found that Davis should be the leadoff hitter. Head over to Camden Depot with an open mind and let him try to convince you.

2018 O’s Over/Unders

Baltimore Sports and Life’s Chris Stoner sets lines on twenty different items about this year’s Birds, asking readers to take the over or under on everything from Trey Mancini’s number of extra-base hits to the team’s overall record.

Nick Markakis Shows Once Again that Baseball Doesn’t Care What We Think

In a wonderful bit of symmetry, do you know who else hit a walk-off homer yesterday? Nick the Stick! 2110 Eutaw Street represent!

I know, I know…this isn’t really an “Orioles” link. But it’s a former Oriole link, and I think you’ll all enjoy it.

 

“Enjoy” our off day, and the weekend baseball!

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MLB Preview & Predictions – Nats Finally Get Over Hump

Matt Wieters of the Nationals throws in his catcher's gear.

Last night, I posted my detailed AL East predictions. This morning, I’ll run over those quickly, before moving on to some league-wide prognostications. Enjoy!

 

American League

 

East

New York Yankees: 94-68

He’s happy to be in New York, but how long will Giancarlo Stanton remain happy when his rookie manager keeps penciling him as the DH instead of in the outfield? The power will be at full capacity, in both the lineup and the bullpen. The Yankees will make a serious run at their 28th World Championship.

Baltimore Orioles: 89-73

Manny Machado is still in Birdland, for now. Can a revamped rotation propel the Orioles back to the prominence that made them the American League’s winningest franchise from 2012-16? If so, it’ll take a one-game playoff for their dreams of ending Baltimore’s 35-year World Series drought to live on.

Boston Red Sox: 88-74

J.D. Martinez has come to Beantown to fill the void left by Big Papi’s absence. Can an aging ball club win its third consecutive division crown and make a run at their fourth World Championship in 14 years? Much like the Yankees, they’ll have to overcome a rookie manager to do so.

Toronto Blue Jays: 78-84

One of the best units in baseball in 2016, the Jays starting rotation took a step back in 2017. This staff needs to rebound in a big way if Toronto looks to rekindle the magic that saw them play in consecutive Championship Series in ‘15/’16.

Tampa Bay Rays: 72-90

They traded or got rid of everybody not named Kevin Kiermaier and Chris Archer. They’ll never admit it, but the organization saw the writing on the wall and decided to mail it in for 2018, using veterans Denard Span and Carlos Gomez as covers for a franchise that gave up before the season started.

 

Central

Cleveland Indians: 94-68

Corey Kluber is a stud. Andrew Miller leads one of the league’s best bullpens. Francisco Lindor is an MVP candidate every year. It took a 22-game winning streak last summer to remind the Indians who they were. This year, the sour taste of a wasted October opportunity is all the motivation they’ll need.

Minnesota Twins: 85-77

Baseball’s biggest surprise in 2017, the Twins became the first team to lose 100 games one season, and then make the playoffs the next. Still, they were sellers at the deadline and then played above their heads. They’ll improve with the additions of Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn, but not enough to make it to consecutive Octobers.

Detroit Tigers: 76-86

Michael Fulmer is a bona fide starter for the Tigers, but if they want to contend, they’ll need Jordan Zimmerman to finally earn his contract, Daniel Norris to become the player they expected him to be, and they’ll need to catch lightning in a bottle with Francisco Liriano. Miguel Cabrera hitting like Miguel Cabrera again would also go a long way.

Chicago White Sox: 74-88

This is a team loaded with young talent that will drop your jaw with some highlight plays and some rookie mistakes. Carlos Rodon missing the first two months is huge blow, but strong starts by Lucas Giolito and Carson Fulmer could help bridge the gap. This team is coming, they’re just not here yet.

Kansas City Royals: 70-92

Whit Merrifield is a star on the rise, and Mike Moustakas is back to form a solid middle of the order with Salvador Perez. Danny Duffy is the anchor of the staff, but if the downward trend from starters Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy continues, it’s going to be a long, hot summer in Kansas City. The pitching will ultimately let this team down.

 

West

Houston Astros: 99-63

The rich got richer. The defending World Champions have Justin Verlander for a full season and acquired Gerrit Cole in a trade with the Pirates. The starting rotation might be the best in the AL, and the lineup is filled with young, scary talent that keeps getting better, including the reigning AL MVP, Jose Altuve. The only reason they don’t win 100 games is a slight WS hangover and a middling bullpen. Still, this team has a legitimate chance to be the first repeat champs since the ‘98/’99 Yankees.

Los Angeles Angels: 87-75

Mike Trout should be enough to make any team competitive, but the Angels finally have a ton of talent around him in Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons, Zack Cozart, Ian Kinsler, and Albert Pujols. Shohei Ohtani could have some growing pains, but he’ll contribute to an improving pitching staff. If Garrett Richards returns to his ace form following two injury plagued seasons, the Angels will be in the playoff discussion all season.

Seattle Mariners: 82-80

The injury bug has bitten the Mariners this spring. Still, the star power of Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz will keep the Mariners relevant offensively. They simply need more from their starting rotation. Mike Leake and a healthy Felix Hernandez could pay dividends. Though they usually remain relevant through August, the Mariners have a tendency to fade down the stretch. This year will be no different.

Texas Rangers: 78-84

They’ll mash the ball out of the park. There’s no question about that. But as is usually the case, if you can’t pitch, you can’t win. After Cole Hamels, the Rangers can’t pitch. Unless it’s the year 2011. Is it 2011? With a pitching staff containing Hamels, Tim Lincecum, Doug Fister, and Matt Moore, it can be hard to tell.

Oakland Athletics: 69-93

Quick, without looking, name five players on the Oakland Athletics. You can’t? Neither can anybody outside of Oakland. This is a bad baseball team that is far removed from the Moneyball  days. Khris Davis is being wasted. But Jonathon Lucroy is a nice addition to any team.

 

PLAYOFFS

WC: Red Sox d. Orioles

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

ALCS: Yankees d. Astros

AWARDS

MVP: Mike Trout

Cy Young: Justin Verlander

Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter

 

National League

 

East

Washington Nationals: 95-67

The rotation returns four 13+ games winners and three starters with sub-3.00 ERA’s. Gio Gonzalez should come back down to earth a bit, but Tanner Roark should rebound a bit, so no harm, no foul. Full seasons from Adam Eaton and Trea Turner mean big things for an already potent offense led by impending free agent Bryce Harper. Much like Baltimore and Boston, the window is closing in D.C. They’ll run away with this division and make a deep run into October.

New York Mets: 84-78

The pitching could be phenomenal in Queens this summer. If Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto stay healthy, the offense could be good. They’ll definitely hit a lot of home runs with the additions of Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce. The x-factor here is a healthy, productive Matt Harvey.

Philadelphia Phillies: 78-84

Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola form a nice one-two punch at the top of that rotation. Carlos Santana should help pace the offense along with Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco. This team has sneaky power and could be a sleeper in the National League if A LOT of things go right. They still need another arm though. Watch out in 2019 though. They’ll be major players for some big free agents next offseason.

Atlanta Braves: 76-86

This is a young, talented roster. One day Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and Ronald Acuna will be household names. Freddie Freeman already is, and Nick Markakis is no slouch. Still, this team lacks any quality starting pitching, and pitching wins ballgames. Braves will be here to stay in 2019.

Miami Marlins: 58-104

Giancarlo Stanton? Gone. Christian Yelich? Gone. Marcell Ozuna? Gone. Dee Gordon? Gone. J.T. Realmuto is the only one left, and he’s starting the year on the DL. This is the worst team in baseball, by a wide margin.

 

Central

Chicago Cubs: 92-70

The offense is potent, led by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. The pitching staff can be dominant, led by Jon Lester and Yu Darvish. It’s the mid-tier starters in Tyler Chatwood and Kyle Hendricks that could make or break this season. Still, the Cubs will be back in the playoffs for the third straight season.

St. Louis Cardinals: 88-74

Luke Weaver and Carlos Martinez are young, stud pitchers. Jack Flaherty could join them in that conversation. Adam Wainwright is basically done. This team will be led to the postseason, however, by its All-World outfield of Marcell Ozuna, Tommy Pham, and Dexter Fowler. The Cardinals will be back where they belong: playing in October.

Milwaukee Brewers: 88-74

The Cardinals need only look in their own division to find an outfield to match theirs. Christian Yelich, Domingo Santana, and Lorenzo Cain will pace this team. The outfield is so loaded, Keon Broxton has been demoted and Ryan Braun will likely move to first base. The pitching staff will sneak up on people with Zach Davies, Jhoulys Chacin, and Chase Anderson. The Brewers will be in the postseason conversation till the end.

Cincinnati Reds: 74-88

The Reds have a lot of power but don’t score a lot of runs. They also don’t have much in the ways of pitching. The staff has a couple of young guns with potential, but not enough to keep pace in a stacked division.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 70-92

They traded away Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. The rotation is mediocre at best, and the offense has no real threats outside of Josh Bell. The Pirates were so good for a few years, and have nothing to show for it now. It could be a long rebuild in Pittsburgh.

 

West

Arizona Diamondbacks 92-70

The starting rotation is absolutely loaded, and they’re all under the age of 30, with the exception of Zack Greinke. Robby Ray is filthy, and Taijuan Walker finally became the player we all expected when he was a top prospect in Seattle. The offense is paced by Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, and A.J. Pollock. The loss of J.D. Martinez stings, but they’ll go make another trade at the deadline to push them over the top if they have to.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 90-72

Any staff anchored by Clayton Kershaw already has an edge. The rest of the rotation falls in line nicely behind Kershaw, but Rich Hill needs to find a way to get rid of the blister problem that has plagued him his entire career. Kenta Maeda might be their worst starter, and he’s still pretty damn good. The loss of Justin Turner hurts, but this team will weather the storm until he returns.

Colorado Rockies: 86-76

It’s the same story every year with this team. They hit, but can they pitch? Last year they pitched a little bit and won 87 games. Jon Gray needs to stay healthy, and Kyle Freeland needs to build on a strong rookie campaign and continue to progress. Still, this team takes a slight step back because of the division they play in and the fact that Mark Reynolds (30 HR, 97 RBI) is no longer in the lineup.

San Francisco Giants 78-84

Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria are really nice additions. Austin Jackson is a nice role player. But the injuries to Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija really hurt this team. Unless they make another trade for a legitimate starter, the Giants will be on the outside looking in come October, especially when you consider they play the Dodgers ten times in April. An early hole could be too much to crawl out of.

San Diego Padres: 72-90

Eric Hosmer is a great addition and will combine with Wil Myers and Hunter Renfro to provide some much needed punch to that lineup. But the Padres have no pitching whatsoever and don’t seem to have much on the horizon that can help this year. Plus, Hosmer is hitting in some cavernous parks in the NL West. It could be another long year is San Diego, but they’re headed in the right direction.

 

PLAYOFFS

Play-in Game: Cardinals d. Brewers

WC: Dodgers d. Cardinals

NLDS:  Nationals d. Dodgers, Diamondbacks d. Cubs

NLCS: Nationals d. Diamondbacks

WS: Nationals d. Yankees

 

AWARDS

MVP: Paul Goldschmidt

Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw

Rookie of the Year: Ronald Acuna

Manager of the Year: Mike Matheny

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Thursday Thoughts: MLB Preview & Predictions 2018

Manny Machado screams as Trey Mancini comes to join him in celebration.

