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February 23, 2012

Time to move

If you're stopping by here and wondering why there is nothing new up on the blog anymore, it's because this isn't the blog anymore. The Schmuck Stops Here has moved to a diffferent web address, so you have to go to your favorites menu -- if that's where you clicked on this site -- and delete the link. Then go here:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/schmuck-blog/

Then click on Add to Favorites. It'll be nice to have you back.

January 29, 2012

Terps: Happy days will be here again soon

The Maryland men's basketball team couldn't sustain a solid game against Duke and nearly let Saturday's victory over Virginia Tech slip away, but it's pretty obvious that the program is moving quickly in the right direction. The Terps are young and inexperienced, which was evident again in the final minutes yesterday, but they have enough talent to be reasonably competitive with all but the elite teams and things will only get better with the next incoming class of recruits.

What you're seeing right now is a team still learning how to play together. That's evident in the number of ill-advised shots that the Terps are taking and the number of uncontested points they are giving up in the paint -- particularly when fatigue starts to set in late in games. That's tough to watch sometimes, as it was when the Plumlee brothers were nailing down the victory for Duke, but it's part of the developmental progression that new coach Mark Turgeon knew the team would have to go through to get back to the upper reaches of the ACC.

That won't happen this year, but if you had told me the Terps would have 13 wins overall and be 3-3 in conference at this point in Turgeon's first season, I wouldn't have believed you. The Terps are ahead of schedule.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:36 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Just baseball
        

January 26, 2012

Orioles: What Duquette is doing

There has been a lot of chatter on the various blogs and Orioles fan sites about the direction that Dan Duquette is taking the game in his first months as executive vice president, and a lot of it is pretty skeptical.

With good reason. The Orioles have spent the past decade half-stepping their way into oblivion, so fans have every right to wonder if Duquette is just playing to ownership's desire to keep the MASN spigot open and the payroll spigot closed. It's going to be up to him to prove that's not the case.

I think it's a little more complicated than that. Obviously, Duquette got the job because he convinced the search committee that he can make the team competitive by tapping into the second tier of the international market with a couple new sets of eyes overseas. The result has been a handful of signings that are intriguing but unspectacular, which means that we'll all have to wait and see how things shake out.

That's certainly convenient for the team and MASN, since it buys both some time to keep fans interested, but -- to his credit -- Duquette has not given himself a huge window to get results. He has followed up Andy MacPhail's four-year plan with a one-year plan, since he said at the outset that his goal is to be a winning team this year.

How will that be possible? Some feel that it isn't, considering that the Orioles didn't make any impact free agent acquisitions, but Duquette appears to be trying to do (in his own way) what Billy Beane did in Oakland in the early 2000s. He has thrown out a big net to add a bunch of contingent starting pitchers and role players, making the team much deeper in a lot of areas without necessarily making them much better.

He's stressing on-base percentage after inheriting a team with two of the league's biggest strikeout guys and farming the Pacific Rim to beef up the rotation and bullpen.

Will it work? Will Michael Lewis right a sequel called "Foreign Currencyball"? Orioles fans can only hope.

That will depend heavily, ironically enough, on the young pitchers who were already here. Duquette also is banking heavily on a successful comeback by Brian Matusz and the continued growth of Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton. If he gets that, the Orioles have a chance to be a .500 team, but isn't that what MacPhail was gambling on last spring?

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:12 AM | | Comments (22)
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January 18, 2012

Orioles Pantheon

The Orioles just announced their promotional schedule for the upcoming season and I'm going to give them some love for the way they are unveiling the six statues of the six Hall of Famers who have had their numbers retired by the club.

The team will honor one of them each month of the season in order of the retirement of their uniform numbers, beginning with Frank Robinson on April and ending with Cal Ripken on Sept. 6 -- the anniversary of the night he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record. On each of those nights, the club will give every fan in attendance a 7-to-8-inch miniature replica of the statue being unveiled.

Can't think of a better way to do it. I realize the Orioles took a lot of heat for the Brooks statue situation -- and they deserved criticism for not being more publicly supportive of the project -- but that doesn't mean this can't be another nice honor for Brooks, Frank, Cal, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray. And it basically guarantees six huge crowds at Camden Yards, so everybody wins.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:53 AM | | Comments (7)
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January 11, 2012

Great Scott: The Orioles just got less interesting

Frankly, I have no idea how the loss of Luke Scott is going to affect the Orioles. It all depends on whether Scott would have have made a successful comeback from the shoulder injury that cost him a chunk of the 2011 season. I suspect he would have come back healthy, because nobody works harder to get in shape and stay there, but it's still hard to say whether this is going to be a significant loss.

What I do know is that the clubhouse just got less interesting. Scott was fearlessly outspoken, which ruffled a lot of feathers around here. He questioned President Barack Obama's citizenship and regularly preached the joys of both his evangelical Christianity and the Second Amendment. In the great liberal stronghold that is Maryland, he certainly alienated his share of fans, but if you got a chance to meet him it was impossible not to like him.

He'll have a new audience in South Florida, and I'm sure the local media will have some fun with his occasional opinions on the presidential race. I'll miss his unsinkable optimism, his unbelievable hot streaks and his mammoth home runs. I won't miss his unbelievable six-week hitting slumps or his footwork at first base.

The Orioles still have more than a month to add another power bat, if that's really what Dan Duquette intends to do. I'm guessing Buck Showalter will turn left field over to Nolan Reimold and give him an extended chance to re-establish himself as the player he was in 2009. The DH slot remains problematic, though Showalter has indicated that he would like to rotate some regulars through it to spell them in the field.

That's may be the plan, but one more power bat certainly wouldn't hurt.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 2:30 PM | | Comments (24)
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December 15, 2011

Duquette's global ambitions

New baseball operations guru Dan Duquette has made no secret of his desire to make international player development a high priority in the Orioles organization, so the pursuit of several Asian pitchers should not be considered surprising and should not necessarily be criticized.

Perhaps Duquette -- unlike some his predecessors -- simply is being realistic and recognizing that none of the best free agents are going to come to Baltimore at just about any price unless he can show them that the club is close enough to being competitive for them to make a real difference.

Of course, all that depends on the Orioles signing foreign (and domestic) players who make a contribution, and every one of the players coming out of Japan, Taiwan and Korea -- with the possible exception of Yu Darvish -- is a gamble. It's almost impossible to predict what they will do in the American major leagues, but if Duquette guesses right, he's got a chance to have a book written about him in a few years.

Maybe they'll call it "Yen-ball."

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:46 AM | | Comments (5)
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December 4, 2011

Orioles: Meetings getting underway

The Winter Meetings officially start tomorrow, but you'll hear some Orioles news late this afternoon after the O's contingent settles into its temporary headquarters at the Anatole Hotel in Dallas.

General manager Dan Duquette will announce some more front office additions and changes, presumably including the appointment of Lee Thomas as one of his special assistants.

Dan Connolly and I will be there to bring you interviews with the new additions and will be in Dallas throughout the meetings to keep you updated on Orioles Insider and Twitter. Should be fun.

For you, not us.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:47 AM | | Comments (3)
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November 12, 2011

Orioles: Coaching staff non-update

Manager Buck Showalter is getting closer to finalizing his coaching staff -- apparently with the help of new VP Dan Duquette -- and I'm certainly not alone in thinking it would be great to see Mike Bordick back in a major league uniform as a full-time infield/first base coach.

That's partly based on personal preference, because Bordick is one of the really good guys in the game and it was such a pleasure to cover him all those years after he came to town to take over for Cal Ripken at shortstop. Since retiring as a player, he has proven to be a terrific coach and minor league instructor, which is the only reason I might have mixed feelings about him moving up to the major league staff.

Like minor league pitching coach Mike Griffin, Bordick might be more valuable in his player development role. The minor league system still needs a lot of work and pulling the best people out of it might be counterproductive, though Duquette may be looking to shake things up anyway.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 2:38 PM | | Comments (1)
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November 7, 2011

Orioles: The new Duke

There's going to be a lot of discussion about the wisdom of hiring former Boston Red Sox GM Dan Duquette to replace Andy MacPhail as the Orioles new head of baseball operations, but one thing is not in doubt.

Duquette is no puppet. He was always a very strong presence and personality in the Red Sox organization and he'll put his stamp on this team. He may not have been the first choice, but he's a solid guy with all the elements of experience the Orioles were looking for.

What will be interesting to see is the chemistry that will develop with manager Buck Showalters. They are both strong personalities who are pretty confident in their vision of how to run a baseball team. That dynamic could be a big plus in getting Peter Angelos on board with what they want to do -- once the come to a consensus themselves.

Can't wait to see how this develops.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:58 PM | | Comments (11)
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November 2, 2011

Orioles: Left at the altar

Let's stipulate right from the start that I wasn't in any meetings involving Toronto Blue Jays executive Tony LaCava and the ownership component of the search committee trying to find a replacement for Andy MacPhail. So, I don't know if LaCava (below) was just saying nice things about the Orioles after he turned down the job because that's the classy thing to do, or if the Orioles handled his recruitment just fine and simply lost out because he really decided he was already in the best situation.

lacavaap.jpgWhat we do know is that it's November 2 and Orioles owner Peter Angelos has had a pretty good idea for the past two or three months that he was going to need a new head of baseball operations. What we also know is that the Orioles are the only team that will arrive at the opening of the free agent market tomorrow without someone in that role. Whether you believe that anything was going to happen in the first two weeks of free agency either way -- and I don't -- that still represents a lapse in corporate management that could make other good candidates shy away from the Orioles.

Somehow, the Angels -- who were in the AL West race until the last week -- were ready to announce the hiring or former Arizona Diamondbacks assistant GM Jerry Dipoto the minute the World Series ended.

Somehow, the Chicago Cubs were able to pry one of the most respected young GMs in the business away from the Red Sox earlier this month, and somehow the Red Sox already had their GM-in-waiting ready to take Theo Epstein's place.

Dipoto was the first guy to interview with the Orioles, but there was no indication he was their first choice, so this is not really about who they chose. Just how.

LaCava looked like the perfect candidate, with his solid scouting and player development credentials. He interviewed last week and came back on Monday for a sit-down with Peter Angelos. Some mixed signals came out of that meeting, but the Orioles offered him the job and LaCava said they did everything right during the interview process.

I don't doubt that LaCava is in a great situation in Toronto and it would have been hard to decide to leave, but I can't help thinking that something happened during that discussion with Angelos that left LaCava wondering just how much authority he would actually have to remake the players development department.

It's common knowledge at the Warehouse that there are people in the player development system who can step out of the chain of command and talk directly to the owner, which can only create organizational confusion. So, I believe it's fair to wonder if the future makeup of the player development executive staff became an issue during the final meeting between LaCava and Angelos.

It's also fair to wonder if LaCava might be here right now if the Orioles had been quicker on the trigger and offered him the job after the first interview. He indicated otherwise, but the O's gave the Blue Jays a lot of time to sweet talk him back to Toronto...and they did just that.

Who knows if the Orioles were outflanked or simply unable to convince LaCava to move to Baltimore, but this little episode did nothing to change the public perception that they unable to compete -- on a management and ownership level -- with the other 29 teams in the major leagues.

Associated Press photo

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:02 PM | | Comments (31)
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October 28, 2011

World Series: It was in the Cards

Like me, I'm sure you secretly believed way back in April when the baseball season began that Michael Gonzalez would be on the mound in the eighth inning of the seventh game of the World Series. That took some amazing foresight, so give yourself a big round of applause.

While you're at it, give the St. Louis Cardinals some love for the way they swept the final two games at Busch Stadium. Their double comeback on Thursday night was the stuff of legends and they took care of business on Friday night to make good (sort of) on my prediction that they would work their wild card magic on the Texas Rangers.

They didn't do it in six, but they did it, which will only enhance the legend of manager Tony La Russa and put more pressure on the Cardinals to give in to whatever Albert Pujols demands to forego free agency.

It's hard not to feel sorry for the Rangers, who were one strike away from their first world title in two different innings on Thursday night, but it wasn't to be. The baseball gods smiled on the Cardinals, even giving them a rainout to make it possible for Chris Carpenter to come back and deliver a terrific performance in Game 7.

The world title is the 11th for the venerable Cardinals franchise -- second only to the Yankees. St. Louis has a right to be very proud.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:08 PM | | Comments (0)
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Game 7: The encore

Don't see how the final game of the World Series could possibly be as exciting and dramatic as Game 6, but you can't rule anything out with these two teams. The Rangers can hit from one end of their lineup to the other and the Cardinals have Albert Pujols and a less-heralded cast that just seems to find ways to win.

Chris Carpenter and Matt Harrison have not been dominant in the early innings, so you've got to think there will be some runs scored throughout the evening and some drama in the final third of the game.

I'm staying with the Cardinals, though they've already proven me wrong. I had them winning in six, but I can salvage some semblance of prognosticatory self-respect with a Game 7 victory by the home team. Don't know if my theory about wild cards teams is really relevant anymore, but I'll still claim victory if the Cards prevail.

Small World Dept: There are more than 300 million people in this country and yet strange coincidences seem to find me with amazing frequency. Allen Craig, who just hit another home run for the Cardinals and has four or five run-scoring hits in the series, is the son of Ron Craig, who was a Little League teammate of mine in Santa Ana, CA, way back in the mid-1960s. Indeed, it's a small world, as comedian Stephen Wright used to say, but I wouldn't want to paint it.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 8:56 PM | | Comments (0)
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October 19, 2011

Orioles: Could Koji come back?

kojireuters.jpgRelief pitcher Koji Uehara was one of the most dependable pitchers on the Orioles staff before the deal that sent him and $2 million in cash to the Rangers for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter, but he didn't have the same kind of success in Texas and will not be on the active roster for the World Series.

That's got to be a bummer for Koji and baseball fans in Japan, but it might turn out to be a boon for the Orioles if they have any interest in getting him back for the 2012 season. He and his family like Baltimore and his spot in the bullpen is still open. His 2012 contract option kicked in late in the season, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Rangers would consider sending him back for a modest price to move his salary off the payroll.

Uehara is a better fit here anyway. He is not a great hot weather pitcher, so the prospects for a full season in Arlington aren't very good. The Orioles, on the other hand, settled on the right pitching regimen for him and he was very effective here before the trade.

No matter what happens, Koji's absense from the World Series roster make the Orioles' end of the deal look pretty good. Hunter will to to spring camp as a member of the projected starting rotation and Davis facilitated Mark Reynolds successful move to first base.

Reuters photo

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:54 PM | | Comments (15)
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October 12, 2011

Orioles: Jordan's stock goes up (updated)

It's funny how perceptions can change in a heartbeat. The Orioles remain under legitimate fire from fans and outside observers for their inconsistent player development, and scouting director Joe Jordan has not escaped their wrath. He drafted a lot of good young players, but people tend to point to the clinkers -- like the time the Orioles took Billy Rowell ahead of Tim Lincecum -- when they're venting about the long decline of the organization.

So, if Jordan deserves your scorn, why are the Philadelphia Phillies interested in hiring him as their director of player development? He just interviewed with the Phils and we'll probably hear in the next few days whether he gets offered the job...and accepts.

Instant update: Jordan just confirmed by text message that he has accepted the job with the Phillies. Get Dan Connolly's full story on Joe's departure is right here.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:58 AM | | Comments (4)
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Pitching: Playoffs prove Orioles can't grow it alone

If you haven't picked up the print edition yet, you can still read my latest column on what the Orioles need to do if they are ever to be back in the postseason picture. Here's the link to it at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:57 AM | | Comments (0)
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October 2, 2011

Orioles: Still waiting

We were pretty sure we'd know something official by this point on the status of Andy MacPhail and Buck Showalter, but there has been no announcement following a summit involving the two of them and owner Peter Angelos on Thursday afternoon. It's no secret that MacPhail will give up his current title as president of baseball operations, but whether he walks away completely or remains in some advisory role remains unclear.

If you had asked me on Wednesday, I would have guessed that MacPhail was going to make a clean break and take some time off with his family. The fact that the announcement has not been made makes me wonder if Angelos talked MacPhail into sticking around for awhile as a special advisor to help the transition to a new front office hierarchy.

I'm guessing Angelos would give MacPhail just about any title he wants in the organization (other than co-owner), because he trusts MacPhail and needs somebody with vast front office experience to call on for advice. Though MacPhail seems to want out, it isn't out of the question that Peter might make him an offer he can't refuse.

I realize there are a lot of Orioles fans who want MacPhail to head on down the highway, but he has had a positive effect on the organization, even if it wasn't apparent in the standings during his 4 1/2 years as GM.

If I was to guess, I would think something will be announced tomorrow that clears up the uncertain status of both MacPhail and Showalter.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:28 AM | | Comments (21)
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September 29, 2011

Orioles: The amazing non-race

This is going to sound like damning with faint praise, but I've just watched the most amazing two weeks of non-contending baseball in my several decades of writing about the national pastime.

Of course, maybe I'm just still in a euphoric haze after back-to-back nights when the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays were dueling for the final American League playoff spot and each was riding an emotional roller coaster that didn't stop until midnight.

It wasn't really about the Orioles -- at least, not anywhere else in the baseball world -- but it was here, and they did the almost unthinkable when they reeled off three straight hits against Red Sox super-stopper Jonathan Papelbon with two outs in the ninth inning to push the Sox out of playoff contention.

That wasn't official until a couple of minutes after the O's staged a playoff-caliber on-field celebration, when Evan Longoria completed an even more unlikely come-from-behind victory over the Yankees with a walk-off home run in the 12th inning. The Rays trailed 7-0 in the eighth inning before scoring six times to pull within a run and tying the game in the ninth on a two-out, two-strike homer by Dan Johnson.

The past three days at Camden Yards featured a level of intensity not seen here in the past decade, and it was great fun even if it didn't change the fact that the O's finished last again in the AL East. I guess you take your entertainment where you can get it after 14 straight losing seasons.

"I think that our finish overall is encouraging,'' closer Jim Johnson said, "though I know we did this last year. A day like today just shows you how crazy baseball can be. They absolutely dominated us for a long time, so this is a little justification at the end of the year."

Now, stand by for some news Thursday about the future of the front office.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:01 AM | | Comments (19)
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September 27, 2011

What do Sox have against Matt Wieters?

I'm sure the Red Sox will say it was pure chance that first baseman Adrian Gonzalez bounced a throw off the head of Matt Wieters as the O's catcher was sliding into second base the eighth inning. I'm sure they'll say it was an accident when David Ortiz hit Wieters on the head with his bat in the top of the ninth.

Okay, it was, but I think the Red Sox should stop hitting Matt Wieters on the head.

Don't you agree?

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:21 PM | | Comments (9)
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September 22, 2011

Orioles: The big tease revisited

If you're wondering why the Orioles are suddenly beating up on the best teams in the American League, it isn't all that hard to figure out. Their late-season resurgence is not a replay of last year's miracle rally, which was spurred by new leadership and the physical rebound of some key players, but the backlash from the season-long intensity gap between the AL contenders and it's chief pretender.

Think about it. The Red Sox, Rays and Angels have all been in contention all year and are understandably feeling the effects of late-season fatigue. There are more specific causes, of course, like Boston's recent pitching problems, but that still doesn't account for a series loss to a team that still has a far inferior pitching staff. The Orioles, meanwhile, have no emotional stake in the season any more and are playing with both motivation (to beat the teams that have been beating up on them all year) and abandon (because they have nothing to lose).

Throw in the positive impact of a designated hitter who is suddenly in a late-career contract drive, the terrific second-half production of Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy (something that actually bodes very well for the future) and the sudden emergence of Jim Johnson as the closer of the future instead of the next candidate for the starting rotation, and you've got the recipe for some interesting -- though largely meaningless -- baseball.

Might as well sit back and enjoy it.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:04 AM | | Comments (22)
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September 18, 2011

Orioles: Gammons got this one wrong

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a big fan of Peter Gammons, who I have known for decades, but he got some bad information if he thinks that the Orioles and the Angelos family intentionally stiffed the memorial service that was held in New Hampshire for Mike Flanagan.

Gammons tweeted that "Angelos and his pitiable Orioles were nowhere to be found."

Club officials say they were not invited to the event and I have to believe them when they say they would have been there in a heartbeat to honor one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history. Everyone in the organization -- and the media -- had tremendous regard for Flanagan, who had a big impact on the team on several levels, so there was no reason why the Orioles would not have wanted to be represented at any memorial for him.

There's no word yet on a memorial service in Baltimore, but the club is expected to do something soon after the season.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:58 PM | | Comments (35)
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September 14, 2011

2012 Orioles schedule

Next year's Orioles schedule was released by the team, and you can take a look at it month-by-month by clicking here to view it on Orioles.com. If you're like me, you can't wait for next spring and you're hoping somebody develops a new drug that will erase your short-term baseball memory.

I haven't looked at it yet, but I can tell you this without fear of serious debate. The Orioles are again going to have way too many games against the American League East. Is that a coincidence or what, because it seems to happen every year.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:40 AM | | Comments (6)
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September 12, 2011

Orioles: Battle for Britton

Zach Britton was disappointed in himself. He wanted to send a message to the Tampa Bay Rays that they weren't going to get back into the American League wild card race on his watch, but his command failed him at a couple of pivotal moments in a game that provided little room for error.

“We all know that they’re in the battle for it, they are playing really well,’’ Britton said. “So I actually want to go out them and beat them. You don’t want them to get it on your clock. So I was really disappointed that I didn’t put together a good effort and got us in a hole early and we couldn’t put it together. So it’s just a mixture of walking those guys and, at the same time, you give them chances to score runs, they are going to score runs.”

Britton has ridden the proverbial roller coaster this season, getting off to terrific start and then temporarily pitching his way back to the minor leagues. He recently rebounded with three strong starts against the Twins, Yankees and Rays, but has faltered a bit his last two times out. He gave up four runs on five hits over five innings, a line that was very similar to the one he put up in New York last week.

“It starts and stops with fastball command,’’ manager Buck Showalter said. “That's one of the reasons Tampa is doing a good job with their starters. They have guys with good command of the fastball. Zach didn't have it tonight. Didn't have command. He's just inconsistent with it, like a lot of young pitchers. Hopefully he'll figure it out with the help he's got and will continue to get."

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:57 PM | | Comments (4)
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September 8, 2011

Proof O's aren't going through the motions

If you doubt the Orioles really care at this point, just check out the replay of Nick Markakis leveling Francisco Cervelli at home plate in the seventh inning. Cervelli held the throw and Markakis was out, but it was Cervelli who had trouble getting up.

Pretty sure the Yankees don't appreciate that, since they've got a pennant race to win and the Orioles are playing for pride right now, but I'm guessing that play confirmed everything manager Buck Showalter thought about Markakis.

“It’s a baseball play,'' Showalter said. "He’s sitting there with the ball in front of the plate. People have done the same thing to Matt. It’s a baseball play, a great play. Great relay and great throw from center field. We probably need to a little better job of reading that ball off the bat so it’s not close.

"Let’s keep in mind the challenges of what’s gone on here the last 48 hours. To come out and play a game with that intensity and knowing how much it means to the Yankees, and for our guys to play on the same level of intensity, I’m pretty proud of them. A lot of guys, at 4-1, 3-0, might have had thoughts of getting through customs in Toronto. But our guys have a lot of pride and I’m proud of them.”

Thought there might be some fallout, but there wasn't much, When Matt Wieters struck out to end the inning without the Orioles scoring the tying run, Cervelli fist-pumped his way back to the dugout like it was the World Series.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 3:43 PM | | Comments (14)
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O's: Davis dodges dubious distinction

Chris Davis was asked on Thursday what he was thinking when he went to the plate on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium with a chance to tie an O’s record with six strikeouts in an extra-inning game.

“I was thinking, ‘Don’t strike out,’” Davis said with a smile. “Obviously you don’t want to laugh or make jokes about something like that, but it was just at a point where you just think…what do I have to do? Obviously, we’re in a close game, so it’s one of those things where you just have to keep battling. What else can you do?”

Davis quickly went down 0-2 in the count and everybody was pretty sure that he was going to tie Sam Horn for the O’s dubious single-game strikeout mark. The Yankees fans knew what was going on and were chanting “We want six! We want six!” but he hit a sharp one-hopper to second base to keep his name out of the record book.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:13 PM | | Comments (3)
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September 6, 2011

Like old times

Red Sox postseason hero and former Oriole Curt Schilling stopped by the O's clubhouse before Tuesday night's rainout. He was traded to the Orioles along with Brady Anderson in the July 30, 1988 deal that sent Mike Boddicker to Boston.

Anderson also was in the house, so it was great to see them together. Hard to believe it's been more than 23 years since that deal. Even harder to believe that Anderson still looks pretty much the same as he did then. He and Jim Palmer probably have oil paintings hanging in a closet somewhere getting old.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 7:55 PM | | Comments (9)
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September 4, 2011

Back to baseball

Now that my career as a motorsports writer has grinded to a halt, I'm headed to New York for the three-game series between the Orioles and Yankees, which begins with an afternoon game on Monday.

Once again, we'll all be focused on Brian Matusz, who will be trying to snap a string of five straight starts in which he has surrendered at least six runs. He really needs to put something together soon so that he can go home with some confidence.

Maybe this is the place to do it, since he has pitched very well against the Yankees in the Bronx.

Just a heads up: For the most part, I'll be posting on the Orioles Insider blog over the next few days.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:41 PM | | Comments (8)
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August 31, 2011

O's: The big tease

So, here we are getting ready to head into September and the Orioles suddenly have won eight out of 10 games in a last-ditch attempt to avoid a 100-loss season. What exactly are we to make of this?

