Manny, Cool Your Jets

I like Manny Machado. I like him just as much as the next person. He is a team leader on the field. In fact, he’s probably the most talented guy on the roster. There is constant debate over who the best player is in the majors and Manny Machado’s name is always in the discussion. But it’s time for him to grow up.

It is no coincidence that Machado finds himself at the center of controversy every season.

In 2014, then Oakland A’s thirdbaseman Josh Donaldson applied a tag to him that he considered too hard. It led to confrontation and the benches clearing. The next night, Machado took exception to a pitch he thought was too close for comfort and he let go of his bat on his next swing, sending it spiraling down the third base line toward none other than Josh Donaldson. It led to another bench clearing debacle and his ejection from the game.

 

In 2016, against the Kansas City Royals, Machado watched as the late (hotheaded) Yordano Ventura pitched him inside on a couple pitches back-to-back. In the replay, you can see Manny stare him down and then bark something at him before taking a third pitch inside. Machado then charged the mound and took a violent swing at Ventura followed by a DDT that Jake The Snake Roberts should be proud of. Both players were ejected and served suspensions.

This season, Machado has found himself in hot water again after being accused of violating the “late slide rule” which has been created to protect secondbasemen and Image result for machado pedroiashortstops from being crashed into cleats first by players attempting to slide into the bag. In last night’s game against Boston, Manny slid, relatively late, and cleated the Red Sox Dustin Pedroia in the calf, causing him to have to leave the game. Tempers once again rose, though not to a point of clearing the dugouts, and managers argued with umpires about whether Machado had been in violation of the late slide rule. It was ruled that he was not, however, Boston may have different thoughts tonight when they face the O’s in the second game of the series.

Machado has been called out for his lack of hustle on ground balls. He doesn’t play his hardest all the time. He relies too much on his pure talent and forgets the basics. These are all things that, at one time or another over the last few years, have been pointed out by the few and far between. But they are things that need to be acknowledged and corrected.

The point is, Baltimore fans hold a lot of opposing players near and dear to their heart as the bad guys. Current Blue Jay Jose Bautista or former Red Sox David Ortiz hear boos resonate around Oriole Park whenever they show face on the field or in the batter’s box. Josh Donaldson gets the royal villain treatment, as did Ventura in the games following his altercation with Machado last year. And while we enjoy to hate these guys, knowing that they have done things throughout the years to really piss us off and disrespect our team, it doesn’t excuse the Orioles from having a guy behave in the same, aggressive manner. Manny Machado is young; he is only 24 years old and has had to grow up in the majors. However, that is not an excuse for his knack to have a short fuse and a loud mouth. Realistically, his actions could cause a lot of problems for his team. Long term suspensions leave the team high and dry without their best player. Bench clearing brawls can cause injuries.

It’s time for Machado to face the music. His outbursts on the field may seem to be the kind of shakeup that baseball needs once and a while, but life is much better without it. A team like the Orioles, who have found themselves as annual competitors over the last five years, cannot afford to have their star player acting like a jackass whenever he feels slighted.  He is too great of a player to have an attitude problem paperclipped to his resume.

Am I The Only One?

We’re two weeks into the season and the Orioles are off to a hot start, leading the AL East and as of 4/17, holding the best record in baseball. Here are some thoughts thus far. Am I the only one…

Who hasn’t lost complete faith in Wade Miley? I understand he got lucky in his first outing of the year by finding a way to avoid giving up an earned run despite seven walks. However, in his start against Toronto on April 14th, Miley looked impressive. He struck out eight batters and left the Orioles with a great chance to win the game (which they went on to do). Miley isn’t the ideal candidate for a 3rd or even 4th starter, but if he can go out on his days and hold his own for six innings, he gives this high powered offensive team a chance to win every time.

Who believes Adam Jones should have come out of the game after running into the wall in Toronto? Jones put 100% effort into trying to track down a long fly ball hit in the 8th inning of Sunday’s game against the Jays, but ultimately did not make the play and sent himself flying into the outfield fence. It caused an “uh oh” moment for fans watching as he struggled to get to his feet for a few minutes before finally waving away the trainer and Buck Showalter. However, the next inning, Jones was replaced defensively anyway. The Orioles were winning the game 11-2 at the time, and it doesn’t seem to make much sense for Showalter to risk further injury to his star center fielder and team leader by not playing precautionary measures in a blow out. The Orioles don’t have a viable long-term option in center if Jones were to go down with a lengthy injury, and so for a player who has had injuries in his past, it seems as if the better move would have been for Jones to come out right away.