Happy Opening Day! Each year, this is a special day full of tradition and hope. I’m excited to be a fan of the Orioles entering this season and a fan of baseball in general. I’m also grateful for all of the readers of this weekly blog that rambles aimlessly about a team I’ve pulled for my entire life and a game that will never leave me. I want to take this space to remind each of you that I’ll be writing here each Thursday, but I’m also honored to have been asked to write guest blogs over at MASNSports.com for a sixth season. I’ll be contributing there each Monday during the season, so be sure to check that out as well.

The last week or so has been busy in Birdland. There is a lot happening on and off the field, but truthfully, the only thing people care about today is the fact that the games count. Part of the beauty of baseball and the start of the season is that no one knows what’s going to happen. No one knew in 2012 that the Orioles would be playoff bound. No one expected a division title in 2014. This season, no one expects the Orioles to be in contention for a World Series. But crazier things have happened. It’s the hope that everyone can have when the record is 0-0 that makes the day and time of year so special.

ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, one of my favorite baseball analysts (and for that matter, people) in the world, always says baseball is a great game because it’s impossible to predict. And I agree with that. There’s a reason that a Twitter account called “You Can’t Predict Baseball” exists. So much of what you’ll read in the rest of this week’s blog will be wrong. Last week, I went over some bold(ish) predictions about the Orioles. That’s what this blog is about, but it’s also about baseball in general. So this week, I’m going to give a brief prediction on each of the 30 teams, listed in the order where they will (might) finish in the standings. Be sure to read each one and educate yourself on the other teams out there, but also remember that these predictions are subject to be completely wrong, because baseball is amazing like that.

No one knows what will happen.

 

NL WEST

Los Angeles Dodgers – The defending NL champions should repeat as division champs for a sixth straight season, but it won’t be easy. Challenges will come from both the Rockies and Diamondbacks, who each made the postseason last year. The Dodgers are still the powerhouse, though, and should be able to withstand the losses of Justin Turner (temporary – wrist) and Yu Darvish (permanent – free agency).

Arizona Diamondbacks – After a somewhat surprising first year under manager Torey Lovullo, the D-backs should be right back in the mix for a postseason spot this season. They lost slugger J.D. Martinez to free agency, but should have enough in the lineup led by Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb. Steven Souza Jr. will start the year on the DL after coming over in a trade with the Rays, but Arizona has a lot to play for in a competitive division this year.

Colorado Rockies Bud Black’s purple-clad Rockies squad should once again be able to slug the ball all over the place this season, but questions remain about their pitching staff. It’s a common theme in Colorado, where the ball flies. The Rockies have some young talent to mix with established bats like Nolan Arenado. They could easily be in the mix in this division if things break the right way, and if young starters like Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland take steps to be productive rotation stalwarts.

San Francisco Giants – The Giants were super active this offseason in adding veteran talent to their roster, but injuries have already bitten them badly this spring. Starters Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija will each be on the shelf to start the year, as will closer Mark Melancon. Even the additions of Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria and Austin Jackson may not be enough to help this slowly sinking ship. It’s almost as if the Giants pushed all their chips to the middle of the table and are just waiting for a miracle river card. They’ll have a lot of hurdles to climb if they want to be competitive this season.

San Diego Padres – The Friars made a huge splash in this slow-moving offseason by signing Eric Hosmer to be the new face of the franchise. San Diego has plenty of young talent, and should actually be better than they have in the last few seasons. It’s an ultra competitive division, though, and Hosmer can only do so much. I’m excited to watch the development of outfielder Manuel Margot, but pitching remains a big issue on this team. There simply isn’t enough of it to be competitive.

 

NL CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs – I feel like the Cubs are somehow underrated entering this season. Everyone is talking about the Dodgers and Nationals, but the Cubs to me are still among the best in the NL. Add Yu Darvish to a rotation that lost Jake Arrieta and a lineup that remains as potent as ever, and you’ve got a recipe for success. The Cubbies battled the Brewers all season last year for the division, eventually prevailing. I think there was some World Series hangover going on there. Expect Chicago to bounce back in a big way this year.

St. Louis Cardinals – It’s hard to believe the Cardinals have missed the postseason each of the last two years, but it’s true. Last year’s third-place finish was their worst since 2008, and the team responded by adding Marcell Ozuna in a trade with the Marlins. I wouldn’t expect the fans in St. Louis to put up with much more mediocrity from Mike Matheny’s squad, which is why I think they get one of the two Wild Card spots in the NL this season. Expect them to push the Cubs in this division, led by Cy Young candidate Carlos Martinez and a slew of young pitching talent.

Milwaukee Brewers – The Brewers were right in it last year until fading and finishing a game out of the playoffs. They appear to be a potential playoff team, but something also appears to be missing. The Brew Crew also went out and made a deal this winter, grabbing Christian Yelich from the Marlins. They feel like they are on the verge, but I’m not 100% sure they have enough pitching to get the job done. This team was a perfect candidate to go out and acquire Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb to help out, and didn’t do it. I feel like that will bite them in the end.

Pittsburgh Pirates – The Pirates are in a weird transitional phase that should at least make them somewhat interesting this year. They traded away Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, but also traded for Corey Dickerson. It’s almost as if they know they won’t be in it this year, but don’t want to tell their fans that. There are certainly pieces that make them interesting, including outfielders Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte. They have to rely on the development of former first-round pick Jameson Taillon among others to have any chance of being in the mix this year.

Cincinnati Reds – The Reds are another team that enters the season with some interesting pieces, but no real chance. Billy Hamilton and Joey Votto make for some excitement in the lineup, but there isn’t nearly enough pitching to handle the rest of this division. I am excited to see young talent within the organization like Nick Senzel and Jesse Winker eventually get a shot to develop in the big leagues.

 

NL EAST

Washington Nationals – It may seem boring, but the Nationals seem to be in this spot every year. They’ve won the NL East three of the last four years and still have an absolutely stacked roster. There’s a lot of pressure on this team though, because they’ve still yet to win a playoff series. The rotation continues to be anchored by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, and the lineup will continue to mash with Bryce Harper right in the middle. But impending free agency for Harper will act like a ticking clock for this franchise, similar to that of Manny Machado in Baltimore. The Nats should win the division again this year, but beyond that, who knows.

Philadelphia Phillies – Part of the reason the clock is ticking on the Nationals is because of teams like the Phillies. This squad is just like Alexander Hamilton – young, scrappy and hungry. There are so many budding stars on this roster and I think they are going to carry that enthusiasm and momentum to a Wild Card berth this year. It could be surprising to some, but the likes of Rhys Hoskins, Maikel Franco, J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery should have this team and the city of Philadelphia energized all summer long. Aaron Nola is another one to watch in the rotation, which should be led by the offseason acquisition of Jake Arrieta, who still has something to prove.

Atlanta Braves – Count the Braves among those who will continue to put mounting pressure on the Nationals over the next few seasons. This team is also young and getting better. They have the budding farm system to go with it and I think they have a great shot to take a productive 2018 season and launch themselves into contention by next year. Everyone will be anticipating the arrival of Ronald Acuna from the minors after the first few weeks of the season, but there are plenty of other young developing stars already on the roster, including former first-round pick Dansby Swanson. After a few years of being irrelevant, Atlanta should be a team to watch very soon.

New York Mets – I’m putting the Mets in a similar category as I do the Giants. They are a team full of veterans that don’t have a lot of time to prove it. The Mets also seem to have a ton of injury concerns, starting with their veteran third baseman David Wright. The rotation will have to stay healthy, and if it does they can be very good. I’m also constantly concerned about the health of players like Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Adrian Gonzalez. There definitely are bright spots to look toward, the biggest being outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto. To me, the Mets are among the biggest mysteries in baseball, and I’m just putting a bit more faith in the youth in this division.

Miami Marlins – Everyone knows the Marlins are going to stink this year, but something tells me they won’t be as bad as everyone thinks. There are some bright spots on this roster, but they are still bound for a lot of losing. The biggest questions are in the rotation, but the lineup should be able to produce a bit despite departures of the entire starting outfield (Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna) and second baseman-turned-center fielder Dee Gordon. Lewis Brinson should be a joy to watch develop and Justin Bour has a chance to slug the ball out of the park at any moment. There will be a lot of losing, but also some fun moments for this squad this season.

 

AL WEST

Houston Astros – There’s not much else to say when it comes to the Astros. They’re the defending champions and remain loaded. They added Gerrit Cole to their rotation and still have Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel to anchor it. They are very good, #analysis. There definitely is something to be said about World Series hangover, however. There’s no question in my mind they should win their division, but don’t be surprised if there are rough patches. I also don’t expect them to repeat as champions.

Texas Rangers – Every time I count the Rangers out and dead, they come back to bite me. I’m going to give them a little credit this year and put them in the mix for a Wild Card spot. I think they’ll come up short, but it won’t be for a lack of effort. They have a lineup that can run with the best of them, headlined by budding star Joey Gallo. Cole Hamels will have to return to form as the “old” version of himself if they want to have a chance, and the bullpen will have to overperform a bit, but something tells me Texas will be a bit of a force this season.

Los Angeles Angels – Many are picking the Angels to be in the mix for a Wild Card spot this year, and I don’t fully disagree with them. I just have them coming up short. There’s no doubt they improved their lineup with the acquisitions of Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart, and they obviously still have Mike Trout. The biggest issue remains their pitching staff, where a lot will be expected of phenom Shohei Ohtani. If the Japanese import can handle the pressure of being in a big league rotation while also playing some DH, perhaps they can impress. I just think that’s going to be a lot to handle for the youngster.

Seattle Mariners – Every year I want to fall in love with what the Mariners are doing and every year they tend to have things go terribly wrong. This season it’s already started with a slew of injuries that have bitten them. They’ve lost David Phelps from their bullpen and have had a bunch of scares in their rotation. I’m interested to see how Dee Gordon transitions from second base to center field after being brought in from the Marlins, and the lineup can obviously still rake with the likes of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager in the middle. There is just so much working against them in terms of an aging Felix Hernandez and not much support outside of James Paxton in the rotation.

Oakland Athletics – The A’s are another team trying to get younger and develop players, and probably won’t have enough firepower to be in the mix this season. They could surprise a bit, but there’s a lack of pitching in both the rotation and bullpen there. The offense should be powered by Khris Davis once again, but he won’t have a ton of support behind him. The average fan won’t think much about the A’s this year, and there’s probably a good reason for that.

 

AL CENTRAL

Cleveland Indians – I don’t know that there’s a greater lock to win their division than the Indians this season. Perhaps it’s the Astros, but even they could falter with some hangover effect from last year. The Tribe is loaded once again this season with a dynamic lineup and stellar rotation. They also have a lot of pressure on them, because many of their key pieces could be departing after this year. Francisco Lindor is an MVP candidate and there’s power in the middle of the lineup with Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Ramirez and Yonder Alonso. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco should lead the way for a rotation that may be the best in baseball. This is an extremely dangerous team from top to bottom.

