Offseason Inaction: Is It Truly A Concern?

It’s no secret that the Baltimore Orioles have been mighty quiet this offseason. Other than agreeing to a one-year deal to bring back outfielder Nate McLouth and letting Mark Reynolds leave to sign with Cleveland, not much of note has gone down.

Even though Baltimore is coming off a 93-win season, their first winning season since 1997, the inaction of the Orioles’ front office this offseason is unsettling to many fans. While division rival Toronto is infusing their roster with all kinds of talent via trades and signings and teams across the league are injecting new talent and filling voids, Baltimore is standing pat.

No big trades.

No big free agents.

No big contract extensions.

Nothing.

Is this a bad thing? Some fans and media people say yes. After all, the 2012 Orioles reached the playoffs with a lot of luck. Whether it was from timely home runs or clutch one-run wins from one of the best bullpens in recent memory, it’s not like the Orioles were carried by sheer talent. They were able to execute the little things and did that consistently.

The Orioles also churned out wins from a Frankestein-like starting rotation full of outcasts, no-names, post-hype prospects, and journeymen. Most of the members of the starting rotation were not part of said rotation in April. It’s probably fair to say that not a single member of the starting rotation was on a typical fantasy baseball team at the start of 2012.

“Sign an ace,” say the fans.

“Add a middle-of-the-order bat!” cry the media.

It’s undeniable that the Orioles need to keep building in order to keep the winning going for many years to come. But does that building necessarily have to come via the almighty dollar? Do the Orioles need to spend exorbitant amounts of money in order to win a World Series?

Well, at the current juncture, the Orioles are right to stand pat and not make big splashes in the market. First of all, they don’t really know the true identity of their team yet. Sure, guys like Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis, and J.J. Hardy are the leaders of the club. Obviously Manny Machado is the real-deal. But the overall situation is interesting because all positions are either occupied by a de facto starter, such as the men mentioned above, or they are filled with a bevy of intriguing players who will compete for jobs.

In other words, if the position is not catcher, shortstop, third base, center field, right field, closer, and, really, most of the bullpen, there will be competition among multiple players.

The Orioles still need to learn who they are before they go out an make big trades or signings. As the saying goes, learn to walk before you run.

However, some will hear that and say that they won 93 games last season. They know who they are already. They know they’re a winning ball club. The Orioles already know how to walk. Now it’s time to run!

Not so fast.

Again, even though this team won many games last year and made the playoffs, I’m convinced they’re still uncovering their identity. Let’s look at some of these position battles to get an idea of why the Orioles need to make 2013 their last ‘wait-and-see’ season before they really can start dropping some eight- and nine-figure contracts on superstar players, not to mention making those blockbuster ‘Blue Jays trades.’

 

Left Field: This position was bookended by two players in 2012: Nolan Reimold at the start of the season, Nate McLouth at the end. In between their stints as the primary left fielders was a jumble of spare parts; guys like Endy Chavez, Steve Pearce, Lew Ford, Steve Tolleson, and Xavier Avery were checking in and out of the lineup so regularly, even the most ardent fans had trouble keeping up with the changes. McLouth then came on the scene in early-August and the club never looked back. A reclamation project by Duquette and Showalter, McLouth is a former All Star who, at age 31, rekindled his skills and gave the Orioles a potent lead-off hitter.

Early indications look like McLouth will the main man at the position again in 2013. However, with Reimold seemingly healthy again, it could be a platoon situation as each player hits from a different side of the plate (McLouth a lefty, Reimold a righty). McLouth is the better fielder, however, and should get the lion’s share of the starts in left; Reimold should spend most of his time at designated hitter.

Many fans would prefer to see the Orioles fill this position with an impact player such as Justin Upton, a player who is being dangled by Arizona. However, the price to land a player of Upton’s caliber is extremely high and some argue the Baltimore farm system is still not at the point where the club can mortgage much of its future to acquire a player like Upton. Though he would slot right in to the lineup very well, Upton’s chances of landing in Baltimore, much to the chagrin on many fans, are slim to none.

Going forward with McLouth and Reimold, not to mention using Spring Training to check in on guys like L.J. Hoes, Trayvon Robinson, Conor Jackson, and others, is a prudent decision. Besides, if McLouth and Reimold can replicate what they offered last year, the Orioles will have a pair of very solid left fielders, a pair that, combined, cost Baltimore $3 million in 2013.

First Base: At the start of 2012, Chris Davis looked to be the guy going forward. His immense power, athleticism, and youth screamed ‘future star.’ However, he struggled with the glove and ended up losing time at first to Wilson Betemit, Nick Johnson, and even Nick Markakis a couple times. But, after scuffling yet again at the hot corner, in stepped Mark Reynolds and the Orioles suddenly had a guy with a golden glove. After the team finally put the nail in the coffin on Reynolds at third base, he found a home a first. It seemed like, when he was playing first, Reynolds could do no wrong.

