baltimoresun.com

December 2, 2011

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Browns and biggest splash at baseball's meetings

For the first time all football season at the bar, beers are on me after being the closest to last week’s 16-6 Ravens’ win over the San Francisco 49ers.

I predicted it would be 16-14, and I said Billy Cundiff would have three field goals. So give me credit for at least being close. I’ll send several drink chips DSC’s way for a 10-7 prediction, however.

A couple of you tried to sneak in on Friday and give me the exact score a day late. Hope the bouncers didn’t hurt you on your way out.

This week, the Ravens have to go to Cleveland, and we know how bad they’ve been on the road against inferior opponents. But I’m not buying it this week.

Ravens win, 30-10. Ray Rice gets three TDs and 150 yards rushing against a porous run defense.

Now it is your turn. Predict the score, the winner and the player of the game.

Let’s switch to baseball. Next week, the sport’s annual meetings are held in Dallas. I’ll be there. And I’m taking two chargers for my phone. It’s the toughest assignment for a baseball writer – without question.

There’s just so many media members there – all trying to be the first to break a story. And let’s just say a lot of non-stories get almost broken.

At the end, though, there always seem to be a team or two that end up being the most active, that get on the podium several times in four days.

I want you to predict which team it will be that makes the biggest splash next week in Dallas. Heck, have a little fun and predict the moves.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Browns

Bonus Think Special: Which baseball team makes the most noise next week in Dallas?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

December 1, 2011

Who gets your vote for the Hall of Fame class of 2012?

The 2012 Hall of Fame ballot was sent out Monday, and, frankly, there aren’t any really impressive additions for this year.

Former New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams leads the group of 13 new candidates, which also includes former Orioles catcher Javy Lopez and Baltimore native Brian Jordan.

Williams was a good player on a great team, an exceptionally nice guy and a heckuva guitar player. But he isn’t a Hall of Fame baseball player. Neither is any of the new crew, in my opinion.

There are 14 holdovers from last year, including top returning vote-getter Barry Larkin and big-game pitcher Jack Morris, who is always the subject of a healthy debate when this time of year rolls around.

Mark McGwire is on for the third year, and Rafael Palmeiro is on for the second time – he got just 11 percent last year (75 percent is needed for induction; 5 percent to stay on the ballot).

The ballots are secret – you won’t know who voted for whom.

But this is your chance to have a BBWAA member hear your thoughts about this year’s Hall class. Which of the eligible former players listed below do you feel belong in the National Baseball Hall of Fame? You can vote for as many as 10 or as few as none.

Here is the list in alphabetical order: Jeff Bagwell, Jeromy Burnitz, Vinny Castilla, Juan Gonzalez, Brian Jordan, Barry Larkin, Javy Lopez, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Bill Mueller, Terry Mulholland, Dale Murphy, Phil Nevin, Rafael Palmeiro, Brad Radke, Tim Raines, Tim Salmon, Ruben Sierra, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Bernie Williams, Tony Womack, Eric Young.

Daily Think Special: Of the eligible players, who gets your vote for the Hall of Fame?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 30, 2011

Should the Orioles deal Guthrie this winter?

Baseball’s annual meetings start Monday in Dallas.

There will be tons of agents there hoping to get the best deals for their players. I am sure the Orioles will talk to plenty of them, letting them know there is interest in their clients.

And I will not be surprised if, at some point, the Orioles sign one or two free agents for 2012, likely lesser tier players who won’t get eye-popping deals.

But the sense is that if new executive vice president Dan Duquette makes a splash next week – or within the next month – it will be in the form of a trade.

When you look at the Orioles’ roster, there aren’t a whole lot of valuable trade chips. Their most coveted players – Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Zach Britton – are players that can be built around. J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis are solid players with contracts hefty enough that teams aren’t going to hand over the farm while absorbing those salaries.

Mark Reynolds would attract some interest, but remember the going price for him last year was two relievers, so you have to be realistic in what would come back in return. Much of the rest of the roster is filled with marginal big leaguers or inexperienced players who are young enough to have an upside but have not established themselves as future mainstays.

There is one guy, however, who seems utterly tradeable – so much so that we mention his name every winter and every July. And yet right-hander Jeremy Guthrie remains an Oriole.

There is a reason for that. Guthrie is solid and dependable. He will make 30-plus starts, he will throw 200-plus innings and he’ll keep you in most games in the AL East. That can’t be said – at least not yet – for the rest of the Orioles’ projected staff.

So it’s tough to consider trading your one dependable starter from a rotation of question marks.

The flip side is that Guthrie will be 33 in April and a free agent at season’s end. He’ll likely cost $7 million or more in his final year of arbitration considering he’s now thrown 200 innings in three consecutive seasons.

And he has trade value. Not as an ace, the role he is forced to fill in Baltimore, but as a middle-of-the-rotation innings eater on a good team.

And, frankly, the Orioles can lose 90-plus games with or without Guthrie in 2012, so why not deal him for a potential future part or two?

But there is a contingent out there that gasps at the idea of dealing Guthrie, simply because of what his absence would do to the rotation. There’s also the thought of extending Guthrie for another few years since dependable starting pitching is always a commodity.

Which camp are you in?

Daily Think Special: Should Jeremy Guthrie be dealt this winter?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (39)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 24, 2011

Prediction Thursday: Orioles-Niners and Vladimir Guerrero's future

Prediction Thursday doesn’t sound right.

But we still have to crack the bar door on Thanksgiving to accommodate the Ravens’ fans.

Last week’s prognostication wasn’t particularly good – I’ll give the free tab to Ultimate Ravens Fan who said the home team would win 27-17. They beat the Bengals 31-24.

This week’s game I hear may have some family connection. The only thing that makes a difference to me is that the Ravens will get homecooking, so I say John Harbaugh comes out victorious against brother Jim and his upstart San Francisco 49ers.

I’ll say 16-14 Ravens with Billy Cundiff earning hero of the game with three field goals.

Switching to baseball, the Orioles officially cut ties with designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero on Wednesday, choosing not to offer him arbitration. It was the obvious move, because Guerrero would have made in excess of $8 million in arbitration, so he likely would have accepted.

Technically, he could still return to Baltimore at a lower salary. But it would be a huge shock if that happens. His O's career is one-and-done.

Guerrero was a true pro in his season here, but he turned in career lows in nearly every significant offensive category and hit just 13 homers. However, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said repeatedly last September that he thought Guerrero would have a strong season in 2012.


I assume someone will offer him a low-risk contract. And he told me last September that he wants to keep playing.

So I ask you this: Is Vlady done? Should he ride into the sunset as the all-time Dominican hits leader in MLB history? Or will he bounce back in 2012, further buoying conspiracy theorists that are convinced the Orioles are forever cursed?

Oh, one last thing: Happy Thanksgiving to all. And, on a personal note, thanks for coming into this joint year after year even though we hiked up the cover at the front door.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Thursday: Ravens-Niners

Bonus Think Special: Will Vladimir Guerrero bounce back – somewhere – with a good 2012 or is he done?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 18, 2011

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Bengals and Prince Fielder

It’s Prediction Friday, and do you know who your favorite local pro football team is?

Let’s hope, for Ravens fans’ sake, it’s not the squad that was in Seattle last Sunday.

Most of us at the bar botched that prediction, thinking the Ravens would win. Some of you expected it to be close, but only one person predicted a Seattle Seahawks upset.

So congratulations to brogers, who gets the free drink tab this week for predicting a Seattle victory, 24-10. It ended up 22-17, but that’s close enough to drink on me.

This week’s Ravens-Bengals game should be interesting. I still don’t believe in the Bengals because, well, they are the Bengals. But I refuse to predict any more blowouts, even at home.

I say it ends up 24-13 and Ray Rice -- remember him? – gets two TDs. Now it is your turn to pick the winner and hero of the game.

(By the way, Ravens-Bengals is just one football game I am eagerly anticipating this weekend. I’ll be paying attention Friday night to the MIAA A Conference title game at Unitas Stadium in Towson between my alma mater, the Calvert Hall College High School Cardinals – insert cheers here – and some other private educational institution in Baltimore with a bit of a football tradition, I hear. I can’t quite remember that school’s name. Anyway, I won’t make a prediction on that one for fear of being attacked by racing dogs next week.)

To baseball: I’ve pretty much worn out most Orioles topics worthy of prediction at this point. At least until the offseason heats up more. So let’s just pick out one overall baseball topic and go from there.

I have been writing for months that I don’t see the Orioles spending what it will take to land Prince Fielder. But who will?

Because many of the big boys have first baseman already, the list of landing spots is intriguing. I’m going to go to left field for the first baseman and say the Toronto Blue Jays. They have money, and they are getting close to competing. And putting him at cleanup really makes that lineup scary.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Bengals

Bonus Think Special: Where does Prince Fielder end up?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 15, 2011

What's the best MLB hat ever?

The Orioles are about to bring back the cartoon bird hat. We’ll ask you what you think of that on Wednesday after you get to see the new version Tuesday morning.

Maybe you’ll love it. Maybe you’ll hate it. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts.

But today I want to know about your favorite baseball lids of all-time. I’m not a uniform guy, though I am a big fan of wearing baseball caps, especially now that they cover up some seriously exposed cranium.

Although I always liked the Montreal Expos’ blue one with the red bill, there are two caps that really stand out to me:

My second favorite is the classic Detroit Tigers’ black cap with the old D. So clean, so cool.

But the greatest of all-time has to be the Milwaukee Brewers’ M and b that formed the glove with the ball inside. Absolute genius.

You’ll have to really wow me to better that one.

Daily Think Special: What’s the best MLB hat ever?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 11, 2011

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Seahawks and Duquette's first noteworthy move

Have to say this joint was busting at the termite-infested seams Sunday when the Ravens came back and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 23-20.

Like many of you, my score wasn’t far off (27-20), but I had the wrong winner. I am OK with that.

Lots of close scores. Smitty15 (24-23) and Max (24-17) get free drink chips, but our free tab of the week goes to Dave from Glen Burnie, who had the Ravens winning, 21-20.

Impressive, Dave. Drink up.

This week, there’s another chance for a hiccup game like what happened in Jacksonville. But I’m not going there, though I will say that it could be a little closer in Seattle than many will expect.

I’m going with 24-14 Ravens, with Joe Flacco hitting Anquan Boldin with a late TD to cement the victory. It will be Boldin’s second TD of the day, giving him hero of the game honors.

Now it is your turn to predict the winner, the score and the hero of the Ravens-Seattle game.

Switching to baseball, we are now in the Dan Duquette Era in Baltimore. He’ll really get thrown into the fire Tuesday at the GM meetings, where the groundwork is often laid for moves at the December winter meetings or later on this offseason.

Here’s what I want you to predict: What will Duquette do first, make a trade or sign a free agent? And I am not talking a minor league free agent (which has already happened) but a player slated for the 25-man roster.

For a bonus – if you are really feeling creative – tell me who gets traded or signed.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Seahawks

Bonus Think Special: Duquette’s first noteworthy move: trade or signing?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (28)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 9, 2011

Do you like the Duquette hiring? Can he succeed here?

Dan Duquette is now officially the Orioles’ GM – or, should we say, executive vice president of baseball operations.

He signed his contract and had his introductory news conference.

By now, I assume you’ve had a chance to digest the concept of Duquette running things and have had a chance to read about his thoughts taking over the Orioles.

Now I want to know what you think about the move to hire him.

Here are my two cents: Among the candidates, he wouldn't have been my first choice. But I’ll give the guy some time to establish himself as a decision-maker and leader before I applaud or pan him. His track record really is excellent, that’s for sure.

That said, his time away from the game gives me pause. When you are that good, and you don’t get hired for nearly a decade, something is up. And I am not fully buying that it was because he had other interests and priorities. Maybe for a few years; not for nine.

Part of it is that he alienated a lot of people – other GMs, media types, team personnel – when he was in Boston. And when you get a certain reputation in baseball, it’s extremely hard to shake, even if it has been exaggerated.

But Duquette’s tenure in Boston was a long time ago. And he joked Tuesday that he now expects to be “kinder and friendlier” this time around.

The Duquette we saw at Tuesday’s press conference was one that was a bit vague in specifics and a bit awkward in the spotlight. He inadvertently mentioned bringing a championship back to “Boston,” and he initially and incorrectly challenged a question about the Orioles producing no homegrown players from Venezuela.

In short, he doesn’t have the same polish as the club’s past few executives, including his cousin, Jim.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter whether he is a good speaker or whether he sings, dances, jokes and juggles at press conferences. He can be as staid and unsure in the bright lights as he wants if he gets the job done. And he has the experience that shows he could be successful. But this is a unique challenge with its own set of obstacles. Whether he can work his magic here is certainly up for debate.

So start debating.

(I'm sure there will be plenty of the "no one can succeed here under current ownership" camp, and I understand your frustration. But try to get beyond that tired refrain if you can, because that aspect is not changing. And, really, there's no point of talking about anything Orioles in that case. Which makes things kind of boring here at the bar.)

Daily Think Special: Do you like the Dan Duquette hire? Can he succeed here?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (38)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 4, 2011

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Steelers and the Orioles' next GM

This has been a tough week.

For the Orioles (and consequently for those who cover the Orioles).

And for patrons at Connolly’s, too. No one enjoyed the fake tab at this fake establishment this week for coming close to predicting the Ravens’ 30-27 squeaker against the Arizona Cardinals.

Anon was closest with a 27-24 score, but he/she had the Cardinals winning. So I’ll at least throw a chip your way. But nothing more.

All that’s in the past, though, because this is the second Steelers week of the season (and how come I have the sinking feeling there will be a third as well?).

Speaking – or writing – of sinking feelings, I don’t have a good one here. Maybe it’s because the Ravens have struggled against two bad teams in a row and the Steelers seem to be more focused.

So I am predicting a Ravens loss – 27-20. That Big Ben fella will bounce back from an awful first game and throw for three TDs.

Sorry, people, I hope I am wrong. Predict the winner, score and player of the game.

As for the Orioles, they have a new crop of GMs to consider. Former front office exec Scott Proefrock, now the Phillies’ assistant GM, interviewed Thursday, and former Boston Red Sox GM Dan Duquette will be in today.

I have been told that New York Yankees VP of scouting Damon Oppenheimer, Minnesota Twins VP of player personnel Mike Radcliff and Boston Red Sox VP of player personnel Allard Baird are also expected to interview this time around.

The lone holdover from the last round of four is Orioles player-development director John Stockstill. Los Angeles Dodgers’ assistant GM De Jon Watson took his name out of consideration Thursday, and Tony LaCava and Jerry Dipoto are already gone.

Is there one of these guys who sticks out to you as the Orioles’ next GM? Are you still holding out for someone else? Let me know.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Steelers

Bonus Think Special: Who are you predicting for O’s GM now?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (31)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 28, 2011

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Cardinals and your painful 2012 Orioles' prediction

I’m not in the business of giving out free drinks – fake or not – to just anybody.

I don’t believe in the “sorta close” or the “woulda, coulda” campaigns. Normally, you’ve gotta be pretty shrewd to get something free from this stingy, Irish Catholic barkeep.

But not today. Tom from Bel Air and Mike get free rounds on the house for their "Monday Night Football" predictions. And they didn’t even pick the right winner.

But they both said Ravens-Jaguars would be an ugly contest, and, boy, were they right. That game was the Freddy Krueger of the NFL.

No one in the bar last week predicted a 12-7 Jaguars victory. No one predicted a Jacksonville win, period. But Tom had the Ravens 19-13 and Mike had it 21-20. So they at least knew it was going to be a close game.

So drink up fellas, but don’t feel good about it.

Let’s get to this week’s contest: versus Arizona at home.

I’m thinking rebound game, because it can’t really get much worse. But I am not getting crazy with the offense this time. I say 19-10 Ravens and Billy Cundiff redeems himself with four field goals.

Pick a score, winner and hero of the game.

To the Orioles. I enjoyed last week’s outlandish predictions, where you guys just threw nonsense against the wall. You now know what a brainstorming session with Schmuck and Jeff Z (remember him) was like.

We’re going to flip-side it now. I want your painful prediction for the 2012 Orioles. Basically, something that you don’t want to see happen, but you have the sinking sense it will.

It could be a step back for Robert Andino or Zach Britton. Or maybe no step forward for Brian Matusz or no step onto the field at all for Brian Roberts.

Just something in your gut.

Here’s mine: Matt Angle will start half of the Orioles' games in 2012. That’s not a slam on Angle, but if your fourth (maybe fifth) outfielder is playing every other day for the full season, that means someone you are counting on is hurt or woefully ineffective.

Your turn.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Cardinals and your painful Orioles call

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (27)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 25, 2011

Pick 2 or 3 free-agent starting pitchers for the 2012 Orioles

On Monday I asked you which first baseman you’d rather sign to a long-term contract: Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder.

Many of you answered: A pitcher.

Just because I have been sniffing stale beer in this smoky joint for the past four years doesn’t mean my brain is so mushy that I can’t take a hint. (Plus, I want to give you guys something to chew on this morning with your terrible Ravens hangover).

So let’s talk free-agent pitching.

It is a much sought-after commodity. And it is often a painful temptress – how often has a big-money free agent failed to live up to expectations? Just ask Boston Red Sox fans.

That said, Monday’s Connolly’s patrons were right (although a little off-subject).

The Orioles need starting pitching help more than anything at this point. They need an ace. And, frankly, they need a No. 2. That would allow Jeremy Guthrie (if he isn’t dealt away in his final season before free agency) to be slated comfortably at No. 3.

Then Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton and Tommy Hunter can battle for the final two rotation spots and Brian Matusz can begin the season at Triple-A with no pressure.

That, of course, is a dreamier scenario than signing Fielder or Pujols.

Because there really is only one true ace possibly available on the free-agent market: CC Sabathia. And it’s not even guaranteed that he’ll be there. He is signed by the New York Yankees through 2015 at $23 million a year.

He can opt out this offseason, and there is a sense he may. But he’s not opting out so he can come to Baltimore. He’ll probably be looking at $25 million annually for the next five years – and maybe more – for a perennial winner.

The Orioles have never given a free-agent pitcher a deal beyond three years (Scott Erickson’s was an extension, and a disaster, by the way) and have never topped Miguel Tejada’s $72 million deal for an overall investment.

So Sabathia is out. The next up is the Texas Rangers’ C.J. Wilson, who has ties to Orioles manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair. But he could be seeking a five-year deal as well. The Orioles likely would lose their second-round pick in the 2012 amateur draft (their first is protected) by signing Wilson; it would be surprising if the Rangers didn’t offer him arbitration.

The next most intriguing pitcher is 25-year-old Japanese phenom Yu Darvish, who may or may not play in the United States. If he does, it probably is a $100 million investment if you combine the posting fee (paid to Nippon so that a MLB team can negotiate with Darvish) and the actual contract.

After that, there are guys who don’t qualify as aces, but are still pretty good pitchers. On Monday, the Philadelphia Phillies declined a $16 million option on Roy Oswalt, preferring to pay him a $2 million buyout. So the 34-year-old is a free agent, but the Phillies would like to re-sign him to a lesser deal. (It would be a shock if he were offered arbitration, so the draft pick wouldn’t be an issue here.)

There’s also Chicago White Sox bulldog Mark Buehrle, St. Louis Cardinals enigma Edwin Jackson, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Hiroki Kuroda and two starters who had somewhat resurgent seasons in the Yankees’ Freddy Garcia and the Atlanta Braves' Javier Vazquez.

Beyond those guys, it’s a hodgepodge of has-beens, injury risks and roll-the-dicers.

But maybe you can find some hidden gold there.

Here’s a list (it’s a little old, but should work for our purposes) from that wonderful website Cot’s Baseball Contracts. I want you to tell me your top choices for the Orioles to snag in free agency. Try to be somewhat realistic (CC, C.J. and Yu is far-fetched for the Yankees, not to mention the Orioles).

Daily Think Special: Choose two or three free-agent starters you’d most like to see on the 2012 Orioles. Give me a reason why.

Mark Buehrle CWS
Bruce Chen KC
Aaron Cook COL *
Kyle Davies TOR
Ryan Dempster CHC *
Justin Duchscherer BAL
Zach Duke ARI *
Jeff Francis KC
Freddy Garcia NYY
Jon Garland LAD
Aaron Harang SD
Rich Harden OAK
Livan Hernandez WAS
Edwin Jackson STL
Kenshin Kawakami ATL
Scott Kazmir LAA
Hiroki Kuroda LAD
Rodrigo Lopez CHC
Paul Maholm PIT
John Maine COL
Jason Marquis WAS
Kevin Millwood NYY
Scott Olsen PIT *
Roy Oswalt PHI *
Brad Penny DET
Oliver Perez NYM
Joel Pineiro LAA
CC Sabathia NYY (may opt out)
Carlos Silva NYY
Javier Vazquez FLA
Adam Wainwright STL *
Tim Wakefield BOS
Chien-Ming Wang WAS
Brandon Webb ARI
C.J. Wilson TEX
Chris Young NYM
*Means there is a 2012 option involved

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:44 AM | | Comments (43)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 24, 2011

In an Orioles dream world: Pujols or Fielder?

I’ve been saying all year that I just don’t see the St. Louis Cardinals allowing Albert Pujols to leave Missouri. He is that city’s Ripken, and we know what happened every time Ripken approached free agency.

After Saturday’s historic performance – most total bases in a World Series game and just the third person with three homers in one October Classic game – I really don’t see him going anywhere now.

As I tweeted Sunday, I think there is a better chance St. Louis becomes a dry town before it allows Pujols to move elsewhere.

And if he does leave, he isn’t coming to Baltimore. You don’t walk away from a World Series team for a consistent loser unless the money is unspeakable. And the money won’t be unspeakable here.

If the Orioles have a chance to land a top free agent at first base, it would be the Milwaukee Brewers' Prince Fielder – and I don’t think there is a chance with that, either.

But let’s assume for a moment that the Orioles – all things being equal – could choose between Fielder and Pujols. Is it a slam-dunk for Pujols?

Yes, he is headed to the Hall of Fame and is nearly as good of a defender as he is an offensive force. He is one of the best baseball players of the past 50 years – and he might be able to make a case for one of the best ever.

But he’ll be 32 in January and has played in 150 games per season just three times in the past six seasons (but never fewer than 143 in that time). So, no matter how tough he is, he’s had to deal with slight injuries as he has aged (he played in 154 or more in each of his first five seasons).

Fielder, on the other hand, is a serviceable first baseman and isn’t anywhere near the physical specimen as Pujols, who is nicknamed “The Machine.”

But Fielder won’t be 28 until May and has played in 157 or more games in each of his first six full seasons. The big guy has missed just one game in the past three seasons.

Fielder also will come cheaper – not cheap, mind you – than Pujols if they each reach the open market.

So that’s probably something you need to take into consideration when you answer this question.

If you have a chance to sign Fielder or Pujols for the Orioles—and you can’t sign both – who would you take? The better but older player or the younger guy who may still be peaking?

Let's assume you have to sign each one to an eight-year deal.

I understand neither scenario will occur, but, hey, it’s October. Dream a little.

Daily Think Special: In your Orioles’ dream world: Pujols or Fielder?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (39)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 23, 2011

What's the best World Series performance you have seen?

Perhaps it was fitting that on the day Brooks Robinson was honored with a statue in Baltimore, one of the greatest World Series performances in history was turned in that night.

On Saturday evening, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols had more total bases (14) in a World Series game than anyone in baseball history. He also became the first player in a World Series to record hits in four consecutive innings and became the third player to have six RBIs and third to have three homers (joining Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth) in one World Series game.

I remember Jackson’s performance – three homers on three pitches – and Jack Morris’ gem. I was too young to see Brooksie’s defensive clinic in 1970 – and that was over a Series and not one game – but I have heard plenty about that.

One of my college friends who was from Philadelphia tried to bait my Baltimore-born-and-bred Dad once and asked him who was the best third baseman of all time: Brooks or Mike Schmidt?

My soft-spoken dad simply said: “Don’t ask me. Ask Johnny Bench.” Bench, of course, was one of the victims of the Human Vacuum Cleaner in that 1970 World Series.

So I ask you today, and I enlist the help of our old-timers, what’s the best World Series performance you have seen? I’m thinking single-game, but we’ll accept series-long as well.

Daily Think Special: What’s the best World Series performance you have seen?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 1:17 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 21, 2011

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Jaguars and an outlandish Orioles' call for 2012

We have a luxury for Prediction Friday.

The Ravens don’t play until Monday night in Jacksonville against the Jaguars. So you get an extra day of drinking and thinking at Connolly’s before Game Day.

I still want your predictions – and your handsome tips – today, though. We have a tradition to uphold.

Last week, we had a less than stellar participation rate, but I’ll blame it on the fact that I dragged butt in getting the entry posted in the morning. Surely, it can’t be because you guys are taking Ravens’ wins for granted.

I was pretty close with last week’s call. I said the Ravens would beat the Texans, 27-10. The final was 29-14. Our winner of the free (and fake) drink tab is Roy, who had 31-13 Ravens. Congrats Roy, drink up.

Tony and George get drink chips for a 31-17 call.

I could see this coming contest being one of those trap games – on the road on Monday night after a convincing victory. But I just can’t picture a rookie quarterback, no matter how talented, making any headway against the Ravens’ defense.

So I’m going with 24-3 Ravens. Ray Rice gets those two TDs I’ve been predicting for a while and ends up as player of the game.

Now, it is your turn.

We’ll also do the daily double and turn our attention to the Orioles, who are knee deep in a general manager’s search. I’m sick of writing about that, so let’s turn our attention to the on-field product.

With four months to go before they play their first exhibition game of 2012, I want you to make an outlandish prediction about next year’s Orioles.

It can be optimistic: that the Orioles win 90-plus games. Or pessimistic: that the Orioles lose 105. You can predict that Brian Roberts leads the league in stolen bases or that Nolan Reimold leads the Orioles in homers or Brian Matusz posts a sub 3.00 ERA or Jeremy Guthrie wins 16 games in the National League. Or how about Prince Fielder wins the AL homer title as an Oriole or C.J. Wilson leads the league in losses as an Oriole?

You can get as wacky as you like, but staying reality based – with something that could potentially happen, though it’d be a real stretch – is what I’m really looking for.

Here’s mine: Kevin Gregg saves 35 games, blows three.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Jaguars

Bonus Think Special: Give me an outlandish prediction for the 2012 Orioles.

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (42)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 17, 2011

What question would you ask the Orioles' GM candidates?

The Orioles are beginning the interviewing process for their new general manager this week.

Arizona’s Jerry Dipoto and Toronto’ Tony LaCava are definitely interviewing, though the schedule has not been released yet.

The Orioles are still waiting to hear whether Florida’s Dan Jennings will be granted permission to interview.

Four to six candidates are supposed to meet with the Orioles’ interviewing committee, which is expected to include Peter and Lou Angelos, general counsel H. Russell Smouse, manager Buck Showalter and baseball operations director Matt Klentak.

You are not on that list.

But if you were what question would you really want to ask those interviewing for the job. (I know some wise guys are going to say, “Why would you want this job?” and I can’t stop that. But how about adding a second one with a little thought behind it?)

Daily Think Special: What question would you ask the Orioles’ GM candidates?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (40)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 15, 2011

Should Buck Showalter add an ex-Oriole to his 2012 staff?

With the departure of third base coach Willie Randolph, the Orioles now have two open spots on manager Buck Showalter’s staff.

The club used a revolving door of bullpen coaches after Rick Adair was moved to pitching coach in June when Mark Connor resigned.

Among those who held the bullpen coach position was former Orioles starting pitcher/Single-A pitching coach Scott McGregor, who would love to be back in a big league uniform for a full season.

Randolph wasn’t just the third base coach – actually, he was the bench coach before John Russell was sent to the bench – he also coached the infielders.

One of the organization’s primary infield coaches this year has been former Oriole Mike Bordick.

You probably know what I am getting at here. In 2011, the Orioles didn’t have a coach who once played for the team – something exceptionally unusual for the big league club.

I want to know if you think it’s necessary – or if you care – that the Orioles’ coaching staff includes an ex-Oriole.

My thought is that they get the best instructors, period. No matter their background. And if that happens to be ex-Orioles, then that is a bonus.

But I’m from here. I get the parochial vibe and the connection to the club’s rich history (especially given its pathetic recent history).

McGregor or Bordick would be easy adds. Or maybe there are better ex-Oriole options (Please don’t say Cal Ripken Jr. If he returns, it will be in a front office capacity) you can suggest.

I want to know your thoughts.

Daily Think Special: Should Buck Showalter add an ex-Oriole to his 2012 staff?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (50)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 14, 2011

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Texans and Orioles' GM

Well, the bar is opening a little later today – so we’ll make sure the Bloody Marys are extra strong.

You’ve made it to Friday. I am proud of you.

You know what that means at Connolly’s: Prediction Friday.

Let’s get the easy one out of the way first: The Ravens beat the banged-up Houston Texas, 27-10, on Sunday. Ray Rice is the hero, with two TDs and 150-plus all-purpose yards. I know there is no such thing as a betting lock in the NFL, but the Ravens at home, coming off a bye week against a team missing two of its star players looks pretty good.

Yep, just jinxed it for you. Sorry. Now it’s your time to jinx. Give me your winner, score and hero of the game and winners get all the fake drinks they can fake consume next week.

Now, let’s switch to the Orioles. They are knee-deep in a general manager/president search. We have thrown some names at you: Arizona’s Jerry Dipoto, Toronto’s Tony LaCava, Florida’s Dan Jennings, Detroit’s Al Avila, De Jon Watson and Logan White of the Dodgers, and the Angels’ Tony Reagins, among others.

I’ve been asked about the favorite, and, frankly, I am not sure there is one yet. I think the Orioles would like to hire a former big leaguer, because that’s not existent in their front office. And Dipoto is the only one on the above list who qualifies. He is expected to be the first interviewee.

LaCava and Avila have extensive international backgrounds, and that’s big for this position. Jennings’ name is always kicked around, but the Marlins have denied permission to three other teams that wanted to talk to him in the past.

So there may not be a favorite, but that doesn’t stop you from making a call on Prediction Friday.

Daily Think Special: Ravens-Texans

Bonus Think Special: Who is the Orioles' next GM?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:20 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 11, 2011

If you were a GM, would you give a five-year deal to a free-agent pitcher?

Yesterday I wrote a little bit about pending free agents Prince Fielder and C.J. Wilson and my belief that – no matter how much they are needed in Baltimore – they won’t end up here.

I know, breaking news.

My reasoning for Wilson not signing here has little to do with the competition – or even the money.

He’s 30 and is in line for at least a four-year deal and probably more. A five-year contract is a guess, but probably a pretty good one.

The Orioles haven’t given a four-year, free-agent pitching contract, and I can’t imagine five years would be considered at all.

Now, for all the bashing of management and ownership, the stance makes sense to an extent. Very rarely does a free-agent pitcher make good on a contract for five years. The shelf life for pitching is not long – especially for someone already in their 30s.

I know each case is different, but generally speaking, if you were a GM, would you give out a five-year deal to a starting pitcher?

Daily Think Special: If you were a general manager, would you approve a five-year deal for a free-agent starter?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (46)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 9, 2011

Showalter staying in the dugout: Is that a good thing?

We learned on Saturday -- though we pretty much had assumed -- that manager Buck Showalter will definitely be staying in the dugout in 2012 and that the Orioles will be hiring a replacement for president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who officially stepped down Saturday.

Showalter was contemplating the possibility of moving up to the front office but is staying put.

I can see both sides of that coin.

I think the organization is still far away from competing, and the best way to make an overall impact is to take on the front-office demands. That said, Showalter is a known commodity in the dugout and his move to executive would be another change, more instability. He might be a great GM, but it would mean more transition.

I asked Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie about Showalter's staying in the dugout versus moving up, and this is what he had to say: “I was 50-50 on that one. That wouldn’t have surprised me either way. I could see him enjoying the role of the front office and having those decisions to make. And, at the same time, I know how much he loves being on the field and helping the ballclub try to win night in and night out. So I could see it going both ways.”

Now I want to know what you think.

Daily Think Special: Showalter staying in the dugout: A good thing?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 7, 2011

Grade Andy MacPhail's tenure as team president

It’s not technically official, but it is happening.

Andy MacPhail’s tenure as president of baseball operations is over after four-plus years and a record of 307-432 (.415 winning percentage). He finished last in each of his four full seasons and fourth in 2007.

We’ll have plenty of time to talk about who replaces MacPhail and what that person has to do right this ship – if one person can.

Today, though, I want to know your evaluation of MacPhail and the job he did.

Let me start by saying that when MacPhail was hired, I was told by those who knew him that he was an honest, upfront professional. In my four-plus years of dealing with him, nothing changed that opinion.

MacPhail kept things close to the sweater-vest, as we used to joke in the press box. But he was always accountable and never once lied to me to get me or other reporters off a scent – and that’s huge for someone in his position. If he couldn’t tell me something, he just didn’t. We all respected that.

As for the job he did, I’m giving MacPhail a C-. His win-loss record probably begs a D, maybe worse. And I can’t say the organization has overwhelmingly better personnel than it did when he got here – meaning it’s probably just as far away from competing in the AL East as it was in 2007.

Although his trades were normally very good – adding Adam Jones, Luke Scott and J.J. Hardy, among others – his free-agent signings were primarily dreadful. That said, he didn’t saddle the Orioles with any long-term free agent contracts and most of the real stinkers – Garrett Atkins, Justin Duchscherer – were low-risk long shots.

But I disagree with some fans that MacPhail’s tenure here was a flop. He attempted to rebuild it with young pitching, baseball’s most volatile commodity. Those young pitchers didn’t take the next step – and there wasn’t enough depth to fall back on – and so the Orioles didn’t meet even the modest expectations that many had in 2011.

Maybe those guys come together next year or the year after and MacPhail’s plan looks a little better. Maybe not. But it is hard to judge it now as a complete failure.

Those are my thoughts. I want your opinion.

Daily Think Special: How do you grade Andy MacPhail’s tenure in Baltimore?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:53 PM | | Comments (54)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

Prediction Friday: Who makes the 2011 World Series? Who wins?


We’ve come to a Prediction Friday without a Ravens’ game.

I know, some of you are rejoicing. But I’m a traditionalist – at least with traditions I like. I’m not when the traditions are ridiculous. (Although I have to say I support some ridiculous traditions, too. I’m just too ‘Balmer’ not to quietly enjoy the screamed ‘O’ in the Star-Spangled Banner. I know, many think it is classless and disrespectful. I don’t do it, but it still amuses me.)

