Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 47

Orioles Victor Number 47: 4-0 over the Houston Astros

2018 Topps Caleb Joseph

The Orioles finished their season like they began their season - with a victory. Unfortunately, the wins were few and far between during their other 160 games this season. Three pitchers combined to limit the defending world champions to just one hit and a 4-run, 4th inning provided the offense needed to send Orioles fans into the offseason with a glimmer of hope.

It was a season of chaos for the Orioles and their fans. A makeshift line-up and last-minute rotation led to a slow start. Injuries came and went. By June it was obvious that the season was over. By July the team was dismantled with every possible positive asset moved for prospects or international bonus money. By August and September the seats at Camden Yards were half-full and the team on the field had a barely competitive mix of journeymen and prospects.

The only constant through the season was the losses. Nineteen losses in April and May, twenty losses in June, August and September. July was their best month as they sported a record of 9-16 (thank you All Star Break), but it was also the month that saw Manny Machado, Brad Brach, Kevin Gausman, Darren O'Day and Jonathan Schoop decamp for other teams.

Adam Jones didn't leave, at least not on that hot summer day in July. He chose to stick around for a few more months, endearing himself even more to the Baltimore faithful. On Sunday, however, there was a feeling of good-bye for the long time centerfielder. Before the game, a live video popped up on his Instagram account showing him walking around the stadium handing out signed baseballs and his extra bats.

The game began and he took the field, alone, sprinting to second base before realizing his teammates had stayed behind. Both dugouts and all of the fans in attendance applauded him as if it would be his last game ever. Each at bat for Jones was marked by even more applause as the fans tried their best to thank him his years of service on the field and in the community. While there is a chance he re-signs in Baltimore it currently felt like his time in Charm City had come to an end.

That's what this season was - an ending. A finale to the recent run of success from 2012 to 2016 that saw them win an average of 89 games a season and make the playoffs in three of those years including a trip to the ALCS in 2014. It was end to the Orioles career of their most talented player this century in Machado and now the end of their linear face of the franchise in Jones.

It is most likely the end of Buck Showalter's time in Baltimore as well. Managers rarely survive 115 loss seasons and it probably isn't fair to keep him around for the current rebuild. Showalter has success with veteran players, not rookies trying to learn how to play at the major league level. Better to not re-sign him and give him a chance to latch onto a job in Anaheim or a reunion in Texas.

As for Dan Duquette...well he started this rebuild, might as well keep him around to continue it if he wants to stay in Baltimore. Just make sure that they work out a proper chain of command over the winter so that eveyone is sure of their roles within the organization.

Hopefully, this is the low point for the organization. While next year may not be much better, it isn't likely to be worse. Heck, even a 100-loss season would be a fifteen game improvement which isn't too shabby. Those fifteen wins or more could come from veterans like Chris Davis or Dylan Bundy bouncing back to mediocre seasons, god knows how many wins the Os could pick up if they decided to have good seasons.

So, forget about this season. Move on and dream of better days.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 46

Orioles Victory Number 46: 10-3 over the Boston Red Sox

2013 Topps Adam Jones Commemorative Patch Manufactured Relic

Well, that was a tale of two games wasn't it? In the first game of their day/night doubleheader the Orioles were waylaid by the Red Sox 19-3. Starting the day with a depleted pitching staff, it only got worse when Ryan Meisinger couldn't work his way out of the first inning, giving up five runs on four hits and a walk.

A cavalcade of ineffective relievers (with Donnie Hart being the lone exception) followed until the early game was capped off with position player Jace Peterson mopping up. He picked up a strikeout (a new career low for Christian Vazquez) before surrendering four runs.

So there was most likely a little trepidation as the team took back to the field later in the day to face a Red Sox team that had racked up 19 runs and beaten them sixteen times this season already. Oh, and potential Cy Young winner Chris Sale was on the mound as well.

Yet, this makeshift line-up somehow perserveared. A couple of hit batters and a timely Trey Mancini triple opened up the scoring in the first inning. Then, despite having the Red Sox come back twice to tie the the game early on, the Orioles found some way to keep scoring and, more importantly, prevent Boston from adding runs.

Jimmy Yacobonis maintained the damage for the first three-plus innings while left-handers Tanner Scott and Paul Fry worked the back half of the game with Fry picking up an old-fashioned three-inning save.

Wiley veterans Adam Jones and Mancini were the offensive stars as they went a combined 5-for-7 with 3 runs scored and 4 driven in. Just about everyone in the line-up contributed a few hits or runs scored in what was truly a team effort.

Even when it doesn't mean anything (other than a blow to Sale's Cy Young effort) it's always nice to beat the Red Sox. Now the Orioles limp home to finish their season against the Houston Astros for a four game set against the AL West leading club.

Much like the series against the Red Sox, these games mean nothing in the standings as Houston has wrapped up it's division title and is ensconced as the number two seed in the AL. The Orioles have locked in the worst record in the league and, at this point, probably just want the season to end. Really, the only drama that remains is if Chris Davis will get any at bats (and how will he be treated by the fans) and what kind of send off Adam Jones receives if this indeed his last home stand with the ball club.

Hopefully, Jones will hit at least one more home run in front of the fans so that he can trot around the bases and tap the Orioles patch on his sleeve one more time. Heck, even if he doesn't hit one out, it would be nice if he took one more lap around the bases after the game on Sunday.

Soon this season will mercifully be at an end and the real work in rebuilding the reputation of this ball club can begin. There is no doubt that at some point, maybe not soon, the Orioles will return to the top of the standings, but on a cool, cloudy afternoon in Boston, with them trailing by more than two touchdowns, that point seems a long, long way off.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 45

Orioles Victory Number 45: 6-3 over the New York Yankees

1985 Topps Traded Earl Weaver

The Orioles avoided yet another series sweep by winning on Sunday in New York. They inadvertently mimicked the Tampa Bay Rays "opener" strategy as Alex Cobb lasted all of four pitches. Luckily none of those pitches were tagged for home runs and the O's were able to overcome an early deficit on the back of two home runs from Tim Beckham and a couple of RBIs from the suddenly scorching hot DJ Stewart.