However, the Orioles did not bring him back for another year so Reynolds is now a Cleveland Indian. It now looks like it’s back to Chris Davis for the Birds.

This is a situation that is not something to be overly concerned about in my view. It looks like Davis just had a bad year last year. You don’t hear about players having a bad year in the field too often but that really seems to have been the case. In the past, whether in the minors or when he was a Texas Ranger, Davis was a more-than-competent first baseman. He should rebound.

Davis’ bat plays very well from first base since he looks to be good for at least 30 home runs every single year. His effortless left-handed stroke is a sight to see. But Reynolds showed that a great fielder at first with the ability to scoop up all throws that come his way is something the team should no longer take for granted. Again, Davis should rebound and prove to be a solid option there, but it’s going to be hard to go back to having a mere mortal manning first. Reynolds was just that good.

Second Base: Here is where things get really messy. The first question is, obviously, what will Brian Roberts bring to the table this season? Will he contribute? Will he still suffer from post-concussion symptoms? Is he done now at age 35? If Roberts is healthy again and has kept himself in top shape during his time on the shelf, he’s an option for 2013. After all, the Orioles are paying him many millions of dollars and he’s been a great player for them in the past. However, the Orioles can not and should not rely on him at all. If he’s back, great, but they should not plan on it.

Here’s where guys like Ryan Flaherty, Alexi Casilla, Yamaico Navarro, Jonathan Schoop, and even Danny Valencia come in to play. All of these players are, or were at some point, notable prospects. All of these guys bring something to the table whether it’s power, speed, fielding, or all-around skills. However, it doesn’t look like any of them, save for Schoop, are guys to really get excited about.

If Roberts is a no-go, who is the one to step up here? My money is on Flaherty; at age 26, he’s still young enough to make a mark and has nice power from the left side. Flaherty spent the entire 2012 season on the 25-man roster due to his then-Super Two status. Though he had numerous opportunities last season he was unable to latch on to the full-time job. However, at the end of the year he began to catch a little fire. Perhaps that flame is still burning and will remain lit for 2013 on.

Navarro is a wild-card but even if he is a ‘hit,’ he’s likely going to give teams only 10 or 12 HR with decent average at best. He’s not a bad player by any measure, he’s just not an impact player like Flaherty could be. Casilla and Valencia seem to be guys who can fill in in a pinch but not anything more. Each has considerable big league experience as both played considerably with the Minnesota Twins in recent years. In fact, both saw decent success at times. Though neither had the same kind of success that a guy like McLouth had during his days with the Pirates, perhaps both find their stroke again and see a reemergence with Baltimore. After all, they’re both still relatively young (both are 28) and can still stick around for many more years, at least as reserve players.

As for Schoop, he will probably need another year or so to develop. This is a guy who can be a legitimate impact player in Major League Baseball. Some look at him as a future 20/20 guy but, again, it’s not likely to happen in 2013 (more like ’14 or ’15 as Schoop is still just 21 and not nearly as polished of a player as Machado).

In my view, this position is the biggest concern for 2013. It’s the one with the most questions. If the Orioles were to go out and trade for a player or sign someone, this would be the one. However, at this point, it’s looking like they’re going to go with who’ve they’ve already got. After all, with Roberts still on the scene and making a cool $10 million, it looks like they should wait to see what happens with him and then go forward with the rest of the pack if he’s done.

Designated Hitter: Buck Showalter is an advocate of not having a full-time DH. Odds are this will be a match-up-based situation. Nolan Remiold will likely occupy this spot most of the time; Wilson Betemit will get his time here, too, as will Chris Davis. Matt Wieters will DH on days he doesn’t catch as the Orioles want to keep that bat in the lineup as often as they can. Perhaps Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, and J.J. Hardy will DH on the rare occasions they take a rest.

This is a position of minimal concern considering Showalter’s philosophy on the position. Someone will be DHing every day, it just won’t be the same guy every time out. It’s not like the Orioles are wedded to a player who must DH as he can’t play the field. Although it would be a dream to be able to have a Big Papi or Billy Butler occupying that four-spot in the order, it’s nice to have the flexibility to mix and match every day.

Starting Pitcher: There are five spots in a starting rotation, as we all know, but the Orioles are entering 2013 with at least a dozen viable options for the rotation. Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Dylan Bundy, Wei-Yin Chen, Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez, Jason Hammel, Tommy Hunter, Steve Johnson, Brian Matusz, T.J. McFarland, Chris Tillman, Tsuyoshi Wada, and a bevy of minor leagues comprise the group vying for a spot in the rotation. I’m probably forgetting someone but, regardless, that is quite the group right there.

It appears Chen, Gonzalez, Hammel, and Tillman have the inside track for the first four spots. However all four of these frontrunners each have their own concerns. Has it finally clicked with Tillman? Is Chen a legitimate major leaguer? Will Gonzalez revert to his old ways that saw him become relegated to indy league ball? Can Hammel maintain his performance from last year and not fall back to ‘innings eater’ status that he had in Colorado and Tampa Bay? These are all valid points to consider entering 2013.