Last year, you could be understandably bouyed by the team's big surge after Buck Showalter took the reins, especially with the way the pitching staff seemed to turn the corner. Now, Brian Matusz's impressive 7-1 finish seems like a long, long time ago and there isn't a lot of excitement to be derived from the upcoming roster September roster expansion.

This time, it feels a lot like my golf game, and I know a lot of you out there can identify with this comparison:

I always get off to a good start for a couple of holes, then collapse and abandon all hope of a presentable score and vow never to return to a golf course again unless there's a free meal in it for me. Than, just went I'm almost at peace with my decision to give my golf clubs to the Salvation Army Thrift Store and vow to spend my free afternoons sipping tea and enjoying meaningful conversations with my wonderful wife, I hit a couple of terrific shots on 18 and suddenly think I've finally figured something out.

Doesn't that sound like the O's the past couple of years, except the part where I used the word "meaningful." Just when you think you're out, they drag you back in.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:07 PM | | Comments (40)
Categories: Just baseball
        

August 30, 2011

Orioles: Simon's stock rises

Shockingly, I'm no longer hearing any second-guessing about the Orioles' decision to pull out of the A.J. Burnett auction a few years ago. The book on the guy was that he was erratic and undependable and the book has proven to be gospel.

Funny how things sometimes turn out. Alfredo Simon also has been erratic and undependable the past couple of years -- on a couple of levels -- but he seems to be on the rise as Burnett comes unglued in New York.

In his 10 starts this year, he has pitched through five innings eight times and has a very respectable 3.86 ERA. Who knows what kind of opportunity he would have been afforded at the very start of the season, so it's strangely fortuitous for him that he showed up after the starting rotation began to disintegrate. The circumstances that led to that eventuality are sad and troubling, but Simon has emerged as a seemingly legit candidate to win a place in next year's rotation.

This is a gratuitous comparison that really means nothing, but while Simon has put up solid numbers in his 10 starts (dating back to July 9), Burnett has been awful. He's 1-5 with a 7.79 ERA in his last 10 starts, but he'll get at least one more chance to hold his place in the Yankees rotation on Thursday night.

If he pitches well, he might have to throw some credit to Orioles Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, who recently counseled him to take some pressure off himself.

“He told me to relax,'' Burnett told the New York Post. "He said in the past I looked more relaxed. He said to check my finger pressure because if the grip on the ball is tight, you aren’t as smooth. He also talked about breathing techniques, trying to hear your heartbeat. He said to relax and have fun.”

We'll find out soon enough. His likely start after the big Red Sox series -- if he's still in Joe Girardi's rotation, would be against the Orioles next week at Yankee Stadium.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:37 PM | | Comments (17)
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August 27, 2011

Orioles: Reynolds' rap

Everybody knew what the Orioles were getting when Andy MacPhail traded for third baseman Mark Reynolds. The guy can hammer a baseball with the best of them and also provide enough wind power to light the stadium. He's a mixed bag, but I don't see how anyone can question the deal that sent David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio to the Arizona Diamondbacks to acquire him and minor league catcher John Hester.

reynoldsreuters.jpgI realize that Hernandez has found his niche in the Arizona bullpen and is having a terrific season. He's 3-2 with a sparkling 2.67 ERA in 61 games. Yes, if he were pitching like that here he would be a huge asset to a team with some serious relief issues. But it's a lot harder to find 30-homer guys -- even 30 homer guys with major contact issues -- than good middle relievers.

There's going to be a lot of talk over the next couple of months about the legacy of Andy MacPhail, and that's fair enough. The Orioles have stumbled again and fans are as discouraged as they have ever been. But MacPhail's four major trades -- dumping Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard early in his tenure and acquiring Reynolds and J.J. Hardy last winter -- are pretty much beyond reproach.

Reynolds isn't a perfect player, but he has 30 home runs with five weeks left of his first season in the pitching-rich American League East. He has also improved his batting average over last year and cut down on his strikeouts, though he'll still probably whiff about 180 times.

It'll be interesting to see if he can take another step forward in 2012 after a year of familiarizing himself with American League pitching. Remember, the guy is only 28 years old and he has more home runs over the past three years than everybody except Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira and Prince Fielder. Not bad company.

Reuters photo

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:10 AM | | Comments (43)
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August 21, 2011

Orioles: Let me count the ways

I'll be sitting in front of the television today when the Orioles face the Angels in the series finale from Anaheim, just to see what new form of torture awaits their fans. Last night's 12th-inning collapse wasn't anything we haven't seen before, but it was a devastating loss made even more painful (for the fans) because it was on the west coast and ended in the wee hours of the morning on the east coast.

Manager Buck Showalter tried to put the best face on it afterward, but you just can't dress up a pig like that. Frankly, I don't know why Buck isn't hitch-hiking back to Bristol to beg for his ESPN gig back.

20861240d6af56662b1bcf74d54d9c00-getty-121614952.jpgThe amazing thing about the Orioles -- from my jaundiced perspective -- is this: It seems like every year, somebody asks me if this is the worst Orioles season since I moved to Baltimore...or if I've ever seen so much bad baseball in a confined time frame. Last year, I was unequivocal when those questions were thrown at me in midseason. The first 100 games of 2010 was the worst stretch I had witnessed up close in my three decades or so of baseball coverage.

Now, I've got to rethink that. This Orioles team isn't playing as ugly as the one that Showalter took over last August, but when you factor in all the circumstances attending to this season, I think this is the most painful season yet.

Why? Let me count the ways.

1. I stubbornly refused to believe that last year's team would lose 100 games, even though it was headed hard in that direction until Buck showed up. Losing 100 is very hard to do, but I now believe this team will accomplish that dubious feat.

2. On paper, this team is better than last year's team -- by a wide margin. That makes it even more discouraging to watch this mess.

3. I now believe there is an Orioles curse. I guess the AL East has to have a curse going at all times and -- once the Red Sox ended the 86-year "Curse of the Bambino" and the Tampa Bay Rays got to the World Series -- where else were the cruel baseball gods going to turn?

4. It has reached the point where I now watch every game with the same sense of anticipation, apprehension and morbid curiosity that I feel just before I pass a particularly nasty accident on I-95.

5. This was the supposed turnaround year in the Andy MacPhail rebuilding project. Nobody expected the Orioles to go to the playoffs, but there were actually some modest expectations, which only makes it all the more painful for the fans who still believed.

6. They have taken losing to a new level. No longer content to just get their keisters kicked all over the ballparks of America, the Orioles have begun a daily dance during which they tease you with a late comeback or an exciting home run or -- in rare cases -- a good performance from the starting rotation. Then they "Godfather" you and pull you back into their swirling downspout of doom.

7. Yes, I have finally been reduced to using the phrase "swirling downspout of doom." Managed to avoid that for about 31 seasons.

8. I can no longer suspend my disbelief and come up with ludicrous year-out scenarios in which the Orioles (a) grow into contention; (b) open the vault and sign enough real free agent talent to compete; or (c) get to the All-Star break with three of their original starters still healthy.

9. Koji Uehara was not only one of the most effective pitchers on the team before he was traded to the Rangers, he was also one of the healthiest.

10. I now believe I will win the Power Ball jackpot before the Orioles reach the playoffs. I realize that the odds of picking all five regular numbers and the Power Ball correctly are 1 in 195 million, yet I still feel more optimistic when I pick up my bi-weekly Quick Pick than when I watch an O's game.

Bonus reason: Could have sworn I saw Jim Hunter in the "A" lot last week trying to scratch the "I (heart) the O's" sticker off his bumper.

Instant update: First pitch is at 3:35.

Postgame update: Though the O's could not match Saturday night's frustration, they exceeded it in futility with one of their worst defensive performances in a long time. The beat, apparently, goes on.

Getty Images

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:55 AM | | Comments (73)
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August 17, 2011

O's: Why Matusz still matters

If you just look at the pitching line, it's hard to get too excited about Brian Matusz's return engagement on Tuesday night in Oakland. He gave up six runs on eight hits and took another loss, which may seem consistent with what he was doing when he was sent back to the minor leagues.

Obviously, time will tell, but there were signs of improvement last night. He threw more than 100 pitches, went fairly deep into the game and seemed to have pretty good command of his fastball. His breaking stuff was crisp for much of the evening, though he got hurt deep on a couple of occasions when he missed with his changeup.

He was a little unlucky, too. Several of those eight hits were soft flies that barely cleared the infield.

His velocity is up modestly. There were some 91-mph fastballs, according to the radar reading that posts in the MASN scorebox. That's a step forward. He still has a couple miles to go to get back to where he was at his best, but the progress is the thing. He clearly has gotten stronger during his minor league exile.

Does that mean he'll come back next spring throwing 94 and pitching the way he did the final two months of 2010? That's a lot to ask, but Tuesday night's performance did not dash the hope that he find himself and claim a regular place in the 2012 rotation.

The Orioles need a lot of good things to happen for this pitching staff to rise from the ashes of the past few months. Getting Matusz back to where he once belonged would be a big step in that direction.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:00 AM | | Comments (11)
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August 16, 2011

O's: Why Matusz matters

Tonight's game against the Oakland A's certainly doesn't mean much in the greater context of the American League pennant chase, but it still could be a watershed game for the Orioles organization.

The successful return of Brian Matusz would provide a big late-season boost and dampen some of the fatalism that surrounds this pitching staff, though it will still be hard to get excited about the 2012 season without some pitching upgrades this winter.

Matusz has taken his minor league assignment seriously and returns on a bit of a roll, but that won't mean anything if he gets bounced around by the A's and Twins on this road trip. His velocity has improved, but he's still topping out about three MPH below his best fastball. Hopefully, he'll continue to get stronger, because he remains one of the cornerstones of the Orioles pitching youth movement.

Andy MacPhail has added some depth with the acquisition of Tommy Hunter and JoJo Reyes, but the future is still built around Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton. Every one of them has a cloud over his head right now, but all of them should be ready to start fresh next spring. Orioles fans can only hope that means better days are ahead, but they've got a right to be very skeptical.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:16 AM | | Comments (19)
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August 11, 2011

Tough choice

Which figures to be more interesting -- the first Ravens preseason game of 2011 or the series finale between the Orioles and Chicago White Sox. If I'm voting with my feet, I guess I've already picked the O's.

How can that be?

Well, the first of four preseason games generally features the frontline offensive players for about two possessions. If you want to see the new fullback, for instance, try not to blink.

The Orioles aren't playing for anything, but there's still some intrigue tonight. I'm here to see if Chris Tillman can continue to move in the right direction. He's coming off one of his best efforts of the season and is displaying the velocity that made him one of the top pitching prospects in baseball when the Orioles acquired him from the Seattle Mariners.

I guess you might also be wondering if there's going to be any fallout from the chirping between Adam Jones and White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, but manager Buck Showalter didn't seem too concerned.

"Whatevber he did with Jonesy last night,'' Showalter said, "I hope he does it again."

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 5:09 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Just baseball, Just football
        

August 1, 2011

Orioles: Someday, our Prince won't come

I'm going to jump into the conversation about the Orioles' moves over the weekend with heavily mixed feelings. I'll give Andy MacPhail props for getting a decent return for Koji Uehara and moving Derrek Lee, but I have some serious reservations about where that leaves the organization.

The acquisition of a major-league-ready-but-unproven first baseman and a minor league first base prospect should send a message to fans that the Orioles will not be very interested in Prince Fielder this winter.

Obviously, there's no comparison between Chris Davis and Fielder, but the fact that the Orioles have shored up their organizational depth at first base will make it impossible -- in my opinion -- to convince Peter Angelos to spend more than $100 million to bring in another one, even if Fielder has left open the possibility of moving into a full-time designated hitter role.

It's not my money, and even I wouldn't pay that much for a DH who's weight issues probably would get worse if he isn't on the field every day. The message seems to have been sent that the Orioles are now set at first and will look to fill needs elsewhere.

Perhaps the Orioles finally recognize that they will have to buy some arms instead of some bats, but this is going to be a very tough winter to find anybody who will really solidify the starting rotation. Maybe that's why Jeremy Guthrie is still here.

Though I felt that the Orioles should try to deal Jeremy for his own good, I'll defer to MacPhail on the value he required to make a deal. There's no doubt Guthrie has the potential to have a breakout season in 2012, so the Orioles had to get pitching in return to forego that possibility.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:24 AM | | Comments (97)
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July 30, 2011

O's: Tillman's troubles

Chris Tillman's start this afternoon began with such promise. He struck out four of the first six batters he faced and seemed to have a little more pop than the last time we saw him up in the majors. Then he allowed eight hits over the next 2 1/3 innings and left the game with one out in the fifth.

It was a tough assignment, of course, getting called up from Triple-A (where he's been pitching okay) to make a spot start against the Yankees, but Tillman was once considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, and not just by the Orioles scouting staff. It's just not happening.

That said, he's still quite young and I'm still of the opinion that the deal that brought him along with Adam Jones and George Sherrill for Erik Bedard was a great trade.

Now, for the second act of the Orioles minor league shuffle. Zach Britton takes the mound momentarily for the night portion of the day-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. I'm going to predict that he does better.

Update: Can't remember making a worse prediction than this. I'm going to go back to watching and waiting.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 6:44 PM | | Comments (25)
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July 24, 2011

Orioles: Timing is everything

While I pass along the link to today's column on the Orioles pitching issues, I think it's only fair to explain why I'm dissing the starting rotation after a rare string of four solid starts. Part of it a matter of pure logistics -- I'm out of town for the weekend and the column was written before Alfredo Simon and Brad Bergesen pitched very well against the Angels -- but the fact that the O's pitched better for a few days doesn't really change anything.

It was great to see Bergesen shut down a pretty good Angels lineup on Saturday, which hopefullly will be a sign of things to come. If he can build a string of consistent performances, Bergesen could help the Orioles stablize the rotation and be much more competition down the stretch.

But the basic premise of the column is tough to dispute. The Orioles, who have drafted very high for a decade, still have serious depth issues and need to "buy" some arms to fill the void left by the slow progress of Chris Tillman and recent setbacks that have pushed Brian Matusz and Zach Britton back to the minor leagues.

There's hope that Matusz will regain his arm strength and the Orioles will be bringing Britton back soon, but the condition of the rotation in June and early July proved that the Orioles are not going to become a contender any time soon without spending some real money to upgrade their pitching. Teams in similar markets find a way to do that, and the O's will have to do the same if they are ever to be competitive in the AL East.

Unfortunately, even if they wanted to do that right now, there aren't a lot of trade options out there and the upcoming crop of free agent starters is pretty thin.

Glad I could cheer everyone up this morning.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:43 AM | | Comments (13)
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July 21, 2011

Orioles: Trading cards

The July 31 trading deadline is 10 days away and we're getting to the point where trade speculation will be flying fast and furious. Wouldn't surprise me a bit if the Orioles traded Koji Uehara, who has stepped up this year as a very dependable set-up guy who can close if needed.

He should have some real value because the O's hold an option on his contract for 2012, so a team would also hold the rights to him for next season at a reasonable price.

I'll leave it to Buck Showalter and Andy MacPhail to decide what they want to do with Jim Johnson. He also would be a very valuable trade chip either at midseason or this coming winter, but I like the idea of giving J.J. a few starts in September to see if he can settle into the rotation. That would certainly help the team as it tries to get out of its current pitching crisis.

Even if he were to do enough to win a place in the projected rotation, however, I still think the Orioles need to acquire more pitching, since the guys out of their own garden has not been very productive lately.

I'll weigh in more on that in my Sunday column.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 2:46 PM | | Comments (39)
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July 19, 2011

Fernandomania: I wax nostalgic

The Dodgers announced that they will celebrate the 30th anniversary of "Fernandomania" with two events next week. The team will honor Valenzuela for his magical 1981 season on "Viva Los Angeles Day" at Dodger Stadium and give away commemorative "Fernandomania" bobbleheads next Tuesday night.

Really, it's been 30 years? Really?

Of course I wax nostalgic, because that was my first year covering the Dodgers and Valenzuela's performance was otherworldly. He pitched a shutout on Opening Day after filling in for injured veteran Jerry Reuss and went on to win his first eight starts -- five of them shutouts. Combined with his performance of the previous September, he was 10-0 with an 0.40 ERA in his first 90 innings in the major leagues. Simply amazing.

What people don't remember was how good of a hitter he was. He also helped his own cause during that early run with some big run-scoring hits. Every start was a party, with mariachi bands playing in the parking lots and the stands full of delirious Mexican-American baseball fans.

Here are some Fernando facts from today's Dodgers news release:

fernandodennisedgarreuters.jpg -- Since 1945, Valenzuela is the only player in the Major Leagues to win his first eight career starts.

-- In his first 90 innings with the Dodgers from September 1980 through May 14, 1981, Valenzuela posted a 10-0 record and 0.40 ERA.

-- At home, once fans knew Valenzuela’s next start date, the former Stadium Way box office would sell out that game within 24 hours. In 1981, on a game where Valenzuela was not pitching average attendance was 35,000-40,000, while his starts saw an attendance of more than 50,000.

-- On the road, Valenzuela’s starts would also sell out. In anticipation of a May 1981 roadtrip to New York, the Mets built two extra ticket booths near the subway entrances to accommodate the anticipated rush of fans. The crowd of 39,848 was the Mets' largest of the season, they had been averaging 11,358.

-- Also on the road, the Dodgers’ PR department had to set new media guidelines due to the overwhelming media attention Valenzuela garnered. One press conference was scheduled on Valenzuela's first day in each city on the road and another after he pitched.

-- Valenzuela’s starts also affected television ratings. His May 3, 1981 start at Montreal drew a 19.6 Nielsen rating and 59 share in Los Angeles, an estimated 1.2 million adults watching at home. By comparison, the Game 7 Boston-Philadelphia NBA Eastern Conference final that night drew a 3.6 rating and 10 share.

-- Valenzuela remains the only player in baseball history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards in the same season.

-- Valenzuela became the first rookie pitcher to lead the league in strikeouts since Herb Score of the 1955 Cleveland Indians.

-- Early in the 1981 season, reporters called 76-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell, the former New York Giants lefty known for his screwball pitch. “The first time I saw Fernando, I knew he was a natural,” Hubbell said. “His delivery is just about perfect.”

-- In early May 1981, Valenzuela was invited to appear on the national television program “Good Morning America” even though he did not speak English.

-- Exactly two months after his Opening Day (4/9/81) shutout in his first Major League start, Valenzuela traveled to the White House in Washington and attended a luncheon hosted by President Ronald Reagan for Mexico’s President José López Portillo.

In the accompanying photo, former Orioles star Dennis Martinez, Valenzuela and Seattle Mariners star Edgar Martinez hold up their trophies after being inducted in the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year

Reuters file photo

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 6:13 PM | | Comments (7)
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July 17, 2011

My take: Looking at the horizon

Got so caught up in the fantastic World Cup final today that I forgot to post my Sunday column here. Like a lot of you, I've been hearing whispers about possible changes in the Orioles front office, so I thought I'd try to attach some insight based on conversations with the principals and other stuff I've heard around the ballpark.

Read it right here and let me know what your think.

Good to see Cowherd back in action. He's got an interesting column up on the Web site right now about the start of another series against the Red Sox tomorrow night. Check it out, too.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:29 PM | | Comments (4)
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July 16, 2011

O's: Now, this is really the Pitts

Once again, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I was feeling merciful today and thought I'd sit down first thing in the morning and point out on this blog that the Orioles -- for all their deficiencies -- deserved a tiny bit of slack because they might be playing the toughest schedule in the major leagues.

They might, when you consider that they played the Cardinals, Reds and 52-win Braves in interleague play, and the supposedly easy interleague teams are a lot tougher than usual this year. That, combined with the perennially torturous AL East slate, certainly puts them right near the top of the sport in degree of schedule difficulty.

I was going to do that just to be nice, but when I woke up this morning, I realized that the Pittsburgh Pirates were tied for first place in the National League Central. That pretty much did it for me.

The Pirates were one of the last remaining teams that Orioles fans could look at and say "Well, at least we're not them." Now, all we've got left are the Kansas City Royals. I know the Astros are the worst team in baseball this year, but they've had a winning record in 11 of their last 15 seasons, so they don't count.

This is enough to make me go out and drink a case of Iron City beer.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:46 AM | | Comments (31)
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July 14, 2011

O's: Four days for that?

I'm trying to make sense of the suspensions announced by MLB for series of purpose-pitch skirmishes in Boston over the weekend. This kind of thing is usually pretty routine, but I raised an eyebrow at the fact that Kevin Gregg received the same four-game suspension as David Ortiz.

Not to let Gregg off the hook for knocking Ortiz off the plate, but he didn't ever hit Ortiz with a pitch and he wasn't the one who charged the mound and started the brief melee. He did yell at Ortiz for swinging at a 3-0 pitch in a blowout game, but that happens all the time in baseball. It appears that he was punished heavily because Ortiz took offense. If you watch the replay of the confrontation, Gregg gave Ortiz a shoulder to stop his charge and dodged a haymaker before taking an ineffective swing back.

I don't see where that rates an equal suspension, but I guess the fact that they were the two main combatants -- and perhaps the recognition that four days for Gregg may only cause him to miss one or two appearances -- creates a somewhat logical framework for that decision.

The only other multi-game suspension was assessed against Michael Gonzalez for throwing behind Ortiz, and that one is hard to argue. Several other players were fined for their roles in the bench-clearing incident.

We're still waiting to find out why Buck Showalter was suspended and -- apparently -- Terry Francona was not. I always thought that when the manager gets an automatic ejection after both benches have been warned that it came with a one-game suspension. Dan Connolly is trying to run that down and will have an update on Orioles Insider.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 4:42 PM | | Comments (10)
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July 13, 2011

My take: Orioles running out of excuses

Maybe I got up on the wrong side of the bed, but I've finally grown tired of all the reasons why the Orioles can't compete when teams of lesser economic circumstance (the Tampa Bay Rays are the best example) find ways to build minor league depth and compete at the major league level.

If you want to hear me rant some more on the subject, you can check out my column for the upcoming print edition -- as well as a video in which I try to articulate the concept further -- right here.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:42 AM | | Comments (23)
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Midseason Classic?

Can't say that was the most entertaining All-Star Game I've ever watched, but at least future Oriole Prince Fielder had a big night. The thing that stood out for me was the number of very good and very bad defensive plays.

Jose Bautista's catch was a true Web Gem. Matt Wieters' passed ball wasn't pretty, but I'm fairly sure he got crossed up, since he went to the wrong knee on the pitch and couldn't cross over to reach the ball. Oh well, I'm sure he had a great time anyway and he'll have a lot more chances to make a big All-Star impression.

Here's a prediction: The Phillies will win the World Series because they sent their best starters to this game while C.C. Sabathia and several other top A.L. pitchers did not post. There's probably a lesson in there somewhere, but it just reminds me that the sports' championship series should not be impacted by the sport's highly commercialized midseason exhibition game.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:34 AM | | Comments (5)
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July 9, 2011

"It's not a tea party"

The headline refers to something that former American League president Dr. Bobby Brown said to me once to explain his lack of concern for a minor beanball incident back in the day. The attitude toward aggressive pitching has changed over the years, but it was refreshing to see Kevin Gregg take an old-school attitude to the mound on Friday night.

Mind you, I wouldn't have been in his corner if he had thrown a headball at David Ortiz. That would have been bush league and nobody should be out there trying to hurt an opposing player. But he has a right to pitch inside and Ortiz has a right to swing 3-0 in a six-run game and they both have a right to get mad at each other.

Ortiz probably should have been smart enough to restrain himself, because the Red Sox have way more to lose when he gets suspended for charging the mound. He's having a great season and they are in first place, so a suspension could cost the Sox an important game in the standings. Gregg will probably get a day off, but he's a closer on a losing team who has only about a 40 percent chance of playing in any given game anyway.

Anyway, their little shoving match added some entertainment value to an otherwise uninspiring evening and will add some suspense to tonight's game. Who knows what Alfredo Simon and John Lackey are going to do with all that pent-up emotion from last night.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 3:11 PM | | Comments (13)
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July 7, 2011

The usual script

Maybe I'm the one providing the negative energy during the game and it's going right through the television and depressing the ballclub, because I already knew what was going to happen after the Orioles started tonight's game with three straight singles. Adam Jones had just squeezed Red Sox starter Andrew Miller for an eight-pitch at-bat that ended with a run-scoring single when Vladimir Guerrero came up and grounded the very next pitch into a double play.

The second run of the inning scored off that terrible, selfish, not-a-clue-what's-going-on-in-the-game at-bat, but I don't care. Miller was trying to implode and Guerrero bailed him out, like he has done over and over the past couple of months. Then it became a matter of just waiting for the roof to fall in, which was facilitated by Jake Arrieta's wild third inning and the usual array of misfortune that always follows.

Please disregard my previous blog entry. When is this horror movie going to end?

Total Mid-Atlantic Meltdown: While the Orioles pitching staff was giving up six home runs in Boston, the Nationals were busy blowing an 8-0 lead against the Cubs at Nationals Park. The Cubs just took the lead in the top of the eighth on an RBI single by Aramis Ramirez. Amazing.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:27 PM | | Comments (19)
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Orioles: Weekend warriors?

The shroud of fatalism has settled over the Orioles the past couple of weeks has gotten almost suffocating, but everybody who has spent any time watching baseball knows that momentum can shift at any time. The Orioles have been streaky during the first half of this season, so it's fair to assume that they'll have another good streak before too long.

Will it start in Boston? There's no logical reason to think so, but this team has defied any attempt to figure out why it does anything. The O's pitched pretty well during the early weeks of the season, but didn't score a lot of runs. They got the offense in gear for a while in June, but stopped pitching effectively. Even the individual players have been enigmatic -- most notably Mark Reynolds, who has 20 home runs and 20 errors entering the four-game series that starts tonight at Fenway Park.

