INSIDE THE ORIOLES

WHAT’S HOT & WHAT’S NOT

Image

Orioles ace Chris Tillman has been spectacular through the first three weeks of the season. 
(Photo from Todd Olszewski, Baltimore Orioles 2012)

By Jordan Schatz, editor in chief

BALTIMORE The Orioles embarked on an up-and-down ride with mixed results through the first three weeks of the season. After dropping five of their first seven games—including three to the rival Red Sox and Yankees, they rebounded to capture seven of their next 12 contests to sit one game under the .500 mark as of Tuesday, April 22.

Considering its opponents, Baltimore should be relatively happy with where it sits in the standings. With seven games played against the reigning World Series champions (Boston), three against the American League East leaders (New York) and nine versus a trio of teams with .500 records or better (Detroit, Toronto and Tampa Bay), it’s a wonder the Birds are still afloat.

With that being said, BST will take a look at what’s hot and what’s not hot for the Orioles after 19 games:

HOT

 

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Chris Tillman

The 26 year-old starting pitcher is Baltimore’s undisputed ace through the first three weeks of the season. Tillman posted a 2-1 record with a staff-low 1.71 ERA and 20 strikeouts through four starts, earning wins over the Tigers and Red Sox, a non-decision result on Opening Day versus Boston and a tough-luck 2-0 loss to the Blue Jays on April 11, a start in which he surrendered two unearned runs over eight frames. Now if only the rest of the rotation would follow suit!

 

 

 

(Photo from NJ.com)

(Photo from NJ.com)

Matt Wieters

Whether he’s finally producing up to his lofty expectations because he’s entering his prime or he’s soon to enter free agency, the Orioles’ All Star and Gold Glove-winning backstop is arguably the Major League’s most impressive catcher after nearly one month of play. Wieters owns a team-leading .321 average to go along with 11 RBIs and three home runs, and has hit safely in 12 of 15 games. His production is a far cry from 2013, when he managed 22 homers and 79 RBIs while hitting a pedestrian .235 average. I think someone wants to be paid!

 

(MLB.com)

(MLB.com)

Nelson Cruz

One of Baltimore’s last additions happens to be first on the team in home runs and RBIs, having collected four dingers and 16 runs batted in through the first 19 games of the season. He also seems to own an apparent apathy for the Red Sox, for the 33-year-old slugger has a .307 average with two homers, nine RBIs and six runs against the reigning World Series champions after only seven games. Check out his first home runof the year, which allowed the Orioles to topple visiting Boston on Opening Day.

NOT HOT

 

Untimely errors

While all errors hurt, Baltimore seems to be making a habit of committing most of its mistakes at the most inopportune times. The squad also seems to be committing errors in bunches. While most fans are recovering from watching the Orioles on Easter blow a 5-0 lead to the Red Sox on national television via errors (they finished with three, and both the tying run and winning run were unearned), this avid Bird watcher is still scathing from the trio of mistakes in the fourth inning of Baltimore’s eventual 2-0 loss to the Blue Jays on April 11, when three throwing errors in the frame allowed the Blue Jays to score twice, ruining a near-spotless start by Tillman. It’s especially frustrating, considering the Orioles committed the least amount of errors in the history of baseball last season. When does Manny Machado come back?

 

Starting rotation pitching deep into games… surprise, surprise

Rewind one year, and the biggest problem facing the Orioles was the starting rotation’s inability to pitch deeper into games. Now fast-forward to the present and a similar problem still plagues the Orioles. Outside Opening Day starter Chris Tillman, who has averaged more than six innings pitched in each of his first four starts, the rest of the rotation has struggled to make it past the first five frames. The result has been a taxed bullpen and the Baltimore brass already reluctantly making a call to Triple-A Norfolk to bring up extra arms. As of April 22, the four remaining starters, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris, all average six or fewer innings a game and all have posted at least one start that didn’t make it past five. If this trend keeps up, it’s safe to say the Birds will be spending a second-consecutive October watching the postseason from their couches.

 

 

Chris Davis’ home run bat

One quick glance at the stat sheet will show that the Orioles first baseman isn’t off to quite the torrid start in 2014 that he had to open 2013. Who are we kidding, he isn’t even close. Not that Baltimore should argue with the production, for Davis currently has nine RBIs and even two stolen bases through the first three weeks of the season, but let’s be serious. At this point last year, ‘Crush’, as Baltimore fans aptly nicknamed him, had already clubbed seven home runs and drove in 22 runs. At least he owns a team-leading 13 walks!

JS

 

 

 

2014 MLB Fantasy Preview: Catcher

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters enters as the eighth-best option for fantasy owners.

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters enters as BST’s No. 8 option for fantasy owners. (Baltimoresportsreport.com)


Ranking baseball’s top fantasy players

By Matthew Hicks, fantasy expert

With the baseball season rapidly approaching, it’s just about time to get your position rankings together, fire up the laptop and draft your new team for 2014.

Through this series, I will be revealing the MLB Universe positional player rankings by position, while additionally highlighting the featured Orioles at each position. Every real O’s fan needs at least one Oriole on their team to follow while the season rolls along, and I’ll give you stats and reasoning which may help narrow your search.

TOP 10 CATCHERS

Selecting a catcher may be the most difficult part of your fantasy draft. That’s why we will be starting with the backstops, a group that has been ruled by the same one or two players for the past several seasons, according to most fantasy insiders. Do you draft San Francisco Giants backstop Buster Posey early because catcher is lacking talent this year, or do you wait until Round 8 and take best catcher available? I tend to go with the latter, especially this year, as it seems the gap has been closed by a couple of hungry American League catchers (2013 average, home runs and RBIs in parentheses).

Joe Mauer is BST's No. 1 fantasy catcher.

The Twins’ Joe Mauer is BST’s No. 1 fantasy catcher. (wcwpsports.blogspot.com)

1. Joe Mauer, MIN (.324, 11, 47) –The 30-year-old All Star is coming off yet another stellar season in which he finished with an insanely high .324 average n 2013, an asset to any fantasy team. His stats should only improve in 2014 due to the fact the Twins have elected to move Mauer to first base full time.

2. Buster Posey, SF (.294, 15, 72) – The consensus No. 1 catcher off the board last season, a lack of positional flexibility and a regression in 2013 knocks Posey off his perch.

3. Brian McCann, NYY (.256, 20, 57) – McCann still managed 20 homers and nearly 60 RBIs while only taking 356 National League at-bats last year with the Braves. After signing with the Bronx Bombers in the off-season, expect a ton of damage thanks to designated hitter flexibility and Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field.

4. Yadier Molina, STL (.319, 12, 80) – A National League MVP candidate in 2013, Molina is a great natural hitter who continues to rake (.319 Avg in 2013). Although his homer total dipped last season (12 in 2013 compared to 22 in 2012) his lofty average and RBI total make him hard to pass up.

5. Carlos Santana, CLE (.268, 20, 74) – With the Tribe hinting that Santana could log quite a bit of time at third base this season, it’s pretty safe to assume a career year is on the horizon for this consistent hitter (72 runs, 18 homers, 76 RBIs .252 average in 2012 compared to 75, 20, 74 .268 in 2013). Select this Cleveland catcher with confidence come draft day.

