August 19, 2014

Game 123: Markakis Saves Game, Blowout Ensues

It's been a while since I've posted on this blog and I've held off on these articles since I have been watching the past few weeks on pins and needles anxiously scoreboard watching to ensure the O's maintained their division lead after the All-Star Break.  To my delight, they've not only held onto their lead in the AL East, they've stretched it to the largest divisional margin in the entire league.  7.5 games up on the Yankees, the O's can start to see the finish line and has the division crown in their sights. I'm an extremely superstitious person and never get too outlandish/make bold claims about the Orioles to avoid jinxing my beloved squad for future success. As the games pass by and the wins rack up, I can start to relish in the fact that Baltimore's beloved Birds have put themselves in the best position to win a division crown since 2012 and 15 years before that. The 2012 team bears a striking resemblance to this season's squad, with their abundance of power and shutdown pitching in the late innings.

The additions of Brad Brach and Andrew Miller to the bullpen have solidified the unit as a driving force that can rival the incredible bullpen we boasted in 2012. As for the offense, we've had the luxury of leading the league in homeruns once again and with a lineup stocked with power hitters, we haven't suffered crippling blows in terms of offense when our best sluggers get ice cold (Crush and Cruz).  Players such as Caleb Joseph, Delmon Young and Steve Pearce have supplied an ample source of power in the weeks that Nelson and Chris struggled mightily.  Injuries to Machado and Hardy couldn't even slow this team down, as Hardy has continued his torrid second half since return from his hand injury.  Kevin Gausman and Bud Norris' returns to the rotation full time has taken the pressure off of Chen and Tillman to carry the staff, as the O's now boast one of the most formidable rotations in baseball...who would've thought we'd be saying that in late August??? Each player knows their role on this team and are either meeting expectations or severely exceeding them. It's an extremely fun team to watch night in and night out and game's like last night really make you sit back and appreciate the success the team has found through the first 123 games.

After nearly being swept by the Indians on Sunday, the O's fought back with an offensive outburst in the later innings to salvage one game.  Although it was their first series lost in nearly a month (Oakland series), the O's hadn't lost back to back contests in over TWO MONTHS. If you told me in 2011 that this would the be the state of the ballclub in three years time, I would've done cartwheels all the way from Schenectady, New York to Camden Yards. Buck has shown that he's a fitting choice to snag another manager of the year if things happen to hold suit for the final month as he's navigated this team through various injuries, suspensions and slumps.  Remaining cool under pressure, Showalter constantly jumbled the lineup and it usually has spelled success for the O's. Chris Davis has been placed all over the lineup and about 6 different hitters have hit in the 2-hole this season and it always results in wins. Now onto the recap from last night...sorry for the outpouring of admiration for the O's but I believe it is warranted for my first post in nearly two months.  I know my fellow Oriole fans have the same sentiments and I have no problem being the mouthpiece for the Orioles faithful.
Stud Norris: Bud is 4-1 with 3.00 ERA in his six second-half starts
As I stated earlier, it was a hard fought series against Cleveland last weekend that resulted in the Indians stealing 2 out of 3 after strong pitching performances by Kluber and Carrasco.  Kluber, by the way, is an absolute stud and quickly becoming my favorite non-Oriole in the MLB. Anyways, a great comeback led by the longball allowed us to salvage the game on Sunday.  Heading into the Chicago-swing, the O's began the trip against Chris Sale and the White Sox with the Yankees and Blue Jays idle yesterday. The game was dominated in the beginning by great pitching as Sale and Bud "Stud" Norris retired allowed one run combined in the first four innings.  Sale's early blunder came off the bat of JJ Hardy, who crushed his 7th homerun into the left field seats after the lefty hung a fastball over the heart of the plate. Norris was in cruise control for the first six innings, allowing only one hit and striking out four while limiting his pitch count over the course of the game (82 pitches in 7 innings).  The O's would tack on insurance runs in the 5th and 6th thanks to a Pearce RBI double and a Nelson Cruz solo homerun.

Markakis went 3-5 with a homerun in addition to making the game-saving grab
Both hitters, who had been struggling at the end of July, have seemed to find their power strokes once again as they combined to go 4-8 with 3 extra base hits last night.  For Cruz, he tied Giancarlo Stanton for the MLB-lead in home runs with a bomb to left field, giving the O's a three run cushion. As Norris was cruising, things appeared to be locked up but the righty ran into some trouble in the seventh as a two-out two run single to Avisail Garcia cut the deficit to one with Connar Gillaspie coming to the plate. Gillaspie ripped a fastball to the right field wall and just as it looked as though the White Sox would complete the comeback, a charging Nick Markakis leapt at the wall and make a beautiful catch while smashing into the fence to end the inning and preserve the lead.  I don't know about any of you but I let out one single yell of astonishment when the catch was made and sat speechless for a few seconds in awe of what I had just witnessed.  It was one of the finest plays I've seen this year but after years of watching Markakis patrol right field, it's just something I've become accustom to.

Using the catch as a springboard for the offense, the O's bats erupted in the top of the 8th, stringing to together extra base hits that included a Jonathon Schoop three-run double off the wall and a Nick Markakis (what can't this man do?) two run shot down the left field line to put the game out of reach at 8-2.  After two scoreless frames from Brach, the O's had wrapped up their 71st win of the season and gained a half game on their divisional foes.  Bud (Stud) got his 11th win of the season and continues to pitch well in the second half of the season, seemingly getting better with each passing start.  Hopefully Tilly can build off that success tonight as he looks to gain his tenth win of the season, giving the Orioles their third pitcher with double-digit victories (Chen, Norris). The O's had 7 extra base hits last night and once again showed what the this offense is capable of when they are clicking on all cylinders.  JJ Hardy is now hitting .396 in the month of August with 3 HRs and 11 RBI's. After a slow start to the season in terms of power numbers, JJ has blasted 7 homers in his last 150 at-bats.

It was simply a classic Orioles win that showed off all the aspects of what has made this team great over this past season.  Power hitting, strong pitching and timely plays on defense are the hallmarks of this ballclub and it would appear that we're going to see a lot more of it in 2014. Quietly, the O's have compiled the 3rd best record in baseball and will continue to fly under the radar, which is totally fine by me and the rest of the O's fans out there.  We're ecstatic from the Birds' play and we don't need media coverage to keep us satisfied.

Tonight's starters are Jose Quintana and Chris Tillman. Be on the look out for more recaps in the future.
Go O's.

June 26, 2014

Game 77: Wild Pitch Seals Victory

It was a grueling series against the White Sox these past three days, with several missed opportunities resulting in a plethora of runners left on base.  Monday was a huge moment for the entire team as they battled back against the Sox to win on a Chris Davis walk off homerun to take game 1.  Tuesday, Jose Quintana rendered the offense ineffective and the O's continued to struggle with runners in scoring position.  It seemed like they were destined for a series loss last night in the rubber match as Hector Noesi dominated through seven innings.  I couldn't even count the amount of double plays the team hit into this series and it was really starting to become frustrating.  Nelson Cruz especially, whose pitch selection seemed to decline with RISP.

Thankfully he would atone for his shortcomings in the 8th inning, as the Orioles once again got runners on to start the bottom of the 8th.  Nick Hundley singled back up the middle, as did Markakis and before you knew it, Chris Davis had worked a long walk to bring up Nellie with the bases loaded and two outs.  The Sox bullpen had been shaky this entire series so Robin Ventura brought in the one pitcher who had pitched well the first two games, Javy Guerra.  He would also be the 4th pitcher in the inning, attempting to patch together a crucial hold.  Guerra's numbers are solid for a waiver pickup but there is one deceiving stat that played in the Orioles favor.  After crushing lefties all season, Guerra's success against righties was no where to be seen, as hitters were batting well over .300 in 2014 against him.

The at-bat started with two balls off the plate that Cruz thankfully took.  You could tell that Guerra wanted nothing out over the plate to start out this at-bat yet he couldn't get Nelson to nibble.  On 2-0, everyone in the stadium was expecting fastball and so was Cruz, barely missing a dead-red fastball, fouling it back to screen.  He would miss on the next pitch as Guerra hung another over the heart of the plate and Nellie crushed it to right-center field, carrying to the wall.  It would drop over the outstretched glove of the right fielder to tie the game as the fans erupted once they knew it was gone.  I wouldn't have said Cruz was truly struggling at the plate but simply not able to come through in key situations like earlier in the year.  That all changed with one swing and the Orioles were once again granted new life.

After both teams threatened to break the tie, and a lengthy rain delay, the Orioles were finally able to push across a run in the bottom of the 12th on a wild pitch as the Orioles had 1st and 3rd with no one out.  David Lough, pinch running for Hundley - who had a great game last night - scored after almost scoring the play before on a line drive by Nick Markkais, only to be held up by Bobby he slipped rounding the base.

For the O's it was their 3rd straight series win and with the Jays losing, they were able to shrink their defecit to 1.5 games yet again. Ubaldo Jimenez was the starter but he pitched well although allowing 4 runs, as he once again was not able to receive any sort of run support.  The worst in the AL for games that he starts. The bullpen, a combination of O'Day, Webb, Brach, Matusz, Britton and Hunter held the Sox scoreless for 6 innings and seems to be regaining their old prowess in the late innings.

