Thursday, September 20, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 44

Orioles Victory Number 44: 2-1 over the Toronto Blue Jays

1990 Donruss Ben McDonald

Despite avoiding a sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays, the Orioles appear to have the overall number one pick in next year's draft. The Royals (who were swept by Pittsburgh) are eight games "back" of Baltimore in the race to the bottom of the standings. One of the key factors in the Orioles victory was D.J. Stewart. The 25th pick in 2015 launched a towering home run and scored the winning run after doubling in the 7th inning.

Stewart had struggled in the early going of his MLB career as he failed to record a hit in his first 15 plate appearances. In his last two games, however, he is 3-for-5 with 3 runs scored. So, perhaps he is starting to adjust to his somewhat surprising big league call up.

Speaking of surprising, Stewart is the first non-top-five draft pick (not counting supplemental picks) drafted by the Orioles to make his debut for them since Brandon Snyder (drafted 13th in 2005) had a cup of coffee with the club in 2010 and 2011. Granted, the Orioles were drafting in the top 10 most of the years that followed so Stewart didn't have much competition.

Barring a late-season run, the Orioles will be drafting number one overall in 2019. As of right now, the consensus pick would be Bobby Witt, Jr., a five-tool shortstop playing high-school ball in Texas. Yes he is the son of former 142 game winner Bobby Witt. Entering his senior season at Colleyville Heritage, Witt Jr. could be the centerpiece of the next great Orioles team as a rangy shortstop who can win the game with his glove and his bat.

Of course, a lot can change over the next nine months. Witt Jr could struggle and fall back into the pack of other top shortstop prospects like CJ Adams or Greg Jones. The Orioles could decide they want a franchise catcher and go with Adley Rutschman from Oregon State. Or maybe they go the pitching route and are intrigued by Daniel Espino and his 99 MPH heater. While Witt Jr. might be the front runner, he's not head and shoulders above the competition.

The same can't be said for the player the Orioles selected the last (and only) time they had the first overall pick. When they finished with the worst record in the major leagues in 1988, there was no doubt who they were going to draft the next summer.

Ben McDonald literally towered over the competition. At 6'7" the lanky pitcher from LSU was the undisputed best amateur player in baseball. He struck out 373 batters in a whopping 307 innings during his three seasons in Baton Rogue while also starring for the US Olympic team in the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

Also, it wasn't like there was a lot of competition in the 1989 draft. Names like Tyler Houston (#2 Atlanta), Jeff Jackson (#4 Philadelphia) and Earl Cunningham (#8 Chicago Cubs) are familiar to only those who bet heavily on their rookie cards. Even in hindsight, the only real competition McDonald has was Frank Thomas, who was drafted 10th by the White Sox.

So there was no doubt the Orioles were going to draft a pitcher with a mid-90s fastball and a hammer curve. The problems began when they tried to sign him. McDonald and his father Larry were determined that the hard-throwing right-hander be paid what they thought he was worth, after all he was the highest-rated player by the Major League Scouting Bureau. Bo Jackson had signed a few years earlier for over a million dollars and that's what the McDonalds (advised by a young Scott Boras) were looking for.

The Orioles disagreed. Believing that Jackson's case was special (Kansas City had to woo him away from the NFL and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who had selected him in the NFL draft) they offered a mere $255,000 as a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

Negotiations dragged on. McDonald contemplated returning to LSU for his senior season (the reason Boras was an "adviser" instead of his actual agent was to allow McDonald to keep his amateur status. Another option was an alternative professional league that was rumored to begin play in 1990. Focused on 16 cities that didn't have major league teams, would be financed by a group of millionaires that included our current president.

Much like the USFL had lured some of college football players best prospects away from the NFL by offering them a lot of money, they offered Ben McDonald $2 million to join their league. He declined (rightly so as the league quickly fell apart). Shortly after the meetings in Trump Tower the Orioles and the McDonalds came to an agreement on a three-year $950,000 deal.

McDonald debuted later that summer and went on to have a mediocre career that was derailed by injuries. He finished with a 58-53 record with the Orioles before leaving as a free agent in 1996. He lasted just two seasons with the Brewers before retiring. He is now part of the Orioles broadcast crew and a cautionary tale for number one draft picks.

