Saturday, May 26, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 17

Orioles Victory Number 17: 2-0 over the Tampa Bay Rays

2007 Topps Jaret Wright

Hey, hey David Hess. Have yourself a ballgame.  The rookie went 6.2 innings and didn't allow a run. He bounced back nicely from his last outing in Boston where he wasn't able to make it past the fifth inning and now has two wins in his three starts this year.  It looks like he's locked down the fifth spot in the rotation for the near future. Not bad for a fifth round draft pick.

It was a close game all night long. The Birds jumped out to the lead against Sergio Romo, the on-paper starter for the Rays, when Danny Valencia doubled in Adam Jones. From there it was all Hess as he worked his way through the Rays line-up pitching around four hits and three walks to pick up the victory.

There was one moment that it looked like the Rays might tie it up. Its one of those weird innings that always seem to go against a team stuck in a rut. In the fifth inning, with the Os up by one, Mallex Smith led off the inning with a walk.  Then Hess committed a balk. Still not quite sure what he did as his motion seemed exactly the same as every other one he did with runners on base. With Smith on second Hess tried to pick him off and Jonathan Schoop whiffed on the throw. The ball bounded into centerfield while Smith trotted down to third base.

Runner on third, no outs and some decent hitters coming up. Surely, the Rays would pick up at least one run and possibly more. Yet, Hess worked his way out. He got Daniel Robertson to ground to third with Valencia making a fantastic throw as he had to hurdle over Smith who was diving back to the bag.

Then with the infield in Jonathan Field made solid contact but drove the pitch into the ground right at Manny Machado. Rob Refsnyder followed with another ground ball and the inning was over with the Orioles still in the lead. In the top of the next inning, Schoop slammed his fifth home run of the season over the left field fence to extend the lead.

It was nice to see the Orioles work out of the jam with excellent defense and pitching. If they keep doing that, the wins will keep piling up.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 16

Orioles victory number 16: 9-3 over the Chicago White Sox

2018 Topps Opening Day Jeremy Hellickson

Why hello there dominant Dylan Bundy.  That's what Orioles fans have been waiting to see for such a long, long time. A complete game victory with 14 strikeouts (a career high) on 121 pitches (86 for strikes).  The three runs he allowed came off of one swing of the bat - a home run by Jose Rondon in the fourth inning with two runners on. It's Dylan Bundy - of course the runs are going to come via the long ball.

During the outing, Bundy picked up his 300th strikeout as a starter. He arrived at that nice round number in his 53rd career start and apparently no Orioles starter has racked up that many strikeouts in so few starts. For the record he has 333 career K's in the books with 32 of them coming during relief appearances early in his career. It's an oddly specific record to achieve, but good on him for doing it!

It is the second career complete game for the former first round pick. His first was last year, a one-hit, twelve-strikeout gem against the Seattle Mariners last season. For the record no other Baltimore pitcher has a complete game over the last two seasons.  The last player not named Bundy to go the distance was Ubaldo Jimenez of all players. He retired the final 17 batters he faced in a September start against the Rays in 2016. You would have to go all the way back to 2011 to find a pitcher with multiple complete games in a season. That hurler - Jeremy Guthrie. He worked two games start to finish.

Bundy has a ways to go if he wants to capture the the career franchise record. Jim Palmer, who else, holds the record with 211 which included four seasons that he had at least 20 complete games. Bundy has started more than 20 games just once in his career - 28 last season.  Pretty sure that Mr. Palmer will be holding on to his record for well...forever.

Since 2000 only once has a pitcher completed 10 or more games in a season. Big Game James Shields had 11 for the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays. My how times have changed for that organization as they are at the forefront of the "bullpenning" movement. They plan on starting relief pitchers in all three games against the Orioles this weekend with Sergio Romo starting both Friday and Sunday night and fellow reliever Ryan Stanek starting on Saturday. The theory behind their process is that the relievers will work through the top of the order once and set up the "primary" pitchers to only have to deal with the opponent's best hitters twice through the rest of the game.

It's an interesting concept and will be fun to see if the Rays continue it through the rest of the season and if any other teams adopt a similar philosophy. I don't expect the Orioles, tradition bound as they are, to be one of the teams to copy Tampa's experiment.

For Bundy the complete game start was another solid effort in his wildly inconsistent season. He's mixed dominating starts in with absolute tire-fire outings en route to a 3-6 record. After starting the season off with four starts where he allowed 2 or fewer earned runs, he followed up with three starts allowing five or more including the infamous May 8th start against Kansas City where he allowed 7 runs without recording an out. Since then he's had three starts, 7 shut out innings against the Rays, four runs in six innings against the Red Sox and the complete game against the White Sox.