So we’re asking for predictions again this Friday and we’ll get to that in a moment. But let’s dust off last week’s prognostications about the Ravens-Jets.

Me, Myself and You had the Ravens beating the Jets, 33-16. The final score was 34-17, Ravens. So that was one heck of a call. But I am only giving out one open bar tab this week to You (or to Me or to Myself), only one. It is a down economy you know. Even fake bars have to be financially smart.

I’ll be sending several drink chips over to Gil, one of our cranky and lovable regulars who had the Ravens winning 34-14. Real close, Gil. But don’t light that cigar here.

Other honorable mentions: Chris, Dennis, Aubeck, Bmore B, Jeff O, dspedden and Keith among others.

Without football, we’ll go to a Connolly staple this week.

We have yet to do our World Series picks, but we’re not too far down the road yet.

I expect the Detroit Tigers to beat the Texas Rangers and get to the World Series. And I think they will then lose to the Philadelphia Phillies in six games.

So Phillies are my champs, beating the Brewers on their way to the World Series.

Why not the Rangers to repeat in the AL?

Because I am a traditionalist, remember. Last year, I picked against the Rangers in each round until they lost to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series and I finally got it right. I am doing it again.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Who are your World Series teams? Who wins? In how many games?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 5, 2011

MacPhail could return to same role in 2012; would you be OK with that?

One thing I have learned from covering baseball for a long time is you never know as much as you think you do – about the game or what really goes on behind the scenes.

A month ago, I was convinced that Andy MacPhail was stepping down from his post as president of baseball operations and was going to ride into the sunset, and away from the game he has breathed for five-plus decades (yes, I am counting when he was a boy and followed his dad around Memorial Stadium, Yankee Stadium, etc).

Two weeks ago, I would have said there was an outside shot he’d remain with the club in some capacity when his contract expires Oct. 31.

Now, well now, I am starting to think MacPhail could remain as the club’s president in 2012. And that would mean Buck Showalter will stay in the dugout next year.

Every day there is not an announcement that MacPhail is leaving makes me think that MacPhail may not be leaving after all. That things are staying the same.

It’s not a complete stretch, just stick with me.

We know that team owner Peter Angelos met with MacPhail last Thursday, the day after the Orioles’ 14th losing campaign ended.

We know that Angelos likes and respects MacPhail and thinks the Orioles have a pretty good brain trust in MacPhail and Showalter.

We know that MacPhail likes Angelos; he’s been given ample opportunity over the years to offer excuses for why his plan hasn’t worked – and the easy excuse, the one that is nearly universally embraced by fans, is that he has been hamstrung by ownership.

Not only has MacPhail never used that one, but he continually states that Angelos has been good to work for and has never stood in the way of him doing his job.

We also can’t forget that Angelos said in March that MacPhail “isn’t going anywhere,” and Angelos is a man who usually gets what he wants.

So if he’s staying, what’s the holdup? I’m not sure exactly, but my guess is specifics are still being worked out and, until they are, a potential agreement could fall through, which would again spur talk of MacPhail leaving and Showalter to president/GM.

There's always the possibility that I am completely wrong, too; I wasn't in the meeting last Thursday. So the best conclusion is no final decision has been made involving any of this.

But would I be surprised if we find out that Andy is sticking around in the same exact role next year?

Nope, not now I wouldn’t.

Now I want to know if you’d be fine with that.

Daily Think Special: Would you be OK if MacPhail remains as team president in 2012?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (115)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

September 30, 2011

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Jets and what's Showalter's job in 2012?

The baseball season is over, at least for all of you.

At Connolly’s, we keep baseball going all the time. But there is this other sport you may have heard about.

Let’s start with that one. The Ravens have a big game against the New York Jets here on Sunday night. I think it will be a tough one, but I am still not a full believer in Mark Sanchez.

So I say the Ravens win, 17-13. Sanchez gets one TD, but he throws three picks, including two by Ed Reed, who runs one back. Reed is my player of the game, because it’s a Sunday night game and Reed loves the spotlight.

Now it’s your turn on the Ravens-Jets. Give me a score, a winner and a hero of the game. The one closest gets all kinds of fake free stuff next week.

OK, we’ll get back to my proverbial bread and butter. The Orioles ended the season with one of the most dramatic games I have ever seen at Camden Yards. A 4-3 comeback win with two outs in the ninth against the Boston Red Sox that basically ended their season, too, and helped establish the 2011 Red Sox as one of the greatest chokers of all-time.

Pretty crazy stuff.

Things won’t settle down for a while, even with Game 162 in the books. Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail met with owner Peter Angelos and manager Buck Showalter on Thursday.

No official announcement came out of that meeting, not yet anyway. But the best guess is that MacPhail is stepping away and that the three talked about Showalter’s best role for 2012: general manager/president or field manager.

Showalter has been torn about the decision, and I believe it will come early next week after he talks with his family this weekend.

I want to know your prediction, what you think he is going to do – have more direction over the entire organization as a GM type or stay in the dugout, where he’s had success in the past.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Jets

Bonus Think Special: What job will Showalter have next year?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (51)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

September 28, 2011

Will the Orioles finally beat Jon Lester?


So the Orioles have only one game left in the season.

It seems like yesterday we were at Tropicana Field on Opening Day learning that Brian Matusz would be placed on the disabled list with a muscle strain.

OK, no it doesn’t. That seems like it was six years ago. Maybe seven.

Point is the Orioles’ season has one game left. And if they win it, they may have stopped the far-from-beloved Boston Red Sox from continuing their season.

I already know what you guys think of that.

But this is going to be a real test for the Orioles, who have become September’s super spoilers. To win Wednesday, though, they’ll have to at least make it a game against Jon Lester, the Red Sox lefty who is 14-0 with three no decisions and a 2.33 ERA in his career against the Orioles.

That’s the longest winning streak by one pitcher to begin his career against the Orioles in the franchise’s history. It’s also the longest active win streak by one pitcher against a singular opponent in baseball.

But maybe this isn’t the same Lester; he gave up eight runs in 2 2/3 innings in his last start on Saturday against the New York Yankees and he’ll be pitching on three days’ rest. And his previous 14 wins were against those doormat Orioles, not these resurgent, I’m-not-afraida-you Orioles.

OK, I kid again. But this is baseball. We know anything can happen, even the truly improbable. (Remember when the Orioles swept the Texas Rangers in Arlington last July and Cesar Izturis homered off Cliff Lee in his Rangers’ debut?)

So maybe there will be another shock Wednesday. Or are you not buying it?

Daily Think Special: Do the Orioles finally beat Jon Lester?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

September 26, 2011

Do you care what the Orioles do against the Red Sox this week?


The Orioles are back home for three games before their 14th consecutive losing season mercifully ends.

I know a lot of you have moved on to football by now.

(By the way, we re-start Prediction Friday and our first winner is the guy who often dominated last year, Barry. The Ravens crushed the St. Louis Rams, 37-7. Barry had them winning 38-17. That’s the closest of our predictions. He also said Joe Flacco would have three TDs -- though he didn’t have Torrey Smith breaking out. But he was close enough to get the open bar tab of the week. Congrats, Barry. Same as it ever was).

Today, I am wondering whether the Orioles’ recent run as a spoiler has piqued your interest. Really, I want to know if you’re going to pay attention this week – even though the Orioles have been done for months – because they can help stop the hated Boston Red Sox from winning the Wild Card.

Orioles players and manager Buck Showalter have been downplaying the spoiler aspect for a while now. But on Sunday, Showalter rested almost his entire starting lineup on a day game after a night game. Maybe that’s the reason. But I don’t think it is coincidence that the Orioles’ best players will be a little more rested versus Boston.

I want to know if you care what the Orioles do against the Red Sox over the next three days. Or can you no longer muster any interest?

Daily Think Special: Do you care what the Orioles do against the Red Sox this week?


Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (85)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

September 24, 2011

Verlander (24 wins) vs. Guthrie (17 losses): What happens tonight?

Prediction Saturday has a terrible ring to it.

But I want you to look into your crystal ball for the second consecutive day.

Tonight at Comerica Park, Detroit’s Justin Verlander is trying to become the first pitcher to win 25 games in a season since Oakland’s Bob Welch won 27 in 1990.

Meanwhile, Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie is trying to avoid his personal worst 18th loss.

Right now, Verlander is leading the majors in wins and Guthrie is leading it in losses. And they face off tonight in Detroit.

I’m sure my colleague, Peter Schmuck, is going to dust off his patented “reverse lock” bet here. I’m wondering if you think the obvious is going to happen or if the Orioles and Guthrie will rally tonight against the odds. Or do they both get no decisions?

Here’s a strange tidbit: If Guthrie picks up his 18th defeat, he’s guaranteed to lead the AL in losses for the second time in three seasons. In fact, it will be the fifth time in six years that an Oriole has led the league in losses: Guthrie (2011, 2009), Kevin Millwood (2010), Daniel Cabrera (2007) and Rodrigo Lopez (2006).

So who broke the streak?

Yep, Verlander, who lost 17 for the Tigers in 2008.

Daily Think Special: Verlander vs. Guthrie: What happens?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

September 21, 2011

Who is your Most Valuable Oriole?

The Orioles are collecting ballots from media members for their annual Most Valuable Oriole Award.

I’ll wait as you snicker.

OK, as I was saying, it’s time to pick Most Valuable Oriole. And this isn’t a slam-dunk like it has been in the past.

Around August, I thought it would be. Adam Jones was head-and-shoulders above his teammates, and, if things went right, he could get 100 RBIs and 25-plus homers. But it hasn’t gone right. He slumped and, subsequently, has been sidelined for more than a week with a sprained right thumb (which may have contributed to the slump).

After starting Tuesday, he is hitting .283 with a .324 on base percentage, a .466 slugging percentage, 23 homers and 80 RBIs in 144 games.

Meanwhile, shortstop J.J. Hardy keeps making a case. Despite being out for a month because of injury, Hardy is hitting .262 with a .302 on-base percentage, a team-high .483 slugging percentage, 28 homers and 74 RBIs in 122 games.

Hardy and Jones have been very good defensively at crucial positions.

I could go either way. I am curious how you see it.

The Orioles ask that media members choose three candidates and order them. If Hardy and Jones are 1 and 2 – or 2 and 1 – the third spot becomes even more difficult. Matt Wieters and Mark Reynolds (at least power-numbers-wise) could receive consideration.

I’d probably lean toward reliever Jim Johnson for the third spot; he has been the club’s best and most consistent pitcher throughout the season.

Daily Think Special: Who is your Most Valuable Oriole?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 7:00 AM | | Comments (77)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

September 12, 2011

Adam Loewen: Friend or foe?

I basically asked this question earlier this year.

But there may be a change in perspective now.

Adam Loewen has made it all the way back to the big leagues – and he hit a key homer Sunday that helped give the Toronto Blue Jays a 6-5 victory over the Orioles.

I spoke to Loewen this weekend in Toronto. He has always been a really good guy, and he was very gracious in our discussion. And, honestly, I can’t help but pulling for him a little bit.

He couldn’t help the fact that his left elbow betrayed him, effectively wasting the $4 million the Orioles gave him in 2002 as the fourth pick overall in the amateur draft.

But he could help the fact that when the Orioles released him – and had a handshake agreement to re-sign him to a minor league deal as a hitter – he instead chose to join the Blue Jays, the only team in his home country.

He said this weekend that he felt bad about ditching the Orioles, but he did what he thought was best for his career. He also wouldn’t rule out a return to the Orioles’ organization one day.

I wonder whether you guys would be OK with that, if you are pulling for him. Or will his sudden departure – after retiring as a pitcher – forever be a point of bitterness for Orioles fans?

And I am wondering whether your opinion on Loewen changed from this summer – now that he is officially a major leaguer and helped cost the Orioles a win.

Daily Think Special: Adam Loewen: Friend or foe?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (47)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

August 29, 2011

Which current big league manager do you most like to boo?

Yankees manager Joe Girardi drew the ire of the Orioles and their fans this weekend for his complaints about the rescheduling of games due to Hurricane Irene.

He’s in pinstripes, which means he’s not beloved around here, anyway. Then again, Joe Torre seemed to get plenty of respect in Charm City when he managed here against the Orioles.

Yet Girardi heard a smattering of boos Sunday (only a smattering; not enough Orioles fan at Camden Yards for a showering).

I’m wondering if the fans here view Girardi as Enemy No. 1 among the visiting managers – especially now that old favorite Cito Gaston is gone. By the nature of his job, Boston's Terry Francona also is probably in the mix.

What about the White Sox’s Ozzie Guillen? We all know Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire has been tossed plenty of times here. Is he close?

Daily Think Special: Which current big-league manager do you most like to boo?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:06 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

August 25, 2011

Guthrie wants to know whether he should keep No. 46

Right-hander Jeremy Guthrie is trying to decide whether he should keep the only uniform number he has known as an Oriole, No. 46, or switch to something else to honor Mike Flanagan.

And he wants as much feedback as possible.

“I really just want to do what people would view as the most respectful to honor him and his memory and what he did for the Orioles,” Guthrie said,

Flanagan, a former Cy Young Award winner, team executive, coach and long-time Orioles pitcher who wore No. 46, died Wednesday outside his home in Sparks.

Guthrie found out in the middle of Wednesday’s game about Flanagan’s death and continued to pitch the Orioles to a victory at Target Field. Guthrie joined the Orioles in 2007 – and was given the number then – when the club claimed him off waivers. Flanagan was the Orioles’ top executive at the time.

After Wednesday’s game, Guthrie had some conversations with people who knew Flanagan well – including Flanagan’s good friend, former teammate and MASN broadcast Jim Palmer – about whether he should continue to wear the uniform number as a living tribute to Flanagan.

“I’ve seen a lot of fan reaction, just through communications. Some say continue to wear it, wear it with pride,” he said. “There’s also been some sentiment that you can put the number away in his honor. It’s such an emotional situation. … Whatever people think would be the right thing is probably the best thing.”

The Orioles only retire numbers of their players that have gone into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But they have an unofficial policy of holding out some numbers – Cal Ripken Sr.’s 7 and Elrod Hendricks’ 44 – of former Orioles that have special meaning to the organization.

Guthrie wants your input. Here is a chance to give it.

Daily Think Special: Jeremy Guthrie wants to know whether he should keep uniform No. 46. Should he?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:19 AM | | Comments (170)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

Sharing thoughts about Mike Flanagan

The lights are low at Connolly’s today. The Orioles banner behind the bar is at half-mast.

I knew Mike Flanagan -- who died outside his Sparks home Wednesday at age 59 -- for more than a decade. I knew him first as a broadcaster and then for six years as a co-general manager and then as a broadcaster again.

I knew him as a tremendous storyteller. And, yeah, to be honest, I grew up cheering for him. His glory years coincided with my time as an Orioles fan. And if you were a kid in the late 1970s/early '80s, you had to love Flanny.

Today, I’m gonna kick back and let others talk about Flanagan. I apologize for the length, but I feel it is appropriate.

Please, share your thoughts, too.

Continue reading "Sharing thoughts about Mike Flanagan" »

Posted by Dan Connolly at 1:13 AM | | Comments (55)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

August 12, 2011

Do you promote Brian Matusz for Tuesday's start?

Now that the Orioles have optioned Chris Tillman to Triple-A Norfolk, they have an open spot in their rotation (OK, I know you could argue there isn’t just one).

But there’s an obvious “to be announced” slot for Tuesday in Oakland. The Orioles could put Brad Bergesen, who pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings in relief Thursday, into the rotation again. If he doesn’t pitch again this week, he’d be on regular rest.

Or they could grab someone from the minors.

And who would be on turn from Triple-A Norfolk?

Yep, lefty Brian Matusz, who threw a complete-game shutout against the Philadelphia Phillies’ top affiliate on Thursday afternoon. He is 2-3 with a 3.46 ERA in nine starts for Norfolk and has allowed four earned runs in his last 23 innings (1.57 ERA) after going 1-4 with an 8.77 ERA in six starts with the Orioles this season.

He was hitting 88 and 89 consistently with his fastball on Thursday and touched 91 mph. That’s not ideal, but it’s better than what he had registered previously this year with the Orioles.

The question today is whether you’d bring him up Tuesday and start him. Or if you think he needs to stay down, keep working on things and keep dominating so when he comes back, he returns for good.

This guy should be an important part of the team’s future. You have to handle him correctly. If he’s not ready and gets clobbered again consistently at the big-league level, he may regress further. But you also want him to get as much experience against big-league competition as possible.

One old time baseball man once told me that if you have to worry about what poor performances to do a young player’s psyche, then that young player doesn’t have what it takes mentally to stay in the big leagues for the long haul, no matter the initial outcome. Not sure I fully believe that, but it has some merit.

The Orioles have a tough call for Tuesday. I want to know what you do with Matusz this week.

Daily Think Special: Do you promote Brian Matusz for Tuesday’s start?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:06 AM | | Comments (29)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

August 11, 2011

Would you trade Brian Roberts for Adam Dunn?

Let’s start by saying this question is hypothetical.

And since this bar is fake, I figure I can get away with it.

Let me reiterate that this has not been discussed by either side, as far as we know. Let’s also say it doesn’t seem like a perfect fit because the Chicago White Sox have a young second baseman in Gordon Beckham (though he could play third) and a young third baseman in Brent Morel. (Of course, they’d still love to have a true leadoff guy.)

And the Orioles have two swing-and-miss sluggers locked up at least through 2012 in Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis, so it’s probably redundant now. (Of course, the Orioles would love to have an established left-handed slugger.)

But let’s have a true bar argument today -- about something that almost certainly won’t happen (hey, and for those of you who just want to rip and can’t do hypothetical, go grab a stool elsewhere).

If you are the Orioles, would you trade Brian Roberts for Adam Dunn straight up?

Think about it for a second.

Dunn, 31, has been terrible this year -- probably the biggest disappointment in baseball. But he has been on the field, playing in 98 games.

Roberts, 33, has played in just 39 because of a concussion this season after only 59 last year. That’s 98 in two seasons.

You’d probably have to accept the other’s lofty contract, so that might be a factor in your thinking.

After this season, Roberts has two years and $20 million left on his deal. Dunn has three years and $44 million remaining on his.

The Orioles would have loved to have Dunn in the past. The Chicago White Sox have inquired about Roberts’ availability previously.

So maybe it’s not completely far-fetched.

Personally, I’d do it. Because I think Dunn is a lot better than he has shown (and boy was he terrible Wednesday night with three strikeouts and a groundout). Then again, one White Sox observer I asked said he would do it if he were in charge of that team.

Given Roberts’ age and the way his body has broken down, I just wonder what he’s got left. As good of a player as he has been, he’s a huge question mark moving forward.

So is Dunn for different reasons.
What would you do?

Daily Think Special: Would you trade Brian Roberts for Adam Dunn?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (86)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

August 9, 2011

Will the Orioles lose 100 games this season?


It’s an unpleasant topic.

But really, what isn’t unpleasant about the Orioles right now?

They have lost eight of their last 10 and 28 of their last 37. They haven’t won a series in more than a month (June 24-26).

And, that begs the question that was floating around the press box Monday night after the Orioles threw a game away to the Chicago White Sox: Will these Orioles do it?

Will they lose 100 games?

Right now, they are 44-68, which means they are on pace to go 64-98.

Through 112 games last year, they were 38-74 and staring 100 losses in the face. But we all know about the club’s turnaround under manager Buck Showalter in 2010. The Orioles rallied to end up 66-96.

The Orioles have lost 100 games just twice in their history, in their inaugural season in 1954 (54-100) and in the 1988 season (54-107), which began 0-21.

My call is that they won’t lose 100 this year. I’ve covered worse teams than this one, and none have lost 100 (although eight of the 10 I have covered have lost 90-plus).

Losing 100 games is really hard to do. But, then again, the schedule in the last two months of the season is brutal. And the rotation once again is decimated. So, the realist would say it is definitely in reach.

Again, I am going on record saying they don’t lose 100.

Do they?

Daily Think Special: Do the Orioles lose 100 games this year?


Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (67)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

August 2, 2011

One year later: What do you think of Showalter now?


Today marks the one year of anniversary of Buck Showalter’s introductory news conference as the Orioles’ 19th manager.

The club has played 162 games under him – the equivalent of a full season.

The Orioles’ record during that time?

76-86.

That .470 winning percentage places him 12th of 19 managers in Orioles’ history, just behind Lee Mazzilli’s .480.

If it were one full season, though, it would be the club’s best record since 2004 and second best in 11 seasons.

So, yeah, the bar is not very high (the Orioles’ bar or this one, for that matter, since this one is fake).

After an incredible 34-23 run at the end of last season, the Orioles are 42-63 in 2011, the worst record in the American League.

The honeymoon with Showalter seems to be over now, with some fans routinely criticizing Showalter’s lineup and bullpen decisions.

My take is that he is the best in-game manager I have covered, and probably the best one since Davey Johnson. He’s also the most prepared and observant person I have been around in this game. The things he notices continually amaze me.

I do believe, however, that at times he has stayed with veterans longer than he should have this year (Vladimir Guerrero should have been out of the cleanup spot by late May). But, to be fair, it’s not like he’s had a whole lot of tempting options to choose from. And that goes for the lineup, rotation and bullpen.

Like previous managers, he has been handcuffed by the lack of talent on the 25-man roster and the lack of depth in the farm system.

He’s had to count on guys who probably shouldn’t be in the majors. And the results back that up. But that’s just my take.

I want your evaluation of the Orioles manager.

Daily Think Special: One year later: What do you think of Showalter now?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (88)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

August 1, 2011

How did Andy MacPhail do at the trade deadline?


Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline has passed.

Baseball writers can now sleep with both eyes closed. And with the cell phone on the other side of the room.

The Orioles made two deals on Saturday. None on Sunday.

They shipped 36-year-old reliever Koji Uehara and $2 million to the Texas Rangers for two 25-year-old major leaguers: first baseman Chris Davis and right-handed pitcher Tommy Hunter.

And they sent first baseman Derrek Lee, 35, and some potential cash (probably between $500,000 and $1.75 million depending on how many plate appearances Lee ends up with) to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Class A first baseman Aaron Baker, 23.

Here’s my take on the moves: I like the Uehara trade. The Lee trade doesn’t really register.

On Uehara: Yes, he was great this year. Yes, he was a good guy and fun to have in the clubhouse. Yes, a $4 million option for 2012 that vests in a dozen more appearances is reasonable.

But here’s the important flip side. Relievers are so hard to predict from year to year. Uehara is 36 and has been delicate since he came to the States. So many fans clamored for Uehara to take over Kevin Gregg’s closer role, but it takes a physical and mental bulldog to handle closer duties for a season.

Gregg doesn’t get rattled and he’s never been on the DL. Koji doesn’t get rattled. And he bought an air-conditioned timeshare on the disabled list.

As good as he has been this year, he has been handled with kid gloves so that he can get through the season. So dealing a guy like that for two younger players who have had success in the majors is a no-brainer.

Davis and Hunter obviously have warts, or they wouldn’t have been traded for an aging set-up man.

Davis strikes out too much, hasn’t hit for a good average and has a long swing. Some wonder if he isn’t the quintessential AAAA guy, a minor-league superstar who can’t make it translate at the big-league level.

Hunter has been criticized for his lack of conditioning, missed a chunk of this season due to injury and may project as a back-of-the rotation guy.

The flipside is maybe Davis will flourish with consistent playing time and flash 30-homer power and a solid glove. Hunter won 13 games last year in a bandbox and started a World Series game, so he already has better credentials than the rest of the current rotation.

The Lee trade is basically a wash. The Orioles peddled the remaining $2.6 million or so of Lee’s salary to the Pirates and will only have to pay if he stays healthy and piles up the plate appearances. The kid they got in return was considered maybe the 5th best first baseman in the Pirates organization by some observers. But he does have good minor-league numbers. Maybe he is a late bloomer. Regardless, Lee had little value on the open market, wasn’t coming back and shouldn’t be taking playing time from Davis. Trading him is fine.

If I have one criticism of Andy MacPhail’s deadline maneuvers is that he didn’t move anyone else. There probably is time to peddle Vladimir Guerrero and Michael Gonzalez, consider both likely will pass through waivers and be eligible for trade in August.

Jeremy Guthrie won’t get through waivers. So he’ll remain an Oriole heading into the offseason. MacPhail said he couldn’t get a worthy package – which had to include young pitching – in return for Guthrie. And since we don’t know for sure, we’ll have to take MacPhail’s word for it (and, through past experience, I’d say it’s trustworthy).


So, given the decision to sign J.J. Hardy to an extension and the lack of true trade chips, I would say MacPhail did a pretty good job this weekend. I know there’s an anti-MacPhail bent out there, so I’m sure plenty will disagree.

(But you have to be realistic. He didn’t have much to work with unless he was prepared to dangle players other teams really covet: Adam Jones, Matt Wieters or Zach Britton. And that’s a topic for another day. For all of you who advocate a trade of Brian Roberts or Nick Markakis, look at the prohibitive salaries before you jump on those faulty wagons).

Daily Think Special: How did Andy MacPhail do at the trade deadline?


Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (47)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

July 21, 2011

Are you rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

One of the best stories in baseball is happening a few hours to our west.

Despite a loss on Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Pirates (51-45) are in the thick of the National League Central pennant race. They’re in a fistfight for first place. They’re trading blows with the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals and are attempting to hold off the Cincinnati Reds, teams that were supposed to be in the mix in late July.

Everyone loves an underdog, so you have to be pulling for the Pirates, right?

Well, maybe everywhere else but here. Things get a little complicated here.

The Pirates have the longest active consecutive losing streak in the history of the four major North American sports at 18 straight seasons and counting.

But if the Pirates go .500 or better this year, the biggest loser baseball crown will be turned over the Orioles, who have had 13-straight losing seasons and counting.

So Orioles fans would have to deal with that indignity. Then there’s the fact that the Pirates play in Pittsburgh. And Pirates fans are, theoretically, Steelers fans as well. And I know most of you that hang out in this bar don’t want joy, of any kind, to rest on the shoulders of Steelers fans.

Then there’s the faction of you that still can’t stand the Pirates because of the 1971/1979 World Series. (I am a professional. I have moved on, but I still can’t hear Sister Sledge without wincing just a tiny bit).

So here’s what I am wondering: Are you pulling for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Cinderella story? Are you glad that at least one of baseball’s tortured franchises is experiencing hope? Or is that impossible for you because of where this Cinderella grew up? Or the fact that she may wear the glass slipper that Baltimore wants to put on its toes? Maybe that hurts even more.

Daily Think Special: Are you rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates?


Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (53)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

July 15, 2011

Prediction Friday: How many wins do the Orioles finish with in 2011?

I’m bringing Prediction Friday back today, because, really, what else do we have going on in the bar right now?

I asked at the beginning of the season how many wins this club would have. I put it between 75 and 78 -- depending on when I was asked (I pushed it up a few when they signed Vladimir Guerrero. Some expert, eh?).

And many of you ripped me for being Downer Danny.

Well after another loss Thursday to start the second half, the Orioles are 36-53 with 73 to play. To get to my original 75, they’ll have to go 39-34 the rest of the way.

I don’t see it happening, especially when 47 of their remaining 73 (64 percent) are against teams with winning records. And 28 of those games are against the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or Tampa Bay Rays.

So, yeah, there needs to be a market correction.

The Orioles won 66 games last year. I’ll go with 67 this season -- call me the eternal optimist. That would mean they end up 31-42, a .425 winning percentage, which means they’ll need a definite win spike to get there.

But I’ll roll the dice that they are slightly better than what we are seeing during their eight-game losing streak.

Now it is your turn.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: How many wins do the Orioles finish with in 2011?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:06 AM | | Comments (63)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

July 6, 2011

Which Orioles starter will have the best second half? Why?



I was recently asked about the Orioles’ starting rotation and what has gone wrong.

I don’t have that kind of time.

But let’s just say that no one is the rotation has had the kind of season they dreamed about when April started. And some, like Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman, have had nightmares.

It’s hard to put it in words what it means when Mitch Atkins, who didn’t throw a pitch in a spring game due to injury, has turned in one of the best individual starts of the past month.

Heading into Wednesday’s finale in Texas, Jeremy Guthrie’s 110 innings and 3.93 ERA makes him the rotation’s best pitcher for the first half despite a 3-10 record. And that speaks volumes since Jeremy couldn’t buy a win for a while there.

There are only five games left before the break. So I am asking you to get your crystal ball out. I want to know who you think will be the best Orioles starter of the second half. And, yes, they have to be with the Orioles to count.

Think it through. Because there’s a question circling around most of the candidates. Guthrie could be traded if the Orioles get the right offer. Zach Britton’s innings will be limited. Jake Arrieta’s elbow inflammation may flare up again. And who knows when Matusz and Tillman will be back or how many starts a Brad Bergesen or an Atkins or a fill-in-the-blank get in the second half.

I’m going to go with Arrieta. But that’s a hunch more than anything.


Daily Think Special: Which Orioles starter will have the best second half? Why?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (37)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

July 1, 2011

What are your thoughts on Brian Matusz?

Really, there doesn’t have to be much lead-in to today’s bar question.

Brian Matusz was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk after allowing eight runs in 3 /13 innings in Thursday’s loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

He was 1-4 with an 8.77 ERA in six starts – all in June after coming off the disabled list.

His velocity is down and he was having trouble consistently throwing his off-speed stuff for strikes. Mentally, he is over-thinking things, and that, too, got him in trouble.

This is particularly disturbing because Matusz was supposed to be the best of the young guns coming up here. And it wasn’t just hype, either. Remember, this is a guy that was 6-0 with a 1.57 ERA in his final eight starts last season.

That’s why we keep asking him if he is healthy. He says he is. We’ll take him at his word. It’s possible that his abbreviated spring and two months on the DL just sapped him of his strength and when he improves that, he can improve his velocity and excel again.

I guess only time will tell.

But I want to know what you think. Can he still be what you thought he would be?

Daily Think Special: What are your thoughts on Brian Matusz?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (48)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 29, 2011

Who should bat cleanup for the Orioles?

Now that Nick Markakis is hitting and Derrek Lee’s offense seems to slowly be coming around, the biggest question in the Orioles’ lineup is smack dab in its middle.

Without a doubt, Vladimir Guerrero was the no-brainer cleanup hitter for this team heading into the season. He has been a prototype No. 4 for much of his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Plus, he is by far the scariest presence in the lineup.

But he simply is not driving in runs this season. He has 28 RBIs from the four hole -- that’s sixth on the team. His slugging percentage is an awful .386 this year -- compare it with his career mark of .563 heading into 2011.

And this stat is the worst: After failing twice Tuesday, Guerrero is an abysmal 14-for-62 (.226 average) with 11 strikeouts and five double plays with runners in scoring position this year.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter acknowledged Tuesday that the lack of production is a concern. He also essentially said he has given Guerrero the benefit of the doubt based on his track record and may continue to do so until the All-Star break.

What he didn’t say is that he doesn’t have another prototypical cleanup guy on his roster. Not yet anyway. Adam Jones is probably the club’s best all-around hitter right now, and he leads the team in RBIs (46) and is second in homers (13). The team leader in slugging percentage is also its leadoff guy with Brian Roberts hurt: J.J. Hardy.

Derrek Lee has hit cleanup four times this season -- more than anyone else besides Guerrero. Matt Wieters has done it three times and Luke Scott twice.

Then there is hard-swinging Mark Reynolds, who is the club’s home run leader with 14. He has mainly hit seventh and eighth this season.

So here’s the dilemma: Yes, Guerrero is not getting it done at cleanup. But there’s no real obvious alternative.

Do you stick with Vlady and hope he figures it out?

Or do you put someone else in there? Like Jones or Lee or Wieters or Reynolds?

Daily Think Special: Who should bat cleanup for the Orioles?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (49)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 27, 2011

Who should be the Orioles' All-Star?

OK, it’s time we got into this discussion.

And, no, it’s not more talk about books (although I’d call my Book Nook experience this weekend a minor success. Much of what you suggested that I didn’t already have wasn’t there, unfortunately. But I did pick up Leigh Montville’s Ted Williams bio and several David Halberstam books).

By Sunday, we’ll know which player will represent the Orioles in this year’s All-Star Game.

The players and manager Buck Showalter filled out their ballots this weekend, and Showalter made a point to say he thought the club had several worthy options. He said he expects Texas manager Ron Washington, who will pick the final roster, to call before the week is out to get a better feel of the Orioles’ candidates. They have already talked briefly.

A lot of it, as we know from past experiences, is based on need once the players’ and fans’ choices are determined.

I will say this, I can’t imagine it will be more than one player -- the Orioles haven’t gotten more than one since 2005.

My guess is that it will be center fielder Adam Jones, who is hitting .294 with 13 homers and 45 RBIs. He has a .337 on-base percentage, .486 slugging and is playing excellent defense.

The other potential candidates include shortstop J.J. Hardy (.304/.369/.538, 10 homers, 29 RBIs) and Matt Wieters (.262/.316/.408, seven homers, 33 RBIs), who perhaps is the best defensive catcher in the American League.

Relievers Jim Johnson (4-1, 2.33 ERA, 51 base runners in 46 1/3 innings) and Koji Uehara (1-1, 2.25 ERA, 28 base runners in 36 innings) seem worthy, but it is hard to make the club as a non-closing reliever.

Washington will make the ultimate call. But I want to hear what you think.

Daily Think Special: Who should be the Orioles’ All-Star?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (58)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 24, 2011

What's your all-time favorite baseball book?

osblog.jpg

Those of you who have frequented the bar over the years know that we talk more than just sports in this place. We have wide-ranging interests here.

Today, for instance, we are going to talk sports books. I know, it’s great when we branch out, isn’t it? As many of the regulars know, I am a bit of a bibliophile. And my favorite weekend of the year has arrived: When the York Hospital Auxiliary, in York, Pa., hosts its annual Book Nook Bonanza (here’s the link ) at York Suburban Middle School from Friday to Sunday.

There are thousands of books for sale – hard backs are $2 and paperbacks are $1 to start. The greatest day is Sunday, when you can buy a yard of books (yes, they measure with a yardstick) for $5. You usually can get about 15 or so for a yard – depending on the thickness of the book – so it is a great deal. (It used to be $2 a yard on Sundays. Now that was living.)

Unfortunately, I have this little thing called an Orioles’ homestand this weekend, so my time at the Book Nook will be limited to Saturday morning. But I’m sure I can do plenty of damage then. (My Sun colleagues, Peter Schmuck and Jeff Zrebiec, are avid readers as well, so I always keep my eye out for stuff for them, too. I’m like a book nerd Santa.)

