Am I The Only One?

Another season in the books. Afterwards, was I the only one who…

…Thought the reaction from Adam Jones toward the Toronto stands after a beer can came flying at Hyun-Soo Kim’s head was entirely justified? Adam is a leader of the team who has been questioned throughout the year by some of the Baltimore fanbase for swinging at bad pitches and starting the year off slow enough for Buck to permanently move him to the lead-off spot. But, as one would probably assume, on-the-field play isn’t the entire spectrum when it comes to the chemistry of a baseball team, and Jones displayed some of the hidden emotion with his very angry defense of his teammate. There is little as impressive in professional sports than to see human emotion displayed by the leaders of a team, and AJ has a knack for doing it at the right times. Kudos to his gut reaction and sticking up for his teammate.

…Thinks that if the Orioles are not able to sign Mark Trumbo, who had his best major league season this year and led the majors in homeruns, that Pedro Alvarez would be a good second option? Odds are, if Trumbo were to be brought back, it would be a role in which he found himself playing DH much more often than he did in 2016. Alvarez, a left-handed hitter, already fills that role. With the power he has displayed throughout his career, it could easily be beneficial for him to see more consistent playing time and opportunity to put up the big power numbers he showed off during his days in Pittsburgh. He will most definitely come cheaper than Trumbo, for good reason, but if the Orioles are concerned about money due to their upcoming contract discussions with Manny Machado, Chris Tillman, and Kevin Gausman, cheaper may have to be the path they choose.

…Thinks the lack of attendance this season was a bit embarrassing? It seems to me, according to a lot of social media outlets at least, that Orioles’ fans pride themselves on being able to fill the stadium better than a lot of teams. Most notably, I remember discussions during the O’s dark years about how Camden Yards was consistently more filled than a place like Tropicana Field, home to a perennial playoff Tampa Bay Rays team. However, now that the shoe is on the other foot, Camden Yards sat half full almost every night, allowing Boston and New York fans to take over when their teams were in town. “Fenway Park South” is the nickname for OPACY, and that is not a compliment to any sort of historical milestone. Baltimore is a blue collar football town, for sure, but surely O’s fans can do a better job of filling the seats when their team is in the running for a playoff spot.

…Thinks that not making any attempt to sign David Price last off-season was one of the best moves the front office made? Price, who is pitching for Boston, lost again in the playoffs last night. He has a 2-8 record and a 5.54 ERA in playoff games in his career, putting him up near the top of the most unreliable pitchers in the playoffs in the modern era. Don’t get me wrong- he’s a good pitcher, as his 3.21 career ERA shows, but when you want your ace to win the big game, it’s got to be frustrating to watch him go out there and throw a dud time and time again. Maybe him and Clayton Kershaw should join a support group together.

…believes that speaking of starting pitching, the Orioles should be hands off again this off-season when it comes to free agent starters? There are two guys on the market that are worth any value as a player who could improve the rotation. Rich Hill, who is 37, is undeserving of any long-term contract, and has battled hand issues during the entire second half of the season. Hill, who has played in Baltimore before, resurrected his career this season by pitching lights out ball in Oakland before being traded to the Dodgers at the deadline. The other name is Doug Fister. Fister, who is younger, would be more attractive if the market wasn’t going to drive his asking price through the roof. The conversation will always revert back to money because the Orioles have a limit and they also have forthcoming contracts. Overpaying for a guy like Fister would be a mistake. It will be better for the Orioles to continue to rely on Tillman and Gausman, let Bundy work back up to a full season workload, and find their 4th and 5th starter in Spring Training.

…feels a little bit bad for Ubaldo Jimenez? Let’s be real here. The guy pitched some insanely good baseball for the last two months. A ton of people were calling for him to start the game against Toronto in the playoffs. Buck’s decision to bring him in during the 11th inning was not a black mark on Jimenez, despite him giving up two singles and a homerun to end the game. Buck should have known his player better; Ubaldo, more often than not, begins his game shaky. Hitters are batting .331 off of him with seven homeruns, 28 RBIs, and 27 walks in his first 15 pitches of the game. On top of that, he has a 6+ ERA against Toronto this year in 21 innings pitched. Jimenez has proven in the media that he cares about this team. He has shed tears on TV for God sake. And before you make that horrid “well, he makes millions of dollars” argument, tell me the last time the amount of money you made affected how much you cared about the effort you put into wanting to do something well. Maybe it’s time we give the guy some slack- without his stellar performance in the stretch toward playoff time, this team wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play in the wildcard game.