The win leads them into their final week of the season where they face the Red Sox for three games in Fenway before returning home to finish the season with four against the Houston Astros. Nothing like ending the season against the best team in baseball (Boston) and a team that should have a 100 wins by the time their jet touches down at BWI (Houston has 98 going into their series with Toronto). So that means there is a chance that the Orioles won't win another game this season.

Their season record against Boston is 2-14 and they were swept in Houston way back in April.  Should they fail to win a game in the upcoming week that will leave Buck Showalter with a record of 667-686 during his tenure as skipper in Baltimore. That's good enough for second in career wins as an Orioles manager as well as second for losses. He trails the man above, Earl Weaver, in both categories.  The diminutive Hall of Fame manager ended his career in Baltimore with a record of 1480-1060, a record which most likely will never be matched.

Speaking of endings, it sounds like Showalter's time in Baltimore is approaching it's end as well. USA Today's Bob Nightengale tweeted that Buck is "expected to be dismissed" when the season is over while Jon Heyman reported that the long-tenured manager is "very likely to be replaced" at season's end. Both reporters have been wrong in their predictions in their past about a great many things, but it's not going out on a limb suggesting that the manager of a club that has lost 110+ games is going to be let go, especially when the end of their contract coincides with the dismal season.

Of course, for Showalter's contract not to be renewed someone has to be in charge. And based on an article (paywall) by The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal from earlier this month - it's not quite certain who is running the ship these days:

"But the league, which has not heard from [current owner] Peter Angelos in the current calendar year, wants the Orioles to appoint a new control person by November or December, sources say. At the moment, even the extent of the son's authority is unclear, according to some in the organization."

Reports indicate that John and Louis, the aforementioned sons, are running the team due to their father's declining health. Former Oriole legend Brady Anderson, nominally the VP of Baseball Operations, has the ear of the younger Angelos' and may be encroaching on Dan Duquette's territory.  The same reports that herald Showalter's departure claim that Duquette should be retained. If he is, there has to be a clear delineation of duties between him and Anderson so that they hire the correct replacement for Showalter and engineer the rebuild correctly.

As for Showalter, he will leave Baltimore with a pretty good legacy despite the atrocious last season. He took over in 2010 and finished the season 34-23 (impressive for a club that finished with 96 losses). After another 90+ loss season in 2011, the Orioles took off finishing with .500 or better records in five consecutive seasons, peaking in 2014 with 96 wins and a spot in the American League Championship Series.

They would make it back to the playoffs again in 2016, losing in the AL Wildcard game when Showalter infamously left Zach Britton (who had given up 4 earned runs ALL YEAR LONG) in the bullpen and brought Ubaldo Jimenez (who was not having a great year) into a tie game in extra innings. That did not end well:

Since that moment, the Orioles magic seemed to wane. Despite being in contention for most of 2017, an ugly September sent them spiraling down the standings. The team that had outperformed it's underlying numbers could no longer slug their way past a bad rotation. The defense suffered as did their bullpen - the two hallmarks that allowed them to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees - and by 2018 the team was an embarrassment.

Has the game passed Showalter by? No, but that doesn't mean it isn't time for a new voice in the clubhouse. For whatever reason, the Orioles aren't responding to his leadership. Also, is he the right voice for a rebuilding team? He's managed for 20 years and has 1549 career wins. Three times he's been named manager of the year. Is it fair to him to have to watch 22-year-olds flail away as they learn to win at the major league level for the next two seasons? Probably not.

The competition to be the next Orioles manager will be wide open. Will they promote from within? The young players coming through the organization might be more familiar with the coaches from down in the farm system. Or do they go with an experienced bench coach that's ready to make the next step? That will be the biggest question for the brain trust on Eutaw Street to answer this winter and the biggest step towards building the next great Orioles team. Hopefully they get it right.

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.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 38

Orioles Victory Number 38: 7-0 over the Toronto Blue Jays

1976 Topps Mark Belanger

Whew. That win was a long time coming. After losing their previous 8 games (in which they gave up 5 or more runs in all of them) the Orioles beat their AL East counterparts 7-0 on the back of 6 strong innings from rookie David Hess and a 5 RBI night from Trey Mancini. They postpone their 95th loss of the season (and 9600th in franchise history) to another day.

I didn't watch most of the game, preferring a night out with The Duchess instead of the drudgery of a mid-August contest between two teams that had nothing to play for this season. Toronto is 29 games out of first place and focused on the future with young prospects Danny Jansen and Billy McKinney playing and phenom Vlad Guerrero Jr. set to make his debut sometime over the next month or so.

The Orioles are already starting to filter in some of their young players that may be around for the next competitive team as well. Cedric Mullins has made his debut and performed well in his first 16 games. He's taken over centerfield and made a few highlight reel catches already and held his own at the plate with a .305/.379/.402 slash line. He's riding a bit of a high BAbip right now (.348) so I expect his average to come down a little bit before the season is over, but he hasn't been overwhelmed by major league pitching (only 16% strike out rate) and it looks like he can be penciled in as next year's starting centerfielder.

Another young player that has kind of come out of nowhere is Renato Nunez. He's been handed the thirdbase job since the Manny Machado deal and has performed with the best stretch of hitting in his major league career. Over the month of August he's slashing .284/.370/.420 which way more production then the team was getting out of Danny Valencia and Tim Beckham. While his defense isn't going to remind anyone of Brooks Robinson anytime soon, his glovework is about even with Valencia and miles ahead of Beckham.  

Nunez is a nice find in a lost season. Had the Orioles been better he might not have received any playing time. But since they aren't, he was given a chance and has performed well enough to earn a contract for next season. He could be a nice, cheap stop-gap player until Ryan Mountcastle is ready for the big leagues. The Orioles control Nunez through 2024 and he could stick around as a utility infielder even after Mountcastle takes over the hot corner.