It also looks like Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz have found themselves as relief pitchers. Matsuz may move back to the rotation at some point, though it’s hard to deny the success he had as the top left-hander coming out of the ‘pen. Aside from the untimely home run he surrendered to Raul Ibanez in the ALDS (my apologies for reminding you of that moment), he was lights-out for the whole time he was pitching in relief. Still, the Orioles drafted him to be a starter so it’s hard to imagine him as a reliever from here on out for the rest of his career.

Hunter, on the other hand, looks like a great option going forward as a power bullpen arm and should stay in this role for good. This is a guy who bumped his fastball up from the low- to mid-90s to 100mph. He looked to be untouchable at times and really grabbed on to that 6th and 7th inning role. I see Hunter’s chances to rejoining the rotation as slim to none; Matusz, on the other hand, still may be viewed as a starter but there’s no shame in him finding his niche as a stud lefty reliever.

The lack of a sure-fire ace is concerning, though. However, the fact that Bundy and Gausman exist makes it far less likely that the Orioles break the bank for a pitcher of that caliber at this current time. These two are widely considered to be two of the best pitching prospects in the game; once they come on the scene, that is two less spots in the rotation to worry about. Odds are both are, at a minimum, good major leaguers. However, there is a real possibility both are top-of-the-rotation horses that the Orioles can lean on for years to come. Once they come to the big leagues, which could be sooner rather than later at the rate they’re moving through the farm system, the other dozen guys in the mix will be battling for those remaining spots in the five-man rotation.

Bundy and Gausman are that good.

 

It looks like the Orioles will stand pat and not make any significant moves. After all, pitchers and catchers report in a month and the season starts in less than three months; one would imagine they’d have already brought a new player on board. Still, there are plenty of players still on the market . . . but, again, it doesn’t look like the Orioles will pursue these guys.

Could this come back to bite them? Sure. They could end up seeing a bunch of their ‘nugget’ guys, as Buck calls them, fizzle out, thus leaving them with a bunch of spare parts and no one to build with. However, all this would tell them is they now know who to target in free agency and trades. They’ve got the core of Wieters, Jones, Markakis, Hardy, and the bullpen, now they just need the rest of these players to either continue their 2012 success or grab on to a job and not let go.

However, with the sheer quantity of quality guys as their disposal, it’s very likely the Orioles find a very good group of 25 to head up to Baltimore with (along with a few extras to boot). It’s probable that the Orioles are going to be in good shape for the season and will even be able to be somewhat active for once at the trade deadline. Maybe they’ll even enter the 2013/14 off-season ready to nab one of those hundred-million-dollar men.

Either way, a whole lot of questions will be answered in Spring Training and throughout the 2013 season. The Orioles, who are now winners for once, will really know themselves a lot better by the end of the year. And we can all rest easy at night knowing that, any day now, it will be announced that Buck will be sticking around for several more years, too.

Countdown From 50 (And MASN)

Without even getting in to any meaningful discussion regarding yesterday’s game, I will simply say that it was a peek at what’s been going on all year: in general, highly inconsistent pitching and a complete lack of ability to drive in RISP. The O’s lost to the Yankees 6-1 in one of their worst games all year. Let’s leave it at that.

Anyways, today I want to talk about a couple things and avoid talking about the Yankees series and the upcoming Jays series. The Yankees series was a microcosm of our season, in that all our problems over the past 112 games were squeezed in to three. And the Jays series, what with Russ Ortiz starting tonight and Daniel Cabrera starting tomorrow after being recalled from Ottawa, could prove to be one to avoid completely. What I want to discuss in today’s post is, first, what I want to see from the O’s over the course of the next two months and, second, what I think about the recent Comcast/MASN deal that, according to some, will be the panacea to the O’s losing ways.

In regards to my first topic of discussion, I think this season, at least what’s left of it, could be very valuable to our team’s future. Here’s why: we’ve got a ton of young guys who could use some time up in the big leagues to simply experience it with no strings attached. That is, no pressure to perform (although that’s easier said than done), no expectations, no game-plan, just up-and-coming prospects getting a chance to taste what’s to come. Now, by saying “no strings attached”, I don’t mean we should throw these kids to the wolves and hope for the best, not caring whether they succeed or fail miserably. Instead, I think we should take on a “sink or swim” attitude. Put these guys in pressure situations and see how they handle it. Bring up a young outfielder and see how he does manning the outfield at Camden Yards. Give ‘em 10 or 20 ABs, see how they do. Stick a prospect in the bullpen and put him in different situations, maybe he’ll take a liking to long relief or the seventh inning or spot-starting….who knows?

