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.