Here’s where you come in. I’ve picked up random books and tried different authors (Yann Martel and Khaled Hosseini, for instance) thanks to suggestions from bar patrons over the past four years. Since the books are cheap, I am willing to take a chance on them.

Continue reading "What's your all-time favorite baseball book?" »

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (62)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 20, 2011

Has your opinion of Mark Reynolds changed at all?

I wrote a piece in March on newly acquired third baseman Mark Reynolds in which I talked to several of Reynolds’ teammates over the years (even going to back to travel ball in Virginia).

The premise was this:

If Reynolds hits a bunch of home runs, posts a respectable average and plays good defense, the hard-nosed slugger is going to be a fan favorite in blue-collar Baltimore.

If he strikes out 200-plus times, can’t hit his weight and suffers through defensive lapses, he is going to be a whipping boy in Charm City, getting the full Garrett Atkins treatment.

Well, he’s pretty much been a whipping boy so far. He batted under .200 for the first two months of the season, struck out plenty and leads all American League fielders with 15 errors -- which has sent the Internet/talk show crowd into a feeding frenzy.

Yet, things are very much picking for up Reynolds this month. After hitting .169 in 25 April games and .215 in 27 May games, he is hitting .300 in 16 games this month. He is batting .217 for the year, which certainly is unimpressive, but it’s better than his .198 in 2010.

Reynolds leads the team in homers (13), doubles (14) and walks (38) and is second in RBIs (36). Based on a 162-game season, he is one pace for 31 homers, 85 RBIs and career highs in doubles (33) and walks (89). Plus, his 74 strikeouts put him on a pace for 174, snapping his streak of three straight 200-plus strikeout seasons.

Honestly, if you said in the beginning of this season that Reynolds would have 30-plus homers and doubles, hit about .220 and strikeout fewer than 200 times, I think most fans -- given Reynolds’ recent history -- would be OK with that.

Of course, no one would be OK with a 35-error pace, especially from someone who was considered a solid defender coming in. To me, his defense has been the disappointing part of Reynolds’ game. It’s frustrating watching him make a great play one inning and uncork a terrible throw the next. His defensive inconsistency has been maddening.

But his offense has been pretty much as advertised, maybe even a tick better than expected. Sure, you can nitpick (he has hit just .227 with two outs and runners in scoring position in 22 at-bats in that scenario, and his “late and close” average through 42 at-bats was .167). But overall, I’ll take a 30-homer guy who gets some walks so long as he keeps bringing up the average and on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

I guess I want to know if you are starting to warm up to Reynolds now that his bat is catching fire. Or has he done nothing to change your initial impression after a woeful April?

Daily Think Special: Has your opinion of Mark Reynolds changed at all?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:56 AM | | Comments (97)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 17, 2011

Would you let Vladimir Guerrero play outfield this week?


Had a heck of a day at the bar yesterday – plenty of comments and some interesting thoughts on how to fix the Orioles. Lots of bitters were ordered as well (just a joke, people, I understand your vitriol).

Anyway, interleague play is upon us – AGAIN. But I don’t want to ask whether you like it. We’ve beaten that one to death.

Interleague is particularly interesting for the Orioles this year, because this may be the first time during its existence that the Orioles have had a designated hitter that didn’t really play other positions.

Technically, Vladimir Guerrero is an outfielder, but he hasn’t done it much since 2008. Guerrero has started 63 of the Orioles’ 66 contests this year, hitting .288 with six homers and 27 RBIs. All of those games have come as a DH.

But for the next six games in Washington and Pittsburgh, there will be no DH. So what do you do with Guerrero?

He won’t be in Friday’s starting lineup and I doubt he’ll start any – maybe one – in left field. It’s not just that he is considered a liability out there. The Orioles don’t want him to risk injury – and last year his offensive production dipped when he played the field. (By the way, he still shags fly balls in warm-ups and would like to play outfield if the alternative is getting to hit just once. But he says it is completely up to Buck Showalter.)

While in the outfield in 2010, Guerrero batted .234 with four homers in 64 at-bats. As a DH last year, he hit .306 with 25 homers in 523 at-bats. He also saw a serious drop in power between his first and second halves of 2010 – which we assume means he wore down. Even if he isn’t part of the Orioles’ future, you want him as a potential trade chip in July, so keeping him somewhat fresh could be important.

The flip side is, even though his power numbers are down, he still can be a presence in the middle of the lineup and taking him out weakens a group that isn’t exactly playing pinball with the scoreboard.

My suggestion is start him twice in left and use him as a pinch-hitter in the other four games. I don’t’ think that’s what’s going to happen – I see him pinch-hitting in all six – but if I were in charge for a week, I’d let him play the outfield twice.

I’d also fire myself if he pulls a hamstring and is out for four weeks.

Tell me your thoughts.

Daily Think Special: Do you let Vladimir Guerrero play outfield this week?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 5:30 AM | | Comments (38)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 15, 2011

Your challenge: Make one move today that makes the Orioles better


First, I want to thank everyone who commented on the last bar entry about the death of my mother.

I didn’t get a chance to reply to everyone, but know if you left a personal story I really appreciated it. Each and every one of them (OK, except maybe the guy who blasted me out of nowhere about something written months ago. But that’s OK, too).

Now, let’s get back to our favorite diversion: Baltimore sports and, in particular, those head-shaking Orioles.

I am writing this from an empty Rogers Centre, which is how the Orioles must feel every time they come here. They have lost 16 straight in this house of horrors, dating back to Aug. 7, 2009. That seems almost impossible considering we’re talking two big-league teams here.

The Orioles have a fighting chance to stop the bleeding – OK, gushing – on Thursday with staff leader Jeremy Guthrie facing Zach Stewart, who will be making his big-league debut straight out of Double-A New Hampshire, where he had a 4.39 ERA in 12 starts.

“I know we got a new guy. Let’s welcome him to the major leagues,” said Orioles center fielder Adam Jones.

On Wednesday, the Orioles had almost no chance against Ricky Romero who struck out a career-tying high 12 batters with his mystifying changeup. The Orioles are now 8-16 when a lefty starts against them.

Stewart, by the way, is a righty.

Obviously, a lot of things have gone wrong for the Orioles so far this season (and they are still only five games under .500 – that’s fairly surprising.) There have been plenty of moves that haven’t worked out.

Here’s what I want to know: If you could make one change to the Orioles right now – as we stand on June 16, 2011, what would it be?

You can’t use signing Prince Fielder, because he is not yet a free agent. And don’t come up with a ridiculous scenario, like trading Michael Gonzalez and Robert Andino for Albert Pujols.

Stay in the realm of possibility. You get one move to make right now that makes this team better, now and for the future. You can cut someone. You can call somebody up. You can give someone more playing time. You can change field or front office personnel. Anything you want. So long as it is reasonable.

Daily Think Special: Make one move today that makes the Orioles better


Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:33 PM | | Comments (129)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 14, 2011

A son's tribute: Who shaped your love for sports?

The bar has re-opened after its longest hiatus in three-plus years.

Sorry. Won’t happen again. At least I hope not.

I can blame the lapse partially on our blogging software problems; no point of opening when we couldn’t receive your thoughts for a comment-driven blog.

But that’s just part of the story. When Connolly’s Bar was created in March 2008 the purpose was to interact with all of you. Mainly, we’d talk sports, but we’d also dig into other things like music and books. And there have been plenty of times where we’ve gotten personal – where I’ve shared some things from my life or you have from yours.

This is one of those times. Stick with me if you like. We’ll get back to sporting issues later this week.

Late at night on May 15, my mother, Ann Margaret Barber Connolly, passed away at St. Joseph’s Medical Center from complications stemming from an infection. She died one day after her 81st birthday. She had battled health problems for years, but the end still was a surprise. Even at 81, her death came too quickly for all of us that loved her so.

I wrote the eulogy for the funeral, and frankly, that was all the writing I could do that week. I returned the following week to cover baseball and try to return to normalcy. Who knew a Royals-Orioles series could be cathartic?

It was – and so was the support from my friends, co-workers, bosses and even select readers who somehow heard about my loss. I knew I’d eventually want to write a little about my mother in this space and share with the people who have been coming here regularly since 2008. Call it the barkeep’s time to bend an ear.

Today seems like an appropriate time. The Orioles were off Monday, so there’s no game to discuss. I am in a Toronto hotel room awaiting the three-game series to start Tuesday night, so I have some time to reflect. And Monday would have been my parents’ 58th wedding anniversary, so there’s some real significance there, too.

Truth be told, my mother didn’t grow up with sports. It was just her and her mother through most of her adolescence, and sports didn’t play much of a part in their lives. Then, in 1951, she met my dad, who grew up playing baseball just about every day, anywhere he could in Baltimore.

Their first two children were sons, and they became baseball/football/basketball crazy. My mother, who had a mind of her own in many matters, relented and joined the sports frenzy -- as did much of Maryland in the 1950s and 1960s.

By the time my sisters were growing up, the Connolly household had become a full-fledged, sports-nuts home. Then I was born in 1969, the last of five. My good, Irish Catholic parents may have originally had sights on creating their own baseball team but settled on enough kids to field a starting basketball squad.

I can’t tell you how many sporting events of ours that my mother and father attended. Way too many to count.

I once asked my mother if she liked sports, and she joked that she had no choice with the man she married and the kids she had. But she sure seemed to enjoy it. If she didn’t, she never complained, since attending Orioles games at Memorial Stadium was one of our primary rituals every summer.

My mom had a way of talking to everyone and making everybody feel comfortable. One of our favorite family stories revolves around my mom and baseball. At some point near Christmastime 1954, my father and mother waited in a line to get an autographed baseball for my brother Jerry, who was an infant. They thought it would be a nice keepsake.

Orioles pitcher Bob Turley, who started the Orioles’ first game at Memorial Stadium that inaugural season, was signing, and when my mom reached the front of the line she informed Turley about the reason she was there.

Turley had an infant of his own (or his wife was expecting, that detail is a little cloudy), and the two began swapping baby stories. The rest of the line waited patiently and my dad surely rolled his eyes. But that was my mom – a story and a smile and a connection to everything.

My mom loved stories – for hours upon hours she’d read to me while I was a pre-kindergartener and my brothers and sisters were in school. She loved words and music and writing. She loved movies and the theater and passed on all of those interests to me. She was the artsy one in the family, and I sort of followed her lead. Of course, I didn’t stray too far from the family’s mutual interest in sports, either.

It’s impossible to put into words – even for a professional writer – the impact a mother can have on a son or daughter. Simply immeasurable. All I know is my mom always pushed me to follow my dreams, no matter the odds. She couldn’t have been happier when I became a writer, a journalist, and, eventually, a sportswriter for my hometown paper covering the team that my mom and dad would always take us to see during those glorious summers.

My dad, who turned 80 late last month and is trying to cope without his best friend of the past 60 years, is the one who loved baseball. But my mom was the one who really loved life, and, in turn, embraced sports because that’s what her kids and husband enjoyed. She read most of the newspaper stories I wrote, even though she didn’t care about that insurance run in the eighth or the reliever’s balky elbow.

She read because she was my mom. And it was her way of supporting me after I married and had a family of my own.

I am not sure there’s a life lesson here. I guess the point is to acknowledge that we can be shaped by many people – including our own kids – but that the ones who have the most impact shower us with unconditional love. They support us and guide us and don’t ask for anything in return.

That’s what a mom does, I guess. And my mother did it better than anyone I’ve ever known.

Daily Think Special: Who shaped your love for sports?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (34)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

May 12, 2011

Three-plus years later: How good was the Bedard trade?



At the time -- Feb. 8, 2008 -- it seemed like a great deal for the Orioles, five young players for lefty Erik Bedard.

By 2009, it looked like the steal of century, especially since the Frank Robinson deal was in a whole different millennium.

Now, though, maybe that trade with the Seattle Mariners doesn’t shine as brightly.

The rebuilding Orioles sent Bedard to Seattle for Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio and Tony Butler in what was Andy MacPhail’s boldest and best move.

Jones, who at 25 has already received an All-Star nod and a Gold Glove, forever tips the scales in favor of the Orioles in this deal. No question.

Tillman, 23, was expected to be the second-best chip in the trade, and he is. But the jury is out on exactly what he’ll become.

Sherrill became the club’s closer and made the All-Star team for the Orioles in 2008 and then was shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers near the trade deadline in 2009 for prospects Josh Bell and Steve Johnson.

Bell, now at Triple-A Norfolk, is still considered the potential third baseman of the future, but his star dulled after an uneven trial run in the majors in 2010. Johnson (St. Paul's) is still learning to throw strikes consistently at Double-A Bowie.

Mickolio (along with David Hernandez) was part of this offseason’s trade for Mark Reynolds. After persistent injuries, Butler is out of affiliated ball.

Bedard, meanwhile, is 12-11 with a 3.53 ERA in 37 starts with the Mariners since 2008. He has twice signed one-year, free-agent deals to stay in Seattle.

My take is that this was a very good trade for the Orioles, one of the top five in franchise history. But I’m not sure I’d call it great anymore. And I certainly don’t think it had the impact we once thought it would. Although a lot of that will be determined as the careers of Jones, Tillman and, to a lesser extent, Bell, progress.

Here’s the perspective from my buddy Larry Stone at the Seattle Times.

Now I want your thoughts.

Daily Think Special: Three-plus years later, how good was the Erik Bedard trade for the Orioles?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (48)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

May 10, 2011

Give me your lineup for Tuesday's game


The Orioles face the Seattle Mariners tonight, hoping to reverse their fortune and get in a winning groove again.

They have a mighty tall task, facing impressive 6-foot-7 rookie right-hander Michael Pineda, who throws in the high-90s with a biting slider.

The Orioles will have shortstop J.J. Hardy back on Tuesday. And given the way the Orioles offense has struggled recently, it’s possible that there will be some lineup changes in store.

I’m not sure they will be sweeping changes, but maybe some tweaks.

This is your time to tell me how you’d structure the lineup to get the Orioles out of their funk. We’ll go one game at a time, as the baseball cliché goes.

So what’s your revamped lineup for Tuesday? Remember, there is a hard-throwing righty on the mound that no one on this team has faced in the majors.

Here’s mine:
Roberts 4, Andino 5, Markakis 9, Guerrero DH, Scott 3, Jones 8, Wieters 2, Pie 7, Hardy 6.

Basically, I’ve sat both Reynolds and Lee. The Lee thing is temporary, to get Scott’s and Pie’s LH bats in the lineup. Normally, I wouldn’t sacrifice Lee’s defense, but this is a one-time tinker. As for Reynolds, he deserves more than a month trial, but I want to manufacture some runs against Pineda and I’m removing his strikeout potential (and homer potential) for a day.

Daily Think Special: Give me your lineup for Tuesday night.


Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (59)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

May 7, 2011

Which Orioles' reliever do you trust the most right now?


The Orioles bullpen was supposed to be one of the team’s strengths in 2011.

It still might be.

But the Orioles starters aren’t going deep, forcing some of the relievers into roles in which they may not be successful.

And, regardless the role, some have been just plain awful.

In their past 17 games, the bullpen is 1-3 with a 6.20 ERA. The relievers have combined to give up 22 homers in 31 games.

Koji Uehara, the rock of the pen late last season, has allowed four walks and three homers in 11 2/3 innings this season. Uehara gave up five homers and five walks in 44 innings in 2010. And Koji has the second-best ERA in the bullpen (3.86) right now.

Who has the Orioles’ best relief ERA so far in 2011?

Yep, closer Kevin Gregg at 2.45, despite allowing 16 baserunners in 11 innings.

Frankly, I trust Gregg right now to get his job done more than any other reliever. Maybe that’s because all he has been asked to do lately is his role – and not go outside of his comfort zone like some of the other relievers due to short outings from the starters.

So here’s what I want to know -- and I am curious about your answer -- which Orioles’ reliever do you trust the most right now?

Daily Think Special: Which Orioles' reliever do you trust the most?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 27, 2011

Finish this sentence: Zach Britton reminds me of ...

With his one-run, sixth-inning performance against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday, Zach Britton became the first rookie in Orioles’ modern-day history (dating back to 1954) to win four starts in April.

Sorry Willis Roberts, you are now officially out of the record books.

Britton is carving out a heck of a start to his Orioles career. But we do need to show some restraint here. One good month doesn’t make a career or even a season (didn’t Josh Towers and Travis Driskill start their Orioles’ careers 5-0?)

The great thing about Britton is that he gets that. He’s not patting himself on the back. He’s looking to his next start. We asked him about the rookie record and his ERA (2.84) and he quickly turned it into a team answer.

“It is not about setting a record for wins in a month for a rookie or anything like that. It’s not about having a sub-3.00 ERA,” Britton said. “It’s about keeping our team in the game every time out and that’s what I am hoping to continue to do.”

Our Sun colleague Kevin Van Valkenburg wrote a great feature on Britton for Tuesday and here’s an interesting quote from it: "I asked all our coaches the question in spring training ‘Who is he comparable to?’” Orioles pitching coach Mark Connor said about Britton. “No one could remember one. The only guy who comes close is Mike Hampton, but I don't think he threw with that velocity.”

We have played this game in the press box, too: Who does Britton remind you of? My baseball colleague, Jeff Zrebiec, says Tampa Bay’s David Price, just not as overpowering.

One scout who has watched him a lot calls Britton a left-handed Brandon Webb.

I like the Hampton comp, but I’ve said for two years now that Britton reminds me of a left-handed Josh Beckett. Not his stuff, really, but his baby face and his complete confidence at such a young age.

Britton is a really nice kid, but he’s just got that confident swagger that he can beat anyone. And Beckett has that.

Now I am throwing it to you.

Daily Think Special: What pitcher, past or present, would you compare to Zach Britton?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (83)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 22, 2011

Who is Baltimore's most nerve-wracking athlete to watch? How about all-time?

There’s been a whole lot of discussion in the bar recently about the back end of the Orioles’ bullpen and especially new closer Kevin Gregg.

Gregg has two saves in three opportunities this season and has been an adventure in several other outings. That’s sort of been his history. He isn’t always easy to watch, but he’s been fairly effective – the man saved 37 games last season.

He has converted 81 percent of his career opportunities (124 of 153), which means he gets his job done a lot more often than not.

But, yeah, he can make you a nervous wreck watching (especially if you are writing on deadline, I might add). Most closers can, really, since the game is almost always on the line when they are in.

On Thursday, I began my twice weekly gig with “Mark and The Bulldog” on 105.7 The Fan (Mondays and Thursdays at noon) and they were discussing a perfect topic for Connolly’s Bar. And I am stealing it, now that I am part of their family.

Inspired by Gregg, they wanted to know which Baltimore athletes make fans the most nervous.

Gregg is probably the easy answer right now. And you can fill in the blank with plenty of Orioles’ closers over the years (Jorge Julio, George Sherrill, Ryan Kohlmeier, Chris Ray, etc).

Obviously, Don Stanhouse is probably in the Baltimore Nervous Hall of Fame. He might have his own wing.

Going away from baseball, Viv and the Bulldog mentioned former Ravens’ QB Kyle Boller. And I’ll throw Vinny Testaverde on the list – it seemed like he was just one bonehead play away from a good game, every game, with the Ravens.

I have another name for you: Maryland point guard Terrell Stokes, back in the 1990s. He was a fearless leader, a great passer and court thief, but every time he had the ball in his hands with the game on the line, I’d say a quick novena that he wouldn’t think about shooting. Please, Terrell, just pass.

That was nervous overdrive.

So here’s what I want from you: Name the current Baltimore athlete that makes you most nervous and give me one all-timer.

This could be a fun day at the bar.

Daily Think Special: Which current Baltimore athlete is the most nerve-wracking to watch?

Daily Think Special: Who is the most nerve-wracking athlete in Baltimore history?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (60)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 20, 2011

Where do you bat Matt Wieters?

Matt Wieters had a big game Tuesday night with a clutch three-run double and a key RBI single. He is now 5-for-5 with eight RBIs with runners in scoring position.

With the Orioles struggling to score runs, I have been asked by some whether I think Wieters should be moved up in the lineup.

Tough call.

He is batting just .239 with a .314 on-base percentage and a .435 slugging percentage. He had just five RBIs heading into Tuesday.

With Wieters being 24 years old and with so many veterans in the lineup, I have no problem with his batting deep in the lineup, where there is less pressure to perform. Eighth is fine with me -- at least for now, though everyone would like to see him drive the ball more often and become a middle-of-the-order hitter in the future.

I am sure there’s a contingent that wants to see Wieters moved up to get a few more RBI opportunities and maybe jump-start a little more confidence at the plate.

For the record, he has started 11 games this season in the eighth spot, three times batting fifth. He hasn’t started anywhere else in the lineup this season.

In his brief career, he has batted seventh the most times -- but his slash lines of .241/.304/.401 are worse there than they are at sixth and fifth spots. His best slashes are in the sixth spot, where he has started 49 games and batted .313 with a .371 on-base percentage and a .423 slugging percentage.

Maybe that’s all coincidence. Maybe where someone bats doesn’t really matter (there are, obviously, a lot of variables involved).

But I am curious. Where would you bat Matt Wieters right now in this lineup?

Daily Think Special: Where do you bat Matt Wieters?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (51)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 19, 2011

What has you most concerned during this eight-game skid?

We were trying to be optimistic at the bar, say, roughly, eight games ago. You know, feeling that 6-1 start and the new vibe and some old whiskey.

But it is hard to keep feeling that after the Orioles have lost eight straight and tumbled back into Groundhog Day, Part 14.

It’s a long season. There are more talented players on this team than there have been in years. And Buck Showalter is a good manager and will get a lot out of this club – eventually.

Realistically speaking, the Orioles aren’t as good as they started and they are not as bad as this stretch may suggest.

But there are some real concerns right now.

How about the fact that the only regular batting over .260 is Brian Roberts, and because he has just one walk, his on-base percentage sits at .288?

Or Nick Markakis’ struggles (.211/.281/.351) in what seemed like the perfect spot in the order for him?

Or the fact that the big foursome, Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Reynolds and an injured J.J. Hardy, has combined to hit .222 with three homers and 18 RBIs in 15 games?

There's also pitching concerns: Several of the young starters have struggled, closer Kevin Gregg has allowed 12 baserunners in five innings and Michael Gonzalez has been a disaster early on.


The key phrase, of course, is early on. It’s a 162-game season and everything could change again in a week. Heck, a few great games and those batting averages, for instance, could skyrocket.

But since I asked about your thoughts during a somewhat positive time last week, I want to know what worries you the most now. What one component are you most afraid will not turn around this season?

Daily Think Special: What has you most concerned during this eight-game skid?



Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (118)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 11, 2011

One homestand down, what are your thoughts on these Orioles so far?

The Orioles completed their first homestand of 2011. They went 3-3. No ticker-tape parades yet.

But this club is 6-3 and atop the American League East for now. That's a big jump from last year's 2-16 start.

There have been some positives: The young starting pitching has done fairly well, the defense is solid and the offense has shown some life.

And some negatives: plenty of injuries, the bullpen has some cracks and the offense has scored one run in the past 24 innings.

All in all, it's tough to nitpick too much considering where this franchise has been. Maybe that tune will change after three games at Yankee Stadium.

But right now, after their first full week of the season, I want to know your thoughts on the Orioles.

Encouraged? Not convinced? Worried?

Daily Think Special: What are your thoughts on the Orioles so far?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (50)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 7, 2011

In retrospect, should the Orioles have signed Victor Martinez?

I had a chance to talk briefly Wednesday with Detroit’s Victor Martinez, a couple hours before he had a double, single and homer in the Tigers’ 7-3 win against the Orioles at Camden Yards.

Martinez, if you remember, was the Orioles’ No. 1 target this winter. They offered him $48 million over four years to be their everyday first baseman, but instead he took the Tigers’ four-year, $50 million contract.

“I really appreciated the amount of interest the Orioles had in me,” Martinez said. “It was a pretty tough decision.”

Really, the deck was stacked against the Orioles getting Martinez. The Tigers have won more recently, they are in a division that isn’t as deep, they gave him more of an opportunity to catch and several of Detroit’s team leaders are fellow Venezuelans.

There’s also the fact that the Tigers train each spring in Lakeland, which isn’t that far from his home in Orlando. And, yes, the bottom line is Detroit also offered more money.

Eventually, the Orioles found the help they needed from the right side of the plate (Martinez is a switch-hitter) by trading for J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds and signing Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero.

Martinez, 32, is a career .300 hitter in more than 1,000 games played. He’s also just one guy, and the Orioles added four. That said, Martinez would have been locked up for four seasons; of the new quartet, only Reynolds is guaranteed to be here beyond 2011.

So I want you to look at this team now. And think about what they did in the offseason. And then tell me, in retrospect, did the Orioles make a mistake by not upping their offer and signing Martinez to be their first baseman/DH/backup catcher through 2014?

Or, given what they did after Martinez signed with Detroit in November, is it OK with you that he went elsewhere?

Daily Think Special: Did the Orioles swing and miss by not signing Victor Martinez?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (42)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 4, 2011

What has been the best part of the Orioles' quick start?


So Opening Day is now done. The Orioles’ winning streak isn’t.

They are now 4-0, the first time they started a season with that record since the wire-to-wire 1997 team.

As the local chairman of the Baseball Writers Association of America, I haven’t been asked to do the playoff seating chart at Camden Yards just yet.

There are still, well, 158 games to play. So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s see this for what it is: a good start in a long season. It’s a start that is particularly promising because it has been triggered not by the revamped offense but by the young pitching, which is the biggest question mark heading into this season.

The four starters – Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Tillman, Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta – turned in quality starts and have combined to allow just two runs and 12 hits in 26 innings pitched (0.69). It’s been even more impressive knowing that Brian Matusz (back muscle strain) and Justin Duchscherer (left hip, back) are on the disabled list.

And now Guthrie will miss Wednesday’s start with a form of pneumonia.

This team already has been challenged and has responded. And the much ballyhooed offense has averaged more than four runs a game despite getting just two homers, both from leadoff hitter Brian Roberts.

There have been a lot of good things happening during this exceptionally small sample size. I want to know what has you most excited about this club and its fast start.

Daily Think Special: What’s been the best part of the Orioles’ quick start?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:00 PM | | Comments (40)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 3, 2011

Predict the Opening Day score, hero and who gets the loudest pre-game cheers


Not much has to be said here today.

Opening Day in Baltimore is always special. And today is going to be particularly fun, because the Orioles are 3-0 heading into this afternoon’s game.

There was going to be some excitement surrounding this game anyway: It’s Buck Showalter’s first opener as Orioles manager. The young pitching is, at least, in place. And the new additions will make this offense much better than last year’s version.

All of the real problems surrounding this club – depth, division, inconsistency of young pitching, injuries – will be pushed aside today.

Really, it’s a holiday in Baltimore. I know, I skipped school each Opening Day for about eight years running to go to Memorial Stadium (and look how I turned out? I run a fictional bar. Child psychologists may want to contact me at The Sun of a more in-depth study).

So enjoy the day, tip your hats (and your bartenders) and give me three predictions:

I want to know the final score and who is the hero of the day. I also want to know who gets the loudest pre-game ovation.

My guesses: Orioles 6, Tigers 4. J.J. Hardy hits his first Orioles’ homer, a three-run shot, and is the player of the game. And Showalter is the pre-game toast of the town, edging out Vladimir Guerrero and Zach Britton.

Daily Think Special: Predict the score and hero of today’s opener.

Bonus Think Special: Who gets the loudest pre-game ovation?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:30 PM | | Comments (56)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 2, 2011

Here are our 2011 baseball predictions



On Friday, we gave you some Orioles info/predictions from a productive dinner I had with columnist Pete Schmuck and O’s beat writer Jeff Zrebiec.

It was productive because we made a series of prognostications, not because Schmuck picked up the tab (I wrote productive, not unprecedented).

Here is what we came up with for the 2011 baseball season. We’d like to see your predictions as well.


AL East winner: Red Sox (Jeff); Red Sox (Dan); Red Sox (Pete)

AL Central winner: Tigers (Jeff); White Sox (Dan); White Sox (Pete)

AL West winner: Rangers (Jeff); A's (Dan); Angels (Pete)

AL Wild Card: Yankees (Jeff); Yankees (Dan); Twins (Pete)

AL Champion: Red Sox (Jeff); White Sox (Dan); White Sox (Pete)

NL East winner: Phillies (Jeff); Phillies (Dan); Phillies (Pete)

NL Central winner: Cardinals (Jeff); Brewers (Dan); Brewers (Pete)

NL West winner: Dodgers (Jeff); Giants (Dan); Dodgers (Pete)

NL Wild Card: Braves (Jeff); Marlins (Dan); Reds (Pete)

NL Champion: Phillies (Jeff); Phillies (Dan); Phillies (Pete)

World Series champion: Red Sox (Jeff); White Sox (Dan); Phillies (Pete)

AL Manager: Leyland (Jeff); Francona (Dan); Maddon (Pete)

NL Manager: Mattingly (Jeff); Rodriguez (Dan); Roenicke (Pete)

AL Rookie: Hellickson (Jeff); Morel (Dan); Britton (Pete)

NL Rookie: Freeman (Jeff); Kimbrel (Dan); Belt (Pete)

AL MVP: Cano (Jeff); Ad. Gonzalez (Dan); Quentin (Pete)

NL MVP: Pujols (Jeff); Han. Ramirez (Dan); Fielder (Pete)

AL Cy Young: Verlander (Jeff); Lester (Dan); Price (Pete)

NL Cy Young: Carpenter (Jeff); Oswalt (Dan); Kershaw (Pete)

AL Comeback Player: Man. Ramirez (Jeff); Bedard (Dan); Ellsbury (Pete)

NL Comeback Player: P Chris Young (Jeff); Chip. Jones (Dan); Berkman (Pete)

First manager fired: Geren (Jeff); Riggleman (Dan); Quade (Pete)

Daily Think Special: Make your 2011 MLB predictions


Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

March 31, 2011

Prediction Friday: Quick-fire Orioles' predictions


OK, as Buck Showalter says, I get it.

I have been a terrible barkeep lately.

This joint has been open about as often as a Ravens’ wideout in a Steelers’ game.

Blame by bar malaise on spring training. By the time we’ve gotten back to the Sarasota condo each tonight, I was too bushed to serve you bad swill and stale pretzels. But I left the side door cracked and one keg tapped, if you were really thirsty.

I am making it up for it today in an epic Prediction Friday, because today is the season opener for the Orioles in St. Pete. In celebration of no more No. 92s pitching in the eighth, Prediction Friday is going to be a two-parter today, starting with this entry.

Sun O’s writer Jeff Zrebiec, Sun columnist Peter Schmuck and I had dinner together tonight in Tampa and we wrote down our predictions for various Orioles and national baseball categories (we figured it was a working dinner, so we let Schmuck get two desserts).

We made so many predictions we will present one group now and another mid-morning Friday. So check back around 11 a.m. or so to see the second round. These will all focus on the 2011 Orioles. We’ll give you our national predictions later this weekend. (Yeah, long dinner. Ever watched Schmuck eat dessert?)

If you want to join in the frivolity, do so. Provide your own thoughts on each category we suggest. Or just tell us how wrong our predictions are. It’s for amusement purposes only.

Here is Part 1, the first 10 categories. Remember, this one is all about the 2011 Orioles


HR leader: Jones (Jeff); Guerrero (Dan); Reynolds (Pete)

RBI leader: Markakis (Jeff); Lee (Dan); Guerrero (Pete)

Highest Avg.: Markakis (Jeff); Markakis (Dan); Guerrero (Pete)

Wins: Guthrie (Jeff); Britton (Dan); Arrieta (Pete)

Strikeout leader: Arrieta (Jeff); Matusz (Dan); Matusz (Pete)

Team wins: 75 (Jeff); 77 (Dan); 79 (Pete)

Lone All-Star: Jones (Jeff); Markakis (Dan); Matusz (Pete)

Will be traded in 2011: Lee (Jeff); Gonzalez (Dan); Uehara (Pete)

First Norfolk callup: Jakubauskas (Jeff); Tatum (Dan); Drese (Pete)

Showalter’s first ejection: May 16 (Jeff); April 14 (Dan); April 21 (Pete)

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Quick-fire Orioles Prognostications

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:39 PM | | Comments (34)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

March 22, 2011

Zach Britton: Up or down?



We have a very simple question today at the bar.

We have asked around this one in the past, tiptoed a little bit. I am, after all, timid and unassuming.

But it looks like the verdict on this subject could be in Wednesday -- or shortly after Sunday’s split-squad games.

So here’s the big question of the spring for the Orioles: What do you do with 23-year-old lefty Zach Britton?

He has been the talk not only of Orioles’ camp, but also of a good faction of the baseball world, at least those of us in Florida. I have spoken to a few scouts who say Britton (one earned run in 14 big league innings) has impressed them more this month than any other young player.

This is what the New York Yankees’ Nick Swisher said about Britton after facing him Tuesday: “Wow. His ball moves anywhere. He is one of those guys where the ball feels like it is coming out of his ear. Good movement. Fastball’s pretty good. Everything has got movement.”

I have been on the Britton bandwagon for a couple of years now. He’s a good kid with the proper balance of confidence and respectfulness. He’s wide-eyed, yet not intimidated. He expects to be great, but he also doesn’t fear the work that needs to be done along the way.

I think he is going to be a very good pitcher. I’ve actually gone on record predicting that this guy is going to be the best of the bunch -- and it is a good bunch.

All that said, there’s absolutely no way Britton should start 2011 on the Orioles’ Opening Day roster. Not when he can be kept at Triple-A Norfolk for three weeks, which would guarantee he doesn’t get a full season of service time in 2011, meaning he wouldn’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2017 season.

If the Orioles put him on the Opening Day roster and he sticks in the big leagues all year and beyond, he becomes a free agent after the 2016 season.

I know a lot of fans want to see him at Camden Yards all year. And, yes, the fans deserve to watch the best team possible throughout the season. But it’s a no-brainer to sacrifice three starts in April for a full year in 2017.

By the way, I’m sure some of you will say this decision will leave a bitter taste in Britton’s mouth and that he’ll really resent the organization. Well, Britton is smart enough to know baseball is a business. He also knows that if he is patient, he’ll be up shortly.

And here’s one more thing about Britton: When he didn’t get a spring training invitation last spring after a great 2009 at Single-A, he was ticked. So what did he do? He busted his butt and won the organization’s 2010 Jim Palmer Prize.

He may view the decision to send him out of camp as a slight. But he’ll use it as motivation. I am sure of that.

That’s my take. I send him down until late April. Let’s hear what you think.