Minnesota Twins – The Twins are that team that made the playoffs last year that you forgot made the playoffs last year. And they’ll be in the mix again this season, too. They added to their rotation with Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn and bolstered their lineup a bit with Logan Morrison. Byron Buxton is primed for a breakout and the lineup should be able to produce enough. The biggest question remains pitching, especially in the bullpen. Fernando Rodney is slated to close for them, which should be an adventure. They also lost Ervin Santana for a chunk of the season to injury and will have to deal with the suspension to shortstop Jorge Polanco. Count the Twins in the mix, but there will be hurdles.

Chicago White Sox – Watch out for yet another young team on the rise. The White Sox have loaded up with developing talent and seem primed to scare some people this year. The rotation shouldn’t be awful, led by James Shields and youngster Lucas Giolito. The lineup should have some pop with Yoan Moncada, Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu, as well as former first-round talent Tim Anderson. There’s no real reason the Sox couldn’t surprise and make a big leap this year, but it could also be a year too early. Either way, they are on the rise.

Kansas City Royals – The Royals are stuck in “no man’s land” after a few years of extremely competitive teams (capped by their World Series championship in 2015). They lost Eric Hosmer to the Padres, but retained Mike Moustakas. They also brought in Jon Jay and Lucas Duda, but none of what they did this offseason seemed to move the needle from what was a very mediocre third-place finish last year. Catcher Salvador Perez will also start the year on the DL after a freak accident this week involving luggage. It’s a bad omen for what could be kind of a bad team this year.

Detroit Tigers – If the Royals end up being bad this season, it’ll still be nothing compared to the Tigers, who should end up being awful. This all started last year when they traded away Justin Verlander and J.D. Martinez, beginning a process of rebuilding. Miguel Cabrera is still leading the way, but there isn’t much else in the Motor City to support him. It’s all about resetting and starting anew for this franchise, which moved on from Brad Ausmus and brought in former Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire to manager the club.

 

AL EAST

Boston Red Sox – It’s going to be a battle between the Red Sox and Yankees for the AL East this season, but count me in what I think is the minority in believing Boston comes out on top. They are, after all, the defending division champions. They also added to their anemic power offense by signing J.D. Martinez. They also still have numerous weapons like Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts that are all young improving players. The rotation remains a bear, led by Chris Sale and David Price, who should bounce back from a down year. I expect the Sox to make it three straight division titles, and I expect first-year manager Alex Cora to mostly stay out of the way as they do it.

New York Yankees – There is all the hype surrounding the Yankees, and that’s to be expected with the most popular team in the largest media market. They’re going to be good, there’s no doubt. Good enough for a Wild Card spot in my mind. But I don’t think we are going to see Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton combine for 100+ homers like everyone thinks. I also don’t like their rotation enough to push them into first place. There’s no doubt Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius will be great and there’s also no doubt losing Greg Bird to an injury hurts them. There’s also something about the pressure this team is facing. They also have a first-year manager in Aaron Boone, who comes right out of the broadcast booth to take over for Joe Girardi. You’re going to be tired of hearing about the Yankees this year. Judge and Stanton will be plastered all over your TV. Just remember that there are weaknesses on this roster, to go with all of the strengths.

Baltimore Orioles – Call it a hunch, call it blind optimism or call it straight up homerism. I’m picking the Orioles to make the playoffs. Something about the way this franchise has operated over the past month or so has me believing they can carry it into the season and be good enough. They aren’t a perfect roster by any stretch, but they have enough offense and now enough pitching, following additions of Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb, to get themselves to the postseason. I fully expect Manny Machado to have an MVP-caliber season. I also wouldn’t be surprised if someone like Colby Rasmus has a great season in support of this offense. They will obviously need Chris Davis and eventually Mark Trumbo to have better seasons than they did last year. There’s a lot to like this season, and I think O’s fans will be able to enjoy it going into October.

Toronto Blue Jays – The Blue Jays are going to be a pesky team that is in the mix this season. They are always a pesky team. They’ve got pop in the lineup, even without Jose Bautista around anymore. They’ve also got a promising enough rotation with Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ and a guy who I think could break out in Aaron Sanchez. We’ll have to see if someone like Troy Tulowitzki can be healthy at some point this season and contribute for them, but regardless they should be good enough to be pesky. Even if they are down a bit this year, they have reinforcements on the way in the form of top prospects like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette on the way in the coming years.

Tampa Bay Rays – The tradition of Florida baseball tanking will be alive in Miami as well as St. Petersburg this year. The Rays will have plenty of holes this year, most notably in the rotation. Chris Archer remains, but the departures of Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi leave a wide gap for him to close. The offense will rely on a mix of Kevin Kiermaier, Carlos Gomez, Wilson Ramos and C.J. Cron to get the job done. That doesn’t give me a ton of confidence that they can do much. I’m interested to see if Christian Arroyo (acquired from San Francisco in the Evan Longoria deal) can come up to the big leagues and provide any spark. Regardless, the Rays shouldn’t provide much resistance to the rest of the division this season.

 

Well, those are my predictions. Let’s hear yours (and why I’m so wrong) below.

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AL East Preview & Prediction

Manny Machado stares back at the Red Sox dugout after hitting a home run as catcher Sandy Leon watches.

Opening Day is the unofficial first day of spring for many people. With every new season come new predictions. It’s part of the fun of baseball. Every team is tied for first place at 0-0, and every fan base has those die-hards who think, “This is our year!”

In the American League East, many have picked the Yankees and Red Sox to battle it out for division supremacy. Both teams added some thump in the offseason looking for that knockout blow, but as we all know, good pitching beats good hitting.

With that in mind, the Orioles added some arms to improve upon the league’s worst starting staff from a year ago. Will it be enough to keep pace with the “Beasts of the East” while also staving off the Blue Jays and Rays?

How will the AL East shake out in 2018? Will the Yankees and Red Sox prove everybody right, or will another team swoop down and take the division crown out from under their noses? Without further ado, I give you my American League East predictions.

Giancarlo Stanton's Yankees headshot.

 

New York Yankees (94-68)

I saw a publication pick the Yankees to win 105 games in 2018. While they are good, they won’t be that good. The offense led the Majors in home runs and was second in runs scored in 2017. All they did to improve upon that was trade for National League MVP and MLB Home Run Champion, Giancarlo Stanton. The combination of Stanton to Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and DiDi Gregorius could be lethal and will certainly help the Yanks make a run towards a division crown.

First baseman and postseason hero, Greg Bird, will begin the year on the disabled list–again–with a broken bone spur in his right ankle that will keep him sidelined for 6-8 weeks, making that Neil Walker signing look better and better for the Bronx Bombers.

On the pitching side of things, the Yankees return their shiny new toy acquired at the trade deadline last season, Sonny Gray, to a rotation that will be led by Luis Severino and his 2.98 ERA from a year ago. C.C. Sabathia returns for one more season looking to ride off into the sunset with one last championship run in New York. He certainly has experienced a career renaissance the last two seasons after it looked like his best days were far in the rearview the previous three years.

Then there’s Masahiro Tanaka, who has somehow managed to avoid Tommy John surgery despite having a partially torn UCL in his pitching elbow since 2014. Tanaka exercised his option this offseason, making him arguably the most expensive middle-of-the-rotation starter in the Majors ($22.3MM each of the next three seasons).

In the bullpen, the Yankees have three legitimate closers pitching at the back end in David Robertson, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman. If they have a lead after six innings, there’s a good chance the game is over.

With a solid rotation, a ridiculous lineup, and an awe-inspiring bullpen, the Yankees are the team to beat in the AL East and may very well get over that hump that left them a game shy of playing in the World Series in 2017.

Manny Machado touches the brim of his helmet as he prepares to hit.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

 

Baltimore Orioles (89-73)

I’m going to take a lot of flak for this, and perhaps rightfully so. The Orioles finished in last place in the AL East in 2017 with a 75-87 record, low-lighted by a September swoon that saw the club lose 19 of its final 23 games. In fact, after being a season-high 12-games above .500 on May 10 (22-10), the Orioles would play .408 baseball the rest of the way (53-77).

Add to that the fact that Zach Britton, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Brad Brach, Buck Showalter, and Dan Duquette all have expiring contracts, and it certainly would be difficult to ascertain any feasible scenario in which I could conceivably pick the Orioles to improve by 14 wins and make a postseason appearance. But that’s exactly what I’ve done, as I believe the impending breakup of the team will lead to a coming together to make one final run towards the team’s first world championship in 35 years (though they will ultimately fall short in October).

Machado and Jonathan Schoop will form one of baseball’s deadliest middle-infields, rivaling that of Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve in Houston. Machado is primed for an MVP-caliber season in his walk-year as he is looking to secure what might be the game’s first $400MM contract next offseason. Schoop, on the other hand, is coming off his breakout season that saw him eclipse 30 HR and 100 RBI en route to a 12th place finish in MVP voting…on a last place team. The two players are best friends and push each other in a friendly competition to out-do each other on a daily basis.

That friendly competition will make for some fun and exciting baseball in 2018, and that’s before I even mention Adam Jones who, like clockwork, posts a stat-line right around .280/25/80 year after year.

Tim Beckham, acquired in a trade with the Rays at the deadline, had a solid spring and proved that he could handle the hot corner. Nobody expects him to perform as he did last August, but if he can find a healthy medium between his final two months, the Orioles and their fans alike will be pleased.

The biggest weakness of the Orioles in 2017 was their starting rotation. They were the worst unit in all of MLB and in the history of the franchise (5.70 ERA). If you believe in addition by subtraction, then the Orioles became an 80-win team the moment the contracts of Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, and Jeremy Hellickson came off the books. There is simply no way anybody not named Chris Tillman could have performed worse than that trio in 2017.

Credit to the Orioles for not resting on their laurels. While Tillman is back on a make-good pillow contract, the team didn’t stop there as they landed Andrew Cashner (3.88 career ERA) and Alex Cobb (3.50 career ERA). If Dylan Bundy continues in his progression, and Kevin Gausman pitches like the number on his back (#34 in honor of the late Roy Halladay), this rotation could be formidable. Granted, if wishes and buts were candies and nuts we’d all have a Merry Christmas, but this team is primed to contend with this staff in 2018.

Backing this rotation is a bullpen that is at-or-near the top of the league every season. Sure, Britton will miss at least the first two months of the season, but Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens are as dependable as they come, and Richard Bleier was a welcomed lefty addition last year while posting a 1.99 ERA.

Miguel Castro is returning to his long relief role that was a bright spot in an otherwise dim 2017 season for the Orioles, and though Rule V picks Nestor Cortes, Jr. and Pedro Araujo are big unknowns for the club, Josh Edgin and Joely Rodriguez, who each had monumental springs, are waiting in the minors for their opportunity.

The biggest question marks for the Birds however, comes in the form of two players: Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo. Between the two of them, they led the majors in home runs three times in a four-year stretch, mashing at least 47 bombs each time. In 2017, the duo combined for just 49 home runs and struck out a collective 344 times (which was actually down from their 389 K’s in 2016, but I digress).

If Trumbo and Davis perform to their 2017 standards, it could be a long year in Birdland. But if they perform to the levels that got them their big contracts, this offense could rival any offense in the game today.

It’s true that the Orioles season rides on a lot of “ifs” at the moment. And surely not every player is going to have a career year or bounce back season. Some players will take a step forward, some backward, and some will stay the same. The schedule through the season’s first two months is absolutely brutal. But I go back to the fact the Orioles were a game out of a playoff spot in the beginning of September with the worst pitching staff in all of baseball. They have improved that staff by leaps and bounds heading into 2018, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned covering this team over the last five years, it’s that we should never count them out. So I won’t.