6. Wilin Rosario, COL (.292, 21, 79) – The home run total dropped from 28 in 2012 down to 21 in 2013, but playing in the thin air at Coors Field coupled with a rock solid batting average should keep Rosario in the front of most fantasy owners’ minds.

7. Jonathan Lucroy, MIL (.280, 18, 80) – A slow start to 2013 distorted Lucroy’s stats, who nearly finished in the 20-80 club despite only five homers and a pedestrian .253 average through the first third of the season. If he can put together a full season, watch out!

 

Pound-for-pound, Matt Wieters is one of the premiere power hitters in the Major Leagues. But can fantasy owners afford his lowly batting average? (Pressbox.com)

Pound-for-pound, Matt Wieters is one of the premiere power hitters in the Major Leagues. But can fantasy owners afford his lowly batting average? (Pressbox.com)

8. Matt Weiters, O‘s (.235, 22, 79) – Behind another Gold Glove-caliber defensive year, a 20-plus homer run season and an 79 RBI campaign, Charm City’s beloved catcher appears to be a reliable fantasy backstop in three out of the five statistical categories. The fact that the 27-year-old takes most of his hacks in a great hitter’s ball park, goes to work in the middle of the Major League’s fifth-most productive offense and brings switch-hitting power to the table should keep Wieters relevant in fantasy leagues for years to come.

However, I would be reluctant to draft the Orioles’ catcher in my league and that reason can be summed up in just one word: Average.

Wieters’ .235 average is well-below the average of this list’s batting average of .286. While Wieters is remarkably durable (520-plus at bats in each of his past four seasons) and arguably the best power hitting catcher in the league, it’s hard to ignore the negative impact he will have on your team’s batting average. If you don’t mind the hit he’ll do to your average then he’s your man. However, based on his value and other options on the board, the All Star backstop falls to eighth on this board.

2012 Stats: 526 AB, 67 R, 23 HR, 83 RBI, .249 BA,.764 OPS, 3 SB

2013 Stats: 523 AB, 59 R, 22 HR, 79 RBI, .235 BA, .704 OPS, 2 SB

9. Salvador Perez, KC (.292, 13, 79) – Perez, 23, has yet to start popping homers, but his 25 doubles in 2013 are a good sign for the young Royals catcher who also boasts a solid average (.292).

10. Evan Gattis, ATL (.243, 21, 65) – The Braves backstop packs a powerful punch but a bad average will leave him rounding out my Top 10. However, with Brian McCann gone to the Yankees, what will a full season in the ATL bring?

WHAT’S ON DECK:

In the next article, I will bring you the rankings for First Base, featuring a closer look at Orioles slugger Chris Davis. 

O’s enter spring with more questions than answers

Orioles manager Buck Showalter, left, and Dan Duquette, right, have failed to make any splashes in free agency.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter, left, and general manager Dan Duquette, right, have failed to make any splashes in free agency. There are 21 days until pitchers and catchers report. (Gammonsdaily.com)

More moves needed if team hopes to contend

By Jordan Schatz, Editor-in-Chief

BALTIMORE – The Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka and Jacoby Ellsbury, the World Series champion Red Sox inked Edward Mujica and the usually quiet Rays even scooped up Heath Bell.

But the Orioles, who finished 2013 with 85 wins and tied for third-place in the ultra-competitive American League East, have barely uttered a peep.

That is, of course, unless you’re counting the front office’s decision to void the contract of All Star closer Grant Balfour only days after reaching a preliminary agreement due to isolated medical opinions, or the trading away of the Major League leader in saves.

In other words, the Birds are losing ground in their own division while the other clubs, both in the East and around the league, are making the necessary moves to improve come Opening Day.

Granted, there’s still time remaining before pitchers and catchers report –21 days in fact—but if this winter and past history is an indication, it’s that Baltimore is unlikely to sign a big-time free agent before the lights at Camden Yards turn on.

And that could spell doom for an Orioles team hoping to secure a winning season for the third consecutive year and a playoff birth for only the second time since 1997.

Scouting the Rotation

Bronson Arroyo is just one of several front-line starters the O's have been linked to.

Bronson Arroyo is just one of several front-line starters the O’s have been linked to. (Newyorkmetsreport.com)

The Orioles will take to Florida with a rotation featuring at least three ‘guaranteed starters’— a trio comprised of a pair of savvy pitchers with postseason experience and an All Star hurler—and a plethora of unproven arms who will battle all spring for the remaining two spots in the rotation.

Based on what Baltimore currently has in-house, it may behoove the Birds to sign at least one more ‘guaranteed starter’ to remove as much doubt and inexperience as possible from the starting five. A lackluster backend to the rotation could be disastrous to the Orioles’ postseason hopes, just look at last season.

In 2013, former Oriole Jake Arrieta, the team’s No. 5 starter last Opening Day, began the season with a string of terrible outings. He appeared in five games, never making it past the fifth inning, and, until the team traded their one-time promising prospect to the Cubs in July for proven veteran Scott Feldman, nine different pitchers tried their hand at taking his spot in the rotation. Between Arrieta and his replacements, the Birds dropped 31 of 37 games, and in the process, struggled to keep up with Boston for the division crown.

On the flip-side, the top three starters: Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez, combined to go 21-9 with a 3.51 ERA over that span, keeping Baltimore in the hunt for a wild card birth. With all three returning for 2014, it’s evident that adding one more arm could put the O’s over the top.

So, who’s available? 

Reports have the Birds heavily linked to 36-year-old right-hander Bronson Arroyo, who, at one-time pitched with the Red Sox, but has spent the latter part of his career with the Reds, where he consistently tossed 200 innings while flirting with an ERA approaching four.

They’re also reportedly waiting around to see if Maryland-native AJ Burnett, 37, is retiring or not, after a decent year with the Pirates. However, if the solution to the rotation is a pitcher whose prime was nearly a decade ago, Baltimore could be in real trouble.

With a flurry of young arms in the farm system, including Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and Eduardo Rodriguez, there is no sense selling the future for the immediate present. But, with names like Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez still on the market, a top-of-the-rotation arm with big league success shouldn’t be hard to find. The O’s just need to take out their check book.

Scouting the Offense

Additionally, Baltimore could use a little more production out of its offense.

Nelson Cruz could be the big-time bat that Baltimore could use to bolster its offense.

Nelson Cruz could be the big-time bat that Baltimore could use to bolster its offense. (sportschattering.blogspot.com)

While they did finish the season fifth in runs scored and first in homers, the unit struggled to put runs on the board late in the year, plummeting to 13th in runs plated following the All Star break, compared to third prior to the Mid-Summer Classic.

Having Chris Davis (53 homers, 138 RBIs) certainly helps, and protecting him with Adam Jones (33 homers, 108 RBIs) is even better, but for the Orioles to be taken seriously, a third big bat is need, one who preferably can play the outfield position, where the offseason departure of Nate McClouth to the Nationals will be felt atop the lineup.