Daily Think Special: Zach Britton, up or down?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:23 PM | | Comments (52)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

March 17, 2011

What's your biggest Orioles' concern with two weeks remaining before Opening Day?


Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

You knew a bar named Connolly’s would be open today. Can’t make any promises about tomorrow.

We’ll make this quick because we have lots of beer to dye – and it won’t be the color of orange Kool-Aid.

Tomorrow marks the two-week point before Opening Day, and frankly there are plenty of questions and concerns surrounding these Orioles.

I want to know what has you the most concerned.

My choice is the health of Brian Roberts. Yes, it is a team game, but Roberts makes the offense go and provides stability on defense. If he is out for an extended period, this is a different club. We’ve all seen that.

Buck Showalter is hopeful Roberts, Derrek Lee and Koji Uehara will be available soon.

Lee hasn’t played in a spring game, so there has to be some concern there. Uehara hasn’t thrown to a hitter since the exhibition opener and the club’s other closer option, Kevin Gregg, has had consecutive rough outings, so maybe you have some new worries about the back-end of the bullpen.

Luke Scott and Mark Reynolds, among others, are struggling.

The young starting pitching hasn’t been consistently effective.

Yeah, I know, St. Patrick’s Day is supposed to be a happy and fun holiday. So I’ll stop giving suggestions.

Daily Think Special: What’s your biggest Orioles’ concern two weeks before Opening Day?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 7:53 AM | | Comments (76)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

March 13, 2011

Who should be the Orioles' fifth starter?

OK, we are back and open for business. I'm not kidding this time.

I imagine you all are thirsty. One free drink on the house -- you can all pass it around.

Hope you enjoy the renovated digs; it’s not as posh as new Ed Smith Stadium, but at least we put in gleaming new toilets. The ones with the Baltimore CFL Colts stickers on the sides were a bit dated. And I know what’s important to my clientele.

Let’s get right to Orioles baseball and get a spirited discussion going.

Justin Duchscherer is slated for an MRI on his troublesome left hip in the next few days, possibly Tuesday. He has pitched just two innings this spring, so it’s become rather unlikely that he will be ready for the beginning of the season.

So consider at least one spot in the rotation completely open.

Technically, there are two spots available, but it would be a real surprise -- or take a sudden, unforeseen injury -- if the following four weren’t in the rotation: Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta.

It’s possible the Orioles could add a fifth starter from outside the organization before Opening Day. If not, the internal choices are likely down to right-hander Chris Tillman or lefty Zach Britton, with nonroster invitee Ryan Drese as a darkhorse candidate.

At first, my question seems obvious: Britton has pitched nine scoreless innings this spring, is the team’s top prospect and would add a second lefty to the rotation. Making Britton the fifth starter is a no-brainer at first blush.

But then look at the business side of it. If Britton doesn’t appear in a major league game for the first 20 days of the season, he will not register a full year of service time in 2011, meaning his free agency would be a delayed a year. And that is significant for obvious reasons.

Also, Britton, 23, has made just 12 starts above Double-A in his career. In comparison, Tillman, 22, has made 62 starts above Double-A in the past two seasons, including 23 in the big leagues, compiling an overall 4-10 record and 5.61 ERA.

Tillman has allowed five earned runs in 8 2/3 innings this spring (5.19 ERA). He has dominated at Triple-A (a 2.70 ERA in 18 starts in 2009 and a 3.34 ERA in 21 starts in 2010) for much of his time there.

Maybe it makes more sense to let Tillman start in the majors this season -- for the first time in his career -- and let Britton pitch at Norfolk for a month or so. Or maybe both go down to Norfolk while Drese (one earned run in seven innings this spring), Rick VandenHurk (four earned runs in six innings pitched) or someone else takes the fifth spot until Tillman or Britton forces his way up.

It’s an interesting dilemma. My guess is that the Orioles will send Britton to Norfolk to begin the season and not start his service clock too quickly. That would make Tillman the fifth starter, but I wouldn’t rule out a new addition either.

Daily Think Special: Who should be the Orioles’ fifth starter?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:44 PM | | Comments (36)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

February 18, 2011

Who is the most feared hitter in Orioles' history?


Your eyesight isn’t fading and we haven’t forgotten to pay the electrical bills (not recently, anyway).

Connolly’s has been dark for a few days – and will be for several more.

I am taking a little time off until I head down to Sarasota in March. Meanwhile, Jeff Zrebiec and, yes, Peter Schmuck, are busting their tails in Florida to deliver everything Orioles to you.

But I know there are a lot of thirsty people in Charm City and I have a few things I wanted to mention.

First, it has been a rough week. You all know about the death of Orioles’ umpires’ attendant Ernie Tyler. But his was not the only viewing I attended this week.

Harry Thomas Walker Jr., a former Howard County educator who received his doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Maryland and lived an incredibly interesting life (here’s the obituary), died Saturday of heart failure at age 66.

He was the father of Childs Walker, intrepid Sun reporter, good guy (despite his Gilman education) and occasional guest bartender at Connolly’s. To those bar patrons who have read Childs’ work in various sections in the past decade (his piece on Peter Angelos last summer was a must read) and interacted with Childs through The Toy Department blog or his fantasy sports columns, please keep him in mind during this difficult time.

Childs and I have formed several bonds over the years, including a love for music and the southern rock band, the Drive-By Truckers. Coincidentally, I had the pleasure of seeing the Truckers in concert again Wednesday night, their second gig since releasing their new CD “Go-Go Boots.”

The album – they also released it on vinyl, so I can call it an album – is exceptionally mellow, and, consequently, Wednesday’s Truckers’ show was a little more chilled than normal. There was plenty of the Truckers’ legendary energy and shredding guitars, however. And so I wanted to pass on this regional programming note to my fellow music lovers: The Truckers are playing shows Friday and Saturday at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. I hear both are sold out, but if you can finagle tickets, do so. You won’t regret it, I promise.

One other personal note: Those of you who live in Northern Maryland or York County, Pa. and want to talk a little baseball, I have an event for you. I’ll be talking (and answering questions) about the upcoming baseball season this Monday (Feb. 21) at 7 p.m. at Zion Lutheran Church, 2215 Brandywine Lane in York. We’ll cover the Orioles and baseball in general.

I’ll be joined by York Daily Record sportswriter Jim Seip, who covers the York Revolution, the 2010 Atlantic League champs. There is no admission fee, though a freewill offering will be taken for Zion’s new furnace fund. For more information, call the church at 717-767-4673.

OK, with all that housekeeping out of the way, let’s talk a little baseball in here. Vladimir Guerrero is expected to be introduced today in Sarasota as the newest Oriole. Even at age 36, Guerrero becomes the club’s most feared hitter since Albert Belle in 2000 and maybe since Eddie Murray in the early 1980s.

Because he has been so successful throughout his career, because he can hit a ball out of the park at any moment and because, with his free-swinging nature and quick bat, he is a threat to hit any type of pitch thrown anywhere between the two dugouts, Guerrero is one of those guys that the opposition absolutely hates facing.

And that got me thinking. Who is the most feared hitter in the history of the modern day Orioles?

Miguel Tejada was a dangerous hitter and so were Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Brady Anderson, Jim Gentile, Robbie Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro.

But when I think about a hitter that really strikes fear in an opposing pitcher, the list is short. In baseball and in Orioles’ history.

I immediately think of two names: Frank Robinson, who I didn’t see play in an Orioles’ uniform, but boy did I hear the stories; and Murray.

I want to know who you think was the most feared Orioles’ hitter of all time. Not the best or the most successful, necessarily, but the most feared. This is tricky, because pretty much all of Murray’s best years were spent here while Robinson had some great ones, but didn’t get to Baltimore until he was in his 30s.

I am curious to see if Frank wins in a landslide, if it’s a Frank-Eddie or horserace or if there are others who make a run at the title.

Daily Think Special: Who is the most feared hitter in Orioles’ history?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:18 AM | | Comments (140)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

February 11, 2011

My memories of Ernie Tyler

In the past 24 hours, there have been plenty of glowing quotes and tributes concerning Ernie Tyler, the Orioles’ longtime umpires attendant who passed away late Thursday night.

I’d like to add my own 2 cents.

Back in 2004, the year Tyler won the Orioles’ Herb Armstrong Award for meritorious service by non-uniform personnel, I sat down with Tyler for an extended feature.

I was the Orioles beat writer for the York Daily Record at the time, but as a Baltimore boy, I was always fascinated with Tyler and his local celebrity. Where else but Baltimore, I wondered, could a guy who runs baseballs to the plate umpire during games receive hallowed status?

Baltimore’s love of Tyler had more to do with the man -- and the work ethic -- than the job, of course. Ernie was a fixture at Memorial Stadium and then at Camden Yards with that head-down sprint that became more of a trot and then a shuffle as Tyler turned 60 and then 70 and then 80.

But it was always there. You could count on it -- and frankly there are so few constants these days in any aspect of life. It’s human nature to take comfort in reliability and dependability.

And Ernie Tyler was as reliable and dependable as they come.

I also learned that day in 2004 that he had a tremendous, self-deprecating sense of humor. At one point, he told me the man who gave him the umpires attendant job way back when was Herb Armstrong, the executive for whom the award he was receiving was named.

That day, Tyler said Armstrong would have been proud -- then added in deadpan style: “He’d be proud of the award, not me.”

After reading the fantastic comments about Tyler in the past day -- from Orioles fans and players and personnel -- it’s obvious this city and franchise were proud to call Tyler one of its own. This city loves a tireless worker.

And I want to share one example of Tyler’s work ethic -- and his Christian faith.

He kept an air mattress in his small room in the bowels of Camden Yards. He couldn’t figure out a way to get his work done after a Saturday night game, drive home to Forest Hill, go to church on Sunday morning and then get back to the stadium in time to complete his pre-game work -- including taking the shine off six dozen new baseballs each day -- before the umpires needed him.

So he'd blow up that mattress on Saturdays and sleep in the office. Every home Saturday night. He’d then wake up at 7 a.m., do some work, go to 9 a.m. Mass and be back at his office to finish his pre-game duties. Even at age 80-plus.

That’s the man I’ll remember.

Here’s that story I did in 2004. Hope it holds up half as well as the seemingly indestructible and energetic Tyler did for all those years.

So join me in a toast and raise your glasses to Ernie Tyler, the self-proclaimed "glorified ballboy."

Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:30 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

Should any current Oriole get a long-term deal?

With Luke Scott signing a one-year deal on Thursday, only Jeremy Guthrie remains unsigned among arbitration-eligible players.

If Guthrie, who asked for $6.5 million and the Orioles, who countered with $5 million, can’t find a common ground, a three-person arbitration board will choose one of the figures on Wednesday.

Guthrie and Scott, both of whom are eligible for free agency after the 2012 season, have shown interest in signing long-term deals. The Orioles aren’t willing to do that yet.

Of the other Orioles that qualified for arbitration, shortstop J.J. Hardy is a free agent after the end of this season; outfielders Felix Pie and Adam Jones are free agents after 2013 and pitcher Jim Johnson hits free agency after 2014.

Clubs like to sign players to long-term deals in order to ebb the potential financial escalation during the arbitration years and extend the tenure of coveted players beyond six full seasons.

Usually -- but not always -- players don’t get extensions until they are approaching or are in the midst of their arbitration years (which kick in after three seasons of service for most players and after two seasons for some players). Therefore, Orioles such as Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz, both of whom won’t see free agency until after 2015, aren’t likely in this discussion yet.

So let’s primarily consider the seven arb-eligible players above. They are the most obvious candidates for extensions – specifically Scott, Guthrie, Hardy and Jones. Would you offer any of them long-term deals right now?

Daily Think Special: Which Oriole or Orioles would you like to see get long-term deals? Why?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:15 AM | | Comments (39)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

February 7, 2011

Which had you more excited: Signing Belle, Tejada or Guerrero?

So Vladimir Guerrero will be an Oriole, pending a disastrous physical, and Pittsburgh Steelers fans won’t be chanting that awful “Stairway to Seven” mantra this year.

Not a bad weekend in Baltimore.

(Really, “Stairway to Seven?” I respect the Steelers’ organization and the fans are tremendously passionate and “One for the Thumb” was genius. But you’ve got to do better than “Stairway to Seven,” Steelers fans. That would have been clever in, say, 1974. Maybe.)

Anyway, it was a pretty good weekend at the bar, too. People kept pouring in, we kept pouring spirits and cash kept getting tossed my way as if I were an aging but fearsome DH.

Then there’s that little matter of my Super Bowl prediction: 31-27 Green Bay Packers. Yeah, I almost nailed it. It ended up 31-25. Sorry, I’m not perfect, just really close.

For my Prediction Friday regulars, you probably remember I started off the football season ice cold with my prognostications. But I rallied when it counted. (OK, it never counts; it’s a fake bar with fake prizes. Still …)

Many of you came close to the final Super Bowl outcome as well. We’ll give Dinger the free tab for the week for his 30-23 Packers call. That was a good way to end Prediction Fridays.

Now, we officially are switching to baseball.

The Guerrero signing seems to be a big one around here. It’s for only one year, and Guerrero, who turns 36 on Wednesday, is no longer in his prime. Its significance is more about the fact that the Orioles showed a willingness to overpay for a star instead of waiting for the price to be right.

Eight million dollars seems too high for this version of Guerrero, but the point is he makes the Orioles’ improving offense much better. And the signing shows that the club and its owner, Peter Angelos, will be aggressive. That, more than anything, must please most Orioles fans.

Here’s what I was wondering: Where does this signing rank in comparison to the Orioles’ other big splashes during the past 13 years of losing.

In my opinion, there were two others that are similar: the December 1998 signing of Albert Belle (five years, $65 million) back when the Orioles had the highest payroll in baseball and the December 2003 signing of Miguel Tejada (six years, $72 million, still a franchise record for a free agent).

Belle’s signing showed the Orioles were playing hardball after a down year. In retrospect, because of a deteriorating hip that limited the surly slugger to two seasons, it’ll go down as one of the worst moves in club history. At the time, though, the news rocked Baltimore.

Then there was the Tejada move. It was the first full offseason for the two-headed GM monster of Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan and was the centerpiece of a spending spree that also included buying Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmeiro and Sidney Ponson. Tejada was just 27 -- we thought, anyway -- and one season removed from being AL MVP. The consensus among baseball at the time is that clubs were hiding their wallets and the Orioles got a steal in Tejada.

Again, Orioles fans were giddy. (Although, they would have been even giddier if the Orioles had gotten Guerrero that offseason as well, but he chose the Angels instead.)

The acquisitions of Belle and Tejada were probably more meaningful given the total amount spent and duration of the contracts. But the buzz around Guerrero this weekend, in my opinion, rivals that of the excitement surrounding those two back in the day.

But I’m not a fan. So maybe I am wrong. That’s why I have come to you. I want to know how the Guerrero move compares to how you felt when the Orioles signed Belle and Tejada.

Does it pale in comparison? Are you even more excited? Why or why not?

Daily Think Special: How does the acquisition of Guerrero compare to the excitement surrounding the signings of Belle and Tejada?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:00 PM | | Comments (85)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

February 3, 2011

Prediction Friday: The Super Bowl and Vlady as an Oriole?

OK, welcome to the very last Prediction Friday for a long time.

I mean it, no more stretching the theme for an easy entry. At least until Opening Day. Or March Madness.

I’m asking for two overall predictions today.

The first: Give me your Super Bowl winner, score and hero of the game.

I’m taking the Green Bay Packers to win 31-27 – I just can’t bring myself to award that team-which-shall-not-be-named another ring. The hero is Aaron Rodgers, who rushes for a touchdown with 30 seconds left to give the Packers a come-from-behind victory.

Now, since we are sniffing pitchers and catchers reporting to Florida – I don’t mean that literally – we have to throw a baseball prediction out there, too.

It has come to my attention that Connolly’s patrons don’t care about anything else but whether Vladimir Guerrero will sign with the Orioles. In November, no one even mentioned Guerrero. Now I can’t go to the grocery store without being questioned by someone – and not about why I am mishandling the avocados.

As a self-proclaimed Orioles Insider, I can definitively answer the Guerrero question with a very stern “maybe.” I keep ending up on the fence here. I believe the Orioles are the best fit for him, the only aggressive suitor and have a solid offer on the table. I just can’t help but think, though, that someone else is going to make an 11th hour offer that Guerrero is going to take.

Really, I’m not sure. We know the sides have talked recently. But we don't know how close they are. So I want your call on Vlady. Not whether you want him, but whether you think it will happen. Are you feeling confident? Or have you seen this movie -- with Spanish subtitles -- before?

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: The Super Bowl

Bonus Think Special: Will Vladimir Guerrero sign with the Orioles? Why or why not?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:00 PM | | Comments (75)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

February 1, 2011

Who will be in the Orioles' rotation to begin 2011?

The assumption is that if Justin Duchscherer is healthy he’ll be in the Orioles rotation.

His first Orioles’ test literally comes Wednesday when he has his physical in Baltimore. He made it to town late Tuesday night, battling some terrible flying weather to get here.

The 33-year-old has shown he can be an extremely effective starter (3.01 ERA in 32 big-league starts) when he can remain on the field.

For this exercise, let’s assume he does. Pencil him into the rotation with Jeremy Guthrie, likely the Opening Day starter, and lefty Brian Matusz. My guess is Brad Bergesen is in the rotation as well, which means Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman will fight for the fifth spot.

From where I sit in early February, I think Arrieta wins that battle and the 22-year-old Tillman goes back to Triple-A to work on his consistency and join Zach Britton for a nice 1-2 punch for the Tides.

So many things can change between now and then. I get that. But let’s make the call now and see how it plays out. Give me your starting rotation for 2011. Enumerate them if you like. And tell me why you came to your conclusion if you want.

Daily Think Special: Who will make up the Orioles’ five-man rotation to start 2011?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:45 PM | | Comments (72)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

January 31, 2011

Do you like the Justin Duchscherer signing?

The Orioles were looking for a starter.

They got one in 33-year-old right-hander Justin Duchscherer, whom they signed Sunday night to a one-year deal pending a physical, which likely will be Tuesday or Wednesday.

Duchscherer is an interesting risk, in my opinion. The guy knows how to pitch. He doesn’t throw hard, but he mixes it up and throws strikes. He has a near 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his career, and he has represented the Oakland Athletics on the American League All-Star team as both a reliever and a starter.

But he has battled health issues for much of his career. He has had three surgeries on his hips (two on his right and one, last June, on his left). He has made just five starts in the past two seasons and only 32 in his career.

It’s why the Orioles structured the big league contract the way they did. He’ll get $700,000 in base salary, and that will move up $1.1 million when he makes the 25-man roster. He then has incentive bonuses based on the number of starts that would make his contract worth $4.5 million if he makes 30 starts.

He is not being viewed as a reliever, so, technically, he’ll be fighting for a rotation spot in spring. But if he is healthy, he’ll have a spot. That simple. And that means one of the young guys, most likely Chris Tillman, will head back to Triple-A, assuming everyone else is healthy.

The way I look at it, competition is good. And the contract protects the team while rewarding Duchscherer if he stays healthy and produces. But I know some of you want the young starters to learn at the major league level since they have all shown they can handle Triple-A.

So I want your opinion here. Do you like this move?

Daily Think Special: Do you like the Justin Duchscherer signing?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:17 AM | | Comments (108)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

January 27, 2011

Prediction Friday: How many wins for the 2011 Orioles?

Yes, I am doing another Prediction Friday. I just can’t let a good thing go.

(Speaking of good things, earlier this week I saw Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt, two of my favorite songwriters, together in an acoustic show. I had it completely hyped-up in my mind, and it met expectations. Maybe exceeded them. Just fantastic. So that’s why the jukebox in this joint is playing “Have A Little Faith in Me” and “If I Had a Boat,” over and over today).

Let’s get to last week’s Prediction Friday first. Eight of us, including your barkeep, correctly predicted that the Steelers and Packers would win their conference championships Sunday (there were more than eight, actually, but you only get credit if you included a score. I am a stickler for following directions).

Free drink chips for CSB Jack, Swanee, Cam, Bill K and Paul D. And a big, old open tab for M Styborski, who almost predicted the Steelers’ 24-19 win exactly. He had Pittsburgh winning 24-18 and he had Green Bay victorious, 22-20, not far from the 21-14 final. Closest to the Packers’ score was Swanee at 24-16.

Today’s Prediction Friday question can’t be reconciled until October. But we’re asking anyway. And we’ll probably ask again in late March.

Obviously, things can change if the Orioles add another couple of players, but right now I want you to predict how many games you think the Orioles win in 2011. I want to see just how optimistic you are heading into Saturday’s FanFest.

Some perspective: The Orioles were 66-96 last year. Their highest total since the wire-to-wire 1997 season was 79 wins in 1998. They have gotten more than 74 wins just twice since then (1999 and 2004). They need 82 to break the 13-season streak of losing seasons.

Their biggest jump in the past decade was seven wins from 71 in 2003 to 78 in 2004.

I say they top that biggest jump this season. I say the Orioles win 75 games in 2011, a nine-game jump from last year. Wish I could give you more, but I can’t.

That’s about as optimistic as I get. Now it is your turn.

(By the way, if you are at FanFest on Saturday, stop by and say hello. I’ll be there most of the day.)

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: How many games will the Orioles win in 2011? Why?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:00 PM | | Comments (107)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

January 25, 2011

Who is Baltimore's quintessential sportscaster?

I made a point Tuesday of recognizing my colleague Jeff Zrebiec as the 2010 Maryland Sportswriter of the Year as chosen by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.

I was remiss in not immediately mentioning that the same organization named WBAL Radio’s Keith Mills as Maryland’s 2010 Sportscaster of the Year.

As someone who grew up in Baltimore, Mills always will be remembered in my mind’s eye as part of an excellent 1-2 punch with the fantastic Scott Garceau on WMAR-TV. They really seemed to work well together; Garceau, the polished, gracious professional and Mills, the Brooklyn Park Everyman who you half-expected to high five the camera when things were going well in the Charm City sporting world.

Mills’ personal struggles, which have been well documented, cost him that job at WMAR. And there was a time when many of us thought he was done in this business, especially in Baltimore. But to Mills' credit he never shied away from his prescription medication addiction, telling his story countless times while juggling a return to the business he loved.

WBAL gave him a shot at redemption and now he has been named by his peers as the top sportscaster in Maryland. Frankly speaking, that’s one helluva comeback story. If Mills were an athlete, he’d be featured in national magazines. Instead, he gets a few paragraphs in a blog about a fake bar. Tough life for us media hacks. But sincere congratulations to Mills, who deserves some good press.

It got me thinking: Who is Baltimore’s best TV sportscaster? It’s an open-ended question; one that maybe should have parameters. But I'm not going to do that. You can define “sportscaster” however you want. You can include local TV sports anchors, cable TV show hosts and, yes, those who call Orioles and Ravens games on TV can count, too. This is Orioles Insider after all. So Gary Thorne or Jon Miller or even Jim Palmer can be in play, if you like.

We’ve discussed writers and radio broadcasters at this joint before and it has been fun. So let’s tackle this one.

Here’s my opinion: When I think of Baltimore play-by-play announcers I think of Chuck Thompson. When I think of Baltimore sportswriters I think of John Steadman. So when I think of Baltimore TV sportscasters, I go old school, think local news and choose the guy that defined it for so many years and for so many generations on WBAL.

My nominee is Vince Bagli, who for decades was the guy to watch on local TV newscasts as well as the color man for Colts games alongside Thompson. When the Colts moved in 1984, Bagli was like Baltimore’s angry, grieving uncle, explaining to the rest of the family about the untimely death of a loved one.

Like Steadman and Thompson, he’s a quality person, too (even though he is, unfortunately, a Loyola High grad. I try not to hold that against him).

There are many of you who are too young to remember Vince talking sports nightly. But I want to hear your thoughts, too. Is Garceau the guy you think of when you think Baltimore sportscaster? Is it Mark Viviano or Bruce Cunningham?

Or do you want to grab someone from Baltimore’s past that went elsewhere? ESPN’s John Saunders for instance. You tell me.


Daily Think Special: Who is Baltimore’s quintessential sportscaster?


Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:11 PM | | Comments (204)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

January 20, 2011

Prediction Friday: Conference champions and will you go to Camden Yards in 2011?

The real Prediction Fridays are over, but we might as well finish this NFL season out.

The AFC Championship game pits the New York Jets at the Pittsburgh Steelers while the Green Bay Packers have to go to Soldier Field to play the Chicago Bears.

It would be shocking if many of you will predict the Steelers to get to another Super Bowl after they extinguished the Ravens’ dream on Saturday (or as the Ravens tripped over and fumbled away their own dream). Only 11 of you had the Steelers winning at home last week; no one correctly predicted the score, 31-24.

No one was really close, but Diamond Dan gets the free weekly tab with a 31-13 prediction. Drink chips go to M Styborski (27-14) Swanee (23-17), Elton (27-16) and Scooter Five (24-16).

I don’t see the Steelers losing at home again to the Jets. And I don’t see the Jets winning on the road at Indianapolis, New England and Pittsburgh. So, sorry Ravens’ fans, but I’m taking the Steelers to win 20-14.

In the NFC game, I think the Packers continue their run with a 34-17 win over the Bears. Steelers and Packers in the Super Bowl, that’s my call.

It’s your turn: Predict the winners of each conference title game and I’ll give out props if they are earned.

Switching to baseball, we ran a story in Friday’s paper about the Orioles raising single-game ticket prices for 2011. It was met with a whole lot of anger from fans who are infuriated that the club, after 13 losing seasons, would hike the prices.

Some people said they won’t to go Camden Yards anymore because of the Orioles’ losing ways combined with escalating costs.

I get that. But I also wonder if the Orioles start winning whether the fans would come back quickly. I think they would. It really is one of the best places in the majors to see a game – and the atmosphere is awesome when the games mean something (or at least that’s what I faintly remember).

But what about this year, when winning consistently still doesn’t look within grasp? Do you think you’ll attend an Orioles’ game at Camden Yards in 2011? Will you pay for it, or would you go only if you landed free tickets?

Daily Think Special: Will you attend a game at Camden Yards this year?

Bonus Think Special: Predict the Super Bowl participants


Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:33 PM | | Comments (46)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

What was the Orioles' best move this offseason?



It’s been quiet in the bar this week.

Seems like everyone has a hangover from Saturday night. We’ll look at how most of us did in our Ravens-Steelers predictions (not well) this Friday, but I wanted to open this place up today and talk a little baseball.

For the past few weeks -- and certainly since the Ravens collapsed -- people have been stopping me and asking whether the Orioles will be better in 2011.

I think so. I mean, they lost 96 games last year. That’s their third-highest loss total since 1988.

They have a proven manager, some young talent and made some solid moves this winter. So I can’t see how they could be worse than 2010.

The question, of course, is how much better. I haven’t put a win total on it yet -- I have nearly three months for that prediction. Right now, I still don’t see them competing with the big boys in the AL East or even reaching .500. Fourth place is possible and maybe third if everything comes together.

But they definitely have gotten better this offseason. They added two corner infielders with power, a shortstop with upside, two relievers with closing experience and re-signed incumbent closer Koji Uehara and former starting shortstop Cesar Izturis.

The starting rotation is still thin -- it’s short an ace and another innings-eater -- the bullpen needs a quality left-hander and the bench lacks quality depth.

Today, though, let’s look at a positive, if you think there is one. I want to know what you think was the Orioles’ best move of the winter (so far).

Was it signing Kevin Gregg or Derrek Lee or trading for J.J. Hardy or Mark Reynolds?

For my money, it was acquiring Reynolds. I really liked David Hernandez; I think he has the stuff and mindset to be a closer one day.

But you have to give up something to get something, and the Orioles' biggest hole in recent years was right-handed power. They got the best available in the market in Reynolds.

Yes, I know he is going to strike out more than 200 times, breaking the club record by August, at the latest. But he’s 27, has hit 104 homers in the past three years and plays solid defense. He’s the kind of the guy the Orioles needed to target -- solid enough to contribute now, young enough to be a factor in the future. If the Orioles want him, he’s under their control through 2013.

So Reynolds is my call. What do you say?

Daily Think Special: What was the Orioles’ best move this offseason?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:06 AM | | Comments (79)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

January 13, 2011

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Steelers and who is the Orioles' chief rival?


Prediction Friday has survived the wild-card round and will live for another week.

Here’s hoping it gets to next Friday for the AFC Championship version.

This is what most of you have been waiting for: Ravens versus the Steelers in the postseason. Sure, it would be better if it were for the AFC title (or if it were in Baltimore), but this is nearly as good as it gets.

(I know, some of you don’t want to talk Ravens in Orioles Insider. But you accidentally walked out the back door of OI and ended up in Connolly’s Bar, where we’ve been doing this every NFL Friday for three years. So indulge us, grab a barstool and a drink and I’ll send an Orioles topic your way soon).

Last week, pretty much everyone in this joint had the Ravens beating the Chiefs, but few expected the score to be so lopsided. JB gets the free bar tab this week for his 30-10 prediction, just a field goal off the 30-7 final. Drink chips for Chris (28-10), Bmore B (31-10), Ron (27-6) and Andy (24-7).

I don’t want to be accused of playing to the masses and being a homer, but I have a strange feeling the Ravens win this one. And, yes, Steelers’ fans, I realize Ben Roethlisberger is playing on Saturday. That makes a huge difference, especially against the Ravens.

These teams are evenly matched and the Steelers are at home. So a smart gambler would take the Steelers. I just have a feeling that Flacco turns the tables, comes up big at the end and leads the Ravens to a last-minute touchdown. I’m taking the Ravens to win, 17-16. And Flacco as my game hero.

Now it is your turn. You need to predict the winner, the score and the hero of the game. Hopefully, some Steelers fans will come in here and give their three cents (I’ve jacked up the price on thoughts and Iron City this week for our visitors from Western Pa).

It’s always a fun debate, because it has become such a great rivalry.

Now, for the Orioles fans who want some action here, I have a question for you, too. Do the Orioles still have a rival?

Growing up in Baltimore in the late 1970s/early 1980s, I viewed the Orioles and Yankees as a tremendous rivalry. In my early life – from 1969 to 1985, when I was most into baseball – the Orioles were in five World Series, the Yankees were in four and the Boston Red Sox were in one.

I kind of looked at the Red Sox as the awkward cousin, someone you played with and liked enough and always expected to go home eventually. The Red Sox were a team you wanted and expected to be beat, one that you respected but never viewed as the primary threat – perhaps how the Yankees and Red Sox fans currently view the Tampa Bay Rays.

Nowadays, the Orioles are like a distant cousin in the American League East. I’m not even sure the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays would admit they are related to the 2011 Orioles.

And there’s no question the ultimate rivalry is between the Yankees and Red Sox. A rivalry needs two good sides, and the Orioles haven’t been able to hold up their end of the bargain. So they are no longer considered by New Yorkers or Bostonians as a threat.

But what about around here? Do you still look at the Yankees as the Orioles’ chief rival? Is it the Red Sox because they’ve completely lapped the Orioles while the Yankees just stay on the perch year after year? What about the Rays? Can the Orioles muscle in with them, since they are often ignored by the big boys?

Or is it what I assume: Until they are good, the Orioles are without a rival?

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Steelers

Bonus Think Special: Do the Orioles have a legitimate rival?


Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:00 PM | | Comments (60)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

January 10, 2011

What is the best and the worst trade in Orioles history?

Monday marked the 20th anniversary of the trade that sent three young players from the Orioles -- pitchers Curt Schilling and Pete Harnisch and outfielder Steve Finley -- to the Houston Astros for first baseman Glenn Davis.

At the time, I was in college and all my friends who were Orioles fans were psyched. The Orioles needed power, and Davis, who wasn’t yet 30, was one of the better sluggers in the National League.

But I hated the deal. And not because I knew Davis would be plagued by injuries and bad luck in his three years with the Orioles. I just didn’t like what the Orioles had to give up to acquire him.

I thought Finley would be good for a long time -- and he was -- but I wasn’t particularly wedded to the oddball Schilling, who had the best career of the three. It was Harnisch that was untouchable in my book.

Harnisch won 11 games and posted a 4.34 ERA as a 23-year-old in 1990. I thought it was dumb to give up a young, bulldog starter with plenty of upside and two other guys for Davis.

I thought Harnisch would one day be a star -- and though he never reached the heights I had imagined, he still had a 14-season career in which he won 111 games and posted a 3.89 ERA.

Schilling, of course, became one of the best big-game pitchers of the past 50 years, and Finley was just so solid for so long.

The trade, in my opinion anyway, was the worst in Orioles history. Its mirror image, for me, was the Dec. 9, 1965, deal that brought Frank Robinson to the Orioles and sent Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson to the Cincinnati Reds.

I wasn’t born yet, but I have a friend who was a teenager at the time and said he hated the deal because he thought Robinson, a future Hall of Famer, was washed up and Pappas, who had gone 13-9 with a 2.60 ERA as a 26-year-old in 1965, was destined to be an ace.

So I guess we never really know about a trade until years later.

Well, in many cases, it’s years later. I want to know what you think are the best and the worst trades in Orioles modern-day history. My nominees are the Robinson deal and the Davis deal. But maybe I am forgetting something. Maybe you think the 2008 Erik Bedard deal to Seattle will one day be the best. Make your case.

Daily Think Special: What is the best trade and the worst trade in Orioles’ history?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:00 PM | | Comments (76)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

January 6, 2011

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Chiefs and grading MacPhail's offseason

It’s the first week of Playoff Prediction Friday.

Let’s hope it’s not the last (for the Ravens anyway).

Speaking of the Ravens, last week’s 13-7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals was highly uninspiring. It also was highly unexpected given your predictions in this space last week.

I had the Ravens winning, 27-7, and there weren’t many closer. In fact, no one was within 10 points, with most everybody expecting the Ravens to score at least 20.

So I am not giving out free drink chips or bar tabs this week. This is not a charity watering hole. You’ve got to earn it.

No worries, though. You can earn it today.

I know the Kansas City Chiefs have been good this year and that city will be rocking with playoff football to host Sunday. I just think the Ravens are better. Plain and simple. No matter where the game is held.

So I’m taking the Ravens, 21-13. My hero of the game will be Joe Flacco, who throws three TDs to three different receivers. An assist will go to the defense, which will cause three turnovers, including a late one to seal the victory.

Now it is your turn. Predict the winner, the score and the hero of the game (as a tiebreaker). If anyone gets close, I certainly will mention it next week. Promise.

For those of you who demand Orioles in this space, I’m here for you. It’s been an eventful week, and there are plenty of topics from which to choose. But let’s make it a general one.