The whole point of this is, for starters, some guys just are not contributing anything at all. Others just seem to not be giving enough effort, even when considering there’s about one-third of a season remaining. Kevin Millar, although a consummate competitor, has been horrendous in every aspect other than working counts. Javy Lopez, now that he’s gone, will no longer take up an unnecessary roster spot that we could fill with a prospect who’d benefit from what I see as a learning experience. Russ Ortiz? Don’t even start with him; by tomorrow, we’ll all be saying that they should have just DFAd him and called up some random guy from Ottawa to spot-start. And Todd Williams will probably not even be in the team’s future plans so why keep sending him out to fail when we could send out some 23-year-old to gain valuable late-season experience? When that hypothetical player arrives in MLB for good, he’ll have “the monkey off his back” since he’s already experienced pitching in September.

Look, I know some of you may go by the book, so to speak. You may say that calling up prospects for the sake of “giving them experience” is detrimental to a their generally linear route to the big leagues. It will do more harm than good, you may say. It’s not how it’s done….right? Well when some players are dogging it and others aren’t doing anything more than filling a roster spot, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to want to call up some young talent….talent that will possibly be what comprises our future teams. After all, they’re big kids….if they go through tough times, whether it’s in MLB or AAA, they’ll make adjustments and improve in the off-season. I mean, not everyone’s a head-case like Zack Greinke….

Now, on to the MASN deal. Comcast, as many of us Mid-Atlanticites know (sorry, it’s the best I could think of….), is the monopolistic cable and Internet provider for our area. They pretty much provide TV for everyone and their momma in the Baltimore/Washington area. But now that Verizon FIOS is arriving on the scene, things may change….Verizon’s arrival on the cable TV scene, however, is a whole other issue that you can examine on your own. Anyways, here’s the beef on MASN/Comcast:

For the past year-and-a-half, basically since the Nats moved from Montreal to D.C., Comcast and Orioles-owned MASN (Mid-Atlantic Sports Network) have been negotiating a deal to get Comcast to run the MASN channel on its cable TV network. Comcast, of course, provides Orioles games on Comcast SportsNET but, off and on, games will either be broadcast on UPN (for me, at least….others maybe not UPN) or be blacked-out. At any rate, Comcast was not very big on the idea of losing the right to broadcast Orioles games since….well….that’s pretty much the only reason to watch CSN.

Anyways, in an attempt to avoid as much legal speak and technical jargon as possible, here’s what’s happened and what it means:

Comcast will now carry MASN and this will start September 1, 2006. After a year-and-a-half of not being able to see their team’s games, Nationals fans will now be able to watch every game since MASN will broadcast both the O’s and the Nats. Peter Angelos and the Orioles are the owners of MASN and, you guessed it — this is good. Why? Ever heard of YES Network? That’s the Steinbrenner and Yankee-owned network which exclusively broadcasts Yankees games in New York. Unless the game’s on ESPN, you ain’t watching the Yanks in New York unless you’ve got YES. And that’s essentially why Steinbrenner can afford a $200 million payroll….YES rakes in several hundreds of millions of dollars annually from advertising revenue and subscription fees. Yes, Yankee fans have to pay to watch the Yanks. Luckily, other than our monthly cable fee, we won’t have to pay for MASN.

At any rate, the reason why this is good is this added revenue for the O’s will allow Angelos to dedicate much more money to the current $70 million payroll and upgrade other facets of the franchise. Imagine what the O’s could do with another $30 million to put towards top free agents and resigning players who, in the past, we’d have to let go since we couldn’t afford them (B.J. Ryan and, even earlier, Mike Mussina).

Now, even though this deal will possibly put the O’s total-worth somewhere in the ballpark of $600 million, don’t expect the O’s to be shelling out payrolls comparable to the Yankees. But a $100 million – $120 million payroll wouldn’t be out of the question. In regards to this aspect of the issue, Baltimore Sun columnist David Steele put it best:

“So know this much: the Orioles won’t be layering eight-figure contracts on top of each other until they find the combination that works. They won’t shrug off Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui getting hurt and simply plug in Bobby Abreu.”

Anyways, before I start getting ahead of myself due to my excitement regarding the possibility that we could have a “Blue Jays-esue” off season in the free agent market (i.e. signing F.A.’s until we pass out), I think I’ll leave it at this: if it is, in fact, the case that the Orioles now have the resources (as if they didn’t before….) to field a highly competitive team mixed with talented young players and seasoned veterans at the top of their game, the winning has got to start. We O’s fans are some of the most loyal, knowledgeable, and best fans in baseball and we’ve literally suffered for the past decade. Watching Mussina go was really tough. Seeing Cal on losing teams year after year in the twilight years of his career sucked. Realizing that Tejada’s essentially been wasting away on a bottom-of-the-barrel team the past few years has been disappointing. And all the Sosas, Bells, Bautistas, Browers, Grimsleys, Klines, Millars, Lopezes, Seguis, Cordovas, Daals, and Chens that have passed through here over the past 10 or so years have added up to one big slap in the face of Oriole Nation. You call those guys answers to our losing ways? Please, the idea that some of those names could lead any team to a winning season is laughable. The worst, though, was seeing the Yankees and Red Sox win World Series and 80-100 games a year while we wallowed with the Devil Rays in the depths of the AL East.