Next, the O's welcome the Rays to town for a day-night doubleheader on Friday as they look to continue their success against the struggling team.

June 18, 2014

Game 71: Gausman, Pearce Outshine Rays

Nick Markakis singles up the middle to lead off the game...something that Orioles fans have become accustom to over the past few years.  Markakis once again began the game with a hit in the afternoon rubber match at Tropicana Field.  Facing Alex Cobb, a young pitcher with an extraordinary array of pitches, dominates left-handers.  Markakis apparently didn't get the memo.  Buck loaded up the lineup with righties today, including another appearance in the two spot by Steve Pearce.  Orioles are looking to gain momentum for a weekend series against the Yankees and a series win in Tampa would be a great foundation to spark a run to end the first half of the season. Orioles would put two runners on to begin the game but Nelson Cruz went down looking to end the threat.  As Joe Angel would go on to say, Nellie hasn't hit a home run in a while.  In fact, it's been 53 at-bats since his last blast. Nelson's continued to hit the ball, but has briefly lost the power stroke.  I fully anticipate him to bounce back.

Kevin Gausman got his third start today, looking to pick up another win in the rotation as Buck has expanded the staff to 6 pitchers to accommodate both Gausman and Gonzalez.  Last start, he neutralized the high powered Blue Jays offense but today, he started the first inning with a walk and single.  The key for Gausman's success is the ability to get his pitches low and utilize the changeup. Next batter, Evan Longoria bounced a pitch to Hardy that he would bobble to load the bases with still no out.  For JJ, it's another error for the gold glove shortstop after it appeared that he had shook his recent struggles in the field.  Gausman was getting squeezed by the home plate umpire very early, running up his pitch count to over 30 pitches in the first frame.  With the bases loaded and no one out, Gausman settled in, got ahead in the count and proceeded to strike out James Loney and Ben Zobrist then got David Dejesus to pop out on a 3-2 pitch to escape the inning scoreless.  Just a major confidence booster for the young pitcher and save the Orioles from coming from behind the entire game.

Gausman was able to work out of another jam next inning, inducing yet another double play to get out of the inning with 17 pitches.  Next inning, Machado robbed Longoria of another base hit this series, as he dove, made the stop and fired over to first to end the third.  Still scoreless, Cobb breezed through the Orioles lineup besides stray walks to Joseph & Davis and Markakis' lead off single.  In the fourth, Gausman allowed a two-out double that went to third on a passed ball but was able to get the next hitter to pop out to end yet another threat.  Although his pitch count was 80 pitches after the fourth inning, he did a great job limiting deep counts and getting first pitch strikes. In the 5th, Markakis came back to the plate with two down and reached on an error by Ben Zobrist to keep the inning alive.  Baltimore finally cashed in on a Rays' mistake, as Pierce would line a double to right field, plating Markakis to break the scoreless tie.  Yet another piece of clutch hitting from Mr. Pearce, who continues to produce when he's in the lineup.

Gausman was able to navigate through the 5th inning with a shutout still intact and pitched a quick enough inning for Buck to let him pitch into the sixth.  Longoria ripped a double to start off the inning and the lead looked to be in jeopardy.  Once again, Gausman was able to battle back by striking out James Loney and getting Zobrist to pop out to short left field.  However, Longoria made a mental mistake by putting his head down to run instead of watching the ball and was easily doubled off to end the inning.  For Gausman, it was his third straight impressive start and kept the Rays scoreless through six strong innings after narrowly escaping what could have been a disastrous first frame.  He has most certainly earned his shot to stay in the rotation for the near future and seems to have invigorated the entire pitching staff.  It reminds me of Machado's impact on the Orioles offense during his first full season and in 2012.  The young players seem to spark the veterans into picking up their play as a collective unit.  As Chris Tillman continues to struggle, it is a pleasure to see someone stepping up to be the interim "ace" of the staff.

His counterpart in today's game, Alex Cobb, pitched extremely well too.  Only allowing the one mistake to Steve Pearce that led to an RBI double, he has kept the Orioles hitters off balance all game.  In 7 innings, Cobb scattered only 4 hits and 4 walks while striking out 6 batters. It is a matchup that many fans of each team would like to see in the future for the AL East. Cobb has simply been on the short end of the stick when it comes to the lackluster Rays offense.

Tommy Hunter would spell Gausman as the first reliever out of the pen to preserve the lead for the young prospect.  Hunter struggled in his last appearance versus Toronto, but had pitched well before that in his return from the DL.  Quickly, he would strike out DeJesus and got Jerry Sands to bounce out to Machado for the second out.  He benefitted from keeping the ball down in today's appearance, something that he usually struggles with when he's at his worst.  Yunel Escobar would then drive a ball to right center field wall but was robbed off extra bases as Adam Jones leapt to steal a hit away from the Tampa Bay shortstop.  AJ was quiet at the plate today but made the big catch when it mattered.  This was one of many outstanding defensive plays in this ballgame, as Machado and Longoria seemed to alternate web gems throughout the afternoon.

Remember how I said Nelson Cruz hadn't homered in a while? Well, that ended very quickly as Cruz would be robbed in his second and third at-bats but his fourth plate appearance would end the drought.  Kirby Yates had come on to pitch with an out in the 8th and Nellie greeted him with a no-doubter to left field, giving the Orioles a MUCH needed insurance run.  For Cruz, he now regains the league lead in homers and RBI, while crushing his 15th dinger on the road this season.  3 batters after to homer, both Ben McDonald and Joe Angel were still in awe of the moonshot off the bat of Cruz.  Listening on the radio, I was anxiously waiting to see a highlight from to watch for myself.  His homers may come in bunches, but they also come at opportune times and this was certainly one of them.

After Tommy Hunter tossed another scoreless inning, Zach Britton was called upon to close out another game.  Like last night, he wasted no time getting to work quickly, as he retired the Rays in order, striking out two hitters.  His splitter looked great once again and O's fans must be relieved to have reduced stress when watching in the 9th inning when they have a lead.  Gausman would improve to 3-1 on the season with his totals for his past three starts making it very difficult to keep him out of the rotation.  Since he was recalled, Gausman has tossed 19 innings, only allowing 2 earned runs.  For now, I predict Buck will stick with the six-man rotation due to the lack of a true ace on the staff currently.  If Chris Tillman was pitching like his usual self, one could make an argument that you wouldn't want to wait 5 days to have Tilly start again.  With an off day tomorrow, the pitching staff and bullpen get a chance to rest up for an ever so crucial weekend series in New York against the Yankees.

Tonight's Orange Journalism Player of the Game goes to Kevin Gausman after a gritty yet masterful performance against this potent Rays lineup.  He's continued to be the Orioles hottest starter and I'm eagerly awaiting his next start.  A close runner-up, Steve Pearce feasted on Rays pitching these past two days and doubled twice today, driving in the go-ahead run in the 5th to break the tie.

Game 70: O's Power on Display, Down Tampa 7-5

Orioles got the benefit of Miguel Gonzalez returning from the 15-Day DL today in a crucial second game of the series against Tampa Bay.  Baltimore's had an extremely up and down season so far, neither gathering any win streaks or losing several games in a row.  After watching this team all season, it is about time that they go on a much needed winning streak to regain some ground in the AL East.  Yesterday, Orioles received the news that they have dreaded for weeks now, Matt Wieters being declared out for the season to proceed with his Tommy John Surgery.  Wieters, who has been out for nearly two months, officially decided to opt for surgery in an attempt to limit any further damage in 2014.

Honestly, as much as this loss stings, I would rather have Wieters long-term health solidified rather than remain in jeopardy for the future.  For now, the Orioles current situation remains with Nick Hundley and Caleb Joseph effectively splitting time behind the plate.  Collectively, they've started to hit the ball much better than a month ago while Joseph continues to stand out defensively.  I would say that the pitching staff would suffer due to Wieters' absence but the Orioles starters have posted 13 quality starts in their last 18 games.  Of course, there's nothing the O's can do to replace his bat at this juncture and there really isn't a pressing need with Steve Clevenger still down in AAA.

Anyways, back to the game, where Miguel Gonzalez struggled to find his command early on by allowing several base runners early but worked out of a second inning jam when Manny Machado made an effortless backhanded stop to turn two Yunel Escobar to end the threat.  Just another one of those plays that O's fans have become accustom to over these past few years.  Honestly, it's to the point now that I take these plays for granted when anything is hit in the vicinity of third base.  I guess it's our generation of Orioles fan's closest thing to watching Brooks Robinson out in the field.  The kid may have had his share of errors early in his return this year but he's back into the swing of things right now and we're glad to have him here (until the suspension kicks in of course). 

