Archive for the ‘Baltimore Orioles’ Category

Baltimore Ends Its Drought, Wins A.L. East

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

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The Baltimore Orioles defied the odds-makers, pundits and baseball analysts, sweeping to their first American League East title since 1997, with an 8-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Tuesday night. The victory gave the O’s a 91-60 record on the year, second best in all of baseball.

This is not where the O’s were supposed to be. As the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays retooled in the off-season (with the Yankees spending wildly to rebuild their outfield and pitching staff), the Orioles made do with a late signing of outfielder Nelson Cruz, a decision that brought nearly unanimous hoots of derision from baseball experts.

But the Orioles, who suffered in-season injuries to catcher Matt Wieters and All-World third baseman Manny Machado (as well as the suspension of home run powerhouse Chris Davis), mixed and matched and scratched their way to victory after victory, matching the third best ERA in the American League to the best long-ball hitting team in the majors.

But Baltimore’s pitching and hitting tell only a part of the story. The unsung hero of the O’s 2014 campaign might well be G.M. Dan Duquette, whose mid-summer moves kept the O’s alive when they should have been fading. Duquette shuffled players back and forth to Triple-A Norfolk, getting key starts from journeyman infielder Jimmy Paredes, trading for Bosox reliever Andrew Miller and then swapping two minor leaguers for Alejandro De Aza and Kelly Johnson.

Nearly all of this handiwork was on display in Baltimore last night. Paredes was 2-3 with an RBI while playing third, De Aza stroked a triple and notched three RBIs, Miller provided a two-batter bridge to Tommy Hunter who pitched the 9th, Steve Pierce (released, then re-signed by Duquette back in April) hit his 18th home run of the season — and the O’s laughed their way to an 8-2 victory.

But this is hardly the trash heap O’s. Baltimore boasts perhaps the best outfield in baseball, as well as one of the American League’s favorites for MVP. Cruz, De Aza and Pierce hold down left field, steady veteran Nick Markakis is in right and potent and potential MVP Adam Jones mans center. Nelson Cruz is the DH, and he has 39 home runs on the year — best in the junior circuit.

And then there’s Buck Showalter, now the favorite to win the Manager of the Year Award, not least for shaping (with Duquette) the almost famous “Baltimore Shuffle” — the up-to-the-majors, down-to-Triple-A moves that have characterized the team’s handling of the pitching staff all year. Somehow, it’s all worked out.

And here’s how: Wai-Yin Chen (the underrated Japanese import) is 16-4, Miguel Gonzalez has won seven of his last ten outings, Chris Tillman has been brilliant (a 3.29 ERA and 1.22 WHIP), and the Baltimore bullpen has the fourth best ERA in the American League.

And last night Buck Showalter handed the ball to the up-and-down Ubaldo Jimenez, an unusual act of confidence in a starter who’s been inconsistent — at best. And how did Jimenez react? He threw an improbable five innings of two hit baseball.

“You get older, you want to get a good angle and a good seat and see good people get a return for what they put into it and what they’re trying to achieve,” Showalter told the press after last night’s clincher. “And this is a huge step, to get a chance now. We’ve got to figure out a way to win 11 games.”

Which is to say: in our opinion, the always-underrated O’s are not simply the best team in the fast eroding American League Least, they’re the class of the American League — and our pick as the team to beat in the post-season.

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It’s All Strasburg In Atlanta

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

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The Nationals edged closer to playing in October Monday night, downing the Braves at Atlanta’s Turner Field behind the shut-down seven inning pitching of righty ace Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg stymied the Braves, 4-2, leaving the Nationals on the verge of their second National League East championship in three years.

Strasburg has always had difficulty pitching against the Braves at Turner Field and entered the game with a stiff neck, but none of these problems were much in evidence on Monday. The righty gave up five hits while striking out seven and walking none in a 90 pitch outing. The win gave the Nats their league leading 86th win on the season.

“I’ve never seen him pitch bad against us,” Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez said after the Nats win. “You see the numbers, the seven-plus ERA his last four starts here. He’s a pretty darn good pitcher every time we face him. I know those numbers don’t bare that. But he’s a guy that we respect. He’s a guy who has been a big pitcher for them.”