So here’s to a brighter and more victorious future for the Baltimore Orioles. We fans deserve nothing less than plus-.500 ball, a packed stadium, and someone other than Jeff Conine batting cleanup.

Buckle Your Seatbelts, Folks….

The temperature isn’t the only thing headed to Baltimore that’s red-hot. The New York Yankees, winners of eight of their last ten, come to town to square off with the O’s tonight. This series could be disastrous as the Birds’ three most vulnerable starters, Bruce Chen, Adam Loewen, and Rodrigo Lopez, will be taking the mound this weekend. But before we look at what’s in store for us over the course of the next three days, let’s touch on the hottest topic of the day — Javy Lopez and his almost-definite trade to the Red Sox via waivers after the (possibly) season-ending knee injury to Boston’s capitan, Jason Varitek.

Now I know some of you may be thinking this is bad news. But in reality, it’s not. For starters, Lopez will be a free agent next year so odds are he won’t stay with the Sox for 2007 and beyond, unless he happens to perform well enough to show Theo Epstein and Co. that he’s not declining (which he is) and he’s worth keeping (which, for them, he isn’t). Odds are he won’t be in the AL East next season since, for starters, all five teams have their catchers set for next season (Hernandez in Baltimore, Posada in NY, Molina in Toronto, Navarro in Tampa, and, of course, Varitek in Boston).

But not only are the team’s catchers set for next year, their DHs are too. Jason Giambi has shown he’s still one of the most talented and feared left-handed power hitters in MLB, so NY is straight. Plus, with the acquisition of Bobby Abreu, the Yanks still have Gary Sheffield as a DH/OF option. The Red Sox have David Ortiz….’Nuff said. Toronto has a two-headed monster in Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay. And Tampa has their young, up-and-coming slugger, Jonny Gomes. What about us? We’ve got Jay Gibbons and several others, including David Newhan and even Miguel Tejada from time to time, can fill in to DH when necessary….and I think the O’s will get a younger, cheaper bat that Javy to fill the spot.

But enough of the prospective future — what’s this mean right now? For starters, the O’s are getting rid of a guy who, in my opinion, is bitter and can bring down team morale. And, aside from his $8,000,000 salary, he’s got every right to be bitter. After all, we brought in Ramon Hernandez to essentially take his job. But Javy was offered to be our everyday first baseman and/or DH….and he didn’t capitalize on the opportunity a la Nomar Garciaparra in L.A.

It’s kind of sad to see Javy go because he’s always been a player I’ve enjoyed to watch. He’s a great hitter and seems like a nice guy, but I don’t think keeping him would be fair to him or to Oriole players who shouldn’t have to deal with a log-jam at, of all positions, DH and catcher. I wish him luck wherever he goes and if it’s Boston, which it probably will be, I wish him just enough luck so that it doesn’t affect the O’s but hurts the Yanks!

Anyways, as for this weekend’s series, like I said, it could get pretty ugly. The Yanks are playing really good ball right now and are mowing through teams as they try to solidify their place at the top of the standings. I’m sure their players know this circumstances they find themselves in; the AL Central is extremely strong what with the world champion White Sox, the gutty and talented Twins, and, of course, the best team in baseball, the Tigers….so the chance of the Yankees earning a wild-card spot, in contrast with past years, is slim. After all, unlike the three Central teams, the Yankees lack a strong starting rotation and will surely be vulnerable down the stretch. If their pitchers can’t get it together, things may not work out like they’d hope.

But, once again, back to the series. I’m going to avoid analyzing this one and simply say that the O’s need to get some reliable pitching from their bullpen. This has been the biggest problem for this team as of late and, honestly, it’s killing them. Finally, Baltimore is enjoying some consistency from their bats as they’ve averaged about five runs-scored per game over their last three series. If the starters can go at least six innings each, the bullpen has to do its part to see that the team has a chance to win since it’s really unfortunate when a great game is ruined by a reliever leaving balls up in the zone, hanging for whomever happens to be at the plate to crush in to the left-field seats.

It would be great if the O’s could ruin the Yankees recent streak of solid baseball by taking two games in the three game set….but GOD, what I wouldn’t do for a sweep! The only team we’ve swept all year is the Royals and that was back in May….

Here are this weekend’s match-ups:

Randy Johnson, LHP (11-9, 5.07) vs. Bruce Chen, LHP (0-6, 7.07)

Mike Mussina, RHP (13-3, 3.40) vs. Adam Loewen, LHP (1-3, 6.44)

Jaret Wright, RHP (7-6, 4.57) vs. Rodrigo Lopez, RHP (8-11, 6.20)

More later…have a great weekend and remember the name of Javier Lopez Torres….

Rodrigo, Where’ve You Been All Year?!