Orioles got an early rally going against Bedard, as Schoop led off the third inning with a single to left.  After a Caleb Joseph strikeout, Nick Markakis lined a 3-2 pitch into right for a single, as Schoop made a heads up base running play by taking third base in the process to set the table for Steve Pearce.  Facing a 1-2 count, Pearce would fend off a few pitches and battle back in the count to work a walk, loading the bases for Adam Jones.  Jones, facing the man he was traded for years ago (Seattle),  worked a deep count which led to a wild pitch on a 2-2 fastball that got away, scoring Schoop to give them an early lead.  Next pitch, Jones was hit on the left shin on a terribly placed change-up to reload the bases for Mr. Crush Davis.  Crush has still shown signs of a struggle at the dish lately, seemingly swinging over the top of nearly every pitch, increasing his strikeout totals.  Davis would lift an 0-2 pitch that was way outside to left field and heading towards the foul pole.  David Dejesus made an excellent effort for the ball and proceeded to slam into the fence as the ball skipped off the wall and nearly rolled to third base.  In the process, two runs scored easily but Buck would immediately come out of the dugout to argue if the ball had actually hit the foul pole instead.  After the umpires reviewed the call, it was ruled a grand slam, pushing the lead to 5-0.  Simply pure strength was the cause for that homer as he muscled that the necessary 315 feet to put it out in left field.  That's why you lift weights kids…

These 5 runs are the most that the O's have scored in a game since last Wednesday's 6-0 shutout of the Red Sox.  Up to this point, Baltimore wasn't cashing in on scoring opportunities.  Still, the MLB leaders in batting average with RISP dialed it up tonight and exploded for a huge inning to set the tone early for once.  It's great to jump out to these early leads, especially when Sean Rodriguez led off the bottom of the third with a moonshot off the left field catwalk to cut the lead to 4 immediately on one pitch.  The leads are ESPECIALLY important when Desmond Jennings hits another home run, back-to-back off Gonzo to make it a 5-2 game.  Both homers were absolute no doubters and just furthers the notion that no lead is safe.  Miguel would then retire the next three hitters in order to finish off the third.

The Rays would continue to chip away at the lead as James Loney would later add a two-run double in the 5th to cut the deficit to 1, and the five innings would be all for Miguel Gonzalez tonight but it was good enough to get him in line for the win.  He scattered 8 hits, 2 walks and 5 K's in his five innings of work allowing 4 earned runs and was saddled with a high pitch count.  After tossing up zeros for three straight innings, the Orioles offense added some much needed insurance as Steve Pearce homered to left off Brad Boxberger, to score Caleb Joseph to increase the lead to three.  After 1.2 innings of hitless relief from Ryan Webb, Brian Matusz would surrender another run as Yunel Escobar plated Zobrist on a Sac Fly in the 8th. It was another shaky appearance for Matusz, as he yielded another earned run in a third of an inning as Zobrist led off the inning with a double.  Darren O'Day would pitch a scoreless inning although he allowed the tying run to reach the plate in the bottom of the 8th.

After the O's couldn't push across a runner in the 9th, Zach Britton was once again called upon to seal the victory for Baltimore.  I didn't personally watch this inning due to playing pickup basketball, but from what my father said, Britton look electric last night.  The splitter was working phenomenally and on only 6 pitches, he induced three straight ground balls to put the Orioles back in the WIN COLUMN.

Gonzo would improve to 4-4 on the season as he battled throughout his five innings but still shown flashes of excellence in his first start off the DL. Britton notched his 8th save as Ryan Webb picked up his team leading 11th hold and continues to pitch well in the 6th and 7th innings.  As for Steve Pearce, our Orange Journalism Player of the Game tonight, he went 2-3 with his 5th homer of the season that padded the Orioles lead.  Hitting in the two hole once again, Pearce has proved to be a valuable piece of the bench, picking up where Matt Wieters left off when he was dispelled from injury.  He's currently hitting a team high .317 and seems to be playing his way into an everyday player.  The combination of Pearce and Delmon Young have created a formidable DH for the Orioles, a position that had plagued them since the days of Luke Scott.  This season, the O's DH spot has collectively produced the highest average as a position (.297), while hitting 11 home runs with a team high 42 RBIs.

This afternoon, young Kevin Gausman will look to propel the Orioles to a series win against Alex Cobb. Gausman, who's pitched very well since being thrust into the rotation, has shown fans a glimpse of what to expect in the future and hopes to build off his previous success today.

June 17, 2014

Game 69: Sands' Blast Sinks Orioles

Jerry Sands, right, celebrates with Evan Longoria and Logan Forsythe after blasting a two-run pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning, putting the Rays ahead 5-3.

It always disheartens me to write these recaps the day after a loss, especially after a demoralizing loss like last night. The Orioles looked to get back on the right track after a frustrating loss on Sunday against and saw a huge opportunity against a sputtering Rays offense.  Especially comforting was the fact that the Orioles hottest starter, Wei-Yin Chen was on the hill against young Jake Odorizzi.

Tampa got off to a great start, with an early Yunel Escobar solo homer to give the Rays an early lead. Odorizzi cruised through the first 5 innings, only allowing an infield single to JJ Hardy in the second that led to another scoreless frame.  Tampa, had no problem getting runners on, as they hit Chen extremely hard throughout his 6.2 innings last night. Chen allowed 5 extra base hits in his start and got into additional trouble in the fourth when James Loney reached on a leadoff double to start the bottom half.  With one out and Loney now on third, Ryan Hanigan crushed a ball hung over the plate into the left field seats to make it 3-0. The way Odorizzi was pitching, it seemed like an insurmountable lead for the Birds.

Fortunately, the Orioles would finally get to Odorizzi in his last inning of work in the top of the sixth.  Nick Markakis got the rally started as he doubled to the opposite field.  After Manny Machado flew out to left, Adam Jones sent a pitch deep into the left field bleachers to cut the deficit to one.  For Jonesy, it was his 12th homerun of the season as his power surge continues into the road trip.  Brad Boxberger would then relieve Odorizzi with a rising pitch count and would get the final two outs to stop any further damage.

Chen would go on to toss 1.2 more scoreless innings to turn the game over to Darren O'Day, who allowed a single to his first batter and who subsequently get Yunel Escobar to flyout to center to end the 7th.  After Joel Peralta pitched a scoreless 7th, former Oriole (for about 12 hours) Grant Balfour was summoned from the pen a tad early to pick up a hold.  Balfour, who had failed his physical before the season which prevented him from joining the Orioles as their replacement for Jim Johnson, has struggling mightily this season and has already been relieved on his closing duties this year.  Balfour would only last three batters, as Markakis and Machado led off with back-to-back singles in an attempt to notch the game at 3.  After getting Adam Jones to pop up, hard throwing Jake McGee came into escape the jam created by Balfour. McGee who usually gives the Orioles problems, would surrender one of his inherited runners as Chris Davis worked a walk to load the bases and Nelson Cruz reached on an infield single to plate Markakis to tie the game. The ball was bounced straight up in the air and by the time it got to Longoria, he didn't have a play to any base.  JJ Hardy would then strikeout on a pitch away and McGee escaped by getting Pearce to bounce into a fielder's choice.

The tie game would not last long however, as Darren O'Day would quickly walk Evan Longoria to put the go-ahead runner on to start the bottom of the 8th. After striking out Ben Zobrist and inducing a flyout from James Loney, David Dejesus was summoned from the bench to pinch hit for Sean Rodriguez.  However, Buck was not fond of the matchup and brought in Brian Matusz to take care of the lefty. Once the pitching change was made, Joe Maddon, resident genius, brought in Jerry Sands off the bench to pinch hit as a right hander. After a ball to start the at-bat, Matusz hung an inside fastball  slightly over the plate and Sands demolished the offering over the left field foul pole to make it 5-3.  Sands, an MLB journeyman, who's only had 36 plate appearances since 2012 delivered the knockout blow to the Orioles' comeback attempts as he joyfully rounded the bases and was greeted in the dugout by the entire team after delivering once again for the team.  A game before, he had broken three bats on consecutive pitches only to send an RBI single into the outfield to put the Rays ahead of the Astros.  The sheer joy expressed by the entire Rays' dugout seemed to spark the team that has struggled so much at the plate that it has garnered visits from "witch doctors" to awaken their bats.  Sands was greeted with a chorus of cheers from the robust crowd of nearly 11,000 fans at Tropicana Field last night (had to get that jab in there).

To close out the game, Maddon brought in Juan Carlos Oviedo to pick up his first save in nearly three years. Seemed like he was shaking off the rust as Delmon Young launched a pinch hit solo homerun to left to cut the lead in half.  Unfazed, Oviedo would then get Markakis and Machado to pop out to the infield to end the game.  You can chalk it up to just another tough loss for the Orioles who once again had their chances throughout the game but could not capitalize.

Tonight's starters features returns of two friendly faces as Miguel Gonzalez takes on Erik Bedard, each sitting at 3-4 on the season, looking to get back to .500.  For Gonzo, this is his first start since he was sidelined by injury and was eventually replaced by Kevin Gausman, who will pitch Wednesday.  After back-to-back losses, this is a crucial game for the Orioles as they do not want to drop a series to Tampa Bay and revive their team that really needs a boost at this juncture of the season.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't dedicate this post to one of the best hitters in our generation/all-time that passed away yesterday.  Tony Gwynn will always be remembered for his mind-boggling hitting statistics that place him amongst the greatest hitters that ever lived.  An amazing player and even more amazing person, the news sent shockwaves throughout the baseball community and the tremendous outpouring of tributes was a sight to see.