It's sometimes easy to forget that Trey Mancini is only in his second full season as a major leaguer. He played so well as a rookie last season that it just seems like he's an established veteran. Yet, he still has a lot of room for improvement. Other than Chris Davis' first half, Mancini's was the most disappointing.  There were times it seemed like he was lost at the plate and scuffling just to make contact. Some of that could be tied to the knee injury he suffered early in the season, but it also looked like he was trying too hard to pick up the slack left by the rest of the struggling offense.

His second half improvement is showing that last season was not a fluke. In the first half of the season he struggled to a .216/.292/.363 line with 12 home runs in 328 at-bats. In the second half he's upped his line to .292/.329/.496 with 7 home runs in only 137 at-bats.

The Orioles are going to be a mess for quite awhile while they try and find the pieces for their next contending team. The next year and a half is going to be spent plugging in players to see if they fit. It looks like, based on a small sample size, that they at least have 2/3 of their outfield taken care of with Mullins and Mancini. Hopefully, as the months wear on, they find a couple of more pieces.

So why a Mark Belanger 1976 Topps? Well, after completing a couple of sets this year (1983 and 2017) I felt it was time to start chasing another one before 2019 drops in January. This set just happens to coincide with the year I was born and it a relatively cheap set to put together as there aren't any major rookie cards that will seriously dent my wallet. The two key rookie cards are Dennis Eckersley and Willie Randolph while Robin Yount and George Brett have second-year cards.  So, it's doable.

One of the main challenges I'm facing is that I don't have a large collection of duplicates to trade from. Having only chased sets from recent years, I've been able to swing a lot of deals with dupes. With the 76 set I started with exactly four duplicates and have already traded them out. That means I'm going to have to hope collectors and traders are willing to part with their dupes in exchange for newer cards.

Also, I'm starting with the fewest cards I've ever started with (89) so I have a long way to go to finish it off. Still, it just takes one card at a time and that first card came in a trade just last week: 

If you have a stash of 1976 you're looking to get rid of, feel free to hit me up in the comments or check out my trading card database profile (Lightningfan7609). Hopefully, it won't take another 40 years to complete this one.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 37

Orioles Victory Number 37: 4-2 over the Cleveland Indians

1993 Leaf Alan Mills

On Saturday the Orioles broke another multi-game losing streak and picked up their third win in their last ten games. All it took was a complete game from Alex Cobb and a three-run shot by Jonathan Villar to do it. It was Cobb's first complete game since 2013 and the fourth in his career. It was also the fourth victory for him in an Orioles uniform. All of those wins have come on the road as he continues to be winless at Camden Yards in his career.

For Cobb the 100-pitch effort continues his second half resurgence. After struggling mightily the first month of the season (0-3, 13.11 ERA) the right-hander has slowly been putting his season back together. He now has two wins in his last four starts and a very respectable 1.55 ERA in the month of August.

He's now worked six or more innings in five consecutive starts and allowed three earned runs or fewer in seven straight starts. With all of the roster churn of the last two months he's emerged as the de facto ace on the staff. Which is what the O's management was hoping for when they signed him to a 4-year/$56 million deal at the end of spring training.

While I'm sure they had hoped his first few months in the Orange and White hadn't been as rough as they were, they were surely prepared for a little rust as he was coming off of a delayed training schedule. He also didn't have a feel for one his best pitches -- his change-up. He told the Baltimore Sun:

“I was just really lost on the mound, and it’s been a constant, everyday burden on me just trying to capture those mechanics again and just have the arm slot, to have an ability to get the changeup to do what it’s doing,”

He mentioned that when he made a mistake with that pitch it left the yard. In his first 14 starts with Baltimore he surrendered 14 home runs. In his last 9 starts only 7 have cleared the fences. He's inducing more ground balls weaker contact as the year wears on. 

On first glance his counting numbers (4-15 record, 5.09 ERA) aren't much to look at, but digging deeper shows the vase amount of improvement (and possibly the uselessness of wins as an individual stat). He has shaved two runs off of his ERA since June and in nine of his starts this year he's gone at least six innings and given up less than two earned runs. His record in those nine game - 3 wins, 3 losses and 3 no-decisions. That's just bad luck and a bad bullpen.

A start that typified his hard luck summer was June 22nd where he pitched seven innings against Atlanta, struck out six and scattered four hits. He left the game with it tied at one and then saw his offense finally remember to hit (and the bullpen forget how to pitch) as the Orioles pulled out a 10-7 victory in 15 innings.

His performance over the final few months might draw some interest from other teams looking to solidify their rotations. Unless it's a home-run deal (more Chris Archer return than Kevin Gausman return) then the Orioles should quietly hang up the phone. With the rebuild just getting started they need someone that can go out there every fifth day and give them a more than even chance to win a ball game. Cobb could be that veteran presence that helps stabilize a young pitching staff and that is worth more than some collection of fringe prospects.

The best case scenario for the Orioles will be for Cobb to get through the rest of the season healthy and continuing the run of quality outings he's posted since the All-Star Break. He can then enjoy an off-season without worrying about a contract and come to spring training fully rested and ready to take the ball on Opening Day.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 36

Orioles victory number 36: 6-3 over the New York Mets

1960 Topps Arnie Portocarrero

As far as I can tell this is the oldest Baltimore Orioles card in my collection. I don't remember how I came to acquire it. Chances are I picked it up from a dollar box at a card show or through a trade, although I can't imagine what I would have parted with that would have been acceptable to someone else. It's not like people are willing to part with a 1960 Topps in exchange for 10 1989 Topps.

Still, I have it and I'll keep it. Despite an awesome name, say it out loud and enjoy having "Port-o-ca-rer-o" roll off your tongue, I knew nothing about this pitcher from the Orioles early days. It's fitting that the post follows a victory over the Mets as Portocarrero was a New York native.  He debuted in 1954 for the Philadelphia Athletics and compiled an 18-37 record over 94 games for the Philadelphia/Kansas City organization. In parts of three seasons with the Orioles he would tack another 20 wins and another 20 losses to his totals to finish with a career record of 38-57.