Rodrigo Lopez led the O’s to a 2-0 win last night over the Seattle Mariners as he pitched seven-and-two-thirds innings, striking out five and walking none in what was arguably his best performance of the 2006 season. He probably could have gone the distance; his 82 pitches are proof he was simply “on” last night and the fact he threw three-quarters of his pitches for strikes showed his command was impeccable.

And my prediction from yesterday (“Tonight may very well be a game you may not want to watch.”) was obviously wrong since the pitcher’s duel that was last night’s game was very exciting to see, especially coming from the O’s. So yeah, my bad guys.

At any rate, Jamie Moyer wasn’t helped by his offense whatsoever as the M’s only managed to get on base four times the whole game. In fact, since this series started, hit-machine Ichiro Suzuki has gone 0-for-8 and committed his second error of 2006 by mishandling a ball in the first inning, allowing Brian Roberts to extend a routine single in to a double. So aside from the bullpen’s implosion from last night, the O’s have pretty much had Seattle’s number since yesterday’s first pitch.

Aside from Lopez’s great performance, the other guy who really shined last night — and has been since July 1 — was rookie Nick Markakis, who, by all means, is definitely not playing like a rookie. Kakes hit an RBI ground-rule double last night, a hit that would have netted him two RBI if it wasn’t for the fact that it bounced in the stands and forced Fernando Tatis to stay at third. And speaking of Tatis, he’s been hitting very well since joining the Orioles about a week ago; he’s hitting .375 (3-for-8) and barely missed a homer last night as the ball hit literally six or seven inches below the top of the left-field wall….

….but back to Markakis. If this kid doesn’t win player of the month honors, or at least rookie of the month, a major injustice will have occurred. In the month of July, Markakis hit .403 (31-for-77) with two homers, 10 RBI, six doubles, and six walks while only striking out nine times. He raised his season average 27 points and increased his slugging percentage by 44. Frankly, I think this is a sign of things to come and Nick will be one of the best players on the entire team within the next two years.

Anyways, it was nice to see a solid, fundamentally sound game last night from the Birds. This kind of game doesn’t happen very often but when it does, we can see our team has many bright spots that need to be complimented by players who will no doubt be on the market in the winter. Getting them is a matter of finishing this season strong and going in to the winter meetings with a set plan as to what types of players we need to acquire to put the icing on the cake.

Now, there’s something I would like to address, and that is the subject of post-trade deadline waiver moves. I don’t think the media — an entity that completely bashed the O’s inactivity during the trade deadline and put all the blame on Peter Angelos — really paid much attention to the fact that the waiver period was approaching and most of the expendable players we have didn’t command much value on the market to begin with.

I think the O’s will make some key moves in the coming days/weeks, starting with that grumpy old man, Javy Lopez. You know, for a guy who really hasn’t done anything more than complain and hurt his back all season, you’d think he’d be happy to have a role on an MLB team. It seems like after every game he catches, he’s hurt. Yet he says he should be the starting catcher for someone….but obviously, no one came calling. But now that Jason Varitek is out with a torn knee cartilage, it looks like Javy would be a perfect fit as a rental for the Sox’ pennant race since Tek is likely out for the remainder of the regular season. I wouldn’t mind the O’s working out a deal with the Sox to send Javy to Boston in exchange for a pitching prospect, someone like Abe Alvarez.

Maybe we can even send them Todd Williams, too….just as long as they include a box of sunflower seeds.

Anyways, aside from Javy and, yes, Todd Williams, there are a few more guys who could be gone this month. Kevin Millar and/or Jeff Conine would both be viable options at DH or first base for a team in need of that type of player. LaTroy Hawkins would also command decent value on the waiver wire market. Even Bruce Chen and/or Rodrigo Lopez would be decent options for teams looking for starting pitching….and that looks like pretty much every team in the race minus the Tigers.

So cross your fingers and hope the front office can pull something off. Because after the completely inactive deadline period, I think it would only make perfect sense to do something….

Moving along, let’s talk about today’s game; it looks like this afternoon’s match-up will be another pitching duel. Youngster Felix Hernandez will take on Erik Bedard in a battle of who can out-duel the other. Both are having phenomenal years. Bedard has finally broken out as the O’s clear-cut ace and Felix, at age 20, is showing the baseball world that he’s going to be around for a looong time. His massive frame (6’3″, 235lbs.) and his uncanny stamina, especially at his very young age, allow him to eat up innings and his “stuff” provides him with the ammunition to strike batters out and avoid walks, something very rare (see: extremely rare, as in pretty much never happens) among pitchers his age.

I’m going to avoid bringing in numbers and stats for this one. Come 3:00, just tune in to this game and prepare to watch two of the best young pitchers battle it out as two solid hitting teams attempt to drive in some runs on guys who generally hold teams to only two to four runs a game.