Strasburg’s win was also the result of timely Nationals hitting, which began with a Denard Span double off of Atlanta starter Ervin Santana in the third inning. Span’s double plated Wilson Ramos for Washington’s first score. Ramos then homered in the top of the 5th inning for the Nats second score. The Nats added their third run on a Strasburg single in the 7th and a Nate Schierholtz RBI in the 8th.

The Braves mounted a comeback in the 9th inning, with Rafael Soriano taking the mound to protect a 4-0 lead. Andrelton Simmons greeted Soriano with a double and then scored on a Justin Upton double to left. When Soriano walked Chris Johnson with two outs, Nats manager Matt Williams brought in Drew Storen to get the third out — a B.J. Upton grounder that ended the game.

The Braves frustration at falling out of both the race for the N.L. East crown and a spot as a Wild Card team was evidenced in the 6th inning when first sacker Freddie Freeman was called out on strikes by home plate umpire Tim Timmons. Freeman slammed his bat in disgust and was ejected from the game; when Gonzalez defended his player, he was also tossed.

We all collectively, from the front office to our coaches to our fans, we want to win,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez. “Anything short of us getting into some playoff game or play-in game is not acceptable. You see guys fighting.”

The loss symbolized the demise of the Braves who, despite their early season woes with a rash of pitching injuries, were supposed to contend with the Nationals for the N.L East title. That’s not what happened: Atlanta played well against the Nats, but poorly against the rest of the league. Last night’s loss put them at a so-so 75-75 for the year. A disappointment . . .

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Baltimore’s Orioles are a single win away from clinching their first American League East title since 1997. Last night, against the Toronto Blue Jays, they continued their dominance of their division, finishing off the struggling Jays, 5-2. If they win again tonight, they’ll win the A.L. East crown . . .

It seemed only right that Wei-Yin Chen would be the pitcher to lead the O’s in Toronto. After last night’s performance (the underrated southpaw scattered nine hits in 5.2 innings of work), Chen is 16-4 on the season, the first time a Baltimore lefty had 16 or more wins in a season since Jimmy Key did it way back when . . .

“I allowed quite a few hits out there, but I was trying to battle,” Chen said of his performance after his team’s victory. “I was trying to keep the ball down without allowing too many runs. Fortunately I can do that with the help of my teammates . . .”

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A.J. Pitches Philly Past The Nats

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

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Veteran Phillies righty A.J. Burnett tamed the Nationals with twelve strikeouts on Monday night, leading Philadelphia past Washington at Citizens Bank Park, 3-2. Burnett’s victory was his first since the All Star break, and came against Washington starter Tanner Roark, who was saddled with his eighth loss of the season.

Burnett’s victory was supported by home runs from third sacker Cody Asche and catcher Carlos Ruiz, who hit only his fourth of the year. Dominic Brown had two hits and an RBI for Philadelphia, while the Washington attack was led by two solo home runs from Wilson Ramos and Anthony Rendon.

The Nats defeat followed on the heels of an offensive outburst against the San Francisco Giants, in which the Nationals notched 23 runs, which included a 14 run shelling on Sunday. The Nats performance against Philadelphia on Monday was much more modest, as Washington banged out just two runs on six hits.

As in many of Washington’s losses, the game was filled with a number of might-have-beens. Washington hitters led off the seventh and eighth innings with doubles (from Ian Desmond and Kevin Frandsen), but were unable to plate the runs. Nor could Washington mount one of its by now legendary comebacks — with a Wilson Ramos home run in the 9th giving only a taste of the kind of heroics the team is known for.

Righty Roark, meanwhile, provided a workmanlike outing, while giving up thigh high gift to Asche in the 5th. “It was a changeup but it didn’t change,” Roark said of the Asche home run. “It was just a BP fastball. It was right down the middle, thigh high. He got me.” Roark gave up just five hits in the game, and one walk.

Jerry Blevins relieved Roark for the 7th inning, but gave up a round tripper to Philadelphia’s Ruiz. “It was a bad pitch, mistake. Sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don’t. He got all of it,” Blevins said. “Track record shows that I’m better than what’s going out there. And I don’t feel like I’m pitching as bad as it looks.”

