What a Strange Week

What a strange week it was for Birdland. Entered the week on a high, Tillman was lights out to finish off the Tigers, to build a 2 game lead and tie the Jays for the top wild card spot. The O’s were 2 games back of the Red Sox and headed to Fenway. Then the roller coaster that began the week before came through the start and took off faster than last time. We all know what happened, Wade Miley making us wish we had Wade Wilson, Bundy struggling through some command issues but getting the run support Gausman never has. Then we were treated to the duelling pitchers that were Gausman and Porcello, with Porcello making the only big mistake by serving one up to Trumbo. For Gausman it was without a doubt his best outing of the season.

They rode high, 2-3 from the Sox in Fenway?! Headed home to face Tampa for 4? Could you have dreamed up a better scenario? Oh we Gallardo, Jiménez, and Miley starting? Well, who would’ve thought that Miley would have the best start of the series? The emotions we’re all over the place; up, down, and confused by not really knowing how to react to Wade Miley going 4 scoreless innings and being saddened by him leaving the game.

It was shocking, and having lost 2 of the first 3 I was concerned about what it would look like as Boston came to town on Monday. But let’s look back a little bit, Tampa just took 3 of 4 in Toronto. Toronto is not an easy place to win, it’s a loud stadium and the Jays are undeniably a good team. Tampa also has been noted are ‘free swingers’, much like the Orioles, living and dying off the long ball. The worrying part for the Orioles came when they couldn’t cash in Thursday night. Twice they had 2nd and 3rd with nobody out, and 1st and 3rd with one out down 1 in the bottom of the 9th. No runs. The frustration level was at the max.

A series split, combined with an implosion by the Blue Jays, and Yankees, and the Orioles are sitting in a good spot.

Starting with the Tigers series (which seems like so long ago), the common notion has been that every series was a “must win”. Well a win there, a series win in Boston, and a split with the Rays have the Orioles 3 back in the division. It may require a monumental feat to win the division. A series win this week still only gets the Orioles within 1. The Red Sox have been hot there’s no denying it (11-5 in September), they head to Tampa, and Yankee Stadium, before finishing off with the Blue Jays after the 4 game set here, there might not be anything the Orioles can do.

The roller coaster is sure to continue this week with Boston and then Arizona at OPACY.

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Enjoying the Ride

Baseball is supposed to be fun. It’s the reason we come out to the ballpark, watch on TV, or play a game of our own. Over the last few years Orioles fans have had a lot to be excited about, the team has been competitive. They hit the ball out of the park better than any other team. The defense (the infield particularly) plays lights out making, plays that leave us gaping.

But it’s frustrating when they get blown out. And with the rotation the way it is, it happens far too frequently. Blowouts are not fun. It doesn’t matter what side of it you’re on, they don’t really keep you engaged in the game. It’s easy to lose interest as the game can’t be changed with a single swing of the bat, a diving grab, or a cutting pitch that leaves a batter frozen knowing he’s just been wrung up.

The excitement, win or lose, comes from those close competitive games. The pitching staff has gotten the team off on the wrong foot all season, the first inning being statistically the worst with 97 (0.65/game) runs against, accounting for 15% of the Orioles runs given up.

The thing to take out of this though is to enjoy the games that can contain our interest. The emotional ride is what keeps fans coming out. Blowouts, no matter what side of it you’re on don’t keep your interest. Birdland twitter was a fun place to be on Friday and Sunday. Saturday, had a lot of positivity, but wasn’t thoroughly engaging. Monday it was an awful place. The Wade Miley debacle compounded with the off field divisiveness that has begun to bleed in from the Kaepernick protest, made twitter a very negative place, and upon reflection, didn’t make me feel any better about seeing my team give up 6 runs in two innings.

Living in Canada, I don’t get to watch Orioles games with other Oriole friends (outside of my recently converted spouse who had no real allegiance). I enjoy watching with friends who are Jays fans, but they always ask ‘Why is Camden so empty?’ I can only imagine that part of it (outside of the weekday games) is the fear of going and witnessing what we saw last night. It wouldn’t be fun. I’ve been lucky to see 8 Oriole games this year in Houston, Toronto, and Baltimore. I’m 3-5, I was 0-5 before heading down to Baltimore for the sweep over Cleveland. The thing about the 8 games I saw, only one was a blowout. One game had the Orioles giving up 5 in the first, but ended up losing 10-9, with Pedro coming about 5 short of a grand slam that would have given them the lead. If all 5 games had been blowouts I probably would have still gone to Baltimore, but who can say. But I was always there for multiple games in a series. The combined score in those 8 games? 38-38. The games and series were entertaining, they kept me wanting more. It’s the totality of the games that have me making the trip again for the final two games in the Arizona series.