By the way, how about Mel Gibson? What a jerk-off! If you don’t know, he was arrested for DUI and was spouting off anti-Semitic slurs to the arresting officers and carrying on like a crazed, drunken, Jew-hating madman. To be honest with you, I think the man is bat-s**t crazy. I kind of feel bad for him….but still, a person in his position of influence and celebrity who directed and produced the Passion of the Christ (and, not to mention, lost his right from Disney to make a Holocaust-related film) saying things like that? The only conclusion I can come to is that he’s messed up in the head and need serious help.

But I digress….this is an Orioles blog! Let’s stick to the bat and ball business and leave the Gibson Gossip to Gawker or something….

More later. That is, more baseball later!

Loewen Can’t Outlast The Heat

For those of you fortunate enough to not live in the D.C. Metropolitan area, you are avoiding one of the worst heat-waves in the region’s recorded history. And that heat-wave started yesterday, the night when Canadian-born Adam Loewen took the mound for the O’s. Last night’s game temperature was over 90 degrees and the humidity was unbearable. And being from Canada, Adam generally hasn’t had to deal with the scorching heat he experienced yesterday.

But enough of the excuses; the O’s fell to the Mariners 10-5 last night in yet another tough loss which came at the hands of the Orioles’ late-game pitching. Loewen was simply superb through the first five innings as he surrendered no runs and struck out five, including sitting-down Ichiro in the top of the first as the All-Star right fielder swung at a low-and-inside strike three. But it seems the heat caught up with him as he fell apart in the sixth inning, giving up three runs (he gave up one more in the seventh before being pulled) and guaranteeing at best a no-decision as the game was tied 3-3.

This was Loewen’s longest outing of his young career but one is left to wonder if the heat wasn’t so severe, could the result of Loewen’s effort have been much different if Camden Yards wasn’t an open-air barbecue? Nonetheless, Loewen did very well and is visibly improving as each start passes.

Eddy Rodriguez didn’t do much to allow another Oriole comeback; after he came in with no outs in the seventh and got out of a jam after allowing only one run, the score was 5-3 entering the bottom of the seventh. Nick Markakis hit his fourth homer of the season, a solo shot to left-center field, to cut the M’s lead to one. But Rodriguez proceeded to allow four runs in the top of the eighth to put Seattle up 9-5. He started the ninth and surrendered another run, was pulled for Julio Manon, (who finished the game after striking a guy out, allowing a hit, surrendering a walk, yet allowing no runs), and retreated to the dugout as the game ended with the M’s winning by a margin of five runs.

Last night was simply a matter of whether or not the O’s young pitchers could get the job done in the intense heat. Starter Gil Meche was lucky to avoid a loss and young Emiliano Fruto was fortunate enough to not blow the lead as he looked extremely vulnerable. Nonetheless, the O’s were out-hit and lost as a result.

Tonight may very well be a game you may not want to watch. Oriole-killer Jamie Moyer is taking the mound for the M’s and the O’s, against Moyer, have a career team-average .243 and a slugging percentage of only .370 (in 292 ABs). Jeff Conine and Brian Roberts, who hit a mammoth lead-off homer yesterday off of Boog’s BBQ on Eutaw St., have fared the best against Moyer of all Oriole hitters. Both have nine hits off the 43-year-old lefty and Conine has three homers. In 79 ABs, Miguel Tejada (didn’t get traded) has accumulated a .253 average with two homers and seven RBI in 20 hits. Everyone else pretty much can’t see Moyer at all.

As for Rodrigo Lopez (didn’t get traded either), let’s just say the M’s like to face him. Their .292 team batting average in 137 ABs shows they can get the bat on the ball when he’s tossing them. Although the M’s have hit only three homers off RoLo, the “important players” (i.e. Ichiro, Raul Ibanez, and Richie Sexon) have netted a .380 average in 58 ABs against Lopez. So, yeah, tonight may be a bit tough to watch.

….But then again, the way the O’s have been swinging lately could lead to a little something in the win-column. For us, that is.

(P.S. – I’m going to stop telling you ahead of time when I plan to post. I know all three of you probably don’t care but I feel like me saying “expect something later” is a bit…dumb. Reason being, I said I’d post more yesterday — the trade deadline — and didn’t. So I kinda feel bad about that…at any rate, I’ll post pretty much five out of every seven days, so there WILL be a lot of content. That I can guarantee you.

But I’m going to cease my preemptive guarantees of posts.

Okay. That’s it. Thanks!

More later….and you can count on that!)

Trade Deadline: Four Hours Remain

It’s just about noon here in Washington, D.C., and I am simply overcome with anxiety, what with the trade deadline fast approaching. Guys like Sean Casey (traded to the Tigers), Wilson Betemit (traded to the Dodgers for Danys Baez), Ronnie Belliard (traded to the Cardinals), and, of course, Bobby Abreu (traded to you-know-who), have all been dealt and will play with their new teams today/tonight.

And, as most of you surely know already, Miguel Tejada is one of the biggest names on the market and is speculated to go, if he’s traded, to either the Angels or the Astros. I think he’ll still be here after 4:00 passes, but you never know….