J.D. Martinez of the Boston Red Sox.

 

Boston Red Sox (88-74)

The Red Sox are the two-time defending division champions and return basically the same team in 2018, with one huge addition. They signed slugger J.D. Martinez (45 HR, 104 RBI in 119 games) to add to a lineup that hit an AL-low 168 HR in 2017. His addition will only help the likes of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Hanley Ramirez.

Dustin Pedroia will begin the year on the DL following knee surgery, and while there is no definitive date for his return, it is likely he will see the field before the break. A healthy veteran of Pedroia’s stature will certainly aid the Red Sox down the stretch.

The offense will not be the problem for Boston. They were sixth in runs last season despite the low HR totals and added Martinez to the mix. And though Martinez has only ever played more than 123 games in a season one time in his seven year career, this offense will be improved by his presence. The downfall of this team could reside on the pitcher’s mound.

On paper, the Red Sox rotation is a who’s who of starting pitchers. Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello. Between them they have two Cy Young awards, and in Sale’s case, six-straight top-6 finishes for the award. But this game isn’t played on paper. Sale will be dominant. There is no doubt about that. You can write it in ink, etch it stone, whatever you want. He always has been. Beyond Sale is a rotation that has no definitive answers.

Price was one of the best pitchers in baseball for a long time. There’s a reason he makes $30MM/yr. The operative word there is “was.” The fact is, Price hasn’t been the same pitcher since signing that contract. He got lit up in his first season with Boston, a solid stretch in July and August his only saving grace in an otherwise mediocre season. In his second season with the ball club, he missed three months due to two separate stints on the DL, and was a non-factor in two relief appearances in October.

Porcello came out of left field in 2016 to lead the league in wins en route to an AL Cy Young award and then, in true Porcello fashion, pitched to a 4.65 ERA in 2017 while leading the league in losses. Earlier, I referred to Masahiro Tanaka as the most expensive middle-of-the-rotation pitcher in baseball. Ladies and gentleman, I give you option 1b.

Eduardo Rodriguez has the talent and the potential to be great, but his time to figure it out is running out. He is beginning his fourth season with the Red Sox and his 4.19 ERA in 2017 was the best of his career. Rodriguez needs to prove that he can produce if he wants to be considered a factor in the Red Sox rotation.

On a staff filled with former aces, it should say something that Drew Pomeranz is probably the most consistent starter behind Sale. Don’t get me wrong, all of these guys have the potential to be great. But potential is just that until it is realized and sustained.

In the bullpen, the Red Sox are solid, but not spectacular. Craig Kimbrel is a star, but after him, it’s not great. Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes are capable relievers, and Joe Kelly is coming off a strong 2017 season. The x-factor here is Carson Smith.

When healthy, Smith is one of the top relievers in the game. The problem is, he hasn’t been healthy since joining the Red Sox, accruing just 9.1 IP in two seasons. If Smith can stay healthy, it could go a long way towards a third straight division title.

*Note* Part of my ranking this team this low is because of the manager. Boston players have a history of blaming the manager for their problems (see: Terry Francona, Bobby Valentine, and John Farrell). Alex Cora is in his first year as a manager, which doesn’t bode well, in my opinion. If this team struggles early, the wheels could come off.

blue jays mascot walking on baseball field waving

 

Toronto Blue Jays (78-84)

Troy Tulowitzki is hurt. Again. Jose Bautista is gone, replaced by another 37-year-old outfielder with declining stats in Curtis Granderson. Though one hell of a human being and teammate, Granderson leaves a lot to be desired on the field at this point in his career. Russell Martin is still a solid backstop, but his best offensive days are behind him. Maybe the new man-bun can revive his dying bat. Kevin Pillar is a defensive standout, and while his bat won’t hurt you, it certainly won’t help you either. This offense is basically relying on Josh Donaldson in the final year of his contract, and the hopes that Justin Smoak’s breakout 2017 season wasn’t just a mirage on the path to ineptitude.

The starting rotation let the team down in 2017. After posting a 3.64 ERA as a unit in 2016, Toronto returned basically the same staff in 2017 hoping to build upon two straight ALCS appearances. That staff pitched to a 4.57 ERA. Marco Estrada’s ERA rose from 3.48 to 4.98. Francisco Liriano watched his ERA balloon from 2.92 after being traded to the Jays in 2016, to 5.88 before the Jays mercifully traded him to Houston at the deadline last season. Aaron Sanchez, the breakout star from 2016, made just eight starts last season as he dealt with blister issues all year. J.A. Happ and Marcus Stroman enjoyed successful individual seasons in 2017, but the disappearing act put on by the rest of the rotation spelled doom for Toronto. The Blue Jays are hoping the addition of Jaime Garcia will help bolster a rotation badly in need of a few bounce back campaigns.

In the bullpen, Joe Biagini returns to a relief role the suited him well prior to his placement in the starting rotation last year. Ryan Tepera and Aaron Loup are looking to build on their solid 2017 seasons, and Roberto Osuna, though established as one of the game’s better closers, is looking to make his 10 blown saves from last year a distant memory. The bullpen, as a whole, is okay, but the less they have to pitch, the better. The rotation can go a long way in making sure that happens.

 

Chris Archer of the Rays prepares to pitch.

 

Tampa Bay Rays (72-90)

Jake Odorizzi, Evan Longoria, and Corey Dickerson are gone, traded away in the offseason as the Rays apparently saw the writing on the wall. Logan Morrison and his 38 home runs left as a free agent and signed with the Minnesota Twins. Third baseman Matt Duffy missed all of 2017 and played in just 91 games the year before. Denard Span and Carlos Gomez were brought in to help the Rays try to be competitive, but both players are shells of their former selves.

Kevin Kiermaier got that big six-year, $53MM contract prior to last season and then played in just 98 games. In fact, Kiermaier has played in 108 games or fewer in three of his four full seasons with the Rays.

The starting rotation is Tampa’s only hope. Jake Faria was a nice surprise in 2017 (3.43 ERA in 16 G/14 starts). Blake Snell was good in his first full season, and as one of the game’s top young pitching prospects, should only get better. Chris Archer is widely regarded as an ace, but he hasn’t pitched like one in three years. Still, this team is better with him on it. Nathan Eovaldi is simply a strong number four pitcher. He’ll never be an ace, but he competes and gives his ball club a chance to win.

The bullpen is filled with has-beens and never-weres, though Alex Colome is a star in the closer’s role. The bottom line is that instead of try to reload and keep pace, like the Orioles did, and to a lesser extent, the Jays, Tampa Bay packed it in back in the cold winter months.

Some of the older veteran players may get their competitive juices flowing for a period of time in the first half and keep the team relevant, but at season’s end, the team’s record will indicate a franchise that gave up in 2018 before it even started.

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Manny: HOME Shirts from Breaking T

As the euphoria of another Opening Day awaits us, unfortunately this year’s is a bit tempered due to the knowledge, throughout Birdland, that this could be Manny Machado‘s final season as a Baltimore Oriole. Manny, a generational-level talent, has been a pleasure to watch since he burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced 19-year-old back during the magical run of 2012.

Dazzling us both in the field and at the dish, Manny has been a one-man highlight reel. We all remember when he elicited the now famous “don’t throw it away…don’t throw it at all!” call from Gary Thorne. We remember his ranging darn near into the dugout on the other side of the third base line to nail Luis Cruz of the Yankees at first. More recently, his three homers in Chicago in the first three innings, and his walk-off grand slam against the Angels.

Even when the O’s have been slumping, Manny has been all the reason we’ve needed to tune in and watch every night.

Baltimore is Manny’s home, and we still like to hold on to just a bit of hope that perhaps he’ll stay here and continue dazzling us as a friend – not as a foe – for years to come.

It’s with that in mind that our friends over at BreakingT came up with this great new t-shirt.

Pick one up HERE.

BreakingT is in good with the MLB Players’ Association, so these shirts are officially licensed. It actually says “Machado” on his jersey there, not something shady to just look the part from afar. They look and feel great – we’ve worked with BreakingT in the past on shirts like Dealin’ Bundy and Great Britton, and as an owner of one of each, I can tell you that they’re quite soft and comfortable.

Most recently, BreakingT helped us commemorate the UMBC Retrievers’ historic upset!

Who knows? Maybe if Manny and the decision-makers in the Warehouse see enough of these floating around the Yard this summer, it’ll tip the scales in our favor when it comes to keeping Machado at HOME after the 2018 season.

It can’t hurt, right? Nobody thought they’d sign Alex Cobb either!

Get your Manny HOME shirt from BreakingT here.

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Wednesday’s O’s Links: Opening Day Eve!

Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore

Not only is Opening Day nearly upon us, but the weather gods have suddenly decided to smile on Baltimore as well. After a week or so of telling us the chance of rain was near 100%, we are now looking at a foggy morning and partly sunny afternoon, with high temperatures nearly 20 degrees warmer than we’ve been dealing with all week.

A good omen? I like to think so.

Let’s hit the links one last time before the 2018 season begins.

Bird’s Eye View Episode 230: Cowboy Monkey Rodeo

Kill an hour of the time remaining before Opening Day with Jake & Scott. It’s the triumphant return of Fantasy Boss! (Thanks fellas).

How Long will Chris Tillman’s Leash Be?

Tilly will start the season as the team’s “#5” starter (once Alex Cobb is here, anyway), a far cry from the guy who started ALDS and ALCS game ones just four years ago. Will he be given a bunch of chances to prove he can return to anything resembling his usual form, or will he be demoted to the ‘pen (or worse) after just two or three showings like we came to expect in 2017? Matt Kremnitzer of Camden Depot asks and attempts to answer.

Foul: Nationals, Orioles Games Won’t Air on Local Broadcast TV

I’m gonna be honest here – I didn’t know this was news. I thought O’s games had been exclusively on MASN (except simulcasts of ESPN games) for years now. Huh. Well, if you counted on watching the Birds on local TV every now and again, you’re apparently crap outta luck.

Your Guide to the 2018 American League

I’ll never for the life of me understand why the “experts” always like the Rays more than the O’s. This year, it’s even more annoying than usual. They sold off nearly all their good players! Say the O’s won’t be good, whatever, fine. But stop putting them behind friggin’ Tampa.

The Magic of Orioles Opening Day

Opening Day is awesome, and even those goofs who consider Baltimore a football town can agree with that. One of those goofs, Adam Bonaccorsi, waxes poetic about Opening Day over on our sister site, RSR.

Orioles to Host UMBC Pride Night April 20

You know I already got my tickets! (c/o ’04 & ’09!)

Speaking of UMBC, grab one of these sweet shirts!

One more sleep!

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Darren O’Day: Still the Man

Darren O'Day prepares to pitch.

Darren O’Day.

That’s a name that, for a time, was right up there with death & taxes as far as “things you can count on.” In Baltimore, anyway, O’Day coming in in the seventh or eighth inning and quickly advancing the proceedings to allow Jim Johnson or Zach Britton their next save opportunity was nearly as automatic as ol #8, Cal Ripken Jr., trotting out onto the infield every night.