President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail was getting ripped early this offseason for not doing anything while guys like Victor Martinez, Jayson Werth and Adam Dunn were signing elsewhere.

Instead, MacPhail kept saying he had a plan and he would fill the club’s holes. Now, in early January, the Orioles have added two corner infielders (Mark Reynolds and Derrek Lee), a shortstop (J.J. Hardy), two utility infielders (Cesar Izturis and Brendan Harris) and three relievers (Kevin Gregg, Jeremy Accardo and Koji Uehara).

The Orioles have been busy. They’ve gotten better, too, though they didn’t add any marquee names and still aren’t in the same class as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. And that may be how they have to be judged. I’ll leave that up to you.

What I want to know is how you think the Orioles have fared this offseason. I want you to grade MacPhail on his moves. I’d say a B-. Overall, it was solid, but I think a little more aggressiveness would have gotten them Martinez, and given them a B+ without breaking the bank. Your take?

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Chiefs

Bonus Think Special: Grade the Orioles/Andy MacPhail’s offseason

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:00 PM | | Comments (85)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

December 30, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Bengals and who will be the best of the Orioles' young guns?


Looks like we have made it through another year at the bar together – or almost anyway.

Looks like we’ve also almost made it through another NFL regular season. We have one more Prediction Friday before the stakes get kicked up a notch (in the NFL, that is, not here. This is for amusement purposes only).

I hope everyone had a great holiday week. I did, spending most of the time being a dad, which is as good as it gets these days. A quick update for those of you who wondered how the church Christmas pageant went: It started with my 7-year-old daughter Annie’s opening line and ended with my 11-year-old son Alex’s walk-off “prince of peace” declaration that was delivered with a flourish.

The way I look at it, any play that starts and ends with a Connolly is Broadway material. But maybe I am biased. Most important, my 3-year-old, Gracie, kept her sheep ears on her head. It was a big concern. Gracie kept yelling to her brother and swinging on the altar rail during the play, but, hey, she kept her ears on. Little battles won.

The Ravens won their battle last week, a 20-10 victory over the Browns. I was just four points off, predicting a 24-10 Ravens’ win. Dspedden (20-14) was also four points off and Scott (17-10) was only three; both get drink chips this week. The free bar tab goes to Wyatt Paden, who was just one off at 21-10. Wyatt gets the extra bonus of a free tab on New Year’s Eve. You may want to call in sick for Monday, Wyatt.

The Ravens have clinched a playoff berth but have one more test before the season ends: beating the Cincinnati Bengals in Baltimore. The Ravens need to win and hope the Cleveland Browns somehow beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to hand the Ravens the AFC North crown.

I don’t see that happening, but I do expect the Ravens to thump the Bengals, 27-7. Joe Flacco will be the hero of the game with three TDs in the first half and a well-earned spot on the bench in the fourth quarter.

Now, it’s your turn. Give me a winner, a score and a hero of the game for the final time of the regular season. If you are feeling charitable, throw in a prediction on what happens with the Steelers-Browns, too.

And for those of you yearning to talk Orioles, we’ll give you a bonus special today. This week it has been quiet on the Orioles’ front – and I am sure that drove many of you crazy. But I still have a thought for you. I was asked recently by a magazine to answer a few questions about the Orioles. I am passing one of those onto you:

Of the Orioles’ young starters – Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and, we’ll throw in top prospect Zach Britton, too -- which one has the best chance of emerging as a top flight pitcher in 2011. Maybe your answer is none. And that’s fine. By the way, I did not include Jeremy Guthrie, who is 31.

For argument’s sake, I said Matusz, based on his performance in the final part of 2010. Plus, he’s left-handed, and that certainly doesn’t hurt his case. Which do you think will really take a step forward in 2011?

Regardless, here’s toasting a happy and safe new year to you all.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Bengals

Bonus Think Special: Which young Orioles’ starter will emerge as a top flight pitcher in 2011, if any?

Double Secret Bonus Special: Will the Pittsburgh Steelers lose Sunday against Cleveland?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:31 PM | | Comments (31)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

December 23, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Browns and Lee-LaRoche-TBA


It’s Prediction Friday, but more important, it’s Christmas Eve.

Happy Holidays to all of those who celebrate Christmas. And, to the rest of you, well, thanks for putting up with us during this time, I guess.

It’s an especially big day in our family. Our annual church Christmas pageant will feature not one, not two, but three Connolly children for the first time. My 11-year-old son, Alex, is a narrator and so is my 7-year-old daughter, Annie, who also is an angel (in costume, anyway).

Making her stage debut (really, altar debut) tonight will be 3-year-old Gracie, who will be portraying a sheep. Right now, she is a sheep who won’t wear her sheep ears. So this could get interesting.

Anyway, I’ll be in church praying that Annie and Alex remember their lines, Gracie remains in costume and that the Orioles agree to no contracts while I’m recording the whole pageant like the nerdy Dad I am.

We’ll get back to the Orioles in a moment, but let’s get to why you came here: Prediction Friday with the Ravens. Last week, I broke my streak of having a clue, predicting the Ravens would lose at home to the Saints. Most of you were smarter than me (no surprise there), and the Ravens picked up a 30-24 victory.

Three of you had the Ravens winning, 27-24 (and one of you, Rich M, had the Ravens winning 27-24½ to keep with the 2 ½ point spread). So Rich M., Sizemo, Ken F and The Fred all get a free drink chip for a job well done.

Patrick is our big winner of the week, and lands the fake open tab for his impressive 28-24 call. It’s all the eggnog you can stomach this week, Patrick.

I have learned my lesson this week. I am taking the Ravens in Cleveland, and although the Browns are no longer a pushover, I don’t think it will be that close. I’m saying Ravens win 24-10. As my player of the game, I am picking Ray Rice to have his second consecutive dominating performance with two TDs and 180 total yards.

Now, it is your turn. Predict the winner, the score and the player of the game in Sunday’s contest between the Ravens and the Browns.

And, for those of you who can’t get enough Orioles, let’s go back to what has become the main question the past couple weeks: Who’s on first?

I’ve already asked you who you want at first base. Now I am asking you to predict what happens – it is Prediction Friday, after all.

The Orioles have had serious discussions with both Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee. LaRoche is younger and coming off a better season, but a contract beyond two years is a risk. Lee would be a one-year fix, which would not affect future plans, but he’s not going to come cheaply, either.

The third alternative is if the Orioles sign a bat at designated hitter (Vladimir Guerrero or Jim Thome type) and then either move Luke Scott to first or get another, lesser free agent for that spot.

Although it hasn’t happened yet, I still believe the Orioles will sign either LaRoche or Lee. Do you?

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Browns

Bonus Think Special: Will the Orioles sign either Lee or LaRoche? If so, which one?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:30 PM | | Comments (74)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

December 20, 2010

Dan Connolly's big moment


My 7-year-old daughter went to bed with an awful stomachache last night (no, she’s not a New York Giants fan) and about an hour later she woke up vomiting. The joys of parenthood.

My wife and I quickly mobilized, and a few minutes later I was down in our basement, attempting to salvage a “Hello, Kitty” comforter in the utility sink when my phone started blowing up.

Four texts, a phone call, a voice message and an auto alert from my Twitter account all within a minute.

I assumed the worst: That the Orioles had done something major while I was busy being a worrisome father.

Instead, people wanted my reaction after a 6-foot-4, 313-pound offensive lineman had just scampered (OK, trudged) 71 yards on a kickoff return and nearly scored a TD for the New England Patriots in Sunday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers.

The player was Patriots guard Dan Connolly. He’s got more 100 pounds on me (and, to be fair, several inches) but apparently our foot speed is as similar as our names.

There’s a little backstory to this Dan Connolly thing. When he was coming out of Southeast Missouri State several years ago, his father, John, was doing some Internet research to see if people were talking about his son as a potential NFL draftee. He apparently searched “NFL” and “Dan Connolly” and kept getting me.

(I worked for a smaller paper at the time and did some NFL columns, mainly Ravens and Eagles, when baseball was on hiatus.) The father contacted me and we exchanged a few emails. I promised to buy a Dan Connolly jersey from whichever team drafted him (except the Colts, of course). Some loyalties must remain.

He went undrafted but was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. I lost track of him until a couple years ago, when Connolly ended up with the Patriots. Every now and then, his name will be called (either a key block or holding) and I’ll laugh.

I also made sure my son saw the big No. 63 with “Connolly” on his back a few weeks ago when the Pats were on TV.

He’s not the only athletic Dan Connolly out there (present author excluded). There was a pretty decent boxer out of Western Pennsylvania named Dan Connolly who fought on some impressive undercards in the late 1990s. There’s also a computer software guru named Dan Connolly and a singer/songwriter namesake as well (The Irish Catholics aren’t real creative when it comes to naming babies).

I am none of them. I’m just a baseball writer with late-night, comforter-cleaning duties.

But I have to admit I smiled a little when I read the text messages, saw Sunday’s clip and heard the announcer bellow Dan Connolly’s name. It was the best Dan Connolly gridiron moment since Dan Connolly made the game-ending sack to clinch the Elizabethtown College Intramural Flag Football Championship in 1990.

That one was caught on videotape as well. It’s not on You Tube, though. It’s on a dusty VHS tape somewhere in my basement office closet.

I’m getting the feeling this one might get a little more airplay. If only that Dan Connolly had gotten four more yards and into the end zone. That would have been enough for me to go out and order that Pats’ No. 63 jersey.


Regardless, beers on the house today. Mixed drinks will cost you 63 cents.


Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:23 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

December 16, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Saints and the Orioles' 2011 closer

Before we get into this week’s Prediction Friday, I want to know which one of you ripped the mounted TV off the wall and threw it through the mirror behind the bar after the Houston Texans converted that two-point conversion to take the Ravens to overtime Monday.

I’m still picking up glass out of the tumblers behind the bar.

Hey, all is well that ends well, right? No matter how you slice it (or shred it, if we’re talking about the Ravens’ gasping defense in last Monday’s fourth quarter), a win is a win. And despite the near-epic collapse, the Ravens still beat the Texans 34-28 in overtime to get to 9-4.

The bar, as a whole, didn’t have a whole lot of success calling that game. No one predicted overtime. Most of us assumed it wouldn’t be so close. Open bar tabs go to GBanks and Mike, who both said the Ravens would win 31-24. I’ll toss a free drink chip Barry’s way for his 34-20 prediction, but he’s not getting an open tab. Barry’s been so good this year, he’s gonna drain this joint dry.

As for this week, well, I just don’t know about the Ravens’ secondary versus good quarterbacks. And Drew Brees is about as good as they come. I know the Ravens are at home, and the weather will be to their advantage as well.

I just can’t shake the image of Drew Brees throwing for five TDs. So I am going with the New Orleans Saints to win, 35-31, in a track meet (or maybe speed-skating event). Brees will be my pick for player of the game.

Now I need your thoughts. Predict the winner, the score and the player of the game. The closest will be lauded next week.

We’ll also offer up a 2-for-1 today since we are smack dab in the middle of hot-stove action. The Orioles re-signed Koji Uehara for a one-year deal that vests for 2012 if he appears in 55 games or finishes 25 in 2011.

So there is a solid possibility Uehara, who saved 13 of 15 games last season, will be the Orioles closer. But the team is also interested in free agent Kevin Gregg, who saved 37 games for the Toronto Blue Jays last year.

Also on the roster is lefty Michael Gonzalez, who signed a two-year, $12 million deal last offseason to be the club’s closer; Jim Johnson, who closed at the end the Orioles’ 2009 season; Jeremy Accardo, who saved 30 games for the Blue Jays in 2007 and was that organization’s Triple-A closer the past two seasons; and Alfredo Simon, who saved 17 games for the Orioles last year (I initially forgot about Alfredo. Oops).

The Orioles have five relievers on their roster who have saved at least 10 games in a big-league season. And they could add a sixth.

So now that there are more options, I’ll ask the same question I asked weeks ago. You can add in Gregg or any other reliever that is still a free agent.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Saints

Bonus Think Special: Who do you want to see close for the Orioles in 2011?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:38 PM | | Comments (37)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

December 15, 2010

First base for the Orioles: Lee or LaRoche?


This is what we expected when the season ended, so it comes as no surprise.

The Orioles want a first baseman and the best two names left on the free agent board are Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee.

Those were the two guys most of us expected the Orioles to truly pursue.

Each is a solid defender and has the reputation of being a quality, stand-up guy.

LaRoche, 31, is younger and had a better year at the plate last year for Arizona, batting .261 with 25 homers, 100 RBIs, a .320 on-base percentage and .468 slugging percentage.

Lee, 35, had a down year in 2010 (by his standards) with the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves, hitting .260 with 19 homers, 80 RBIs, a .347 on-base percentage and .428 slugging percentage.

Lee, however, dealt with a thumb injury much of the year and had surgery on it this offseason. He wants to prove that his production is closer to 2009’s numbers (35 homers, 111 RBIs, .306/.393/.579) so he is looking for a one-year, make-good contract.

LaRoche is likely more in-line for a two-year deal. We believe that LaRoche is the Orioles’ first option, but, remember, Lee is a former Cub. LaRoche is left-handed, by the way; Lee swings from the right side.

Players like to get their deals done before Christmas, so my guess is that within the next 10 days, both of these guys find jobs. Maybe sooner. Honestly, there are other teams out there still looking for a first baseman: Washington, Tampa Bay, Arizona, San Diego and maybe Texas. So it is possible the Orioles get neither.

I think the Orioles would be happy with either. How about you? Who do you prefer?

Daily Think Special: Lee or LaRoche at first base for the Orioles?


Posted by Dan Connolly at 8:50 AM | | Comments (122)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

December 10, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Texans and evaluating the Orioles' week



Our Prediction Fridays for 2010 are dwindling, so enjoy them while you can. Even if this one didn’t start until after lunchtime. We’re dealing with a winter meetings hangover here -- and those are much worse than the ones caused by imbibing. Trust me

The bar was open this week, but the lights were low after another one that got away from the Ravens against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. I want to thank all of those who wished me a happy birthday last week; you guys are great. Here’s a special plug to Paulie with his insights on Dec. 3 birthdays. I wish I were more like Joseph Conrad. However, my right foot, my friends will tell you, does emulate Rick Mears’ and Bobby Allison’s.

We had so many visitors to this joint last week that we obviously had a chunk of people picking the Steelers. Free drink chips go to MikeB and Ima Bustacap, who both had Pittsburgh winning, 17-13. The free tab of the week gets slapped into the trusty hands of Tom, who gave the Steelers one extra field goal, predicting a 16-10 win for Pittsburgh.

So here we go again -- with a "Monday Night Football" matchup of the Ravens at the Houston Texans. It won’t be an easy one, because the Texans have a solid team and an explosive offense. But I don’t think they are as well-rounded as the Ravens -- and I don’t see your purple heroes dropping two in a row.

So I am taking the Ravens to win this one in Houston, 24-13. I’m still waiting for Ray Rice’s breakout game, so I am going to that well again and predicting him as player of the game with two touchdowns and nearly 200 all-purpose yards.

Now, I need your predictions. Give me the winner, score and player of the game and I’ll give the closest some props next week.

We’ll also make this a 2-for-1 deal today. I spent the past week in a hotel near The Happiest Place on Earth. And I am not talking Carl Crawford’s accountant’s office.

Lots of crazy bucks spent this past week -- not by the Orioles, though. Shocker there, I am sure. Still, the Orioles walked away from the Swan and Dolphin Resort with a new third baseman (Mark Reynolds), shortstop (J.J. Hardy), utility infielder (Brendan Harris) and a re-signed late-inning reliever in Koji Uehara.

It likely won’t get them anywhere near the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees, but it was a solid haul for the winter meetings. Obviously, we need to see what the Orioles do at first base and the bullpen before we can fully grade the offseason. But I want to know what you thought of their moves this week.

Like the trades and re-signing? Hate the fact that they didn’t make a big splash? Or just resigned that it doesn’t matter in the AL East?

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Texans

Bonus Think Special: Evaluate the Orioles’ week at the winter meetings

Posted by Dan Connolly at 1:32 PM | | Comments (50)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

December 3, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Steelers and who's on first for O's?


Welcome to Prediction Friday, and what a great one it is.

It’s my birthday, and, yeah, I really appreciated the gift from you. Thanks.

I am celebrating my, ahem, early 40s by seeing one of my favorite acts, Langhorne Slim, in concert tonight. He’ll be playing in Baltimore on Saturday at the Ottobar (great place; better joint than this one) on North Howard Street. If you love live music and a performer with great stage presence, you can’t go wrong with Langhorne.

But another tremendous music recommendation from the barkeep is not why you are here. I’ve been on fire with my Ravens’ predictions lately and you need to know what I am thinking going into Sunday night against those rival Pittsburgh Steelers.

It should be as good as advertised. And – I am not just playing up to the crowd here – I see the Ravens winning, 23-20 in another bruisefest. Ed Reed is my player of the game with an interception and a fumble recovery. One goes for a touchdown.

Now, I want your predictions.

For those of you who have never done this before, it’s simple: Predict a winner, score and player of the game (tiebreaker) and I’ll come back on Monday and shower the winners with genuine praise and fake gifts.

For those of you who are Steelers fans and came in here just to stir things up, I typed the above paragraph slowly. Hope you understood it. Haha, just kidding, Steelers fans. As always, you are welcome here; that’s why we ordered extra Iron City (and jacked up the price on that swill for the week). Please make yourself at home and make a prediction. Even if it is a wrong one (again, kidding).

For those of you who prefer being warmed by my endless hot-stove talk, I’ve got one more question for you before I head to the winter meetings in Florida on Sunday. The Orioles have struck out on Victor Martinez and Adam Dunn as first base options and Paul Konerko seems to be a longshot.

So if those three are off the board, who do you think will be at first base for the Orioles in 2011?

I know, given what’s left – Carlos Pena, Adam LaRoche, Derrek Lee, Lyle Overbay, Lance Berkman, Jorge Cantu -- you may want to say Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder, but I don’t think either will happen.

So try to be realistic, unless you just can’t handle that reality. In that case, I’ll let you dream. You can offer up who you want, instead. It’s my birthday, I am feeling charitable.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Steelers

Bonus Think Special: Who will play first base for the Orioles in 2011?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:00 AM | | Comments (109)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 29, 2010

What are your thoughts on Steelers-Ravens rivalry and Palmeiro's HOF worthiness?


Let’s start with football and go from there.

Once again, the Ravens didn’t get any style points on Sunday, but they got another W. And, if Buffalo’s Steve Johnson was allowed to have a little Stickum on his hands, the Ravens might be looking at a one-game advantage in the AFC North.

Instead, they are tied at 8-3 with the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into Sunday night. The Ravens’ 17-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was more of a defensive battle than most of us expected. No one on Prediction Friday was within 10 points of the final score, though most had the Ravens winning by between six and 10.

We’ll give drink chips to Jon, CSB Jack, Marty and two to Barry for his prediction that Mason and Heap would catch TD passes. And we’ll give the free tab this week to Baltimore 20, who had predicted a 23-17 Ravens’ victory which included two TDs and one INT by Joe Flacco. I’ll also put Old Crow Medicine Show on the jukebox for you – assuming that’s the version you were listening to (and if it were, another free drink chip, too).

Anyway, we’ll have a 2-for-1 today, since it is Steelers’ Week and that means something again.

We’ll paint the place purple and black this week and charge anyone wearing black and gold double. But this joint often gets elbow to elbow when the Steelers fans come to town.

I have a very simple question for you to kick off the festivities. Do you like it when the Steelers and Ravens are both good late in the season? Obviously, it means the Ravens could lose to their hated rivals, and no one enjoys that. But it also means the entire country is paying attention to these two teams, and the Ravens will have to earn the division title.

I may be in the minority in Baltimore, but I love the fact the two are playing Game No. 12 for, essentially, the division crown. Even if losing the division to the Steelers is the painful result. Frankly, I wish it were happening in Week 17. There is just something more compelling about potentially beating the Steelers late in the season than beating anyone else.

But maybe fans don’t care about that. Maybe you’d rather the Steelers be 4-12 every year. I don’t know. So clue me in. Do you like it when the Ravens and Steelers are both good?

Switching to baseball, the Hall of Fame ballot was announced Monday. And Rafael Palmeiro is on it for the first time.

I covered Palmeiro for several years and I have my own opinions. But I want yours. He is one of four players to reach both 500 homers and 3,000 hits. But he also failed a drug test.

So, simple question No. 2, is he a Hall of Famer in your mind?

Daily Think Special: Do you like it when the Ravens and Steelers are both good?

Bonus Think Special: Does Rafael Palmeiro deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:00 PM | | Comments (33)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 25, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Bucs and baseball's best offseason buy



Welcome to Prediction Purple and Black Friday, where we’ll hunt for a bargain while giving proper due to the Ravens-Buccaneers game on Sunday.

I think the Buccaneers are a whole lot better than I had assumed at the beginning of the season. But I’m not buying them as a force just yet – despite a 7-3 record.

We’ll get to that game in a second, but first a little Connolly’s housekeeping.

First, did anyone see what happened in the annual Calvert Hall-Loyola Turkey Bowl game? I was busy, and as a proud Hallman, I am just curious. So let me know. (By the way, fellow CHC alums need not respond. I want to hear it from the mouths of Dons. One time is a fluke. Two times ...)

OK, seriously, I do have a piece of business I ignored this week because I was too caught up in Orioles’ coaching hires and arbitration decisions (and turkey) to properly address last week’s Prediction Friday winner.

The Ravens beat the Panthers 37-13, and pretty much everyone predicted a blowout, including the fake barkeep. I had it at 31-3, and, honestly, it was way too close for comfort until the defense took over.

I am giving out drink chips to Ron (37-10) and Keith (38-7), but the big winner is Barry with his almost perfect 38-13 prediction. Due to the delay, you can drink up through all of next week on me, Barry. Enjoy. If I am not mistaken, this is not the first time Barry has squeezed the juice out of this place for a week.

As for this Sunday, I am going with the Ravens to win 27-20. I think Josh Freeman will manage a couple scores, but the Ravens’ D will eventually put the whippersnapper in his place. My hero of the game is Joe Flacco with three TD passes to three different receivers.

Now it is your turn. Predict the score and the player of the game (tiebreaker) for the Ravens-Bucs on Sunday. Winners get a bottomless imaginary glass for a week.

For those of you that want Orioles’ discussion in this space, I’ll give you a bonus – and one that is properly themed. Aubrey Huff, one of my favorite guys to deal with over the past few years, signed a two-year, $22 million deal to stay in San Francisco this week.

That’s a hefty raise from the $3 million he got last offseason. He is considered the best buy – given his price and production – of the 2010 class.

Since it is Black Friday, and all the bargain hunters are out, I want your prediction for the best free agent buy of 2011. The anti-Garrett Atkins, if you will.

I am going to go with another ex-Oriole. I say Miguel Tejada, after being re-energized on a competitive team in the second half last year, will get his competitive juices going and have one more above-average season – and do it all on a one-year deal.

There are plenty of other options, including guys coming off injuries such as Brandon Webb, Eric Chavez and Magglio Ordonez, for instance.

So give me some names.

Daily Think Special: Ravens-Bucs

Bonus Think Special: Who will end up as this offseason’s unlikeliest best buy?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:54 PM | | Comments (27)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 19, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Panthers and David Hernandez's trade value



I’m never a fan of the so-called “sure thing” game in pro football.

The NFL doesn’t work that way. Too much parity. Too many times a really good team gets beaten by a bad team. That Cowboys-Giants game last week was a perfect example.

So looking at the Ravens’ contest Sunday in Carolina, it appears to be a perfect trap game. Except that the Ravens were already tripped on the road last Thursday at Atlanta. They’ve had a couple extra days to prepare for the Panthers.

Oh, and there’s that little other matter: The Panthers are awful. Absolutely terrible. Probably the worst team in the NFL. And right now their starting quarterback is, wait for it, Brian St. Pierre. I don’t think the Panthers could win this one if they had St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, under center.

Ravens win 31-3. This is finally Ray Rice’s big day. Three TDs and 150 yards rushing.

Now it’s your turn on Prediction Friday. Predict Sunday’s winner, final score and the player of the game tiebreaker. I’ll shower the winner with fake gifts next week at the fake bar.

We’re also continuing the 2-for-1 theme at this joint on Fridays. We’ll switch to baseball.

My Sun baseball partner, Jeff Zrebiec, had a story in Friday editions saying the Orioles have talked to the Tampa Bay Rays about shortstop Jason Bartlett and the Minnesota Twins about shortstop J.J. Hardy. Jeff reports that the Rays have, in turn, asked about reliever David Hernandez.

Considering Minnesota needs bullpen help with half their relievers heading to free agency, the Twins might be eyeing Hernandez, too, though that hasn’t been confirmed.

I want to know if you would give up Hernandez for either Bartlett, who is 31, a good fielder and a career .281 hitter who struggled at the plate last season; or for Hardy, who is 28, has a cannon arm and enough pop to hit 20 homers per season but was slowed by injuries in 2010?

I am not sure I would.

Listen, I’d take either shortstop on my team; they are both an upgrade offensively over Cesar Izturis and both are more than solid defensively. But each is a free agent after next season.

And I am a big believer in Hernandez’s upside. I think he really enjoyed the switch to the bullpen last year, and it showed in his numbers: He was 1-5 with a 5.31 ERA in eight starts last year. He was 7-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 33 relief appearances. He struck out 45 batters and walked just 14 in 37 innings as a reliever. In 42 1/3 innings as a starter he walked 28 and fanned 27.

Hernandez is 25, and he has that quiet confidence possessed by a lot of excellent relievers. I think he can be an effective set-up guy at the least and a quality closer if he reaches his potential.

So I wouldn’t deal him, even to fill an offensive hole like shortstop with a solid player such as Bartlett or Hardy. For the record, just so you know I am not playing the homer card here, I would trade any other reliever in the Orioles’ organization for either one of those two, even knowing Bartlett/Hardy may walk after 2011. Just not Hernandez.

Perhaps the equation involving Hernandez changes if Bartlett or Hardy would agree to a contract extension with the Orioles. But you can’t count on that. So you have to assume it’s a one-year rental

Maybe I am crazy here. Maybe I am overvaluing Hernandez. You tell me. Would you trade Hernandez for either Bartlett or Hardy?

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Panthers

Bonus Think Special: Would you trade David Hernandez for either Jason Bartlett or J.J. Hardy?


Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:26 AM | | Comments (69)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 16, 2010

Should Buck Showalter be a top-three finisher for Manager of the Year?

Now that the AL Rookie of the Year voting is out of the way, there is only one award left that could result in an Oriole getting a mention.

The 2010 AL and NL Managers of the Year, as selected by the Baseball Writers Association of America, will be announced at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire, who led his small-market Twins to 94 victories and an AL Central crown despite season-ending injuries to closer Joe Nathan and former MVP Justin Morneau, is a leading candidate, along with Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon, whose Rays had the league’s best record.

Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington could garner enough support to win, but, remember, the voting closes at the end of the season, so the Rangers’ postseason run to the World Series won’t be factored in by writers.

Boston’s Terry Francona had a mess on his hands in Red Sox Nation, and yet his club still won 89 games, so that could inspire some voters to throw a third-place vote or two his way.

And then there is the Orioles’ Buck Showalter, who took a team headed for its worst finish in franchise history and guided it to near-.600 baseball (34-23) in the season’s final two months. It was impressive, but didn’t last long enough to get him his third manager of the year award.

But will he get some votes, probably of the third-place variety? My guess is he will. Remember, the writers are asked to vote for their top three choices for manager. And I bet some leave Washington, or maybe even Maddon, off their ballots.

You watched the Showalter turnaround up close in August and September. Would you vote him in your top three for this year? Or would that be unfair given that the other worthy candidates had to complete a full season?

If Buck makes your top three, who comes off your ballot?

Daily Think Special: Should Buck Showalter finish in the top three for AL Manager of the Year?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:00 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 14, 2010

Should Brian Matusz be in the Top 3 in AL Rookie voting?

The 2010 BBWAA awards will be announced over the next eight days, starting with Monday’s unveiling of the American League and National League Rookies of the Year. It will become official at 2 p.m.

Before the season started, Orioles lefty Brian Matusz was considered one of AL favorites, but a rough middle of the season likely crushed his chances.

Matusz ended the year 10-12 with a respectable 4.30 ERA. He led AL rookies in starts (32), innings pitched (175 2/3) and strikeouts (143).

Ultimately, the award winner is expected to be Texas Rangers closer Neftali Feliz, who was 4-3 with a 2.73 ERA in 70 games. He converted 40 of 43 saves for the American League champions and struck out 71 batters while walking just 18 in the regular season.

The runners-up could be a pair of Detroit Tigers outfielders.

Austin Jackson, my preseason pick for the award, led AL rookies in at-bats (618), stolen bases (27), runs scored (103), hits (181) and strikeouts (170) while batting .293 with a .345 on-base percentage. He also played very good defense.

Brennan Boesch led AL rookies with 14 homers and 67 RBIs in just 464 at-bats while hitting .256 with a .320 on-base percentage.

Both have chinks in their rookie armor, but they had pretty good seasons, nonetheless.

Another rookie who may get some consideration is Minnesota Twins infielder Danny Valencia, who batted .311 with a .351 on-base percentage, adding seven homers and 40 RBIs (one fewer than Jackson) in just 299 at-bats. And he did it for a playoff team.

Frankly, it’s tough for a starting pitcher to win the award unless his season was incredible or there weren’t any viable offensive or closing candidates. Voters tend to reward rookies who play more than every fifth day.

That said, Matusz probably would have made voters think a little more had he not gone 0-4 with a 7.50 ERA in May or 1-2 with a 8.10 ERA in July. Otherwise, his numbers were excellent. His biggest competition among starters is from the Tampa Bay Rays' Wade Davis, who was 12-10 with a 4.07 ERA in 29 starts.

Matusz may get a couple votes for third, but I doubt he’ll garner more than that.

I want to know: If you had a vote, would you put Matusz in your top three (that’s how BBWAA voters do it)? Orioles fandom aside, does he deserve to be a top-three vote-getter this season?

If not, what would your top three be?

By the way, here’s the schedule for the vote announcements: Monday, AL and NL rookies; Tuesday, NL Cy Young; Wednesday, AL and NL managers; Thursday, AL Cy Young; Monday, Nov. 22, NL MVP; Tuesday, Nov. 23, AL MVP.

Daily Think Special: Should Brian Matusz finish in the Top 3 of AL Rookie of the Year voting?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:25 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 12, 2010

Predicament Friday: What do the Ravens and Orioles need to do to close out games?

The NFL screwed up Prediction Friday for Ravens’ fans this week.

So welcome to Predicament Friday. You’re charged today with figuring out how your two favorite local pro teams should finish games.

First, to the Ravens, who lost 26-21 to the Falcons in Atlanta on Thursday night. It’s almost getting tired around here, but I’ll again take bragging rights for the week, after predicting a Falcons’ 24-20 victory. I was closest, though a lot of you didn’t play along this week since the alarm clock went off too early.

A lot of the discussion this morning around the water cooler and (in our case) bar taps will involve several questionable calls that went against the Ravens. But the bottom line is that the Ravens are in the loss column in another game in which they led in the fourth quarter and eventually dropped.

This is a good Ravens squad and that was a tough game from the get-go – on the road in a short week against a quality opponent. The reality, however, is that they have allowed several winnable games get away from that at the end in the last year and a half.

I want to hear your take on that. I want your theories as to why it’s happening. Is it coincidence? Just football? Or is the intensity or game plan changing too much in the fourth quarter? And what can the Ravens do to fix it?

The Ravens aren’t the only Baltimore team to have problems closing out wins. The Orioles have had problems getting wins in any fashion. But they have blown their share of saves in the past few years.

And now Koji Uehara, who saved 13 of 15 games down the stretch, is a free agent and could walk to another team. That would leave Mike Gonzalez as the de facto closer; that’s what he was signed to be anyway. David Hernandez could be a future closer, and Jim Johnson must be mentioned since he’s been in the role with the Orioles before.

I want to know who you think should close games for the Orioles in 2011. Should they re-sign Uehara? Should they go after a free-agent closer such as Rafael Soriano, Kevin Gregg or even the declining Trevor Hoffman? Or should they look internally again?

It may not be Prediction Friday, but we are still having 2-for-1 specials.

Daily Think Special: What’s causing the Ravens’ late-game troubles?

Bonus Think Special: Who should close games for the Orioles in 2011?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:07 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 11, 2010

Prediction Thursday: Ravens-Falcons and Cliff Lee's next team


Welcome to Prediction Thursday.

Yeah, that has a terrible ring to it. But I don’t make the schedule, just the dumb headlines.

Regardless, this whole entry is not going to sing a particularly pleasant tune for Ravens fans.

The Ravens play the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome tonight and it just strikes me as one of those trip-up games. Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan never loses at home (OK, he’s lost once in 18 starts there).

On a short week, the home team definitely has the advantage. And the Falcons are a very solid team, folks.

So I’m taking Atlanta to win this one 24-20. Ryan will be the star of the game with three touchdowns thrown.

Yeah, told you it would be a sour note. Now it’s your turn. Get the closest to the final score (and star of the game tiebreaker) and you’ll be lauded in this space Friday.

Since we’ve already started down the wrong path, we’ll just keep going for another depressing prognostication. This time it’s baseball.

Cliff Lee is, without a doubt, the best free agent pitcher on the market. The guess is that Lee ends up with the New York Yankees. The thought is he wants the most money and the Yankees have the most money.

There are plenty of other suitors out there, however. The Rangers are a possibility to re-sign him. The Boston Red Sox need to be mentioned for any candidate that may end up in New York. And even the Washington Nationals have admitted that they’ve contacted Lee’s agent and want a shot.

I’ll tell you this much: Lee won’t be an Oriole in 2011. Bank on that. But where will he end up?

Daily Think Special: Prediction Thursday: Ravens-Falcons

Bonus Think Special: Predict Cliff Lee’s landing spot


Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:41 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 8, 2010

What are your realistic expectations for the Ravens' second half and Orioles' offseason?



The secret is out. I am not perfect. I am just really close.

It’s a bit of a departure from early in the prognosticating season, when I couldn’t pick the right NFL team with a one-sided coin.

The Ravens won 26-10 over the Dolphins on Sunday on the strength of Billy Cundiff’s four field goals (and Dolphins’ QB Chad Henne’s arm). I had them winning 23-13 – I put one field goal in the wrong column. With my bulldog, Cammie, as my witness, I swear I originally had it 26-13, but thought four Ravens’ field goals would be excessive.