Home runs have been his biggest issue, allowing a total of 14 through almost 63 innings pitched this season. No longer possessing a blazing fastball (his four-seamer averages about 91.63) he gets hurt when he leaves the ball up in the zone. If he can pitch ahead in the count, as he did on Thursday, he can force his opponents to chase the slider out of the zone because it is quite a deceptive pitch.

Hopefully, for the sanity of Orioles fans, he has more starts like this throughout the rest of the season.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 15

Orioles Victory Number 16: 3-2 over the Chicago White Sox

2001 Topps Delino DeShields

Welcome to the modern baseball victory. In their 3-2 win Monday night the Orioles had 5 hits. Three of them were solo home runs. They also struck out 12 times. Mark Trumbo went 1-4 with a home run and 3 strikeouts to personify the current era of the game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau April was the first month in the history of the major leagues where more strikeouts were recorded than hits. Professional hitters struck out 6,656 times during games played in April while only recording 6,360 hits.

The Orioles are no exception. In March/April Oriole batters had 207 hits while they struck out 250 times. The most egregious player was Chris Davis (no surprise) as he had 32 strikeouts and only 15 hits throughout the month. Manny Machado was at the other end of the spectrum, accumulating 37 hits against only 15 strikeouts.

This trend isn't going anywhere. Players are striking out more and more (10 seasons in a row the strikeout totals have risen) as the "hit it far or don't hit it all" trend continues. Throw in some historically bad weather and the specialized use of bullpens it's no wonder that so many players are striking out these days.

Of course this leads to plenty of columns bemoaning the effects this has on the game. What's even better are the ones that try to tie it to the rise of analytics. Are there more strikeouts and home runs? Yes. Is it the end of baseball? No. Does it lead to some boring-ass innings where it seems like nothing happens?  Yes.  In the overall sense of the game are their still moments that are fun and exciting to watch, yes as well.

How long will this continue? Probably at least for the next few seasons.  Baseball is nothing if not cyclical. At some point a team, most likely a lower-budget team, will start amassing a bunch of players that hit it to all fields and keep it in the park. They'll score a bunch of runs and then the other teams in the league will copy them. That's just the way sports go.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 14

Orioles Victory Number 14: 7-4 over the Boston Red Sox

2017 Topps Allen & Ginter Foil Brooks Robinson

I bought three boxes of Allen & Ginter last year. That's two more boxes than normal. The reason? The first two were Foil hot boxes. Which is cool if you're into that sort of thing. All I wanted to do was put together the base set.  Which is kind of hard when every card in every pack is a foil parallel.

Luckily I was able to sell off a large portion to a master collector and was able to recoup a lot of what I spent. I actually bookended my time in Chicago with hot boxes. The first box I ever bought was a 2010-11 Panini Certified box that had all parallel cards in it.  (Another case of being able to recoup my investment.) Then I ended it with a Ginter foil hot box.  Not a bad way to finish things up, even if I didn't care for the cards.

So why Brooks? It was his birthday yesterday. The Orioles Hall of Famer turned 81 and the Orioles celebrated by snapping a 13-game road losing streak. There were quite a few positives in the victory (in addition to gaining a game in the standings!)

1. Alex Cobb picked up his first win in a Baltimore uniform. He worked into the 7th inning, gave up 3 runs and lowered his ERA to 6.56. While on the surface none of those numbers are particularly breathtaking they do present a tremendous improvement over his first couple of starts. It looks like he is starting to get back into shape, which is good since he has a couple of more years left on his contract.

2. The Os broke the game open without the benefit of a home run. They actually got a hit with runners in scoring position. Adam Jones had the key hit in the fourth inning. After a Chris Davis double (that would have been a home run in most parks) and a Danny Valencia single left runners on second and third with no outs Joey Rickard and Andrew Susac popped out. It appeared that the Orioles were going to squander a key opportunity.

Then Trey Mancini worked a walk and Adam Jones lashed a pitch into left field that scored two runs (thanks to an off-line throw or else Valencia would have been toast). Manny Machado then drove in Jones and Mancini with a booming single to left-center.

Too often this year, it's been feast or famine for the offense. If they're not hitting home runs, they aren't scoring runs. In this game at least, they were able to actually manufacture some runs.

3. The Os tacked on runs. After the Red Sox closed the gap to 5-3, Jonathan Scoop blasted a Steven Wright knuckleball into the seats on top of the Green Monster. The Red Sox picked up a run in the bottom of the eighth to narrow the score to 6-4. In the top of the 9th, Mark Trumbo drilled a run-scoring double into the gap (with two outs) to widen the lead back to three. With the Red Sox's offense, that gave closer Brad Bach some breathing room in securing the victory.