Who sees Dylan Bundy on the fast track to becoming a better major league pitcher than Kevin Gausman? A Facebook friend smartly pointed out that “while Gausman is still developing from a thrower to a pitcher, Bundy seems to have already figured it out”. This is no knock on Gausman who has seen his share of big league success and the future is bright. But Bundy seems to be so natural at it. Of course, last year we saw a hot start for Bundy once he was inserted into the rotation and then an eventual decline as the season progressed, and no one is to say that won’t happen again. However, Bundy has five pitches that he can effectively use to fool major league hitters, as he has shown in his three starts so far in 2017.

Who is impressed with Chris Davis’ hot start? At this point, we all know what Davis brings to the table; He hits lots of homeruns in exchange for lots of (ugly) strikeouts. The strikeouts haven’t changed much this year, as he has whiffed 16 times in 11 games, which puts him on a rough pace to break his own single season record for the third straight year. But Crush is also finding ways to get on base more often. He’s got an early season OBP of .391, which is sixty points higher than his career average. Davis is streaky and will surely cool off at points throughout the year, but it is a good sign to see him producing thus far.

 

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.

How Good Does Baltimore Have To Be?

The weird thing about the Baltimore Orioles is that, despite how detestable it seems their pitching is, or how silent their bats can be during several game stretches, there is a reason they are 66-51 this year, sitting in first place of the AL East, and quietly making statements time and time again that this is their division to win. All of a sudden, it’s August 16 and the O’s have spent the majority of their season in first place of the only division in baseball that has four teams above .500.

So, exactly how good do the Orioles have to be from here on out in order to solidify their chances for the post-season? On the surface, one would have to think that they need to play lights out baseball for the next month and a half. And while that would certainly help matters, it may not have to be that difficult. Because Baltimore has kept themselves in contention all year, they have positioned themselves to be able to take advantage of some fortuitous scheduling.

Of the four teams contending to be AL East champion, a few factors remain that could easily work out in the Orioles’ favor. With a record of 39-17 at home this year, the O’s will most certainly benefit from the fact that 25 of their last 45 games are at Camden Yards, including a huge eleven game stretch from 9/15 through 9/25. Neither the Blue Jays, Red Sox, or Yankees have that advantage- in fact, all three of those teams have more road games left to play than they do games at home. Of those three. Boston has the best home record, but unfortunately for them only have 15 games at Fenway remaining on their schedule.

All three teams- Toronto, Boston, and New York- have a west coast swing still left on their schedule. Combining the travel and the time difference is a critical detriment for teams that fly out west for extended time, and because the Orioles have already made their road trips across country, it leaves them with the advantage of less travel.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news for the Orioles. They have more remaining games against teams with winning records than any of their AL East opponents (35). Besides nine games against Tampa Bay and a series against Arizona, the O’s have drawn the short stick when it comes to facing better teams later in the season. Boston sees a schedule that pits them against +.500 teams 25 times, Toronto 26 times, and the Yankees 31 times.

When the end of the season does roll around, and almost for certain these four teams will be playing for first place, the schedulers took it upon themselves to revel in the idea of nail-biting, down-to-the-wire competition. The Red Sox end their season hosting the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park for a two game set while the Orioles travel to New York to face the Yankees for three games. While there is no counting out any of these teams, it certainly seems as if letting Boston and Toronto beat each other up may put destiny in the O’s own hands.

In the end, it is simple. In order to win the AL East, you need to win games. Take one look at the standings and you will see that all four of these teams have shown how capable they are of doing that. Of the four teams still in contention, Baltimore, Boston, and New York have over 30 games remaining against AL East opponents, a statistic that forewarns of the importance of getting wins. To keep consistent with their current winning percentage (.564), Baltimore needs to win 25 of the remaining 45 games on the schedule. If that were the case, they would finish with a record of 91-71, a mark that should almost be a shoe-in for a playoff spot. However, most fans would probably like to see a little more finality and impact as the season rolls toward the end, and a finish more along the lines of 30 wins would be much more comfortable for everyone.

 

For Dylan Bundy, The Sky Is The Limit

For Dylan Bundy, it’s got to be a good feeling to have finally made it to the big leagues and showing off what the Orioles’ organization has faithfully committed to him for. After suffering through injuries since being drafted 4th overall by the O’s in 2011, Bundy has surfaced, forced his way into the starting rotation, and is out to prove that his sights are still set on becoming one of the best pitchers in the league.