June 16, 2014

Game 68: Encarnacion, Navarro's Bats Splits Series

I've been away fro the past few days but I've watched the games nonetheless.  Here's what I've been impressed with so far…Bud Norris threw another gem last night as Chris Davis' two run homer propelled the O's to their second win of the series.  Manny Machado has seemed to find the magic in his bat once again, as he's gone 5-8 his last two games, with 3 doubles in the series.  With a suspension still looming, fans are delighted to see Manny hitting the ball well, as Buck Showalter expects a two game suspension for the young third baseman.  Coming into Sunday's game, Baltimore sits 3.5 games out of first with a chance to lower it by yet another game with Chris Tillman on the hill.  Tilly pitched well in his last start, holding the Red Sox to one run over 6 innings although picking up a loss as the Orioles were shutout.

As this MASN graphic states, Orioles pitchers have been dominant in their last 6 starts, allowing an ERA of 1.13 over 30 innings of work.  Tillman got into trouble early by allowing a leadoff single to Jose Reyes, who would eventually score on a long double by Jose Bautista to give Toronto another early lead.  For Tillman, his struggles continue in the early frames, as his inability to shutdown teams from the inset has plagued his season so far.  Escaping any further damage, the Orioles offense would get to work against J.A. Happ, who's struggled lately but a left-handed pitcher that has given the O's problems in the past.  Chris Davis would get the day off today which landed Steve Pearce in the fifth spot and another appearance by Delmon Young at DH.

Tillman would once again get into a jam in the second with a leadoff double by Dioner Navarro but would work out of trouble yet again.  In the meantime, Baltimore would waste a huge opportunity in the bottom of the third as JJ Hardy led off with a double down the right field line and was followed by a Jonathon Schoop infield single, placing runners on first and second with no outs.  Nick Hundley would crush a ball to dead center, only to be caught by a backpedaling Anthony Gose, but both runners  would tag up to threaten to tie the game.  Nick Markakis' at-bat started off 3-0, only to have Happ battle back to strike him out of 8 pitches.  Machado would also be retired by strikeout, hacking at two straight pitches that were eye-level.  After the missed opportunity, Edwin Encarnacion doubled down the line to lead off the 4th and after tagging up on a Brett Lawrie fly out, Navarro would drop a bloop single into left to score Encarnacion, pushing the lead to two.  On that at-bat, Navarro caught a break as Tillman had appeared to paint the inside corner, only to be called a ball by the home plate umpire.  Naturally, Navarro would single on the next pitch.  He fought off a low pitch and sent the RBI single about 130 feet from home.

Tillman allowed leadoff batters to reach in four of the five innings to start the game, as opposed to the Orioles who squandered their big chance early but failed to get runners into scoring position.  In the fifth, Tillman allowed a single by Gose and a double by Jose Reyes to lead off the inning.  Melky Cabrera line a ball to left which scored Gose on a sac fly.  That would be the extent of the scoring in the fifth as Machado stabbed at Encarnacion's hard grounder going up the third baseline and then proceeded to gun him down at first with an impressive stretch by Steve Pearce to keep the deficit at 3.

Next inning, the O's would finally get on the board with an opportunistic two-out rally from the heart of their order.  Adam Jones doubled to keep the inning alive as Nelson Cruz would single him home to put the Orioles on the board.  For Cruz, he picked up three singles in Sunday's contest, a season high for the DH and tacked onto his league leading RBI total.  It had been a rough stretch for Nelson after that month-long tear he went on in May and it was great to see him swinging the bat well again.  The Orioles would be held scoreless until the the 8th, as Adam Jones sent his 11th homer into the left field bleachers.  Casey Janssen would then come in to nail down a 4-out save to end the game 5-2.  Dioner Navarro added another RBI with a double that scored Encarnacion, who combined to go 6-10 with 3 doubles and 2 RBI.  Orioles simply couldn't manufacture runs off of Happ and the bullpen, leading to a series split with the Jays.  With the loss, the O's drop to a still respectable 35-33, 4.5 games behind the Toronto along with the Yankees.  Tillman dropped to 5-4 this season after settling down nicely after a rough start.  He's slated to pitch next on Saturday in New York against the Yankees.

To conclude, the O's 10-game road trip ended at 5-5, a bit of a disappointment yet they didn't lose any ground in the division.  They're away this next week, with three in Tampa Bay and three in New York. Tampa, who continues to struggle at the plate, looks to regain ground in the East, sitting in dead last after a month-long slump for the entire offense.  Thankfully, Baltimore will miss David Price after pitching yesterday as Jake Odorizzi faces Wei-Yin Chen tonight. Chen is looking to become only the 10th pitcher in the AL to reach 8 wins this year.

June 13, 2014

Game 65: Gausman Earns Second Win

I was at a concert last night and immediately turned on the finals when I got home so I don't have too much to say about last night's game.  It was excellent, by the way, The Features and Fitz & the Tantrums played a free show in Albany.  Highly recommend seeing each band if you get the chance, especially if you like alternative music. Anyways...from the consensus on social media, Kevin Gausman was phenomenal once again, earning his second win of the season in impressive fashion.  One of the biggest series of the early season kicked off against the Blue Jays Thursday night and the Orioles were up for the task.  The pitching staff, which only allowed 1 run to Red Sox last series continued their success although allowing an unprecedented 2 RUNS! Kidding of course.

O's fans caught yet another glimpse of future rotation member Kevin Gausman.  The former number one pick out of LSU pitched a great game again in his many weeks since being recalled from Norfolk.  His opponent, Mark Buehrle is one of the hottest pitchers in baseball, although he recorded his second loss of the season last start against the Cardinals. In addition, Toronto is touted for having one of the best offenses in baseball, which forced the Orioles pitching staff to be razor sharp and needed to put up runs early in the game.  They did both of these things, as Delmon Young launched a two-run homer in the first inning to plate Nick Markakis, who once again led off the game with a base hit.  It's such a luxury to have Markakis hitting leadoff as he's hitting over .400 when he leads off the game for the Orioles. With an early lead, Gausman found his groove early, and navigated through the first four innings unscathed.  The second inning, the O's added to their lead as Caleb Joseph singled home Machado after he led off the inning with a double and Schoop moved him over to third.  The thing I like most about the Orioles offense is the little contributions from an array of players each night.  With so much fire power throughout the order, a middle of the order hitter with an "O-fer" can be picked up by other guys in the lineup.  Guys like Delmon Young, Caleb Joseph, David Lough and Steve Pearce have propelled the team's offense when the sluggers aren't hitting and it's things like this that will continue to drive the Orioles success.

From that point on, Buehrle was able to settle in and kept the Jays in the game, pitching into the 7th inning.  In the 5th, Gausman got into some trouble allowing a lead off double to Juan Francisco and would eventually score on a Melky Cabrera single to break the shutout. Gausman would toss another scoreless frame in the 6th and left with a 2-run lead for his bullpen to preserve.  His line was impressive yet again, limiting the Jays to 5 hits and allowing 3 walks while striking out three. Gausman has clearly pitched well enough to stay in the rotation but there will be an interesting decision when Miguel Gonzalez is finally able to make his return to Baltimore.  Buck and myself would be pleased to have both, as the manager hadn't ruled out the possibility of using a 6-man rotation for the time being.  Personally, it's not fair for Gonzo to be relegated to the bullpen while Ubaldo Jimenez has been ineffective for the majority of the season.

Anyways, back to the game, where the Orioles would tack on another run to their lead as Nick Markakis doubled home Jonathon Schoop for a much needed insurance run after Matusz pitched a scoreless seventh inning.  Markakis barely missed another home run as he roped a line drive off the top of  the right field wall to easily plate the runner.  Ryan Webb, who's put together a great season so far, filled in for O'Day tonight and surrendered a run to cut the deficit at two but it was the extent of the damage.  After loading the bases with one out in the bottom half of the 8th, Aaron Loup came on to end the threat and the O's called upon Zach Britton to nail down yet another save in his many weeks as a closer. Britton ended the game on 10 pitches, allowing a base hit with one out and getting Darin Mastroianni (Italia) to bounce into the game-ending double play in the next at bat.

For the O's, they were obviously once again able to cut into Toronto's division lead and are now 3.5 games back, along with the Yankees, who took care of Seattle once again.  Cruz, Markakis and Young all recorded 2 hits, as Delmon was placed in the second spot in the lineup to give Steve Pearce the night off. Machado went 1-3 with a double and a run scored while Davis and Jonesy each went 0-4. No complaints from Jones, who's been such a force over these past few weeks and was bound to cool off.  Davis, after ending the Red Sox series with 2 XBH, struggled against the Blue Jay lefties and looks to fare much better against Drew Hutchinson, who silenced the Orioles bats earlier this year.  Ubaldo takes the hill tonight as he looks to shake off the brutal start on Sunday against Oakland.