Naturally, the first name that comes to mind is unsigned slugger Nelson Cruz (27 homers, 76 RBIs), who experienced an All Star campaign for the Rangers in 2013 before a suspension for HGH ended his season early. However, if his price tag is to lofty for Baltimore’s taste (he reportedly wants a 5 year/$75 million deal), a slightly-cheaper option such as Kendrys Morales (which would cost the club its first-round draft pick) can still be had. Or, the team could trade for a bat.

At this juncture, the lineup, when hitting on all cylinders, is good enough to contend, but the seemingly-large holes in the rotation could ultimately undo the Orioles, who are only a piece or two away from being a legitimate favorite to make the postseason.

It’s time for the Birds to get to work.

JS

 

Terps open season with high hopes

under-armour-maryland-ride-football-uniforms-2

Maryland has postseason potential 

By Ivan Stutzman, staff reporter

If I had to pick one word to describe the tone for the upcoming Maryland football season it would be “potential.”

This team has the “potential” to do good things. Maybe not great, spectacular, or National Championship caliber things, but good things. The upcoming season represents the chance for opportunity. The chance for Coach Randy Edsall to prove to those who do not believe in his system and style of coaching that he can lead and build a quality Maryland football team that will once again be relevant both in the ACC and the Big Ten.

OFFENSE

As discussed in a previous article, the Maryland offense has the players in place to put points on the board. It will take a game or two to see who steps up and if some of the question marks have been answered. The most important part of the offense this year that everyone can agree on, especially after last season, is having a healthy quarterback. CJ Brown is healthy, or so we are told. He’s been off the field for almost two years, will there be some rust? Sure. That’s why we ease ourselves into the season with teams like Florida International.

What can Brown do for us? At this point we are unsure, making the quarterback position a question mark for sure in the offense. As his long road to recovery comes to its conclusion, a new chapter begins as he makes his way onto the field at Byrd Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 31. The competition for back up is between Caleb Rowe and Ricardo Young.

Edsall gave the starting tailback job to Brandon Ross on Wednesday before Game One because of his experience. His back up will be Albert Reid. At wide receiver, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long create a deep/dual threat that will be hard to defend, but don’t count out Nigel King who has had a good training camp. The ofensive line will have its fair share of youth and inexperience. Look for Maryland native and Good Counsel product Mike Madaras to step up.

DEFENSE

Is Coach Randy Edsall (center) on the hot seat?

Is Coach Randy Edsall (center) on the hot seat? (Sports.yahoo.com)

On the defensive side of the ball, the loss of players such as Kenny Tate, Demetrius Hartsfield, AJ Francis and Joe Vellano leaves plenty of room for young guys to step up. Maryland has experience when it comes to defensive backs. Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson didn’t miss a game last season and in my opinion, have the potential to be playmakers. Maryland did a great job at preventing the long ball last year, but couldn’t stop yards after the catch. The linebackers will be lead by Matt Robinson, a junior from Columbia, Md. He is an interesting story, having switched from safety to OLB last year, but he has been hampered by injury.

If the depth chart stands as is, the defensive line will only have one returning starter: nose tackle Darius Kilgo. Transfer Zeke Riser has experience playing for defensive coordinator Brian Stewert at the University of Houston and game time experience. It will be a matter of how quickly the players on defense mature and how well they execute Stewart’s system. The key here once again is potential.

SPECIAL TEAMS

On special teams, kicking and Brad Craddock’s consistency to put the ball through the uprights will be the main focus. Punting should be in good shape with the strong leg of Nathan Renfro. And, when it comes to returns, Maryland is in great shape with the likes of Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and Will Likely bringing the ball up field. Would it be too much to predict that Will Likely, will likely take one to the house this season?

With the players in place on all sides of the ball, it simply comes down to execution, and this falls on the shoulders of both the coaches and players. Several factors will play a role in the upcoming season that doesn’t involve x’s and o’s.

It is vital that the veterans forget about 2-10 and 4-8 seasons that plagued the team in the past. Edsall, Locksley, Stewart and all other coaches must focus on the present and what is possible. Edsall has only won six games during his tenure in College Park. This is the year that he needs to prove to himself, the players, the coaches and Terp Nation that he is the right man for the job.

What does this mean? After two years of mediocre-at-best football, a 6-6 bowl eligible season would be a good starting point. This reinforces the idea of building a team from the ground up and gives the faithful something to cheer about.

Secondly, this is the Terps’ farewell tour with regard to the ACC. Next year we step up to the Big Ten. Emotions will run high, but thoughts must remain on the current season.

COACHING

Lastly, returning to Coach Edsall, is he on the hot seat? It is quite possible that the Terps could look in another direction if we have another dismal season in College Park. However, the last thing Maryland Athletics needs is another financial debacle or disgruntled coach.

BOLD PREDICTION

I predict the Terps will achieve this and go 6-6 for the season. Not great, but good. Anything above six wins would be icing on the cake. I go into this season with guarded optimism, but high hopes. Keep your heads up and raise high the black and gold for your Maryland Terrapins fans are currently tied for the lead in the Atlantic Division of the ACC.

Maryland Football schedule

Maryland Football 2013 Preview: Special Teams

Stefon Diggs is one of the premier return men in the country. (Washington Post)

Stefon Diggs is one of the premier return men in the country. (Washington Post)

By Ivan Stutzman, staff writer

KICKING

Preseason Grade: C
Key Players: Brad Craddock (K), Brendan Magistro (K), Adam Greene (K)

The kicking job is very much up for grabs this season according to Stutzman. (Diamondback)

The kicking job is very much up for grabs this season, according to Stutzman. (Diamondback)

It appears that the starting job is Brad Craddock’s to lose. He tops the pre-season depth chart for at the place kicking position. In 2012, Craddock struggled with a 62.5 percent field goal conversion rate, missing four field goals under 40 yards and two extra points. What will 2013 bring for the Aussie, we are hoping for some confidence and accuracy.

According to the Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt, during spring training Craddock worked with former Ravens kicker Matt Stover. All indications point to Craddock getting the majority of the work if he can prove his worth over the course of the first few games. Last year he was pulled on short kicks and extra points, but hopefully the off season work will pay off for everyone.

Brendan Magistro is a sophomore for the Terps and saw limited playing time in 2012. He converted his only field goal attempt on the year, a 28 yarder against Boston College. For the entire season he went 1/1 FGs and 3/3 XPs. He could see some playing time is Craddock becomes erratic in the beginning of the season.

Newcomer Adam Greene brings to College Park the Maryland state record for career field goals and he also kicked a 55-yarder last fall. He seems to have a very good upside based on stats from high school, we will see how that translates into the college game. But for now, he is listed at number three on the depth chart. Craddock will start the year and we shall see how things pan out, fingers crossed. Kicking gets a C, maybe because I can’t get that image of a missed game winning field goal against NC State out of my head.

PUNTING

Preseason Grade: A-
Key Players: Nathan Renfro (P), Michael Tart (P)

Nathan Renfro will be your starting punter going into the 2013 campaign. He has solid skills and a strong leg, but needs to work on his consistency. His season ending numbers for last year was an average of 39.7 yards per kick on 75 punts and a long of 60. The long punt of 60 yards came against William & Mary which was his first collegiate game. His averages declined following some mediocre performances.