The pitching staff has struggled badly over the past nine games. The starting rotation has an 8-plus ERA and manager Buck Showalter has had to plug holes in it with Triple-A callups Chris Jakubauskas and Mitch Atkins. The hitters have been absolutely pitiful with runners in scoring position.

Things look so bad that Rick Dempsey just said on the pregame show that tonight is probably the Orioles' best chance to win one more game before the All-Star break, and Rick's a pretty positive guy.

I'm not quite so certain that the O's are overmatched. I think they'll at least split this series, because the Red Sox are having pitching problems of their own and -- though there is no logical basis for this -- the pendulum has to swing back at some point. It always does.

Once again, I'm looking for Nolan Reimold to continue to make a case for more playing time. This is his opportunity to make some kind of statement with Luke Scott on the disabled list. I think he knows that and isn't going to pass it up.

First pitch awaits.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 6:38 PM | | Comments (12)
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July 5, 2011

My take: Sign Hardy, keep Reynolds

I don't know if the Orioles are seriously considering trading either J.J. Hardy or Mark Reynolds at the July 31 waiver deadline, but I just threw up a column warning the Orioles that I -- and Orioles fans -- would prefer that they keep both players and continue to improve the veteran talent of the club.

If you want to take a look before the print edition comes out tomorrow, you can read it right here.

Thanks in advance.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:46 PM | | Comments (27)
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Orioles start new Atkins diet

Mitch Atkins is scheduled to take the mound in a few hours against the Texas Rangers in the most homer-friendly ballpark in the major leagues this year -- an eventuality that probably doesn't fill you to the brim with confidence heading into the second game of the series.

Can't blame anybody for being fatalistic, but Atkins will have unfamiliarity on his side, so he might be able to sneak through that lineup once or twice. Does anybody remember when Chris Waters made his major league debut against the Angels under similar circumstances in 2008 and gave up just one hit over eight innings?

Does anybody remember -- without looking it up -- who got the only hit off him?

I realize that Atkins will not be making his major league debut. He had a few relief appearances in the National League. But that doesn't change my point, which is that an unfamiliar pitcher with poise can be dangerous.

I'm not going to make any predictions tonight, though I have a good feeling about Nolan Reimold, who is in the starting lineup for the second straight night and should match up well against hard-luck left-hander Matt Harrison.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 5:37 PM | | Comments (5)
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July 3, 2011

O's: For better and worse

If you haven't read my column in today's print edition, you can read it right here, but I have to explain something.

In the interest of advance planning for the holiday weekend, I wrote the column a couple of days early, and it's amazing how much has changed since then. It wasn't a positive column to begin with, but the Orioles were only a couple of days removed from winning that series over the Cincinnati Reds. Suddenly, their in the throes of a five-game losing streak and the rest of the division stopped cooperating a few weeks ago. They have fallen 14 1/2 games out of first place and are now 10 games under .500.

The point of my column remains the same. They are vastly improved over last year if all you look at is their won-loss record, but that doesn't mean they are one day closer to being a playoff contender. It's a pretty discouraging picture.

I will say this in their favor. Mark Reynolds, who was the subject of some serious bashing here because of his high error total, has delivered exactly what the Orioles hoped for when they acquired him. He's on pace to hit 35 home runs and strike out a lot less than last year. J.J. Hardy has been terrific and should be re-signed for the next two or three years before he realizes how much money he'll get as a free agent if he keeps playing like this. And the Orioles still have a nucleus of talented young players -- particularly Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and (we can only hope) Brian Matusz. I'd throw Nolan Reimold in there if he ever got to play.

I'd like to see Buck Showalter move Reynolds into the cleanup spot and -- like everyone else -- I'd like to see how this team would play if a healthy Brian Roberts were at the top of the lineup. Hardy has done a fine job there, but it would certainly be nice to have both of them.

Sadly, it's going to take a lot of good things to happen for the O's to rebound in the second half and finish above .500, and good things don't exactly follow this team around. Last night's game was another example of that.

They played good, exciting baseball for eight of nine innings, but Luke Scott's miss in the outfield and Arrieta's poor command during two crucial at-bats were all it took to cost them another on a long lists of games they should have won this year.

So, I'm going to try to cheer you up by guaranteeing that the Orioles will win the finale of the three-game series at Turner Field today. I don't do that very often, but -- even if you don't eat your pre-game meal at McDonald's -- you deserve a break today.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:42 AM | | Comments (30)
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July 2, 2011

O's: Apocalypse now?

The Orioles dropped nine games under .500 last night and 13 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East. Does that mean they are "hopelessly" out of contention?

Not in the wild card era, because it's early July and a run like they had in August and September last year (with a lesser team) would put them in range of the extra playoff berth. But don't construe that little bit of mathematical logic as an argument that they are going to pick themselves up off the mat again this year and make a run at respectability.

It looks to me like they are falling off the competitive cliff as we speak. I realize that they faced the best pitcher in the National League last night, but Jair Jurrjens isn't the only guy who has overmatched them lately. The offense just refuses to click on the most basic level and the pitching is deteriorating rapidly. This is where organizational depth comes into play...if you have any.

This is an ugly picture that is about to get uglier. I'm usually the most positive guy in the room, but the Rangers and Red Sox are waiting in the wings and the Orioles -- barring some unforseen change in aptitude and attitude -- will not have an answer for them.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:33 AM | | Comments (55)
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June 30, 2011

Matusz: Time to regroup

Brian Matusz did his best to put on a positive face after he got the news that he was being sent to Triple-A Norfolk to work back into shape, but the hurt was written all over his face. This has been a terribly frustrating time for a young man who was 7-1 with a sub-.2.00 ERA during the final months of last season and looked like he was ready to own the No. 2 slot in the Orioles rotation.

"It's going to be tough,'' he said. "I'm not getting it done up here. It's not fair to the team. I need to get down there, work with Mike Griffin and get back where I was before."

There continues to be questions about Matusz's health, but he made it crystal clear that he is "100 percent healthy." Manager Buck Showalter would not guarantee that Matusz is 100 percent, but he said a DL assignment was not discussed when he met with Matusz after the game.

"I'm not going to smugly say he's not (hurt),'' Showalter said. "I can only go on what he tells me."

Matusz said he believes that his mechanics are fine and that he needs to get down to Norfolk and rebuild his arm strength, put on some muscle and improve his overall conditioning. Brady Anderson has been working with him and said he will head down to Norfolk in a few days.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:40 PM | | Comments (15)
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O's: Reim time

Nolan Reimold made good on my Orioles Xtra prediction tonight that he would hit a home run against Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia. It's a gift, but it doesn't seem to help me at the craps table.

I'd like to see Reimold start getting some regular playing time. He swung the bat pretty good a couple of years ago before he cut the season short to undergo surgery to repair a damaged Achilles tendon. He never really got untracked last year -- for a variety of reasons -- and was the odd guy out this year after a decent spring.

He didn't respond after he was optioned to Norfolk, but he has had some very good at-bats in his limited role up here. The Orioles owe it to themselves to find out whether he can be an everyday player, because he definitely has major league power.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:07 PM | | Comments (15)
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June 29, 2011

Orioles: Time to move Guerrero out of cleanup spot

The headline says above says it all, but I articulate the concept a lot better in my column on the current struggles of Vladimir Guerrero, which you can read right now, right here on the Web site.

I suggest you waste no time checking it out, because I'm pretty sure I've thrown a reverse jinx on Guerrero, who will now hit at least two home runs tonight against the Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter to make the column look inappropriate and out of place in tomorrow's print edition.

Actually, I hope he does.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 6:04 PM | | Comments (10)
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June 28, 2011

Lots about Lance Berkman

If you haven't already, make sure you read Dan Connolly's story about Chris Jakubauskas and Lance Berkman. It's a great account of the Berkman line drive that nearly ended Jak's career, with both players weighing in on how the incident affected them. Check it out right here.

Now I can tell my favorite Berkman story, which is a lot more fun:

lanceberkmanap.jpgBack when I was The Sun's national baseball writer and Berkman was just breaking out as a big-time power hitter with the Houston Astros, one of my favorite editors (Ray Frager) thought it would be a great idea if I met the Astros in Florida and did a story on how he might turn out to be the greatest Jewish power hitter since Hank Greenberg. So I headed down to Joe Robbie Stadium -- or whatever they called it then -- and found then-Astros PR guy Warren Miller to set me up with an interview.

He thought it was pretty interesting that somebody would come from Baltimore to see Berkman, who has no Mid-Atlantic connections, so he asked me what my angle was going to be. When I told him, he laughed and ruined my day.

"That would be a great angle if Lance were Jewish,'' he said.

Well, I felt about three inches tall, and began to shrink further when Warren yelled across the clubhouse to Berkman.

"Hey Lance,'' he said. "I've got another writer here who thinks you're Jewish."

Berkman looked up and smiled, so I went over to talk to him, figuring I'd just do a standard feature on one of baseball's up-and-coming stars.

"So I'm not the first guy to make that mistake,'' I said.

"No," he replied, "but don't feel bad. You are the first guy who ever flew 1,000 miles to do it."

How could you not like that guy? I've been a fan ever since.

Associated Press photo

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:57 AM | | Comments (15)
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June 26, 2011

Orioles: Swinging back

The Orioles have spent much of the first half underachieving at the plate, but they are above the midline in the American League hitting ranks in several important departments. They rank sixth in team average (.259), sluggling percentage (.399) and home runs (77), but that's not reflected in their overall performance, because they rank only 10th in runs scored and next to last in team ERA and home runs allowed.

Hate to say it, but in a lot of cases, it comes down to situational hitting. They had a chance to make a move on Saturday night trailing 6-4 when Bronson Arroyo walked Adam Jones to put runners on first and second with one out, but Vladimir Guerrero fished for the very next pitch and made two very quick and deflating outs. That's Vlad, of course. He's been a free swinger his whole career, but he isn't producing right now at a level that allows him to be a real offensive asset with that approach.

Of course, it's not just Guerrero. Several of the Orioles' top hitters have let their aggressiveness get the best of the team, but it's a lot easier to take the good with the bad when Adam Jones is on pace for 28 home runs and 99 RBI.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:40 PM | | Comments (12)
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Matusz keeping his chin up

Though it's good to see Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz trying to stay positive as he tries to rebuild his velocity and command after a series of physical setbacks, but he's got to be very frustrated. This was supposed to be his breakout season, after he stepped up at the end of 2010 to go 7-1 in August and September.

Everyone in the organization is hoping against hope that he simply lost some arm strengh because his spring training was interrupted by a wart on his pitching hand and he was forced out of the rotation at the start of the season by a rib cage strain. The plan, according to manager Buck Showalter is to let him continue to work his way back into shape at the major league level, but I'm not sure that's a great idea. The last thing Matusz needs right now is to get banged around by the string of good-hitting teams that lies ahead on the Orioles schedule.

Matusz is a confident kid, but I'd hate to see that confidence get chipped away while he's not at his physical best.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:05 AM | | Comments (9)
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June 25, 2011

Orioles: Vision quest

Both Matt Wieters and rookie Blake Davis were intrigued by the report that an optometrist had backed up Texas Rangers star Josh Hamilton's contention that blue-eyed hitters have more trouble hitting in the daytime than at night.

Wieters is blue-eyed and Davis -- interestingly enough -- has one blue eye and one brown eye.

"So he should hit exactly the same in both day and night games,'' Wieters said.

Davis does not have a track record, but Wieters does hit better at night than in the day. His numbers aren't dramatically different, but his average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage are all higher -- the difference most noticeable in his strikeout/walk ratio and his slugging percentage.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:23 PM | | Comments (6)
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June 24, 2011

My take: Riggleman's folly

My latest "News Item" column is up on the Web site. I weigh in on the Nationals strange managerial situation, the Orioles recent travails and a variety of other subjects from the last week. You can read it right here, right now or wait for tomorrow's print edition.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:01 PM | | Comments (9)
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Orioles squeeze Volquez

Since I've spent a lot of time ripping the Orioles for their lack of patience at the plate, I've got to give them a shout out for squeezing the heck out of Reds starting pitcher Edison Volquez in the first and second innings.

If you need numerical proof, Volquez had thrown 49 pitches before he got his second out of the second inning.

That didn't stop the Orioles from adding another wasted opportunity to their vast collection this year. After Blake Davis tripled home two runs with his first major league hit in the second and Volquez walked J.J. Hardy on four pitches, Nick Markakis swung at the first pitch and hit into a double play to strand Davis.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 7:47 PM | | Comments (7)
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June 22, 2011

O's: This is the Pitts

If you've been reading me regularly -- and who hasn't -- you know that I said it was imperative for the Orioles to win their interleague series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Now because of any rivalry between the two cities, but because of the sad state of baseball in both towns and what it says to fans when you're selling a turnaround and you can't beat the NL version of yourself.

This is not about where the Orioles are in their redevelopment, because we already know where they are. It's really just a matter of public relations, because the most positive fans are looking for any reason to be optimistic and this series provided just the opposite. If you can't beat the other struggling teams, you're just exascerbating your credibility problem.

Here's the most important thing I learned from this series. The key player in this losing equation -- like last year is a player who isn't playing. Brian Roberts, when healthy, is the glue that holds the infield defense and the batting order together. When and if he comes back, I suspect you'll see a much more competitive team, but you've got to be starting to doubt whether Roberts will play again this season.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 4:01 PM | | Comments (44)
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June 21, 2011

Orioles: Roberts remains in limbo

The latest report on Brian Roberts was the same as the last couple. His concussion symptoms persist and now he's not expected to rejoin the team at least until after the All-Star break.

This creates a number of possible scenarios, one of which is the possibility that Roberts will not be back at all this year. I hope that's not the case, but we're talking about a serious health issue, so whatever is best for the guy is what should happen.

The happier scenario is a rerun of what happened last year. His return to the lineup clearly had an uplifting effect on the entire team and was a major factor in the Orioles' stunning turnaround during the final two months of last season. That's a lot to ask, but if it does happen, the Orioles will be building on much more of a foundation than they started with last August.

Of much more immediate concern is the outlook for starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matusz. Guthrie is scheduled to take the mound tonight against the Pirates at PNC Park. He suffered from back spasms in his last start, but rebounded quickly. If he's okay tonight, manager Buck Showalter can breathe a huge sigh or relief and focus all his concern on Matusz, who left his last start with leg cramps.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 6:05 PM | | Comments (22)
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June 20, 2011

Orioles must plunder Pirates

The other Baltimore/Pittsburgh sports rivalry heats up tonight at PNC Park, but there isn't quite as much at stake as when the Ravens and Steelers go at it with a chance to get to the Super Bowl.

It is important, however, because both teams are trying to drag themselves back from an interminable string of losing seasons, so a series loss by either team will register as another embarrassment to its fan following.

So far this season, the Pirates are in much better shape in the standings, both because they are one game under .500 (the O's are five under) and because they play in a division where that leaves them only four games out of first place. If they were in the AL East with that record, they would be in fifth place, a half-game behind the Toronto Blue Jays and eight games off the pace. And, of course, they would have to compile that record against tougher competition.

Though the Orioles won on Sunday and had optimistic things to say about the injuries that knocked Brian Matusz and Luke Scott out of Saturday's game and cast Jeremy Guthrie's next start into some doubt, I still contend that they are standing at the edge of a competitive cliff. If they can't win this series with their three top pitchers lined up (assuming Guthrie can go), it's hard to imagine them being very competitive over the ensuing month against a series of very good NL and AL teams.

The flip side: I'm not going to be an apologist here, but I will put the situation in a different perspective. If the Orioles were not coming off 13 consecutive losing seasons, it would be a lot easier to rationalize where they are right now. They've been without Brian Roberts for much of the first half. They've been without Brian Matusz for all but four starts. They did without J.J. Hardy for a lengthy DL stay. They lost veteran utility guy Cesar Izturis early on and have had to play without Derrek Lee because of both an injury and a bereavement leave. Things are tough all over, but in spite of all that, they still are a modest winning streak away from respectability. Okay, maybe I am being an apologist, but there are actually some people on the blog now who think I'm too negative.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 2:08 PM | | Comments (35)
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June 18, 2011

My take: Orioles season is hanging by a thread

Maybe I'm being too negative here, but I've got a very bad feeling about the way this team is trending right now. I think that comes through in my column off today's loss, which you can read in tomorrow's print edition or check out right here, right now.

Now, before you jump off a cliff along with them, let's throw in an ounce of perspective. If you roll the standings back exactly one year, the Orioles were 18-49 on this date and 23 games out of first place after 67 games. They were 31 games under .500 then and six games under .500 now. They are 12 1/2 games better this season, though they are very frustrating to watch.

That's mathematical progress, and fairly dramatic mathematical progress, but it doesn't tell the story and it doesn't predict the future. Maybe Derrick Lee is busting out and Brian Matusz will be out there in five days improving on today's decent performance, but it looks more like they are digging a hole right now.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:34 PM | | Comments (32)
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O's: Stuff that's hard to do

If you thought it was odd that the Orioles had 18 hits and only scored four runs, that isn't the half of it. According to ESPN Stats and Research, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis became the first two batters on the same team to get four hits in the same game and not score or drive in a run since 1984, when Rod Carew and Fred Lynn achieved that dubious distinction for the 1984 California Angels.

I was there for that, too. Maybe it's me.

If that isn't a rare enough accomplishment, it was the first time since 1920 that three players -- Jones, Markakis and Lee -- had four or more hits in the same game without driving in a single run.

I was not there for that. In fact, there wasn't even a Yankee Stadium yet the last time that happened.

Can't wait to see what statistical magic the Orioles will work today.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:07 AM | | Comments (10)
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Orioles: 18 isn't enough

In their quest to find as many different ways to lose as possible, the Orioles got a total of four runs on 18 hits in last night's loss to the Washington Nationals, which is one of those good news/bad news stats that -- I guess -- says that somebody was doing something right and everything still turned out wrong.

This O's team is about as proficient at wasting scoring opportunities as I've seen in my lengthy career, and I've been around a lot of bad Orioles teams. Twice, they put the first two runners on base with no one out and immediately hit into a double play each time. When the Nationals created the same situation against O's starter Zach Britton with the Orioles up 2-0 in the fifth, pitcher Jason Marquis laid down a solid sacrifice bunt and Mark Reynolds fired the ball down the right field line to facilitate a big inning that featured three unearned runs.

Manager Buck Showalter wasn't ready to lay the blame for another ugly loss on just one player, but he may be ready to explode.

"We had plenty of opportunities to make that not matter,'' he said. "Hanging it on one player...I'm not going to do that...Those things are correctable."

The Orioles are five games under .500 and they've lost enough games they should have won to be a solid .500-plus team right now.

No, I'm not saying they are better than this. The way they are playing right now, they might be overachieving to only be 10 games out of first place.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 6:07 AM | | Comments (11)
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June 17, 2011

More Orioles follies

By most accounts, the Orioles should be about six runs ahead right now. They have banged out 10 hits in five innings against Jason Marquis, but were lucky to score two runs in the fourth inning -- on a terrible play at the plate by Nats catcher Wilson Ramos and an RBI double that was pitcher Zach Britton's first major league hit.

That gave the Orioles a two-run lead, which they were happy to give back an inning later, when an ugly throwing error by Mark Reynolds helped the Nationals turn a modest scoring opportunity into a four-run inning to take the lead.

The Orioles had two runners on and no one out in two other innings, but -- as has become their custom -- did nothing with those opportunities while they waited for the Nationals to mount a comeback.


Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:20 PM | | Comments (15)
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Orioles: Britton sore?

Zach Britton clearly looked like he felt a twinge in his side when he leapt to try and flag down Jayson Werth's inning-opening bouncer in the bottom of the first. Britton came down and seemed uncomfortable. He stretched behind the mound and then resumed pitching, throwing three straight balls to No. 2 hitter Ian Desmond before finding the strike zone again.

We'll have to just see how the next few innings play out, but with the way things have been going on the Orioles pitching staff, it doesn't take much to raise a red flag,

The good news, however, is that Jeremy Guthrie's back soreness apparently is not the result of a serious injury. The team said today that he is expected to make his next scheduled start.

Instant update: Britton appears to be fine. Has pitched through two innings and bounced out in his first major league at-bat.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 8:11 PM | | Comments (4)
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Battle of the Beltway begins

The streaky Orioles are about to take the field against the streaking Washington Nationals in the nation's capital, but I'll be making no prediction tonight. I'm still basking in the glory of yesterday's fulfilled promise that the O's would not be swept by the Toronto Blue Jays.

If the Orioles stay true to form, they should do all right this weekend, since they tend to win their games in small handfuls. The Nats have been on a terrific offensive roll, but that's nothing a sharp Zach Britton can't turn in his favor. (Can't wait to see him hit after watching some impressive batting practice sessions at Camden Yards)

The Orioles have had their way with Nats starter Jason Marquis, but it's small sample. He's 0-1 with an 11.42 ERA in four appearances, two of them starts. He has been pretty successful this season, but gave up five earned runs in four innings in his only appearance against the Orioles and was removed before he could get the decision in a 17-5 Nationals victory.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 7:44 PM | | Comments (1)
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June 16, 2011

O's: Reversing the curse...finally

The Orioles finally pried a victory out of Rogers Centre, beating the Blue Jays, 4-3, though not without a ton of intrigue and one big piece of disturbing news. Jeremy Guthrie was cruising along with a one-hit shutout when his back seized up after the fifth inning. The Orioles put him in position to win with two runs in the top of the sixth, but took him out of the decision when a defensive blunder by young Ryan Adams helped the Blue Jays tie the game.

For once, however, the Orioles managed to hold them there and scored two runs in the top of the ninth to end the Jays' 16-game winning streak against them in Toronto.

Adams had a very tough day, making the big error and hitting into three double plays, but he got one more chance in the ninth and poked a single through the drawn-up infield to account for the final margin of victory.

There was suspense to the end. Closer Kevin Gregg gave up a foul screen home run to sizzling Adam Lind to lead off the bottom of the ninth, but retired the next three batters in order to record his 13th save.

I'm not surprised, of course, since I guaranteed an Orioles victory this morning. I also guaranteed a win by Guthrie, but his back refused to cooperate. Hopefully for the Orioles, the back spasm was minor and he'll be ready to go in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 2:56 PM | | Comments (15)
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O's: The lost art of patience

What does it tell you when the most patient hitter on the Orioles roster is Mark Reynolds, a guy who struck out more than 200 times in each of the past three seasons? When Reynolds walked in the third inning today, it was his 36th base on balls of the season, which is 15 more than anybody else in an Orioles uniform.

I've got to give him some credit for that, since I was pretty critical of the two times he looked at called third strikes in big RISP situations on Tuesday night, but I've got to wonder what's going on in the heads of the other hitters. I'll give Ricky Romero all the credit in the world for pitching a terrific game last night, but the O's helped make it possible by rushing him through the first two innings on just 14 pitches.

Maybe I'm stretching this point, but I've never seen so many hitters bail opposing pitchers out of great hitters' counts with pop ups and double-play balls. There's a difference between being aggressive in good hitting situations and being overly aggressive to the point where opposing pitchers know they do not have to throw the ball in the strike zone when the count is 2-0.

The Yankees and Red Sox squeeze pitchers by taking first strikes. The Orioles squeeze themselves by fishing for questionable pitches early in counts. Vladimir Guerrero can afford to do that. Adam Jones can't.

If you;'re watching the game right now, you just saw Derrek Lee swing from his heels at a 2-0 pitch that was low enough to hit him in the ankle. Next time I see him, I'll thank him for illustrating my point.

Instant update: Today, Zach Stewart is making his major league debut, and they're being shut out through five innings. He might be that good, but how are we supposed to know when the Orioles seem to make everybody look like Cliff Lee.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:09 PM | | Comments (15)
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My favorite reader comment

I'm sorry that the reader comments don't post as fast as they used to, and hope we can find a way to rectify that situation, but I thought I'd highlight my favorite post from the last few hours. It comes from Harry, who felt my guarantee that the Orioles would win today was irresponsible and may have put Canadians in danger.

Harry's take: That's crazy talk---think of the consequences---an Orioles win would spark another Canadian riot---hell, I might even turn over my car and burn it...

My take: What was I thinking? Well, at least they have national health care.


One more thing: To those of you who wrote in to correct my math, you are correct about the real statistical probability of a coin coming up heads on the 17th consecutive flip. Not a tough concept. Where you come up short is recognizing my keen sense of humor, but maybe that's my fault.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:04 AM | | Comments (6)
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Bold prediction: O's run to daylight

It's almost impossible to assail my logic in guaranteeing that the Orioles will avert a three-game sweep today with an afternoon victory over the Toronto Blue Jays with the roof open at Rogers Centre.

Quite simply, it has been scientifically proven that you can't lose them all. The Orioles have to win today because they've lost 16 straight games in Toronto and the odds against losing 17 straight are astronomical. It's sort of like flipping a coin and getting heads 16 times in a row. You know that it's got to be a million to one against a head coming up on the 17th flip. Duh!

The same goes for Jeremy Guthrie, who also has defied the odds by winning just one game since Opening Day in spite of holding a sub-4.00 ERA for much of the past 2 1/2 months. that's hard to do.

Really, there isn't much else bad left to happen to this team. The Orioles clearly are destined to win today and begin another five-game winning streak. I guarantee it.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 6:08 AM | | Comments (18)
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June 15, 2011

Big O-Zone

I've got mixed feelings about the way home plate umpire Jerry Layne has called tonight's game at Rogers Centre.

