Archive for July, 2012

Baltimore, Are You Not Entertained?

July 25, 2012

Quick question to start things off. Will everyone who predicted that this coming series between the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland Athletics this week would have serious playoff implications please raise their hands?

Now put your hand down because no one would ever predict something that crazy.

Predictions aside the O’s and the A’s are right in the thick of things as the A’s currently hold the final wildcard spot while the Orioles sit only 2.5 games back (as does seemingly every other team in the American League). These clubs have been two of the best stories in baseball this season. Both teams have seen highs and lows over the course of the season and while the Oakland Athletics are white hot the Orioles seem to be warming up at the perfect time.

This is going to be a very telling series for both clubs as the winner will have a much better chance of earning that final wildcard spot.

Now a wildcard spot would be awesome for the O’s and I’m sure Baltimore would go into a frenzy just to see a game 163 but lets not forget what our expectations were at the beginning of the year. Many of us had our beloved birds pegged for 90+ losses and you would be hard pressed to find any fan in Baltimore that would declare an 82-80  season as a disappointment. After 14 consecutive losing seasons fans want to see a winner. It doesn’t matter if they finish 1 game over .500 or 20; the point is this city is desperate for a winning season.

So I ask you Baltimore, are you not entertained? Your Orioles have bit, scratched and clawed their way to a 51-47 record in hopes of finally delivering this City a much needed winning season. I want to see a playoff game as much as anyone else; especially as a 20 year old who cant remember the last time this town saw winning baseball.

The Orioles are capable of earning that playoff spot they so badly want, I think they can do it, but if they don’t it wont be the end of the world. As fans who have stuck by this team through so much this past decade and half we should have nothing but positives to say about this team as the players, manager, GM, and even the owner have shown progress and promise that this whole “winning” thing is not just a fluke but a mindset that will continue to grow in our ball club and our city.

So enjoy the final stretch and maybe we will see a little more Oriole magic; who knows what happens when you get into game 163 but wouldn’t it make for a great story if they did something magical?

Birds bounce back, win 50th fastest since 2005

July 23, 2012

Jim Thome got hot against his former team, belting home runs in each of the series’ first two games.

A little bit less than a week after it looked like the wheels were completely falling off on the O’s 2012 season, this group of Birds is proving much more resilient than many of their predecessors.

Apparently, trips to Minnesota and Cleveland were exactly what the doctor ordered, as Buck Showalter’s club has reeled off five consecutive victories, taking the final two against the Twins and the first three against the Indians.

If they can manage the four-game sweep in Cleveland today, it will be Baltimore’s first such accomplishment over the Indians in Ohio since way back in 1971.

The key over the past five days has been exactly what got the O’s started so hot to begin the 2012 campaign – pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Birds starters have turned in an extremely impressive five straight quality starts, with Wei-Yin Chen, Tommy Hunter, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Zach Britton all getting in on the act.

The O’s continue to give us fans heart attacks though, as their string of extremely close wins continues. With the exception of Friday night’s 10-2 bashing of the Tribe, eight of the team’s last 10 wins have been by a margin of one run, with the other two coming by a margin of two.

On Sunday afternoon, they entered the bottom of the ninth inning with a 4-0 lead before Cleveland put three on the board and had the tying and winning runs on base against closer Jim Johnson. Johnson held on for his MLB-leading 30th save, and the O’s won their 51st game of the season.

Speaking of 50+ wins, this year marks the second fastest that the team has reached that plateau in the last decade, and the fastest since 2005.

Dates that the O’s reached win #50:

2003: July 29
2004: August 6
2005: July 18
2006: August 5
2007: July 31
2008: July 27
2009: August 21
2010: September 4
2011: August 24
2012: July 21

With the Yankees getting swept in Oakland, their lead over the O’s in the American League East is down to just six games. In the Wild Card race, the O’s and A’s are tied for the second spot, just 0.5 games behind Anaheim.

Hopefully the Birds can get the sweep today, as Hunter takes on Justin Masterson. Worst case scenario, the Birds have paid the Tribe back after Cleveland came in to Baltimore and took three of four at the end of June.

O's free fall continues

July 17, 2012

I tried to take all of the well-reasoned, articulate arguments to heart.

This year was not going to be like 2005, because that team was full of over-performing veterans who were getting lucky.

This year was not going to be like 2005, because that team was managed by a guy with no track record in the Majors, while this year we have Buck Showalter at the helm.

This year was not going to be like 2005 for any number of reasons that I – and other O’s fans – wanted so desperately to believe about a month or so ago as the team continued to hover ~10 games above .500 approaching the All-Star break.

Well, one week after the All-Star Game, 2012 suddenly feels nauseatingly familiar in its similarity to 2005.

The O’s got smacked around in Minnesota last night to the tune of 19-7, a game in which starting pitcher Chris Tillman lasted a mere 2/3 of an inning. Not exactly the way he wanted to follow up the near-complete-game shutout he tossed in his last major league outing just before the break.

That’s right, the Minnesota Twins embarrassed the Birds this time. Not the hard-hitting Texas Rangers or powerhouse New York Yankees, but the Twinkies, who entered the game with an American League-worst 36-52 record, and a MLB-worst -89 run differential.