However, punting can be tough to judge based on number, when situations are not taken into account. Renfro is one of the bright spots in the Special Teams category and we look forward to seeing him shine in his junior season. Senior Greg Parcher will be the long snapper and Michael Tart is the back up, but don’t expect to see him too much.

RETURNS

Preseason Grade: A
Key Players: Stefon Diggs

Stefon Diggs was the man, and still is.

Last year, he returned 26 kickoffs last year, averaging nearly 27 yards per return and taking two to the house. It makes sense to give this kid as many touches per game as possible, as we know he can rack up the all-purpose yards. However, there are some new faces for the Terps that could also see some action. Will Likely will probably see some time returning kicks as will Deon Long. Both have the speed and potential that Diggs did coming into last year. As mentioned previously by the coaching staff, Likely will be eased into the game plan on Special Teams and then moved to his more natural cornerback position, that is, of course, if they stick to this plan. The return game is pretty solid this year. Be sure to look for some jaw dropping stuff.

Special Teams shapes up pretty nicely for the 2013 season, with one question mark: kicking. If Brad Craddock can come through with some accuracy and consistency the Terps should be okay. Nathan Renfro is a solid punter with a strong leg, no worries there, and Diggs, Long, and Likely should have the return game more than under control. I give the Special Teams a B for a preseason grade.

We are getting closer and closer to kickoff. Season opener against FIU is Saturday at 12:30pm at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium. Family four packs can now be purchased for $40 (or tickets on stub hub as low as $1).

Coming up later this week, we combine all three parts of this season, crunch the numbers and come up with a prediction on just how great this season is going to be. Stay Tuned.

Maryland Football 2013 Season Preview: The Defense

Quinton Jefferson, defensive tackle, will anchor the Maryland defense this season (Zimbio.com)

Quinton Jefferson, defensive tackle, will anchor the Maryland defense this season
(Zimbio.com)

By Ivan Stutzman, staff writer

In Part Two of our three part series, we take a look at the Maryland Terrapin defense. With the offense struggling last year, the defense spent a lot of time on the field. This year, Head Coach Randy Edsall and his staff look to use a mix of returning starters and youth in order to improve on last year’s marks.

What to Watch For:

DEFENSE:

Defensive line
Preseason Grade: B
Key Players: Quinton Jefferson, Keith Bowers, Darius Kilgo

Transfer Riser (above) brings valuable starting experience from Houston. (CBS.com)

 

If the current depth chart stands, Darius Kilgo (NT) is the only returning starter on the defensive line. However, the likes of Quinton Jefferson (DE) and Keith Bowers ( DE) had significant playing time in 2012. Key losses from last year include A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano. During ACC media day Coach Edsall told those in attendance that he hoped to use a six-man rotation for the three-man front. The likely candidates to compete for the backup spots in the rotation include Andre Monroe (DE), Zeke Riser (DE), Nate Clarke (NT) and Alex Walker (NT).

Transfer Riser is an interesting story and a great addition for Maryland. He comes in having played under Coach Brian Stewart at the University of Houston. He is familiar with the system being run in College Park and has 27 career starts. On the defense line, defensive end is one of the more experienced potions. Bowers and Monroe are both Juniors with significant playing time, Jefferson is a sophomore, and Riser a veteran senior.

The backup job for the nose tackle position is a little more complex and has more question marks surrounding it. Behind Darius Kilgo, Nate Clarke and Alex Walker will compete for playing time. Clarke started his Maryland career last year on the offensive line, but has since switched to defense and played on the scout team in 2012. Walker is a junior who has three years of experience on the team, but has yet to accumulate any stats. Even without any playing time experience he is still a very valuable asset.

The starters are pretty much set for the upcoming season, with some room for speculation regarding the backups. I look for a Maryland to have a stronger line then they have had in the past. Edsall has praised the likes of Jefferson and Riser this spring. Kilgo will have to step up and show veteran leadership for the line and at his position as the only returning starter. Maryland is solid at defensive end and is capable of going to a seven-man rotation if needed. Look for a better fall for the defensive line this season, which hopefully will lead to more sacks, interceptions and balls going the other way.

Defensive backs
Preseason Grade: B+
Key Players: Jeremiah Johnson (CB), Dexter McDougle (CB)

Jeremiah johnson hopes to be a shutdown corner for Maryland. (Washington Post)

 

The Terps have some experience when it comes to cornerback. Dexter McDougle (Sr.) and Jeremiah Johnson (Jr.) both didn’t miss a game last season. Those two are a pretty safe bet to start at that position come August 31. Last year, the Terps ranked 30thoverall in pass defense which isn’t necessarily a bad stat, but they ranked 65thin the NCAA for pass efficiency. Basically, what this means, is that the defense gave up a lot of short passes, but was relatively solid when it came to limiting the deep ball. Look for the progression of McDougle and Johnson this year, as they both have the potential and experience to become shutdown corners in the ACC.

Anthony Nixon appears to be another lock to start at safety. He had playing time in nine games last year and racked up 38 tackles and an interception. The competition for the other starting job is between Sean Davis (So.) and A.J. Hendy (Jr.). Both saw some playing time in 2012, but were relatively limited when it came to accumulating stats. Defensive Coordinator Brian Stewart likes both players and is comfortable with either starting.

One last hot topic is the impact Will Likely will have this season. In the spring, he did not see first-team playing time, practicing mostly with the second and third teams. The biggest impact he will likely have on the team this year will be on special teams, blocking and finding holes for All-American returnman Stefon Diggs. He currently finds himself listed 3rd string behind Johnson and Issac Goins at the cornerback position. This appears to be more of a setup season for Likely for starts in 2014 and beyond.

Linebackers
Preseason Grade: C+
Key Players: Matt Robinson, Cole Farrand, Marcus Whitfield, L.A. Goree

If we had to pick a position where losing last year’s starters hurt the most, linebacker would be right up there. The losses include: Darin Drakeford, Kenneth Tate, and Demetrius Hartsfield. With those players gone, the Terps lose the majority of their sacks from last year and defensive pressure on opposing teams. Now that’s not to say other players can’t and will not step up, but it sure would be nice to have that linebacker core back again this year.

matt-robinson-Evan-Habeeb-USA-TODAY-Sports

Matt Robinson (USA Today)

After spring camp, barring injury, the starting lineup at linebacker was pretty much set. The starters are slated to be Matt Robinson (Jr.), Cole Farrand (Jr.), Marcus Whitfield (Sr.), and L.A. Goree (Jr.). The competition falls to the backup positions where a number of players have a shot at playing time. Alex Twine and Bradley Johnson both bring experience to the table. And even Shawn Petty is listed as third string at his natural position of ILB.

One interesting story is Matt Robinson, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, but should be 100% by the time the FIU game rolls around. He switched from safety to OLB last year, but has been hampered by injury. This is a spot to watch this fall.

The key for the linebacking core this year is to replace the defensive pressure lost to graduation and for Brian Stewart to find a good rotation that will keep fresh bodies on the field.