As sports fans we’re emotional people. We react to the moment, good or bad, and quite often without thinking. The ride for the last few years has been fun. And I’m looking forward to the next 19 games, but we need to keep things in perspective and enjoy the ride as maddening as it may make you. The one run game is the drug of the baseball fan, it keeps us on the edge of our seat or pacing in the house. Here’s hoping we all wear out a nice path in the carpet.

On to Detroit

This may come as a shock, but it’s important to get out to leads early. The O’s play .792 baseball when taking a lead in to the 2nd inning. Detroit struggles mightily coming back in games. When tied of trailing after 4 the Tigers are playing .370 baseball.

Need to get out of the first. Tampa scored in the first inning in all three games at the graveyard that is The Trop. The rotation has been a problem, but of late hasn’t been as terrible over the course of the last month. On the whole the 1st inning has been the worst for the O’s giving up 15% of runs in the opening inning. The 6th has also been problematic, that being said the Orioles are playing .805 when leading or tied going in to the 6th.

On the Mound
Gausman, Jiménez, and Tillman (pending a throwing session Friday) are slated to go in this series. Gausman and Ubaldo are both coming off of great starts against the Yankees and Rays. Gausman in particular has been very good since the beginning of August with a single poor outing in San Francisco a long time ago now. Ubaldo fresh of his complete game win over the Rays, comes in and will have Zimmerman as a counterpart on Saturday. Zimmerman, who has had a couple of outings in Toledo, will be making his second start since the All-Star break. Tillman should be making the start Sunday after having some good rehab sessions for his shoulder problem. He’ll be opposite Verlander who’s had a resurgence this year.

On the Sticks and in the Field
Davis’ sore hand seems to be something he’s been dealing with all year and he’s been playing well recently at the plate and all season in the field. Manny, not much more needs to be said here, he’s been great all season and will be relied upon.

Calling Mr. Jones, the captain has had a bit of a down year, and the series against the Rays didn’t go well, 2 for 15 with 4 Ks in a series where the O’s scored 24 runs is a worry. Now’s when the team needs him to have a pick-me-up series. The leadoff man needs to get on base.

JJ Hardy has been a consistently been able to bring home 26% of all RISP this year despite struggling a bit at the plate. His stalwart defensive play is going to be relied upon as he makes up ¼ of a great defensive infield.
I expect we’ll see Kim back in the lineup for 1 or 2 games this weekend, but he’ll be battling for playing time with Pearce. Kim’s slowed down a bit batting .275 with a .340 OBP since the beginning of August (100 PA).

With the Tigers a single game back and Boston facing Toronto the Orioles have a great opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the Tigers as well as catching or surpassing either of Boston (2GB) or Toronto (1GB).

Rays Series – Letting One Get Away

It’s the first inning, look back, way back, that’s right it’s another home run given up by the Orioles starting rotation in a stadium where the only fans are the ghosts of Rays fans passed.

The Orioles came in to the series 18-23 when trailing after the first and it looks like the pitching staff was determined to help the team turn that number around, giving up a home run in each of the first innings.

The first two games were really a tale of the first inning vs. the last 8. Ubaldo settled in and pitched a complete game (you can keep pinching yourself but it did happen) after giving up 3 on his first inning dinger to Logan Morrison. He really came in and settled down well. If he’s finding his groove it couldn’t come at a better time. Ubaldo talked about working on his mechanics and if he can find the form of his younger self the rotation looks good heading in to the stretch.

Gallardo tried to one-up Ubaldo but couldn’t quite get there. He gave up a solo shot in the first to Logan Forsythe, and then found his stuff giving up 5 hits in 5 innings for the win. The O’s beat up on Odorizzi for 7 runs with Machado hammering out his 3rd grand slam of the year.