Being a baseball purist, I think his double-wide strike zone is an abomination, though he has been consistent regardless of who's on the mound.

Being a guy who loves a full night's sleep, I like the way it has kept the game moving along and a brisk pace.

The difference in this game -- and it's not a big difference -- is that Jays starter Ricky Romero has had terrific command and has kept the ball out of the middle of the strike zone. Jake Arrieta has pitched well, too, but he has left a couple of balls close to the hot spot and the Jays have a pair of solo homers as a result.

Oh, and there's the uncanny ability of the Orioles to turn an opportunity into an embarrassment, as they did in the fourth inning, when they had runners at first and second with no one out. Adam Jones got himself out swinging at two balls well down and off the plate and Vladimir Guerrero swung at the first pitch and bounced into a room service double play. It's what they do.


Posted by Peter Schmuck at 8:38 PM | | Comments (11)
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O's: In-game alert

Going into the third inning of tonight's game between the Orioles and Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, Jays pitcher Ricky Romero is on pace to throw 63 pitches over nine innings.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 7:31 PM | | Comments (7)
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Orioles: Sleep come free me

Yeah, I'm pretty sure a lot of your are still gnashing your teeth over the way the Orioles battled back from a 4-1 deficit last night and then just waited around for the Toronto Blue Jays to hit them with a big stick in extra innings.

That makes 15 straight victories over the Orioles at Rogers Centre, which is pretty hard to do -- even against the Orioles.

Here's the good news. Koji Uehara gave up that game-winning home run to Adam Lind while you could still get to bed at a reasonable time. The alternative was to stay up all night waiting for the Orioles to get a clutch hit, and you would probably be sitting in front of the TV right now because they seemed determined to get a couple of guys on base in every inning and then lay their bats down.

Don't want to point fingers, but if the defense had been adequate in the early innings, Chris Jakubauskus would have given up only two runs over five or six innings. And if Mark Reynolds looks at another called third strike with runners in scoring position and less than two outs, I'm going to stick my head in the oven.

Okay, I understand that hitting is hard and sometimes you guess wrong at the plate, but with the go-ahead run at third base and one out, most guys swing at a ball that makes a perfect bulls-eye inside that little strike zone graphic they use on MASN. The second time was a borderline pitch, but two called third strikes with RISP and less than two outs late in the game and you're probably not wondering why the other team ends up celebrating at home plate.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 6:00 AM | | Comments (28)
Categories: Just baseball
        

June 14, 2011

My take: O's already looking ahead

If you haven't already, you can read my column for tomorrow's print edition right here, right now. I weigh in on the possibility or a J.J. Hardy contract extension and try to make sense of the rest of the midseason trade possibilities.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:57 PM | | Comments (4)
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Connor walks

The notion that Mark Connor resigned as Orioles pitching coach on Monday because of the struggles of some of his pitchers doesn't make any sense to me. Connor has been a great pitching coach for a long time, and you don't get to be that by getting frustrated when things don't go well. You get to be that by helping guys correct the problems that keep them from having success.

Connor apparently told manager Buck Showalter that he just couldn't grind out another long season and give the effort the job deserves. I don't see any reason to doubt that, though I can see why somebody could look in from the outside and wonder if he just got tired of the uphill battle he had been fighting with this inconsistent pitching staff.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 8:03 PM | | Comments (17)
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O's: Northern exposure

The Orioles again find themselves in a difficult spot as they open a three-game series in Toronto tonight at Rogers Centre. They let some opportunities slip through their fingers over the weekend to fall three games under .500, and the distance between last place and first place in the American League East is widening quickly.

Tonight's game will be a particular challenge for the sporatic Orioles offense. They'll face a pitcher in Carlos Villanueva who has worked his way into the Jays rotation and is 3-0 in his four starts, including a very solid 5 1/3 innings against the Orioles at Camden Yards on June 3. He is stretched out now, so he could be around a lot longer than that it the O's don't force him to work.

Orioles starter Chris Jakubauskas is coming off a strong performance in his first Orioles start, giving up just three hits over five innings against a soft Oakland A's lineup. He'll need to be better than that against the Jays, who rank third in the American League in runs scored and tied for second in home runs.

The ensuing matchups appear a bit more favorable, with Jake Arrieta going for his ninth victory against Ricky Romera -- who allowed 14 baserunners against the O's on June 4 -- and Jeremy Guthrie facing Jo-Jo Reyes (2-5), but I think the Orioles will be very fortunate to get back across the border with more than one victory.

The best news for the pitching staff is the return of first baseman Derrek Lee from the bereavement list. He has not been the major offensive force the Orioles had hoped for when they signed him, but his defensive acumen has been a major positive for the club so far.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:27 PM | | Comments (6)
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June 11, 2011

My take: Guthrie might benefit from change of scenery

My column for the Sunday print edition is already up on the Web site, so you can read it right here.

The column was written before Jeremy Guthrie took the mound tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays tonight, but the outcome isn't going to affect my opinion. I think he's a good pitcher who has had a lot of bad luck and probably would benefit from a midseason trade to a competitive team that might give him more run support.

Let me know what you think.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 7:29 PM | | Comments (30)
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ESPN: Realignment on the table

Former Orioles beat writer Buster Olney cites several sources claiming that a modest realignment could be part of the next baseball labor agreement, but I can't imagine that MLB wants to emulate the NBA playoff system by going to two 15-team leagues that would each produce five playoff teams.

Here's a link to the story.

The current baseball model has been so successful that MLB revenues have more than tripled since the disastrous labor war of 1994-95. Going with a system in which the top five teams would advance might increase late-season interest in some mediocre clubs, but it would remove a lot of the suspense from the regular season for the elite teams that have to battle each other for their respective division titles.

I would oppose any attempt to increase the number of playoff teams, but I could live with an extra wild card in each league, which would create a play-in series and expand the postseason to four rounds. I wouldn't be in favor of it, but it wouldn't seriously diminish the integrity of the regular season.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 7:07 PM | | Comments (13)
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O's: On the threshold again

The Orioles, at least theoretically, could get back to the .500 mark tonight with a victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, but I wouldn't be the farm on that. Rays ace David Price has strung together three strong outings after struggling through a couple of tough starts in late May.

The O's are on something of a roll right now, outscoring opponents 18-4 in their four-game winning streak, and they beat Price on Opening Night at Tropicana Field.

Tonight's game will be a rematch between Price and Orioles No. 1 starter Jeremy Guthrie, who won that first game with a strong eight-inning performance, but has won just one decision since then.

J.J. Hardy will make his third start in the leadoff spot. He has homered to lead off each of his first two starts at the top of the order. Nolan Reimold is in the lineup batting sixth and Brandon Snyder will hit ninth and play first base.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 5:37 PM | | Comments (3)
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June 10, 2011

O's: Nick's six

Nick Markakis doubled home two more runs in the eighth inning to finish with a career-high six RBI -- matching his RBI total for his previous 27 games. He has been working tirelessly to pull out of a lengthy run-production and snapped a string of 88 at-bats without an extra-base hit with his third career grand slam in the second.

"There's still a lot more hard work to be done,'' he said afterward. "I feel better, but I still don't feel I'm where I need to be."

Here's the bottom line. His revival at the plate would provide a huge boost to an Orioles offense that has had way too much trouble scoring runs. This would be a great time for the offensive attack to become more consistent, since both the starting rotation and the bullpen appear to have settled into a pretty good groove.

The shutout was the Orioles' fifth of the year and second of the homestand. The three hits allowed were the fewest this year.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:35 PM | | Comments (11)
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Markakis comes through in the nick of time

It was starting to look like the Orioles would blow another prime scoring opportunity after they put runners at second and third with no one out on Friday night. When Felix Pie lined out softly and Robert Andino laid down an apparent squeeze bunt with Luke Scott holding at third, you had to think this was going to be another one of those frustrating moments for the O's inconsistent offense.

Instead, Jeremy Hellickson walked J.J. Hardy to load the bases and Nick Markakis yanked the first pitch over the scoreboard in right field to give the Orioles a five-run lead. It was Nick's third career grand slam and his first extra-base in 89 at-bats.

OK, now that you've got an in-game update, why don't you take a look at my latest "News Item" column. You can find it right here.

Blog update: Because of a spam problem, the entire Sun comment system is in a "must approve" mode, at least for the time being. Several of you have posted comments that have not gone up and have been lost in the system, but bear with me and I'll try to get this thing moving again.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:04 PM | | Comments (5)
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June 8, 2011

My take on Dylan Bundy

If you haven't already, here's the column I just wrote on new Orioles top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy. The kid has all the tools, but it's still a long road to major league stardom.

The Orioles will be very careful with him. They picked one of the most highly-touted young pitchers in the history of the draft when Ben McDonald came out of LSU in the late 1980s, but he never reached the full potential ascribed to him. The Nationals got the can't-miss pitcher of this century when they drafted Stephen Strasburg, and now they're waiting for him to come back from extensive arm surgery. You just never know.

Blog update: Apparently, while I was on vacation, the Sun web site experienced some technical difficulties as a result of a spam attack. That's why the comments section has reverted to the old system, where I had to approve every comment before it was published. I certainly hope this situation is not permanent, because I like the free-wheeling discussions that go on here and I can't sit at my laptop all day long keeping the comments flowing evenly. I'll do the best I can and keep you posted.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 8:23 AM | | Comments (11)
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June 7, 2011

Orioles: Broom or bust

The Orioles got a very solid performance from spot starter Chris Jakubauskas tonight on the way to their fourth shutout victory of the year, but that isn't enough. They need to put the hammer down one more time on the slumping A's and inch closer to .500 before the weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

They'll face Jeremy Hellickson, David Price and Wade Davis, which means it's going to be a very difficult home series for a team that is averaging 3.3 runs in its last 11 games.

It would certainly help if Luke Scott is really breaking out again at the plate...and it would help even more if Nick Markakis could get his groove back. He hasn't had an extra-base hit in his last 84 at-bats and has just five singles in 40 at-bats over the last 10 games. He's got to snap out of this at some point. This weekend would be a particularly good time as the O's try go sneak up on .500 again.

Look for Zach Britton to snap a five-week winless streak today. He has lost three straight decisions, though his three no-decisions during that span were quality starts and one of them featured nine shutout innings. The Orioles were 2-1 in his no-decision games.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:19 PM | | Comments (7)
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June 1, 2011

Orioles: Simply incredible

Listen, I know the Orioles are a so-so team with all sorts of flaws, but I cannot explain how they find a different way to lose ignominiously just about every week. I've been around a long time, and the kind of loss they suffered on Tuesday night at Safeco Field happens to every team about once or twice every year. Trouble is, that's the fourth or fifth already this year (I'd be more specific, but I just can't bear to go back and check) that the O's have suffered such a discouraging late-inning setback.

I think if you go back to this time last year, you'll find an almost identical post. I vaguely remember saying the same thing as the O's were immolating during the first half of the 2010 season. And here we go again. The Orioles lost that game to the Red Sox a couple of weeks ago after leading by six runs heading into the late innings. Most teams will not do that once this year. But they already had lost a game in which they held a 5-0 lead over the Yankees.

Maybe it isn't fair to throw in the 15-inning game against the Yankees in which they simply choked on several extra-inning scoring opportunities, but I'm going to anyway. Now, Jeremy Guthrie -- the victim of the famous Mother's Day Meltdown of a few years ago, melted down all by himself.

He committed the error that kept the eighth inning alive, then allowed a single and a game-winning three-run home run. Can't remember seeing that particular combination of events in my three decades or so of baseball coverage, but I'm sure something like that has happened once or twice. The fact that it is happening once or twice a week really does test the limits of credulity.

Seriously, that kind of thing is hard to do, but it seems to be the one thing the Orioles are really good at.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 2:20 AM | | Comments (80)
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May 31, 2011

O's: Streaky and built to stay that way

Though the three-game sweep in Oakland was certainly galling, I'm not ready to give up on this road trip. The Mariners are starting to play better -- and Erik Bedard is pitching well again -- but I was concerned going into Oakland because the A's were pitching very well, had two left-handers going, and were getting the soft part of the Orioles rotation (until Sunday).

I'm guessing the O's will pitch much better at Safeco Field and I'm guessing the Orioles can't hit a whole lot worse than they did in Oakland, so I'm going to go out over my skis and predict they take the final two games of the series.

Of course, everyone is waiting to see how Brian Matusz looks in his 2011 debut. I doubt he'll throw more than five or six innings at best, but I'm willing to bet he'll pitch well enough to win if the O's can score four runs for him.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:43 PM | | Comments (20)
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May 28, 2011

My take: O's need to break on through

If you haven't already read it on the Web site, here's my Sunday column on the Orioles and their recent unsuccessful attempts to break through the .500 level. Just click right here, then let me know what you think.

And, if that isn't enough Schmuck for you, here's a link to my "News item" column that was in Saturday's print edition.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 6:06 PM | | Comments (87)
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May 27, 2011

Late Night With the Orioles

The Orioles are off on their first West Coast road trip and that means they'll be playing their first Pacific Daylight Time night game of the year tonight at Overstock.com Coliseum. Hopefully, they won't be so busy laughing at that ridiculous name that they're unable to pick up where they left off at their fifth straight victory on Thursday afternoon.

The O's continue to swing the bat inconsistently, so this series could be very problematic. The A's have a very strong young pitching staff that is pitching very well right now, as evidenced by their major league-leading 2.87 ERA. The fact that they are 24-27 while holding the opposition to less than three earned runs per game is also a testament to their soft offensive attack, so it'll be interesting to see how the two clubs match up.

It's a very large ballpark, which advantages fly ball pitchers and teams with speedy outfielders, so manager Buck Showalter will have a decision to make in left field. Does he go with the fleet Felix Pie or the suddenly red-hot Nolan Reimold?

If it's a straight righty/lefty platoon, you would think he'd go with Reimold against left-hander Gio Gonzalez (5-2, 2.20 ERA), but I wouldn't be surprised if he goes with the guy who can cover the most ground out there with Chris Tillman on the mound.

This could be a good ballpark for Tillman because of all the foul territory, since he does not have a nasty finishing pitch and opposing hitters often push up his pitch count fouling balls off late in the count. We'll know soon enough.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 7:06 PM | | Comments (68)
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May 26, 2011

O's: Back to sea level

All you need to know about the streaky nature of this Orioles team is that they've won five straight since that 17-5 embarrassment against the Nationals. Now, if they want to break through the .500 mark, they're going to have to win on the road behind Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen.

Tall order, considering the Oakland A's -- despite their sub-.500 record -- have some very good young pitching and the Orioles continue to search for offensive consistency. There's also the time difference and the fact that they are coming off a grueling 12-inning game in 90-degree heat and a coast-to-coast flight, but I'll let them make their own excuses.

For now, they're flying as high as they have in awhile, so you might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 5:27 PM | | Comments (54)
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May 25, 2011

Orioles: Strange days

If nothing else, the Orioles are certainly enigmatic. They score six runs in the early innings against the Red Sox last week and stage one of the great collapses of the past decade. They come back against Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning and then can't get one run over the next six innings -- even though they loaded the bases twice and had runners in scoring position in almost every one of them.

So, what happens, they go back to not scoring very much and win the last two games, including last night's heart-stopping walkoff win over the Royals on Adam Jones' tremendous two-run shot to center field.

Who knows where things go from here, but you can't argue that they lack entertainment value, whether it's an uplifting third win in a row or a horror movie like that game at Fenway Park. Either way, the O's remain viable in the AL East, partly because the rest of the division has politely refrained from running away from them.

Going into the last road trip, it looked like the Orioles had bought enough time to finally get healthy, but the loss of Derrek Lee and the news yesterday that Brian Roberts is out indefinitely with concussion symptoms makes you wonder just how long they can keep their heads close to being above water.

The return of Brian Matusz should help. The starting rotation has hit some speed bumps over the past couple of weeks, but if Matusz can fill out the core four and Chris Tillman can somehow keep sneaking through five innings without giving up more than a run or two, they'll remain competitive. It doesn't hurt that the schedule has softened up considerably.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:49 AM | | Comments (124)
Categories: Just baseball, Just baseball
        

Orioles: Strange days

If nothing else, the Orioles are certainly enigmatic. They score six runs in the early innings against the Red Sox last week and stage one of the great collapses of the past decade. They come back against Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning and then can't get one run over the next six innings -- even though they loaded the bases twice and had runners in scoring position in almost every one of them.

So, what happens, they go back to not scoring very much and win the last two games, including last night's heart-stopping walkoff win over the Royals on Adam Jones' tremendous two-run shot to center field.

Who knows where things go from here, but you can't argue that they lack entertainment value, whether it's an uplifting third win in a row or a horror movie like that game at Fenway Park. Either way, the O's remain viable in the AL East, partly because the rest of the division has politely refrained from running away from them.

Going into the last road trip, it looked like the Orioles had bought enough time to finally get healthy, but the loss of Derrek Lee and the news yesterday that Brian Roberts is out indefinitely with concussion symptoms makes you wonder just how long they can keep their heads close to being above water.

The return of Brian Matusz should help. The starting rotation has hit some speed bumps over the past couple of weeks, but if Matusz can fill out the core four and Chris Tillman can somehow keep sneaking through five innings without giving up more than a run or two, they'll remain competitive. It doesn't hurt that the schedule has softened up considerably.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:49 AM | | Comments (124)
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May 22, 2011

AL Least?

Could the early part of this season get any stranger? The Orioles, for their part, just endured one of the more frustrating and discouraging weeks of the past three years, and yet the five teams in the AL East remain separated by just four games. Amazing.

While some goof was predicting that the world would end yesterday, the Orioles were making it look like the end of the baseball world as we know it with that ugly collapse in Boston, that series of missed opportunities on Wednesday night, and a two-game 30-run barrage on Thursday and Friday. They also lost Brian Roberts and Derrek Lee to injuries. So what are they doing within a good week of first place?

Be as cynical as you want. They are four games under .500 and -- obviously -- the big dogs in the division have been in a holding pattern for seven weeks. Can't really credit the O's for being tremendously competitive, but you also can't deny that there's a different feeling about the team this year. How could there not be, since they were 14-30 and 17.5 games out of first place a year ago today.

Ever since Brian Matusz and J.J. Hardy went down during the first week of the season, they have needed to buy time to get healthy. Now, with Hardy in the lineup and Matusz on the way back, they still need to buy another week or two. Then we'll get to see if they can compete with a healthy starting rotation and, O's fans can only hope, a healthy and more productive offensive lineup.

I'm still skeptical, but at least the season isn't already over.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:20 AM | | Comments (129)
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May 20, 2011

Orioles: Retreat apparently is an option

The Orioles pitching staff has been the victim of non-support for much of the young season, but there is no excuse for what has happened the past two nights. The Yankees and Nationals have combined to score 26 runs in a total of 15 innings, and the Nats still have three innings to pile on some more runs.

This is the same Nationals offense that had scored a total of 12 runs in its last five games, but Jake Arrieta struggled from the outset and gave up six runs in 3 2/3 innings and reliever Jason Berken gave up six more in just one inning of work.

It was a disturbing turn for a team that already had suffered a series of painful losses this week to the Red Sox and Yanks. Jeremy Guthrie will try to restore order Saturday afternoon, but who knows what he'll have to offer after having his pitching schedule disrupted by the need for him to pitch in relief late Wednesday night.

Not-so-fun fact: Friday night's game marked the ninth time in franchise history that the Orioles have allowed at least 13 runs in back-to-back games. The record is three straight, set Aug. 10-12, 1993.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:19 PM | | Comments (73)
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Orioles: Retreat apparently is an option

The Orioles pitching staff has been the victim of non-support for much of the young season, but there is no excuse for what has happened the past two nights. The Yankees and Nationals have combined to score 26 runs in a total of 15 innings, and the Nats still have three innings to pile on some more runs.

This is the same Nationals offense that had scored a total of 12 runs in its last five games, but Jake Arrieta struggled from the outset and gave up six runs in 3 2/3 innings and reliever Jason Berken gave up six more in just one inning of work.

It was a disturbing turn for a team that already had suffered a series of painful losses this week to the Red Sox and Yanks. Jeremy Guthrie will try to restore order Saturday afternoon, but who knows what he'll have to offer after having his pitching schedule disrupted by the need for him to pitch in relief late Wednesday night.

Not-so-fun fact: Friday night's game marked the ninth time in franchise history that the Orioles have allowed at least 13 runs in back-to-back games. The record is three straight, set Aug. 10-12, 1993.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:19 PM | | Comments (73)
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May 19, 2011

...but no thanks

The New York Yankees did everything but try to forfeit last night's marathon game at Camden Yards, but the Orioles refused to let them go back to their team hotel without another galling victory.

Every time Yankees newbie relief pitcher Hector Noesi got in trouble in extra innings, an Orioles hitter bailed him out. Every time there was an opportunity to drive in the winning run -- and there were eight runners on base for the Orioles in the 10th, 11th and 12th innings -- the O's looked like they were in the batting cage seeing who could swing the hardest.

Earth to Orioles: When a guy is in your ballpark making his major league debut in extra innings, the pressure is all on him, especially when he falls behind on the count with the bases loaded.

Laid side-by-side with Monday's collapse, it's pretty easy to see that this team lacks basic plate instincts. They should be a game over .500 right now instead a three games under and they have no one to blame but themselves.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:45 AM | | Comments (118)
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May 18, 2011

Orioles: Thanks Joe...

Bartolo Colon was in complete control of Wednesday night's game. He had pitched shutout eight innings and allowed just three hits. He had walked one and struck out seven. He had thrown only 87 pitches -- an amazing 61 of them for strikes.

So, why did manager Joe Girardi go to Mariano Rivera to pitch the ninth inning?

Because he has Mariano Rivera to pitch the ninth inning, of course, so it's almost impossible to second-guess the decision to bring him into a one-run save situation. Except maybe this time.

This was one of those games in which the Orioles were happier to see the closer come into the game than the other team. They've actually had some success against Rivera and they had some again, scoring a run in the ninth to hand him his third blown save of the season. It also was his eighth career blown save against the O's.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:37 PM | | Comments (39)
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May 17, 2011

On second thought, who's No. 3?

Clearly, my ability to read Buck Showalter's mind was left in serious question when he posted a lineup on Tuesday night that featured Adam Jones in the No. 3 hole replacing injured Derrek Lee.

I suppose I should be repentant, but I'm going to hold out for a different result because I know that the lineup that was posted was never going to take the field. It was a temporary lineup that was going to be rewritten if the Orioles completed one or more of the pending roster moves that were contingent on the game being played.

Showalter addressed the situation after the game, saying that he had not decided on a permanent No. 3 hitter to replace Lee because he isn't 100 percent sure he's going to have to replace Lee for an extended period. I appreciated him getting me off the hook.

It still remains to be seen what he eventually decides, because it's pretty likely that Lee will go on the disabled list today. He seemed to indicate that he would move more toward a matchup system rather than a set lineup in Lee's absense.

Guess that means you'll have to weigh in on just what you think he should do with the No. 3 hole.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:14 PM | | Comments (75)
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Orioles: Who's No. 2

With Derrek Lee out of the lineup for at least the next few days, it's probably fair to assume that manager Buck Showalter will take the opportunity to move Nick Markakis back into the No. 3 hole tonight.

If that seems like an obvious move, the decision on who to hit second is not. Do you go with J.J. Hardy, who has seemed very comfortable at the bottom of the order? Or do you move Adam Jones up into the second slot to take better advantage of his speed?

I suppose it's possible that Showalter could also use Felix Pie as the No. 2 hitter if he moves Luke Scott in from left field to fill in at first base for awhile, though I'm guessing that Hardy is the first choice.

What would you do?

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:39 AM | | Comments (72)
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May 16, 2011

In Boston, but not baked

Since I'll be in Boston for the next couple days filling in for Dan Connolly and Jeff Zrebiec, you probably should check out Orioles Insider for any entries from me. I'm going to be pretty focused on the nuts and bolts, which we put in the overall Orioles blog.

Meanwhile, keep a good thought, because the Weather Channel says that the next two games could be in danger. There is about a 50 percent chance of rain and thundershowers tonight for the matchup between Chris Tillman and Daisuke Matsuzaka, and an even higher probability for tomorrow night's game, when Zach Britton makes his Fenway Park debut.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:17 AM | | Comments (93)
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May 12, 2011

Sweeps week

The Orioles were pretty low after they got swept by the Rays over the weekend, but they battled back to win all three games against the Mariners, overcoming two last-inning leads in the opener and the finale to climb within two games of .500.

Manager Buck Showalter has downplayed any individual impact, but it's pretty obvious that J.J. Hardy has lifted the club with his impressive all-around performance during his first series back from a month on the disabled list.

Hardy homered and had four hits in the opener, then made his mark in the second game with his glove. His two-run single in the bottom of the 12th on Thursday night was the coup de grace.

"It was nice,'' he said. "I wasn't around for a few weeks. To come back and see the way the guys are playing. It's a good feeling. I just wish (the games) would have been a little bit quicker. I'm still getting my legs under me and I don't want to go extra innings every night, but it was a great series."

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:38 PM | | Comments (217)
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May 11, 2011

King Felix dethroned

hardyap.jpgWhen Chris Tillman took the mound on Wednesday night against Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez, it was tempting to label the game a reverse lock. King Felix figured to overpower the struggling O's lineup and Tillman has been dealing with command issues that forced manager Buck Showalter to revise his pitching plans to have Brad Bergesen in a backstop role if he came up short.

Instead, Tillman delivered his best performance since he pitched six hitless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in his first start of the season. And the Orioles offense frustrated Hernandez with a series of extended at-bats that ran up his pitch count. Adam Jones did the rest with a 4-for-4 performance that included a two-run triple that accounted for the margin of victory.