Those guys made mince meat out of our once-upstart Orioles.

The wheels appear to be coming off the O’s 2012 season in rapid, spectacular fashion.

The last high point on record for the Birds came in late June, when they took two of three from the Atlanta Braves in Atlanta. Since that series, they are an abysmal 6-17 over their last 23 games.

Yet, as ugly as that 6-17 mark appears, the way they have gone about it is even UGLIER. The stretch has been marked by blowout losses and skin-of-their-teeth wins.

To whit:

Four of their six wins over that stretch were by one run; the other two were two-run victories.

They’ve lost by 12 runs TWICE over the same stretch.

It’s been over a month since the O’s last won a game by three or more runs (June 16 in Atlanta, 5-0).

Over those last 23 games, the Birds have been outscored by a grand total of 72 (!!!) runs, or an average of over three per game.

I honestly never thought I’d see the team perform this incompetently under Buck.

They can’t hit, can’t get on base, can’t run the bases competently once they get there, can’t hit with runners in scoring position, can’t field, and can’t pitch.

Oh, and their best starting pitcher just had knee surgery and will be out for who knows how long.

And yet…they remain three games above .500, and right in the thick of the American League Wild Card race.

That’s what the Orange Kool-Aid drinkers will tell you. They’ll say that the Birds could rebound and take three of four in Minnesota, and perhaps this 19-7 stomping will be seen as just the kick in the pants they needed.

While I obviously hope that is the case, and that the Birds can put this disgusting stretch of play behind them, nothing in the recent past suggests that there is even the most remote chance that will transpire.

The .500 mark is rushing up from below to meet the Birds at break-neck speed. The question doesn’t seem to be “if” they will hit it, only “when.”

And after they do, how much further will they fall?

Has Miguel Gonzalez Earned a Spot in the Rotation?

July 17, 2012

I would say definitely.

Miguel Gonzalez has been one of the many great stories that have happened in Baltimore this season and he could not have emerged at a better time. With the exception of Wei-Yin Chen the Orioles’ Ppening Day 5-man rotation is either in the minors or on the disabled list; Jason Hammel was placed on the 15 day DL and had surgery on a loose piece of cartilage earlier today.

Although Gonzalez’s sample size is small in the majors it is impressive. In his first three appearances for the Orioles Gonzalez pitched out of the bullpen going three innings or more in each of those contests and held his opponents to only one run in each outing. After going down to the minors to get ready to be used as a starter he was able to duplicate his success and held a very hot Angels team to only 1 run while going 7 strong innings and earning himself the W.

In Gonzalez’s second start he was able to go only 5 2/3 innings but still held a very potent Detroit lineup to only 3 runs, giving himself and his team more then enough to earn a victory; unfortunately he was going up again the guy I think is the game’s best pitcher in Justin Verlander, who held the Orioles to only 3 hits.

Miguel Gonzalez has a lot of the qualities you want to see in a starting pitcher – he doesn’t get rattled after giving up a run, keeping him out of the big inning, and he seems to be able to  to execute the clutch pitches when he needs them the most in order to get out of jams. I like Gonzo as a starter; he gives the Orioles a chance to win which is something fans didn’t see as often as we would like from Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz and Dana Eveland.

However if the offense doesn’t flip a switch and start scoring runs quality pitching is a moot point. Hopefully the infuse of the young trio that includes Gonzalez, a new-and-improved Chris Tillman (this piece was written prior to Monday night’s debacle in Minny) and  a healthy Zach Britton can spark the Orioles’ bats and get this team back on track and keep them in the playoff hunt.

Machado shines, Bundy picks up W in Futures Game

July 9, 2012

O’s prospects Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy had their say in last night’s MLB Futures Game in Kansas City, as both contributed to the U.S. team’s 17-5 win over the World team.

Bundy was far from perfect, allowing 3 hits in his one inning pitched. However, he managed to do so without giving up a single run, and because the U.S. took a lead they would not relinquish during the inning he pitched, it was Dylan who notched the “W,” despite pitching only the fourth inning.

Machado flashed some leather, snagging a soft line drive that appeared destined for left field and turning it into an easy double play in the top of the sixth. In the bottom of the same inning, he roped a 2-run double to the wall in left field for his sole hit in three at bats.

Click here to see video of Machado’s night.

Bundy is 5-2 with a 1.87 ERA in 15 total games (eight in low A Delmarva, seven in high A Frederick) this season.

Machado is batting .264 with seven dingers, 48 RBIs and 10 stolen bases for AA Bowie.

Speaking of Bowie, get down to the Baysox game tonight if you want to see Chris Tillman start and Nick Markakis DH.

Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen are O's best starters by far

July 6, 2012

The following is a guest post from A.J. Gersh of The Orioles News. Check out his work at TheOriolesNews.com, or find him on twitter at @theoriolesnews. A.J. will be a regular contributor to the Nest going forward, specializing in Sabermetric analysis of the O’s.

Sabermetrics play a key role in evaluating players in the MLB. One such statistic is WAR (Wins Above Replacement). This helps fans understand which players are most valuable to their team.