4. The Orioles took advantage of Boston's mistakes. In the first, Mookie Betts doubled with no one out. It looked like Baltimore would promptly surrender the lead they had gained in their half of the first. Then Andrew Benintendi lofted a soft line drive to second base. For some reason Betts froze and wasn't able to get back to the bag in time to avoid getting doubled off.

In the second Xander Bogaerts singled with one out. Then, on what could only have been a busted hit and run, was thrown out by six feet on an attempted steal.

During the Orioles big fourth inning Jackie Bradley, Jr. air-mailed the cut-off man on Valencia's single. There was no way Davis was scoring from second and the throw allowed Valencia to move up to second. He then scored on Jones hit to left after Benintendi's throw was five feet up the line. Seriously, a half-way decent throw gets him by two steps at least. It also allowed Mancini and Jones to move up a bag each and then score on Machado's single.

So maybe the Orioles are playing their way out of their funk by simply playing better baseball. What a novel concept!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 13

Orioles Victory Number 13: 17-1 over the Tampa Bay Rays

1995 Topps Stadium Club Cal Ripken, Jr Cause & Effect

Man, that is a cathartic win. Just a week before the Orioles were getting their brains beat in on the west coast. Now, they're taking five out of seven and putting up runs the vaunted Yankee team would be proud of. Seventeen runs - a boatload of them against a left-handed pitcher at that. 

Not only that, but their ace looked like an ace again. Dylan Bundy bounced back from a disastrous start his last time out to hold the Rays to zero runs over 7 innings. The 4 walks weren't great, but he only gave up two hits - neither which of left the park. Compare that to zero outs recorded, five hits, four of which were home runs in his last start.

When his work was done against Tampa his offense had put up 11 runs (they would add 6 more in the bottom of the seventh). Those 11 runs were one more than the team had scored in his first four starts combined. It's nice when a team fires on all cylinders.

The latest run of success has brought a small amount of sunshine to an otherwise dismal season. It should not, however, change what needs to be done. That is blow up the roster. Even with their recent winning ways there is only one team with fewer wins (the Chicago White Sox). The two teams that the Orioles beat up on combined for a record of 30-50. Not exactly playoff material.

Still, it's nice to be on the winning side for a few games. Hopefully they can keep the good times winning. If they can keep this going against Philadelphia and Boston then maybe ownership should think about keeping the team together.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 12

Orioles Victory Number 12: 6-3 over the Tampa Bay Rays

2007 Topps Generation Now Nick Markakis

Congratulations to David Hess for winning his big league debut. After surrendering a three-run home run in the first, the rookie settled down and pitched six innings (honestly he probably could have gone at least 7) to pick up the 6-3 win.  Good for him.

Also, good for Nick Markakis. The longtime Oriole, now in his fourth season with the Braves, is having a bounce-back season for the surprising Atlanta ball club. He is hitting .340 with 7 home runs (he hit 8 in 160 games last season) and has a .420 on-base percentage.

Markakis was an Oriole for nine seasons and over 1300 games. Never a true power hitter he had 141 home runs, topping out at 23 in 2007.  His flat swing was more conducive to gap-to-gap doubles and he was able to spray the ball all over the park when he was on. 

I remember sitting at an old ballpark in 2006 in Jupiter Florida with my brother-in-law's dad watching some young, skinny kid launch line drives all over the park. It was quite invigorating at the time.  The Orioles had not had a winning season since 1997 (a streak that would continue until 2012) and they weren't exactly churning out the prospects. The only position player that they had developed that had a regular spot in the line-up was Brian Roberts.

So to see this lanky outfielder with a smooth swing drill the ball all over the field with authority was refreshing. Here was a first round pick that was actually panning out, something that had not happened for the O's since...Jeffrey Hammonds? That was all the way back in 1992.  The Orioles are seriously bad at first round draft picks.

He went on to be a hell of a player for some bad teams and was still producing when the Orioles started winning. For some reason his any power he did have all but abandoned him and he was a singles hitter getting paid $15 million a year. That was a bit too rich for Orioles management and they bought out his option sending him to free agency. He signed with Atlanta, closer to where he grew up and went to college and has been a veteran presence for a rebuilding squad.

As for the Generation Now card featured above - well that was an obscene waste of cardboard. For some reason at that time Topps and Upper Deck fell in love with bloated sets featuring the same card repeated time and time again based on some random stat.  There were insert sets featuring Mickey Mantle home runs, Barry Bonds home runs and Joe DiMaggio hitting streaks.

There are 582 cards in this set. This insert set. An insert set spread over Series 1, 2 and update. For Markakis there are 10 cards featuring the 10 games he had 3 or more hits. If you are a Markakis collector that isn't too bad, but for other players there were upwards of 35 or 40 cards just in the set alone.  Not exactly the easiest thing to get your hands on.