Wrap Up

The Maryland Defense looks to have a solid set up for the 2013 season. I am confident with starters on the defensive line (Jefferson, Bowers, and Kilgo) and the back up positions look to have healthy competition. Defensive backs Johnson and McDougle bring experience and the stats to prove it from last year. In my mind I think they can develop into a shutdown threat this season. With the loss of key players like Tate, Drakeford, and Hartsfield the linebacker position is a little weaker, but we haven’t seen much playing time from this year’s starters, so I hope to be in for a pleasant surprise.

Overall the Defense gets a grade of a B- when it comes to overall evaluation. There are a lot of new starters this year, and it is hard to put a precise evaluation on the team, but I feel that there is a lot of potential in the youth and the majority of the players have gained one more year of experience which can never hurt. Expect the unexpected this year. I think there is a lot more positive energy surrounding this season and with good reason. Next time we preview the special teams and give a prediction for the season.

Maryland Foootball 2013 Season Preview: The Offense

Receiver Steffon Diggs carriers the ball during the annual Red White game at College Park.  (Photo from Washington Post)

Receiver Stefon Diggs carries the ball during the annual Red-White game at College Park.
(Photo from Washington Post)

By Ivan Stutzman, staff writer

What to Watch For:

The final ACC season for the Maryland Football team kicks off in a little over a month. What can we expect out of the Terps in their final hoorah? In the next three articles we will analyze both sides of the ball and make a prediction on whether Maryland can become bowl eligible this year for the first time since 2010. This week we start with the offense.

OFFENSE:

CJ Brown delivers vs Clemson (ZImbio.com)

CJ Brown delivers vs Clemson (ZImbio.com)

Quarterbacks
Preseason Grade: B-
Key Players: C.J. Brown, Perry Hillis, Caleb Rowe

Let’s forget about last season and the five quarterbacks used, including a linebacker, in a campaign that will be remembered more for injury then highlights. This year, CJ Brown is healthy.

Last week at ACC media day, he claimed to be 100 percent and cleared for everything.  Great news for Terp fans right? Sure, a healthy quarterback to start the season is a positive.  However, Brown has not taken a live snap in nearly two years. He will likely take his first hit since November 26, 2011 when the Terps take the field against Florida International in their season opener.

Behind Brown on the depth chart are Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe,  and each took a number of snaps in the 2012 season before being lost for the season due to injury. We’ll have to wait and see how Brown acclimates to the game in the first couple games before a judgment call can be made concerning the quarterback position.

Brandon Ross, the projected running back for the Terrapins. (fansideblog)

Brandon Ross, the projected running back for the Terrapins. (fansideblog)

Running Backs
Preseason Grade: B
Key Players: Brandon Ross, Albert Reid

With the suspension of Wes Brown, the starting job is up for grabs and currently stands as a two-man race between Brandon Ross and Albert Reid. A positive for the Terps and Maryland fans is the experience that the team has at running back. Let’s compare 2012 stats for both competitors.

Last year, true freshmen Reid carried the ball 36 times for 92 yards with an average of 2.6 YPC. He began the year as the starter against William and Mary and had a less than stellar performance in the 7-6 win, gaining only 29 yards on 12 carries. In his defense Reid was hampered by a hamstring injury that kept him out for much of the rest of the 2012 season.

In 2012, Brandon Ross averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 85 attempts which gained 390 yards, and he scored one touchdown. He played in eight games, but saw the most production in last season games against Clemson and North Carolina where he gained over 100 yards.

Coach Edsall has frequently told the media that he wants and “every down” back— a guy that can carry the load in any situation. Based on stats, health and what Edsall has said this spring, we would lean towards Ross being his go-to guy. Both Ross and Brown put up similar numbers in 2012, as the coaching staff tried to remedy their quarterback debacle. Look for Ross to be the starter in the fall and for Reid to back him up when he needs a breather. If Edsall sticks to his previous statements  one back will see the majority of the carries this season. Maryland was 10th in rushing (out of 12) in 2012 and will definitely seek to improve this mark.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Preseason Grade: A
Key Players: Stefon Diggs, Deon Long, Nigel King

One name comes to mind when thinking about the receiving core for Maryland going into the 2013 season, Stefon Diggs. And rightfully so, he amassed 848 yards last year on 54 receptions and scored six TDs. Not to mention he also ran for 114 yards on 20 attempts. This kid is the real deal and a spark and true asset to the Maryland offense. He needs little introduction, as his abilities and talents are well known and he has been rewarded by being named to a number of watch lists for the upcoming season.

Deon Long brings experience and some hype to College Park. He was a first-team junior college all-American at Iowa Western and also played a year for New Mexico earning himself second-team all-Mountain West honors. He may be new to Maryland, but he has a year experience with offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and should be acclimated to the playbook. Long and Diggs give the Terps a duel threat at receiver, making it tough for defenses to only key in on one target.

Other receivers to keep in mind are Nigel King, a sophomore WR, who saw limited playing time in 2012 but did manage to gain 125 yards on nine receptions and score a TD. Key backups are listed as Levern Jacobs and Amba Etta.

At tight end, the graduation of Matt Furstenburg and Devonte Campbell opens the door for Dave Stinebaugh (SR). He missed the 2011 season recovering from shoulder surgery and appeared in 11 of 12 games in a limited role in 2012. It is kind of hard to predict what to expect from him at the TE position. He will be backed up by P.J. Gallo (FR – RS) and Brian McMahon (FR – RS).

The wide receiver position is probably one of the strongest for the team. Look for Diggs, Long, and King to start, but for Edsall and Lockley to use a varied rotation. Diggs and Long should help to spread the field and keep defenses on their toes. If Maryland has a healthy quatrerback, solid offensive Line  and King lives up to expectations, the Terps could have a very explosive offense.

Offensive Line
Preseason Grade:  C-

Key Players: Mike Madaras, Sal Conaboy, Nick Klemm, De’Onte Arnett

The offensive line lost key starters Justin Gilbert and Bennett Fulper in the offseason. None of the projected starters for the upcoming season have more than eight starts. On top of that, the backups have even less experience. Maryland has playmakers at wide receiver and a relatively strong field of backs to choose from, but they do need to be protected. Maryland quarterbacks were sacked a total of 40 times last year, most in the ACC. Ouch! Of course, some of that could be because of the five QB rotation that played last season.

The O-line will need to protect the quarterback just long enough so his playmakers can make their move and create holes for Ross and Reid to scamper through. The name of the game this year will be youth and inexperience. Hopefully the warm up schedule of Florida International and Old Dominion will give the line a chance to acclimate. In order for the Terps to be successful the offensive line they will need to find some cohesion and mature quickly, hopefully around one starting quarterback.

Pre-Season Rankings:

  1. Wide Receiver – Diggs and Long create a duel threat
  2. Running Backs – Ross starts and becomes every down back
  3. Quarterbacks – Question mark surrounds CJ Brown, but he will acclimate quickly
  4. Offensive Line – Inexperience and Youth

Overall, I would give the Maryland Offense a B- to start the season. I think that they are on the right track and should be more of a threat this season. The big question marks are how will CJ Brown adjust to being back on a NCAA stage and will the offensive line be able to protect the QB and give the explosive Maryland playmakers time to make their way down field. The first two games will be a good indication as to how the offense will look. A victory against FIU similar to the 7-6 win against William & Mary will not bode well, however, t I would expect a more convincing showing against FIU this year. Next week we will analyze the Maryland defense and how it looks going into the season.