The Britton Debacle

You can blame Buck Showalter all you want about his decision not to bring in Zach Britton in the 11th inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Blue Jays. It’s the easy thing to do, to say the least. We watched in anguish as Ubaldo Jimenez was chosen by Buck to come in as a relief pitcher, and then almost as quickly as it took him to walk from the bullpen, give up two singles and a homerun to end the game. And so the question bares asking- Why not Bitton?

“Nobody has been pitching better for us than Ubaldo, too, so there are a lot of different ways to look at it,” Showalter stated. This is a true statement. It is also something that many opponents of Buck’s decision seem to forget.

Ubaldo Jimenez had a rough first half of the season, there is no doubt about that. But, he improved himself so much in the last two months that there was a fairly large outcry from a portion of the fanbase that he should have been the starter for the game against Toronto. It seemed as if everyone was jumping on the Jimenez bandwagon, and with good reason. He found command of his fast ball. He was pitching great baseball. He was limiting damage to keep his team in the game and he was becoming the dominant pitcher that he showed he could be in his years in Colorado.

So when the decision arose for Buck to decide who to bring into the game in the 11th to hold the lead yet again, he went with the hot hand, not the closer. Showalter made it apparent after the game that he decided this because he needed to keep Britton in case the Orioles’ offense, the real culprit for the loss, ever decided to score a run and put their team on top. But as fate would have it, Showalter would never have the opportunity to get his All-Star lefty in the game and he and Jimenez took the fall.

It’s easy to look back and criticize Showalter’s decision not to bring in the best closer in the game. However, it’s a much harder task to understand that Buck saw that the situation didn’t call for his closer. He needed a stopper. Someone that he has been able to rely on lately to get the job done resolutely and permanently. And so, he brought in his hottest starting pitcher to face the middle of the Blue Jays lineup and everything imploded.

In fact, one might argue that Buck’s decision to pinch hit for Hyun-Soo Kim with Nolan Reimold, who proceeded to strike out on three pitches, all out of the strike zone (it took him 25 seconds from first pitch to final swing-and-miss), was the final nail in the coffin. With other options on the bench, most notably 22 home run guy Pedro Alvarez, it seemed as if Buck could have made a better decision by forgetting the statistical matchups and sending Alvarez up there to hack away. He couldn’t have done any worse than Reimold did.

But, let’s put all that behind us and try to understand one thing. There is no fairness in demanding Buck Showalter be fired from his job because he made a decision that did not work out. There is a reason behind Buck’s continued success wherever he goes as a manager, and he is especially well known for his ability to play matchups and make in-game decisions that generally work to his favor. To banish the guy to the same realm as Lee Mazzilli, Ray Miller, Mike Hargrove, Sam Perlozzo, Juan Samuel, and Dave Trembley is utterly disappointing and a bit unnerving considering that is the same kind of mindset Peter Angelos ran the team with for so long and that drove potential managerial candidates away from the Orioles’ organization in the first place. There are no possible manager hires out there that would be smarter and better equipped than Buck Showalter has been since he began his career in Baltimore in 2011.

In fact, it’s embarrassing that professional media personalities have to tweet, Facebook, and write articles explaining why Buck Showalter will not, nor should be, fired from his position. There is and always will be room for error in baseball; Anyone that knows anything about the game should understand its intricacies and complex reliance on statistics that separate it (and in some opinions, make it better) than any other professional American sport.

The real culprit here for the Orioles loss to Toronto in the Wildcard game is the offense. For a team that had 253 homeruns this season (an average of 1.57 per game), they allowed themselves to fall into the same habits that were the sole reason the team slipped from atop the division to scraping to get in to the playoffs via a second wildcard spot. The Orioles couldn’t even generate a base hit after the sixth inning. Despite their bullpen providing ample opportunities by extending the game, allowing the offense to have extra innings to score the game-winning runs, the offense fell silent- a characteristic that we had become familiar with throughout the stretches of struggles that the team faced during the regular season. Four hits in eleven innings does not win playoff games. It sends you home early.

This off-season, the question hangs over our heads like it has every year since Dan Duquette took over operations of this team. What will this team look like next year? Who will they pursue in free agency? Who will they try to re-sign? Duquette has a dark cloud above him in regards to his off-season aggressiveness. In order for the Orioles to improve, it might be time to give up the ‘homerun or die’ mentality and find some on-base guys to surround the middle of their lineup. Will they attempt to bring back Mark Trumbo? Matt Wieters? There are a lot of decisions to be made in the next six months. However, one of them we can be sure is not in question- Buck Showalter will be at the head of the ship as it sails into Spring Training in March. And there is nobody else this fan base wants, regardless of whether they know it or not.