Other O’s who’ve been mentioned in trade talks are Rodrigo Lopez, LaTroy Hawkins, Javy Lopez, Jeff Conine, and Kevin Millar. I wouldn’t mind seeing Todd Williams and/or Russ Ortiz get dealt, too….but the chances of those jokers going anywhere other than the free agent pool are slim.

At any rate, I’m at work now (not working) and will naturally be checking the wire for breaking trade news. If anything big happens, you will surely find it added to this very post. Let’s cross our collective fingers and hope something good happens!

Hey, Look On The Bight Side — At Least It Was Exciting!

If you didn’t notice, I’ve been on a brief hiatus the past few days. Just been catching up on some “me” time, if you know what I mean. Actually, I don’t even know what I mean. I’ve pretty much been sitting around doing not too much of anything — something I’ve been in much need of. I did go to the O’s game yesterday. Which was fun. But hot. And at four hours in length, the fact that it was at least exciting (as was alluded in the title of this post) made it that much more bearable.

At any rate, the O’s, not surprisingly, have lost their two first games to the White Sox. But what was surprising was the manner in which these losses came. Both games saw the Birds’ bats come alive. However, the pitching kept them in the loss column, which is too bad since the offense and defense, without a doubt, came to play.

The first match-up, a 6-4 loss which essentially came at the hands of backup first baseman Ross Gload — he hit a granny off Chris Ray in the top of the 9th — was the type that rips the collective heart out of fans of the orange and black. The O’s, guided by their ace, Erik Bedard, led the world champs for the entire game. Brian Roberts hit his second homer on the year off of Freddy Garcia and Miguel Tejada, a target of much trade rumors the past few days, drove in two runs as he DH’d his way to a 2-for-4 night. Kevin Millar added an RBI, too.

Bedard should have won his eighth-straight game; his 7.0 IP with seven Ks and two walks, along with eight hits allowed, was good enough to keep him ahead by two runs after Sam Perlozzo replaced him with big Chris Britton. Britton is continuing to have a very solid year; since we last checked his numbers here on Since 1954, he’s bettered his stats as he’s lowered his ERA to 2.70 and now stands at 32 Ks and 10 BBs in 40.0 IP.

Then came Ray.

In the spirit of keeping this short and not bashing Ray any more than he needs to be bashed, he gave up two consecutive base hits, walked a guy, and then surrendered a very untimely grand slam to an unlikely candidate in Ross Gload. That was Ray’s second blown save of the year, which is  one less than former teammate B.J. Ryan….he’ll get over it and so will we.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. The O’s still lost, but this one came in a different fashion. Starting for the Birds was six-foot-five, 22-year-old prospect Jim Johnson, who was possibly auditioning as part of a potential trade package. Too bad for Jim, though, as he was facing A.J. Pierzynski (5-for-5 with four RBI and a homer) and the White Sox.

The Sox won 13-11. Here’s how:

Johnson made it through 3.0 innings. In those three innings, he gave up nine hits, walked three, and surrendered eight runs. He threw 93 pitches (54 for strikes) and, obviously, showed he needs more time down on the farm.

At any rate, that made the score 8-4 after three.

Russ Ortiz then came in and pitched 4.1 solid innings — well, solid for him — as he gave up three runs and five hits. The worst part of his outing was the homers he surrendered immediately after taking the mound. Jermaine Dye and Pierzynski hit back-to-back shots off Russ to make the score 10-4. At that point, I though Russ was cooked but he turned it around and gave up only three hits after the unfortunate dingers. On one occasion, Russ was helped out big time by Corey Patterson, who made a fantastic Web Gem-worthy catch in center field to rob Brian Anderson (at least I think it was Anderson) of a double and an RBI; Patterson also doubled-up Juan Uribe at first due to the fact that no one in the stadium, including Uribe, thought that ball was remotely catchable.

To sort of run through this, Melvin Mora was 3-for-5 with an RBI, a walk, and three runs scored. Miguel Tejada hit his 19th homer on the year as he went 4-for-6 with three RBI. Jay Gibbons made his long-awaited return as he collected two walks and a double. Along with his great catch, Patterson added three hits, and RBI, and a stolen-base. And Nick Markakis, after going 4-for-5 with two doubles and an RBI, raised his season average to a very respectable .290.

The hardest part to watch was Ramon Hernandez‘s shot to dead centerfield with the bases loaded fall just short of a grand slam as Brian Anderson caught it with his back literally against the wall. If it would have cleared the fence, it would have put the O’s up by one after they made a gutty comeback in the sixth. It’s worth noting that the Birds scored runs in each of the final four innings, but the effort was slightly too little.

The O’s are playing, well, right now, actually. Bruce Chen takes on Javier Vasquez in a game which decides a whether or not the Sox sweep. Hopefully, the time off from starting has given Chen some time to compose himself and regain his control, command, and confidence….wow, that’s a whole bunch of “C’s”.

Ok, at any rate, let’s hope for a win. For the O’s, that is.