Of course, it’s early. Bundy has only had four starts at the major league level, and the only reason he was even given the opportunity was because of poor performances from the backend of the Orioles’ rotation. But fate works in weird ways, as Bundy is quickly discovering, and he’s taking full advantage.

In his last two starts, Bundy drew the short stick by having to face two of the most offensive-minded teams in the majors, the Colorado Rockies and the Texas Rangers. The Rockies are third in the majors in batting average while Texas is eighth. Both teams are in the top ten in slugging percentage. To say Bundy had his work cut out for him was hardly fair. However, in the two starts, Dylan held those two offenses to a meager 3 for 40 at the plate with 15 strikeouts over 12 2/3 innings. In both games, he did not give up a hit until the 5th inning.

Bundy’s impressive outings have caused an outcry from fans for more. It is pretty well known that the plan was to limit him to 80 innings this season- a number that was determined to be easy to maintain since his role from Opening Day was to make appearances from the bullpen. Now, with his numbers being so dominant in his short time as a starter, one has to wonder if Buck Showalter will start to backtrack on his original plan and unleash the unrelenting dominance that Bundy has shown in his past few starts.

Of course, Showalter will have to consider the injuries as reason to reel in Bundy’s work. The baseball world saw first hand the damage that overexertion can cause to a pitcher coming off of major throwing arm surgery. Johan Santana, arguably one of the best starting pitchers in recent history, certainly did himself no help by staying in a game longer than he should have in order to claim a no-hitter; soon after, he reinjured his shoulder and watched his career slip away. Instances like this make it a difficult decision to determine where to draw the line between team success and a player’s health. While Showalter has not released any information regarding what he will do going forward, one should not be surprised if Bundy is held to his innings limit as a means to solidify his arm health for the future.

But for now, O’s fans should enjoy the ride. Bundy has shown the most success of any young Orioles’ grown pitching prospect since Erik Bedard. He entered the starting rotation swinging, leaving a trail of impressive destruction behind him. Regardless of how much more of Bundy we see in a starters role this season, barring any injury setbacks, Bundy has shown us that there is much to look forward to in the future when the O’s can sport a rotation in which Bundy, Chris Tillman, and Kevin Gausman get to reek havoc on the rest of the American League.

What Wade Miley Brings To The Table

On Monday, the Orioles traded Angel Miranda, an older minor league pitcher, to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for the left-handed throwing Wade Miley. Miley, a starting pitcher who is 7-8 and has a 4.98 ERA on the season, brings a new set of questions to Baltimore. Mainly, people are asking why? The Orioles are looking to fight for the playoffs, and a player with those kind of stats does nothing to comfort anybody’s doubts that the team will continue to play well enough to achieve such a goal.

However, there is more to the picture. As with most trades during the trade deadline, the Orioles not only filled a need, but they did it on the cheap. There was no way Baltimore would have been able to afford to go out and acquire one of the glitzy starting pitchers being shopped around. And let’s face it- even if they did have the minor league talent to offer up for a glamour piece like Rich Hill or Matt Moore, it’s hard to think that giving away prospects would be worth obtaining a starter for just a few months. Instead, GM Dan Duquette stuck to his restrictions and shopped within his budget.

So why did Duquette pull the trigger on this trade? What makes Wade Miley worth it? While Miley does not bring knockdown numbers, he does bring several things the Orioles have not been getting from their starting pitchers all season long.

He is a lefty. That is something Baltimore knew they needed in their rotation. Opposing managers stack the lineup depending on pitching matchups and left-handed pitchers limit their options.

He is a veteran. Miley has been in the majors since 2011 and brings experience.

He was a cheap trade. While the Orioles did pick up the remainder of his contract, he is under team control through next year with a team option for 2018 as well. This means he’s not a rental player.

Therefore, he is an option. The Orioles have the ability to create competition again. Miley will be in camp next Spring Training, competing with whoever the O’s decide to bring in during the off-season. It also allows the Orioles to move Ubaldo Jimenez back to the bullpen.

He is hot. Over the month of July, Miley has had a 3.45 ERA and in the five games he’s started. Over those five games he has gone at least six innings in four of them.

Statistically, he is better than most of what the Orioles have currently. Only Chris Tillman has a better ERA this season, and only Tillman and Kevin Gausman have more strikeouts.

The hope is that Miley will keep the team in the game through allowing limited runs and going deeper into ballgames. He will provide stability as the Orioles #4 starter. Will he make the difference? Let’s hope so. But I think we can all sleep better knowing that, this trade deadline, the O’s went with a low-risk move by acquiring a starting pitcher with the things they need while giving away next to nothing to get him.