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.