Tolliver shines, Ohlman homers, but Keys Drop 2nd straight to MudCats

Harry Grove Stadium (Littleballparks.com)

Harry Grove Stadium
(Littleballparks.com)

By Patrick Maher, staff writer

FREDERICK – A Michael Ohlman home run and three scoreless innings in relief by Ashur Tolliver weren’t enough for the Frederick Keys who fell to the Carolina MudCats 5-3 in the third game of a four game series.

Tolliver, appearing in just his second game for Frederick this year after being called up from Delmarva, showed incredible efficiency throughout his appearance. Tolliver threw 34 pitches, 26 for strikes, and only allowed two hits through three innings of work. In the top of the eighth inning, the first two MudCats reached on singles and were bunted over by catcher Tony Wolters. Tolliver then struck out first baseman Jerrud Sabourin and induced a Bryson Myers groundout to escape the inning unscathed.

“Any time I go out there, I just try to pound the zone and be efficient as possible,”  Tolliver said after the game. “They were swinging pretty aggressive.”

He also noted that having his fellow Keys’ bats begin to come alive in the sixth inning encouraged him in getting out of his eighth inning jam.

“The bats were really starting to come alive,” he said. “I felt like if I held it right there we’d have a chance to come back and win the game.” He did just that, but unfortunately for Frederick, their bats were stifled in the ninth inning, with the bottom of the order going three up, three down.

Tolliver is playing well this season after a shoulder injury sidelined him all of last year. In seven appearances with the Delmarva Shorebirds, Tolliver pitched 17 and 1/3 innings while striking out 20. Since being called up to Frederick, he has two appearances with five innings pitched, no runs and four strikeouts.

In addition to Tolliver’s solid outing, fellow 2009 First-Year draftee Michael Ohlman continued his stellar year, belting his 11th home run of the year over the left field wall. It seemed to be the lone bright spot in the Keys offense, as they were unable to put anything together until the sixth, seventh and eighth innings in which they scored one run each. Ohlman drove in one other run on a fielder’s choice ground out, and now sits at .330 for the season.

Keys starter Julio Rodriguez allowed only five hits over his five innings of work, but errors by shortstop Sammie Starr and third baseman Tucker Nathans allowed rallies to continue and Rodriguez ultimately gave up four runs, taking the loss. Rodriguez didn’t seem to have much trouble finding the zone, giving up only one walk, but the MudCat lineup was able to put the ball in play and capitalize on the Keys’ blunders. One part of Rodriguez’s game that stood out was his ability to locate the curveball. His curve fluctuated between 65-71 mph, but never seemed to miss the zone, locking up a few Carolina hitters along the way.

The MudCats (11-11) received a quality start from starter Joseph Colon, who gave up three runs over six innings, as well as relief pitcher Rob Nixon, who pitched a flawless ninth inning to pick up his first save of the year. Center fielder Tyler Naquin finished the game a home run short of the cycle, going three for five, scoring three times and driving in one.

The Keys, who dropped to 9-14 in the second half, will look to split the Friday to Monday series Monday night against the MudCats.

 

Will Orioles starting pitching keep them from the playoffs?

Manager Buck Showalter takes the ball from starting pitcher Jake Arrieta  in the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers in June.  (Photo: Zimbio.com)

Manager Buck Showalter takes the ball from starting pitcher Jake Arrieta.
(Photo: Zimbio.com)

Numbers provide hope for contending Orioles

By Jordan Schatz, Editor-in-Chief

BALTIMORE – There appears to be a misconception around Major League Baseball involving the rotation of the Baltimore Orioles, and more specifically, the unit’s unsightly earned run average.

As of July 12—three games prior to the All-Star Break—Baltimore (51-42) sports a 4.75 ERA, good for 26th in the league and behind several last place teams including the San Diego Padres and the Chicago White Sox.

Pretty bad, right?

That statistic has led many media outlets in recent weeks to question the validity of the ball club, the ability for the team to sustain a successful playoff run and questions how a team, with a rotation that gives up nearly five runs a game, can be only a couple games out of a wild card spot. The old adage reads, ‘pitching wins championships’ and if the O’s can’t pitch (at least to start a game), then what chance do they have when the games really start to count?

The easy answer is the O’s hitting. Through the first half of the season, the Birds’ offense, behind the bats of upstart Manny Machado (.315 with 126 hits) and the league’s home run leader Chris Davis (34) is averaging 4.77 runs per game, meaning the team is scoring more runs than the starting staff is giving up and that’s always good because games usually (ok, always) comes down to which team has the most runs at the end of the day.

Of course, the above-mentioned statistic only works if the bullpen doesn’t give up any runs and as many beleaguered O’s fans know all too well, that unit, reinforced by closer Jim Johnson (6 blown saves) hasn’t been up to par either.

Therefore, if the pitching staff is giving up close to five runs a game and the bullpen is relinquishing enough runs on average to dismiss the highly productive offense, how are the Orioles currently the owners of the sixth best record in the American League?

The answer is simple.

One quick glance at the stat sheet will show you that most of the runs the rotation has allowed and the losses the team has accrued occurred in the games when the fourth or fifth pitcher took the hill.

It’s no secret that the Orioles have struggled to find a dependable hurler for the backend of the rotation. Coupled with the fact that the team’s inning leader and strikeout king from a year ago, Wei-Yin Chen, missed a majority of the first half with an oblique injury and it’s clear why the rotation is in shambles.

Jake Arrieta, the team’s ace from a year ago and this year’s clearcut No. 5 starter, opened up the season with a series of forgettable starts, quickly abusing his own ERA and taking the entire staff’s ERA along with him for the ride. Never once making it past five innings, Arrieta posted a hefty 7.24 ERA over five games before being optioned to the minors. His demotion gave way to what would become a procession of ineffective arms that would surrender a ton of runs and further cripple the Orioles’ rotation ERA.

Over a period of three months, the Orioles brass started nine different pitchers in replace of the ineffective Arrieta and the injured Chen, who went on the disable list May 12 and returned July 10 (when he gave up one run over seven innings). All told, the replacement pitchers took the mound for 32 games (a whopping 34 percent of the games) and coupled with Arrieta’s five short starts (one of which was a win after he only gave up one run over five innings in an 112-pitch performance), 40 percent of the team’s starts were made by pitchers not considered to be part of the team’s Opening Day rotation.

Of those 37 games, the starting pitcher recorded a win only six times and only twice made it past the sixth inning. Moreover, the Orioles went on to lose 19 of those 37 games, meaning that close to half of the team’s 42 total losses came on a day when Arrieta or one of the nine replacement pitchers took to the mound. With the starters only notching six of the remaining 18 wins, that means the offense and bullpen joined forces to place the other 12 games in the win column.

That’s pretty telling, and as you can imagine, pretty tough on a rotation’s ERA, not to mention the team’s bullpen.