"You probably would have signed up in blood for that many innings (from Tillman) in the situation our bullpen was in,'' Showalter said.

Jones is 7 for 10 in the series with three extra-base hits and five RBI and he picked the right time to get on a roll. His mother, Andrea Bradley, has been in this week and has been enjoying every minute from her perch behind home plate.

"I was kidding his mom tonight,'' said Showalter. "I wanted to see if she'd like to stay a little longer -- like four more months."

It was a complete team effort which also featured an impressive defensive show by shortstop J.J. Hardy (upper left) in his second start since returning from the disabled list. Robert Andino started at third base to give Mark Reynolds a night off and also played well.

Associated Press file photo

"Defense is very important in this game,'' Andino said. "You never know when it's going to make the difference.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:27 PM | | Comments (73)
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May 7, 2011

Orioles: Silent spring

It doesn’t really matter who is on the mound. The pitcher could be a hot hand like James Shields or a struggling 7.98-ERA guy like Kyle Davies or a former Orioles journeyman like Bruce Chen. They all look like Greg Maddux to this sulking, slumping, sleepwalking O’s lineup.

On national television Saturday, it was a young starter named Jeremy Hellickson who struggled with his command, walked five guys and had baserunners all over the place, but somehow pitched five shutout innings and enjoyed generous run support on the way to his third victory of the year.

That might not be so galling if it was an unusual occurrence, but it was the fifth time in the last six games that the O’s have scored three runs or fewer. Through the first 32 games of the regular season, they have averaged 3.9 runs per game and have scored more than five runs in a game only four times. Meager as it is, that scoring average is still better than last year’s, but a big day by Rays starter Wade Davis tomorrow and they could be almost exactly even with last year’s pace.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 4:58 PM | | Comments (194)
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Morning briefing

bucknickap.jpgBuck Showalter just completed his morning news briefing, and he reported that Brian Matusz pitched two innings in an extended spring training game at the Sarasota complex. Matusz threw 12 pitches in each inning and will make his next mound appearance on Wednesday.

The timetable for his return to Baltimore is uncertain. Showalter said his first five-inning outing is scheduled for May 21, and he could make that start here if the club's bullpen is in shape to go long that day. More likely, Matusz would return to the O's rotation on May 26 and be available to pitch about six innings.

Luke Scott is scheduled for an MRI on Monday to determine the cause of persistent soreness in his right shoulder. Scott continues to play regularly and he lashed a double off the right field scoreboard on Friday night, so the injury does not appear to be debilitating.

The standings remain fairly tight from top to bottom in the AL East, which seems fortuitous for the Orioles in light of the injuries to Brian Matusz and J.J. Hardy and the offensive struggles of the club through the first five weeks of the season.

"If I said I haven't noticed that, I wouldn't be being completely honest,'' Showalter said. "I'm more concerned with what we're doing, but to (be close to getting) J.J. and Brian back, (Alfredo) Simon and possibly (Justin Duchscherer)...to have two starting pitchers and your shortstop out for a period of time, in some ways we're fortunate to still be engaged."

No major changes in the lineup today, but Showalter said that he has considered shaking it up a bit to snap the club out of its offensive doldrums. Nick Markakis continues to struggle and continues to work very hard in the video room and batting cage to get back in a groove, but Showalter acknowledged that his right fielder is pretty frustrated right now.

"He knows he's close,'' Showalter said.

Associated Press file photo

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:56 AM | | Comments (10)
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May 6, 2011

And the hits just keep not coming

To their credit, the Orioles are not making any excuses about their inability to mount a consistent offensive attack. They were beaten by a very hot pitcher on Friday night, but they also have made some not-so-hot pitchers look pretty good during the first five weeks of the season.

Manager Buck Showalter stopped short of saying that he was worried that the low run production might begin to get into the minds of the young pitchers, but he admitted to being concerned about the soft offense.

"I'm concerned that we are not playing up to our capability,'' he said. "I'm confident that will change, but we didn't put up much resistance tonight."

Third baseman Mark Reynolds also acknowledged the obvious.

"That's kind of the way baseball is,'' he said. "It's a streaky game. It seems like when everybody goes good, the whole team goes good and when somebody has an off night, everybody has an off night. We haven't got that mix where guys are picking other guys up."

Still, Reynolds said that the Orioles are still in a position to make some good things happen when they settle into a good offensive chemistry.

"We're one good week or two of playing good from being where we need to be,'' he said. "There's no panic. We've just got to keep plugging along and try to win every game we can."

Adam Jones agreed.

"It's hitting,'' he said. "It's not the easiest thing to do. You get a little frustrated, but that's how it is in baseball. You can't get too down on yourself."

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:51 PM | | Comments (28)
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Friday night bites

It would be hard to fault the Orioles lineup for succumbing so easily to Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields if Friday night's offensive shutdown was some kind of isolated incident, but it was another in a string of weak performances that have pushed the club three games under .500.

Shields came into the game with a 2.14 ERA and he's a quality starter, but this is the same lineup that let struggling Kyle Davies off the hook over and over again and looked bewitched by former O's (or name just about any other team) journeyman Bruce Chen.

Something appears to be systemically wrong with this offense. Not only do the Orioles struggle to score runs, they seem to make it amazingly easy for the opposing pitcher to prevent them from doing so. Maybe they'll break out on Saturday afternoon against Jeremy Hellickson (2-2, 4.31), but I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:03 PM | | Comments (5)
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May 5, 2011

Orioles: Simon says

Orioles pitcher Alfredo Simon clearly was pleased with his five-inning performance for the Bowie Baysox on Thursday and said he's ready to pitch whenever the club needs him at the major league level.

"I feel great,'' he said. "I thought all of my pitches were good -- my slider, curve and splitter. My command of my pitches...I felt great with that. I'll just keep working hard to get ready as soon as they want me in Baltimore."

That probably won't be for awhile. President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail was in attendance at Prince Georges Stadium and indicated that Simon was still a few weeks away from being available to the major league club.

Simon said he was not nervous when he took the mound for the first time in front of a significant crowd since the New Years shooting incident that led to his imprisonment. His legal situation remains unsettled, but he said that was not on his mind on Thursday.

"Not nervous,'' he said. I have played baseball all my life, so it's not any different...When I went out the first time, I threw the first pitch for a strike and I had command of every pitch I throw. When I pitch, I don't put a lot of things on my mind. I just want to play baseball. I try to put it behind me and do the best I can."

He said he is ready, but left the decision on when he pitches and whether he pitches as as starter or reliever in the hands of the Orioles.

"They make that decision,'' he said. "I'm going to do whatever they think is better for me. I'm ready to pitch. When they decide I'm ready, I'm ready."

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 2:57 PM | | Comments (61)
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Orioles: Simon says

Orioles pitcher Alfredo Simon clearly was pleased with his five-inning performance for the Bowie Baysox on Thursday and said he's ready to pitch whenever the club needs him at the major league level.

"I feel great,'' he said. "I thought all of my pitches were good -- my slider, curve and splitter. My command of my pitches...I felt great with that. I'll just keep working hard to get ready as soon as they want me in Baltimore."

That probably won't be for awhile. President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail was in attendance at Prince Georges Stadium and indicated that Simon was still a few weeks away from being available to the major league club.

Simon said he was not nervous when he took the mound for the first time in front of a significant crowd since the New Years shooting incident that led to his imprisonment. His legal situation remains unsettled, but he said that was not on his mind on Thursday.

"Not nervous,'' he said. I have played baseball all my life, so it's not any different...When I went out the first time, I threw the first pitch for a strike and I had command of every pitch I throw. When I pitch, I don't put a lot of things on my mind. I just want to play baseball. I try to put it behind me and do the best I can."

He said he is ready, but left the decision on when he pitches and whether he pitches as as starter or reliever in the hands of the Orioles.

"They make that decision,'' he said. "I'm going to do whatever they think is better for me. I'm ready to pitch. When they decide I'm ready, I'm ready."

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 2:57 PM | | Comments (61)
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Simon's start (Part Deux)

Alfredo Simon has completed five innings and thrown 81 pitches, so it's probably fair to assume that he won't be coming back out for the sixth since he has reached his pitch count. He gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits. He struck out five and didn't' walk anyone, but did hit a batter and threw a couple of wild pitches.

He is expected to meet with the media after the game, but will address his legal situation only in a prepared statement. Club officials have said he will only answer questions about his performance and pitching status.

It's an unusual situation, since he has been allowed to pitch while he is on baseball's restricted list. He'll make some more minor league appearances, but the Orioles eventually will have to decide what to do with him. Since he hasn't been charged with a crime, the club could put him back on the roster and bring him back to the major leagues, pending some further development in the Dominican Republic.

He was throwing his fastball 95 mile per hour with some command, so -- under normal circumstances -- there might be a place for him on the Orioles pitching staff.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:38 PM | | Comments (6)
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Simon's start (Part Deux)

Alfredo Simon has completed five innings and thrown 81 pitches, so it's probably fair to assume that he won't be coming back out for the sixth since he has reached his pitch count. He gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits. He struck out five and didn't' walk anyone, but did hit a batter and threw a couple of wild pitches.

He is expected to meet with the media after the game, but will address his legal situation only in a prepared statement. Club officials have said he will only answer questions about his performance and pitching status.

It's an unusual situation, since he has been allowed to pitch while he is on baseball's restricted list. He'll make some more minor league appearances, but the Orioles eventually will have to decide what to do with him. Since he hasn't been charged with a crime, the club could put him back on the roster and bring him back to the major leagues, pending some further development in the Dominican Republic.

He was throwing his fastball 95 mile per hour with some command, so -- under normal circumstances -- there might be a place for him on the Orioles pitching staff.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:38 PM | | Comments (6)
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Morning baseball: Simon's start

Riight-hander Alfredo Simon is getting ready to take the mound for the Bowie Baysox this morning at Prince Georges Stadium. The game was scheduled so early because of a special school kid promotion, not because the Baysox wanted to avoid a conflict with the Orioles' afternoon game, which starts on MASN at 2:05.

Simon is expected to throw 75-80 pitches and will talk to the media after the game, though the Orioles have already informed the reporters in attendance that he will read a statement about his legal situation in the Dominican Republic and will only answer questions about his on-field performance.

He has not been charged in the New Years shooting incident that left his cousin dead and led to his incarceration for two months. The case remains open and Simon's status with the Orioles remains uncertain.

There are plenty of Orioles front office types in attendance, including Andy MacPhail, director of player development John Stockstill and director of baseball operations Matt Klentak are in the stands behind home plate.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:42 AM | | Comments (3)
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May 4, 2011

Alfredo Simon coming to a ballpark near you

Orioles pitcher Alfredo Simon, who has been embroiled in a legal morass since he was implicated in a shooting incident in the Dominican Republic, will make a start for the Bowie Baysox tomorrow in a rare 11:05 game at Prince Georges Stadium.

Not sure what the Orioles are going to do with Simon once he's ready to rejoin the 40-man roster, but I'm going to head down to Bowie with Dan Connolly tomorrow morning to check him out.

I'll have some updates on his performance here.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:37 PM | | Comments (25)
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MLB.com columnist disses Cal

calsi.jpgLet's start this off by saying that MLB.com columnist Terence Moore is an old friend of mine from my baseball beat writing days, and he's a good guy. But I'm going to have to call him out on his column yesterday about the validity of some of baseball's most hallowed records, in which he somehow reached the conclusion that Cal Ripken's record of playing in 2,632 consecutive games record was somehow less impressive than Lou Gehrig's 2,130.

Moore was trying to make the point that in the case of some records -- the example he started with was Lou Gehrig's all-time grand slam record, which is soon to be broken by Alex Rodriguez -- will always belong to the previous record holder because of both the circumstances and character attributes of the players involved.

He wouldn't have gotten my attention if he had simply said that Hank Aaron's 755 homers was more meaningful than Barry Bonds' 762. I'm with him on that. Aaron played in an era of pitching so great that they lowered the mound to make the game more competitive in the late 1960s. Aaron also didn't pump up his muscles with banned substances to make it easier to clear the fences.

Moore's main point was that Rodriguez may cruise by Gehrig on a certain page of the record book, but he will never replace Gehrig in the annals of baseball history. Where he went too far was when he ended his column by injecting Ripken into the discussion and made the case that Gehrig still deserves to be recognized as baseball's reigning iron man, because Cal didn't have the same level of overall accomplishment and personal charisma. Here's his rationale:

You may recall that Gehrig also earned his nickname as "The Iron Horse" by playing in a record 2,130 games before succumbing to a bizarre muscular disease that eventually was named in his honor. His record for that playing streak lasted 56 years until Cal Ripken Jr., kept going and going before snapping it in 1995. Nothing against Ripken Jr., but Gehrig remains the standard bearer for that record, too.

lou%20gehrig.jpgI shouldn't have to give Moore a history lesson, but the last thing Lou Gehrig had was "it." He was a quiet, serious guy whose image in the minds of most living baseball fans was formed by Gary Cooper's depiction of him in the movie "Pride of the Yankees." He didn't have an ounce of charisma, but he gained legendary status because of the horrible disease that ended his terrific baseball career and took his life...and the grace with which he handled that adversity.

Gehrig also gained iconic status because he played for the Murderer's Row Yankees, was one of the truly great offensive players in history and because he played in a city that was -- and still considers itself -- the center of the sports universe. I'm guessing that if Gehrig had spent his career in Detroit, he would not have had a movie made about him and we would not be having this conversation.

We can have a discussion about the legitimacy of ARod's likely grand slam record, because he admitted to taking steroids while he was pounding out some of those grand slams. The notion that Ripken's consecutive games streak is in the same category is simply ludicrous. Not only did Ripken break Gehrig's record playing a much more demanding position during the era of more demanding coast-to-coast travel, he broke it by 502 games!

Sorry, my friend, but you owe the Iron Man an apology.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:09 AM | | Comments (68)
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May 3, 2011

Orioles: Tough 10th

Jason Berken battled through a tough ninth inning on Tuesday night, but ended up the loser after giving up a leadoff walk in the 10th. The Kansas City Royals, who are very tough to beat at home, took advantage with a single and a sacrifice fly to open the series with a hard-fought 6-5 victory.

No need for the Orioles to hang their heads after a tense, well-contested game, but they handed the bullpen another lead that lasted just one batter when Jeremy Accardo came on to give up an immediate game-tying home run to Jeff Francour in the bottom of the sixth. That was deflating, but it wasn't particularly surprising. The bullpen has allowed six home runs in the last seven games.

The loss dropped the Orioles two games under .500 after they opened the road trip with three straight victories to get back to sea level.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:29 PM | | Comments (92)
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My latest column

The first few innings of tonight's series opener in Kansas City basically bears out what I touched on in my column for tomorrow's print edition, which you can read right here.

The Orioles looked toothless during the first three innings and Brad Bergesen blinked hard in a three-run Royals second, but the Orioles charged back in the fourth to tie the game on Luke Scott's three-run homer off Royals pitcher Jeff Francis.

I'm cautiously optimistic, but this offensive team is tough to figure sometimes.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:15 PM | | Comments (20)
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O's: Another head-scratcher

What is it about the Orioles that makes them so willing to help a struggling pitcher snap out of a funk. Jeff Francis is coming off a couple of difficult starts, so -- of course -- he has cruised through the first three innings, even though he clearly is struggling with his command.

He has gone to full counts with several hitters, but the O's just seem befuddled by his offspeed stuff, even though he is not a big velocity guy.

Meanwhile, Brad Bergesen looked great in the first inning, then dug himself a hole by walking Billy Butler on four pitches to open the second. He was actually fortunate to get out of the inning with only three runs across.

Instant update: Butler just hit a sharp grounder that nicked Bergesen. Lest anyone forget, he was the guy who drilled Bergesen in the shin in 2009 and cut short Brad's impressive rookie season.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:00 PM | | Comments (9)
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May 1, 2011

Strange days indeed

This is just a piggyback on my last item, because Saturday night's game between the Orioles and White Sox was just as strange as the series opener. I've been wracking my memory and I can't remember seeing a total of three instances where a player reached base on a third-strike passed ball or wild pitch in the five years leading up to this series.

It has now happened -- in favor of the O's -- three times in two games. I'm probably exaggerating the rarity of that, but you really don't see that happen very often at the major league level.

And it's not a total fluke, because Buck Showalter has the O's playing at a pitch where they are able to take advantage. How many times in the past few years have you seen a ball get away from the catcher on a third strike and an Orioles hitter automatically starts walking back to the dugout.

The times they are a changin'.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:04 PM | | Comments (136)
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April 30, 2011

O's: Who you jivin' with that cosmic debris

Maybe I'm fooling myself, but I think I saw a karmic shift last night when the Orioles were winning the opener of their four-game weekend wraparound series against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

wieters.jpgThink about it. If I had told you that somebody scored two quick runs after a player reached base on a third-strike wild pitch with two outs, and that same team added five more runs after a dependable shortstop double-clutched a two-out ground ball an inning later, you're probably conditioned to think that the team on the wrong end of that bad fortune would be the Orioles. But that's how the White Sox self-destructed on Friday night.

Meanwhile, the so-called greatest first-round draft bust in recent years is starting to look like one of the best players in the league. Matt Wieters (right) delivered a mammoth two-run homer to give the O's a 5-3 lead and added a two-run double to help break the game open. He's already one of the best defensive catchers around, and he's only scratching the surface at the plate. He's going to be one of the cornerstone players here for a long time.

That said, the Orioles are still sub-.500 and really need to start winning series to establish that they are a clearly superior team to last year's model and to buy more time until Brian Matusz returns to the starting rotation. Winning two of the next three in Chicago would certainly help.

Correction update: I mixed up the circumstances of last night's fortuitous rallies in a previous version of this blog entry. I was trying to watch both the game and the NFL draft and got a little discombobulated. As always, thanks for your understanding.

Associated Press photo

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:45 PM | | Comments (58)
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April 26, 2011

Finally, all's well that ends well

While you're drooling over the long-term outlook for Zach Britton, don't ignore what else happened during the Orioles' 4-1 victory over the Red Sox on Tuesday night. Jim Johnson was nasty again, and this time for two innings, and Kevin Gregg seems to be getting into a better rhythm in the ninth.

Now, for the harder work of beating Josh Beckett and/or Jon Lester over the next two games. The Orioles must -- repeat MUST -- win this series before they head to Chicago for a four-game set against the White Sox. I outline why in my column for tomorrow's print edition of the Sun, but you can read it right now right here.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:39 PM | | Comments (122)
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O's: Backed up to the wall

The Orioles are heading into the middle innings of tonight's game against the Red Sox with a slim lead and young Zach Britton is pitching well again. Now, if they can just hold on and put themselves in position to win this series, it would provide a big confidence boost for a team that has got to be wondering which end is up.

Numbers don't lie. The Orioles have the second-worst record in the American League, the worst team ERA and the 29th-ranked on-base percentage in the majors. None of that spells turnaround, but they desperately need a lift with the White Sox for them in Chicago this weekend.

I'll have a column up on this very subject in the next hour or two. Check it out.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 8:28 PM | | Comments (20)
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April 25, 2011

Believe it or not: Orioles are lucky

Now, you're probably bracing for me to come up with some pollyanna explanation for where the Orioles are right now, and you will be waiting a long time for that. The O's are in crisis. There is no doubt about that, and the proof is in this 2-11 run that has taken all the joy and optimism out of the fan base.

There really is no sugar-coating that. If they don't figure out a way to win a few games in a hurry they'll be on the doorstep of replicating last year's devastating 2-16 run, which would be, well, devastating, though not as devastating as that one.

Which brings us to my original point. The Orioles are actually lucky right now that they are not already completely out of the picture in the AL East. By this time last year, they were so far down they couldn't see up, but all the other teams in the East except the Yankees sputtered out of the gate. Somehow, the Orioles are only two games out of second place after this crappy run. Last year, they were 11 games out of first place at this point in the season and 9 1/2 out of second.

I'm sure there are those who would say that last place is last place. I know a lot of people on this blog think that way, and that's fine. It is what it is and no one should be happy about it. I still believe that this is a far better team than last year's, but at some point it's up to them to prove it -- and that isn't happening right now.

This upcoming series against the Red Sox has become very important from a credibility standpoint. If the O's keep can't close out this homestand with at least a couple of wins, it's going to be hard to make the case that they've made up any ground on the rest of the division.

Injuries? Don't want to hear it. I proclaimed the Tampa Bay Rays DOA after Evan Longoria went down and Manny Ramirez retired. They lost Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena to free agency and traded away Matt Garza for budget reasons. They fell on their faces at the start of the season, but they have streaked back to .500 and into second place. That's a sign of the character of the team and the quality of the pitching staff.

The Orioles need to take a page from that playbook and dig deep right now or this season is going to come unraveled before they can get Brian Matusz and J.J. Hardy back from the disabled list.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:28 PM | | Comments (78)
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April 24, 2011

Putting Rupe's denial in historical perspective

FreddiePatek2.jpgWhen Josh Rupe drilled Russell Martin in the back last night and then insisted that it was unintentional, it reminded me of one of my favorite moments covering baseball way back in the day.

Let me preface this by saying that not only don't I believe Rupe, but I don't want to believe him. The way the game was played in the golden age, if you hit a couple of home runs in a row and dug in the batters box in your next at-bat, that bruise on your upper back was simply routine. No ejection. No suspension. That's the way the game was played at one time.

Now, let me get to my point, which was made better than me on June 20, 1980, when I was on an Angels road trip with an LA Times writer who would later become quite well known as a columnist here in Baltimore. His name was Mike Littwin.

We were in Boston with the Angels and 140-pound shortstop Freddie Patek did the unthinkable, hitting three towering home runs over the Green Monster at Fenway Park and coming up for one more at-bat late in a 20-2 Angels victory. Patek, as you'd expect, swung from his rear end in that final at-bat and nearly screwed himself into the ground trying to become the tiniest player to hit four homers in a game.

So, afterward, we were interviewing him and asked him how much he wanted to hit that fourth home run and, amazingly, Patek insisted that he wasn't even trying. Said something about not ever changing your swing, even as Don Baylor chuckled across the clubhouse about the way Patek had almost come out of his cleats in that final at-bat.

Which spawned something I now call the "Mike Littwin Ass**** Theory," and I'll let you fill in the blanks. Mike came back up to the press box and spelled it out.

"You know," he said. "If Freddy was lying to us, then he's an ass****, and if he wasn't trying to hit his fourth home run of the night in that situation, he's an even bigger ass****." I hope you're not offended by the crude language, but the principle kind of applies in this situation, though I don't think Rupe is anything but a decent guy.

In this situation, it has always been acceptable to claim you didn't mean to hit the guy -- even in the old days.

Bonus old guy moment: Here's how much the game has changed in one generation. Later in the 1980s, I attended a disciplinary hearing in New York following a well-publicized beanball incident and asked then-American League president Dr. Bobby Brown why the punishment was relatively light. He didn't hesitate.

"Because it's not a tea party."

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:25 AM | | Comments (14)
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Orioles: Today's apologia

It was hard to watch CC Sabathia tie the Orioles lineup in knots for much of last night, but that game wasn't going to be in the win column whether it was 3-0, 6-3 or 15-3. In this case, a loss is a loss, and about all Orioles fans can hope for when the O's wrap up this rain-shortened series today at Camden Yards is that the Yankees hitters will be tired and sore when they face Jake Arrieta. Pretty sure Russell Martin will be.

Eventually, the Orioles are going to have to show that they can play with the denizens of the Evil Empire if they are to be taken seriously in the American League East. Arrieta has proven he is not afraid of that lineup, so maybe today is the day that the O's assert themselves and quit reinforcing the notion that they are both overmatched and intimidated by the Yankees.

Brad Bergesen actually did a good job of collecting himself after that three-run first inning, but you can't give Sabathia a head start when he's already proven -- many, many times -- that he doesn't need any help to dominate the Orioles.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 6:48 AM | | Comments (65)
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April 21, 2011

I'm either prophetic or...

...pathetic. There is seldom anything in between. I tweeted before Tuesday night's game that it was time for Vladimir Guerrero to "start squaring up the ball. When he gets hot, the O's will follow."

He jumped on two balls that night, one of them leaving the park, and hit another home run last night to join Matt Wieters in leading the Orioles offense. This does not make me Nostradamus, but it does make me more hopeful that the early struggles of the offense were not systemic.

Now, if Derrek Lee can jump on one tonight, maybe the Orioles can head into the Yankees series with some real momentum -- and a .500 record.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:53 PM | | Comments (150)
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April 17, 2011

Breaking bad

Remember how I wrote that column last week about the O's and how they were storing up acorns in heaven that would extend their viability a few weeks further into the season? Well, I take it back.

Never imagined that they would squander that 5-1 start in such dynamic fashion. I also thought the Indians' quick start was a flash in the pan, so I guess I was wrong twice. Here's hoping the O's can salvage today's game, but I'm not optimistic. They just look flat and I think it has something to do with Thursday night's late-inning giveaway in New York.

Maybe they'll prove me wrong, but I see little offensive chemistry right now. The low point yesterday was when they had a chance to get back in it with the bases loaded and Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis coming up in the fifth inning, but settled for only Luke Scott's leadoff home run. There was a point with the game still in doubt where the Orioles had seven baserunners over a three-inning span and managed to score just once.

If you would have told me that Mark Reynolds would be one of their top clutch hitters, especially in two-out and two-strike situations, I would have assumed the rest of the lineup would be chugging along right now, but the big improvement in run-production potential has yet to show itself.