June 12, 2014

Game 64: Chensanity Shuts Out Red Sox

Wasting no time Wednesday night, the Orioles got off to a fast start in the first inning after being shutout 1-0 by Brandon Workman.  After Wei-Yin Chen retired the Sox in order, Baltimore struck first with an Adam Jones double down the left field line, scoring Steve Pearce as he drew a walk in the two spot.  Which means, Machado was moved down in the order to his recent "struggles". Manny has elected to appeal his suspension so he remains in the lineup but his struggles at the plate continue.  Chris Davis kept the inning going with a long fly ball to right field off of Rubby De La Rosa (phenomenal name) for his 10th home run of the season.  Plating Jones, the O's took a much need 3-0 lead as runs were very scarce throughout the first two games of the series. For Crush, this was a much needed slump buster as he's struggled during the month of June.  Davis' next at-bat sent a De La Rosa pitch deep to dead center field but was snagged on the warning track by Jackie Bradley Jr.  Although it would it was just warning track power, it's great to finally see Davis taking the ball to all fields as he was simply baffled by opposing pitchers in recent games.

Chen, who's been on a tear lately, took the mound looking to earn his team-leading seventh win of the season and got off to a great start. striking out 5 of the first 9 batters with an array of breaking pitches keeping his fastball elevated.  I've been thoroughly impressed with Wei-Yin's accuracy these past few starts and remains the hottest (pitching-wise) member of the Orioles rotation…my apologies to Mr. Bud Norris.  Chen finally allowed his first baserunner on a Pedroia single off the wall, only to be gunned down stretching it to a double by the cannon that is, Nick Markakis' left arm. The closest you could come to a perfect throw - well besides this laser beam last night.

Earlier today, Phil Hughes stifled the Blue Jays as the O's were presented with another opportunity to chip away at the division lead. Baltimore was able to take control early with an array of base hits from their entire lineup.  Nick Hundley, struggling heavily in the early of his tenure with the Orioles, singled twice in the first four innings, the latter drove in a JJ Hardy to extend the lead to 4-0.  Markakis almost squeaked across another run on an infield single but a replay challenge by John Farrell determined that Nick Hundley was indeed forced out at second.  After the close call, Chen gave up a line drive single past the shift to Big Papi, only to endure a another pop out from Mike Napoli and a tailor made double play to Jonathan Schoop to end the threat.

After stranding base runners in the bottom of 5th, Chen trotted out for the sixth inning with a shutout still in tact.  After allowing a leadoff base hit, he was able to strike out Jonathan Herrera once again and two pitches later, he got Brock Holt to ground into another opportune double play to end another threat.   His breaking ball bailed him out once again as Holt slapped at a low and away pitch to bounce into the 4-6-3 inning ender.  De La Rosa would also settle in for the remainder of his outing and would shut down the Orioles for 5.2 innings before he was relieved by Edward Mujica.  As the 7th began, the rain started to lightly fall and Dustin Pedroia once again singled off of Chen to start a potential rally.  He's been a thorn in the side of Chen during his brief career, hitting over .500 in over 25 at-bats versus the left handed pitcher.  Immediately after, Chen was amazingly able to force a third straight inning ending double play to keep the lead at 4.  Can't even express how impressed I was with Chen's outing tonight and walked a tightrope to navigate through the Red Sox lineup after dominating the early stages of the game.

After nearly 2 hours of rain delay, play finally would resume.  Didn't really mind as I was able to utilize my MLB Extra Innings subscription and catch up on action from the rest of the league.  However, Chen would be taken out for the 8th inning for Darren O'Day.  By far the best start of the season, he put his team in a position to win tonight's game and the series. Most importantly, Chen was extremely economical as he didn't issue a walk, scattered four hits and struck out seven in 7 scoreless innings.  This was all accomplished on 87 pitches, something that the Orioles desperately needed in this rubber match.  O'Day's only baserunner came on yet another throwing error by JJ Hardy.  Hardy, one of the most sure handed shortstops in the league, has had a rough June, with an inability to make routine plays he usually makes with ease.  However, O'Day was able to force three groundouts to himself to end the threat.  Darren continues his dominate season as he lowered his ERA under 1 for the season.

One Oriole that has severely cooled off is Nelson Cruz, simply being rendered helpless since the weekend of the Astros' series.  This past 10 days he's looked clueless at the dish, waving at pitches out of the strike zone and swinging through fastballs dead red.  Can't have too much complaints with Nelly as he's essentially carried our offense through the first 60 games and I know that he was bound to cool off eventually.  With a crucial 4-game series looming against Toronto, I expect Cruz to give the Blue Jays more problems.  Fortunately, he was able to add a leadoff single in the 8th as Gary Thorne threw on the patented reverse jinx (Barstool) by stating that he was hitless in his last 10 plate appearances. Chris Davis would proceed to rope a double down the first base line, picking up his second extra base hit of the ballgame.  O'a add another insurance run off an RBI walk by Schoop, putting the game out of reach.  As I write this live, I REALLY want Markakis to take Capuano deep for a grand slam.  I say this because Markakis is on the cusp of making the All-Star team and he's more than deserving to finally be elected to his first team. Top 10 in average and 3rd in hits, you really can't make any arguments against him.  Alas, Capuano walked Markakis, but he picked up another RBI.

Zach Britton would come on to pitch a perfect ninth inning to seal  the shutout and the Orioles were back in the win column, picking up another series win against a division opponent.  With Toronto coming to town, the offense will need to keep pace with one of the best in baseball.  Kevin Gausman makes another start tonight against the AL wins leader, Mark Buerhle. Gausman coming off his first career victory in the rotation will look to build off the success of last Saturday.

June 11, 2014

Game 63: Workman Stymies O's

The O's entered the night 5.5 games behind Toronto after a shutout win led by Bud Norris.  Toronto's resiliency was on full force last night as they had squandered a two-run lead in the top of the 9th, only to win the game on a bloop single by Kevin Pillar (???). Exactly, who knows who Pillar is? Regardless, it seems like anyone and everyone that suits up for the Jays has thrived. Looks like it's all clicking for Toronto. Here's to an inevitable collapse!

As the rain loomed over Baltimore, the game started on time with each pitcher tossing up scoreless first innings. Tillman was refreshing to see since he's struggled heavily in the first two innings this year.  He's posted an ERA over 10 this season in the first two innings while the next 7 innings hovers around 2.60. Truly remarkable splits for both Tillman and Jimenez this season. After Big Papi flew out to start the 2nd, the rain began to fall heavily (buzz kill) and prompted both teams to retreat to their dugouts. Tillman would immediately walk Napoli when play resumed as he was unable to get his curveball over the plate in addition to keeping his fastball elevated. When Tillman had struggled in the past, it is due to his inability to keep the ball low. Additionally, his flyball to groundball ratio is much higher than the league average.

As the rain started to fall yet again, Tillman lost control of the strike as he allowed a single to AJ Pierzynski and a walk to Daniel Nava. With the bases loaded, Tilly fought back to strike out Johnathan Herrera to end what looked like another nightmare second inning. Next inning however, Tillman would allow his first and only run of the inning in the 3rd as he was unable get the third out of the inning, walking Ortiz to put runners on 1st and 2nd.  Next batter, Mike Napoli blooped a single to right field in front of Markakis to break the scoreless tie. From that point on, Tillman was able to navigate through the order to keep the deficit at 1, working out of a bases loaded jam with no outs in the 4th.  Although it wasn't his best start, it was a great bounce back start for Tillman as he scattered 7 hits and 3 walks over 6 innings. His opposing starter, Brandon Workman had baffled the Orioles hitters all game as he remained perfect through 4.1 innings until issuing a questionable walk to Nelson Cruz, only to get JJ Hardy to pop out into an inning ending double play. Cruz, lost track of the game situation and was easily doubled up at first.

Workman continued his dominance into the seventh inning and with two outs, new reliever Andrew Miller fanned Chris Davis to end the inning. Junichi Tazawa shutdown the Orioles in the 8th while Brian Matusz pitched two scoreless inning in relief.  Matusz, who had a shaky performance on Saturday, allowed one hit to keep the score 1-0. In the bottom of the 9th, Koji Uehara was called upon by John Farrell to close yet another game.  Pinch hitting for Caleb Joseph, Steve Pearce got the O's their 3rd base runner on a single to left.  Ryan Flaherty, in an attempt to sacrifice Pearce to second, bunted straight back to Uehara, allowing him to get the force out at second. After a collective groan from the crowd and myself, watching on my phone, it was apparent that Flaherty had wasted their best chance of tying the game.  We were right, as Uehara was able to strike out Markakis and Machado to end the game. A frustrating loss for the Orioles as they were caught in yet another pitcher's duel with the Sox.  Tonight's game looks to be another duel as Wei-Yin Chen faces Rubby De La Rosa in attempt to win the series. The game will be on ESPN (finally) as the O's need some much needed exposure that doesn't involve Manny Machado.

Machado, was handed a well-deserved 5 game suspension from the MLB, which he's planning on appealing. In my opinion, Manny should take the suspension right now and get this entire situation over with. He's struggled at the plate since this incident and I believe that he can use the rest. Start Flaherty at second and let Schoop play third as both have started to hit the ball well of late.