It's a rather pedestrian record for a player who was highly touted coming out of high school. He signed with the Athletics in 1949 and spent the next couple of years in their minor leagues posting impressive numbers in all fields except the win/loss columns. Drafted into the army in 1952 his big league career was delayed two years as he served his country.

Following his military stint he was finally called up to the big club and pitched fairly well for a bad club, garnering a 9-18 record with a 4.06 ERAin 248 innings. Following the season he went to Puerto Rico for winter ball and suffered a shoulder injury that drained the velocity of his fastball. He would struggle to stay in the Athletics rotation over the next three seasons. Once hailed as the savior of the organization, he soon became an afterthought.

In April of 1958 he was traded to Baltimore for Bud Daley*. Daley had spent all of two weeks with the Birds as he had been traded from Cleveland with Dick Williams and Gene Woodling for Larry Doby and Don Ferrarese earlier in the month.

The 1958 Orioles finished 74-79 under manager Paul Richards. Portocarrero had a career year going 15-11 with a 3.25 ERA. Sapped of his fastball he was a pitch-to-contact hurler as he only struck out 90 hitters in 204.2 innings. At 26-years-old it looked like the Orioles might have found a diamond in the rough. Despite the lackluster final record, the 1958 Orioles did have a few of the pieces that would become the foundation for their run over the next couple of decades.

At third base was a 21-year-old Brooks Robinson. Teenage hurler Milt Pappas won 10 games for them. There was some hope for this team, which had only been in Baltimore for four years was turning it around. Unfortunately, Portocarrero wouldn't be around for the payoff. The only highlight of 1959 that he was involved in was not his, but Rocky Colvaito's. On June 10th the Indians clean up hitter slugged 4 home runs against the Orioles. Portocarrero was on the mound for two of those blasts, both of them off of sliders. Injuries limited him to just 39 appearances over the next two seasons and 1960, the year the above card was released, would be his last in the majors. He left baseball the next year and worked as a salesman in the Kansas City area for the rest of his life.

Had he pitched in a different era, a more modern era, perhaps his arm injury would have been diagnosed earlier or he would have rehabbed differently and been able to have a productive career. Instead he became another highly touted prospect that was out of the game before his 30th birthday. 

*Oddly enough - much like Portocarrero sporting a .500 record for the Orioles (20 wins and 20 losses) Daley did the same thing for the Athletics as he went 39 and 39 in four years with Kansas City before he was dealt to the Yankees in 1961.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 35

Orioles Victory Number 35: 5-4 over the Tampa Bay Rays

2003 Topps Jerry Hairston, Jr.

I should be writing about their 5-4, come-from-behind, ninth-inning win on Wednesday night, but the game that sticks with me tonight is the one from the day before.

Losses shouldn't hurt this much when your favorite team has done this almost 80 times in one season. Yet there it was, Tuesday night the Orioles were winning 3-1 in the top of the eighth when I checked my phone.  An hour and 10 guests later I checked my phone again and saw that the final score was 4-3 Rays.  I was actually depressed for the next 30 minutes.

I didn't even watch the game! All I did was check the MLB App and saw the final score. It wasn't until much later that night that I was able to watch the condensed game highlights and it was like watching Ralph Wiggum's Valentine's Day stretched over 10 minutes.

There was the initial sadness (no cards for Ralph) with Tyler Glasnow blowing fastballs by every member of the Orioles line-up. Two innings in and it looked like it was going to be a very long night for Baltimore. Not only were the Orioles looking inept at hitting but the fact that Glasnow was doing it was another needle. The Rays traded more than half of their starting pitching staff and still have more promising starters than the Orioles do. Could the O's have pried Glasnow away from the Pirates if they had sent Kevin Gausman to the Steel City instead of Atlanta?

Luckily the Rays left their tall, young hard-throwing son in an inning too long and he cho-cho-chooses to leave a fastball over the heart of the plate that Tim Beckham absolutely crushed to centerfield. Happiness! God bless that man and the subtle little bat flip. Eighty losses can't keep that man's confidence down.

Then the Orioles slowly build a lead with an opposite field home run by Trey Mancini, who is up to 16 home runs despite a horrendous first half. Mark Tumbo tomahawks a ground ball into left field to add another run. When he's eventually traded in December I'm going to miss the highlights of him swinging at pitches at shoulder level and unleashing hell upon them.

The Orioles are up 3-1 and Alex Cobb had gutted through another decent start. Much like Ralph at this point, we're happy. He has a date lined up with his beloved, he's wooing her with Malibu Stacy cars and Krusty tickets. All is well in his world. But his world isn't reality. All is well in the Orioles world, but their are signs of things heading for the cliff. They fail to add on to the lead when Chris Davis strikes out with runners in scoring position and then Mancini bounces into a double play.

Jonathan Villar leads off with a double and looks like he evades a tag on a play at the plate that would have given the Os a three-run lead. He did evade the initial tag, but he also evaded the plate. If his lead foot is two inches to the left maybe their is a different outcome.

Then comes the bullpen, or as Krusty might say, "Oh God, this is always death." What was once the strongest part of the ballclub is now a collection of untested rookies. Evan Phillips can't throw a strike, Chris Davis can't throw to second and the game is tied. Once Davis' throw on what should have been a routine fielder's choice at worst and a double play at best, this ball game was over.

Miguel Castro comes in to face Willy Ademes and five pitches later he leaves a 95-mph heater in a bad part of the strike zone and Oriole fans are like...

Again, this shouldn't matter so much. I'm old enough to have lost most of my hair. I use modern pharmaceuticals to keep my arteries clear of all the crappy food that I've eaten over the last 40 years of my life. I should not be sad when my team loses a ball game in the middle of freaking August.

August is the dumbest month in baseball anyway. Even fans of teams that are going to the playoffs are bored with baseball this month. They are ready for the postseason and games that mean something. If you're a fan of team that is 40+ games out of contention all you want is for the season to end. The only people that are paying attention right now are the ones that root for organizations that are fighting for a wild card spot. And even they are only kind of paying attention because of vacations, work and preparing for back to school. The real excitement will come down the stretch in September.