Turning the Tide

As the calendar turns to the second half and many teams in the league gear up for a postseason run, the Orioles are hoping the worst is behind them. And if the worst for the Birds is an overall record of 51-42, than things around Camden Yards aren’t that bad after all.

For one, the Orioles rotation features three of the game’s best young pitchers in Chen, 27, Miguel Gonzalez, 29, and Chris Tillman, 25. Together, that trio has combined for a 21-9 record with a 3.51 ERA.

Oriole pitcher Chris Tillman is 9-6 record with a  3.47 ERA since July 2012. (Photo: Oriolespost.com)

Oriole pitcher Chris Tillman is 9-6 record with a 3.47 ERA since July 2012.
(Photo: Oriolespost.com)

Tillman, since July 2012, has quietly compiled a 19-6 record with a concrete 3.47 ERA. Over that span, he is second in the majors only to Detroit Tigers pitcher Matt Scherzer in win percentage and at such a young age, Tillman should be in the Orioles’ pitching picture for seasons to come.

Orioles Opening Day starer Jason Hammel, acquired via trade near the beginning of last season, has also been a pleasant surprise for most of his time in an Orioles uniform. Hammel, last season, despite a nagging leg injury that limited him to 20 starts, finished with eight wins and a respectable 3.43 ERA. He was an even bigger bonus for the Birds during Baltimore’s first trip to the playoffs in more than a decade, sprinkling eight hits and four runs over two starts in the American League Divisional Series against the New York Yankees.

This season, Hammel has been slightly more human, posting a 7-5 record but with an ERA just north of five. His real impact is on the Orioles’ visibly taxed bullpen, as he has lasted into the seventh inning a team-leading six times, an effort that keeps most of the relievers on the bench.

The Trade

Newly acquired starter Scott Feldman. (Photo: Eutawstreetreport.com)

Newly acquired starter Scott Feldman.
(Photo: Eutawstreetreport.com)

To put an end, once and for all, to the team’s fifth starter woes, the Orioles Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette took to the phones, eventually pulling the trigger on a trade with the Chicago Cubs on July 3, that brought starting pitcher Scott Feldman to Baltimore in return for Arrieta and struggling reliever Pedro Strop.

Feldman, 30, arrived with a 7-6 record and a 3.46 ERA in 15 starts for the Cubs. He also brought to the Orioles playoff experience from his time with the Texas Rangers, where he won 17 games in the 2009 regular season.

Duquette and the Orioles hope that this most recent trade will replace the vacancy left by Arrieta and lead to longer innings for the starters and less work for a bullpen that has tossed the third most innings of any squad in the American League.

With Chen back from injury, the Birds enter the final two-and-a-half months of the season with a rotation capable of placing Baltimore in back-to-back playoffs for the first time since the 1996-1997 seasons.

And who knows, maybe they’ll even bring back a ring to show for it.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES: First Half Report

The Baltimore Orioles are expected to make the playoffs following a strong first half of the season. (Photo: Blogbettor.com)

The Baltimore Orioles are expected to make the playoffs following a strong first half.
(Photo: Blogbettor.com)

By Patrick Maher, staff writer

BALTIMORE, Md. — It’s a little over halfway through the season and the Baltimore Orioles are hanging tight in the tough American League East at 47-36, 2.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox.  One year ago (from June 30), the Orioles were 42-35 with a five game deficit to the New York Yankees and began a losing skid into and through the All-Star break, eventually falling 10 games behind.  In the second half, the O’s went tearing through their schedule, eventually missing a division championship by just two games.  Just two months earlier, it seemed inconceivable with the margin between them and the Yankees that the Orioles would be fighting to the end for the division.  This year is much, much different.

At 11 games over .500 and following a 3 game sweep of the struggling Yankees, the Orioles are right where they want to be.  One would think that they’d rather be the leaders of the division now until playoff time, but for this team in particular, that is not necessarily true.  For this young team, it will benefit them in the long run if they are chasing the team ahead of them because, in that situation, the team is playing to win, as that is the only way to catch the team ahead.  If they O’s had the division lead, while they may say they are playing to win, they may, in reality, be playing to not lose.  Those sound like the same thing, but they are very, very different.  Playing to win forces you to hit your best, pitch your best, field your best and coach your best in order to succeed.  Playing not to lose requires that you do just enough to beat the other team, meaning that they may have the tendency to play down to certain opponents.  With this philosophy, stretched doubles turn into singles, diving catches turn into base hits, and plays at the plate are necessary sacrificed runs.  When push comes to shove, that is not how teams win their division.

The real purpose of this article, however, is not to talk about the second half; it’s to talk about the first half.  The Orioles have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, but have mostly given fans a first half to remember.  Here are my thoughts on the first half of the Orioles’ season.

Orioles Most Valuable Player

Manny Machado is the 2013 Orioles Most Valuable Player (Photo: SI.com)

Manny Machado is the 2013 Orioles MVP.
(Photo: SI.com)

If ESPN were writing this article, they would give the O’s first half MVP award to Chris Davis because they have some weird love affair with the longball as if it’s the only way to score runs.  Oriole fans, on the other hand, may have a tougher time deciding who their MVP is.  If you don’t know who is going to be named next, you need to start watching games more closely.  Of course I’m talking about Manny Machado.  Machado is 20 years old and leads the league in doubles, is second in hits, and is second in average among Orioles players, and is the best defensive third baseman in the game right now.  Barring Yasiel Puig continuing his ridiculous season for another month, Manny Machado is currently the best young player in the major leagues.  Chris Davis, on the other hand, is fighting for the honor of being called the best player in the entire league up to this point, with Miguel Cabrera holding that title now.  Davis is only 2 RBIs behind Cabrera and isn’t too far behind him in average.  Without Chris Davis, the O’s offense is not one of the best in all of baseball.  So who gets first half MVP?  The answer will be determined by my friend George Washington.  He says it’s Machado.

Orioles Least Valuable Player

Pedro Strop is the Orioles' Least Valuable Player through the first half. (NBCSports.com)

Pedro Strop is the Orioles’ Least Valuable Player.
(NBCSports.com)

Some would make the argument for Jim Johnson to receive ‘Least Valuable Player,’ but he leads the league in saves, so that wouldn’t make any sense.  At a time, it seemed like it would be Ryan Flaherty with his dismal production at the plate, but he has taken to an incredible pace with the bat and has won back many fans.  This one is an easy one, and it goes directly to the once unhittable reliever Pedro Strop.  It’s not quite clear what happened to Pedro Strop last September when he began to fall apart.  He was unhelpful in the playoffs and has continued to struggle mightily throughout the year.  Somehow, he was a crucial part of the World Baseball Classic winning Dominican Republic team, but none of that has carried over to Baltimore.  Many fans are calling to trade him, but he has severely decreased his trade stock.  It seems the only time fans can agree to put Strop in is if the Orioles have a double digit lead.  Any lead less than that is not safe from Sir Crooked Hat.