Being drafted first is no sure fire sign of future success. While Witt, Jr. has all of the tools to be an important part of the Orioles future nothing is guaranteed. There are a lot more Ben McDonald's than Ken Griffey Jr's in the history of overall number one picks.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 43

Orioles Victory Number 43: 8-4 over the Chicago White Sox

1973 Topps Paul Blair

In an entertaining game that featured not one, but two home runs that landed on Eutaw Street, the Orioles staved off tying the their franchise record for losses in a season. The 8-4 victory over fellow hapless team Chicago White Sox kept the Birds at 106 losses.  If they can win their next 13 games they will avoid sharing history with the 1988 squad that finished 54-107.

If that's not bad enough the loss coupled with the Red Sox victory left the Orioles 59.5 games out of first place and 24 games behind the Blue Jays for fourth place in the division.  The good news is that they start a three-game series with the Blue Jays on Monday night so they have a chance to cut into that deficit.

As for the 59.5 game hole they've dug themselves into.  Well, they have a chance for history. Since the Orioles entered in the league in 1954 only two teams have finished 60 games behind the league leader. The first came in 1954 when the Philadelphia Athletics lost 103 games and finished 60 games behind the Cleveland Indians.

The other team to finish over 60 games out was the 1962 New York Mets, an expansion team that bungled their way to 120 losses. The San Francisco Giants finished with 103 wins to pace the Mets by 60.5 games.

Even missing out by 50 games is hard in the major leagues. The only two teams since 1954 to finish 50 or more games behind the pennant winner was the 1998 Tampa Bay Devil Rays (an another inaugural season) who lost 99 games while the Yankees won 114. In 1979 the Blue Jays lost 109 games and finished 50.5 games behind the Orioles (ah the good old days).

The O's win on Sunday also prevented them from tying the 1962 Mets record of 120 losses. The most Baltimore can finish with this season is 119 losses which would tie them with the 2003 Detroit Tigers (who finished "only" 47 games behind the Twins) for the second most losses. So, yeah, they got that going for them.

They also have Cedric Mullins going for them. The rookie had four hits on Sunday, propping his batting average back up to .276 and his on-base percentage to .354.  After a bit of a slump, the Orioles minor league player of the year appears to be finding his stroke again. He also had a nice play in centerfield to rob Wellington Castillo of a double.

After starting the month in 4-for-37 slump (.108) he has strung together a 4-game hitting streak that raised his average 20 points. The four hits he put together on Sunday weren't spectacular, but they were effective as he doubled in the left-field gap, smashed one off of the second baseman, got a generous call on a pop-up that shortstop Jose Rondon missed, and then slashed a ground ball past the drawn-in infield on the left side.  If he keeps spraying the ball around the field he is going to be a tough out at the top of the line-up for many years to come.

It'll be interesting to see if the Orioles keep playing him. He's rapidly approaching the 130 at-bats limit that would disqualify him as a rookie next season. Would they rest him down the stretch to give him  shot at being rookie of the year next year? At a 141 games combined between the majors and minors, he's also appeared in the most games in his career. That's a lot of baseball for a kid who started in AA this spring. He's also battled some leg issues over the last month or so, so keeping an eye on his playing time might be beneficial.

If he continues to improve, he could join Adam Jones, Brady Anderson, Mike Devereaux and the man pictured above, Paul Blair, as an iconic centerfielder for the Baltimore Orioles. Not a bad lineage to continue. Oh, and to tie the Orioles to that 1962 Mets team, Blair was originally signed by the Mets in 1961 as an amateur free agent. The following off-season the Orioles selected him in the first-year draft, an offshoot of the Rule V process, for $8,000.  Blair would join the team full-time in 1965 and become a linchpin for the Orioles dynasty of the 60s and 70s.  Not bad for a 13th round pick.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A look at 2018-19 Upper Deck MVP (cross posted at Raw Charge)

How about a little break from baseball to talk about hockey cards? Over at my other piece of internet real estate, we're gearing up for the start of the 2018-19 NHL season. What better way to get it started than to open up a box of hockey cards?

If anyone is putting this set together go ahead and drop me a note. I'm only keeping the Lightning cards, everything else is available for sale/trade.

MVP isn’t going to wow a collector with their photo selections. It’s mostly full body shots of players skating and looking up the ice. This year’s version features a border on the left side and a full-bleed photo on the other.

It honors the original 1998-99 set with the slightly mechanical left-hand border but isn’t a blatant copy. The player name is easy to read along the border, but the team name and position gets a little lost in the MVP logo at the bottom. It’s a nice, clean looking card.