But I guess that's what being a fan is all about. Still caring about what happens to a crappy team is a sign of life and that apathy hasn't completely taken over. The Rays can also give Orioles fans a bit of hope. They have some exciting young players that they can build around in Adames (brought in via a trade), Jake Bauers (draft), Glasnow (trade) and Blake Snell (draft). There is no reason that in a year or two Baltimore could have a similar nucleus with Ryan Mountcastle, DL Hall, Yusniel Diaz and Bobby Witt, Jr. Right? We can dream about that.

What makes Ralph Wiggum so likable as a character? His unrelenting optimism despite being gifted with limited intelligence and skills. We want him to be happy even if it's just for a few moments or a few days. Even if the rest of reality is shouting that it's just an illusion (kind of like the baseball world and the Orioles recent success). So that's where we are now, I guess. Orioles fans are the Ralph Wiggums of baseball.

As for the card above. I really just like the photo used. It makes me happy. We don't know if Hairston, Jr completed the double play or chucked it into the first row of the stands, but in the moment captured on the cardboard everything just seems right in the baseball world.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 34

Orioles Victory Number 34: 9-6 over the Texas Rangers

2000 Topps Chrome Will Clark

After getting smacked around the first couple of games against Texas (losses of 17-8 and 11-3) followed by another hard-luck loss for Dylan Bundy (3-1), the Os finally bested the Rangers by smacking 4 home runs and outlasting the Rangers offense.

Mark Trumbo led the way with 2 majestic blasts to left field and plated five of the nine runs. Tanner Scott picked up his second victory of the year by working a whopping 2.1 of shutout baseball. It's games like these where the idea of outlawing the win as an individual pitching stat kind of makes sense.

With a reconstituted starting rotation I fully expect quite a few 9-6 games in the future. The Orioles still have three of their starters that they counted on this season (Bundy, Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb) but the other two spots are basically open for grabs. Yefry Ramirez started Sunday's game and was less than effective as he was unable to make it out of the second inning. The young righthander has shown some promise in his first stint as a major league starter, but has struggled a bit over his last two outings giving up a combined 11 runs in 6.2 innings. 

David Hess returned to the starting rotation on Friday, filling in the spot opened up by Kevin Gausman's departure and fared only slightly better than Ramirez. Hess was knocked out of the game in the fourth inning after surrendering seven runs to the Rangers. It was his first start since June 29th and he ran his disturbing streak of allowing five or more runs to five starts.

The moves at the deadline have laid bare the lack of major-league ready starting pitching in the Orioles organization. With a major rebuild under way they are hard-pressed to find five pitchers that can give them a reasonable chance of winning every day. Should they move Bundy in the off-season, this issue will only be more obvious.

Some of the prospects brought in will most likely be given a chance. Dillon Tate will see a couple of starts as will Luis Ortiz. The problem lies in the fact that all of their pitching prospects could use at least one more year in the minors and rushing them up next season might be detrimental to their development.

While the club will have a ton of money off of their payrolls it's unlikely that they will go after any of the big name free agents (not that there are a lot of exciting names). So the rest of this season could be a preview of next season. The good news is that Alex Cobb, with a full winter of rest and regular training, should be better.

Andrew Cashner could be in a spot to rebound as well as he has been betrayed a bit by a .320 BAbip. With the exception of his ugly start in Arlington he had been producing a string of gutty, respectable outings.

Pitching is going to be the biggest key to the Orioles turning their franchise back around. They are now into their second attempt to "grow the arms, buy the bats" as seen by their recent draft history. Their last three first round picks (Cody Sedlock, DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez) have all been pitchers. The main problem with that philosophy is that it takes time and their is no guarantee that it will work.

The last time they drafted three pitchers in a row with their top pick produced a decidedly murky result. Bundy was drafted in 2011 and has turned into a starter that can dominate if he keeps the ball in the yard, Gausman never reached his full potential before being dealt awat and Hunter Harvey can't stay healthy.

As I write this all out, it seems quite depressing because there is no immediate fix for their issues. It will be a long two months of this season and another long season after that before Hall, Sedlock, Tate and the rest are conceivably ready to make a difference. In the meantime the best we can make do is by betting the over in every non-Bundy start and at least make some money.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 33

Orioles Victory Number 33: 7-5 over the New York Yankees

1991 Score Bill Ripken

The Orioles are 6-6 against the Yankees this year. They are 7-6 against the Tampa Bay Rays. That's almost half of their total wins against just two teams. I don't really know what to make of it, but it's an interesting stat in a less than interesting year.

By holding on to the win against New York on Wednesday, the Orioles picked up their first win in the post-purge era. Yes, they had played some games without Manny Machado and Zach Britton, but as some fans had pointed out on social media, trading your pending free agents doesn't neccessarly mean you're rebuilding. Trading Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman, two players with controlled contracts, does.

The game also featured the debut of some of the assets brought back from the recent fire sale. Breyvic Valera started at second base and drove in a run while Cody Carroll pitched a scoreless inning against his former squad. Neither of these players were the centerpieces of their respective deals, nor are they considered especially prized prospects. They occupy a space somewhere between "throw in" and "future cornerstone" in the sense that they will fill in for the holes in the roster until the cavalry arrives in a couple of seasons.

Valera is 26-years-old and had 25 games of major league experience when he was traded from the Dodgers as part of the Machado deal. He doesn't project as more than a utility infielder/organizational depth, but he hits from both sides of the plate and will most likely start at second until Jonathan Villar is healthy.

Carroll throws hard, but has trouble finding the plate at times. Both of those traits were on display during his short stint against the Yankees. He reached 98 MPH on the radar gun several times, but also threw recorded nine balls in his twenty-one pitch Orioles debut. Several of his misses were up in the strike zone, especially with his breaking stuff. He'll have to work on keeping those pitches down if he wants to have success in Camden Yards. If he can keep his slider out of the middle of the plate, he might develop into a late-inning reliever.