June 10, 2014

A Closer Look At Manny Machado's Weekend

By now, any avid baseball fan knows what happened this weekend in Baltimore. Manny Machado is making national headlines and it is not for his astounding play in the field or at the plate. It all started Friday night when Adam Jones bounced a ground ball to Josh Donaldson. Seems like a routine and harmless play right? Wrong. Donaldson slapped a tag on Machado as he attempted to dance out of the way to make it to third. Stumbling to the ground, Machado threw his helmet to ground and as he vaulted back on his feet he immediately got in Donaldson's grill causing both bullpens to clear. Why would he react this way? Was it the impact of the tag? No. I think it was the fact that Manny had fell to the ground in result and mostly due to his recent knee problems that set him back to begin the season. I don't mean to use the word slapped to convey an opinion on the play, I actually believe that the tag from Donaldson was not meant to inflict pain to Machado, rather to ensure he applied the tag to pick up an out. To my knowledge, I remain unaware to any previous rifts between the two third basemen and figured this would be the end of the conversation on this topic.

Before this weekend, Manny hasn't been one to show his negative emotions on the field and this was a new side of the player slated to be the future of the franchise. On Friday, I wrote that this outburst was a good thing for Machado. I had yet to see him play with a competitive edge and always went about his business smiling ear to ear.  Nothing wrong with that of course, but, I was happy to see some fire from the young star. Manny had struggled since his return to the lineup, which is expected due to his gruesome knee injury 7 months prior. I figured that this would fuel his future play and also ignite the Orioles.  In a way, I was correct.  On his next at-bat, Machado crushed a homerun into the Orioles bullpen to bring the crowd to their feet. Once Machado passed by Donaldson without any verbal or physical retaliation, the fans figured that the incident had subsided.  Then, Wei-Yin Chen unleashed a fastball right at Donaldson's head that was clearly intentional and proceeded to him on the next pitch. Chen was rightfully warned but neither bench left the dugout unlike the tag play. Once THAT happened, I figured that was the last we would hear of this. Boy, was I wrong. Although Saturday went on without a hitch, you know that baseball players don't let any of their unwritten laws get broken without further punishment.

Sunday, bloody Sunday (not quite) got off without a hitch, neither Donaldson or Machado seemed the target of any action on the field until the 6th inning. Unnoticed at first by myself, when Derek Norris had taken a shot to the helmet (twice!) from the bat of Machado (shocking), I didn't even realize that Manny offered zero remorse and couldn't even muster up an apology or ask if he was okay.  In addition, he was also accused of smirking at a shaken up Norris on the ground in pain. Unlike myself, the A's bench definitely noticed, especially fellow catchers Stephen Vogt & John Jaso.  He noted after the game that “Those back swings, OK, that stuff does happen, and the guy who did it is always like, ‘Hey, are you all right?’ It’s always like that,” ... “When people aren’t aware or don’t even care about that etiquette a lesson needs to be taught there. … That little bit of camaraderie, that sportsmanship, needs to be there.”  Vogt, Norris' replacement behind the plate would also voice his opinion in the 8th inning when the proverbial "shit" hit the fan.

With hard-throwing lefty Fernando Abad in the game to relieve Kazmir, Machado stepped to the plate in the 8th inning and quickly received an inside fastball straight at his left knee.  Thankfully, Manny was able to get out of the way but he then proceeded to stare down Abad, who was unfazed by the entire incident. Next pitch, all hell broke loose as another inside pitch produced a VERY late, unhealthy swing by Machado who flung the bat over the head of Alberto Callaspo. To be fair, I had forgot Callaspo replaced Donaldson in the 6th due to the blowout and assumed Machado launched the bat towards him on purpose. Upon further review, Machado swung extremely late and had no intention to swing at the pitch. After letting the situation blow over after a few days and let the relentless media die down, I'm still extremely disappointed in Manny's actions.  He refused to apologize initially and his interview last night seemed half-hearted and I expected better from him.  Watching Baseball Tonight on ESPN last night, Barry Larkin seemed angry re-watching the clips and he expects an suspension, as do I.

Now, I'm receiving an alert from ESPN about Dan Duquette considering a demotion to the minors for Machado which I don't feel is necessary at the time.  Manny had begun to hit the ball much better before the incident and a demotion should only be disciplinary purposes only. Also, with a suspension looming, I feel that this will be enough time for Manny to reflect on his actions.

To conclude, Manny Machado is a supreme talent. No questions asked.  However, he's the future of this franchise and with his recent contract issues, I hope that this does not turn the Orioles management away from signing him to a lengthy extension to keep him in Baltimore for many years. Of course this is a black eye on the reputation on the young infielder but it should not overshadow his potential and his previous demeanor. This is hopefully a one time occurrence and should not hinder the Orioles success in the near future.

June 9, 2014

Game 62: Charm City Shutout

After a heated series with the Athletics, the O's remained at home for an additional week as the Red Sox come to town. Yesterday, the O's were shelled by the Athletics and barely mustered a single run. Tonight, Baltimore wasted no time grabbing a lead as Adam Jones sent his 10th homer to dead center. Jones continues to hit over these last few weeks and has climbed into the 4th spot in the All-Star game voting for the American League outfielders. It was crucial that the Orioles got to Boston's starter, Jake Peavy early to set the tone for the entire game.  Peavy, the former Cy Young winner tends to be dominant when he gets into an early groove. Opposing Peavy was Bud Norris, who pitched well in his last start in Texas until he got hit on the arm with a line drive.  Tonight he kept the ball low with an effective change up, inducing several fly balls and striking out 6 hitters.  Unlike yesterday, Norris kept the walks at a minimum, tossing 8 scoreless innings under 100 pitches.

Orioles were able to get men on base but couldn't capitalize with runners in scoring position, going 0-4 tonight. Boston had the same amount of luck, going hitless as well as Norris only allowed two runners to reach second base tonight. For the offense, the Orioles used the long ball to their advantage as Markakis launched a two-run homer nearly into Eutaw Street. Peavy hung a two-seam fastball over the heart of the plate and Nick was all over it.  Markakis and Jones remain the constant, driving forces in the Orioles lineup this year as they combined for 5 hits, 2 homers and 3 RBI (vote them into the ASG!).   

To add insult to injury for Peavy, he also fell victim to Chris Davis' first bunt single of his career in the 4th inning.  Shift on,  Crush dropped a perfect bunt down the third base line and legged out an infield hit that was reviewed after initially being called an out. Ryan Flaherty capped off the Orioles run production with a long home run to right field to make it 4-0. That was plenty of insurance for Norris as he worked out of a jam in the 8th as he was met with a standing ovation from the Orioles faithful. Buck didn't let Norris finish off the shutout and instead turned the game over to recently activated, former closer Tommy Hunter.  Hunter, in his first appearance since heading to the DL and his demotion in the bullpen, produced 3 flyouts to preserve the shutout and most importantly, another Orioles win. 

Tomorrow, Chris Tillman gets a shot at redemption from his previous starts against Brandon Workman.  Tillman has struggled heavily lately, with an ERA near 8.00 over the last month.  However, when you observe his splits for 2014, Tillman has a sub-3.00 earned run average when he's at home yet he has not been able to win a decision at Camden Yards. On the road, Tilly has boasts a 6.33 ERA but is 5-0. It's truly mesmerizing by how he's a different pitcher based on the ballpark.  Essentially, a bizarro Ubaldo Jimenez.  I hope Tilly can write the ship soon because he's still our ace and can use his leadership as the season progresses.

Game 57: Orioles; Bats Stay Hot

The Orioles continued their offensive outburst with another 14-hit effort on Tuesday.  Picking up where they left off last night, Baltimore got out to an early lead as the red-hot Adam Jones delivered any RBI single up the middle.  Bud Norris got into early trouble and the lead did not last for long as Adrian Beltre delivered a two-run bomb to the right field seats to give Texas an early advantage.  Norris settled in from that point on as he navigated through the Rangers lineup by working counts and escaping potential run scoring situations. The O's were again able to cash in with runners in scoring position as they tacked on three runs in the 4th inning which included a Markakis solo shot and another Adam Jones single that drove in Machado to give the Orioles the lead.  Crush Davis would tack on a 5th run by sending his 8th homerun into the roght field bleachers.

As his pitch count mounted into the 5th, Norris took a hard bouncing ball off his right forearm from off the bat of Mitch Moreland to put two runners on with two away.  Buck and medical staff quickly went out to attend to their starter as he nursed his pitching.  However, Norris convinced trainers and his manager to stay in the game which would not bode well for the O's. Trouble came in the form of the next batter, Beltre, who once again took Norris deep to even the game at 5. Beltre has now took Orioles starters deep 3 times in the first two games of this series and continues to haunt Baltimore way back to his days in Boston and Seattle. Norris had reitred the first two batters of the inning only to allow back-to-back singles and then the homerun before retiring Rios to end the 5th.