Read the rest at Raw Charge...

Friday, September 14, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 42

Orioles Victory Number 42: 5-3 over the Oakland Athletics

2018 Topps Living Set Joey Rickard

You're welcome Tampa Bay. The O's victory on Thursday night helped the Rays pick up a half game in the wild card standings. They now stand 8 games back with about two weeks to go in the season. Do they have enough time to catch them? Possibly. The two teams go head-to-head this weekend and if the Rays emerge on Sunday only down 5, it could get interesting.

That's enough about winning teams. Lets focus on the Orioles who win once every week or so these days. They did get a nice start from Dylan Bundy, as the "ace" went six innings for the first time since August 4th.  He still gave up a home run, because that's what Dylan Bundy does, but did strike out eight Athletics which is a good sign that maybe he's starting to get the feel back for his pitches.

The win could be a template for a host of 2019 wins for Baltimore. Bundy pitches well, Cedric Mullins and Jonathan Villar score runs while Mychal Givens locks down the game. Chris Davis had a day off as did Adam Jones (again).

The Jones saga is ending sadly.  Unless he is physically unable to play, he should be in this line-up. Using the "take a look at the young guys" is a poor excuse when the guys you are looking at are Joey Rickard and John Andreoli.

Rickard is 27-years-old and has 265 games of major league experience. The Orioles know who he is - a 4th outfielder with a little bit of speed who only hits home runs against the Tampa Bay Rays (4 of his 8 HRs are against the Rays this season). He doesn't hit for average, doesn't get onbase and plays average defense. He's not going to change.

While Andreoli is new to the Orioles, he isn't new to baseball. At 28-years-old, the right-handed outfielder has been in the minors for 8 years and 773 games. While it's nice that he's finally getting a shot at regular major league playing time, it's highly unlikely that he's going to show he's an everyday player.

These aren't the players you rebuild around. They are spare parts. Benching an organizational legend in order to showcase role players isn't fair to Jones or to the fans. The Orioles have 10 home games left and there are going to be some fans coming to see Jones play as an Oriole for the last time. Do you think they want to see Joey Rickard flailing at a slider off the outside corner?

Jones has already ceded his position in centerfield to Cedric Mullins. That makes sense as Mullins could possibly be manning that position the next time the Orioles are relevant. Giving up actual playing time (in his free agent walk year nonetheless) for two players that might not be on the team next year is unforgivable.

He's staying the company man until the end. No good can come out of him speaking out against being benched. All it would do it sour the ending even more. He's better off keeping quiet and filing this away when it comes time to make his decision this winter. The team is almost doing everything they can to drive him to another organization in the off-season. They already tried to trade him, they've moved him from centerfield and now they've benched him. The only way it would be more obvious that they don't want him around is if they leave him off of the charter flight to New York next week.

It's obvious that GM Dan Duquette was irked when Jones invoked his 10-5 rights to refuse the trade to the Phillies. He might "respect" the rights Jones earned by staying with the Orioles for his entire career but that doesn't mean he has to like it. Is the reduced playing time retaliation for screwing up Duquette's grand plan of acquiring another utility infielder or AAA starter for his All Star centerfielder? No one will ever admit it out loud, but the way it's played out, it seems like that might be the case.

While Buck Showalter hemmed and hawed about "responsibilities" and "factors" when it comes to putting a line-up together the organization realized that there defense of watching the young prospects develop was a little thin. So they finally called up a legitimate prospect.

The O's finally selected DJ Stewart's contract. He's gotten one start in left field (a 10-0 loss) and pinch-hit in yesterday's victory. Even if he starts all the games down the stretch, the O's wouldn't lose anything by starting Jones in right field. He won't be taking at bats away from prospects.  Trey Mancini can play first or DH and the Rickard/Andreoli combination can spit sunflower seeds on the bench.

Give Jones a chance to finish out his Orioles career on his own terms. Let him play down the stretch (especially at home).

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 41

Orioles Victory Number 41:  5-3 over the Seattle Mariners

2001 Topps Albert Belle

Despite their win last night the Orioles remain 54.5 games out of first place. They have been eliminated from this year's playoff. They may even be eliminated from next year's playoffs. With 23 games left it's time for the Orioles to embrace their role for the rest of the season - spoiler. While two out of the three divisions have been settled in the American League (Boston is up 8.5 on the Yankees in the East and Cleveland is up 14 on Minnesota in the Central) the AL West is still wide open.