Claimed off waivers from Texas in November of 2011, O’Day came to Baltimore and immediately impressed as a key cog in the Birds’ magical 2012 season. You don’t go 29-9 in one-run games and 16-2 in extra innings without some superb bullpen performances, and Darren did more than his part. He was 7-1 out of the ‘pen, pitching 67.0 innings while striking out 9.27 batters per nine, walking only 1.9, stranding 85% of inherited runners, allowing an opponent slash line of .199/.254/.360 (good for a .264 wOBA), and posting an ERA, FIP, and DRA* (hold tight if this is a new one for you) of 2.28, 2.96, and 3.31, respectively.

*DRA – “Deserved Run Average” from Baseball Prospectus. I’ll be using that figure a lot here, and will provide additional reading at the bottom, if you’re so inclined. Suffice to say, for now, it’s the most advanced metric currently available to determine just how responsible a pitcher is for the runners that cross the plate under his watch. It’s both descriptive (tells you what happened, like ERA) and predictive (gives us an idea of a pitcher’s quality going forward, like FIP/xFIP).

O’Day was just as good as far as results in 2013 (2.18 ERA, .207/.273/.344, .274 wOBA against), even if the advanced stats didn’t love him as much (3.58 FIP, 4.03 DRA, likely due largely to a bit of a drop in K/9 to 8.56).

It was the same story for much 2014. On the whole, O’Day posted career bests (at the time) in:

— Innings pitched (68.2)

— ERA (1.70)

— WHIP (0.89)

— Opponent average against (.172)

— Saves (4)

However, at the worst possible time, O’Day dealt with his first injury as an Oriole. On September 7, Roch reported that he was dealing with some hamstring soreness. At that point, he hadn’t pitched in five days, since September 2, when he gave up a home run to Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce. Before the Bruce dinger, he had allowed three home runs in 59.2 IP in 2014. In September alone, he gave up three in just 9.0 IP.

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Then – as we all unfortunately vividly remember – this run of gopher balls continued into the postseason. With the O’s clinging to a 4-2 lead in Game 1 of the ALDS against Detroit, O’Day served up a solo shot to Miguel Cabrera (hey, no shame in that, right?), but thanks to the Birds putting up an eight-spot in the bottom of the inning, this home run was quite inconsequential, and quickly forgotten.

The next one he gave up that October? Yeah, not so meaningless.

(If you avert your eyes for the next paragraph, I won’t blame you.)

Game 1 of the ALCS vs. Kansas City. Game tied at five. Top of the 10th inning. Oriole Park at Camden Yards quite ready for some Orioles Magic. Just need a quick 1, 2, 3, from O’Day and we’re back up to bat and…oh, CRAP ON A CRACKER. Leadoff home run, Alex Gordon. KC leads 6-5, scores two more in the inning, and that snowball that started rolling downhill with O’Day’s delivery to Gordon does nothing but pick up speed, mass, and a generation-plus of Orange dreams as the Birds were swept out of the chance to go to their first World Series in 31 years.

(Alright, everybody back with me? Honestly, I had to take a break after writing that graph as well. What a terrible, terrible time for O’Day to not be 100%.)

This, annoyingly, led many O’s fans to dive headfirst off the O’Day bandwagon with enthusiasm. “He’s bum!” “He’s a choke artist!” “He’s terrible in the playoffs, get rid of him!” Adding to this sentiment was the fact that the team had added Andrew Miller for that 2014 postseason run, and he was pretty much the only Oriole to do his job against Kansas City. He was a pending free agent, and that domination was fresh in our minds. Birdland wanted Miller back, no matter the cost. Of course, that didn’t happen, and he’s been pretty amazing since. Good for him!

[O’Day though? Yeah, not a choker, and not terrible in the playoffs. Those naysayers were suffering from some selective amnesia regarding the 2012 playoffs, in which Darren allowed only a pair of baserunners (1 H, 1 BB) in 7.0 IP over five appearances. In the O’s 2016 Wild Card game, O’Day entered a tie game in the bottom of the ninth when Toronto had the winning run on second, another guy on first, and just one out. A Russell Martin 5-4-3 later, and we were headed to extras. Darren turned in a 1-2-3 10th inning for good measure.]

Back to our chronology: O’Day’s struggles continued into 2015, though things seemed to largely be going sideways due to his sudden inexplicable habit of serving up meatballs to the game’s best hitters (as I wrote about at the time). In that article I just linked, I said I was choosing to not worry about the submariner. Turns out, I was right! Broken clocks, etc. He gave up just three homers after April in 2015, a stretch of 57.0 IP. His final numbers for that year were outstanding – career bests in:

(His DRA that season came in at 2.71, third-best in his career, second-best to that point.)

Following that, his best season by so many measures, O’Day was a free agent. After reportedly being very close to heading south on 95 and becoming a Washington National, somebody in The Warehouse (of course, nobody knows who to credit) reeled him back in, with the two sides agreeing on a new four-year $31 Million deal.

2016, the first year of that deal, was a tough one for Darren. Thanks a slow-healing hamstring strain that kept him out for nearly two months and a shoulder injury later in the year that he exacerbated by trying to pitch through, he appeared in only 34 games, pitching just 31.0 innings, both lows since coming to Baltimore. In those innings, he wasn’t himself, posting his highest ERA since becoming an Oriole at 3.77, as well as distressing peaks in FIP (4.57) and xFIP (3.93). As for DRA, his 3.74 was second-worst to only 2013 as far as his time in orange and black goes.

Last year, he bounced back with a healthy season, but the advanced metrics disagree a bit on just how good he was. Appearing in 64 games, O’Day threw 60.1 innings with an ERA of 3.43 – second highest since joining the Birds, with only 2016 being worse.

The main culprit? A career-high eight home runs allowed. His 15.7% HR/FB rate was down only slightly from 2016’s 17.1%, and still up significantly from that to which we had grown accustomed:

2012: 8.2%

2013: 10.4%

2014: 9.5%

2015: 7.2%

Career: 9.8%

His fly ball percentage was actually quite low – 37.5%, a career-low (corresponding to a career-high 47.8% ground ball percentage). It was just that, when the ball was put in the air, it left the park at a much higher rate than Darren was used to, or than we see overall in MLB (13.7%).

Was this an O’Day problem specifically?

Perhaps not – HR/FB has increased league-wide for four straight years, from 9.5% in 2014, to 11.4% in 2015, to 12.8% in 2016, and finally to that 13.7% figure last year. This is no surprise, and as teams continue to focus more on swing paths that produce the optimal launch angles, this isn’t a trend that’s likely to reverse any time soon.

O’Day has always manged to be below league average in this category though, with the exception of the past two seasons. It seems fair to assume that his HR/FB will regress back to a more comfortable mean in 2018.

So, home runs aside, how did his other numbers stack up against his incredible 2015 season?

You’ll notice that the Baseball Prospectus analytics (DRA, WARP) liked O’Day’s 2017 much more than FanGraphs’ (FIP, xFIP, fWAR) did. Here’s a sampling of what BP had to say about O’Day in their 2018 Annual:

The king of the eigth inning recovered from an injury-plagued 2016 to post perhaps his finest season yet, and his career splits embody the spirit of Orioles Bullpen Magic: He performs better in the second half of the season, better in late innings, better in high-leverage situations. Some were skeptical of the four-year $31 million contract the team awarkded him, but at least halfway through, he’s earned it…the odds are better than even that he’ll be good again next year, and the odds are even better that most people won’t even notice.

To get some additional insight on this point, I asked BP’s Jonathan Judge, the architect of DRA, what it was about O’Day in 2017 that made him such an apple of the Prospectus team’s eye.

“DRA sees him as being above average (negative is good) in NIP Runs (NIP = “not in play,” so SO, BB, HBP), above average in limiting hard contact (Hit Runs), and only slightly below average in Out Runs (defensive efficiency). The “hit runs” seems to be where a lot of the improvement is seen: home runs fairly controlled despite a high pitcher park factor, and otherwise limiting the damage on hits.”

So basically, he combined a high strikeout rate with a big improvement in generating soft contact from opposing batters. The home runs still stick out to me, but I’ll just have to accept Jonathan’s assertion that DRA considered them “fairly controlled.”

Let’s compare him to another elite reliever in these DRA component categories. Since I apparently enjoy kicking hornets’ nests, how about Andrew Miller?

We see O’Day with a better DRA and WARP (in 2.1 fewer IP) than Miller, thanks to his Hit Runs and Out Runs. Miller’s 13.64 K/9 beat Darren’s mark by over two per nine, so that explains the difference in NIP runs. O’Day made up for it by inducing soft contact though.

My point isn’t that O’Day = Miller. It’s just that the difference may not be as glaring as many Birds fans want to make it.

Let’s have a little more fun, c/o BP. Using their nifty new matchup tool, we can look at any AB from any batter vs. any pitcher from last season. I’m going to choose O’Day (let’s stay on topic here, huh?) against a guy Birdland loves to hate, Josh Donaldson.

In this first AB, from the seventh inning on September 3, we see O’Day attack low and away with a slider, which the guy with the stupid hair fouled off. Donaldson then swung through a high fastball, took one off the outside edge on 0-2, then swung through another one on the outside corner for strike three.

Ten days later, it was O’Day against Donaldson again.

This time, O’Day pitched backwards compared to their previous matchup. He started Donaldson with a fastball, which was taken for a strike. He then flipped the script, throwing two straight sliders, the first fouled off and the second taken for a backwards K.

Good morning, good afternoon, good night.

I love that these two matchups were so closely spaced (remember, just 10 days apart), and O’Day completely changed the way he attacked Donaldson, despite the strikeout in the first encounter. Hitting baseballs is hard!

In conclusion, Darren O’Day is still the damn man, and reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. Word is that we may have some closer-by-committee until Zach Britton gets back this season. I love Brad Brach and Mychal Givens too, but neither of those guys will inspire as much confidence that this game is about to go in the win column as Darren will when he comes through those bullpen doors to close things out.

 

thanks to Baseball Prospectus’s Jonathan Judge and Jeff Long for their help with DRA.

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Araujo, Cortes Do Enough to Make O’s Roster

Nestor Cortes Jr. pitches from the mound.

Opening Day is just three days away, and while there is nothing concrete, it would appear that the 25-man roster is pretty much set. We know that Danny Valencia made the team as the utility infielder and designated hitter. We know that Pedro Alvarez is headed north to backup at first base and fill the hole left in the lineup by Mark Trumbo’s ailing quadriceps.

We know that Colby Rasmus and Anthony Santander will form a platoon in right field with Craig Gentry providing late-game defense, pinch-running capabilities, and the occasional spot start. And we know that Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, and Chris Tillman were signed to bolster a rotation that posted a MLB–and franchise–worst 5.70 ERA in 2017.

What we didn’t know until this weekend was how the Orioles’ bullpen would shape up. The team entered camp with basically three holes to fill in the ‘pen, including a giant one left by Zach Britton, who should return in early June from an Achilles injury. This past weekend, the bullpen decisions were made as the final pieces of the roster were put into place.

 

Bullpen

When camp opened in mid-February, there was battle for the fifth spot in the Orioles rotation. Pitchers Mike Wright, Jr., Miguel Castro, Gabriel Ynoa, Hunter Harvey, and Rule V picks Nestor Cortes, Jr., and Jose Mesa, Jr. would all square off in a battle to make the ball club out of spring training. They all also knew that there were spots to be won in the bullpen, but that there was more competition for those spots in Josh Edgin, Joely Rodriguez, and Rule V pick Pedro Araujo.