The good news, I guess, is that the Orioles picked the right time to lose six games in a row -- since they are still within two games of the Yankees and are still ahead of the Rays and Red Sox, but the losing streak has coincided with the resurgence of the Tampa Bay Rays and comes in advance of a brutal homestand.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:37 AM | | Comments (192)
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April 14, 2011

Morning briefing

Here are some random thoughts as I prepare to spend another day in exile after my mean boss forced me to go on vacation:

Barry Bonds got convicted of giving an evasive answer when he was asked to incriminate himself in front of the BALCO grand jury. I'm not a big Barry fan and I think we all know what he did, but I'm also not a fan of the grand jury system, which denies witnesses many of the protections afforded them during a regular trial.

Nobody likes Chris Tillman more than I do (well, maybe his mom), but he's going to have to expand his repertoire if he's ever going to live up to his minor league billing. He can't finish off hitters consistently, though last night was more a case of him leaving a bunch of balls right in the upper middle of the strike zone.

Luke Scott made me crazy last night. He led off the second inning after the Orioles fell behind by three runs and refused to accept a walk from a struggling A.J. Burnett. Swung at two three-ball pitches that probably were out of the strike zone. Job One when you're behind by three or more runs is to get on base. Later in the game, he struck out in a three-ball count on a pitch that nearly hit him on the ankle. Hard to watch.

Bad night all around for Jim Johnson. He didn't pitch last night, but the Orioles lost to the Yankees and his New York Rangers lost in overtime to the Caps.

The highest batting average in the Orioles starting lineup after last night's game was .273 (Mark Reynolds). Is that good?

Today's vacation forecast: Sloth.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:36 AM | | Comments (199)
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April 11, 2011

Orioles get a breather...

...though I hope nobody breathes too hard and pulls someting. This has been a very curious first 11 days of the new season, with the Orioles playing and pitching well while losing an average of a player every other day. That's why it's hard to have very high expectations for the midweek series against the Yankees in New York.

Robert Andino and Cesar Izturiz will share the starting shortstop duties now that J.J. Hardy's condition appears to be known. Hardy is headed to extended spring training to rehab along with Brian Matusz and we'll probably see both of them in about three weeks. The Orioles will decide today or tomorrow whether to bring back Brad Bergesen to start on Wednesday night or give the spot start to Chris Jakubauskas. Looks like Bergesen.

The series against the Yankees will come down to how the Orioles rotation responds to adversity. Chris Tillman, who starts tomorrow night, is coming off a short outing after pitching six no-hit innings in his season debut, and Jake Arrieta will try to bounce back on Thursday night after a very difficult start against the Rangers on Saturday.

The O's probably are going to lose some altitude in the MLB power rankings because of what has happened to the Rays. That three-game sweep to open the season looked pretty sweet, but it's starting to look like the Rays weren't what they were cracked up to be. It's sort of like Boise State early in the last college football season. The Broncos went on the road to beat Virginia Tech in their opener and then suffered in the rankings when VTech was upset soon thereafter by James Madison.

OK, that's a stretch, but I never pass up a chance to mention how Boise gets the short end of the stick from the NCAA.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:49 PM | | Comments (119)
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April 10, 2011

"Guts" guts it out

Jeremy Guthrie took the mound against the Texas Rangers after spending the past week recovering from pneumonia and retired the side in order in the first inning, but the issue is not so much effectiveness as endurance.

The Orioles need him to give them some innings today and they really don't know -- and neither does Guthrie -- just how much of a toll that infection took on him. We'll find out soon enough.

This tough Rangers lineup would be a challenge for anybody, and the first inning did feature a couple of hard-hit balls. Guthrie, however, did appear to have decent command.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:39 PM | | Comments (32)
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April 8, 2011

Manny's unhappy returns

mannyap.jpgIn a shocking development, Manny Ramirez apparently has run afoul of Major League Baseball's drug prevention program for the second time and has notifed MLB that he will retire rather than go through the process again.

So, now the big question is obvious:

Is Manny Ramirez a Hall of Famer?

I'll leave that to your discretion, because I'm more interested in the impact this is going to have on the Tampa Bay Rays, who had hoped Ramirez would fill the void left by Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, not to mention injured Evan Longoria.

This is a major blow at a time when the team is in freefall. The Rays also sent top-flight pitcher Matt Garza to the Cubs and lost most of their bullpen over the winter.

I'm feeling particularly bad for manager Joe Maddon, who has helped transform that organization from an expansion doormat into an AL East power. Can't see them getting up after this, but Maddon has worked miracles before, so I wouldn't rule them out of the race just yet.

AP photo

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 4:22 PM | | Comments (118)
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Jones, Orioles erupt

adamgetty.jpgThe Orioles' newlook offense had been fairly restrained through the first five games of the new season, but there was reason to believe that it would pump up the volume on Thursday night against struggling Tigers starter Brad Penny.

Turns out, Penny was not really the problem. He gave up four runs -- and the game-tying home run to Adam Jones in the sixth -- but turned in a workmanlike performance. It was the bullpen that came unraveled in the O's five-run seventh.

Jones (left) snapped out of an early 2-for-19 slump with a bunt single, the two-run shot and a sacrifice fly. Third baseman Mark Reynolds delivered his third RBI double in the last four games and also drove in three runs. Say what you want about Reynolds' and his proclivity for striking out. He has been very tough in RISP situations, especially with two strikes.

Vladimir Guerrero delivered his first home run as an Oriole earlier in the game, so the heart of the lineup arrived just in time to bail Chris Tillman out of a rocky performance in his second start of the season.

Best news: The Orioles continue to successfully buy time until the rotation gets back to full strength. Jeremy Guthrie was back in the clubhouse and said before the game that he's very hopeful of starting against the Texas Rangers on Sunday.

Getty Images (file photo)

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 6:11 AM | | Comments (43)
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April 7, 2011

The "catch"

Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman got a big break in the fourth inning when a long shot by Victor Martinez was bobbled by Adam Jones and glanced off the wall before being caught on the rebound by Nick Markakis.

The umpires were screened out and apparently assumed that Jones flipped the ball to Markakis before slamming into the fence. It was ruled a catch and scored 8-9, with Jones getting one of the strangest outfield assist ever.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland went out and discussed the play with the umpires, but there was nothing they could do to rectify the situation. It wasn't a "border call,'' so it wasn't a reviewable play.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 8:22 PM | | Comments (40)
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Tillman trips

The Orioles were hoping that Chris Tillman would pick up right where he left off at Tropicana Field, where he pitched six hitless innings against the Tampa Bay rays, but that was not to be. Tillman's hitless streak came to an immediate end when he gave up a single to leadoff hitter Austin Jackson and he went on to struggle badly in the first inning.

He ran up his pitch count with a 12-pitch duel with No. 2 hitter Will Rhymes and gave up run-scoring hits to Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez before getting out of the inning with a double play ball.

All things considered, he was fortunate to get away with just two runs on the board, but the hope that he might save the bullpen tonight already has been dashed. He threw 32 pitches in the first, so it's going to be a struggle to get through five or six innings.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 7:29 PM | | Comments (5)
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Nobody's perfect

No one should be surprised the Tigers ace Justin Verlander dominated the Orioles on Wednesday night, but it wasn't quite as simple as that. O's starter Brad Bergesen might have made a better account of himself if not for a pop fly into right field that glanced off the glove of Brian Roberts for a two-base error that extended the second inning and led to the first two Detroit runs.

Not saying Bergesen would have pitched deep into the game, but a short inning there might have kept him viable longer and would have kept the game closer.

No matter. Verlander gave up just four hits and struck out nine over eight innings on the way to his first victory of the young season. He did give up a home run to Derrek Lee and an RBI single to Vladimir Guerrero, but he was never in serious jeopardy. He's now 6-0 with a 2.64 ERA in eight career starts against the Orioles and 4-0 with a 2.50 ERA at Camden Yards.

The Orioles offense still hasn't really opened up, but it would have been unrealistic to expect much on Wednesday night. Still, it's fair to point out that the O's were batting .230 with 15 extra-base hits after five games last year, and are batting .217 with 11 extra-base hits over the same period this April.

If I were looking for someone in particular to worry about -- and I'm not -- it would be Adam Jones, who has been persistently behind in the count and has just two singles in his first 19 at-bats.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 6:22 AM | | Comments (49)
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April 5, 2011

Could this be magic?

I'm not going to rain on anybody's parade -- Mother Nature is doing enough of that already today -- but it can't be a great sign that the No. 1 and No. 2 starting pitchers are both on the sidelines at the moment.

I'm hopeful that Brad Bergesen can pick up where Jake Arrieta left off. If he can command the lower part of the strike zone, he should be okay against this Tigers lineup. He has pitched pretty well against Detroit in three career starts, despite a 1-2 record. In 21 innings, he has given up nine earned runs (3.86 ERA) and struck out 10.

It would be even better if the heart of the Orioles newlook lineup got in gear tomorrow night and gave him some luxurious run support. And while I'm on the subject, check out my column about the early struggles of the new sluggers right here.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:56 AM | | Comments (59)
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April 4, 2011

Mr. Roberts

Brian Roberts just hit his second three-run homer of the season, this one a towering drive off Rick Porcello that just cleared the fence in center field. That gives him eight RBI in the first four games.

Carlos Quentin was the American League Player of the Week after driving in seven runs over the weekend. Mark Teixeira also drove in seven runs in the Yankees' weekend series against the Tigers.

Right now, however, Brian Roberts is the major league leader in RBI.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 4:31 PM | | Comments (59)
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Perfect strangers

The Orioles and their perfect record came home to an absolutely picture-perfect day in Baltimore. The gametime temperature was 76 degrees and the bright sky provided a beautiful backdrop for the flyover during the National Anthem.

So, who are these guys? We're going to find out over the long haul of the season, but the first few days of the regular season have certainly got the fans amped up. The players got nice ovations as they were introduced, but the crowd saved its most raucous reception for manager Buck Showalter, who got a standing ovation when he took the field.

Now, for the business at hand. Jake Arrieta just struck out Miguel Cabrera to end the top of the first inning and Nick Markakis delivered the first hit of the year at Camden Yards. Tigers starter Rick Porcello got through the first, but he allowed a line drive to Brian Roberts and two shots to deep center to Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero.

Stay tuned. Looks like it's going to be an interesting afternoon.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 3:18 PM | | Comments (1)
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April 3, 2011

Rays role reversal?

There are a lot of people in the Tampa Bay Rays organization who are wondering just what else can go wrong after the past two nights. They were dominated by Jeremy Guthrie in the season opener and watched helplessly as the Orioles delivered a series of dramatic plays to win last night.

What else can go wrong? Well, how about your best player being placed on the disabled list after suffering an oblique strain. Evan Longoria will be out for weeks.

The Rays are starting to recognize how it must have felt to be the Orioles at this time last year, when a series of dramatic losses combined with a string of injuries to run them off a competitive cliff right at the start of the season. But I'm not wishing a 2-16 start on them. Wouldn't wish that on anybody. Joe Maddon and the Rays are a classy team and I'm going to wish them well as they go off to play the other AL East teams.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:38 PM | | Comments (65)
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Drama club

The Orioles won one of the most suspenseful games I've seen in a very long time on Saturday night. Chris Tillman seemed to be walking a tightrope with every hitter, but still managed to hold the Tampa Bay Rays hitless for six innings. The Orioles lineup was beguiled by James Shields, but Brian Roberts delivered a huge home run right after Rays manager Joe Maddon pulled Shields out of the game.

It got dicey when Michael Gonzalez faltered in the eighth inning, and it got downright scary in the ninth when new closer Kevin Gregg allowed a couple of baserunners and then gave up a rocket to Ben Zobrist that seemed destined to at least tie the game. But Nick Markakis's amazing game-ending catch left you wondering if there is some Orioles Magic brewing this season.

Anyway, that's quite a preamble for a link to my column about Derrek Lee and the other Orioles who have come into this season with chips on their shoulders. Lee had his first two hits on Saturday night and Roberts delivered the game-winning blow, and both are featured prominently. You can read it right here.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:48 AM | | Comments (29)
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April 2, 2011

Tillman: Two-thirds of a no-hitter

Chris Tillman is done for the night and there can be no complaints about his emergency start in place of Brian Matusz. He threw six hitless innings, striking out five and walking three. Not bad for a guy who gave up 31 baserunners in 18 1/3 innings during spring training.

Jeremy Accardo has taken the mound in his Orioles debut and just retired Manny Ramirez for the first out of the seventh.

If anyone out there thinks that Tillman should have been allowed to continue, you probably weren't watching his performance. He didn't breeze through the Rays lineup. He had to battle for every out and, since this is his longest performance to date, manager Buck Showalter was prudent to let him go back to the clubhouse with a smile on his face.

There was no way he was going to pitch three more innings after needing 101 pitches through six.

The no-hitter was broken up with two outs in the seventh by B.J. Upton, who lined a no-doubt single up the middle.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:00 PM | | Comments (19)
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Tillman: Two-thirds of a no-hitter

Chris Tillman is done for the night and there can be no complaints about his emergency start in place of Brian Matusz. He threw six hitless innings, striking out five and walking three. Not bad for a guy who gave up 31 baserunners in 18 1/3 innings during spring training.

Jeremy Accardo has taken the mound in his Orioles debut and just retired Manny Ramirez for the first out of the seventh.

If anyone out there thinks that Tillman should have been allowed to continue, you probably weren't watching his performance. He didn't breeze through the Rays lineup. He had to battle for every out and, since this is his longest performance to date, manager Buck Showalter was prudent to let him go back to the clubhouse with a smile on his face.

There was no way he was going to pitch three more innings after needing 101 pitches through six.

The no-hitter was broken up with two outs in the seventh by B.J. Upton, who lined a no-doubt single up the middle.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:00 PM | | Comments (19)
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Tillman time

Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman was pushed into tonight's start against the Tampa Bay Rays because of the injury to close friend Brian Matusz, and he has worked through three innings without giving up a hit, but it's not like anybody's on a no-hit watch.

Tillman has labored through those three innings, working into three ball counts with six of the 11 batters he has faced so far. He has thrown 61 pitches already, so he's going to be fortunate -- regardless of what the Rays do -- to get through six innings in his first start of the season.

There's no question that Tillman has a lot of promise, but he does not have a hammer. When he gets ahead on the count, opposing hitters force him to work way too hard to get the out. Guess you have to remember that he's just 22 years old.

Instant update: Tillman loves to prove me wrong, so he got through the fourth with just seven pitches -- and retired the heart of the Rays lineup -- which improves his chances of getting into the late innings considerably.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 8:09 PM | | Comments (6)
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Orioles: After further review

Due to some technical difficulties, my post-game column from last night's season opener -- reflecting the fact that the Orioles called up top pitching prospect Zach Britton -- never got onto the Web site, so I'm reprinting it here. Thanks for your patience.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Just when everyone was starting to feel all warm and fuzzy about the opening of the regular season, reality crept into the visiting clubhouse at Tropicana Field late Friday afternoon.

Left-hander Brian Matusz, who is widely regarded as the cornerstone of the club’s pitching future, walked disconsolately to his locker and put his street clothes back on. Instead of getting ready to chart pitches in advance of Saturday night’s scheduled start against the Tampa Bay Rays, he was getting ready to undergo an MRI to determine the cause of soreness beneath his left shoulder blade.

The results would not cheer him up. He suffered an intercostal strain and could be lost for up to a month. The Orioles placed him on the 15-day disabled list, moved Chris Tillman into Saturday night’s start and then did something else they had hoped they would not have to do so soon. They recalled top pitching prospect Zach Britton from the Triple-A roster to start the series finale on Sunday.

zachreuters.jpgNo doubt, that half of the evening news will be welcomed by a lot of Orioles fans, but it really isn’t a very happy development. Britton would have been here in a few weeks anyway and the O’s would have been able to keep him under reserve for seven seasons instead of six. This way, he may become eligible for free agency a year sooner.

And, as they say, that was the good news, along with Jeremy Guthrie’s terrific Opening Night performance and the O’s 4-1 victory, but it was not a good day. Matusz will be sidelined for at least three weeks with an injury that seldom heals easily.

Manager Buck Showalter also hinted at some other possible contingencies before moving Tillman up, but there was nothing else that would soften the blow of losing the club’s No. 2 starter before he could take the mound for his first start of the season.

The Orioles and their fans have been leaning heavily on the upgraded offensive lineup to justify guarded optimism about the club’s chances of being more competitive this season, but the ability to go nose-to-nose with the beasts of the American League East on any consistent basis has always depended on the continuing development of the young starting pitchers.

So what have we got here?

Matusz is now down for an indeterminate period and the Orioles – at least for a few hours – were without a No. 2 starter for the second game of the season. Tillman was the obvious choice to fill that one start and Brad Bergesen could have pitched four or five innings on Sunday, but neither one of them had a particularly inspiring spring.

Tillman had a respectable 3.93 ERA, but he allowed 31 baserunners in 18 1/3 innings. Bergesen pitched 17 innings against major league competitive and had a 5.82 ERA, also allowing 31 baserunners. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that’s an average of nearly two baserunners an inning, which probably isn’t going to get it done in the American League East.

Obviously, it would have been real nice if the Justin Duchscherer experiment had panned out, but his comeback attempt appears to have fizzled.

Which brings us back to Britton, who was the Orioles’ most effective starter this spring. The club optioned him back to Norfolk a few days ago and clearly intended to delay his arrival in the major leagues until the end of April. Instead, he is now positioned nicely to make a run at the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

Even though MacPhail’s first instinct is to maintain control over his best young players for as long as possible, the Orioles found themselves in a very delicate position with Matusz temporarily out of the rotation. Even if they had filled out the weekend without a roster move, they would have needed a fifth starter on April 10.

The O’s need to build on last year’s late-season turnaround and they need not to leave their fans any room to doubt their commitment to compete this year. That’s why it would have been problematic to plug the hole left by Matusz with somebody like Chris Jakubauskas or Ryan Drese.

Showalter did not openly campaign for Britton, but he made it clear throughout spring training that he is committed to trying to win as many games as possible this year. It’s probably fair to assume he pushed hard for the best possible option to fill Matusz’s place in the rotation.

The last thing Showalter wants to do is risk a repeat of last year’s disastrous start, especially after doing so much to wipe that memory out of the minds of Orioles fans and after the front office did so much to upgrade the offense.

That offense found a way to beat one of the best pitchers in baseball on Friday night, but the Orioles weren’t going to hit their way out of this mess.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

Reuters photo

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:06 AM | | Comments (13)
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April 1, 2011

Orioles out in front, but...

Nick Markakis just sliced a single to left center field to drive in the first Orioles run of the season and give them a 1-0 lead over David Price and the Rays, but today is not going to be a particularly good Opening Day for the O's regardless of the outcome of tonight's game.

If you've been keeping up with Orioles Insider, you know that Brian Matusz has been scratched from tomorrow night's start with what appears to be an intercostal strain. That's usually not good, and it's not the only pitching question facing the Orioles as the season gets underway.

I'll expand on that in my column, which will be up on the Web site soon. I'll drop the link in here as soon as it lands.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 7:48 PM | | Comments (45)
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Back to the boxscores

DerrekSun.jpgIt's great that the baseball season is upon us, of course, but I'm going to have to agree with my friend Pete Gilbert -- local television personality and part-time golf pro -- that it's kind of strange to have a progression of opening days without an Orioles home opener.

Used to be, the O's were one of the traditional first-timers, but then came the Sunday night openers and now the handful of Thursday openers and the fact that the Orioles are back on the road to open the regular season for the second straight year.

It just doesn't feel right, but that can't be helped. The important thing is that you've got the pantry stocked with Doritos and a refrigerator full of Diet Dr. for tonight's game against the Rays at Tropicana Field. We'll all just act like it's the first day of the season when the O's get back for Monday's home opener at Camden Yards.

First things first. The Orioles debut their upgraded lineup against Rays ace David Price tonight, which should be interesting. The O's traditionally do pretty well in their first game of the season, so maybe Derrek Lee (left) and Adam Jones will go deep and send a message to the Rays that it's going to be a little tougher this year. Just hope they have more than a two-run lead in the ninth.

Oh, and here's a link to today's column about the new lineup. I know how much you like it when I link stuff here, so I'll be doing it a lot this season.

And while I'm passing the buck, you might want to go over to Orioles Insider, where Jeff Zrebiec, Dan Connolly and I have made our staff predictions. Part 1 has been up for awhile. Part 2 just went up a few minutes ago.

US Presswire photo

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:15 AM | | Comments (17)
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March 31, 2011

So it begins

The Orioles are about to take the field for their offday workout at Tropicana Field, which wouldn't be happening if the ballpark did not have a roof. The Tampa/St. Petersburg area is being crushed by a huge thunderstorm and it's deafening even inside the stadium.

The highlight so far was watching MASN's Roch Kubatko arrive in the press box a while back with his jeans soaked up to his calves. I got into the building just before the deluge, but almost got hit by a flying trash can on my way in from the parking lot.

In a little less than 30 hours, the Orioles will unveil their upgraded and potentially power-packed lineup against Rays ace David Price, which should be quite a test, but catcher Matt Wieters said today that it's not about first impressions.

"I don't think it matters who you're going against,'' he said. "We're excited about this lineup for the whole season, not just one night."

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:13 PM | | Comments (44)
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March 30, 2011

Shocker: They let me come back

Just wanted to put everybody's mind at ease. Most of you have noticed that I haven't been around much lately and you obviously weren't fooled by the claim that I was "on vacation," since it should have been obvious to all that I was in exile because (a) Peter Angelos doesn't like me; (b) the radio rights deal between the O's and WBAL included a clause that forced me into early retirement; or (c) they're going to need somebody to run Libya for awhile.

Frankly, (A) and (C) are actually true, though I'm just one of many candidates to be the new president of Libya.

You see, nobody really takes a vacation from the Internet, so if somebody tells you they are on vacation, they're probably hiding behind a grassy knoll in Dallas or hanging out with Elvis somewhere. I'm sure you already knew that, but just wanted to let you know you're not really crazy.

The Orioles are supposed to be off today, but they are having some kind of camp game so they can get some of their pitchers a little more work. (See, you can't believe anything.) I'm sort of off, even though I'm back from vacation, because I'm getting ready to head back to Florida for the opening weekend series against the Rays. I'll be writing columns every day and will be posting here and at Orioles Insider and basically getting psyched up for Opening Day on Monday at Camden Yards.

Don't really care about the team, but I hear they have a bunch of new concession items.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:38 PM | | Comments (43)
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O's: Read me or reap the consequences

Since I reluctantly have returned to work this week -- and head back to Florida on Thursday for the season-opening series between the Orioles and Rays -- I thought you might like some proof, so check out my first Baltimore Sun column since I humanized Luke Scott for all my liberal friends on Mar. 13. You can read it right here.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:17 AM | | Comments (17)
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March 29, 2011

Orioles: It's about to get real

The Orioles are about to play the Toronto Blue Jays in their final game of the Grapefruit League season, leaving just a couple of workout days between the exhibition finale and the regular-season opener against the Rays at Tropicana Field. I'm just hoping the new Kevlar vests that have been ordered for the pitching staff will arrive in time.

Not funny.

The line drive that popped Brian Matusz on the left bicep probably won't cause him serious harm, but the Orioles didn't need another big question mark heading into the real games. They're still waiting to see how Brad Bergesen bounces back from that line drive off his right arm. He'll pitch in the squad game tomorrow, though it'll be hard to locate his pitches with his fingers crossed.

For the moment, only Jeremy Guthrie's name is written in ink as a starter in the opening serie, but things figure to be clearer tomorrow afternoon.

Today's lineup is pretty much what you're going to see on Opening Night, and it's a pretty formidable batting order. Once again, it's going to be about keeping enough of these guys healthy to score consistently. I know we say that every year, but it's because it's true...and fairly obvious.

By the way, I'm back from vacation, so I'll be posting more regularly, both here and on Orioles Insider. Thanks for your, er, patience.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:19 AM | | Comments (14)
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March 24, 2011

Orioles: Buck against the world

There's already quite a buzz around here about the April edition of Men's Journal, in which Orioles manager Buck Showalter takes a few pointed swings at the well-heeled Yankees and Red Sox.

buckap.jpgShowalter will make headlines in New York for some pokes at Derek Jeter, but the most interesting comment was his shot across the bow at Red Sox GM Theo Epstein:

"I’d like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll. You got Carl Crawford ’cause you paid more than anyone else, and that’s what makes you smarter? That’s why I like whipping their butt. It’s great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, ‘How the hell are they beating us?’ ”

Of course, there's a lot more to being the GM of the Red Sox or Yankees than spending all that money. Epstein will always be considered a genius in Boston because of his role in reversing the Curse of the Bambino, and the Red Sox have drafted and developed some very good players.

It's pretty obvious what Showalter is doing here, and you have to like it if you're tired of getting kicked to the bottom of the AL East standings every year. He's trying to change the culture in the Orioles organization. To use a line I usually throw out when I'm getting killed at Texas Hold'em, "it's time to change the emphasis from losing to winning."

The Orioles aren't going to beat the Yankees and Red Sox because Showalter put a chip on their shoulder, but it can't hurt to erase the air of resignation that has surrounded this organization since the Yankees started spending $200 million per year on payroll and the Red Sox decided to try and keep up.

That attitude adjustment was apparent during the final two months of the 2010 season and Showalter wants to take it to another level. I don't know if he'll succeed -- there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered about this O's roster -- but it's pretty obvious that he's not willing to settle for less.

I like the fact that he's not willing to kiss anybody's ring. I'm just glad he didn't tell them where they could kiss him.

Associated Press photo

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:51 AM | | Comments (177)
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March 22, 2011

Orioles: The right stuff?