Best Pitcher

Again, this is a very tough decision between two pitchers on the staff.  In terms of win production, this would go to Chris Tillman, who sits near the top of the league with 10 wins to his name.  While he may not be a #1 starter according to national sources, he is most certainly a #1 starter in the eyes of the Baltimore fans and organization.  There is a very good chance that he ends up the top starter come playoff time ahead of Hammel, Chen, and possibly a starter to be named in a trade.  The other pitcher worthy of this honor is Tommy ‘Long Ball’ Hunter.  That nickname no longer fits though, as he has now established himself as one of the best relievers in the game so far this season.  Many are making the case that Hunter should be given the closer role over the struggling Jim Johnson, but that would be a tough decision to make considering Tommy Hunter has done very well in eating up innings efficiently, which is something not too many of the O’s pitchers can do nearly as well.  Once again, I’m going to have to let an old president figure this one out for me.  Teddy Roosevelt, former champion of the sausage race down in DC, says that Tillman’s tendency to give up the long ball allows Tommy Hunter to take this crown.

Worst Pitcher

See ‘Orioles LVP’

Best Moment

Chris Davis' grand slam on Opening Day (above) is the best moment of the 2013 O's season (Photo: Washington Post)

Chris Davis’ grand slam on Opening Day (above) is the best moment of the 2013 O’s season
(Photo: Washington Post)

This superlative has to go to Mr. Davis on opening day in Baltimore against the Twins.  Already having three home runs through three games, the crowd was itching to see Davis’ first bomb at home.  Not only did he launch a ball into the left field bleachers, he did it in grand fashion.  There have been very few crowds that got that loud that quick in Oriole Park, and rightfully holds the spot for best moment of the year so far.

Worst Moment

Jim Johnson has had a rough season so far.  He may lead the league in save with 28, but he is also among the leaders in blown saves and definitely leads the league in heart attacks initiated.  On May 20, it looked like the O’s were going to end their 5 game slide as the game against the New York Yankees entered the ninth inning.  He was entering the game having already blown two straight saves and lost control of his pitches.  With a 4-3 lead, Johnson entered the game and quickly blew another save as Travis Hafner sent the 3-1 pitch over the left center field wall.  The O’s went on to lose the game in the 10th as the struggling Pedro Strop took the loss, and the longest losing streak of the year continued.

Worst Game

If the Orioles hadn’t made it interesting in the game that the Rays put up a 12 spot in the midst of that 6 game losing streak, that would have most likely taken this wonderful award.  But, because the O’s fought back and only lost 12-10, it has to be given to a different game.  The worst game of the year, once again, involves James Robert Johnson.  Johnson entered the game against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 26, he was sporting a three run lead and facing a tough Blue Jays lineup.  After giving up two runs and getting two outs, up came Munenori Kawasaki, a young, scrappy Japanese player brand new to the majors.  Jim Johnson is his once normal form would have put this guy down in three pitches to earn the save, but that wasn’t the case on this day.  Kawasaki lined a 95 mph fastball into left field, driving in the game winning runs to split the series.  Johnson walked off with his head down and went straight for the clubhouse.  The only positive to come out of that game was that it put Kawasaki in the spotlight.  If you haven’t seen his interview following that game, or any other interview with him for that matter, you are really missing out on something great.

 Best Game

A walk-off homerun by Chris Dickerson (above) made for the best game of the 2013 O's season.  (Photo: Yahoo)

A walk-off homerun by Chris Dickerson (above) made for the best game of the 2013 O’s season.
(Photo: Yahoo)

A lot of good things happen when the Orioles are in their home black and orange jerseys, which are among the best in baseball behind the O’s orange, O’s white, O’s gray and Padres’ camo.  The best game of the season so far came on a black uniform Friday night against the Detroit Tigers on May 31.   Max Scherzer, the league leader in wins, was mowing down O’s left and right.  The only mistake he made all game came on an Adam Jones two-run dinger to deep center.  If Jim Leyland had kept his starter in for the ninth, this night likely would have ended in the loss column.  However, Leyland decided to put the game in the hands of his oft-struggling closer (now a minor league closer) Jose Valverde.  In 2011 and earlier, if the O’s were trailing in the bottom of the ninth, you would see fans filing for the exits in droves.  However, it seemed as if, on this night, the Camden Yards faithful knew something great was going to happen (although they were given a little hint when Valverde jogged out of the bullpen).  Nick Markakis decided to start the comeback immediately, sending Valverde’s slider over the right center wall just over the outstretched glove of Avisail Garcia to make it 5-4.  The hit parade continued as Adam Jones singled, followed up by a long Chris Davis single putting runners on 1st and 3rd.  With Matt Wieters coming up, it seemed inevitable that the game would at least be tied.  All he had to do was get the ball into the deep outfield and the game was tied.  Wieters popped out, leaving it up to JJ Hardy, who also popped out.  Still, nobody (except for a few bad apples) left their seats, even with an unproven Chris Dickerson up to bat.  On a 2-1 pitch, Dickerson launched the ball into the right center bleachers, sending the Yard into an absolute frenzy.  There are few things in baseball that will beat a capacity crowd witnessing a walk-off win at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.  Honorable mention goes to the 11-3 drubbing of the Yankees on June 29.

 Second Half Outlook

The national sports outlets are slowly beginning to realize the talent and depth on the Orioles roster, but they’re still not getting gas much respect as they deserve.  Most of these outlets comment on how weak of a pitching staff it is and that such a staff cannot navigate to and through the playoffs.  What they fail to mention is that this is a temporary rotation attempting to fill a gaping hole where Wei-Yin Chen used to be.  With Chen coming back and young guys Zach Britton and Kevin Gausman greatly improving, the rotation is looking much more solid than it has before.  With Chen returning soon and a possible trade for another starter, this rotation is absolutely built for a playoff run.  Even without a trade for a guy like Matt Garza, Bud Norris or Ricky Nolasco, this rotation is capable of playoff pitching.  If the O’s entered the playoffs with a rotation of Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, Hammel, Britton/Gausman, there is a chance that the O’s are the favorite in the American League.  Much of that depends on improvement from Hammel overall, Britton going one inning deeper into games and Gausman gaining better control of his power pitches.  If the Orioles rotation is clicking, there is no reason why they can’t be a challenger for the World Series.

Additionally, the lineup needs to continue to hit well.  I don’t think many expect Davis to keep up his current unfathomable pace, but there is no reason to say that he can’t.  He’s 100% healthy and seems to respond to any slump with a week-long tear.  Manny Machado shows no signs of slowing down, and don’t expect Jones to continue to put the ball exclusively on the ground.  If Jones and Wieters rediscover their old stroke, Flaherty continues to pepper the outfield, and Brian Roberts stays healthy, this lineup will take hold as the most frightening lineup in Major League Baseball top to bottom.

Last year’s Orioles team carried an incredible pace through the second half of the season and ended up barely missing a division title.  This season, the bullpen is worse and the record in one run games is nowhere near last season’s, and yet, this team is sporting a much better record as of now.  For the rest of this season, expect the Orioles to continue to fight for the division and home field advantage in the ALDS.  There is no reason to not believe that the O’s can overtake the Red Sox to win their first division title since 1997, and if that does happen, you can sure as hell expect this time to compete for a World Series Championship.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.