The game remained tied until the 8th as both bullpens grinded to avoid breaking the tie. In a rare appearance, TJ McFarland worked the O's out of a jam in the 6th and Darren O'Day relieved him in the 7th to keep the game tied at 5.  Baltimore would break through as Nick Markakis singled home Caleb Joseph(!) to take the lead, 6-5.  As O'Day worked out of another jam, Buck called upon Zack Britton to close out another game. After a perfect bunt by Elvis Andrus to lead off the inning, Britton enduced a double play from Choo and closed out the game with a single and a fielder's choice to seal the Orioles' fourth straight win.

Baltimore reaped the benefits of the top of their order once again as Markakis-Manny-Cruz-Jones combined for 9 of the 14 hits and 4 RBIs.  In addition, the Orioles plate discipline was in rare form as they worked 7 walks, running up the pitch counts of the Texas bullpen.  Another bright spot was Caleb Joseph, who nearly put his first homerun into the seats last night and hit the ball well in his other at-bats.  Joseph made an outstanding play on a botched sacrifice bunt attempt by Donnie Murphy and gunned down Alex Rios at second to help O'Day eventually work out of an 8th inning jam. O'Day has seemed to return to last year's form, keeping his pitches low and getting guys out when he gets them elevated.

Game 61: O's Lose Control of Strike Zone

First off, I'm briefly mentioning the Machado incident in this recap for the purpose of writing an actual opinion article later today.

Sitting in the stands at yesterday's game I was extremely optimistic after watching Baltimore dismantle the A's on all aspects of the game Saturday night.  All the momentum they had seemed to gain was immediately dashed as Ubaldo turned in another miserable start at home.  Although he didn't allow a hit through the first two innings, Jimenez scattered pitches all around the plate, gradually increasing his pitch count with each batter. It appeared that Jimenez could only throw his fastball for strikes and it eventually got him in serious trouble. As for A's starter Scott Kazmir (circa 2008), he pitched a beautiful game, commanding the strike zone and effectively punching out several Orioles hitters with his fastball. Once again, the O's were able to get runners on but weren't able to cash in on these opportunities like the last two games.

Things started to unravel in the 3rd inning as Jimenez immediately walked the bases loaded. Fans were already calling for a new pitcher and the A's didn't even have 2 hits yet. You can sense that most Oriole fans have given up on the Ubaldo experiment and many seem to be counting down the days until we can get him off the payroll. Personally, I think this was just another case of Ubaldo pitching at Camden Yards.  This season, Jimenez's numbers at Oriole Park are atrocious while his stats on the road are above average. Over time, he'll be able to work out the kinks at home (fingers crossed) and can become the effective starting pitcher that we signed him to be.  Anyways, back to the game, as it was getting out of hands very quickly. With the bags full, Jimenez was finally able to get a pitch over the plate for a strike...except for the fact that John Jaso hit it 400 feet to dead center for a grand slam. Although it was reviewed and ruled a ground rule double, Brandon Moss would clean up the mess as he took Ubaldo deep for an actual grand slam, no review necessary. Jimenez's day was finally over and Buck turned to bullpen for mop up duty. Brad Brach was the first of two pitchers to finish the game and also had a hard time finding the strike zone. Although it wasn't as severe as Ubaldo, he also walked the bases loaded in the fifth causing Showalter to spell TJ MacFarland for long relief. Already 7-0, MacFarland gave up a hit and fielder's choice and a double to ultimately put the game out of reach in the top of the 6th.

Kazmir cruised through two more innings to finish out his day, relieved by Fernando Abad (....). MacFarland was one of the few bright spots for the Birds yesterday as he pitched 4+ innings of 1-run relief.  Steve Pearce collected 2 hits and that's about it...At least, the Jays and Yankees lost so we didn't lose any ground in the East. Unfortunately that's all the analysis I can muster from yesterday's game but if you thought it was bad to watch on TV, imagine being there.

June 7, 2014

Game 60: Cooking With Gaus

After a heartbreaking loss Friday, the Birds came into Saturday's game 6.5 games behind Toronto in third place.  If that wasn't enough, they would have to face one of the best pitchers in league. Sonny Gray boasts a 6-1 record with a 2.53 ERA. For the O's, Kevin Gausman received a spot start, looking to earn his first win as a starter.  Fans throughout the stadium were buzzing about the opportunity to see Gausman take the mound once again. In addition, Manny Machado bobblehead night filled the yard and wanted a win to go along with it. Machado got a massive ovation which also stemmed from his role in the confrontation with Josh Donalson last night.

Adam Jones got things started with a solo homer in the bottom of the first to get the crowd fired up. Gausman's only real mistake came up the third inning when hung a ball over the plate that Coco Crisp deposited into the flagcourt in right to even the score. The Orioles offense would respond immediately as they got runners on base frequently due to hard hits and situational hitting. Caleb Joseph (future battig champ) broke the tie with a long double into the right-center gap to plate David Lough. For Joseph, he continues to hit the ball well and I now prefer him to start over Nick Hundley.  Two batters later, Joseph would score on a Markakis single that slowly trickled by Jed Lowrie to make it 3-1. Two batters after that, Jones ripped an RBI single up the middle to score Markakis. It was a rare outing for Gray as he was unable to record a quality start. Coming into Saturday he was 5th in the AL in ERA. 

Gausman by that point had found hid groove, keeping the ball low with an extremely effective changeup that limited Oakland on the basepaths. He pitched seven strong innings of one-run ball, turning the lead over to the bullpen. The inning before, Baltimore saw a familiar face trot out of the bullpen in Jim Johnson. Johnson, met with a chorus of boos, continued with his 2014 struggles as he immediately gave up a long two-run homer to David Lough (!) to put the game out of reach. This brought the crowd to it's feet once again as Lough had another strong game in left.

Although Kyle Blanks got a two-run single off of O'Day (Matusz's runners), the bullpen finished off the game to create a rubber match for Sunday. For the first time in a week the O's did not register 10+ hits but hit the ball hard regardless off one of the best pitchers in the league. Ubaldo Jimenez will face another strong pitcher, Scott Kazmir to win the series. Gausman, as expected was lauded by fans for his performance and remains the "next guy up" if a rotation spot opens up now that Johan has torn his ACL, effectively ending his short stint in Baltimore.

Game 59: Who Says You Can't Steal Home?

Made the venture to Charm City this weekend to watch the boys in action for the first time since September 2012.  First off, the park looks phenomenal with new renovations and restaurants. Went to Dempsey's, had some killer fish tacos and made my way to my seats in left field. Didn't do a preview for the A's series but all I can say is that this team might be the most complete team in baseball. Although missing Josh Reddick, Oakland continues to dominant with a powerful offense, superb pitching and a shutdown bullpen. These factors were in full effect tonight as well.

Wei-Yin Chen got the start tonight as Miggy Gonzalez was placed on the DL. Chen's outing started out rough, allowing solo homers to Josh Donaldson and Derek Norris. Donaldson, by the way is arguably the best third baseman in baseball (sorry Manny). From that point on, Chen settled in and was in line for the win when he exited in the 7th. I'm not sure how Chen does it, his fastball just seems to jump out of his hand to deceive hitters. For the A's, Tommy Milone took the hill and the Orioles proceeded to hit him extremely well. However, the A's defense and poor hitting with runners on only allowed the Birds to push acrosd 3 runs.

An altercation took place between Machado and Donaldson that cleared both benches and bullpen. From point on it seemed to flip a switch for Manny. After starting off slow in his return to injury, he's started to hit the ball better, especially to all fields. Once the confrontation with Donaldson ended, you could tell that Manny's demeanor had changed completely.  His next at-bat, he crushed a solo homer into the Oakland bullpen.  You could notice the swagger coming from the 22-year old as he trotted around the bases. He would also make a diving stop, spinning amd throwing out a runner later in the game. Hopefully this gets Manny back on track and reverts himself to 2013 form.

Orioles continued success at the plate was a plus but their inability to cash in on scoring opportunity was a reason for tonight's loss. Besides Hundley and Cruz, each starter had a basehit. Hardy went 3-5 and Chris Davis hit his 9th homerun.

Now comes the part of the recap that ruined my night. The bullpen pitched great to keep the A's offense in check. Although O'Day allowed a tying run, Ryan Webb and Zach Britton tossed 3 scoreless innings to extend the game.  In the bottom of the 10th, Markakis led off the inning with a single back up the middle to put the winning run on.  After Machado sacrificed Nick to 2nd, Nelly Cruz worked a walk to set up a matchuo between Fernando Abad and Adam Jonss.  AJ, who owns lefties, seemed as though former Oriole great Jim Johnson would be the pitcher to relieve Abad. However, Bob Melvin left him in and to his surprise (not mine), Jones ripped a single to right field. Once the ball reachef the outfield the crowd roared as they tried to will Markakis around the bases to score the winning run. Alas, he was gunned down at home by Brandon Moss in a close play that was eventually confirmed by replay.  On the next at-bat, Davis was at the plate with runners in scoring position, Nelson Cruz made the decision to steal home since he wasn't being held on at third.  My initial reaction was shock because it looked like he wasn't even close. In reality he was a step or two away.  The park was quickly silenced as they moved to the 11th.