If I had stuck with my substantial gut, I would have won my own free bar tab for three straight Prediction Fridays. But, in fitting tribute to my life, I second-guessed it and will have to settle for pretty close. Also pretty close were Alex (28-13) and Ron (27-14) and a host of others.

I am going to let Week 9 end in a tie, though I am very sensitive about kissing sisters (my one sister enters this joint on occasion and I watch you clowns very closely). I am giving free tabs to both CSB Jack and Kevin in Iraq, two Connolly regulars who have been frequenting this dive when we had just one unisex bathroom and only Natty Boh on tap (in the bar, not in the bathroom). Kevin had Joe Flacco in the tiebreaker and Jack had Ed Reed. Both had good games, so we’ll let the house take a bath here.

Drink up, fellas. My pleasure.

We’re now halfway through the NFL season and the Ravens are 6-2 and tied with two others (and maybe three depending on what the Steelers do tonight) for the best record in the AFC.

By all accounts, 6-2 is what even the most optimistic Ravens fans could have expected to start the season. So the Ravens are definitely where they need to be in order to make a postseason run.

Now I want to know what your expectations are for the second half. After Thursday night’s game in Atlanta, the Ravens don’t have a road game against a team with a record currently above .500 for the remainder of the year. To me, 6-2 is doable again. That would make the Ravens 12-4 and a playoff team.

Does that sound right to you?

Here’s a bonus question for this Monday, the day after baseball’s free agency period officially got swinging: What are your expectations for the Orioles’ offseason?

Would you be happy with a power bat at first base (like Paul Konerko, Adam LaRoche or Lance Berkman) a mid-level starter and reliever and the re-signing of two of the following three: Cesar Izturis, Ty Wigginton and Koji Uehara.

That’s my guess on what the offseason moves will look like. Do you need something bigger and flashier?

Daily Think Special: What record do you expect from the Ravens in the second half and why?

Bonus Think Special: What expectations do you have for the Orioles this offseason?


Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:58 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 4, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Dolphins and baseball's best manager

We’re back at the bar for an NFL Prediction Friday. It’s about time.

Two weeks ago I was off; last week the Ravens were.

We’re both working again.

The Ravens host the Miami Dolphins after a bye week this Sunday. And I think the Ravens handle this one rather handily. But for some reason I think it will have a bunch of stalled drives and field goals.

I say Ravens 23-13. My player of the game: Billy Cundiff for his three field goals.

If you don’t know how this works, it’s pretty simple: Predict a winner, a score and a player of the game. And then check back on Monday to see if you were the closest. If you were, then you get a free fake bar tab and the admiration of all your fake friends.

I’ll throw in a baseball question as well today in honor of George “Sparky” Anderson, who died Thursday. Sparky was one of the game’s great characters, and an excellent manager, too.

I was wondering who you think is baseball’s best manager right now. With Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella and Joe Torre stepping down this year, the discussion is wide open. Tony La Russa, who is first among active managers in wins and third all-time, will get some consideration, along with Jim Leyland, Mike Scioscia and maybe even new World Champion Bruce Bochy.

Joe Maddon and Ron Gardenhire certainly have their supporters. And then there is the Orioles’ Buck Showalter, who wins wherever he goes and, somehow, won in the two months he’s been here.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Dolphins

Bonus Think Special: Who is baseball’s best active manager?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:53 PM | | Comments (38)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 3, 2010

Will the Orioles be in the bottom six of the majors in 2011?

Online gaming site bodog.com, has set its odds for the 2011 baseball season.

The New York Yankees, despite their loss in the American League Championship Series, are bodog’s pick to win it all in 2011.

The Yankees are a 4-1 favorite, with the Philadelphia Phillies at 6-1 and the Boston Red Sox, who didn’t make the 2010 playoffs, tied with the 2010 world champion San Francisco Giants at 10-1 odds.

The Orioles? Their odds are 75-1 to win the World Series, that’s sixth worst in the majors. I guess the optimist looks at that as improvement.

The Orioles’ 66-96 record was fourth worst in the majors in 2010. So jumping up to sixth means the Orioles will leapfrog the Cleveland Indians, Washington Nationals and Kansas City Royals while the Seattle Mariners slip ahead of the Orioles, according to bodog.

I guess the oddsmakers weren’t all that impressed with the Orioles’ 34-23 record in the final two months under Buck Showalter. Or minimally impressed, anyway.

It’s impossible to know what the teams will look like in spring training, not to mention next September. But it is the beginning of November, free agency hasn’t started yet and there’s not a whole lot to debate yet.

So let’s contemplate the Orioles as one of the six worst teams in the majors next year. They’ve been there each of the past five seasons. Will they make it a sixth?

Oddsmakers say so. What about you?

Daily Think Special: Are the oddsmakers wrong? Will the Orioles rise above being the sixth worst team in the majors in 2011? If so, how far?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:32 PM | | Comments (36)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

November 1, 2010

Are you pulling for Aubrey Huff in the World Series?

When Aubrey Huff hit a Tommy Hunter pitch deep into the right-field stands Sunday night, I had to smile. And not because Hunter looks like the second-coming of Sidney Ponson, especially when he gives up a key homer.

Huff is a rare character in Major League Baseball these days. He never takes himself too seriously, except when he’s in the batter’s box or at first base.

I know a lot of us who covered him would like to see “The Happy Slacker” get a World Series championship ring after nearly 1,500 regular season games and no postseason appearances. He’s a good guy and never ceased to make everyone in the clubhouse chuckle. (I remember when he received the 2008 Silver Slugger, held it over his head and bellowed in the clubhouse: “First the Silver Slugger, next the Gold Glove.”)

But I am curious as to how you view Huff now. We all remember his comments in the 2007-08 offseason to a Florida-based shock jock in which he called Baltimore “a horse(bleep) town” when referring to the city’s nightlife.

He was skewered after that, and booed on Opening Day. But he responded by having a tremendous season in 2008, eventually being named Most Valuable Oriole that season.

When he was traded in 2009, I asked many of you patrons what you thought of Huff and it was a mixed reaction. Some loved his sense of humor (remember the “I Heart Baltimore” T-shirt he wore at the 2008 Fanfest?); others couldn’t forgive him for his derogatory comments.

Baltimore has a long memory; just ask Cito Gaston, who still heard a smattering of boos this September at Camden Yards when he took out the lineup card before a Blue Jays-Orioles game.

So I want to know where you stand with Aubrey Huff. Do you want to see him get that elusive ring? Do you want to see him fall just short? Or do you not care anymore?

Daily Think Special: Are you pulling for Aubrey Huff to get a World Series title ring?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:18 AM | | Comments (42)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 29, 2010

Prediction Friday: Can the Rangers rebound in Texas?

There’s no Ravens game this week and I thought a Prediction Friday about Joe Flacco’s hair and his success at Halloween parties would lower the standards set in this fine establishment.

So we’ll have a baseball version of Prediction Friday during this bye week.

First, I apologize for no Prediction Friday last week against the Buffalo Bills. I was off all week and there was a mixup involving me and an editor and the liquor control board and the Maryland Gaming Commission. But it’s all good now. And you’ll still be able to visit me on weekends.

Anyway, Prediction Friday for the Bills’ game would have been ridiculous. No one – including Marv Levy and Thurman Thomas -- could have imagined the winless Bills taking the Ravens into overtime in Baltimore before finally losing.

It’s looking like the Texas Rangers may be imitating the Bills of yesteryear and losing four straight on the big stage. The San Francisco Giants are up 2-0 in the World Series and, frankly, have made it look easy.

Now the World Series is in Texas for three games (if necessary). I say they will be necessary, but it won’t be necessary for the Rangers to head back to California.

I think this one is going to end in five games. But I’ve been discounting the Rangers all postseason (I covered the Orioles in Arlington when they swept the Rangers in a four-game series and I can’t get that awful Rangers’ showing out of my head).

But there are some experts that think the Rangers will show their resiliency once again and win at least two of three at home to send the World Series back to San Fran. I’m not buying it.

Are you? Do you think the Rangers can make the Series a series?

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Can the Rangers rebound at home?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:19 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 22, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Bills




Last week, I took New England over the Ravens in part because the Patriots were coming off a bye week.

Well, the Buffalo Bills are coming off a bye week heading into Sunday’s game in Baltimore against the Ravens.

Yeah, not doing it twice in a row. The Ravens win this one in a laugher.

What’ll be the score? I know you guys need to know because I have been red hot on Prediction Fridays recently. Sans one point, I was perfect in each of the past two weeks.

Let’s see if I can do it three weeks in a row. Get your bookies on the phone (just kidding, this is for fake-bar amusement only).

My prediction: Ravens 31, Bills 6.

Ray Rice is the hero of the afternoon with two touchdowns and 140-plus yards.

Now it is your turn. I need your score and player of the game. See if you can beat the scorching hot house.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Bills

Posted by Dan Connolly at 8:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 18, 2010

Where do the Ravens and Orioles need to improve the most?

I’m not gloating too much about this one. I don’t want to get beat up in my own bar.

But it needs to be pointed out for posterity sake as well as to pump up my fragile ego.

In the last two weeks, the house is the winner in our weekly Prediction Friday contest. And with some impressive results, if I can type so myself.

Last week, I nailed the Ravens’ 31-17 victory over the Denver Broncos on the nose. This week, I was one point off in the Ravens’ 23-20 overtime loss to the New England Patriots. I said the Pats would win 24-20 and I didn’t predict overtime. But that’s picking nits.

Six others had the Patriots winning; the closest – besides the old barkeep – was Mike B at 23-17. Enjoy the free (and fake) bar tab this week, Mike.

For about three-plus quarters it looked like Tom Brady and I would be losers. But the Ravens just couldn’t hold on. You could say the Ravens beat themselves on Sunday. You could say it – I am sticking to expert predictions without the analysis. I’m still leaving that to our football guys at The Sun. And to you.

At 4-2, the Ravens are definitely where they need to be. But, sure, they could be 6-0 if they did some things a little better against the Bengals and the Patriots. I want to know what part of the Ravens’ game you think needs the most improvement. Do the Ravens most need to figure out how to best utilize their new receiving weapons? Or do they simply need a better offensive game plan overall? How about a better pass rush? How about big plays from the secondary? Or more consistent special teams?

You tell me. But pick just one.

Also, since we are talking improvements, I am curious as to what you think is the Orioles’ most glaring need heading into this offseason. To me, it’s a no brainer. They need one or two power bats in the middle of the lineup, preferably at first and third base.

We’ve discussed this before, so I didn’t think this was much of a question. But as I’ve talked to Orioles’ fans in the past few weeks, I keep him hearing the same refrain: The Orioles need to sign Cliff Lee or trade for Zack Greinke.

I don’t think the Orioles are adding an ace, but I understand the desire for one atop the rotation. It is something the club is missing – so are roughly 20 other teams. I still think the bat is the biggest need, but set my priorities straight.

Where do the Orioles need to improve the most before next season, on offense, defense, top of the rotation or back end of the bullpen?

Daily Think Special: Which part of the Ravens’ game needs the most improvement?

Bonus Think Special: Which is the most glaring need for the Orioles this offseason?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:49 PM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 14, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Patriots and World Series participants



Welcome to Prediction Friday. I am your host and bartender, who incidentally picked the exact score of last week’s Ravens-Broncos game.

Hey, this is likely my last time to brag about that. I’ll head back to the “haven’t-got-a-clue” section of the bar pretty soon.

Here’s hoping for Ravens’ fans’ sake that I don’t have a clue. Because I am going with the New England Patriots to win this one at home.

I know these aren’t the same Patriots as yesteryear. I know Randy Moss is in purple and Tom Brady is older and the Ravens proved in January they could win at Gillette Stadium.

I just don’t like picking against Pats coach Bill Belichick when he has a bye week before a home game. That’s a whole lot of preparation time for the Grumpy Genius. Of course, that won’t matter if the Ravens’ offensive line creates craters for Ray Rice to barge through.

But I think this will be a close one, and the Pats will end up winning 24-20. My player of the game is Brandon Tate, who catches a TD pass and runs a kickoff back for another score.

Now I need your predictions of a final score and player of the game. And for those of you who demand baseball in this space, well, you get a bonus. Predict who wins the American League and National League Championship Series.

I think the New York Yankees hammer the Texas Rangers and, though I believe the Philadelphia Phillies are the best team standing, I just don’t see a repeat of 2009 (the same two teams have made consecutive World Series appearances just once since 1960: The Los Angeles Dodgers and Yankees in 1977-78).

So against my better judgment, I am saying the San Francisco Giants upset the Phillies. Hey, stranger things have happened (like me actually hitting a NFL score on the nose).

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Patriots

Bonus Think Special: Predict who ends up in the 2010 World Series


Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:00 PM | | Comments (35)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 13, 2010

Should the Orioles add a veteran starter for 2011?



One of the more interesting storylines for the Orioles this winter is what the club does to shape its rotation.

The obvious hope is that they land Cliff Lee. Don’t expect it.

Lee can break the bank for a team that is going to compete immediately. The Orioles, two good finishing months or not, just aren’t there yet. Thirteen losing seasons, a hitters’ park and the AL East don’t help their cause.

There are some other starters – certainly not as top shelf as Lee – that will intrigue the Orioles, guys like Jake Westbrook and Carl Pavano. They aren’t aces, but they’d add experience to a young crew.

The question is how badly is that needed? Jeremy Guthrie did plenty of mentoring in 2010 and he may be better suited than any free agent to lead this rotation in 2011.

That said, there are some in the organization that believe Kevin Millwood’s presence took a lot of pressure off Guthrie and allowed him to concentrate on his game. And, in an interview with me in late September, Andy MacPhail admitted that he wouldn’t mind adding a similar presence in 2011 if the opportunity presents itself.

It’s possible he could try to find another high-priced veteran through a trade instead of giving a multi-year deal to a mediocre veteran.

I asked several Oriole pitchers what they thought of adding a veteran arm, and they responded how they should have: saying it’s not their place to make roster decisions. However, Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz, in particular, talked about how much they enjoyed having Millwood around.

“He is a guy I could talk to about the mental side of the game and go to and ask him, ‘Hey, this is where I really struggle in the game, what do you do? How do you go about it? What do you do to get back in the groove?’” Matusz said about Millwood. “Here is a guy that I could really go to. So to have someone like that was really pretty awesome to have, a veteran guy like that who really knows what he is talking about, like Kevin, was pretty special.”

Millwood likely won’t return. He’ll probably go to a contender and fit nicely at the middle/back end of a rotation, maybe in the National League.

Said Tillman: “Having Milly around made it easier on all of us … Watching him work through his struggles, I think that taught us a lot. He has come a long way with all of us. It is good having those guys around, but I think watching all these young guys pitch every day, they all looked pretty good, too.”

And that’s the rub. Because if the Orioles acquire another veteran, then one of the younger guys, such as Tillman, will go back to Triple-A. And top prospect Zach Britton would stay there longer. And there would be no obvious spot to move a reliever into the rotation, something the Orioles are at least mulling.

Then again, having a surplus of big league starters can never be viewed as a problem. MacPhail says he likes going into a spring with a minimum of 7 pitchers penciled in for the rotation, because inevitably some get hurt or struggle.

So I want to know what you would do. Would you bank on four young arms with Guthrie? Or do you want one more veteran innings-eater to help take pressure off everyone, even if it is for one year?

Daily Think Special: Should the Orioles add a veteran starter to the 2011 rotation?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:00 PM | | Comments (48)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 11, 2010

Seeking opinions on Ravens' dominance and Orioles' coaches



It’s official. I no longer have to apologize for my lack of prognostication prowess or uncanny knack of jinxing the Ravens.

For Prediction Friday, I said the Ravens would beat the Denver Broncos 31-17. And the final score? 31-17.

On the nose, people. How ya like me now?

OK, one day to gloat and I’ll be over it. I understand a drunk squirrel finds a Guinness every now and then.

I, of course, wasn’t the only one sniffing this one out. Ravenator, who I am starting to think should spend his/her weekends in Vegas, also had it 31-17 Ravens. Neither of our "player of the game" thoughts came to fruition, however, so we end in a tie. Regardless, an open tab this week for Ravenator, even though he was on Superdan’s coattails.

Others worthy of a drink chip: Gbanks (31-10). Andrew (34-13), Alex (27-17). Keith (30-17), Barry (30-20) and Jack (30-16).

Nice job all, and nice job to the Ravens, who at 4-1 have the best record in the AFC heading into a tough showdown at New England next week.

That will be a heck of a test, and we’ll probably know how good the Ravens are by Sunday mid-afternoon. Although beating the Jets and Steelers on the road should have given us a glimpse already.

I want to know if you think the Ravens are this good, if they really are the best team in the AFC (I know, the Jets have a chance to be 4-1 tonight, but the Ravens win that tiebreaker).

While you mull that, I’ll also have an eye on my day job. Orioles manager Buck Showalter hasn’t made an official announcement as to what he is doing with his coaching staff yet.

It’s a tough story to cover, because you don’t want anyone to lose their jobs, especially the good men on the Orioles’ coaching staff.

I expect changes; we’re just waiting to find out what those changes are. Many of you are most interested in what Showalter does with his hitting and pitching coaches -- the glamour spots on a coaching staff (if there is such a thing).

The numbers don’t help the cause. The Orioles scored their least amount of runs for a season in 22 years. They finished bottom five in the AL in runs scored for the eighth time in the last 12 seasons under hitting coach Terry Crowley.

The Orioles had the second worst ERA in the AL this season and finished in the bottom two each of the three seasons under Rick Kranitz.

But Showalter has to make his decision based on what he watched in his two months at the helm. The young starters really took a jump forward from August on and the lineup looked completely different with a healthy Brian Roberts leading off. It’s also important to note that the current Orioles’ hitters and pitchers stand by Crowley and Kranitz, and they have a first-hand knowledge while the rest of us are just observers.

So these will be tough calls for Showalter. And he is juggling plenty of variables -- including who may be available as replacements -- so it’s difficult to say what is the right path until we know more specifics. Besides, it’s never right to call for someone to lose his job, no matter the circumstances.

Therefore, what I want from you is simply your impression of the job Crowley and Kranitz did in 2010, based on what you saw from the hitters and pitchers. Keep in mind the personnel they had to work with and the final result. You can grade them if you like.

Daily Think Special: Are the Ravens the best team in the AFC?

Bonus Think Special: What’s your impression of the job Terry Crowley and Rick Kranitz did in 2010?



Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:27 AM | | Comments (59)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 8, 2010

Predict the free agent most likely to sign with the Orioles

One of my assignments this week was to put together a list of potential Orioles’ free agent targets for 2011.

That’s been done. Here’s the story, and here is the always popular photo gallery that goes with it.

To compile my list, I spoke to a bunch of people within the organization about whom the club may target. That, of course, is different than who will eventually sign with the Orioles.

It takes two parties to make an agreement happen. We all know that.

Still, Cliff Lee and Adrian Beltre, for instance, are on the list I compiled. Those are the two free agents the Orioles likely covet the most since they’d fill the team’s biggest holes.

Realistically, no one expects Beltre or Lee to end up here. They’ll have a whole lot of choices and there will be a whole lot of money on the table. And, given their recent history and the division they are in, the Orioles don’t do well when there is serious competition for a free agent.

But there are some free agents within the Orioles’ grasp simply because there may not be a lot of competition, and the Orioles presumably have money to spend. And, ultimately, money is what most attracts free agents.

The first basemen class – albeit flawed – has some interesting names, ones the Orioles could land if they are willing to spend sufficient funds. Adam Dunn likely would want a four-year deal and it would take some cash to pry Paul Konerko away from Chicago (again).

My guess is that the Orioles will go hard after Victor Martinez and/or Derrek Lee. And if I had to pick one, I’d say Lee becomes an Oriole seven years after he almost did.

He can play defense, still has some pop in his bat and is well-respected in the game. And don’t forget, he was a longtime Cub, and that’s always a bonus here.

So Derrek Lee is my guess. Now I want you to give me one free-agent name that you think will end up as an Oriole in 2011. Not necessarily who you want, but who you think will sign with the Orioles this winter.

Daily Think Special: Name one free agent you think ends up as an Oriole. Explain why.

Posted by Dan Connolly at 8:00 PM | | Comments (62)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 7, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Broncos


OK, who is ready for a shootout?

Did you ever think you’d hear that in a game involving the Ravens?

I expect a whole lot of offense – or at least attempted offense – in the Ravens’ game Sunday against the Denver Broncos. Kyle Orton has been throwing the ball again and again since the season began. He’s going to have to do it a whole lot more Sunday for the Broncos to pull this one out.

They won’t. I’m looking at my own jinx in the eyeballs and I am not scared. I am predicting the Ravens to win 31-17. Yes, I know what the Ravens have done in the past when I predict them to win. But I also know what the Ravens have done in the past when they play the Broncos in Baltimore. It ain’t pretty for Broncos’ fans.

I think Orton might get a couple passes caught in the end zone. But I think he’ll also have a few nabbed by the Ravens’ secondary. And I expect to see Air Flacco – three TDs at the minimum and I say they go to three different targets. So Flacco’s my player of the game.

Now, as it is every Friday, it’s your turn. Predict the score/outcome of Sunday’s Ravens-Broncos game. And throw in a hero of the day in there for tiebreaking purposes. And, remember, this is for amusement (and fake drink chips) only. I don’t have a small games of chance license in this dive.

Daily Think Special: Predict a score and player of the game for Ravens-Broncos

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:00 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

October 4, 2010

Content with the Ravens? Optimistic about the Orioles?

We’ve got a good thing going in the bar now. I pick against the hometown team, and they win. Real simple system there. The Ravens are 3-1 in 2010, and I am 1-3 in predicting their games.

The Ravens are pretty much bent on proving me wrong. Or I have no clue about the NFL. It’s one or the other. I’m going with the conspiracy theory.

Once again, I was too involved in the day job -- covering the Orioles’ season finale at Camden Yards -- to be able to watch the Ravens closely. But we did take a quick break to watch the final drive on TV and see Joe Flacco calmly lead the offense down a short field to a touchdown.

I was impressed. It certainly bought him some time from the Flacco-bashers out there.

No one in the bar correctly predicted 17-14 Ravens, but we had several people who were close. Ravenesque (16-14), CSB Jack (16-12) and Mark in DE (17-13) all get drink chips today.

And a Connolly favorite, Kevin In Iraq, gets the free bar tab for the week with his 17-13 prediction and choice of Willis McGahee as the Player of the Game. Flacco should probably win that, but Willis scored a TD, and Kevin was the only one of the four closest to pick a hero.

Those military types know how to follow rules (and effectively use open bar tabs).

In honor of great rule followers everywhere, we’re having two questions today. I’m curious to see how many of you answer both.

I want to know, with a quarter of the NFL season gone, whether you are content with the Ravens so far. You can’t argue with their 3-1 record or the play of their defense, for the most part. The offense, however, has not been what it was billed to be to start the season. Does that concern you or is that just nitpicking?

Switching gears, the Orioles ended 2010 with a 66-96 record. That’s two games better than last year, which is no cause for celebration -- unless you consider how bad they were before Buck Showalter took over (32-73).

I want to know how optimistic you are about the Orioles in 2011 given their 34-23 finish this year? Is it just a blip that can’t wipe away the negativity from 13 straight losing seasons? Or do you genuinely think it’s a precursor to a better -- maybe even competitive -- 2011?

Daily Think Special: Are you content with the Ravens’ performance at the quarter pole?

Bonus Think Special: How optimistic are you about the Orioles in 2011?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 8:00 PM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

September 30, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Steelers


The Orioles’ rainout Thursday night allowed me to read up a little on the upcoming Ravens-Steelers game in Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon.

And that has to make some of you nervous. You know what a fool can do with some knowledge, after all.

Anyway, I’ll make many of you Ravens’ fans happy. I’m picking the Steelers to win this one, which inevitably means the Ravens will pull out a tough road victory.

I am not exactly precise in this exercise. I think I was about 50-50 the past two years and started this one 1-2. So, you’re welcome, Ravens fans.

The funny thing is I usually take the most desperate team when it comes to divisional games. And considering the Steelers are undefeated and the Ravens certainly don’t want to fall two games behind in the division, the Ravens need this one more.

And the Steelers, we shouldn’t forget, are technically using their third-string QB. But the whole Ray Rice thing concerns me – as does playing in hostile Heinz Field.

I say it is close, 13-10, Steelers. And they clinch on a Troy Polamalu, fourth-quarter interception.

Now I want your prediction for the winner, score and player of the game. We’ll sort it all out next week, when the Orioles are officially done for the year.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Steelers

Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:00 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

September 26, 2010

Were the Orioles intentionally plunking and are the Ravens unintentionally plodding?

A win is a win, right?

The Ravens will take it after beating a seemingly inferior Cleveland Browns squad, 24-17.

I’ll take it because I previously was 0-2 predicting Ravens games this season. My 31-10 guess was way off (unless you just transfer one TD from the Ravens to the Browns. Then I am brilliant).

Anyway, few of you thought it would be as close as it was. A free drink chip goes to Ravenesque for a 16-10 call. The free drink tab for the week goes to Connolly’s semi-regular Bob M. He had 24-10. Good thought, Bob.

Once again I was working the day job -- in Toronto watching a few plunkings between the Orioles and Blue Jays -- and didn’t get to watch any of the Ravens game. I can’t comment on it, but I’m wondering whether you guys are concerned because the Ravens “only” won by a TD.

For my baseball readers, I want to know whether you think the Orioles were purposely throwing at home run leader Jose Bautista on Sunday; he was hit on the left arm by a Rick VandenHurk pitch in the third and an Alfredo Simon pitch in the fifth.

VandenHurk certainly wasn’t, in my opinion. But after Luke Scott was hit in the fourth in retaliation to Bautista’s third-inning plunking, you have to wonder whether Alfredo Simon purposely hit him again in the fifth.

Simon says no. So does Buck Showalter, who said he understood why the Blue Jays felt it looked that way. The Jays’ were pretty miffed that Simon hit Bautista one pitch after almost hitting him. And they questioned why Simon, who hadn’t pitched before the seventh in any game this year, entered in the fifth.

Baseball intrigue and football exhaling. Stab at them both.

Daily Think Special: Do you think the Orioles purposely threw at Jose Bautista?

Bonus Think Special: Are you disappointed the Ravens “only” won by seven?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:48 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

September 24, 2010

Prediction Friday: Ravens-Browns

OK, Ravens’ fans, I am sorry.

I know you are a superstitious bunch. Most sports fans are.

And I understand what I have done to you so far. Each week we pick the outcome of the Ravens’ game in this corner dive (yeah, I know we are under the Orioles Insider umbrella; deal with it). And, so far, I am 0-2 in such endeavor.

I had the Ravens losing to the Jets (they won) and then beating the Bengals (they lost). So I know many of you want me to keep the jinx alive and take the Browns this weekend against your purple warriors.

Can’t do it. Got to go with the considerable gut. Ravens win this one at home. And they win it easily. My prediction is Ravens 31, Browns 10.

My star of the game is Ray Rice, finally, who runs all over the Browns’ D. My guess is all components of the Ravens’ game come together on Sunday. No matter what I might predict (I really don’t think I am affecting things here people, no matter what some of you suggest).

So we’ll see if my jinx holds up. Or if even I can’t screw up this one.

Now I need your call on Prediction Friday. Give me a score of the Ravens-Browns game, a winner and a player of the game.

Those closest will get props next week in this very space, assuming it’s not burned down by angry patrons if the Ravens lose.

Daily Think Special: Prediction Friday: Ravens-Browns

Posted by Dan Connolly at 8:06 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

September 20, 2010

Do you still get psyched by an Orioles' walkoff win, regardless of the standings?


I see how this works this season.

I make a prediction and the Ravens do the opposite. They must be reading this and want to prove me wrong. Perhaps it is just an early-season coincidence. The third thought is that I am way over my skis in predicting the NFL and I should stick to baseball.

To avoid a concussion to my ego and to sidestep ridiculous conspiracy theories (we’ll wait until Week 6 or so to do that), let’s just call it an unfortunate coincidence.

The Ravens are now 1-1 after losing 15-10 in Cincinnati on Sunday. I’m 0-2 predicting their outcomes.

I wasn’t alone Sunday in the wrong column, however. We had 48 responses in the bar since Friday, and only six had the Bengals winning. OG1, Doc, Bob, John and Oregon Rick get free drink chips for their calls -- a Bengals win, but most in a shootout-type contest.

Only P.Dawn had both a low-scoring affair and a Bengals’ win, predicting a 20-10 Ravens’ loss. A free bar tab for the week for you. Use it wisely.

To be honest, I couldn’t dissect the Ravens’ game because I was busy with my day job at Camden Yards, watching the Orioles beat the Yankees’ 4-3 in 11 innings. Great game, great comeback.

Just not sure how many of you watched or cared -- with the Ravens on and the Orioles buried in the standings.

I’ll throw out two questions today.

I want to know if you still get psyched when the Orioles pull off a big win like they did against the Yankees.

Do you just look at it as a meaningless September game now that the Ravens are up and rolling? Or do you still get warm and fuzzy knowing that these wins are precious to the Yankees and the Orioles stole one in very Yankee fashion?

I also want to know your impressions of the Ravens’ game and what you think went wrong with the offense. Was it just poor execution by Joe Flacco or does it go deeper? Again, I had one eye occasionally on the TV, but the other fixed squarely on Chris Tillman’s pitch count.

Daily Think Special: Do you still get psyched by a walkoff Orioles win, no matter the standings?

Bonus Think Special: What went wrong with the Ravens on Sunday?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 8:33 AM | | Comments (45)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

September 15, 2010

Which Orioles starter has impressed you the most under Showalter?

Brad Bergesen pitched exceptionally well Wednesday – throwing his second complete game of the year.

He allowed just one run on seven hits in nine innings to complete the sweep against the Toronto Blue Jays, you know, the squad that had taken 12 straight from the Orioles before a certain new manager took over.

The Orioles are now 26-15 under Buck Showalter. More impressive, their rotation is an incredible 19-11 with a 2.93 ERA in those 41 starts.

Look at these numbers under Showalter:

Jake Arrieta, 3-3, 3.78 ERA in eight starts. .263 opponents’ average
Brad Bergesen, 4-1, 2.37 ERA in eight starts, .231 opponents’ average
Jeremy Guthrie, 6-2, 2.64 ERA in eight starts, .217 opponents’ average
Brian Matusz, 5-1, 2.66 ERA in eight starts, .244 opponents’ average
Kevin Millwood, 1-4, 3.28 ERA in seven starts, .260 opponents’ average
Chris Tillman, 0-0, 3.00 ERA in two starts, .175 opponents’ average

Now here’s my question. And it’s a simple one. Which one of the above starters has impressed you the most during this stretch under Showalter?

Guthrie probably has the best overall numbers, but he has been doing it for much of the year. Maybe you came to expect it from him. Maybe you’ve been more impressed with Bergesen or Arrieta or Matusz. Or maybe Millwood, who has gotten ripped by fans for much of the season, has impressed you with how he has rebounded from such a terrible middle of the year.

Yes, they have all been good under Buck. But go a step further.

Daily Think Special: Which Orioles starter has impressed you the most since Showalter has taken over? Why?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:59 PM | | Comments (44)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

September 14, 2010

Buck Showalter T-shirt night: Great or goofy idea?

We’ll start with the obvious this morning.

You were right. I was wrong. Not surprising, and not the first time.

I knew the Ravens-Jets game would be tight. I thought the Jets would end up victorious, 23-21, and instead the Ravens pulled it out, 10-9.

Like most of you, I grossly overestimated the offensive output, which makes it difficult to give out my fake awards this week. But, here goes: The winner of the free bar tab this week goes to Alex, who had the Ravens winning 13-10. He was just four points off, not bad.

Enjoy, Alex.

Free drink chips, for close but no cigar (non-smoking bar), go to Connolly’s stalwart Jack (17-16), and dcfields (13-7). I am also tossing a drink chip to Swanee, who predicted a 5-5 tie. It was close points-wise and it made me laugh.

Remember, we do this every week – usually Fridays – at the bar. Join in and tell your friends that you, one day, may get a fake prize.

Now, let’s switch to the Orioles for a moment.

Tonight is the last “T-Shirt Tuesday” giveaway at Camden Yards for the season.

And the honoree is Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter, whose last name and No. 26 will be emblazoned on 10,000 orange T-shirts.

Here’s what Showalter thinks about it: “Believe me, there will plenty of them left over, I guarantee you. That might be a two- or three-day special for next year and the offseason. I know what we'll be seeing, 'I've got a few of these. You want to get rid of these?'”

Funny stuff.

But here’s my question: Is this a great way to get fans excited about their new manager and the early success he has enjoyed? Or is it another embarrassing reminder of just how bad this team has been that there has to be a promotion featuring the manager after five weeks of employment?

Yes, the Orioles have played well under Showalter. Yes, he has provided a needed shot of optimism. And, yes, the Orioles have run out of viable T-shirt options (Pedro Viola T-shirt Tuesday anyone?).

I just think it’s a little strange, and a little early. But, as I’ve stated continually here, I am not a fan, so maybe I am looking at this the wrong way. And I am not a member of the Orioles’ promotional staff, which does a nice job of providing giveaways that seem to please fans.

So, enlighten me here.

Daily Think Special: Showalter T-shirt night: Great or goofy idea?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:19 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

September 4, 2010

Would you move the Orioles out of the AL East?


The Orioles’ 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night was the Orioles’ third consecutive defeat, a team low point under new manager Buck Showalter.

It also dropped the Orioles to 12-40 against the AL East, that’s an, ahem, .231 winning percentage. Wanna hear worse? Take out the 7-8 record against the Boston Red Sox and the Orioles are 5-32 against the other three clubs in the East.

New manager Buck Showalter has said repeatedly that he doesn’t care which division the Orioles are in. The point, he said, is you have to beat the best to win it all, so you might as well beat them during the regular season.

Makes sense, but it’s probably worth pointing out that the Orioles are 18-17 against the AL West this year and 12-18 against the AL Central.

So, yeah, life likely would be easier if the Orioles were in another division. But there’s a flip side to the argument. If/when the Orioles ever do rise above the ineptitude, I would assume it would make it that much sweeter for the players and the fan base to achieve it in this division.

That’s what I want to know from you this weekend. If you had the power, would you move the Orioles to another division? Or do you want them to stay in the AL East, keep taking their lumps and wait for the day when you can feel it is all worth it?

One condition here: It can’t be temporary. You can’t move them until they are good and then transfer them back to the East. Stay or go; those are your choices.

Daily Think Special: Would you move the Orioles out of the AL East?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (81)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

September 2, 2010

Would you keep any of the Orioles' pending free agents?