Despite a number of names for only a few spots, these things have a habit of working themselves out. And that’s exactly what they did.

Pedro Aruajo pitches.

Pedro Araujo (GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld)

The major domino to fall was the signing of Alex Cobb. While Cobb won’t be ready to start the season, his addition meant that Jose Mesa, Jr. would be DFA’d and offered back to the Yankees. It meant that Hunter Harvey would be optioned to Double-A Bowie. And it also meant that there would now be seven names for the remaining three spots.

Simple math would suggest that a number of players would be leaving Sarasota disappointed.

Ynoa left with disappointment for another reason. Out of options, he had to make to make the club out of spring training or be put on waivers before the Orioles could reassign him, a move that would almost certainly result in his being claimed by another team.

Thrown into the mix for the final rotation spot, Ynoa came down with shin splints and will begin the 2018 season on the disabled list, delaying what might be an inevitable decision for the ball club. With Ynoa’s fate put off for a later date, the final spots came down to Wright, Castro, Cortes, Araujo, Edgin, and Rodriguez.

Cortes and Araujo had to make the team due to their Rule V status if the Orioles wanted to keep them in the organization, otherwise they would have to be offered back to their respective ball clubs. Cortes has had success throughout the minor leagues as both a starter and a reliever, and the fact that he is left-handed certainly gave him a leg up. He has made the team and will likely begin the year in long relief.

Araujo was a bigger question mark because it is more difficult to justify using a roster spot on a pure reliever, especially one who has never pitched above double-A. Still, Araujo has a big arm and has had success throughout his minor league career. Add to that the fact that he pitched very well this spring (3.72 ERA in nine appearances) and that the Orioles strongly covet his services, and it should come as no surprise that Araujo will be heading north with the club.

As stated earlier, the Cobb signing has had a ripple effect on the organization. Mike Wright, Jr. was the leading candidate for that fifth rotation spot, and now could be potentially jobless. But not on March 29th. Since Cobb will not be ready until April 9th at the earliest, Wright has made the club and will likely be called upon when the Orioles need a fifth starter in the early going.

It is difficult to envision Wright staying with the team all season, based solely on his MLB track record and the fact that he is out of options, but once Cobb debuts the Orioles will give Wright the opportunity to stick as a long man out of the bullpen. They simply like his arm too much to give up on him just yet and are hoping that with his back against the wall, he will finally perform up to his potential.

The biggest debate could be on what to do with Miguel Castro. When you look at what he did in 2017 out of the bullpen (3.53 ERA in 39 games covering 66.1 IP), he certainly earned the opportunity to compete for a rotation spot this spring. Based on what he did this spring (6.39 ERA in 4 games covering 12.2 IP), a trip to Norfolk to gain experience in their rotation would seem to be the logical choice.

Miguel Castro throws in Sarasota.

Miguel Castro (GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld)

The past won out in this instance, logic be damned. Castro will be part of the Orioles Opening Day roster and will likely resume the long relief role in which he shined last season. With the third and final bullpen spot taken by Castro (again, Wright will likely begin the year in the “rotation”), that means Josh Edgin and Joely Rodriguez have failed to make the ball club, perhaps unjustifiably so.

Edgin and Rodriguez had phenomenal springs, combining to allow just 2 runs in 17.1 IP. When it came down to it, that they are on minor league deals and/or had options played a huge role in the decision to break camp without both of these men.

On the field, they were certainly deserving, but with so many likeable arms without options it really left Buck Showalter with a difficult decision. Still, both Edgin and Rodriguez are likely to see time on the big league roster this summer, and if they perform as they did in Sarasota, it will be difficult to send them back down.

Now that the roster has become clear, the time has come to get the season underway. It should be interesting to see how this roster looks at season’s end. A major league roster is in constant flux and the roster you start with is never the same roster with which you end. Still, this should be a fun season in Baltimore.

With that in mind, stay tuned for my AL East predictions and my MLB predictions, coming soon.

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Sisco Given First Chance at “Backup” Catcher Role

Chance Sisco in the batter's box..

Over the last couple of weeks, this space has been filled with columns answering the remaining roster questions facing the ball club as the Orioles prepare to fly north for Opening Day on March 29th. The pictures have certainly cleared with regards to right field, the starting rotation, and the utility infielder.

The only remaining roster decisions for Buck Showalter & Co. revolved around the backup catcher and the final three bullpen spots. Over the weekend, those decisions were made evident as the team basically set their 25-man roster before flying out to Norfolk for a Monday game against the Tides, the final tune-up before the home opener Thursday. Today we’ll talk about the catchers.

 

“Backup” Catcher

The big surprise in camp came last week when Austin Wynns was optioned to Norfolk. Many believed the backup job could be his to lose as he is widely regarded within the organization for his defense–something Buck puts an emphasis on–while his bat, though not on the same level as top prospect Chance Sisco, certainly won’t hurt the team.

With Wynns’ demotion (if you want to call it that), the backup job came down to Andrew Susac and Sisco. Susac was once a top prospect in the game for the San Francisco Giants before injuries and ineffectiveness derailed his career a bit, while Sisco is rated as the Orioles’ top prospect, according to MLB.com.

Both backstops have had tremendous springs with the bat, with Susac slashing .462/.600/.769, albeit in a small sample size (13 AB), and Sisco slashing .419/.471/.839 in 31 AB. Defensively, Susac would be appear to be the superior player, but the Orioles like the progress Sisco has made, despite a few costly errors late in camp.

With Opening Day looming and a roster decision needed, the job was awarded to Sisco, with Susac ticketed for Norfolk to pair with Wynns as a nice insurance policy for the big league club. While we may never know the full story, it would seem that the brief hospital stay early in camp for Susac due to a staph infection set him back just enough for Sisco to earn the spot.

Neither catcher did anything on the field to hurt their chances as each player presented themselves very well throughout camp. If anything, the depth this franchise has at the position is a strength, and as taxing a position as catcher is, it is likely that all four mentioned will see time in Baltimore this summer.

The backup catcher position in Baltimore is a backup spot by name alone. Starter Caleb Joseph, the backup each of the previous four seasons, has played over 80 games in three of those four seasons. In fact, he played just nine fewer games than starter Welington Castillo in 2017.

The Orioles fully expect to use Sisco this season, and use him a lot. His bat plays at the big league level, and he’s a left-handed option in a righty-heavy lineup. The tutelage that John Russell will provide him as the catching instructor will be paramount in his development, and the Orioles simply feel that that, combined with ample big-league playing time, will help him become the player they expect him to be at a faster rate.

In my next column, we’ll discuss the Orioles’ bullpen as the finishing touches have been put on a unit regarded as one of the bigger strengths of the ball club.

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Monday’s O’s Links: Birds Fly North!

Adam Jones throws the ball in the field.

Spring Training has come to an end, and the O’s are heading north. They will stop in Norfolk for a game against the Tides, but otherwise Opening Day is basically upon us. You have three days to dig all the orange out of your closet/attic and make sure it’s washed, ironed, and ready to rock on Thursday. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

To the penultimate pre-Opening Day version of links!

O’s Could Continue Having Davis Bat Leadoff

When Chris Davis has been batting leadoff in Grapefruit league games, we’ve assumed it’s just been to get him as many AB as possible. However, it sounds like the team is actually considering putting The Big Fella atop the order this season. Interesting.

How Does the O’s Rotation Compare to Other AL East Teams?

Based on the projections, it ain’t good. But that’s the way we like it around here, right?

The Sun Never Sets on the Orioles Empire

In this episode of Locked On Orioles, Justin McGuire spoke with…get this…a Red Sox fan, in Great Britain, who is going to watch every single…Orioles game this season. Wacky. Find out how and why at the link.

Five Things We Learned About the Orioles at Spring Training

The Sun’s Jon Meoli lays out the lessons he picked up covering the team in Sarasota. Is it a problem that the roster isn’t as flexible as the O’s prefer? How has the heart of the order changed? How about the perception of the team overall?

Rough weekend for old pal Albert Belle…

Let’s end on a high note, however…

3 days!

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Friday’s O’s Links: Dylan Bundy to Make First Opening Day Start

Dylan Bundy jogs in Spring Training.

The snow has already completely cleared from the ground in most parts of Baltimore, a fitting sight as we sit now less than a week from Opening Day. Now let’s push that mercury a bit further up, eh Mother Nature?

To the links…

Bundy “Humbled” to Get Opening Day Start

Dylan Bundy spilled the beans in a MASN interview during yesterday’s Spring Training game between the O’s and Red Sox. Good for him! Figured it would have been Gausman again.

Roberts and Manfra Elected to Orioles Hall of Fame

A hearty congrats goes out also to Brian Roberts & Fred Manfra, newest members of the O’s Hall of Fame. Whenever B.Rob comes up, the idiot haters come crawling out of the woodwork, which sent me on a bit of a tirade on Twitter yesterday.

Baseball Booms, Minor Leaguers Still Exploited

Far from dying, baseball is raking in more money than ever. The guys in the minor leagues though, still eat ramen every night and live with local families kind enough to give them room and board during the season. It’s a disgrace. Jon Shepherd of Camden Depot goes into the economics of the exploitation.

Orioles Announce First Ever Star Wars Night

Last year, it was Game of Thrones. This year, Star Wars. Baseball fans are, on the whole, kinda nerdy (I say this lovingly, as a fellow nerd) so it’s nice to see the Birds keep doing goofy things like this. Also…O’DAY WAN KENOBI BOBBLEHEAD!

How Much Better Does Alex Cobb Make the Orioles?

Camden Chat’s Tyler Young throws a bit of cold water on those printing playoff tickets now that Alex Cobb is an Oriole. Jerk! (jk Ty…kinda).

Six days!

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Thursday Thoughts: Prediction Time

Trey Mancini gets ready to field.

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.

With just a week to go before the 2018 season gets underway, it’s time for me to go out on a ledge (well, not too far) and make some bold(ish) predictions for the campaign. These are a few ideas of how the season might play out for the Orioles, and they are based on basically nothing except for my gut. They aren’t too crazy, but they also may not be things you are thinking about.

1. Fresh off a stellar rookie season, Trey Mancini struggles at the plate, but improves his defense in left field. Mancini obviously was a terror at the plate in 2017, hitting .293/.338/.488 with 24 homers and 26 doubles. He was third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. There’s no question his breakout gave the O’s something to look forward to each day. But what I was perhaps most impressed with last year was how comfortable Mancini looked in left field. Buck Showalter regularly raved about the way Mancini played the field, and even though the defensive metrics don’t really back it up, he at least gained some confidence out there. My guess would be that he comes back to Earth a bit with his bat this season, but rounds himself into a more complete player.

Anthony Santander swings.

2. Speaking of the outfield, I think Anthony Santander sticks on the big-league club all year. I know he only requires staying on the roster for 44 days in order to shed his Rule 5 status, but there’s something that tells me he’ll just end up being part of the rotation of players that ends up playing some right field and even some DH. The 23-year-old was injured most of last year, and didn’t get his chance to show his skills. No one is going to try to tell you he’s going to light the world on fire and take over the starting right field spot. He is, after all, another Rule 5 selection. These guys are never world beaters. But he’s had an incredibly productive spring training and is a switch-hitter, which would help to break up a mostly right-handed lineup. Many believe Santander’s time on the big-league roster will be limited and that Austin Hays will be able to take his spot once the Rule 5 status is cleared up. But Hays dealt with a sore shoulder this spring and had his chances of making the roster derailed. It may be that he needs more time in the minors anyway, and that’s the chance Santander could take advantage of.