Pardon me for being too positive here, but I'm not particularly worried about the Orioles pitching staff right now, even though I concede that the inconsistency of some of the starters is disconcerting at this late point in spring training.

Jeremy Guthrie is going to be Jeremy Guthrie, and with a stronger offensive team, he should be able to win quite a few games this year. He's a way better pitcher than his combined won-loss record the past couple years, and I think you're going to see proof of that pretty quick

Brian Matusz is going to live up to the hype and Jake Arrieta is the real deal, though I suspect he'll run over some potholes this season because of his inexperience. The big question marks are Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman, and the Orioles aren't the only team trying to figure out the end of their rotation.

Bergesen is allowing too many baserunners this spring, but he's all about commanding the lower quadrant of the strike zone. When he does that, he gets people out and pitches well. When he doesn't, it isn't pretty. I think you're always going to see both Brad Bergesens at times during the season, but he does need to be more consistent this season to hold his place in the rotation.

Tillman has pitched okay this spring, but he has a big problem. He's always going to be evaluated based on the out-sized expectations he brought with him from the Seattle organization. And people forget he's actually younger than top minor league prospect Zach Britton.

Which brings us to Britton, who will start against the Yankees in about an hour from now. He is good enough to make this rotation, but that creates a tremendous dilemma for the organization. Should the Orioles throw him out there and try to get off to the best possible start this season or hold him back a few weeks and try to preserve a year of service time.

I'm sure the fans want to see him as soon as possible, and I think the coaching staff feels the same way. But I think you open the season with him in the rotation only if you are fantasizing that this club can compete for a wild card playoff berth this year. If not, you wait six or seven weeks and make sure you've got the guy under reserve for seven seasons instead of six.

Tough call. What do you think?

By the way, I'm still on vacation, so this is a bonus blog post. Now, get back to work.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:57 AM | | Comments (111)
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March 18, 2011

Orioles: Like a good neighbor...

...the New York Mets released 35-year-old Gold Glove second baseman Luis Castillo today and the Orioles promptly denied any interest in picking him up as insurance against the lingering back problems that have kept Brian Roberts out of the spring lineup.

Obviously, the O's -- or some other team -- could sign Castillo for the minimum major league salary, since the Mets are on the hook for his $6 million guaranteed salary. I'm guessing the O's are not currently interested because they have a whole bunch of utility infielders in camp and are about to cut the spring roster, but I'm a little surprised they seem to be ruling him out completely.

Castillo doesn't have the same range or offensive potential that made him a three-time All-Star and Gold Glover, but he has a higher career batting average and on-base percentage than Roberts and would figure to be a dependable replacement if worse comes to worse.

Right now, the middle infield candidate making the most noise in camp is Ryan Adams, but it remains to be seen if Buck Showalter would be comfortable with a guy with virtually no major league experience.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 8:28 PM | | Comments (36)
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Here's Johnny!

Funny story out of St. Petersburg, where Sun columnist and gardening nut Susan Reimer is on vacation while her USA Today sportswriter husband and Friend of Schmuck (Gary Mihoces) toils at the NCAA wrestling championships.

Seems, Susan and two of her friends were at the fancy Vinoy Resort and wanted a photo taken of them under the portico, so they asked a guy if he would take a picture. The guy shrugged, walked up the steps and stood between Susan and one of the other ladies, who found that to be curious.

"You're adorable,'' the friend said, "but we wanted you to take a picture of the three of us."

So, Tampa Bay Rays star -- and former Red Sox and Yankees outfielder -- Johnny Damon dutifully took the camera and snapped the photo. It wasn't until he got his car from the valet and left that somebody told them who he was.

Damon's a nice guy and no egomaniac, but he just assumed they knew who he was and wanted to have their picture taken with him. Honest mistake on both parts.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 8:17 PM | | Comments (3)
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March 9, 2011

Luke's slow start

lukeap.jpgIt's funny, but just about everybody who's struggling at the start of spring training will claim that they are just working on stuff and feel great...except Luke Scott. He has yet to get a hit in 12 Grapefruit League at-bats and has struck out five times and he's not happy about it.

"Of course it bothers me,'' he said, "because I'm a competitor. I do not like not seeing the fruit of my labor."

Scott says that his timing has been off at the plate during games, though his batting practice sessions have been fine. He pulled out one of his bats to show me where the ball marks are, pointing out how few are right on the sweet spot.

"In the games right now, my front hip is leaving early, which is causing the problem,'' he said. "If it stays in, I'll be where I want to be. My timing is off. In the games, I'm speeding up and jumping at the ball."

To put it all in proper perspective, Scott just has to look back on spring training camps past and compare his performances between exhibition season and the regular season.

"The best spring training I ever had was in 2005 and I had the worst season I ever had in the big leagues,'' Scott said.

Associated Press photo

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:13 AM | | Comments (53)
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March 8, 2011

So, you wanted a .500 team...

The Orioles came from ahead again in Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the Phillies at Bright House Field, but I wouldn't get too excited. The major league relievers pitch earlier in the game during the first half of the exhibition season, so these games are getting away with minor league pitchers on the mound.

In this case, the reliever was Rule 5 draftee Adrian Rosario, who did not retire a batter in the ninth inning.

The Orioles are now 4-4-2 in Grapefruit League competition, which would be pretty good in the NHL.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 4:03 PM | | Comments (61)
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Berken's tough start

Jason Berken's comeback from a labrum tear is going well, from a rehab standpoint, but he has struggled a bit on the mound. He has pitched three times and given up three runs on three hits and three walks over three innings.

"It's a process,'' he said. "Obviously, you don't want to give up runs and hits, but healthwise, I feel really good. Do I need to be better? Do I expect to be better? No question."

Berken figures that a little rust should be expected after seven months on the shelf. He just started throwing pain-free about a month ago.

"To an extent, spring training is a time to work on stuff and get things right,'' he said. "You want to go out and pitch well, but I don't think it's time to over-analyze things. I just have to find things I can improve on."

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:44 AM | | Comments (30)
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March 7, 2011

Back in the saddle

Pardon the interruption, but federal law requires that I take a day off once in awhile, so I let Jeff Zrebiec go to Fort Myers all by himself yesterday to cover that barn-burner against the Minnesota Twins. Good thing, too, because if I had chosen to take the first Fort Myers run instead of today's, Jeff might be too overwhelmed by last night's victory by the New York Knicks to concentrate on Chris Tillman's (below) second start of the spring.

tillman.jpgWhile we're talking NBA, which I almost never do, since there is no professional basketball team in the Mid-Atlantic region, I'm amazed like the rest of you that some members of the all-powerful Miami Heat burst into tears after losing to the Chicago Bulls yesterday.

Huh? I could understand if it was college basketball. I burst into tears almost every time I watch the Terps these days, but we're talking about a regular season NBA game, which -- by definition -- nobody cares about. Not even the players.

Back to baseball. I'm going to be doing double duty today because the Orioles are going to play twice -- this afternoon in Fort Myers against the evil Red Sox and tonight on MASN against the Yankees at Ed Smith Stadium. First time under the lights at the newly renovated ballpark. Hope they stay on.

Zach Britton is scheduled to start the feature game, but I doubt there's any great significance to him staying home and Tillman going on the road. There's a long way to go this spring and the Orioles haven't even signed Kevin Millwood yet.

Love to stay and talk some more, but I-75 awaits.

Associated Press file photo

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March 5, 2011

Red Sox lite

The Red Sox have arrived at Ed Smith Stadium, but if you were hoping Brad Bergesen would get to face a representative lineup, you're going to be disappointed. It's a split-squad day for the Sox, so they only brought a pair of regulars -- Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury.

The O''s can't complain, of course. They took a skeleton squad to Lakeland on Friday and have traveled very lightly during the first week of the Grapefruit League schedule. And, it won't get better soon. They'll travel to Fort Myers tomorrow, then go back to Fort Myers on a split-squad day Monday (with the Yankees playing on MASN Monday night). The Orioles also have a split-squad day on Wednesday, so they'll be stretched pretty thin.

There will be shortage of intrigue, however, now that it appears Justin Duchscherer could make his Grapefruit debut on Tuesday. Brian Matusz also is expected to pitch Tuesday if he experiences no day-after difficulties with the wart he had zapped in Philadelphia yesterday. He threw today in the bullpen and said he expects to be fine.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:13 PM | | Comments (90)
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March 2, 2011

Samuel reunion

samuel.jpgFormer Orioles manager Juan Samuel is back with the team that originally brought him to the major leagues, but he had nothing but good things to say about his time with the Orioles -- even though negotiations to return him to the coaching staff broke down over the winter.

"I thought I was heading back here (Baltimore), but it didn't happen to work out,'' he said before today's Grapefruit League game between the Orioles and Phillies at Bright House Field. "We couldn't get on the same page."

Samuel said that he was very happy -- and grateful to Andy MacPhail -- for the opportunity to get some managerial experience and bears no ill will torward the O's. He is one of two former Orioles managers on the Phillies coaching staff, along with Sam Perlozzo.

Of course, the thing I was wondering about when we -- the Orioles media contingent -- spoke to Samuel this morning was what he was thinking as the O's took off on a big winning streak immediately after Buck Showalter took over the team.

"We had some players just getting ready to come back from rehab,'' he said. "Brian (Roberts) was a big part of that lineup. Obviously, Koji started pitching well. I was just happy those guys could finish up on a positive note after a very troubled year."

This year, he said, should be better with all the Orioles' offseason acquisitions.

"I still keep an eye on them,'' he said. "They did very well. They should be able to score some runs."

Associated Press file photo

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:29 AM | | Comments (122)
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O's: Road trip

Heading out in a few minutes on the first real road trip of the spring. I realize the Orioles' opened the Grapefruit League season on the road, but Bradenton doesn't count since you could ride a bike there from Ed Smith Stadium.

We're going to Bright House Field in Clearwater to watch Chris Tillman make his first spring start against the Phillies, and you're not going to see us big-timing the road trip like most of the starting Orioles players. Both me and Jeff Zrebiec will be there to bring you all the info and action.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 8:39 AM | | Comments (9)
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March 1, 2011

Ed Smith Stadium: Cutting the ribbon

ribbon.bmp

This is the view of the Ed Smith ribbon cutting ceremony, which was MC'd by Gary Thorne and featured Andy MacPhail, city and county officials and representatives of the Chamber of Commerce who facilitated the deal that brought the Orioles to Sarasota.

The festivities also featured a tribute to long-time Orioles umpire attendant Ernie Tyler, who passed away in early February at the age of 86.

Sorry for the fuzzy cellphone photo, but that's why they don't pay me to take photos. Karl Merton Ferron's photos and gallery of this event will be up on at baltimoresun.com presently.

Instant update: Apparently, the Orioles players felt a little left out, because they continued the christening of the newly renovated stadium by hitting three home runs in the first inning. Nick Markakis hit a towering homer to right. Vladimir Guerrero sent a screaming liner over the left center field fence (really, it was screaming in pain) and Adam Jones launched a satellite over the new party deck behind left field. Give Brian Roberts a little love, too, for opening the Orioles first with a line single to right. Good omen's all.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:53 PM | | Comments (53)
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Ed Smith: Just a quick final rinse

What are the odds? The skies were crystal clear and the temperature was in the mid-70s for the first 15 days of training camp, but the clouds have opened up on the debut of the newly renovated Ed Smith Stadium.

rainyday.bmpThe Orioles were just forced off the field as the morning shower intensified, but the game probably will get in. There are brighter skies on the horizon,but here was the view from the dugout just a few minutes ago (right).

There is a lot of ceremony on tap, with city and county officials taking part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. I know this because I saw the giant Orioles scissors a couple of days ago. Where do you buy something like that?

The rain has been sporatic, as if it's taunting the grounds crew. The guys unrolled the tarp in right field and then the showers suddenly stopped. There are rumors of a second weather front coming in later, but not until late in the game.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:47 AM | | Comments (8)
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February 28, 2011

O's: Kickoff countdown

McKechnie1.bmpThe lineup for today's Grapefruit League opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates features J.J. Hardy in the leadoff slot, Felix Pie second and Mark Reynolds batting third. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you'll never see that combination during the regular season.

Brian Roberts was never scheduled to play in the road opener at McKechnie Field, so draw no conclusions from that. Nick Markakis rolled into the clubhouse this morning on skate shoes, so he's obviously fine. The regulars don't make a lot of spring road trips, but we've been told that designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero wants to play a lot. He'll make his Orioles debut in the cleanup spot, followed by Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold. The wind is blowing out hard to left, so I'm predicting Reynolds hits three pop ups and drives in six runs.

Brandon Snyder gets a chance to make a good first impression at first base, since it will be a few days before Derrek Lee makes his O's spring debut.

Today's crappy cellphone photo is of the home plate area of McKechnie Field in Bradenton, one of the truly historic spring training ballparks.

Instant update: The O's are off to a good start. Felix Pie just sliced a double over third base. moved over to third on a groundout by Reynolds and scored on an infield hit by Guerrero. If you recall, Guerrero had two infield hits in the intrasquad game, but this was no seeing-eye grounder. He hit a shot to the right of Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez and he barely knocked it down to keep in on the infield. I'm not doing inning updates, but thought you'd like to hear about Guerrero's first Orioles RBI and the long home run Nolan Reimold just hit to lead off the second.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:39 PM | | Comments (13)
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O's: Let's get it started

The Orioles are getting on the bus right now to head for Bradenton for their first game of the Grapefruit League exhibition season. It's a split-squad day for the Pirates, who also play the Rays in Port Charlotte today, but the Orioles have taken a representative squad that includes Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Reynolds, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Felix Pie.

Of course, tomorrow is the big day in Sarasota -- the debut of the newly renovated Ed Smith Stadium. Keep an eye out on the Web site for Jeff Zrebiec's comprehensive story on the grand opening and the two-decade quest to get to this point.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:16 AM | | Comments (7)
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February 26, 2011

Pong wars

There's a new addition in the Orioles clubhouse -- a brand-new, high-quality table tennis table, which quickly drew a crowd and some hot competition. Nick Markakis held the table early, but new shortstop J.J. Hardy appeared to emerge as the top ping pong player on the roster. Of course, we haven't seen everybody yet, and I'm going to take a wild guess and predict that coach and conditioning consultant Brady Anderson eventually proves again that he's one of the truly great all-around 40-something athletes by schooling these kids.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:13 AM | | Comments (2)
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Waiting on Roberts

If Brian Roberts isn't on the field today, I think you're going to see some people around here start squirming. That stiff neck has kept him sidelined just long enough to send some readers back into the archives to see what we were saying about him at this time last year.

The answer: Basically the same thing, though we were talking about his lower back. The headlines are eerily similar, with O's officials trying to act unconcerned and Roberts saying that he'll be ready to play.

Don't panic. Roberts might be out there today and he might be fine this spring, but his injury nightmare last year makes it too easy to wonder if he's in for another season of pain and uncertainty. Can't blame fans for worrying, because his status is extremely important to the Orioles' chances of building on last year's late-season turnaround.

Instant update: Good news. Roberts just told everybody that he hopes to be out there for today's workout and said that he probably would have been out there earlier if the team were not treating him with kid gloves. The O's take the field at 10.

Another instant update: Roberts is on the field in full uniform and going through early warmups with the team.

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February 25, 2011

Sneak Peek: Ed Smith Stadium

edsmith1.bmp

There's still a lot to be done before the Orioles christen their newly renovated spring training stadium on Tuesday afternoon, but I thought I'd put up my latest cellphone photo of the project.

Instant update: I just walked by the loading dock and there was a truck there unloading food. Have to admit. It brought a tear to my eye.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 6:34 AM | | Comments (21)
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February 24, 2011

The importance of being Frank

Hall of Famer Frank Robinson visited the Ed Smith Stadium training complex on Thursday morning and addressed the team before the workout. The message was about the importance of spring training and making the most of the opportunity to fully prepare for the season.

“He can command a room,’’ Showalter said, “and you can tell he has a real affinity for the Orioles.”

Though many of the players were not born when Robinson was fashioning his terrific playing career, Showalter said he sensed that they knew they were in the presence of someone very important, perhaps because he gave his lecture standing under the No. 20 plaque that is right in the middle of the row of retired Orioles numbers that decorate the east wall of the major league clubhouse.

“I know Jimmy (Tyler) was excited to have him sign that plaque,’’ Showalter said.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 3:12 PM | | Comments (57)
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Around the majors: Could Wainwright injury lead to Pujols deal?

It would appear, on the surface, that there is no connection between the news that Cardinals 20-game winner Adam Wainwright may have elbow reconstruction surgery and the Albert Pujols contract impasse, but I'm not the only one who thinks the loss of the Cards' pitching ace might actually push Pujols out of town.

My former Baltimore Sun colleague, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, speculated the other day that a dramatic downturn in the potential of the 2011 club might make Pujols more open to waiving his no-trade clause and allowing the Cardinals to move him to a big-market contender.

I've been pondering the other side of the equation. The Cardinals are facing the possibility of losing Pujols to free agency next year, so they've got to consider whether there's any point in taking that risk if the club's playoff hopes are seriously diminished. Pujols has the hammer, but -- as Ken pointed out -- he might be more open-minded if he were presented with an opportunity to move to a bigger stage and get his big deal early.

Nobody in St. Louis wants to think about a future without Pujols, but he might bring enough talent in return to restock the relatively thin minor league system and give the club a head-start on its long-term future.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:49 AM | | Comments (25)
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February 23, 2011

Roberts: Sore neck raises eyebrows...(updated)

It's certainly reasonable to be on high alert after manager Buck Showalter revealed this morning that Brian Roberts woke up with some neck soreness and headed out of camp for an Xray about a half hour ago. However, this is one of those situations where there's no point in speculating about whether this is connected to the lower back problems that cut deeply into his availability last season.

It might be, but that will become apparent in its own time. What's more important is that the Orioles prepared pretty well for the possibility by bringing a bunch of reserve infielders into camp this spring.

Cesar Izturis took Roberts' place at second base in the first infield workout today. The O's also can work Robert Andino, Nick Green and Brendan Harris out there if necessary.

Instant update: Roberts returned and insisted that there's nothing seriously wrong with him. The X-rays showed no disk-related problem in Roberts' neck and Showalter says he's day-to-day. He could be back on the field as soon as tomorrow.

Intrasquad update: Showalter indicated today that Sunday's intrasquad game likely will be moved back to the main stadium field so that the players and staff can replicate a 1:05 exhibition start.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:13 AM | | Comments (127)
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O's: Spring rotation update

When Buck Showalter revealed his pitching plans for the first five games of the Grapefruit League season, there were three games in which two starters were piggybacked to work multiple innings. Conspicuous by his absence was hot prospect Zach Britton, but that apparently was an oversight. Britton will be paired with Justin Duchscherer in the third exhibition game and Rick Vandenhurk will be paired with Jeremy Guthrie in the home opener at Ed Smith Stadium.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:00 AM | | Comments (0)
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My take: HOF honors Roland Hemond

The Hall of Fame announced this week that former Orioles GM Roland Hemond will be the second recipient of the Buck O'Neil Award, which is presented to an individual for "extraordinary efforts to enhance baseball's positive impact on society."

I can't think of a more deserving candidate, other than O'Neil himself, who was the first recipient of the award named for him after he was left out of the final class of Negro League players inducted at Cooperstown.

“Roland Hemond has touched the lives of so many throughout the baseball family in his 60-year career, always exemplifying the traits that made Buck O’Neil such a revered figure in our sport’s history,” said HOF chairman Jane Forbes Clark in the announcement. “The Board’s decision to award Roland with this tremendous honor recognizes the profound impact he has had on the game, for his baseball intelligence as a keen talent evaluator and in building winning teams, to the universal respect he has earned for mentoring generations of baseball executives, past and present.”

Let me put it a little more simply. Roland is one of the truly great guys in the game and one of its great characters. He worked alongside legendary baseball showman Bill Veeck and infected many organizations with his positive attitude and energy.

Congrats.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:29 AM | | Comments (12)
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February 22, 2011

Nolan Reimold's LBJ moment

Lebron-James-SI-cover-chosenone.jpgDuring a conversation with Nolan Reimold this morning, I was chiding him for being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and -- despite his Pennsylvania roots -- accusing him of being a frontrunner when he proved he was not a frontrunner with the revelation that he's a big Cleveland Cavaliers fan.

When I stopped laughing, he told me about the time he was assigned to cover some kid named LeBron James in a high school showdown between Kennedy Catholic (Hermitage, PA) and St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.

"He was a sophomore and I was a junior,'' Reimold said. "It was right before he got huge. We lost by one point, 51-50. He had 20 points, but he was averaging 28."

Pretty cool memory. Reimold said that he was a big LeBron fan right up until "The Decision," then he started choosing his words carefully.

"Let's just say I was disappointed,'' he said, with an expression that signalled that he was making a tremendous understatement and struggling to hold his tongue. I'm just going to guess that his second-favorite NBA team right now is whoever is playing the Miami Heat.

If you're wondering, Reimold said he dropped 17 points in that game, which isn't bad for a baseball player.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:44 AM | | Comments (18)
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February 21, 2011

O's: Markakis fired up

Nick Markakis was one of the last position player to report to Ed Smith Stadium, but that was not for lack of enthusiasm for what's ahead.

"It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be exciting,'' he said. "We have a great foundation to start from, and the new additions – from top to bottom – are going to help us out tremendously. I’m just looking forward to kicking off spring and getting our work on and getting ready for Opening Day."

Markakis is looking forward to hitting in a lineup full of run-producers after a 2010 season in which his run-production numbers sagged badly in a batting order that lacked punch and lost Brian Roberts for most of the season.

"For the most part, just seeing it on paper is enough,'' he added. "You know what these guys are capable of doing and what they bring to a ballclub. Having them on our side is pretty exciting."

Buck Showalter's team-building field trip on Sunday night was another signal of a welcome change in the attitude of the entire organization.

"It was different, but it definitely got things kicked off in the right direction,'' Markakis said. "It was a good way to get started. It was a good meeting, good video overall. We’ve never done something like that before, but it was cool."

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 5:13 PM | | Comments (66)
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O's: Let's get physical again

The Orioles are completing their physical examinations today, with the latest reporting position players going through the whole routine and the rest finishing up with their dental and vision exams.

Brian Roberts just tweeted that he had completed his physical and passed "with flying colors. Now, time to get to work."

The first full-squad workout will begin at about noon.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 8:56 AM | | Comments (9)
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February 20, 2011

Earth to Teixeira: Underdogs???

Had to laugh when Mark Teixeira said on Saturday that the Yankees are "the underdogs" this season. Give me a break.

It's pretty hard to be the underdog when you've got a $200 million payroll, unless you're MySpace or maybe the Iraqi army during Desert Storm. The Yankees may not be the favorite to win the American League East this year, but I don't think they'll be able to show up at the World Series trophy ceremony and say that nobody gave them a chance.

Here's a link to the ESPN.com account of Teixeira's comments on the day Yankees position players were scheduled to report to the Legends Field training complex.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 3:09 PM | | Comments (49)
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Buck on Lee's injury status

Just asked Buck Showalter whether he's confident that Derrek Lee will have time to get enough exhibition at-bats to prepare for the regular season. Lee, who is recovering from thumb surgery, apparently won't hit against live pitching for a couple of weeks.

"We're slow-playing him,'' said Showalter, who wasn't specific about Lee's situation, but seemed to indicate that he's not too concerned about the timetable for his complete recovery.

"We all know spring training is too long for position players,'' he said. "The pitchers are what it's really about. If you really got down to it, if you know you were going to have x-number of days of perfect weather, you could really shorten it up.

"When you think about it, a guy sits around with an injury during the season for 20 days, then he goes on rehab down to Norfolk and in two days or three days (he's ready). That's a lot more because of need, because the guy you played in his place can't play."

In other words, a couple of weeks of exhibition games will probably be plenty.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 2:44 PM | | Comments (12)
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February 19, 2011

AL update: Cabrera not in camp

Miguel Cabrera, who was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, was not in Detroit Tigers camp on Saturday morning and apparently is being evaluated by doctors before a decision is made on his status with the team.

Just a hunch, but I'm betting Cabrera commits to some kind of in-patient rehab program that will keep him away from spring training for several weeks. That could affect his status at the start of the season, but there probably will be time for him to get into playing shape in time to visit Baltimore for the Orioles' home-opening series at Camden Yards.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:40 AM | | Comments (93)
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February 18, 2011

Orioles: Cranking in the cage

Spent the past half hour watching batting practice and thought I'd add to my earlier observations about Mark Reynolds and some other guys.

Reynolds continues to blast the ball into the stratosphere in BP, but he also leaves a lot of balls in the netting that surrounds the batting cage. I don't know if that's symptomatic of a career of big home run totals and even bigger strikeout numbers. It's just batting practice.

Robert Andino hit a few over the fence today on the field directly west of the stadium. The wind was blowing out again, but he looked pretty good. No doubt, the wind aided Reynolds, too, but it really didn't look like he needed any help.

Brian Roberts was in the same group and looked comfortable at the plate. I don't really care what kind of contact he made. He looked comfortable, and as long as he keeps looking comfortable, you know what he's going to do during the regular season.

Remember, these are just bonus workouts for non-catching position guys, so I'm not drawing any conclusions from anything.

Vladimir Guerrero came out on the field briefly in workout gear, but did not take batting practice. He's sprucing up for his 2 p.m. introductory news conference.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:40 PM | | Comments (47)
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Some local insight on Bryce Harper

While I was talking to Orioles catching prospect Caleb Joseph yesterday, he volunteered his opinion of phenom Bryce Harper, who was his taxi squad teammate on the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League.

"He was still in showcase mode,'' Joseph said, "but when he puts it all together and figures things out, it's going to be scary."