Insert the Baltimore Orioles. Including the Wednesday night game against Seattle the Orioles have 8 games remaining against the top three teams in the West. Their combined record against those teams: 1-11. That's not very good.

Beating the Mariners 5-3 on Tuesday night dealt a massive blow to Seattle's playoff hopes (although a few more blows were landed in the Seattle clubhouse prior to the game). They are now 9 games behind the Astros in the AL West and 5.5 out of the Wild Card. Another loss to the woebegone Orioles and they can start making off-season plans that don't involve baseball.

Following a series in Tampa, the O's return home to take on the Athletics who are currently sitting 3.5 games behind the Astros and in the second wild card spot despite having Edwin Jackson as a key piece of their starting rotation. The A's will need to sweep the O's again to keep pace.

To close out the season the Orioles play the Astros in a four-game season. It won't mean anything for Baltimore, but Houston could be playing for their playoff lives. There is potential for another 2011 Game 162 scenario where an Orioles team with 93 losses dashed the dreams of the the Boston Red Sox in the most exciting night of regular season baseball in the history of the game.

The stakes may not be as dramatic as 2011, as it is likely that whoever doesn't win the West will only fall to the second wild card spot and have to take on the Yankees in the play-in game. The surprising Rays are the only non-west team that is within spitting distance of the wild card and even they are 8 games out of the second spot.

The Orioles could deal the Rays and their innovative pitching staff a fatal blow this weekend as they journey to St. Petersburg for a three-game series. Tampa is out of the race for the East, but are lingering in the Wild Card race and have been hot over the last month, with their overall record climbing to 11 games over .500. They have, however, struggled against the O's, splitting the season series 8-8. If they falter over the weekend their chances of a miracle comeback could be dashed.

There isn't much to play for over the next month for the Orioles. Sure, some of the prospects will get an opportunity to suit up in a big league uniform and the organization gets an extended look at some of the role players to see if they will be with the team next season, but other than that their season is finished. Ending the season of a few other teams may provide some empty solace for them, but it's the best they can shoot for so they might as well take advantage.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 40

Orioles Victory Number 40: 10-5 over the Toronto Blue Jays

2017 Topps Allen & Ginter What a Day! Adam Jones

All you need is this:

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 39

Orioles Victory Number 39: 12-5 over the Toronto Blue Jays

1981 Topps Orioles Team Card

Hey, hey how about two wins in a row? That's a bona fide winning streak! For the first time in a month the Orioles pulled off back-to-back victories as they won the battle of left-handed rookie starters by battering Blue Jays pitching for 12 runs and 17 hits.  Baltimore rookie Josh Rogers made his debut for the team (the first southpaw starter for the Birds this season) and worked five solid innings. He surrendered only 3 runs, which the offense more than took care of.

It was a complete team effort on offense as seven of the nine starters had hits, and five of those had multiple hits. Adam Jones lashed out four hits and scored twice, Chris Davis had two hits and drove in three. The top of the order (Jonathan Villar, Craig Gentry and Trey Mancini went a combined eight for fourteen and drove in five runs while scoring six. That's the offense fans were expecting at the beginning of the year.

Speaking of the beginning of the year, the roster has gone through quite a change in the last five months. Four of the position players that played in Tuesday night's game (Villar, Cedric Mullins, John Andreoli and Renato Nunez) weren't on the roster when the team broke camp. Of the four pitchers that appeared in the game only Mike Wright Jr was on the Opening Day Roster.

Whether due to injury, lack of performance, trade or demotion thirteen of the original twenty-five players on the roster are no longer on the Orioles. Even for a team that has struggled as much as the Orioles have - that's a lot of turnover.

The starting line-up could feature even more churn once the rosters open up in a couple of days. And by Opening Day 2019? Man, you're going to need a scorecard to figure out who is who. Adam Jones could be gone (but shouldn't be) as he is an unrestricted free agent as is Craig Gentry, Jonathan Villar has played well enough that he might entertain some trade rumors along with Dylan Bundy and Mychel Givens.

Could Josh Rogers be in the rotation in 2019? The Orioles may not have a choice. They need starters and the free agent market isn't exactly teeming with them. It's going to be an interesting off-season, that's for sure.