The WAR stat pretty much says, “This is how many fewer games your team will win if this player is replaced with a bench or AAA level player.” Your average player is going to have a WAR total of 2-3 at the end of the season.

Another stat is FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). This measures what a pitcher’s ERA should look like assuming the balls in play and timing were league average.  FIP looks at strikeouts, walks, home runs, and hit by pitches. It evaluates the skill of the pitcher and the pitcher only, while ERA has can be effected by defenders, the official scorer, and the hitter.

Rating FIP
Excellent 2.90 or below
Great 3.25
Above Average 3.75
Average 4.00
Below Average 4.20
Poor 4.50
Awful 5.00

 

This season, the Orioles rotation has had it’s ups and downs. Two of the five starters have established themselves as a clear 1-2 punch.

Jason Hammel with a WAR of 2.5 and Wei-Yin Chen, 1.4, both have ERAs under 4 and have been very valuable to the O’s this season.

As we are nearing the All-Star break, Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen (as you see below), have been two of the most valuable pitchers on the Orioles. According to the WAR stat, without them, the Orioles would be around 40-42 (The team is currently 44-38).

Name W  L  SV  G  GS  IP  K/9  BB/9  HR/9  BABIP  LOB%  GB%  HR/FB  ERA  FIP  xFIP  WAR
Jason Hammel  8  4  0 16  16  99.2  8.76  3.07  0.72 . 286   72.9  53.6   10.1  3.43  3.22   3.34    2.5
Wei-Yin Chen   7  4   0   16  16   99.0  6.64  2.73    1.09    .272      73.9   37.5     9.5     3.64   4.14   4.43    1.4

 

The biggest difference between the two is their FIP. Jason Hammel’s ERA is higher than his FIP because the defense of the Orioles has caused an inflated Earned Run Average. Because he doesn’t give up many home runs or hit many batters, his FIP is low. Chen, on the other hand, averages over 1 earned run per nine innings. He also averages over two less strikeouts per game. These factors cause his FIP to jump over 4.00, when his ERA (which is deceiving) is 3.64.

Jake Arrieta had a 4.02 FIP before last night’s horrid start. Though his ERA is 6.13, he throws a ton of strike outs and does not get help from the O’s defense, causing his FIP to decrease.

Brian Matusz (5.11), Dana Eveland (6.38), and Tommy Hunter (5.74) all have been absolutely horrid when it comes to evaluating Fielding Independent Pitching. Hopefully Chris Tillman (2.11 after one start) and Miguel Gonzalez can help the Orioles pitching staff lead the team into the playoffs.

Another side stat on Matusz, Eveland, and Hunter: The combined WAR of these three starters is 0.0.

How active should the Orioles be at the trade deadline?

July 2, 2012

That’s a tough question but I think the argument could be made for both sides – that they should be “buyers” or that they should stand pat.

The first question that needs to be answered is do we trust our farm system to deliver the quality pitchers this team will need in order to make a legitimate run at the post season? After Jason Hammel (who all of you reading this need to go vote for to be the final AL player added to the all star roster) and Wei-Yin Chen, the reliability aspect of O’s starters takes huge drop off. Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter have all gone from promising starters at the beginning of the year to complete question marks. Arrieta is the only one of the trio who has not yet been demoted to a minor league affiliate although he has seen his time in the bullpen as of late.

So with a serious need for starting pitching and the all star break fast approaching Orioles fans are left to wonder what the rotation will look like when the season resumes on July 13th.

If management decides to roll the dice and let the young arms waiting in the farm system try and solidify the starting rotation we could bee looking at a number of call up combinations involving Chris Tillman, Zach Britton and Miguel Gonzalez who has been just short of spectacular in each of his relief appearances with the big club. I would rather see the Orioles take this road as opposed to dealing out a top level prospect for one starter who will end up being a number three at best.

Why not take a chance with these guys? We have all seen how well Gonzalez can pitch as a long reliever and he has starting experience in the minors. Britton was knocking on the door to be the Orioles ace last year before having to battle his way to a 11-11 record after injury. Then there is Tillman, the man who we never thought would ever make it back to the show after being consistently knocked around early in his career but who has somehow found new life and sits on an 8-8 record with AAA Norfolk, while averaging just over one strikeout per inning.

It’s still two weeks before the all star break but lets be honest, the Orioles are not contending for a pennant so why deplete the farm system in hopes of acquiring a Mat Garza or a Ryan Dempster, who will most likely end up being a number three guy?

Adding Jim Thome was a great move on managements part; it may not be the flashy signing that Orioles fans wanted but it did settle down the DH revolving door. With one position sorted out you move on to the next spot and if we can fulfill the pitching needs with pieces already in place in the minors the Orioles would have more bargaining chips to work with in hopefully acquiring a solid third baseman and another outfielder.

The Birds are “scuffling,” as Back would say, but they are still right in the thick of a wild card hunt. Baseball is all about making adjustments, if the Orioles want to stay in that wild card picture they need to make some moves and adjust to injuries and problems that have surfaced in the first half of the season.


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