The Orioles have seven players facing free agency at year’s end.

Four are from the offense: infielders Ty Wigginton, Cesar Izturis, Julio Lugo and outfielder Corey Patterson.

Three are from the pitching staff: starter Kevin Millwood and relievers Koji Uehara and Mark Hendrickson.

All seven filled a role for the Orioles this year, though only Patterson and Wigginton exceeded expectations.

None will get the Orioles draft picks next year if they leave via free agency (only Uehara and Millwood have a chance, if offered arbitration, and that process wouldn’t be cost effective given Millwood’s and Uehara’s current salaries).

So it comes down to whether you want any of the seven back next year and at what cost.

The Orioles would like to retain Wigginton, the club’s lone all star, but he will command at least a two-year deal and wants to play every day, while the Orioles are in search of a corner bat with more pop – and whether they get one likely will determine Wigginton’s fate here.

Uehara has pitched great in a relief role, but he made $5 million each of the past two seasons and he likely won’t take a huge pay cut. The Orioles would be gambling on the 35-year-old’s health if they want him back.

Izturis is a good defender and the free agent shortstop market is thin. He’s a good veteran presence and so is Millwood and Hendrickson. Patterson has done everything asked as a reserve/starting outfielder. Lugo can play multiple positions as a utility infielder.

Do you want any of these guys back? Who and why?

Daily Think Special: Would you re-sign any of the Orioles’ seven pending free agents?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:30 PM | | Comments (39)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

August 23, 2010

What should the Orioles do with Zach Britton?

One of the most interesting story lines left in the Orioles’ season is what they’ll do with 22-year-old left-hander Zach Britton.

Former Orioles Nolan Reimold, Chris Tillman and Frank Mata, among others, likely will be back from Triple-A Norfolk when rosters expand in September.

But what about Britton?

He almost assuredly will win the organization’s 2010 Jim Palmer Prize for best minor league pitcher. In stints at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk he is 9-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 24 games (23 starts). He has struck out 107 batters and walked 46 in 136 2/3 innings pitched.

Bringing him up in September makes plenty of sense on one hand, and not so much on the other.

The pros:

Britton didn’t get a spring training invitation, and wasn’t particularly happy with that. He has outperformed several other pitchers who have received call-ups this year, so it would be a nice reward to bring him to the big leagues. He has a bulldog attitude, and it’s doubtful his confidence would be shaken if he didn’t succeed here in September.

Also, it will be helpful for new manager Buck Showalter to evaluate the kid, his stuff and his demeanor if he sees it on the major league level. He’ll get a much sharper snapshot of him in September than in March against spring training lineups.

The cons:

Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has said repeatedly that promotions have to be earned, and though Britton’s nine-game stint at Norfolk has been excellent for a 22-year-old -- 2-3 with a 3.08 ERA, 47 hits, 18 walks and 39 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings -- he’s had just four quality starts in nine outings. He’s had trouble going deep into games and still has some things to work on before consistently facing big leaguers.

He’s also closing in on his career-high innings pitched of 147 1/3 set in 2008 with Delmarva. So you’d be sending him to the big leagues in uncharted territory as far as innings pitched is concerned.

There are also some procedural matters involving his call-up, such as the fact he is not on the 40-man roster, so someone would have to go to make room for him. The club would also have to create a spot in the Orioles’ rotation for Britton, which could mean the release of popular but scuffling starter Kevin Millwood.

It’s an interesting call. I could probably go either way. What do you think? Should they bring him up and see what he has or hand him the Jim Palmer Prize, shake his hand and send him home after a successful season?

Daily Think Special: What should the Orioles do with Zach Britton this September?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:00 PM | | Comments (27)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

August 19, 2010

How important are wins to you at this point in the Orioles' season?


Hey there, welcome back to the bar.

We weren’t closed. We were just operating a private speakeasy for a while. Actually, I was on vacation last week and Jeff Zrebiec won’t lower himself to grab a rag and get behind the bar. He serves no man.

Me, on the other hand? Tip me a couple quarters and I dance like a sideshow monkey. Or at least I’ll pour you a tall, cold and fictional one without complaint.

I covered the Orioles’ 6-5 loss to the Seattle Mariners last night. It was their second consecutive series defeat, and this one was against a team with a record that nearly matches the Orioles.

I don’t want to ruin a good story – or a stiff drink – with a cold dash of reality, but the Orioles have lost five of seven now after winning eight of nine to jumpstart the Buck Showalter Era.

We all knew the Orioles couldn’t keep up such a torrid pace. They are still undermanned and they are heading into a brutal stretch run, schedule-wise. Regardless, they have looked better, certainly more focused, since Showalter took over. And I expect that to continue.

Given that this season is all but done, and another losing season is almost official – the Orioles (42-79) have to go 39-2 in their remaining 41 games to get to .500 – I am wondering if hard, attentive play is enough for you as the season wanes.

If the Orioles still lose more than they win in the next six weeks, but do the little things -- like run hard and move runners over and have patient at-bats and throw consistent strikes – will that satisfy you in late August? Or do you need more wins to leave this season with a positive, or not completely negative, feeling?

Daily Think Special: How important are Orioles’ wins to you now?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:30 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

August 3, 2010

What's your first impression of Buck Showalter as Orioles manager?



Buck Showalter managed his first game as an Oriole on Tuesday night.

And the Orioles won, their fourth victory since the all-star break.

There were a lot of things that were impressive Tuesday. Perhaps what struck me most was the announced crowd of 16,723, which cheered in all the right places without help from the scoreboard.

They roared when Showalter was announced, when he walked to the plate to exchange lineup cards, when he came out to check on a potentially injured Cesar Izturis and when the Orioles handed him his first Baltimore win.

Said starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie – who pitched well again Tuesday, by the way: “I thought it was a good crowd tonight. They introduced Buck as the manager, and I heard cheering as I was warming up. When he walked onto the field to present the lineups to the umpires, the same thing. So it felt like Opening Day a little bit. It felt like a nice Opening Day for us.”

I don’t want to make too much of Tuesday’s victory. It was just No. 33 on the season, and it’s August. We all get that. But it was a nice night at Camden Yards, regardless.

What interested me most was watching Showalter manage. During the past month, I’ve talked to a bunch of people who have worked under Showalter, and they have all spoken about his preparedness and how he puts his players in a situation to win.

And so I was intrigued by his first real piece of managing: in the ninth inning Tuesday with the Orioles up 6-3. Lefty Michael Gonzalez had already pitched one scoreless inning, and Showalter summoned him to pitch again in the ninth – even though it was a save situation and closer Alfredo Simon was warming up.

Go by the book, and bring in your closer. That’s what every manager I have ever covered would have done. But Showalter left Gonzalez in to face lefty Hideki Matsui, who struck out. Then Showalter stuck with Gonzalez to turn around switch-hitter Alberto Callaspo, and he grounded out.

With one out needed, Showalter called for Simon, even though it was no longer a save situation for the O’s closer. And Simon struck out Howie Kendrick.

Asked about the moves after the game, Showalter said: “The matchup was a lot better. Gonzo, I’ve been watching him throw the ball and talking to [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] and some of the guys. And I liked the switch-hitters turned around. The tough call was Hunter [in the eighth with one on and two outs]. That’s a tie ballgame at worst, though, and we like our chances at home with the last at-bat. Take our chances.”

That’s a guy who is not managing scared.

He followed that up with his best line of the day: “Believe me, I know the save rule and, quite frankly, it doesn’t carry much weight with me. I like the win rule a little bit better.”

That’s a guy with an edge.

And that combination is what I’ll be left with weeks after this game. My first impression is Showalter is a guy who is managing to win and not managing not to lose. My second impression is that he looked a lot like Earl Weaver when he took the lineup card out to home plate.

Daily Think Special: What are your first impressions of Buck Showalter as Orioles manager?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:13 PM | | Comments (37)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

August 2, 2010

Will Buck Showalter's hiring make any difference for the Orioles?



Buck Showalter is an impressive guy.

That’s nothing new. Ask anyone who has worked for or with him and they’ll tell you how smart he is, how prepared he is, how considerate he is.

And, given his history of turning around scuffling ballclubs, it’s hard to argue with the Orioles decision to name him manager – something that became official at a news conference Monday.

Tuesday he takes over a club that is 32-73, the worst record in the major leagues. And he is going to attempt to resuscitate a team that, right now, can’t compete with the big boys, and even the medium boys, in the American League East.

The hope – the front office’s belief – is that Showalter will instill a winning attitude and that, eventually, the talent and attitude will merge into baseball success again in Baltimore.

I know many of you aren’t buying the company line, the same one that hinted this season would be more about wins and losses than development. It looks like, right now, 2010 has been about neither.

Forget about beating the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. I simply want to know if you think Showalter can make any impact with this team, whether it’s in the standings, on the field of play or in the clubhouse.

Daily Think Special: Will Buck Showalter’s hiring make any difference for the Orioles?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 5:16 PM | | Comments (49)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

July 25, 2010

What's your realistic Orioles rotation for the rest of 2010?

After Jake Arrieta’s rough outing Sunday, the Orioles’ starters have put together a pretty inauspicious beginning to the second half.

Take out Jeremy Guthrie’s two quality starts, and the Orioles’ rotation has posted a 10.10 ERA in the other eight games on their recent 2-8 homestand.

Really, no one besides Guthrie has been immune to this recent skid -- Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman and Kevin Millwood all contributed to that mark.

Tillman is back in the minors and some of you -- depending on the day -- believe Matusz, Arrieta and Bergesen should join him.

The bloom came off Millwood’s rose for many of you around here by early June. And I know some of you want Guthrie traded for prospects while he is pitching well.

The reality is you need five starters in a major league rotation. That includes the Orioles.

There are plenty of choices, especially if you throw in the most recent young gun, Triple-A Norfolk’s Zach Britton, and the current relief duo of David Hernandez and Jason Berken -- both of whom I think should stay where they are, but, to be fair, were previously starters.

The question is: Are there five choices that you could live with? Five Orioles pitchers you want to see start games -- in good times and bad times, in sickness and in health, until October does you part?

Let’s not play fantasy baseball -- though this is, technically, a fantasy bar. Don’t bring in Roy Oswalt via trade or Pedro Martinez via free agency. I want to know whom you would name to your starting rotation for the final two months of the season given what the Orioles currently have in their organization.

Pick five starters for the end of the year. And tell me why this is the group you want to see in the majors.

Daily Think Special: What’s your realistic Orioles rotation for the rest of 2010? Why?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:10 PM | | Comments (51)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

July 20, 2010

The Cavalry: Overhyped or temporarily overmatched?


Chris Tillman, 22, lasted into the third inning Monday before the Tampa Bay Rays chased him with a seven-run third.

Brian Matusz, 23, couldn’t get out of the second Sunday, giving up six runs in that inning.

Brad Bergesen, 24, last year’s brightest spot, is 3-7 with a 6.37 ERA and is in jeopardy of losing his rotation spot with Kevin Millwood on his way back from the DL.

Jake Arrieta, 24, has the best numbers so far of the so-called cavalry; he’s 3-2 with a 4.38 ERA. But he has made just seven starts.

These are four young, inexperienced and talented pitchers. You know they are going to get their bumps and bruises. But, frankly, more was expected from them as a unit.

And perhaps that was unfair.

Here’s Luke Scott’s thought on the matter after Monday night’s 8-1 loss to the Rays:

“They have proven everything they can prove in the minors. They don’t belong there. They do have to make adjustments here and get better, just like the rest of us. But I think from the start of the year, there has been so much hype on them because they had success last year. It puts that kind of pressure on them instead of just letting them develop. It’s a tough situation for them.”

Here’s my question: Were these guys overhyped? Are they not as good as advertised?

Or is it simply a matter of their being young and having less than a year of starts under their collective belts and things will change as they get more experience?

Daily Think Special: The Cavalry: Overhyped or temporarily overmatched?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:20 AM | | Comments (61)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

July 16, 2010

Which is the real Brad Bergesen?


Brad Bergesen was one of the most refreshing surprises of 2009.

The 2008 winner of the organization’s Jim Palmer Prize for best minor league pitcher, he was fantastic in his rookie year, going 7-5 with a 3.43 ERA in 19 starts. His last seven were quality starts before a liner off his left leg on July 30 ended his season.

Then there was his nightmarish offseason, when Bergesen injured his shoulder while filming an Orioles’ promotional TV commercial. He missed some time in spring training, and really hasn’t recaptured the form that made him and his sinker so good in 2009.

After allowing four runs and nine hits in six innings on Friday, Bergesen is now 3-7 with a 6.37 ERA in 16 games (14 starts). He has twice been demoted and has had one quality start in his past seven outings at the major-league level.

Interim manager Juan Samuel was asked about his confidence in Bergesen after the game. True to form, Samuel stayed positive.

“We have seen what he is capable of doing, so you have got to continue to throw him out there,” Samuel said. “And, again, these are young guys that are still learning how to pitch, and that’s probably why we see a little inconsistency. I think that comes with being young.”

Bergesen is just 24. He is a hard worker and, genuinely, one of the nicest pro ballplayers you’ll meet.

The Orioles still hold out hope that this is just a rough season for Bergesen and that he will turn it around and become the pitcher he was in 2009. Those who know him are rooting for the same outcome.

But I want to know what you think. Which is the real Brad Bergesen, the sinker specialist and groundball machine we saw last year or the guy who gives up bunches of hits in 2010? Maybe his future results reside somewhere in between?

Daily Think Special: Which is the real Brad Bergesen?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:44 PM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

July 8, 2010

Should the Orioles have any "untouchables" in trade talks?

Since it is July, and the Orioles have nothing to play for, discussion this time of year turns to the trade market.

The truth is the Orioles don’t have a whole lot of trade chips right now. That happens when you have the worst record in baseball.

Kevin Millwood looked like a potential hot commodity in early May, but a terrible June and now a stint on the disabled list has sapped any value there. Since he’d probably pass through trade waivers, he could be dealt in August for something if he pitches well.

Ty Wigginton probably has the most value, but Orioles fans have to be realistic in what they can expect for him. Wigginton might only be able to bring back a fringe prospect or two, so the club may consider holding onto him.

Miguel Tejada would have to be the right fit for a team to give up anything for him. Lefty Will Ohman also has some value for a team looking for a lefty specialist.

All the above are pending free agents at season’s end. The Orioles have other potential trade chips in Jeremy Guthrie and the injured Luke Scott, but both are under team control next season.

Really, the players with the most value are the ones that this team is counting on for the future, guys such as Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Brian Matusz, Nick Markakis, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman.

Heading into this year, I’d say the players in the above group were untouchables. But given this disastrous season, I am not sure anyone in the organization should be untouchable in a trade now.

Certainly, some of those above would require an impressive package in return for the Orioles to deal them. But is any Oriole untouchable in your mind these days?

Daily Think Special: Should the Orioles have any “untouchable” players in trade talks?



Posted by Dan Connolly at 1:20 AM | | Comments (58)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 28, 2010

Who is your 2010 Orioles All-Star?



First of all, I want to thank all of you who made suggestions for titles and authors to look for at my favorite used book sale over the weekend.

One of you even came up to the press box Sunday and handed me a list of a few more. As I have said before in my best country twang, “I love this bar.”

For the record, I bought 32 books and one CD (an old Jayhawks’ for $2) for a total of $50. Not nearly as inexpensive as it would have been had I been able to make the “$5 per yardstick” bounty Sunday, but the selection wouldn’t have been as good, either.

All told, I snagged seven sports titles, including two copies of my favorite, Pat Conroy’s “My Losing Season,” one of which I already gave to a friend. It’s certainly worth a buck to me to share that story with others.

Here are the other ones I snagged:

* “Million Dollar Baby: Stories From The Corner” by F.X. Toole. It’s a collection of short stories that includes the title one that was made into the awesome movie.
* “A Civil War” by John Feinstein. One of his most heralded that I have never read.
* “Memories of Summer” by Roger Kahn. I’m a sucker for Kahn baseball books.
* “The Miracle of St. Anthony” by Adrian Wojnarowski. Already borrowed it from Jeff Z and read it. But I wanted a copy of my own for $2.
* “Big Game, Small World: A Basketball Adventure,” by Alexander Wolff. Love Wolff’s stuff in Sports Illustrated, so I am excited by this find.
* “2008’s Best American Sports Writing.” That anthology never gets old for me.

I also bought two nonsports books by sportswriter types: Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild” and Michael Bamberger’s “Wonderland.”

So I’ll be busy for a while.

Now, to a current topic. My Tuesday story is on the Orioles’ potential 2010 All-Star. Yes, they have to have one. And, more than any other recent year, there’s no obvious candidate.

I want to know who you think deserves to represent the Orioles in Anaheim, Calif., on July 13.

Here are the four best candidates: Ty Wigginton (.266, 13 HRs, 40 RBIs), Nick Markakis (.306, 3, 24), Adam Jones (.271, 12, 33) and reliever Jason Berken (1-1, 1.66 ERA, 32 Ks in 43 1/3 IP).

There’s just no slam-dunk. Markakis has been the most consistent but doesn’t have the power numbers. Wigginton leads the team in homers and RBIs but has had a rough June. Jones had a terrible start, but his numbers have progressed nicely and he’s the team’s hottest hitter. And Berken has been fantastic, but he is a middle reliever, and they rarely get the All-Star call.

I’d probably go Markakis, but rewarding Wigginton for his flexibility and hard-nosed career is a nice touch, too. Whom would you select?

Remember, someone has to go.

Daily Think Special: Who is your 2010 Orioles All-Star? Why?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:00 PM | | Comments (37)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 25, 2010

What is your favorite sports book?



For those of you who are new to the bar, who stumbled in here while checking out O’s Insider, I say welcome. Pull up a stool. And participate in a Connolly’s tradition today.

One of my favorite bar entries is upon us. This is the third year in which I have prepared to go to my favorite annual used book sale armed with information from my bar patrons.

Unfortunately, work responsibilities will keep me from enjoying the best day of the sale, on Sunday when you can get a yardstick of books for a couple dollars. But I’m still going to sneak in Friday and buy a year’s worth of good books.

That’s where you people come in. As I have written before, I am a bit of a bibliophile. The money I should spend on clothes or a gym membership gets frittered away on books.

And I am always looking for interesting reads to check out on a rainy day or a flight to Dallas. So let’s take a break from the Orioles’ mess to talk some books.

The last two years, some of you have made awesome suggestions, introducing me to Chuck Klosterman, Dick Francis, Khaled Hosseini, Michael Connelly, Yann Martel and Danielle Steel (I am kidding about that last one).

So I want your must-look-for suggestions for this weekend’s sale. Author or title, hook me up people. I want your advice.

But since this is a sports forum, I’m not solely searching for novelists. I often have sports books on my nightstand and put them into the rotation. In the last three months I have read the Lombardi biog, “When Pride Still Mattered” (tremendous, as advertised) and SL Price’s story on the Mike Coolbaugh tragedy (solid, but it dragged).

My buddy Jeff Zrebiec – also a big sports book reader – recently loaned me Jon Krakauer’s biography of Pat Tillman that he says is fascinating. And I have a Satchel Paige bio that I’ll get to soon.

I want your recommendations for sports books, and want to know which is your all-time favorite.

I am split between “My Losing Season,” by Pat Conroy, who is probably by favorite contemporary author, and the classic baseball tome, “Boys of Summer” by Roger Kahn.

So throw some suggestions my way – both sports and non-sports. I’ll tell you how I did at the sale sometime next week.

Daily Think Special: What’s your favorite sports book?

Bonus Think Special: Suggest some authors or titles for me to look for this weekend.

Posted by Dan Connolly at 2:02 AM | | Comments (46)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 22, 2010

Who would you start Saturday against the Nationals?



The Orioles sent Chris Tillman to Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday to make room for Jake Fox on the bench.

And because he can’t be brought back up within the next 10 days unless there is an injury to a member of the pitching staff, Tillman will not be starting Saturday against the Washington Nationals.

That start almost certainly will go to Brad Bergesen, who is 3-4 with a 6.50 ERA in 12 games (10 starts) for the Orioles this season. When Bergesen was sent back to Norfolk on June 13, it was so he could start every fifth day, get himself straightened out and come back effective in a few weeks.

Now, after two starts – one that was abbreviated because of pitch-count concerns – it looks like he’ll be back Saturday. In his last appearance, on Monday against Lehigh Valley, he allowed two runs on five hits and a walk in five innings.

All told, he allowed five runs in 7 2/3 innings while with Norfolk. There’s sentiment, in the press box anyway, that the Orioles should leave Bergesen in Triple-A until he truly earns his way back. Not as a punishment; no one works harder or is a nicer kid than Bergesen.

But because it does him no good if he comes up to the big leagues without fixing the things that got him demoted earlier this month.

So, that said, the Orioles could have gone with a spot starter to fill Saturday’s spot, maybe Mark Hendrickson or Jason Berken. They also could move Berken back to the rotation full time, a slot in which he struggled mightily last year as a rookie.

Berken has a 1.85 ERA in 25 games this year, so he deserves another shot. But he has been so good as a middle reliever, I’d leave him where he has had some success and let him keep building on that.

There’s also the option of promoting someone else from Norfolk, maybe Troy Patton, who is 5-7 with a 4.74 ERA in 12 starts. But that’s not really earning it either – and the Orioles need to get to the point where promotions aren’t just given because of necessity.

Honestly, I’d throw Hendrickson out there on Saturday, buying Bergesen a little more time in the minors.

Some of you may say it doesn’t matter who pitches Saturday – and that’s true as far as the game is concerned. But for the future of this team, the future of some young pitchers, it is something worth considering.

One other thought: It is the 40th anniversary celebration of the Orioles’ 1970 championship team on Saturday. And Jim Palmer still looks like he is in great shape and can still manage that high leg kick effectively. He is not on the 40-man roster, however.

Daily Think Special: Who would you start Saturday against the Nationals?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:05 PM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 13, 2010

Is this baseball season worse than 1988?


We all know this has been a terrible baseball season in Baltimore.

I don’t have to wheel out the stats again, do I (please don’t make me)?

We keep saying it’s the worst in two decades.

All you smart patrons know what that means. This has been the Orioles’ worst start since 1988, when the club began 0-21 on the way to a franchise-worst 107 losses.

But, and I hope you are braced for this, we may not be able to use that “worst in more than two decades” line for much longer.

Consider this: In 1988, the Orioles were 17-47 on June 16, the club’s 64th game.

The Orioles are 17-46 heading into Monday night’s game in San Francisco. You get where I am going here?

If the Orioles lose to the Giants on Monday, they have caught that 1988 team by Game No. 64.

I was a college freshman back in 1988; a Baltimore kid living in Pennsylvania. I can’t tell you the amount of crap I received that spring when the Orioles started 0-21. Some wiseacre covered my entire dorm-room door with the Sports Illustrated Billy Ripken cover.

I can’t imagine anything could be worse than that season for an Orioles’ fan. But I am no longer a fan. I do this for a living, so the emotions have been removed.

And, statistically, this season soon could be on pace with that infamous one. So, I gotta know, is this worse than 1988?

Daily Think Special: Is this baseball season in Baltimore worse than 1988? If so, why?



Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:00 PM | | Comments (99)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 11, 2010

Were you impressed by Jake Arrieta?

The last member of the Orioles’ Big Three -- or so-called cavalry -- has arrived.

You now have seen Jake Arrieta pitch in the majors. You’ve seen him pitch against the New York Yankees. And hold his own, allowing three runs in six innings while pitching out of a tough, bases-loaded jam.

I was impressed. Honestly, I didn’t expect such a performance. Not because I don’t think the kid has talent. But because facing the league’s best-hitting and most patient team is never easy.

It’s ridiculously tough if it is your first big-league start.

So I give Arrieta major credit. It wasn’t Strasburg-esque. But four hits, four walks and six strikeouts in six innings against the Yankees works for me.

Here’s what catcher Matt Wieters had to say about Arrieta: “It was an impressive debut, not as far as the line, but how calm he was out there. He took his time. It was like he was making just another start. I'm sure he had some butterflies going inside, but you couldn't tell on the outside."

More Wieters: "I think it was good for him that he had to pitch, he couldn't just go out there and throw it by those guys. They're too good of hitters. He was able to pitch and get in some sort of rhythm. … It's a good start to sort of go home and relax on. He's got the first one out of the way and now he can go back to what he's always done in the minor leagues."

Now, I want to know what you think.

Daily Think Special: Were you impressed by Jake Arrieta?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:14 AM | | Comments (44)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 10, 2010

Would you trade the O's organization for the Nationals?


To paraphrase a line from “Stripes,” I wanna go to Vegas with you people. Crazy. Wild men.

I asked in the last entry for you to predict what Washington Nationals’ phenom Stephen Strasburg’s line would be on Tuesday night in his big-league debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And so many of you were in the ballpark (metaphorically speaking, we know you weren’t at Camden Yards unless you are wearing pinstripes or yelling “Remmdawwg”) that I’m buying everyone in the place a free drink.

It’s easy to do that when the beer, vodka and whiskey are made of air.

Strasburg’s line was 7 innings pitched, 4 hits allowed, 2 ER, one homer, no walks and 14 strikeouts and the win. No one predicted that kind of dominance – except one smarty pants, who said 9 IP, 27 Ks – but many of you weren’t that far off.

We’re going to give out two free bar tabs for the week to Ben S (7 IP, 4H, 1R, 2BB, 10 K) and AZChuck (8 IP, 4H, 1R, 2BB and 12K).

Also, two free Dos Equis are sliding down the bar to Connolly’s regular Rob K, who predicted 7 IP, 4H, 7Ks and O BB and ER.

Nice job to all, especially Strasburg, who was absolutely amazing. Here’s a stat you may not have heard, and it comes courtesy my friend Adam Kilgore, Nats writer for the Post. Never before in baseball history has someone struck out 14 or more batters in 94 pitches or fewer.

The kid had an 11-pitch inning in which he struck out the side. Incredible.

Anyway, while at Nationals Park on Tuesday, I was pleasantly surprised about how electric the scene was. The fans were on their feet off and on throughout the game; they even gave Strasburg a standing ovation when he walked in from the bullpen after his warmups.

That’s great for Washington to have something to be so excited about. And it got me wondering. Now that they have Strasburg up and have drafted potential slugger Bryce Harper on Monday, I want to know if you would trade the Orioles’ organization straight up for the Nationals’ organization.

You get everything they have, the 25-man roster, the farm system, GM Mike Rizzo and manager Jim Riggleman, Ryan Zimmerman and Drew Storen, the Lerner family and the Harper negotiations. You’d have to give up Andy MacPhail and the managerial search, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Brian Matusz, the Machado negotiations and, yes, Orioles current ownership.

The only things you get to keep are the American League East, the name, colors and logo and Camden Yards. Those are bittersweet remnants.

I am still not sure I’d do it. I think the Orioles’ young talent base is deeper. Perhaps not as talented, but deeper.

Would you?

Daily Think Special: Would you swap the Orioles’ roster and organization for the Nationals’ right now?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:18 AM | | Comments (127)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 8, 2010

Predict Steven Strasburg's line tonight


Prediction Tuesday has no real ring to it, but I don’t care.

We need to do some good old fashioned prognosticating in the bar today.

For those of you who are new to Connolly’s since the location switched to Orioles Insider and didn’t participate in our Prediction Friday during the Ravens’ season, here’s the deal.

If your prediction is closest to the mark, you’ll receive an open bar tab at Connolly’s all week. If you are pretty darn close, you’ll get a free drink chip tossed your way. If you stink, you’ll get nothing and like it. And all the prizes have the same retail value: nada (that’s Spanish for zilch).

But if you get close, you will be recognized by your humble bartender and be the envy of your fellow patrons, and what’s better than that?

Stephen Strasburg, the 21-year-old phenom and 2009 No. 1 pick, is making his major league debut tonight at Nationals Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates. You probably know that by now.

I’ll be there in the press box, just another sweaty cog in Strasburg’s hype machine. I’ve talked to friends out of the business who hope Strasburg struggles, just because he’s been anointed without ever throwing a major league pitch.

I’ve also talked to friends in the business who believe every fawning word is justified, that this kid is a once-in-a-generation talent. I’m curious to see this spectacle myself.

And I am also curious to hear how you think he will do in his debut tonight. I think it is going to be good, but not stunning. Here’s my prediction: 5 2/3 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3BB, 5K. No-decision.

Now it is your turn.

Daily Think Special: Predict Steven Strasburg’s line tonight

Posted by Dan Connolly at 7:00 AM | | Comments (33)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 6, 2010

Draft the high school pitcher or shortstop?


Major League Baseball’s amateur draft starts Monday night and the Orioles pick third, their highest selection since 1989 when they took LSU’s Ben McDonald first overall.

Since the Washington Nationals almost certainly will take slugging catcher Bryce Harper with the first pick, the Orioles likely will choose between two prospects that intrigue scouting director Joe Jordan.

There is Jameson Taillon, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound right-hander who was 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA and struck out 114 batters in 62 2/3 innings for Houston-area The Woodlands High. He reportedly has reached 99 mph with his fastball.

And there is 6-foot-2, 180-pound shortstop Manny Machado, who hit .639 with 12 homers and 68 RBIs in 29 games for the Brito School in Miami. He is projected to be a solid defensive shortstop who can hit for average and power – though if he adds muscle to his lanky frame could be switched to third base.


Both are young, so they won’t be helping out real soon. Both are legitimately considered top-five picks – so there won’t be any reaching this year.

A lot has to do with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who pick second and are often unpredictable. Some of it also may have to do with money and representation. Machado is represented by super agent Scott Boras, whom the Orioles have dealt with more recently than in previous years.

And Taillon is represented by the shrewd Hendricks brothers, who seemingly have represented all excellent Texas pitchers, including Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Orioles prospect Zach Britton.

It’s always difficult to make a call about baseball draft picks, especially high schoolers. But one of the above will be available, maybe both. And the Orioles organization certainly could use either: A high ceiling shortstop prospect and a flamethrowing pitcher.

Given the organizational needs, I want to know if you have a preference.

Daily Think Special: Do you draft the high school pitcher or shortstop?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:00 PM | | Comments (32)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

June 4, 2010

What's your lasting impression of Dave Trembley?


Managers and baseball writers have strange relationships.

At various times we can be confidants and adversaries, good friends and non-speaking combatants. I have publicly criticized and privately consoled Orioles’ skippers over the years, as have many of my counterparts.

So watching Dave Trembley twist in the wind and get fired wasn’t easy. Manager firings never are and this is the fourth I have dealt with directly.

Trembley’s departure, like Sam Perlozzo’s before him, was particularly painful because you knew just how much the job meant to him.

Trembley is a baseball lifer, and he’ll find another job somewhere because he eats and sleeps the sport and has a billion contacts.

But it’ll never be the same for him because he had his chance to be one of the 30 men lucky enough to skipper a Major League Baseball team and he didn’t succeed. To be fair, he had little to no chance to produce a winner given the roster he was handed since 2007.

Some of you who have been critical of Trembley in the past will remember the wrong calls and all of the losses when you think of Dave. But as reporters we get to see all sides of a manager.

And I will remember Trembley as a guy who tried to do the right thing and attempted to do it with respect for those around him. Were there times when I thought he made the wrong call from the dugout? Yes. Were there times when his reaction to a question that needed to be asked rubbed me the wrong way? Sure.

Were there times that a question I asked ticked him off? I am sure. Were there things I may have done or written over the years that infuriated him? I would assume so, because that is part of the strange relationship between the two professions.

But I never lost respect for the man. In fact., I gained more as he toiled through this season and rarely showed a public display of frustration.

So, to answer my own question, my lasting impression of Dave Trembley is -- partially -- as another manager in the Orioles’ assembly line who didn’t have much of a chance at success. But I will also remember him as a genuinely nice, good person. And, ultimately, that image will stick longer.

Daily Think Special: What’s your lasting impression of Dave Trembley?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:41 AM | | Comments (64)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

May 26, 2010

Which Oriole has been most frustrating in 2010?

OK, I am willing to take your slams of being Bartender Obvious.

I realize that asking this question leaves me open to every smarty pants with a keyboard to send a zinger my way.

I’m man enough to take it.

So here’s the deal: I want to know who you think has been the most frustrating Oriole this season.

I know, I know, there’s not enough space on the Internet to answer this one properly.

But take a shot.

Now, this is different than “most disappointing Oriole” that we’ve discussed in the past. I am talking about the guy you just can’t watch anymore.

It could be because he is not playing up to his capabilities or because he can’t play defense or because he can’t run the bases or throw strikes.

Maybe it is someone you had high hopes for but just keeps taking steps backward and it’s killing you. We’re easy here at the bar (watch it); you can devise your own criteria. I just want to know why you made your choice.

Yes, there are tons of candidates. I want one answer. Think while I pour.

Daily Think Special: Which Oriole has been most frustrating to watch in 2010? Why?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:00 PM | | Comments (53)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

May 24, 2010

Can a manager fix this mess? I want names and reasons

I’ve been covering the Orioles for 10 seasons. This is the fourth time I have had a thermometer out to test a manager’s hot seat.

My stance has been pretty consistent throughout – you can pay the money and look at the archives if you don’t believe me.

I try not to speculate too much on a manager’s job security. It’s a man’s livelihood we are talking about. And, for the most part, the men I have dealt with in this position are good people who don’t deserve public hangings.

I also have had difficulty gauging the ability of recent Orioles’ managers considering the rosters they have had to work with compared to those of their rivals. There are certain things a manager can control during a game – lineup and bullpen choices, etc.

But, believe me, the biggest impact a manager makes is before and after the games, dealing with the players, handling the egos and putting out personality fires. No manager is liked by all 25 players all the time. There will always be grousing, even on winning teams (or so I have heard. Can’t say that one from experience).

So I gauge whether a manager needs to go based on the level of discontent in the clubhouse and whether that is affecting overall play. For me, that’s easier and more reliable than speculating about a game’s outcome if the manager had stuck with his lefty in the seventh.

Dave Trembley is not beloved by every current Oriole. Far from it. But he’s also not being blamed – publicly or privately -- within the clubhouse. On the record, his players keep defending him, and that’s not what usually happens when a manager has lost his clubhouse.

I can remember the exact moment when it became apparent that Sam Perlozzo and Lee Mazzilli lost their clubhouses. The same can be said for Ray Miller (though I got that story second-hand). When key players stop defending the manager, or stop taking responsibility for their own mistakes, the gig is usually up.

And it’s not at that level with the Orioles yet, despite baseball's worst record. Any finger-pointing is being aimed at fellow players or the roster construction or the rampant injuries. But not the manager.