Bundy not wanting to be left out gave up his first inning home run to Kiermaier. Bundy was brutal, giving up 5 in the 3.2 innings. The offence tried to keep the starter in the game, but after the Rays tied it up it was the end of his afternoon. The bullpen gave up 2 in the subsequent 4.1 innings. This has the feel of a game that really could come back to bite the team in the long run, though the Detroit series looming large this weekend may very well have been on peoples minds.

Barring an implosion like this again from Bundy it looks like one of Jiménez, Gallardo, or Miley will be headed to the bullpen. The question is who. My best guess says it ends up being Miley as Jiménez and Gallardo have had some decent outings recently. Heading in to Detroit for the weekend we’ll see Gausman, Miley, and what should be Tillman’s return to the rotation. We should be able to find out if Tillman does go Sunday who will be moving off the rotation as someone will be missing a start from one of the pitchers who give them a good chance to win every time out.

A series win in Detroit will go a long way to giving the team some breathing room in the playoff race. With Toronto and Boston facing each other this weekend it could help the O’s vault over one of the teams to the top WC spot.

Quick Thoughts – Ublado’s CG

So I was driving home during game one of the series against Tampa. With the spotty reception in rural Ontario, the game kept going in and out. First inning and I’m cursing in the car. Yesterday it was Miley, today it’s Ubaldo. Man that piece on Gausman to the Rescue really was right about only 3/5’s of the rotation being useful. But as I drove Ublado settled down much like the dog in the back of the car. Top of 3 and Kim gets to third, Jones on First. Reception gone. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Commercial break. I’m thinking that Pedro or Manny was able to get the sac fly at the very least. Well we all know how it turned out. I get reception back to hear Ubaldo go 1, 2,  3 in the 4th. I’m seeing a repeat of yesterday against the Yanks. Just can’t get the runs to come. Battling with the reception as we approach home I think of turning the game off and waiting it out. I’m glad I didn’t. The Orioles (outside of Davis’ home run to start things off got some people on base, and were finally able to cash in with the old RISP.

I’d be lying if I said that I thought Ubaldo would “save the season”, but in a weekend that was dominated by the rotation (outside of Miley, who wasn’t terrible outside of the first inning). I don’t wan to get my hopes up, but if Ubaldo can steady himself as an actual #4 starter in the rotation the Birds will have a shot to push Boston and Toronto to claim the division. Still 7 against Boston, so the fate of the season is very much in the hands of the Birds.

Two more left here, with Bundy on the mound Wednesday. It’s not inconceivable to get all 3, heading in to Detroit with Gausman and Tillman ready to go, and maybe O’Day back in the pen. The situation sets the Orioles up with a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Tigers while gaining or leaping over the Red Sox or Jays.

The Sky Hasn’t Fallen

August was turbulent to say the least, the rotation was up and down. The bullpen has run in to trouble since the All-Star break, and the bats have been a little quieter scoring less than 3 runs in the 23 of the last 46 games. If you haven’t been paying close attention, the Orioles are horrendous when scoring less than 3.

A case for optimism can be made as Bundy and Gausman have been pitching well lately. Miley had a decent outing against Toronto, but consistency has been his problem which explains why the Mariners, also in the playoff hunt, weren’t sad to see him go. Buck should be looking for 16-17 solid innings out of these 3, knowing that Bundy will probably be held to 5 regardless of how his night is going.

The hot and cold offence needs to find some consistency for the rest of the season as the team opens the 3 game set against the Yankees tonight. If the Orioles could get Trumbo to change one thing, it would be develop Davis’ eye. Davis known for having a good eye, may set a personal record for walks this season. His OPS and OPS+ are down from last year, but that can mostly be attributed to the awful post All-Star break slump he found himself in, which has rebounded a bit.

The defence will always give this team a chance to win, the question will be if the rotation and bats show up. It all starts tonight.

The Reinforcements?

In the hours before August and the MLB waiver deadline the Orioles added 3 players to help in the home stretch. Kyle Lobstein, Drew Stubbs, and the ancient one that is Michael Bourn.