It might be awhile until we see the rest of the prospects like Dillon Tate or Yusniel Diaz in the orange and black since there is no real reason to rush them to the majors. Of the players that came back in the trade, Villar is the one that will get the most playing time the rest of this year and that's ok. Give the young players a chance to get accumulated to the organization and then see how they do in training camp next spring.

JustinG.'s Final Trade Rankings
(in order of most likely to be traded)

1. Manny Machado
2. Zach Britton
3. Mark Trumbo
4. Jonathan Schoop
5. Mychal Givens
6. Dylan Bundy
7. Brad Brach
8. Kevin Gausman
9. Danny Valencia
10. Adam Jones

Five players from the list were traded at the deadline. Not bad, but not surprising either. It also isn't likely to be the end of the purge. I fully expect Bundy and Givens to have the name bandied about during the winter meetings. Teams will always be interested in young, controlled arms and with the Orioles basically giving up on next season, any deal that continues to improve their prospect pool would be welcomed.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 32

Orioles Victory Number 32: 11-5 over the Tampa Bay Rays

2007 Upper Deck Sendy Rleal

At some point at the end of March, when the roster had been finalized, General Manager Dan Duquette and shadow GM Brady Anderson had to look forward to weekends like this. They had to know that the team they had assembled would be hard-pressed to compete with the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros, but that with a little bit of luck and some old-fashioned slugging they might be able to contend for a wild card spot.

Unfortunately, as we all now know, that wouldn't happen. Instead the offense disappeared, the starting pitching (while better than last year) was still adequate at best and the bullpen, long a Baltimore asset, was beset by injuries and ineffectiveness. The season was lost by Memorial Day and by the All-Star Game the team was in full rebuild mode.

Yet, for three nights and one day, the Baltimore Orioles showed what could have been. Following a respectful 4-3 loss on Thursday, the offense exploded racking up 37 runs in their next three games. At the center of it was Jonathan Schoop. Mired in a tough season, the second baseman has been scorching hot since the All-Star break (also since his best friend on the team, Manny Machado, was traded). Against Tampa Schoop collected seven hits, three home runs and drove in six runs. He's riding a 12 game hitting streak and has raised his season .OPS from .652 to .720. He's flat out mashing the ball.

Much maligned first baseman Chris Davis had his best three-game stretch with seven hits in fifteen at-bats capping off the weekend with two home runs on Sunday. Almost as important are the five walks against two strikeouts in that time period. An indication that he's finally emerging out of his season-long slump just in time to avoid having the worst season ever.

Along with the rejuvenated offense, the pitching staff has come around as the team picked up decent starts from their big four pitchers. Alex Cobb pitched 6 innings giving up 3 runs in a bit of a hard luck loss on Thursday. Andrew Cashner followed on Friday with a gutty 6 inning outing in which he only let two runners cross the plate. With trade rumors swirling Keven Gausman went out and held the Rays to 2 runs over seven innings.

Also the target of some trade talks, staff ace Dylan Bundy took to the hill on Sunday and produced a typical Bundy-esque outing. He worked seven innings, striking out seven Rays and only gave up four hits. Because he is Bundy three of those hits left the yard. Of the 110 hits Bundy has given up this season 26 of them have been home runs. All three of the home runs were single shots as were the three he gave up in the game before. That's a positive sign amidst a troubling run.

Even with the 3 wins in a row the Orioles still sit a disquieting 42 games out of first place. The best they can hope for is to spoil a few games for the other teams in contention as they did with the Rays outside shot at a wild card spot. That and seeing who might be around next season. The line-up getting rolled out on a daily basis isn't really a building block for the future. This collection of players is pretty much the bungee cord holding your bumper up until you can buy a new car. That new car isn't coming to Baltimore until 2020 at the earliest.

It's not the season anyone, including Duquette and Anderson, hoped for back in April, but maybe it's the one they need. Instead of patching a falling apart car, they finally realize that it'll be better to save and invest in a brand new ride.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 31

Orioles Victory Number 31: 11-2 over the Tampa Bay Rays

2012 Topps Vladimir Guerrero

Two nights, two blowouts. Who are these hitters and what have they done with the Orioles? It's good to see them on the winning side more than once a week. I'm also glad they won last night so that I could post the above card on the day that Vlad Guerrero is officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While Guerrero and fellow inductee Jim Thome may not have had the longest tenures with the Os they did play with the Birds so that means two more plaques will have the words "Baltimore Orioles" printed on them.

The veteran outfielder signed with the Orioles in February of 2011 as part of an influx of veterans brought in by then General Manager Andy MacPhail. The 35-year-old was coming off of his 9th All-Star season and hit 29 home runs and driven in 115 for the Rangers the season before.  Also joining the team that year were Mark Reynolds, JJ Hardy, and Derrek Lee. MacPhail hoped their talents would mesh well with youngish players Matt Wieters (25), Nick Markakis (27) and Adam Jones (25).  It didn't as the Orioles finished fifth with a 69-93 record (oh to aspire to 69 wins).

Guerrero wasn't horrible slashing .290/.317/.416 in 590 plate appearances, but it wasn't quite what the Orioles were looking for after parting with $8 million for the designated hitter. At the end of the disappointing season, the Orioles 14th consecutive losing season, MacPhail stepped down and paved the way for Dan Duquette to remold the team.

While there weren't many highlights for Guerrero or the Orioles that season, he did record his 2500th hit in a Baltimore uniform - a double against Toronto:

His last major league home run also came in the black and orange - a blast to centerfield against the Angels (another former team):

Nothing he did that year rivaled his greatest highlight in Camden Yards. A feat he accomplished as a member of the Angels:

Seriously, how do you hit a 58-foot curve ball after it bounces in the dirt?

As for Thome - I don't have a card picturing him in an Orioles uniform. As far as I can tell there is only one and it's a 2012 Topps Update short print.

I do not own this card so it doesn't count as a victory card.

Thome's Orioles career was much briefer than Guerrero's. He was acquired in July of 2012 to help the Os fill their DH-void. The 41-year-old was traded for Kyle Simon and Gabriel Lino. Lino was a catcher at the time of the trade who made his way up to AAA in both the Phillies and the Cardinals organizations. He is currently back in Philadelphia's organization with Clearwater.  Simon also peaked at AAA and is now currently playing independent league baseball.