Evan Meek was summoned from the bullpen to our dismay, as he allowed a leadoff double to John Jaso and was quickly in scoring position.  With one out and Jaso at second, Alberto Callapso hit a routine grounder to Hardy and he bobble the ball to put runners on the corners instead of a man on third with two away.  Pinch hitter Stephen Vogt would then line a single past Machado to finally break the tie. Many say that the error was meaningful since he would've scored but actually, Machado would've played a step or two back had there been two outs.

Sean Doolittle would come on to close out the O's by striking out the side to preserve an Oakland win.  A demoralizing loss for Baltimore as they fell back to 30-29, as the Blue Jays and Yankees won again. Tonight they'll face one of the better pitchers in the league in Sonny Gray as Kevin Gausman makes a spot start in place of Miguel Gonzalez.

June 4, 2014

Game 56: Cruz Crushes 21st Homer, Rangers' Fans Hearts

2014-06-03 Nelson Cruz1
Cruzin': Nelson homers again in his return to Texas.
On Sunday we saw the Orioles clicking on all cylinders and yesterday we experienced a delightful case of deja vu.  Baltimore exploded for 8 runs on 17 hits in Texas with each starter contributing with at least abase hit.  The first three innings were relatively quiet as both starters tossed three scoreless frames. Baltimore were unable to push across a run despite 5 early hits off Joe Saunders.  Adam Jones led off the 4th inning with a solo homer down the right field line to break a scoreless tie.  Jones, 4-5 on the night was the catalyst for the Birds offense last night as he added three more singles and scored twice.

Adrian Beltre quickly responded with a solo homer of his own in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game. This was the only real blemish for Ubaldo Jimenez as he continued his success on the road in 2014 with 5.2 innings of 1-run ball.  He scattered four hits while striking out 5, showcasing an excellent command of the strike zone once again.  Saunders was hit relatively hard, allowing 2 runs on 10 hits through 6 innings but kept Texas in the game by limiting hits with RISP.  Delmon Young broke the 1-1 tie in the top of the 6th with a single to left plating Jones and Brian Matusz ended a potential Texas rally in bottom of the 6th.  However, Matusz would give up a solo shot to Robinson Chirinos next inning to keep Jimenez out of a potential decision.

Jason Frasor relieved Saunders in the top of the 7th with no outs and runners on, only to squander to Orioles chance to pad their lead.  Baltimore came up next inning to atone for the previous runners left on base and buried the Rangers' chances of a come from behind win with 6 runs on 6 hits in the inning.  Caleb Joseph, coming in to Tuesday's game with only 3 hits this season, gave the Orioles the lead with a deep double into the right-centerfield gap that plated Adam Jones.  From that point on, the floodgates were open as the inning was capped off by Nelson Cruz (no surprise here) and his monster 3-run shot to silence the crowd (Earl Weaver approves) and give the Birds an 8-2 lead.  Cruz, greeted with cheers and jeers throughout the game in his return to Texas, deposited Neal Cotts' offering into the left field bleachers for his ML-leading 21st homer and cleared out Globe Life Park as the O's would go on to win the series opener 8-3.  Baltimore received production from the entire lineup, especially the bottom tier as Young, Joseph & Schoop each tallied two hits.  Nick Markakis kept his hit streak alive with a 3-for-6 night, raising his streak to 8 games and batting average to .304.

As the Yankees would squander a late lead to the A's, Baltimore now moves back into a tie for second place.  Toronto maintained their division lead with a blown save from Joe Nathan in the 9th as Tampa and Boston were defeated on a pair of complete games.  O's take the field at 8:05 tonight as Bud Norris squares off against Nick Martinez.  Baltimore hopes to ride the wave of their current power surge and pick up a much needed series win heading into a tough weekend tilt with the Oakland A's (which I'll be in attendance for).

June 3, 2014

Texas Rangers Series Preview

After avoiding a disastrous series loss to the up and coming Houston Astros, the Birds were able to salvage the remaining two games to get back over .500 for the first two months of the season.  The most notable story from the past series has to be the injury to Nelson Cruz during Sunday's game.  Midway through the game, Cruz was hit on the wrist by former Oriole Scott Feldman.  Cruz was able to walk to first and eventually score later in the inning but was eventually replaced by David Lough for the remainder of the game.  Thankfully, x-rays came back negative and he is currently listed as Day-to-Day.  In the postgame interview, Buck was optimistic that Nelly would be able to return to the lineup for the series opener Tuesday in Texas.  Personally, I'm not opposed to Cruz taking a day off the let the presumed swelling on his hand heal.  However, this marks the first time that Cruz will return to Texas after spending 8 years in a Rangers uniform before he turned down a hefty offer in the offseason. Over the past month, Nelson has effectively carried the Orioles offense, slugging a club-record 13 homers in May, while winning player of the week honors for his most recent efforts to conclude May.  As for the rest of the lineup, Manny Machado & JJ Hardy finished the weekend strong as Machado belted his first career grand slam on Sunday to put the game out of reach.  It is noted that Manny has begun hit the ball much better than when he initially returned from the DL and looks as though he is return to pre-injury form. Hardy, although homerless in nearly his last 70 games dating back to last season, has raised his average back over .300 and continues to drive the ball to all fields.

One glaring problem is the slump that Chris Davis currently is in the midst of.  Since the Pittsburgh series, Crush has collected only 4 hits, lowering his average in the month of May to a dismal .209 after returning from the DL.  Davis was recently quoted that the team hasn't "clicked on all cylinders" yet this season and if his struggles at the plate continue, the Orioles will continue to play .500 baseball.  One can hope that a return to Texas will allow Crush to break out of his current funk and propel the Orioles' offense into the summer months of the regular season.

As for the Rangers, it seems like yesterday that the O's had faced them in the 2012 elimination game that gave us our first postseason appearance in over a decade.  This is a revamped Rangers squad that has been marred by injuries and offseason moves, shifting the dynamic of a ballclub that once toted a high-powered offense.  Texas made a splash during the winter by landing slugger Prince Fielder from Detroit, only to have his season cut drastically short due to his recent neck surgery.  Additionally, the trade effectively ended second baseman Ian Kinsler's tenure in a Rangers uniform and the loss of Nelson Cruz to the Orioles (thumbs up) has landed the Rangers in 29-28, sitting in 4th. place in the AL West behind the Oakland Athletics.  Fresh off a grueling 11-game road trip that accounted for 7 wins, Texas looks to build momentum against the Birds, with the pitching matchups going as followed:

Tuesday: Jimenez v. Saunders
Wednesday: Norris v. Martinez
Thursday: Gonzalez v. Lewis

The Orioles will be grateful to miss Yu Darvish in the rotation, who is bound for another All-Star appearance this summer in Minnesota and is a perennial Cy Young candidate in the AL.  In addition, this is a Ranger team that reverted back to their old ways in terms of pitching.  For years, Texas was incapable of having enough pitching to support their high powered offenses and with injuries to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, they once again find themselves in the bottom tier of the league in several major pitching categories.  The O's should be able to put runs on the board this series for starters like Jimenez and Norris who aren't blessed with the run support of one Wei-Yin Chen.  As for tonight's starters, Joe Saunders, he has struggled mightily pitching in Arlington since he has been acquired although he pitched a much needed gem for the O's back in the 2012 postseason on the Rangers' home field.  Ubaldo Jimenez has shook off his rough start to the 2014 season and rebounded quite nicely in his 6 starts in May, going 2-2 with a 3.12 ERA.  Jimenez's ERA on the road is nearly 2 points lower than when he takes the mound in Camden Yards and hopes to build on this success tonight.  Even with the depleted roster from recent years, the Rangers are still swinging the bats well, who rank 3rd in the majors in average and 6th in OBP.  Power numbers have dropped significantly from 2013 with the loss of Cruz, Fielder and Kinsler.  Leading the way for Texas is their other major acquisition this past winter, left fielder Shin Soo-Choo, leading the team in homers and OPS and Alex Rios who is hitting well over .300 while driving in a team high 29 runs this season. Joakim Soria bolsters their bullpen with a stellar 2.25 ERA while converting 11 of his 12 save opportunities in 2014.  

Another interesting storyline is the recent activation of 2-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana from the DL. Santana had been rehabbing for most of the season and is finally ready to get a shot at the rotation. This means that a starter will most likely be temporarily moved to the bullpen to make room for Johan.  All three starters in the series seem to be the most obvious choices to be moved although I don't believe that any of the five starters has pitched poorly enough to warrant a move to the bullpen.  Miguel Gonzalez was recently placed in the bullpen to allow Kevin Gausman a spot start in a similar situation and it appears that Gonzalez could have the inside track to the pen due to the success he had when put in that situation earlier.


Just wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself and the concept for this blog.  My name is Nick, recent college graduate from upstate New York living amongst a bevy of Yankees, Red Sox and Mets fans. Knowing my work ethic, this won't be updated consistently, simply a way to vent my feelings towards the Baltimore Orioles.  Hope that you enjoy what insight I have to offer this blog and always feel free to provide feedback/criticisms.