Chris Tillman winds up to pitch.

3. I appreciate that the Orioles wanted to give him a shot, but Chris Tillman won’t make more than 20 starts this season. Something just doesn’t smell right when it comes to Tillman, and it hasn’t for about 18 months. Ever since his shoulder injury, Tillman has been off. The fact that he’s only going to be relied on as the team’s fifth starter following the signing of Alex Cobb is a relief. This isn’t something I’m hoping will happen, obviously. I want Tillman to return to his form of 2013 and 2014, when he posted back to back seasons of more than 30 starts and over 200 innings. Something tells me Tillman will either be injury-prone or ineffective again this season, and force his way into the bullpen. Mike Wright Jr. or Miguel Castro will likely have to pick up the slack in the rotation at some point.

Andrew Cashner pitches.

4. Speaking of pitching, something tells me the duo of Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman will be outpitched by newcomers Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb. Everyone is counting so much on Bundy and Gausman this season, and I want to believe they will both make a big leap. But there’s a lot of pressure on both their shoulders to make such a jump, and it’s not a thing that’s easy to do. We’ve heard so much over the years about “grow the arms, buy the bats.” But sometimes the arms that you buy can work out, too. I like that the Orioles went out and got Cashner and Cobb to solidify this rotation, and I think those moves will pay off in a big way. Neither of them is going out and winning the Cy Young, but for the cost, they were both well worth it. If these four guys can all pull on the same rope, the O’s can actually get things done this season and be competitive. I just have a feeling it will be the veterans leading the way for the young guys.

Manny Machado jogs the bases.

5. Virtually everyone wanted to see the Orioles make a blockbuster deal and trade away their cornerstone in Manny Machado about two months ago. Virtually everyone also believes that the O’s will still make a deal by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Except in my eyes, Manny Machado is not going to be traded away.

I keep hearing that it’s a certainty from national media types, but something tells me the Orioles are going to be too “mediocre” to do it. They could even very well be right in the mix in mid-July for a wild card spot. What would possess the team to trade away its most talented player, perhaps in franchise history, when it is on the verge of potentially making a run at the playoffs. Say what you want about extending the window or re-stocking the farm system, if the O’s are in the hunt, there’s no way they are making themselves worse on the field.

Machado is most assuredly walking away from the team at the end of the season, and everyone would like to see the O’s get something in return for him. But I think that ship has sailed. The only way it could happen is if the O’s are truly far out of the mix by the time the deadline rolls around. I don’t think they are THAT bad of a team, so I can’t see how they are 10 or 15 games out of a playoff spot with two months to go. Machado is going to stick around and see this thing through, and then he’s likely going to walk away from the team that drafted him.

It’s going to sting. But as Dr. Seuss once said, “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

All Photos: GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

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Orioles Starting Rotation Comes Into Focus

Dylan Bundy throwing a pitch.

Over the last week or so, this column has been dedicated to answering some of the roster questions the Orioles still have as Opening Day draws near. Having already discussed the outfield and the utility infielder, today we’ll address another roster question (that may have just) answered itself: what’s up with the starting rotation?

When pitchers and catchers reported to Sarasota on February 13th, the rotation had three huge holes behind Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. Slated to compete for the final three spots were Mike Wright, Jr., Gabriel Ynoa, Miguel Castro, Hunter Harvey, and Rule V picks Nestor Cortes, Jr. and Jose Mesa, Jr.

Wright must make the 25-man roster or be granted his release. Ynoa and Castro suffered injuries which have set them back, with Ynoa set to begin the year on the disabled list. Harvey has pitched 144.1 innings in his professional career, including just 32.2 IP since 2015. And Cortes and Mesa are young guys who certainly would benefit from more time in the minors, if only that were possible – slim pickings, to say the least.

Oh what a difference six weeks makes.

 

Starting Rotation

The dominoes in the rotation starting falling on February 15th when the Orioles inked Andrew Cashner to a two-year, $16MM deal that could reach 3-years, $41MM if all incentives are reached and options are picked up.

Chris Tillman followed less than a week later with a one-year, $3MM pact that could reach $10MM with incentives. But even with those two signings, the questions were still plentiful regarding the rotation.

We can all recite the facts from 2017 ad nauseam. A franchise-worst (and MLB-worst) 5.70 ERA from the starters, 45 wins, one complete game, and 846 IP – all in the bottom three in the American League.

Though Cashner and Tillman have proven to be solid MLB starters over the course of their careers, declining peripherals from the former and a historically bad 2017 season from the latter left the Baltimore fan base scratching its collective head. Add to that the less-than-thrilling options for the fifth and final spot in the rotation and it’s not hard to understand the feeling of ineptitude that surrounded this team.

Still, they couldn’t be nearly as bad as last year, right? While it’s still too early to tell, Cashner has been very good in his two Grapefruit League starts, allowing just one earned run on five hits in 9.0 IP thus far. Tillman, shaky at best in his first outing, allowing six walks, settled it down the other day, going five innings of one run ball with zero walks against a very representative Tigers lineup.

Yet, through it all, there’s still something missing. Wright and his career 5.86 ERA leave much to be desired. Ynoa, Castro, Harvey, Cortes, and Mesa have eight career big-league starts between them, including zero from the final three.

There were some solid free agent options left in Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb, and the Orioles were rumored to be in contact with the agents for all three. Arrieta, though, was far out of the Orioles’ price range, signing for  three years, $75MM with Philadelphia. Lynn signed a much more manageable deal with Minnesota at one year, $12MM, claiming he felt the Twins provided him with the best chance to win.

Alex Cobb of the Rays in his windup.

That leaves Alex Cobb. Cobb, if you recall, has spent the entirety of his Major League career in the American League East with the Tampa Bay Rays. All he’s done is pitch to a 3.50 ERA over 115 starts through six seasons. He seemed to be the perfect fit for Baltimore, but his asking price was rumored to be around four years, $68MM. Plus, he had already turned down an offer from the Cubs for three years at $42MM. It would seem that Cobb was too pricey for Baltimore, especially after the Ubaldo Jimenez debacle.

[Related: Knee-Jerk Reactions to O’s Signing Alex Cobb]

But, when there’s a will, there’s a way. It seems as though the Orioles got their man, as Cobb agreed to a contract with the club, as first reported by Jeff Passan on Twitter. Per Roch, the terms are for four years at $57MM, with $20MM deferred.

Also, he passed his physical, always an issue that gives O’s fans hives.

The 2017 Orioles Opening Day rotation lined up as follows: Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, and then relievers and minor leaguers to fill the gap until Tillman returned in May. Don’t forget the dumpster fire that was Jeremy Hellickson.who came over at the non-waiver trade deadline.

The 2018 Orioles Opening Day rotation potentially lines up as follows: Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb (in some order) and Chris Tillman. This alignment allows Wright and Cortes to move to the bullpen with Castro likely moving to Norfolk’s starting rotation. The depth that this signing gives Baltimore is noteworthy. Any time you remove question marks from the rotation, it’s a good thing.

Now, having said all that, let’s proceed with caution. While the signing of Cobb should be considered good for the team, it is up to the rest of the rotation to do their part. Bundy must take the next step and become the workhorse the Orioles envisioned when they drafted him fourth overall in 2011. Gausman must prove that he can pitch a full season with consistency, as his last two seasons have been very Jekyll and Hyde from one half to the next. Cashner must prove that his 3.40 ERA in 2017 was no fluke following consecutive down years, and Tillman simply needs to go the route of Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and have 2017 completely wiped from his memory.

Still, the Cobb signing gives Orioles fans something they have been lacking since the end of May: hope. If each starter pitches to their capabilities, this starting rotation could improve by nearly two runs in 2018. A lofty goal? Perhaps, but certainly much more attainable than anybody could have imagined back in February.

In my next column, we’ll discuss the catching situation is Baltimore. The job seems to be Caleb Joseph’s for now. Are there two others knocking down his door?

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Orioles Get their Man in Alex Cobb

Alex Cobb of the Tampa Bay Rays.

In this space three weeks ago, I condemned the Orioles for their lack of moves to make the team a legitimate contender entering 2018. I criticized the outfield situation, namely the signing of Colby Rasmus (I’m still not sold on him, but he’s had a productive spring and seems to be a great teammate, at the very least).

I tore apart the assembly of the starting rotation as I felt the Chris Tillman and Andrew Cashner signings served as nothing more than a pacifier for the fan base while the likes of Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb remained unsigned on the open market.

Furthermore, I bashed the Orioles’ brass for their mentality that Rule V pitchers and guys like Mike Wright, Jr. and Gabriel Ynoa (to name a couple) had any business taking the ball every fifth day in the American League East.

Many of you agreed with my rant. Many of you thought it was over the top, angry, and temperamental. Many of you were right. My frustration boiled over and I unleashed the fury, so to speak. My ire towards this team was only confounded when Lynn signed a very economical one-year, $12M deal with Minnesota two weekends ago.

Today, I can happily eat crow and say I was wrong as it seems the Orioles had a plan all along.

Cobb, one of the top free agent pitchers on the market, and a bona fide starter against the AL East, has signed a 4-year, $57M (with $20M deferred) contract with Baltimore, according to a number of sources.

In an offseason that began with so many unanswered questions regarding the makeup of the team, the Orioles saved their best for Sarasota, as they seem to do every year. The addition of Cobb completely alters the pitching landscape for this club as everybody slots down one spot, and those names we were scared to look at move back to simple depth players rather than key contributors.

What Cobb brings to the table cannot be undersold. Pitching exclusively in the AL East throughout his career (all six seasons with Tampa Bay), Cobb carries a 3.50 ERA, 1.217 WHIP, and a 45-38 record (.578) over 115 starts.

He is 6-4 with a 3.43 ERA in 14 starts against Boston, 6-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 14 starts against the Yankees, and 3-3 with a 3.23 ERA in eight starts against Toronto.

Pitching in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Cobb set career highs in starts (29) and innings-pitched (179.1) in 2017. His 1.221 WHIP ranked 10th in the AL and his 3.66 ERA ranked 11th.

Some might point to his declining K/9 ratio (6.4; the lowest since his abbreviated 2011 rookie campaign) as reason for a fall back in 2018, but that can be countered with his 2.2 BB/9 ratio as Cobb exhibited the best command of his six-year career in 2017. Simply put, Cobb’s addition makes the Orioles a viable playoff contender. After inking the largest free agent contract ever given to a pitcher in Orioles history, and right after the stink of the Ubaldo Jimenez era has finally started to dissipate, it better.

As we move closer and closer to Opening Day (a little more than a week away), it seems as though this rotation is finally set with Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, and Chris Tillman. The only issue here is when Cobb will be ready to pitch during the season.

While it is fair to assume that Cobb has been working out all winter, he has yet to face live hitters in any game-type situation that we know of, whether in the Grapefruit League, a B-game, or a simulated game. As Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com reported via Twitter, though Cobb does have options, he cannot be sent down to the minors without his consent due to his service time, but there is a clause in his contract that will allow him to begin the season in the minors to get stretched out before debuting with the big league club.