Joseph is 24 and Harper is just a teenager, but Caleb said it was clear that Harper is "very special."

"When you're around him, you just get the sense that you're in the presence of somebody who's going to be great."

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:17 AM | | Comments (17)
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February 17, 2011

Miguel Cabrera DUI: Say it ain't so

The news broke this morning that Detroit Tigers superstar Miguel Cabrera was arrested in St. Lucie County on a DUI charge, which is just the latest sad personal chapter in the life of one of baseball's best players.

Cabrera spent three months in an out-patient rehab program after a drunken incident during the 2009 playoffs, but insisted at the time that he did not have an alcohol problem. Reports of his latest arrest include a statement by police that he took a swig from a bottle of scotch right in front of them after they encountered his car disabled on the side of the road.

This kind of thing is what prompted the NFL to institute a free car service program that allows players to dial an 800 number and get a free pickup if they feel they have had too much to drink. Of course, all these guys can afford to call a cab -- or, in Cabrera's case, own a fleet of limos -- but you still have to have enough good judgment left after a night of carousing to dial the phone.

Guess I'll stop complaining that Orioles camp has been boring this week, though for some unexplained reason, I'm getting all nostalgic about Sidney Ponson right now.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:11 AM | | Comments (16)
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February 16, 2011

Mark Reynolds rocks (updated)

New third baseman Mark Reynolds was lighting it up on the practice field behind Ed Smith Stadium in batting practice today. He didn't hit a ton of balls out of the park, but when he connected, there was never a doubt. In three rounds of BP, I only saw the guys shagging in the outfield move in the direction of one of his fly balls. He cleared the fence to every field.

The guy obviously is strong as an ox. Everybody knows that he has some problems making consistent contact, but if he has a big home run year, I'm guessing all of that will be forgiven.

Manager Buck Showalter said that he didn't watch Reynolds' BP session -- because he likes to keep his distance during early workouts -- but he was aware of what was going on.

"I didn't see it,'' he said, "but I heard it."

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:28 PM | | Comments (111)
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Orioles: It's not exactly American Idol, but...

...the Orioles are going to hold this year's ballboy and ballgirl tryouts on March 5 at Oriole Park. If you're 18 years of age or older and are healthy and agile enough to dodge a line drive down the left field or right field line, show up in casual dress with your own glove at Home Plate Plaza.

The auditions will be conducted by members of the Orioles front office -- though I doubt Andy MacPhail and the scouting staff will fly home for the occasion -- along with former Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson.

Applicants are expected to be athletic and outgoing, so I'm almost 50 percent qualified.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:32 AM | | Comments (8)
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O's: Guerrero gets in

The arrival of superstar Vladimir Guerrero in the Orioles clubhouse this morning definitely raised the level of energy around the team. The first few days of training camp are fairly uneventful, with pitchers and catchers going through mundane drills and the reporters scrambling for something interesting to write about. No problem with that today.

Every pitcher seems to have a story about him, and why not? He's a career .320 hitter who never met a pitch he didn't like.

"God, it's good to see him,'' said pitcher Chris Tillman, who gained some SportsCenter fame when he bounced a pitch in front of Guerrero a couple of years ago and it still cost him a base hit.

"I probably saw the replay of that 60 times during the postseason," Tillman said. "Where do you throw it? You want to have a gameplay, but there's really no gameplan."

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:39 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Just baseball
        

February 14, 2011

Hearts and flowers

I'm not sure is there is any significance to the fact that the first day of Orioles pitcher and catcher workouts is on Valentines Day, but just go with it. Maybe you'll end up remembering today as the day you fell back in love with the Orioles.

If you'll allow me a personal note before we break out the bats and balls, I'll always remember Valentines Day as the anniversary of my first date with my wife, which turned out to be pretty convenient since I'm prone to forget days that require gifts. So, Happy V-Day to Linda and Happy New Year to the rest of you.

Today's first workout will start at noon because the Orioles in camp will be taking their physicals this morning.

The stadium renovation project is not quite complete. Crews are working furiously to get the ballpark ready for the first exhibition game. The team remains confident it will be done in time, but there are going to be some loose ends. It's a construction project.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 9:20 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Just baseball
        

February 13, 2011

Orioles: Warm regards

Just arrived in Sarasota, where the sun is shining and it feels much warmer than it actually is because of the theory of temperature relativity. I've seen a few of the pitchers unloading their stuff into their lockers, but it's pretty quiet on the last day of baseball winter.

While you're waiting for tomorrow's first pitcher/catcher workout, you could take a look at my column from today's Baltimore Sun. Just click here.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 2:51 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Just baseball
        

February 11, 2011

Ernie Tyler: 1924-2011

It's hard to adequately express what umpire attendant Ernie Tyler meant to the Orioles organization and everyone who worked regularly at Memorial Stadium or Camden Yards. He was a truly fine gentleman who was as kind and good-hearted as anyone I have ever met -- and not just in the baseball business.

His dedication to the franchise is well-documented -- he served the Orioles in some capacity in every season since the old St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore in 1954 and worked 3,819 consecutive games before ending that streak to attend Cal Ripken's Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2007.

But there was a lot more to the man than the great work ethic he passed down to his two sons -- Jimmy and Fred -- who worked alongside him at the ballpark. He was a terrific family man who made everyone feel like a member of the already large Tyler tribe. My heart goes out to Ernie's wife Juliane and all 11 of his children. Just a great guy who will be sorely missed.


Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:19 AM | | Comments (8)
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February 8, 2011

Orioles: Goin' south

Now that the Orioles have their radio rights deal done -- and, since I work for WBAL, I'll recuse myself from further commentary on that subject -- we can resume the countdown to the first pitcher and catcher workout on Monday in Sarasota. I'm hoping to get down there before any more of my toes fall off.

The last time I looked, the forecast for next week called for temperatures on the gulf coast of 67 to 69 degrees. Not exactly beach weather, but if I can still break out a Tommy Bahama, it's spring.

Of course, the next couple of weeks will be heavy with coverage of the pitching staff, and why not? For all the offensive players who have been added to the Orioles roster over the past few months, the club's chances of competing this year still depend very heavily on the continuing growth of the young starters and the success of the upgraded bullpen.

Since we've got nothing better to do right now and somebody asked me to change the subject after leaving up one Vladimir Guerrero item for the final four days of my vacation, give me your predictions for:

1. The season-opening starting rotation -- in order.
2. The number of starts the Orioles will get from Justin Duchscherer.
3. The date Zach Britton gets called up.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:21 PM | | Comments (71)
Categories: Just baseball
        

February 4, 2011

Guerrero: Eight (million) is more than enough

If I were holding the pursestrings in the warehouse, I don't know if I would have spent $8 million on Vladimir Guerrero, but since it's not my money, I'm all for it. The Orioles were painfully short on run production last year for a variety of reasons -- from Brian Roberts being unavailable for much of the year to the Garrett Atkins fiasco -- but now they've brought in enough potentially productive bats to dramatically change the outlook for the offense.

Notice that I said "potentially" productive, because we're talking about a group of players who -- taken individually -- each have some issue that creates realistic doubt his ability to produce replicate one of the better seasons of his career. But the fact that the Orioles have added Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy and now Guerrero gives them decent odds that at least a couple of them will inject some real life into the middle of the Orioles lineup.

Here's Jeff Zrebiec's initial report on the deal.

Can Guerrero do for the Orioles what he did for the Rangers last year? That's asking a lot, considering he's a year older and the O's are a lot farther away from being a contending team. But he gives the team that much more offensive credibility and gives fans a little more to look forward to as they club gets ready to open training camp just 10 days from now.

The upside on Guerrero is way up. The downside is $8 million wasted. Somewhere in between is a player who can generate a lot of excitement when he's healthy and who will have value at midseason if the Orioles need to move him for prospects.

The only question now is what to do with Luke Scott. It looks like he'll be targetted to return to left field, though Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold might have something to say about that this spring.

If nothing else, the Orioles now have enough offensive depth that they can weather one severe injury to a key hitter this spring and still field a full lineup. That, in and of itself, is real progress.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 7:00 PM | | Comments (167)
Categories: Just baseball
        

January 31, 2011

Orioles: Risky business

Almost everyone here has applauded the Orioles decision to sign veteran pitcher Justin Duchscherer for reasons that should be obvious. He'll be a quality pitcher if he can overcome a variety of personal obstacles to return to the form that made him an All-Star in Oakland.

It's also possible to view it as another cheap signing by a cheap team, but if any of you thought the Orioles had a chance to sign Cliff Lee and made this choice instead just to save money, you're either incurably jaded or simply fooling yourselves. I'll go with incurably jaded.

There comes a time when you have to view each move in its own context, and this one -- at this time -- is a good move. Duchscherer might be the catch of the winter or he might never get out of spring training. The Rangers made the same kind of play with Vladimir Guerrero when he looked like he was done last year and caught lightning in a bottle. The Orioles tried to do it with Garrett Atkins and got the opposite result.

If Duchscherer doesn't pan out, he doesn't pan out. The Orioles have a young starting rotation that might have been good enough to begin with, but Duchscherer adds some serious possible upside at a discount price. You can call that cheap or you can call it smart. Works for me either way.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:16 PM | | Comments (85)
Categories: Just baseball
        

January 30, 2011

O's: FanFest in the rear view

Since The Sun had several writers blogging from FanFest yesterday, I thought I'd save my thoughts on the event until today. Of course, that's partly because my fingers were still frozen several hours after I kicked off my day by jumping into the 33-degree water of the Chesapeake Bay at the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge.

There's proof that I actually went through with it. The WBAL Sportsline Plunge Team -- which also included Jared Ruderman, Brett Hollander and Chris "The Professor" Imms -- skipped into the water hand-in-hand at 7:55 a.m. It wasn't pretty, and I'm pretty sure we temporarily raised the water level in the bay several inches, but we survived.

Quick heads up: Though Chris is called "The Professor" on the Ron Smith Show, you probably don't want him teaching your children to swim. We're just happy he's still with us today.

I wish I could have stayed around for some of the other festivities, or to sit in one of the hot tubs to warm up, but I raced right out of Sandy Point State Park and headed for the Convention Center, where the line to get into FanFest stretched all the way around the facility. Apparently, expectations are a bit higher this year, despite what some of our more critical friends here would like you to believe.

The real proof was at the beginning of the first big Q&A session featuring Andy MacPhail and Buck Showalter. Ever seat in front of the main stage was full and Showalter got a huge ovation when he was introduced. MacPhail was also welcomed warmly, but fans clearly give Buck a ton of credit for the late-season turnaround. As they should.

To keep it in perspective. It is called FanFest, so you have to figure that the people who paid $10 to get in are fans and are more likely to be positive about the team than the fans who no longer go to the games...or spend their time torching the team on the message boards. That doesn't mean there isn't a huge number of disaffected fans who are still frustrated and disbelieving. They've got every right to be.

My colleague Dan Connolly recently put up a blog item asking fans to predict how many games the Orioles are going to win this year. The lowest serious response was 69 wins and the majority of responses was in the 80s.

That's a pretty optimistic response. Dan predicted 75 wins. If you forced me to make a prediction now, instead of in March, I would probably say 78. If everybody stays healthy and the young players continue to evolve, I could see the O's getting into the 80s, but that's asking quite a lot.

The average response at Connolly's Corner Sports Bar was about 83, which I would say is pretty darn optimisitic.

I'm wondering, however, if Dan's blog is just populated by a more positive group of Orioles fans than this one, so I'll throw his question at everybody here. How many games will the O's win this year. Feel free to be witty and sarcastic, but I want the number to be what you really believe the number will be, for better or worse, and I want an exact number. It's hard to get an average when indecisive people say "between 75 and 82."

Go to town.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:07 AM | | Comments (113)
Categories: Just baseball
        

Orioles: Roberts healthy

I'll be posting my look back on FanFest in just a few minutes, but thought I would use this opportunity to give readers from outside the Web site a chance to click on my latest column right here.

I talked to Brian Roberts (along with a dozen other media members) and was happy to hear how great he has felt the past month or so. He was feeling the effects of that late-season concussion for a long time, but the fog finally has cleared and he's aching to get back out on the field.

That's great news for the Orioles, but -- to be fair and accurate -- his back situation will remain a question mark, just because it's a back injury. That doesn't mean it's inevitable he'll continue to have problems, however.

If you want my personal perspective, and what choice do you really have right now, I had a severe disk herniation during the mid-1980s that left me unable to even walk for several days. Though surgery was recommended, I chose to rehab it with an intense exercise and strengthening program. It took about a year to become completely pain-free, but I have never had a recurrence.

Of course, I'm not going to be playing second base for the Orioles every day for the next eight months, but I played full-court basketball two or three times a week for the next decade without incident and nobody was ever going to confuse me with a health and conditioning nut like Brian Roberts.

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict he plays at least 130 games, and I'm keeping the number low because the Orioles have guys who can spell him at second base and they'll be careful not to overwork him.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:52 AM | | Comments (4)
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January 25, 2011

Orioles: Better, but how much?

Since you're probably already commenting on it, I'll post today's column about the Orioles right here for your enjoyment and criticism. If you're keeping track at home, just 19 days until I leave for spring training.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 8:13 PM | | Comments (29)
Categories: Just baseball, Just baseball
        

Orioles: Better, but how much?

Since you're probably already commenting on it, I'll post today's column about the Orioles right here for your enjoyment and criticism. If you're keeping track at home, just 19 days until I leave for spring training.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 8:13 PM | | Comments (29)
Categories: Just baseball, Just baseball
        

January 23, 2011

Orioles: My take on Guerrero

The Web continues to buzz with rumors that Vladimir Guerrero is headed this way, and everybody around here is scurrying to dismiss them. Only Andy MacPhail knows for sure if the O's have any real interest -- and he's not exactly stoking the hot stove on this one -- but that doesn't necessarily mean the Orioles won't trot Guerrero out at FanFest next Saturday.

The Vlad-to-the-Orioles speculation is based largely on agent talk and the fact that -- with Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones and Johnny Damon off the market -- there aren't a lot of places left for an aging DH to go.

Guerrero was hoping to make one more big score off his terrific comeback year for the Rangers, but nobody seems willing to give him the two-year deal he's believed to be seeking. If you believe the whispers around the Warehouse, the O's are not willing to spend a lot of money to fill a spot on the roster that is already filled adequately by Luke Scott, but if Guerrero becomes desperate enough to sign a one-year, incentive-laden contract, then they wouldn't mind bringing him in and using Luke in left field.

Of course, there are some possible variables in play. If Andy MacPhail is working on some kind of deal for a starting pitcher that includes Nolan Reimold, Felix Pie or Scott, then Guerrero might become more attractive.

If the price is right, I think Guerrero would be a low-risk gamble with a high upside. If he can jack up one more season like last year, he could be the final piece in a potentially explosive batting order that could truly change the subject at Oriole Park this summer.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:09 AM | | Comments (96)
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January 18, 2011

Orioles: Time to look ahead

The bitter taste of the Ravens' loss to the Steelers basically leaves Baltimore sports fans with little to comfort them other than the opening of the Orioles' newly renovated spring training camp in 3 1/2 weeks.

How much solace that provides probably depends on what you expect from this year's team, which is probably better than last year's model (How could it not be?) but not so much better that you can reasonably expect them to be in the wild card hunt in August.

I'm always going to give the players the benefit of the doubt going into the season, so maybe Derrek Lee will bounce back from an injury-plagued season and Mark Reynolds will put some pop in a lineup that lacked any real punch last year. But the planets would have to line up perfectly for the Orioles to have any chance to make a dramatic move up the AL East standings.

Still, it's okay to look forward to the baseball season, even if that's just to keep from looking back on what happened on Saturday.

I'll have a column up soon expanding on that concept, but you don't have to wait for it to tear into me like usual.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 3:37 PM | | Comments (53)
Categories: Just baseball
        

January 5, 2011

HOF: Alomar, Blyleven gain induction

The wait is over for pitcher Bert Blyleven, who had been on the Hall of Fame ballot the past 13 years in spite of his impressive place among baseball's all-time strikeout and shutout leaders. Roberto Alomar only had to wait one year to stamp his ticket to Cooperstown for a career in which he was one of baseball's best all-around players.

Former Oriole Rafael Palmeiro, whose numbers would have made him a first-ballot lock if not for his positive steroid test in 2005, did not come close to induction the first time around. Players need to be named on 75 percent of the ballots submitted by eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and Raffy was named on only 11 percent.

The results were announced at 2 p.m. today. Alomar came so close last year that there was little doubt he would make it in on his second try. He was named on 90 percent of the ballots. Blyleven, who ranks fifth all-time in strikeouts and won 15-or-more games in a season 10 times, was named on 79.7 percent of the ballots after missing induction by just a small handful of ballots in 2010.

Blyleven won 287 games in his career and was reputed to have the game's best curveball during his prime seasons. He played on two World Series winners -- the 1979 Pirates who rallied to beat the Orioles -- and the 1987 Minnesota Twins. He retired ranked third in major league history 3,701 strikeouts (now fifth) and ninth with 60 shutouts.

Alomar had a .300 career batting average over 17 seasons and appeared in seven postseasons as a member of the Blue Jays, Orioles and Indians. He is generally regarded as one of the best fielding second basemen of all time, but his notorious spitting incident involving umpire John Hirschbeck may have cost him the few votes he needed to reach the 75 percent plateau a year ago.

Alomar and Blyleven will join long-time baseball executive and former Orioles GM Pat Gillick at this year's induction ceremony.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 1:39 PM | | Comments (35)
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Orioles: Does Gregg spell relief?

Though there are always a few cynical anti-fans who blast every move the Orioles make, the signing of Kevin Gregg does deepen the bullpen. I'm sure there was somebody out there who was better, which is -- of course -- proof that the team is still a trainwreck and will never, ever will really improve, but it's hard to make the case that a guy who averaged 30 saves the past four years won't be useful.

That said, the he-makes-us-better argument can ring a little hollow when you're coming off a season in which just about anybody who played well enough for another team to warrant a free agent contract probably would accomplish that not-so-lofty goal.

I think Gregg could be a very solid addition -- based on the 2010 Rolaids Relief Man standings, he was the second-best closer available in the free agent market -- but we already know the folly of putting too much stock in a reconfigured bullpen. Relievers are just two unpredictable from year to year. The Orioles have spent a lot of money over the past decade on relievers who were supposed to solve their end-of-game problems, only to be back in the market the following offseason.

Hopefully for Buck Showalter, this year will be different. I know there was some sniping over Jeremy Accardo, but you really can't judge some of the marginal moves totally on past performance. Everybody who watches baseball knows that several middle relievers come out of nowhere each season, so the percentage move is to find dependable arms for the eighth and ninth innings and build up enough depth to discover next year's hot middleman.

Gregg has a track record that suggests he will be a fairly dependable closer, but he's certainly not Mariano Rivera. He's a guy who has proven that he'll be successful about 85 percent of the time in save situations. The Orioles obviously hope that with Koji Uehara also available to save games, Buck can manage Gregg's workload in a way that will improve that percentage.

Don't misunderstand, 85 percent isn't bad. There were only five pitchers last year who were 90 percenters, and only one of them, Rafael Soriano, is among this year's free agent class. Gregg blew six saves last year, one more than Rivera and two fewer than Jonathan Papelbon.

If you put any stock in the Rolaids standings -- which, admittedly, are derived from a fairly simple statistical equation -- Gregg was tied for No. 9 overall with Papelbon, but was No. 2 among the available free agents.

Guess Disraeli was right. You can prove anything you want with statistics, so get to work and tell me why you think this was a good move or a bad one.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 11:08 AM | | Comments (109)
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January 4, 2011

Schmuck: Too busy to blog?

If you didn't see me around yesterday, it wasn't because I was lying around ignoring the blog. The Schmuck still stops here, but Monday was a pretty busy day for the Baltimore Sun Sports department.

We had to dig up the latest developments on the Alfredo Simon case -- and Dan Connolly and Nick Madigan are doing a great job of that -- and there were the other small matters of the University of Maryland introducing the new Terps head football coach and the Ravens beginning to prepare for Sunday's playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Which is why I actually had two columns in today's print edition. Check out my take on the Randy Edsall hiring right here, and -- if you're not tired after that -- you can read my column here on why the Ravens caught a big break when they drew the Chiefs in the Wild Card round.

It isn't easy to be such a tireless workhorse, but I make up for it with my modest and humble nature.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:35 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Just baseball, Just football, News of the day
        

December 31, 2010

Orioles: Who's on first

The Orioles have come to terms on a one-year deal with veteran first baseman Derrek Lee, which will solidify the club's batting order and infield defense if he is able to bounce back successfully from recent thumb surgery. If you want the particulars, Jeff Zrebiec's story is right here.

It should come as no surprise to anyone here that Lee was not my first choice to fill the run-production gap, but I would rather see him at first base than Luke Scott. Obviously, it would have been better if the Orioles had been able to convince Victor Martinez to come to Baltimore, but they came up short there and apparently weren't sold enough on Adam LaRoche to pull out all the stops to get him.

I agree with that part of the equation. I'm guessing Lee and LaRoche will have similar numbers in 2011, which would vindicate the decision to take the one-year deal with Lee and keep the team's options open for next winter. If he doesn't drive in 80 or 90 runs, however, it'll be viewed in the rear-view mirror as another cheap front office trick. In the meantime, everybody can go to town in the comments section.

It's hard to argue against the notion that the Orioles continue to spend as little as possible, though they did make a legitimate offer for Martinez. I'm pretty sure O's fans would have been happier heading into the new season with Adrian Beltre at third and Mark Reynolds at first, but I really don't know if signing Beltre was ever a real possibility. He didn't want to come here last year and there was no evidence of a change of heart this winter.

The bottom line: The Orioles are a lot sounder than they were last year, but it remains to be seen whether they will be dramatically more competitive. If 80 wins floats your boat, I suppose that's possible, but the O's will need the core of their pitching youth movement to take a big collective step forward to be a plus-.500 team with any kind of illusions about playing meaningful games in September.

My bad: I want to thank everyone for pointing out my brain cramp on "Cliff" Lee. Must have been wishful thinking on my part.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 3:43 PM | | Comments (171)
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December 22, 2010

Orioles: Quiet time

This traditionally is the start of about a week of quiet time in the middle of the baseball offseason, which is fine with me. I've been on Fridge duty the past few days and -- because of my lengthy (and well-deserved) vacation -- I really haven't been in a position to weigh in on much of what has been going on with the O's lately.

I made an exception, however, with my column in today's print edition, which you can also read right here if you haven't already.

Hope everyone has a great holiday weekend, though you can keep the white Christmas. I'm so cold that I'm considering going on the internet and buying a Snuggly, which I'm sure would look just great on me.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 10:14 PM | | Comments (112)
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December 16, 2010

Orioles: Your early predictions

Okay, let's just assume that the Orioles sign either Adam LaRoche or Derrek Lee and come to terms with reliever Kevin Gregg. Will that be enough to make them a .500 team in the American League East?

There's no question they will be a more exciting offensive team, for better or worse. The addition of Mark Reynolds adds some real punch to the lineup and LaRoche or Lee would create the possibility of 60 home runs from the two corner positions -- which would be quite an improvement over last season -- but those power numbers would not come without some obvious drawbacks.

The addition of two power bats would likely make life easier on Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, but whether it's Lee or LaRoche (and there is no guarantee it's either), you're also talking about the likelihood of 300-plus strikeouts from the corner infielders.

Manager Buck Showalter said the other day that he still would like to go into spring training with more rotation depth, but the Orioles will have enough good young arms to fill five spots, and that's with promising Zach Britton waiting in the wings.

Still, I think the Orioles chances of finishing above sea level are questionable unless the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays backslide considerably in 2011.

What do you think?

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 4:40 PM | | Comments (205)
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December 6, 2010

Orioles: Why Mark Reynolds?

I know there are a lot of people looking at Mark Reynolds' .198 average and huge strikeout total from last year and wondering why the Orioles acquired such a flawed player to start at third base, but it's not that complicated.

Andy MacPhail needs to inject some power and run production into the Orioles lineup and he came up a little short on Victor Martinez, which left him with a list of available players that all have some kind of drawback. Personally, I would have been happy to take Adam Dunn and split him between first base and DH in spite of his strikeout total, but he's got some of the same issues as Reynolds and he got $56 million from the White Sox.

The other big power option is Carlos Pena, who had an even lower batting average than Reynolds and also strikes out a ton. The Orioles haven't ruled out adding him, too, and getting Reynolds cheap makes that possible. I'm not sure what to think of injecting a potential 65 home runs and 360 strikeouts into the O's lineup, but I'm guessing that would be more entertaining than what you've been seeing the last decade or so.

In defense of Andy, sometimes you don't get to do what you want, so you do what you can.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 4:02 PM | | Comments (355)
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November 28, 2010

Ravens should roll

I'm so confident that the Ravens will roll over the phony Tampa Bay Buccaneers today that I stopped worrying about the game and spent the morning raking up the rest of the autumn leaves that were blanketing my vast Millersville estate. Some neighbors were doing the same thing, but I'm hoping you spent part of the morning reading my Orioles column in today's print edition and right here.

The Winter Meetings are dead ahead and the Orioles absolutely must significantly improve their run-production potential to maintain the momentum they built up over the final two months of last season.

Clearly, Andy MacPhail has been more aggressive this November, moving very quickly to make a big bid for Victor Martinez, so maybe he has something dynamic up his sleeve. I'll be on vacation during that period, but Jeff Zrebiec and Dan Connolly will be on the case, so stay tuned to the Orioles Insider blog for the latest developments.

Posted by Peter Schmuck at 12:14 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Just baseball