In Lobstein the Orioles have acquired a young lefty who couldn’t crack the rotation in Pittsburgh. Lobstein’s 1.46 WHIP, and HR/9 of 0.8 are numbers that should look familiar in the Baltimore rotation, not the upgrade necessary. That being said, Lobstein should be able to spot fill if Buck decides that Bundy’s innings are getting to high. Let’s not forget that while Bundy has been spectacular of late, he’s already pitched more innings this year than the last three combined. The troubling numbers if Lobstein is to spot fill is the high BB:K ratio at 4:5, a BAbip against of .295, and a FIP of 4.67 which really can’t get much worse (let’s hope he doesn’t try). The upside for Lobstein is the 2 years of team control, if he can find himself a grove he could be a nice addition to an already strong bullpen.

Michael Bourn, who seems like he should be far older than 33, comes to Orioles from the horrible team in Arizona. Bryan Grosnick and Steve Givraz in their article  at Baseball Prospectus note that Bourn, as you could expect, has seen his speed drop off over the last few years. He’s got a neutral WAR (0.1) and is fielding at .965, which is actually lower than Trumbo who he’ll probably take some fielding time from.

Stubbs should be the player with the most immediate impact on the O’s postseason hopes. He’s a solid defender, who will be able to help solidify the outfield that has been far less effective than the stalwart infield. With Jones recovering from a hamstring injury and Reimold struggling at the plate since the walk-off pinch hit HR against the Indians, Stubbs should have the chance in Baltimore he wasn’t getting in Texas to get some time in the outfield. It probably means that Trumbo gets more time at DH, and Kim will be given a few more days off after being an almost every day player.

All stats sourced from Baseball-reference.com

The Roller-coaster of August

As we enter September, there’s 28 games left on the Orioles schedule, 13 at home in the friendly confines of Camden Yards (.642) leaving 15 road games where the O’s have been abjectly horrendous (.439), winning at a clip that many predicted this team would be around overall.

The last month for Birdland has been a ride that would give even the most experienced seamen green in the face. The team has homered its way out of jams all season, but even in August where the team hit 55 home runs, only 13 wins came in the 29 games leaving the team clinging to a tie for the 2nd wild card spot with Detroit.

So as we approach the climax of the season it’s time to ask, when did this all start to fall apart? The lead always seemed frail. The Blue Jays bullpen couldn’t continue to be so bad could it? The Red Sox and Big Pappi were bound for a push in his final summer.

August started with the Rangers and on the road to the White Sox, the Birds were able to take 4 of 6 games here posting some nice wins while keeping the opposition to 15 runs in the 6 games. We saw Dylan Bundy get some starts throwing like we all imagined when he was drafted, some run support out of the gate for Gausman, and Ubaldo pitching well out of the pen.

As the team left Chicago for the west coast though the season starts to slip away, the Orioles inexplicably having a tough time (.357) before the trip against the AL West. Oakland took 3 of 4, the team bounced back as the Giants floundered after the All-Star break and were able to take 2 of 3 from San Fran. But heading back home they took 1 of 6 losing both to the Red Sox and 3 of 4 to an Astros team that swept the Baltimore earlier this year. Giving up 50 runs in 6 games it’s amazing this team was able to pull out 1 win.

The pitching settled and the team took 3 of 4 from the Nats, although the pen really tried to give one up late. But the roller coaster continued as the team only took 2 of 6 (1 each) from the Yankees and Jays. Pitching again the story here as in the last 8 games the O’s pitchers gave up 52 runs in 8 games.

The calendar turns and the team needs to find itself. Tillman should be back this week, after a good simulation outing. The Yankees come to Charm City with Bundy, Gausman, and Miley slated to get the starts. Bundy and Gausman have been coming on strong, though Bundy’s velocity has dropped as of late and Gausman will face Sabathia. Miley had a decent last outing, but overall a disappointment. Gausman needs to go deep on Saturday as Bundy will be out around 6 innings, and if Miley can come out any time after 5 with a lead it’ll be time to get Givens in there to bring it forward.

On the sticks and in the field we’ve probably seen the last of Pedro. He’s been great in the DH spot after starting slowly, but with the additions of Stubbs and Bourn, and Jones coming back expect to see Trumbo head to DH as the team will sacrifice some power for speed and defence.

Where do they go from here? The season and a playoff spot will hinge on the 7 remaining games with Boston and 3 in Detroit. Tillman needs to return strong and the bullpen needs to bail out the rest of one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball. If the team is going to get to October, it needs to start winning some games on the road. The .439 road winning percentage is 11th in the AL, a mere .500 record would have them in a dead heat with Toronto.

It starts with taking 2 at home this weekend.