My guess is that Bundy, Gausman, and Cashner get the nod in the opening series with Minnesota, while Tillman and a combination of Mike Wright, Jr., Nestor Cortes, Jr., and Miguel Castro see action in the first two games with Houston.

Once Cobb is ready for his promotion, I assume Wright and Cortes both end up in the bullpen with Castro joining the rotation in AAA Norfolk, for no other reason than Wright and Cortes can’t be sent down without having to pass through waivers while Castro still has options remaining.

On paper, the Orioles have their best Opening Day rotation in possibly two decades. We can look at the 2014 rotation and its sparkling 3.61 ERA, but who saw that coming when the team broke camp? With the continued maturation of Bundy and Gausman, the potential of Cashner and Tillman, and the track record of Cobb, there is certainly reason to be excited in Baltimore.

It only took until the week before Opening Day. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers, am I right?

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Wednesday’s O’s Links: Hi, Alex!

Alex Cobb of the Rays in his windup.

While we were all scrambling to stock up on our bread, milk, and toilet paper yesterday evening, the Orioles were finalizing discussions with Alex Cobb to bring the free agent pitcher to Baltimore. Our staff gave their knee-jerk reactions to the signing here.

Let’s get into some more Cobb, shall we?

Rubbing Mud: Alex Cobb vs. PECOTA

You may have noticed (if you’re into that kind of thing) that Baseball Prospectus’s projection system, PECOTA, isn’t a fan of Cobb. In this article from earlier in the offseason, BP’s Matt Trueblood explains why that is. Read the whole thing – it starts off a bit scary, but ends on an optimistic note. And try to ignore all the references to Ubaldo Jimenez.

The Orioles, Who Weren’t Done, Sign Alex Cobb

Our friend Matt Kremnitzer talks about Cobb over at Camden Depot. We always say the Orioles need to overpay for pitching, right? So no complaining when they finally do just that!

How Much Will Alex Cobb Help the Orioles?

Baltimore Sports and Life’s Rob Shields has some reservations about Cobb, but in the end concludes that he’s glad the team signed the pitcher. Shields mentions that Cobb is slated to start the season in the minors, and worries that his lack of a spring training could negatively impact his 2018 season. A good point, and one I’d about which I’d rather not think too hard.

Breaking Down the Alex Cobb Deal

Josh Sroka of Section 336 has been begging the team to sign Cobb for six months. Now that it’s imminent, he joined Justin McGuire for today’s episode of Locked On Orioles.

Section 336 Pod $3G

You have a snow day today, right? Spend it listening to another podcast! Speaking of 336, Josh and his brother Matt were kind enough to have me in studio on Monday night. We talked about the O’s, of course, but also my UMBC RETRIEVERS!

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Knee-Jerk Reactions: O’s, Alex Cobb Reportedly Agree on 4-Year Deal

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Alex Cobb pitches.

The Baltimore Orioles have reportedly agreed to terms on a four-year deal with free agent starting pitcher Alex Cobb.

ESR staff react to the news here…

Derek Arnold

Patience paid off in Baltimore, as the move that so many O’s fans have been hoping for all winter finally happened on the first day of Spring. A rotation of Gausman-Cobb-Bundy-Cashner-Tillman/Castro/Cortes isn’t striking fear in the hearts of other AL East squads, but when combined with the O’s offense and bullpen? It certainly makes this team very interesting here on the eve of Opening Day.

Perhaps most shocking is that, just as they clear Ubaldo Jimenez from the books, someone convinced Peter Angelos to give ANOTHER pitcher a four-year contract. Color me shocked.

Two of the three main projection systems don’t like Alex (PECOTA: 4.73 ERA, Steamer: 4.43 ERA, ZiPS: 3.77 ERA), but hey – doing better than the computers say you will is part of any Orioles contract, right?

Paul Valle

The addition of Cobb makes Baltimore a legitimate playoff contender. He immediately becomes the staff ace, though there’s little-to-no chance he starts Opening Day. His addition means Chris Tillman is now your number five starter with Mike Wright moving to the bullpen, if not given his walking papers.

A starting rotation of Cobb, Bundy, Gausman, Cashner, and Tillman is formidable, and arguably the Orioles’ best Opening Day staff since 1997. Still, there will be a lot of ground to cover with the additions the Red Sox and Yankees made over the offseason, but there is no doubt that the Orioles are a better team today than they were yesterday, and a far superior team than the one that won 75 games in 2017.

Phil Backert

This is the move all O’s fans and most definitely the players were clamoring for all offseason. It was also the move, most expected, myself included, not to happen. However, now that it has, the Orioles have a strong rotation that can compete for a playoff spot. It appears that if this is truly the last year for the “core” group, the front office has given them one final chance to make a run at it and that is all you can ask for.

Andrew Stetka

Coming into the off-season, I was the only person I saw saying the Orioles needed to sign four (not three) starting pitchers to have a snowball’s chance in hell at being competitive this season. The signing of Alex Cobb brings that number to three, which is what many expected and wanted.

While I still don’t think the O’s have much of a great shot, having Cobb on board still makes me much more confident in their ability to do anything. He allows the Orioles to rely on Chris Tillman OR some combination of Mike Wright Jr. and others to fill in the 5th starter’s spot, instead of both filling the four and five. What is crazy to me is that Cobb was still able to land a four-year deal after this crazy off-season. It makes Lance Lynn‘s free agency even more puzzling.

Among the realistic free agent pitching targets, Cobb was at the top of my list, so I can’t complain really. He’s not going to be a savior, but he’s going to make a putrid rotation a little bit better. When it comes to these Orioles, that’s really as nice as it can get.

Jonathan French

With Cobb the Orioles bag their biggest Bird of the offseason, and now the rotation actually has a chance to give the team a chance to win with four true starting pitchers instead of only two or three. The trio of Brady Anderson, Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette, as dysfunctional as they are, have managed on paper to improve a starting rotation by adding Cobb, Andrew Cashner and bringing back (hopefully) a healthier Chris Tillman. It really couldn’t get much worse than 2017 though.

Cobb isn’t going to be an innings eater as he pitches around 6 innings per start, and he hit his career high in starts and innings pitched with 29 and 179.1 last season, so health is still a concern. However, he’s proven in the AL East when he does pitch, and just about every rotation in the AL East has question marks. The Orioles now have one less hopefully and are much closer to another playoff appearance than they were at the beginning of the offseason.

Joe DiBasilio

“I’m in love I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it.” At first glance, I absolutely love the move. We’ve been clamoring all off-season for Cobb or Lynn (good cost to production ratio), and we finally nabbed one of them. He immediately improves the rotation, and the O’s effectively replaced Miley and Jimenez for Cashner and Cobb – two guys coming off years with ERA’s in the 3’s vs 6+. The additional attraction to Cobb comes with his successes and comfortability pitching in the AL East, a truly valuable asset to have.

HOWEVER, the more I turn over his numbers the more tempered my excitement becomes. He’s never pitched more than 179.1 innings or 29 starts, only appeared in 5 games in 2016 and 0 in 2015. So, durability is obviously a concern, which is an increased concern for a rotation with Mike Wright Jr. and Rule 5 acquisitions as alternatives.

You know what, I’m done looking at the stats, Cobb for President!

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Caleb Joseph Should be O’s “Everyday” Catcher in 2018

Caleb Joseph swings the bat.

Every Orioles fan knows the road to success in 2018 depends on two things. First, the hitters hit. Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Trey Mancini, Tim Beckham, Mark Trumbo. All of these guys have to approach or exceed their career norms and generate a lot of runs to overcome the fact that the pitching staff is…not great.

As to that pitching staff. The bullpen needs to meet their expectations and the starters need to exceed them. Part of that falls on Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman and Andrew Cashner. But as we’ve grown to learn over the last decade, part of that falls on the man behind the plate.

Caleb Joseph is not a good major league hitter (I’m being kind). But when you look at point one above – the O’s need a really good offense – given the other pieces, what the catcher contributes just isn’t going to matter much . Welington Castillo went .282/.323/.490 last year with 20 HR and it was fun, but we know how that ended. The Orioles 2018 offense is going to live or die with a dozen guys and none of them are playing catcher. Anything the catcher provides is a bonus.

That brings us to the second point. Joseph makes the pitching staff better. Per Baseball Prospectus, he was 5th in MLB in Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) for catchers in 2017. (Note: Matt Wieters was #100) Go back to 2016. Joseph was 14th in FRAA. The bottom line is Caleb makes pitchers better than the average catcher would. A lot better.

So, there are two problems. The first is the notion of “pitch framing.” Yes, it exists. Anybody who watches baseball knows that pitches outside the strike zone are called strikes. It has become fashionable to give all that credit to the catcher.

BUT it’s not all up to him; part of it is also on the pitcher.

You can’t “frame” a ball a foot off the plate into a strike no matter how good you are, and it also helps if the pitch was close to where the catcher set up, not on the other side of the plate.

The umpire also matters. They are human and their ability to track the last 10 feet of a pitch is the same as the hitter’s, which is to say: it’s impossible. They lose track of it and then see the glove. That’s why pitch framing is a thing. There’s no doubt Joseph is good at it.

How consistent an ability it is, from pitcher to pitcher and from umpire to umpire, is open to debate, but there’s no doubt having him behind the plate helps the pitching staff.

Caleb Joseph in his cather's crouch.

GulfBird Photo/Craig Landefeld

The second problem is durability. This isn’t a question of injury. Other than a couple of HBP-related day-to-day injuries, Joseph’s only DL stint was the result of a foul ball that took an unfortunate hop. I was in the park that day and I knew what happened immediately. Not the severity obviously, but the actions of the trainer made it clear.

And yet, Joseph played the rest of the game with an injury that would later require “testicular surgery.” So let’s put aside any notions that Caleb “can’t play with pain,” and deal with the durability standards of the modern catcher.

Here’s the list of catchers who caught 990+ innings (110 games) last year:

Mike Zunino 994

Yasmani Grandal 999

Matt Wieters 1003

J.T. Realmuto 1095

Yadier Molina 1125

Martin Maldonado 1146

SIX! Six catchers make the list and two of those exceeded the 990+ inning standard by ONE game. THREE caught 120 games. Only eleven catchers caught 100 games.

This isn’t the 1970’s anymore. Every team (other than the Cardinals because Yadier is going to play every game whether they like it or not because that’s just who he is at this point) recognizes that it’s insane to have a catcher suit up for more than 100-110 games. The demands of the position are simply too much. Some AL teams can slot a guy in at DH for another 20 or so games. Some NL teams have a Buster Posey who can play first base (BTW, he caught 826 innings last year).

Joseph is plenty durable when compared to the standard to which today’s catchers are held.

Look: Chance Sisco is a better hitter than Joseph. But the difference isn’t enough to matter when the offense is going to live or die with the rest of the line-up. We’ve got multiple seasons that tell us Joseph is good at making a pitching staff perform better than they are and none that tell us Sisco can. If the Orioles are to contend in 2018 they need Joseph’s defense more than Sisco’s offense.

Joseph should be the everyday catcher for the Orioles. Their success depends on a lot of other people but he’s the best man, with the best specific skills, for this job.

With everything above in mind, my assertion is this: Caleb Joseph should start 110 games at catcher for the 2018 Orioles.

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