For the Orioles Thome slashed .257/.348/.396 in 115 plate appearances. His final career home run also came in an Orioles uniform:

Congratulations to Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome on your Hall of Fame inductions.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 30

Orioles Victory Number 30: 15-5 over the Tampa Bay Rays

2017 Upper Deck Masterpieces Cal Ripken, Jr./ Tony Gwynn

Well now.  That was an emphatic victory. Fifteen runs, a solid start from Andrew Cashner and big games from three of their remaining trading chips. Jonathan Schoop homered (his 6th game in a row with a big fly) among his three hits, Adam Jones hit a 3-run shot and Danny Valencia added three hits. Not a bad day's work against a feisty Tampa team.

Whenever Schoop or Jones has homered over the past few days there is that lingering feeling that it might be the last time they do it in an Orioles uniform. If the brass is serious about this rebuild then Schoop is dealt in the next couple of days or at the winter meetings. With a year of control left he could fetch a fairly decent return. Jones would be solid addition to any team looking for outfield help and then who knows what happens in the off-season.

At the ballgame on Thursday I had the discussion with my brother in law (who was wearing a Jones jersey) about the centerfielder's legacy in Baltimore. While it's unlikely that his number is retired (a honor reserved only for those who are in the baseball hall of fame) there is no doubt he would be inducted to the Orioles Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible. Seventy-eight players, coaches, broadcasters, staff members and fans (Wild Bill Hagy!) hold that honor and Jones would hold his own against any of them.

As for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown...well it could be awhile until another player synonymous with the orange and black will be inducted. Mike Mussina has the best chance, but there is a chance he goes in as a Yankee. If he did it would be one more blow to the collective conscious of Orioles fans in their never-ending battle with New York. After Mussina, there is a whole lot of nothing.

There could be a few players with tertiary ties to the ball club much like Vlad Guerrero (one season, 145 games) and Jim Thome (one season, 28 games). I could see a faded Mike Trout, fifteen years from now, playing out one more season with the Os as veteran leadership for yet another rebuilding team.

Of course, with baseball you never really know. The Orioles might catch lightning in a bottle with one of the hordes of prospects they've brought in or that they've draft over the next few seasons. It's unlikely, but you never know. After all, in 1978 teams thought there were 47 players worth drafting before Ripken and in 1981 57 players went before Gwynn. So, maybe the next great Oriole is lurking in Bowie or Frederick or Delmarva. Time will tell. Until then, fans will have to be content with the bronze statues that are already in Legends Park.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 29

Orioles Victory Number 29: 7-6 over the Boston Red Sox

2018 Topps Team Card

The Orioles picked up their first win since the All-Star Break and the first in the post-Machado era. In doing so they helped the Yankees, who beat Tampa, edge a bit closer to the Red Sox in the standings. Following the game they helped their long time rivals a bit more by dealing Zach Britton to New York for three pitching prospects.

In one week Baltimore has turned two soon-to-be free agents into eight prospects. How will the prospects turn out? It's too soon to tell. I will give credit to Dan Duquette and the rest of the staff for at least pulling in a vast quantity of prospects back even if none of them are sure-fire future superstars. Even with the lack of a Gleyber Torres-esque return, the Orioles have done an excellent job of restocking their average farm system. At least two of the players (Yusniel Diaz and Dillon Tate) will be among Baltimore's top 10 prospects for next season.

With Machado and Britton gone, what next?  There are six days left before the trade deadline so expect more deals. If Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are indeed on the table then there is a chance the Orioles could add at least one more top-10 prospect to their organization. Other than that, look for more organizational filler or even, God forbid, possibly some international bonus money.

Duquette and company have made the two easy trades and have done alright. And while they have talked about a rebuild they haven't committed to it..not yet. In order to complete the burning of Eutaw Street they have to make some tougher decisions. Trading the aforementioned Bundy and Gausman would signal that the rebuild is truly under way.  So would dealing Jonathan Schoop, Mychal Givens or Trey Mancini. All of these players have control past this year and could be enticing to not only contenders, but also teams that have stumbled a bit but are looking to improve. Trading young, controlled talent for future talent is the sign of a true rebuild.

Trading pending free agents is nice, but if they stop there, they can always walk it back in the winter by going out and signing other free agents. Which, I wouldn't put past this organization.  At this point I would say that anyone on the major league roster is eligible for a trade. To truly rebuild it will take a few seasons at which players Schoop and Mancini are going to be free agents. Why not move them now instead of devaluing them like they did with Machado and Britton.

Schoop for one seems to be trying to play his way off of the team as he has been red-hot since the break. He has regained his stroke and blasted 5 home runs and is hitting about .340 over the last week. Surely some team (Milwaukee) could use a second baseman with some pop in his bat. Move him out.

Other than trades, expect to start seeing some of the actual prospects come up. It might not be until September (can't start that free agency clock too soon!)  but I wouldn't be surprised to see DL Hall make a late-season start or two. It wouldn't be shocking to see Ryan Mountcastle or Cedric Mullins pick up some at-bats as rewards for their excellent seasons.

Stretch out some of the players that have already made the team. I hope they keep Yefry Ramirez in the rotation. Keep sending Tanner Scott out there in relief. He may be struggling a bit, but there is no other way for him to learn how to get major league hitters out other than to face them. Lets find out if he's the next Zach Britton or the next Brad Pennington. The same goes with David Hess and Mike Wright, Jr. The Orioles need to find out if they can pitch well enough to carry them through the dark times over the next two seasons.

If they go through with this rebuild it will be a tough couple of years for the Orioles faithful, but if they start now and do it right, then they can build a team that can compete for several years after that.