Now some may argue that the players are still defending Trembley because a change could disrupt their comfortable routines. There is some merit there, but Perlozzo and Mazzilli weren’t exactly taskmasters, either, and players didn’t refrain from tossing them to the wolves.

The bottom line is that I don’t think the reincarnation of Casey Stengel fixes this mess for this year. But maybe a manager can make chicken salad here. I want to know your opinion. But a “fire Trembley” does not suffice. So don’t waste your fingers on that one.

If you want Trembley gone, then you need to tell me who should replace him and why. We are a thinking man’s (and woman’s) tavern here.

Daily Think Special: Can a manager fix this mess? If so, tell me who and why.

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:51 AM | | Comments (129)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

May 21, 2010

Did David Hernandez do enough Friday to keep his rotation spot?


David Hernandez knew he had to perform well on Friday night against the Washington Nationals to save his rotation spot.

Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta are banging on the rotation door from down in Norfolk. And, heading into Friday, Hernandez hadn’t won since last August.

We saw the good and bad of Hernandez against the Nats. He was nearly unhittable. In fact, he was unhittable against actual hitters. The only hit he allowed in 5 1/3 innings was to reliever Miguel Batista.

But he lasted only 5 1/3 because Hernandez walked five batters and pushed his pitch count up to 105. And he only threw 59 strikes.

Hernandez has a mid-90s fastball and a solid changeup. But he needs to throw strikes consistently. That inability is what has his ERA at 5.31 this season.

There is a contingent that wants Hernandez to be moved into the bullpen and for the club to promote Tillman or Arrieta. I think that’s eventually what will happen.

But the Orioles would prefer to have Hernandez, only 25, pitch well as a starter while Tillman and Arrieta keep honing their craft in the minors. The hope is that three quality starters emerge from the logjam and not one/two and one middle reliever.

I asked manager Dave Trembley Friday night if Hernandez did what he needed to keep his spot. Trembley’s response: “He helped his cause tremendously.”

Now I am asking you.

Daily Think Special: Did David Hernandez do enough Friday to keep his rotation spot?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:52 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

What do you do with Scott Moore?

Scott Moore will be making his first appearance with the Orioles this weekend since he spent four games with the club in 2008.

Moore can play just about everywhere. He has played every infield position in a game – except catcher – in the past couple years. And he even played in the outfield once for the Orioles in 2007.

Assuming you want to give him some regular at-bats – the guy does have some pop – where do you play him?

Do you put him at first base regularly, or at least after interleague play ends and Luke Scott can go back to DH?

Do you put him at second and move Ty Wigginton to first base?

Do you put him at shortstop and give Cesar Izturis a mental break so he can concentrate on his problems at the plate?

Or is Moore simply a bench guy and it doesn’t matter when or where you play him?

Since he is up, I think he should get regular at-bats somewhere so the Orioles know once and for all what they have in Moore: A late bloomer who hasn’t been able to stay healthy or a quad-A guy who will never be a consistent major leaguer.

Daily Think Special: What do you do with Scott Moore?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:14 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

May 16, 2010

What should the Orioles do about first base?

Before Sunday’s game – and after the club demoted first baseman Rhyne Hughes to Triple-A Norfolk – Orioles manager Dave Trembley said that Garrett Atkins is his first baseman for the time being.

It wasn’t a resounding endorsement, but it was something.

“Garrett Atkins is playing first base (today),” Trembley said before Sunday’s game. “And I would expect he would play first base for the next few games here while we are going with one more pitcher and one less position player.”

Atkins was hitless in four at-bats Sunday, striking out once and hitting into three groundouts, including an inning-ending double play in the fourth. He is batting .243 with no homers and six RBIs in 103 at-bats. He has a slugging percentage of .311 and an on-base percentage of .271.


When asked after the game whether he’d need to make a change at first base, Trembley said, “I’ll sleep on it and see where we’re at.”


In a dreadful offensive season, first base has been the biggest hole. Collectively, Orioles’ first basemen are hitting .226 with no homers, 11 RBIs and six runs scored in 38 games. That includes 24 games started by Atkins, 11 by Hughes, one by Luke Scott and two by Ty Wigginton.

There really aren’t any slam-dunk options in Triple-A either. Michael Aubrey (.256 average, 2 homers, 7 RBIs) and Brandon Snyder (.200, 2, 12) have not impressed so far. Nolan Reimold played first on Sunday – and hit a homer – but he is new to the position on the pro level. So you just can’t throw him there in the big leagues right now.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Wigginton gets more games at first with Julio Lugo playing more second base. Or Scott could be inserted at first, though the club may not want to put more on his plate while he is digging out of his hitting slump.

Or maybe the Orioles go outside the organization, but the candidate better be an unquestioned improvement on Atkins, who gets $4.5 million from the Orioles this season.

Lots of options, but none are great.

Daily Think Special: What should the Orioles do about first base?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 7:06 PM | | Comments (75)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

May 13, 2010

Is Luke Scott about to turn his early season around?


Luke Scott hit a grand slam in the eighth inning Thursday to win the game for the Orioles.

He was 2-for-4 on Thursday and 2-for-4 on Wednesday. Scott, who led the team in homers last year, now has six home runs and 14 RBIs and has his average up to a still-dreadful .213.

We all know the deal with Scott. When he is hot, no player is more scalding. When he is cold, icicles form on the bench next to him.

So are we seeing the beginning of another Luke Scott thaw? Is he about to turn it around and again remind you why you love watching the enthusiastic Scott swing the lumber?

Or is this a two-game blip and Scott will be swinging from the heels the next time you watch him come to the plate, as he has much of the year?

Daily Think Special: Is Luke Scott about to turn his early season around?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 7:15 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

May 12, 2010

Should Nolan Reimold have been demoted to Triple-A?



You have some time to think about it.

Nolan Reimold, one of the brightest spots for the Orioles last season, was sent down Wednesday after hitting .205 in 29 games and looking tentative defensively.

He wasn’t contributing up here, and manager Dave Trembley thinks it will be good for Reimold to regain his form in a lower-pressure environment.

Reimold, 26, admits his confidence has been shaken and that a stint in Norfolk may not hurt.

I agree. But not everyone who has stopped by the blog thinks it is a good thing. Some would rather have had another player get sent down -- Lou Montanez, for instance -- and I guess I can see that rationale.

But others have commented that Reimold should have been left in the majors to work out his struggles there. That the win-loss record is really irrelevant now, so why not have him stay up and play every day? Those who subscribe to that theory believe it is a bigger confidence buster to demote him to Triple-A.

I am with the Orioles here. I think they did the right thing regarding Reimold

Daily Think Special: Should Nolan Reimold have been sent down to Triple-A?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 9:54 PM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

May 11, 2010

How many of the next eight must the Orioles win to make you feel a little better?

OK, the Orioles' brutal 32-game stretch to start the season is over.

During that span, they faced only one team, the Seattle Mariners, that is currently under .500. And they had to do that in Seattle as part of a West Coast trip that was jammed into a period of 16 games in 16 days.

But now the excuse of a brutal schedule is in the rear-view mirror. The Orioles (9-23) play eight straight games at home, starting tonight against the Seattle Mariners.

The homestand is comprised of three against Seattle (12-19), three against Cleveland (11-18) and two against Kansas City (11-21).

Once that is over with, the Orioles get two at Texas, three in Washington, three at home versus Oakland and three on the road in Toronto -- solid teams but likely not contenders in October -- before beginning another brutal, nine-game stretch versus the Yankees and Red Sox, three versus the New York Mets and then another West Coast swing.

So this is the time for the Orioles to prey on below-average opponents -- the worst three teams, record-wise, in the AL behind the ultimate cellar dwellers, the Orioles.

I realize eight games is a blip on the radar. And even if they go 8-0 they'd still be 17-23 on the season.

But given how bad things have gone, a good showing here may at least settle your stomach a bit. Or has that rocking ship already passed?

Daily Think Special: How many of the next eight must the Orioles win to make you feel a little better?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 10:01 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

May 6, 2010

Which Orioles hitter has disappointed you most?


Andy MacPhail went off on the Orioles’ lack of offense Wednesday in an interview with my buddy Jeff Zrebiec.

I am paraphrasing here -- though I’d love another opportunity to recycle the “suicide pact” quote; pure gold, Andy -- but MacPhail said the offense can’t continue to leave men in scoring position and fail to get the big hit. If it does, changes will be made.

He didn’t name names, he is the president of baseball operations after all.

We, however, are bunch of men and women in a cyber bar. We can name whatever we like (in reasonable good taste, anyway).

I want to know who you think has been the Orioles’ biggest offensive disappointment this season. There are plenty of candidates: Luke Scott, Garrett Atkins, Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones, Cesar Izturis, etc.

Depending on how you view the question, maybe Nick Markakis is your answer (perhaps you have more disappointment with a Nick or Adam because the expectations for them are considerably higher).

I am not necessarily asking who you think has been the worst or even who should be replaced (though you can certainly sprinkle that in with your answer). Really, you can interpret the question any way you like, I suppose. Just tip your support staff.

Daily Think Special: Which Orioles hitter has disappointed you most?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 8:54 PM | | Comments (76)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

Ernie Harwell Tribute: Do you still listen to baseball on the radio?


Before I get into today’s topic, I want to raise a glass and dedicate this entry to Ernie Harwell, who died Tuesday at age 92 after battling cancer.

He is known as the voice of the Detroit Tigers, but he was an Orioles’ broadcaster from 1954 to 1959.

Obviously, that was well before I was listening to transistors, but I do have two quick Harwell stories.

The first was from a radio broadcast in the early 1990s, when the Orioles opened the booth to Harwell for an inning of an Orioles-Tigers game. I had never heard Harwell do a broadcast before and I distinctly remember a stroke of subtle comic genius.

I am paraphrasing here, but I remember Harwell saying umpire Al Clark was behind the plate. “Al does such a good job that he is the only man in professional baseball allowed to wear his first name on his cap.” Clark, of course, was an American League umpire.

My second memory is a little more in-depth. In the early 2000s I did a story on Chuck Thompson’s failing health, and I called the Detroit Tigers’ PR department hoping to get Harwell and they gave me a phone number. I knew it was his home phone when a woman -- his wife Lulu, I later learned -- answered and ushered Ernie to the phone.

He was in his mid-80s then, and I told him I‘d only take a minute of his time, but he was so good we kept chatting. About Thompson and the Orioles and baseball in general. He asked me as many questions as I asked him, and when the interview ended -- about 20 minutes after it started -- I thanked him for his time. And Harwell responded by saying, “I really, truly enjoyed it. Call me anytime.”

A classy and good man who will be missed. Here’s to Ernie Harwell.

And that brings us to today’s topic. As I have told you guys before, I love baseball on the radio. I grew up with it, with Thompson and Bill O’Donnell and Jon Miller, etc. The only reason I subscribe to Sirius/XM radio is to hear the West Coast games in my car on my drive back from Camden Yards.

Yet, to be honest, I don’t listen to baseball on the radio anywhere else but in the car. On those occasions when I am at home and the Orioles are playing. I pay attention via television or the Internet. Almost every game is televised, which wasn’t the case when I was a kid and needed Chuck to be my eyes. And high-definition TV has certainly made it even more enjoyable these days to watch the games.

I don’t own a battery-powered radio anymore, and I rarely turn on a radio in my house (though my iPod is often blaring, to the chagrin of my wife and kids).

And if I -- a lover of baseball on the radio -- only listen in the car these days, I am probably not alone.

Throw in the fact that so many of the iconic voices of our youth, of our summer, have passed, I wonder if baseball on the radio still holds an appeal to the masses.

Let me know.

Daily Think Special: Do you still listen to baseball on the radio?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 6:00 AM | | Comments (31)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 30, 2010

Who should go when Bergesen is recalled Saturday?


This question won’t have much shelf life. Not like those Iron City Lights on the back rung of the fridge (save them for football season, and jack em up to $8 a can.)

But I want to know who you think should be taken off the 25-man roster when the Orioles bring up Brad Bergesen to pitch Saturday evening against the Boston Red Sox.

It likely will be a reliever, and the two main candidates are Matt Albers (1-3, 6.75 ERA) and Cla Meredith (0-0, 3.60). Meredith has pitched better throughout this month, but he has an option left, meaning he could be sent to Triple-A Norfolk without having to pass through waivers.

Albers no longer has options, so if the Orioles want to take him off the 25-man roster he could be claimed by another team. He also has pitched better of late, throwing 3.1 scoreless innings in his past three appearances, including a scoreless 10th for his first win of the year Friday night.

Other reliever possibilities include lefty Alberto Castillo, but he has allowed just one run in 4 1/3 innings, and Jim Johnson, who is considered a key member of the bullpen, but has struggled with a 6.52 ERA. Both have options.

If the Orioles want to drop to a three-man bench, they could cut Julio Lugo or option Lou Montanez to Triple-A. I know there is some sentiment for the team to cut ties with first baseman Garrett Atkins, but they spent $4.5 million on him in the offseason and aren’t going to eat that after just 67 at-bats.

So, who goes?

Daily Think Special: Who should be removed from the roster when Brad Bergesen is recalled?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:51 PM | | Comments (34)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 27, 2010

What do you think of putting Simon immediately into a save situation?


Go ahead and criticize Dave Trembley. Crush him for how he uses his bullpen. That’s definitely a spot in which his moves can be ripped.

But at least admit this: Putting Alfredo Simon in to close a game against the Yankees on Tuesday was a gutsy call.

Simon last was a closer in 2005 for Double-A Norwich. He started this season in the rotation at Triple-A Norfolk. He had Tommy John surgery last May. He was called up Tuesday afternoon.

And by Tuesday night he was facing Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning. And he picked up the save.

Simon might not become the Orioles’ next closer. Or maybe he does. It is way too early to tell.

But I like the fact they gave him an opportunity. He mainly threw strikes and he got the save – yeah he gave up two unearned runs, but that was because Cesar Izturis booted a ball.

Maybe, though, you don’t like the call. Maybe you think it was unfair to put him into such a situation so soon. Or maybe you think someone else should be closer.

You tell me.

Daily Think Special: What do you think of putting Simon immediately into a save situation?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:39 PM | | Comments (46)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

Be GM for a day. Make one move to better the Orioles



I was bringing up some inventory from the storage room in the basement of our new digs, when I found a dusty old bottle and opened it.

Out popped a genie who said he’d grant one wish that he will force on Orioles GM Andy MacPhail (hey, like how I used inventory, MacPhail’s favorite word, and MacPhail in successive sentences?).

Being a man of the people, I have decided to pass this honor onto you, my beloved patrons.

Here’s the deal: You get to pick one move that MacPhail must do right now to improve the Orioles. Yes, that can be firing manager Dave Trembley or a member of his coaching staff if you feel that is the No. 1 priority. Yes, that also means you could make MacPhail step down.

You also could tweak the 25-man roster, replacing a struggling reliever or an underperforming hitter. You could make a trade, too. But you have to be realistic. You can’t send Garrett Atkins to the St. Louis Cardinals for Albert Pujols or Matt Albers to the New York Yankees for Mariano Rivera.

One thing you can’t do is mess with ownership. The genie is powerful, but his authority stops at the GM rung. It doesn’t go any higher (or lower, depending on your perspective). Listen, I want your opinion on things that could actually happen this year to better the team. Not the same old vitriol directed at the same old person.

So, if the genie gives you one move to make right now, what would it be? Obviously, one move can’t fix this mess. But that’s all you get. This is a genie with an attitude.

(And if you think the genie thing is stupid, just remember, you are the one who stepped into a fake bar.)

Daily Think Special: You’re GM for a day. Make one move to better the Orioles.

Posted by Dan Connolly at 7:00 AM | | Comments (113)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 22, 2010

Ravens aside: Who would you take with the 25th pick?


The Orioles have a 2-14 record.

That’s good enough for the second pick in tonight’s NFL Draft, assuming they win the coin flip with the Detroit Lions.

I am hoping Sam Bradford falls to them. He’s a 6-foot-4 college kid with a killer arm and an injury history. If he is not perfect for the Orioles’ rotation, I don’t know who is.

With the Orioles experiencing their first off day since this dreadful season began, and it coming on the first NFL Draft Thursday, I took it as a sign from the sporting gods, to talk a little football inside the bar.

Yes the bar is inside Orioles Insider, but, hey, I made the requisite crack on how bad they are. We are working under the assumption that no big news is coming out of the warehouse today. So until that is proven wrong, we can drift to the NFL.

If you were the Ravens’ brain trust, who would you select with the first pick (No. 25 overall)?

Do you want another offensive weapon such as Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas or Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham, if available?

Or do you bolster the defense, adding a lineman such as Penn State’s Jared Odrick or Alabama nose tackle Terrence Cody or a defensive back such as Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson or USC safety Taylor Mays.

I know I am no fun, but I’d get me a physical corner like Wilson (a longshot to be around at 25), and if he is gone, I’d grab the best available defender. Though I’d be real tempted to get another potential stud WR, such as Thomas, given what the Ravens have wheeled out there in recent years.

Daily Think Special: Who should the Ravens take with the 25th pick?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 1:58 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 19, 2010

Would Cal Ripken's presence in the O's organization make a difference?



I was away from the bar this weekend, but I want to make one point crystal clear: There’s no truth to the rumor that I am taking credit for the Orioles’ start.

So heard any other good rumors recently?

Seriously, everyone and their talk show buddy from Dundalk are commenting on last weekend’s story that Cal Ripken Jr. wants to join the Orioles front office and that request was or wasn’t denied by Peter Angelos.

I am going to throw my four cents in here (my blog, I get to double up). This is based on stuff I have heard from sources, from research I have done, and, frankly, some pure speculation on my part. So take it with grains of tequila salt.

Ripken would like to come back to the organization, he said that Monday in a released statement. And the Orioles would like to have him back in some capacity. Despite what many of you would like to believe opposite universes do collide, and Ripken and Angelos are friends and associates.

I don’t believe that Angelos would tell Ripken, “No, because I don’t want you to take credit for any success we may have.” This is just my opinion, but I think at this point in his life and ownership, Angelos would give credit to Davey Johnson, Jon Miller, Pat Gillick, Albert Belle and right-wing Republicans if it meant righting this ship and shedding his reputation as a baseball failure.

I do believe that the subject of a Ripken reunion tour has come up, perhaps informally, in the last few months and the sides probably exchanged loose proposals.

And I do think Angelos would be hesitant to bring in Ripken and have it appear that he is meddling with Andy MacPhail’s power and judgment or that he is creating an heir apparent to MacPhail.

I also am not sure Ripken would want to come in without any authority, to be an ambassador with no decision-making powers. Cal is too proud, too smart and has too many other responsibilities to re-join the Orioles just to sign autographs and kiss babies.

My guess is there may one day be a happy medium reached. That he could be like George Brett in Kansas City with a few more direct responsibilities.

Here’s my bottom line: Any time current Orioles are connected with the past greats it shouldn’t be dismissed. But you can’t expect that Ripken is this organization’s savior. Remember, during this dark period of the Orioles, Mike Flanagan and Eddie Murray returned and things didn’t change.

But I want to know if you think Ripken’s presence in the organization would make a difference. But limit it to a front office/filed position and spare us “the Cal needs to be owner” stuff. I understand that many of you want Angelos gone. But that’s a separate issue here. And, by the way, Ripken as owner isn’t happening.

Daily Think Special: Would Cal Ripken’s presence in the organization make a difference?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 4:39 PM | | Comments (27)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 16, 2010

What's worse: Close losses or blowouts?


If you are new to Connolly’s, if you staggered in the new Orioles’ Insider wanting to talk baseball and only baseball, well let me set you up with a free shot and an apology.

Baseball is the main thing here – is and always will be. We’ll discuss all aspects of the Orioles, and do it good-naturedly with the occasional rise in temper and spirits (that gives Bubba at the door something to do besides letting in underaged women with fake IDs).

We keep it civil in here, and I think that’s what has made this blog work the past two years – yep we are nearing our two-year anniversary. Amazing, eh?

We also talk about other subjects that pass my fancy: Football, Terps, Tiger Woods, the age of the Gilligan’s Island women, whatever. It’s my blog, my bar, my whims. One frequent topic is music, one of my favorite subjects. So indulge me, newbies, for a minute.

On Wednesday evening, I had the pleasure of seeing one of my favorite bands, the Drive-By Truckers, at the Recher in Towson. I know I have pumped them up in the past, but if you have a chance to see the Truckers live, even if you are unfamiliar with their hard-charging Southern rock (and brilliant lyrics), you have to take my advice on this one. These guys are awesome live.

It was probably the 10th time I have seen them and it was one of my favorites, partially because Langhorne Slim opened up for them. I have seen Langhorne headline a show in the past, and his 40-minute set Wednesday was too short for my tastes but, obviously, the right length for an opener.

He probably was as well received as any opener I have seen. He’s also one you should check out. You won’t be sorry. And if you have any bands I should throw into the old bar jukebox, don’t hesitate to suggest. I picked up on M. Ward and The National because of the fine patrons here at Connolly’s. (By the way, Ben Harper is at Pier Six next week. I’d love to go, but the tickets are too salty for my tastes. But if you go, let me know how he was. Great, I’ll assume).

Now, to the matter at hand: The 1-9 Orioles. I have seen 7 of those games (all losses) up close. Thankfully, I am not on the West Coast swing of this trip (Jeff Z is, so keep an eye on Orioles Insider for his keyed-in insights) but I’ll meet up with the team in Boston.

I watched most of the 6-2 loss to the A’s, but I really didn’t have to watch after the first, when the A’s picked up two runs. It’s the second consecutive game that was over before it started. And, really, those were the only two losses in which that has been the case.

That’s been a big difference with this season than in the past years. As bad as the Orioles’ record is right now, they have been more competitive game-in and game-out than they have for much of the past five seasons. I know that is no consolation for the continual losing, but it has made them more watchable during this stretch – at least for reporters.

Any good beatwriter worth his/her Twitter account abhors late-changing games. It’s our bane. There’s nothing worse than having to rewrite repeatedly on deadline – it is both stressful and a recipe for inexcusable mistakes. Given our druthers, we’d rather have every game’s outcome decided in the fifth inning, so we can properly craft a solid story angle.

But I learned long ago, the game doesn’t care about me and my deadline.

And being in every game, even though the outcome may be heartbreak, is extremely important for those who play the sport. I had a long talk with Orioles designated Luke Scott about that concept on Wednesday. As painful as this first week has been for the Orioles, Scott said he would take those one-run, gut-punchers every time over the 5-plus-run losses he has dealt with since coming to Baltimore in 2008.

You never want to lose, Scott said, but there’s some solace in being competitive within a game. As he put it, getting beat with your best effort is much more tolerable than not showing up at all.

As a fan, though, I am not sure that philosophy sticks. Some friends of mine have told me that this first week was impossible to stomach because there is nothing worse than losing games that should be won. Being close is no consolation. It’s actually worse, they say.

I am curious as to your thoughts here. I personally would rather see the Orioles be in every game and lose (and deadlines be damned) than have them get blown out all the time. But I am not invested emotionally into this team.

Daily Think Special: What’s worse: Close losses or blowouts?


Posted by Dan Connolly at 11:24 AM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 13, 2010

Is Camden Yards still worth visiting?



Wow, was the bar packed last night. Lots of people drinking away their Orioles sorrows. OK, so we don’t have enough alcohol in this joint to do that, but they tried.

By my count, we had about 10,000 in here. About 1,000 more than those who happened to stroll down the street and watch the Orioles lose their fourth straight at home.

Friends of mine from New Jersey came to the game – their first at Camden Yards. And they loved the park and the experience. The game, well, not so much.

They were part of history, too: The smallest crowd in Camden Yards’ 19-season history at 9,129.

I’m sure there will be official reasons for the lack of customers at the Yard on Monday.

It was a weekday in April with no promotional giveaways. And schools are still in session.

But it was also a beautiful evening for baseball, and the Tampa Bay Rays, while not the Yankees or Red Sox, are still a pretty good team and a divisional foe.

We all know attendance continues to slip at Camden Yards, and we all know the reason. The Orioles have lost 12 straight years, and people are reluctant, in a down economy, to spend on a losing team. Trust me, I get that and understand it completely.

But I want to know whether the park is still a draw for you. It has been 19 seasons, yet the place is still pristine and engaging, in my opinion. My friends, for instance, loved everything about it – they were especially interested in the Warehouse and Eutaw Street.

That’s obvious for people who have never been to Camden Yards, but what about those of you who have been there plenty. You get to enjoy the park but often walk away pained by the performance.

Despite the organization’s woes, is it still worth it to come to Camden Yards?

Daily Think Special: Is Camden Yards still worth visiting?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 7:00 AM | | Comments (93)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 12, 2010

Who should be the Orioles closer now and for the rest of 2010?



The Orioles have won one of their first six games this season.

That doesn’t seem particularly good to me.

If you want the Connolly Bar patented silver lining, here it is: The Orioles started 6-2 last year and ended up losing 98 games. So the first week of the season is just a blip that doesn’t necessarily dictate how the season will go.

Yeah, that’s the best I can do.

As I have told people heading into this season, I think the Orioles will be more competitive within games than they have been since 2005. That might not translate into a serious bump in the record/standings, but there should be fewer 11-2, 9-4 games in 2010.

We’ve seen that so far. In fact, the Orioles could very well be 5-1 instead of 1-5 at this point. A lot of that has to do with the uncertainty with the club’s closer situation.

Michael Gonzalez was anointed the guy this winter with a two-year, $12 million deal. But he has blown two of three chances and loaded the bases in the other one. He has been temporarily removed from the position until he can get his mechanics straight and throw strikes.

And, regardless, he won’t be closing the game tonight; he went to Arizona for the birth of his first child and is expected back Tuesday.

So who should get the lion’s share of closing opportunities in Gonzalez’s absence/struggles?

Jim Johnson is the obvious answer because he took on the job part of last season. But the club likes him better as a shutdown setup man in the eighth.

Matt Albers is probably next in line, with Cla Meredith and even lefty specialist Will Ohman possibly getting chances depending on the situation.

There’s also Kam Mickolio and Alberto Castillo at Triple A. And the Orioles paid a lot of money for Gonzalez, so eventually he gets another shot, right?

This isn’t an easy call. No one jumps out. And closers by committee rarely work.

So I am giving the managerial reins to you. Who do you trot out in the ninth with the game on the line right now? Should it change as the season progresses?

Daily Think Special: Who should be the Orioles closer now and for the rest of 2010?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 7:00 AM | | Comments (79)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 8, 2010

Finish the sentence: Opening Day at Camden Yards is ...


Happy Opening Day at the Yards, everyone.

We are opening here early, closing late and, in the middle, big screening the Orioles game this afternoon.

I’ll be at my traditional spot in the press box at Camden Yards, I believe it’s my 12th year covering the Orioles’ home opener (I was on assignment elsewhere for two others) .

Sure, the Orioles’ real Opening Day was Tuesday, when they lost in the bottom of the ninth to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. But we are going to forget about that one.

I have written this before, but that’s not stopping me from doing it again today. Opening Day in Baltimore – even if it is the fourth game of the regular season – is always special.

That feeling started early with me. I was probably in third or fourth grade the first time my parents took me out of school to attend Opening Day at Memorial Stadium. It became sort of a family tradition, my parents eschewing a day at school for education at the ballpark (and some wonder why I became a sportswriter instead of splitting the atom).

A few days ago, a friend of mine from high school sent out an email thread asking who would be attending the home opener. And several responded. The tradition doesn’t end when you hit 40, I guess.

I realize the Orioles are in a 12-season losing streak. I get the fact that there is a whole lot of hostility about how this team has fared – and what’s in store for 2010.

But there is just something about Opening Day, about welcoming back the players and spring and that faint hint of hope to the Inner Harbor.

Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic (though that’s not my wife’s argument).

Maybe the losing has taken away your excitement for Opening Day, I don’t know. But I want to know.

Daily Think Special: Finish the sentence: Opening Day at Camden Yards is …

Posted by Dan Connolly at 8:52 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

Which Oriole is the biggest key to any team success in 2010?


I am not going to be pouring out silver linings at the bar today.

That’s not my job. The Orioles are 0-2. That’s not the way they wanted to start. Yes, they were in both games against a good team on the road.

But the bottom line is they lost. They are in an early hole. And that’s not good considering the brutal schedule they are facing (16 straight games to start the season, including a West Coast swing).

Still, Wednesday night’s loss was encouraging in that Jeremy Guthrie, the club’s No. 1 in 2008 and its enigma in 2009, pitched well against a good hitting club in the Tampa Bay Rays.

He gave up three runs in 6 1/3 innings. Orioles manager Dave Trembley thinks Guthrie has found his form – and his arm angle – that made him a success before 2009.

It’s too early to jump on that bandwagon. Guthrie has the talent to pitch well in any given game. The problem he had last year was inconsistency. He didn’t string good outings together often, and that rollercoaster would mess with anyone’s confidence.

So we won’t know which Guthrie has arrived in 2010 until May or so. In the meantime, I will say this: I think Guthrie is the biggest key to any success the Orioles might have this season. Closer Michael Gonzalez is a close second.

Here is my theory on Guthrie: I think No. 1 starter Kevin Millwood will offer no surprises. He is a solid major league pitcher and will be solid in 2010, probably not spectacular or awful.

The young guys in the rotation will take their lumps at times and be excellent at times. In other words, consistency likely will be hard to come by (though Brian Matusz has sure looked great this spring).

That leaves Guthrie. If he pitches well, the Orioles have a solid rotation up top and a potentially strong one in the middle and end.

If Guthrie struggles again and has no consistency, it throws everything out of whack. Especially if he can’t go deep into games, because the bullpen is already going to be extended covering for the young guys when their pitch counts rise (which happens to all young starters).

So it won’t matter what Gonzalez is doing if the rest of the bullpen is taxed.

And I think the offense will be fine. Not great, but respectable over a long season.

The reality is the Orioles are going to have trouble in the American League East no matter what. But if they have a chance to meet your expectations – regardless how meager – many things have to go right. And I think Guthrie’s performance is No. 1 on that list.

Daily Think Special: Which Oriole is the biggest key to any success the team may have in 2010?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 7:00 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 7, 2010

What do you take from Tuesday's opener, if anything?



It’s the third day in this new location, and I already have to figure out whether orange Kool-Aid spits and spills come out of the back-bar carpet.

I thought we could keep it off the floor until at least the Yankees or Red Sox series.

Yes, the opener in St. Pete on Tuesday night was brutal. There was a sense the whole game that the Tampa Bay Rays were going to find a way to win it.

And they did. In the ninth. Off new closer Mike Gonzalez, who retired one of the five batters he faced.

It’s funny. President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said the reason he gave Gonzalez a two-year, $12 million deal this offseason is because it’s demoralizing for a young team to lose games it should win.

And then on Day One of the 2010 season, the Orioles lose a game they absolutely should have won when Gonzalez collapsed in his first opportunity for a save.

There were some positives from Tuesday, however.

Three solo homers from key players, Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Luke Scott.

Matt Albers, who was on the roster bubble all spring, came into a tough spot – two runners on, no outs – and recorded a double play and strikeout.

Kevin Millwood was effective enough in his first Orioles’ start. Walked only one and gave up two runs despite allowing 10 base runners in five innings.

Miguel Tejada looked comfortable at third base.

But I assume your lasting memory from the 2010 opener will be Gonzalez walking off the mound dejectedly while the Rays celebrate.

Remember, this is baseball, not football. One game means nothing in the overall standings. Absolutely nothing. But that’s no fun for fans who love to analyze.

So you tell me. Are you encouraged by the good things? Are you even more discouraged by Tuesday’s loss? Or are you taking the cooler-heads-prevail, no-rash-judgment approach?

Daily Think Special: What do you take from Tuesday’s opener, if anything?

Posted by Dan Connolly at 7:00 AM | | Comments (61)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 6, 2010

Predict the Orioles' 2010 record


We have made it to Opening Day.

Sure, it’s happening in Florida and not Baltimore.

And you are in the new “Orioles Insider” blog instead of the “Toy Department.” That’s why we have Sheryl Crow’s “Change Will Do You Good,” playing continually on the jukebox. Hope your ears don’t bleed by lunchtime.

As I said in my initial post in these new digs, it’ll be the same old content here, just a different place for you to find it.

So we are going back to our bread and butter (which is basically the menu at Connolly’s) today: The Orioles.

I know it is the first day of the season and everyone has a chance and hope springs eternal and blah, blah, blah. But we don’t serve that junk here.

We dole out hefty plates of realism. The Orioles will almost surely finish fourth in the American League East. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays are arguably the three best teams in the AL, and the Orioles aren’t in that conversation.

The flip side is that the Orioles have plenty of young talent and should be better than the Toronto Blue Jays. They should also be better than they were last year. I am saying eight games better – which sounds good until you realize that still means 90 losses.

But 72-90 would be a significant upgrade from last year’s 64-98. It also would be the club’s best record since 2005. So I guess you can find a silver lining there if you are really fishing.

Now it is your turn.

Daily Think Special: Predict the Orioles’ 2010 record.

Posted by Dan Connolly at 7:00 AM | | Comments (70)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        

April 5, 2010

New digs, same banter and stale beer


I hate to break this to all of you, especially the regulars who have gotten accustomed to their favorite bar stools.

But we are moving again. I know, in the two years we have been in existence, Connolly’s Corner Sports Bar has had less stability than Dan Snyder’s management structure.

We had our own joint. Then we moved to the Toy Department to consolidate things and to appeal to the soccer moms who needed a stiff drink while their kids checked out video games.

And now we are picking up shop again, headed to the brand-spanking new Orioles Insider blog, a clearinghouse for Orioles information provided, in part, by me (and primarily by our lead O’s beat writer Jeff Zrebiec).

It seemed silly for me to be in two places at once – I was afraid it was going to create a Clark Kent-esque duality. So the bar will now be found in Orioles Insider instead of the Toy Department.

What does that mean for you?

Nada. Zilch.

You can still link directly to the bar or enter by the side “Orioles Insider” door. And, though it may look a little weird at first, we’ll still be doing some Ravens and Terps and overall sports inside this dive, including Prediction Friday during the NFL season. (There are no rules with this Internet thing. If there were, how could anyone explain Twitter?)

So there you have it. The bar is moving and you are coming with it.

First beer is on me if you can grab that box of shot glasses and carry it over to the new place.

Posted by Dan Connolly at 7:30 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Connolly's Corner Sports Bar
        
Keep reading
Recent entries
Archives
Categories
-- ADVERTISEMENT --

About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.


Baltimore Sun coverage
Most Recent Comments