Orioles Victory Card Number 11

Orioles Victory Number 11: 9-4 over the Tampa Bay Rays

2018 Topps Heritage Kevin Gausman

I'm going to have to find some new cards to scan if this keeps up. The Orioles are starting to find their game a little bit.  Is it enough to dig themselves out of the hole they've dug over the first month of the season? Most likely, no, but it is fun to watch.  When this team is swinging the bats at their full capacity they may be the most entertaining team in the league.

As I type this, Manny Machado and Jonathon Schoop just went back-to-back against Chris Archer and there were a bunch of smiles in that dugout (and a lot of sunflower seed tossed in the air.  Has anyone gone on the disabled list with a scratched retina due to a sunflower seed bath? That would be awesome). The nine runs against the Rays on Friday marked the fourth game in a row that they've scored five or more runs and they're 3-1 in those games.  That's what they have to do to win ball games.

It's nice when a starting pitcher mixes in a nice start every once in a while. And Kevin Gausman did that on Friday. It wasn't pretty as he "scattered" 11 hits over 7.1 innings, but he got the outs when he needed and only gave up 2 runs. It was his fifth quality start in eight starts and the seventh time he's worked into at least the sixth inning. Those are the bulldog types of starts that help save bullpens and break losing streaks. With Dylan Bundy suddenly giving up home runs on every other pitch he throws and Chris Tillman hurting, the Orioles needed someone to step up and give them some decent starts. That someone was Gausman.  Hopefully he keep it up for a few more months.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 10

Orioles Victory Number 10: 11-6 over the Kansas City Royals

1992 Donruss Leo Gomez

For the first time in a month the Baltimore Orioles managed to string two wins together. Of course, they did it while I was on a brief 24-hour visit out of town forcing me to compose this on an Amazon Fire's portable keyboard cover. Therefore I apologize for any typos. Blame it on a compressed keyboard and slightly chubby fingers.

Still, how about that O's offense! These were the types of wins I was looking forward to when the year started. A poor starting performance (5 runs allowed in 1.1 innings by Chris Tillman) that is bailed out by a pretty potent offense (11 runs, 14 hits and  home runs). In all three games against the Royals the Orioles scored at least 5 runs. Is that the offense waking up or a bad Royal pitching staff? (checks the team stats - yup. It's the Royals pitching)

Still, O's fans need to take what we get.  Snapping a few hits together and putting a couple of balls on the right side of the fence is just what this team needs to get people interested again. Besides, it might drive up the value of a couple of these players when other teams come a calling for trades.

Why Leo Gomez today? Well he's my all second all time favorite number 10 in Orioles history. He was a middling prospect back when the O's were searching for a solution at third base. Over six seasons he managed to hit 62 home runs and drive in 203 runs in a Baltimore uniform. He also played a year for the Chicago Cubs before jumping over to the Japanese professional league for another few seasons.

He also played in some bitching glasses.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Orioles Victory Card Number 9

Orioles Victory Number 9: 5-3 over the Kansas City Royals

1986 Topps Denny Martinex 

Welcome back to the win column, Baltimore!  Following an 0-6 west coast road swing and 7 straight losses overall, the Orioles returned to their winning ways by knocking off the Royals 5-3 to pick up their first win in the month of May.

Once again proving that the win is a nebulous stat at best, the winning pitcher was Richard Bleier. The lefty reliever now has 3 wins (a third of the the O's total victories) in 22 innings pitched.  Not bad work if you can get it. Would it be hilarious if a reliever led the Orioles in wins this season - yes, yes it would.

The big hit of the game was from Chris Davis, a three run blast that cleared the left field wall by about three rows. For the slugging first baseman it was just his fourth home run on the season, but his second in as many nights.

It seems the big man's bat is slowly waking up. While his average is still below .200 he has picked up hits in four of his last six games, with several being to the opposite field. Could the return of Mark Trumbo to the line-up be just what he needed in order to get back into the groove?

Probably not since Davis is hitting below him in the order, but the re-addition of Trumbo does make the overall line-up much, much better. In fact, the games over the last week are as close to the full roster that we've seen this year. Yes Tim Beckham is still out, but would he be that much of an improvement over Danny Valencia at third base? Probably not.

So, are the O's primed to go streaking now that their line-up is in order? More importantly, will a brief winning streak keep the ownership from doing what needs to be done (blow the roster to smithereens)? Most likely no to the first unless their pitching can average more than one decent start a week and god I hope not to the second.

They need to completely overhaul this roster from the minors to the majors. This season is lost no matter how many games they win.  Accepting it now instead of later will allow them to maximize the assets they have. Get that bidding war going between  Chicago and L.A. for the services of young Mr. Machado.