JustinG.'s Current Trade Rankings (updated!)
(in order of most likely to be traded)

1. Manny Machado
2. Zach Britton
3. Mark Trumbo
4. Jonathan Schoop
5. Mychal Givens
6. Dylan Bundy
7. Brad Brach
8. Kevin Gausman
9. Danny Valencia
10. Adam Jones

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 28

Orioles Victory Number 28: 6-5 over the Texas Rangers

2017 Topps Updates Jonathan Schoop.

Well, Orioles fans we made it to the All Star break. It was a long, arduous journey from Spring to Summer with too few highlights sprinkled about, but we still made it. The team gets to reset a bit, we can celebrate Manny Machado on the national stage (at least until he is traded mid-game) and then start an earnest look to the future in the second part of the season.

I won't be able to watch much of the All Star Game on Tuesday night (a drawback to working second shift) so it won't have any chance of knocking off my all time favorite memory of the mid-summer classic.  Turn the clock back to 1993 and a young JustinG. (about to enter his senior year in high school) is watching the game take place in his hometown of Baltimore..

The Orioles were playing pretty good baseball as they entered the break with a 47-41 record and only a game-and-a-half out of first place. After a mediocre start they had a scintillating June riding 10-game winning streak to a 20-7 record for the month.

Perennial All-Star Cal Ripken, Jr. was joined on the roster by young right-hander Mike Mussina who entered the break with a 10-4 record. The game would be remembered by most fans for John Kruk wanting absolutely no part of facing Randy Johnson after the somewhat wild left-hander sailed a pitch over Kruk's head:

Oriole fans also remember the game as the birth of the "Cito Sucks" chant. American League manager Cito Gaston, leader of the dominant Toronto Blue Jays, had a couple of chances to insert Mussina into the game. The hometown crowd chanted, "We Want Mike" as the right-hander warmed up in the bullpen during the ninth inning with the AL leading 9-3. Rather than placate the crowd and bring Mussina into the game, Gaston let his own closer, Duane Ward, finish out the game.

After the fact Mussina claimed that he was just getting his regular work in since he was scheduled to start the first game after the break for the Orioles. It has been suggested though, that Mussina was trying to force Gaston into inserting him into the game. By warming up in the very visible bullpen, he knew that the crowd would start cheering for him and Gaston would have to bring him in. He didn't, and the fans weren't happy. 

Gaston claims that he had informed the Orioles starter that he would only pitch him if the game went into extra innings so that by warming up on his own he was trying to show the Blue Jays manager up. Despite both sides trying to downplay the incident, they both became a little irritated with the matter as the season went on with Gaston reportedly saying, "By standing up, he showed me he's a person with little class. Screw him. I just won't take him {on the all-star team} next year. ... He showed very little class as a person."

Mussina, who had intended to apologize before hearing that quote begged off by stating that he didn't want to "make any more of a problem". For the record, Gaston managed the AL squad again in the 1994 All-Star Game and did in fact invite Mussina. He actually had him pitch as well. Mussina threw one inning, gave up a hit (Dante Bichette) and recorded a strike out (Barry Bonds). 

None of the above contained my favorite moment. The lasting memory for me came the day before during the Home Run Derby. I had secured a ticket somehow, I really don't remember now and sat in the left field stands to watch the stars of the day belt pitch after pitch out of the ball park.  The line-up included Albert Belle, Cecil Fielder, Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, David Justice, Mike Piazza, Ken Griffey, Jr. and the winner - Juan Gonzalez.

That's right, Griffey didn't win the contest despite having the single-most remembered home run of the contest. On that warm summer day in July, Griffey was the first and only player to hit the warehouse in competition.

That wasn't my favorite moment - in fact it took awhile for the folks in the left-field stands to even know he hit the warehouse due to the angle of the seats. It wasn't until the roar went up from the crowd that we knew what had happened.

My favorite moment was the home run hit by Juan Gonzalez. A blast that sailed over us in the lower left field seats, over the fans in the second deck of left field and crashed off the facing of the third deck - 473 feet away from home plate. To this day it's the longest recorded home run in Camden Yards history and an ungodly testament to what a human being trained in the art of hitting a baseball can do to a batting practice fastball (the home run comes at :50 of the below clip).

It remains the hardest ball I've ever seen hit live in person (and as a left-hander who occasionally caught too much of the plate with some mediocre fastballs I've seen a lot of pitches crushed) and I'll argue it's one of the hardest balls ever hit in the history of the game.

Gonzalez is sometimes forgotten about when it comes to the fearsome sluggers of the early-to-mid 1990s. His inclusion in the Mitchell Report and in Jose Canseco's book have tarnished his legacy quite a bit (and kept him out of the Hall of Fame), but in his day he was down right scary as an opponent.  Yet, by all reports he was one of the nicest players to ever break your heart with a booming home run. (Late in his career I was lucky enough to get his autograph before a game. He signed for about 30-40 folks at a game against the Rays during his second stint with the Rangers).

He never played more than 155 games in a season due to a variety of injuries, but he still managed 434 home runs. Unlike today's all or nothing home run hitters, he also had a respectable .295 career batting average, a .343 on-base percentage and a .904 OPS.  In 1998 he mashed 47 home runs AND 50 doubles in route to his second MVP award. He was a monster - no wonder he was nicknamed "Igor"

Whenever I see the highlight it also reminds of what it was like to watch the game as a kid. These guys were still heroes to me. I was still playing the game with some inclination of possibly being a major league player (that didn't work out - again the mediocre fastball) and possibly sharing a field with some of those very players. 

This was before the strike and before steroids were a thing (although look at that line-up, someone was most likely juicing already). For me there was still more joy in the game than frustration. Hopefully, those moments are still available to young fans. I think there needs to be that belief in the fun of the game and a little bit of hero worship in the younger generations before the jaded skepticism kicks in. Because it is moments like that that carry us through the tough times. A Gonzalez blast or Ripken spearing a ground ball up the middle and spinning a throw over to first are the memories that help when I read about the depressing things associated with modern athletics.

Maybe there was some kid in D.C. on Monday night that was awed by the display Bryce Harper put on and will carry that on as a lifetime memory. Or maybe Machado will do something spectacular in his last game representing the Orioles that will help us get through the back part of this season.