While Philadelphia remains mired in last place in the N.L. East, the performance of Burnett, who has been struggling, provided a needed tonic for their team. Burnett attributed his win to a change in his mechanics, solving a glitch he noticed in his delivery. “I wish I could have found that little glitch about a month, two months ago,” Burnett said after his team’s victory. “Unfortunately it took a long time, but better late than never.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: If only the Chicago Cubs could face American League East teams all the time. Back in late June, the Cubbies swept the Red Sox in three games and this past Sunday they completed a surprise sweep of the A.L. East leading Baltimore Orioles . . .

The Cubs victim on Sunday was Baltimore righty Miguel Gonzalez, who threw a solid 6.1 innings, but couldn’t come away with the win. The problem for Gonzalez wasn’t Chicago’s hitters (who scruffed a measly six hits off of him), but Cubbies southpaw starter Tsuhyoshi Wada, who carried a no hitter into the seventh inning before giving up a home run to Steve Pierce . . .

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Nats On A Roll, Squeeze By The Bucs, 5-4

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

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Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper had two hits and two RBIs apiece, starter Tanner Roark pitched into the 6th inning, and closer Rafael Soriano provided another nail biting ending as the Nationals squeezed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-4 at Nationals Park on Friday night. This was Washington’s fourth victory in a row.

LaRoche and Harper were the big bats in the Nationals win. The Nationals took an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first frame, with a LaRoche single plating Asdrubal Cabrera. Then, with the bases loaded, Harper followed up with a single of his own — scoring Anthony Rendon and LaRoche.

Pirates starter Charlie Morton couldn’t keep the Nationals off the board in the early going and was pulled by Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle after just three innings of work. In all, the Nationals sprayed 11 hits versus Bucco pitching, with Denard Span once again hitting his stride, going 3-4 on the night.

While Roark picked up his twelfth win of the 2014 campaign, he gave up three runs on five hits in just 5.2 innings of work. Pittsburgh got back into the game in the fourth inning, when outfielder Starling Marte powered an 84 mph Roark slider into the left field seats, which scored second sacker Neil Walker. The Pirates were suddenly back in the game.

“He was a little off on his command tonight, the ball was up in the strike zone a little bit,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Roark’s performance. “Marte hit a slider for the homer and the ball just kind of elevated. But he battled. He got through the innings he needed to get through. He pitched well.”

The feisty Pirates showed why they’re still in the hunt for the National League Central crown, pushing the Nationals until the final out. The Pirates three run fourth was followed by a nail-biting 9th in which Starling Marte singled off of Nats closer Rafael Soriano, then scored on a Pedro Alvarez single to bring the Buccos to within one run of tying the game.

Soriano, struggling to notch his 29th save, then gave up a single to Chris Stewart, which put the tying run on base. But with Stewart looking to score, Soriano induced a foul pop off the bat of Josh Harrison (which landed in the glove of Wilson Ramos) to end the game.

On Wednesday, Soriano had told the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore that one of the reasons for his sometimes shaky outings was that he wasn’t getting enough work. The Soriano statement was apparently heard loud and clear by skipper Williams. “That’s three games in a row for Soriano. He got through it tonight. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Williams said after last night’s win.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Pirates fans begin each year with the dream that they’ll relive 1979, the last year that the Bucs brought home the World Series trophy. But what’s usually missing from the Pittsburgh narrative, and often forgotten by baseball pundits, is that the 1979 win was notched against a Baltimore team that was among the most celebrated in franchise history . . .

The 1979 Orioles won 102 games, had a winning record against every American League team except the Yankees, led the A.L from mid-April to the wire, featured a 23 game winner (in Mike Flanagan) and a lights-out closer (in Don Stanhouse), and dominated baseball in one run and extra inning games . . .

Which is to say: if the Pirates could just start playing a bit better (and reach the playoffs) a replay of the Baltimore-Pittsburgh seven game, down-to-the-final-out tilt of 1979 is not out of the question. To make this even plainer, we would claim that the 2014 edition of the Orioles might even be better than their 1979 ancestors . . .

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Nats Outlast The Rain, And The Braves, 4-1

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

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After a nearly four hour rain delay that pushed Washington’s game against Atlanta into the early morning hours, the Nationals overcame the Braves in an 11 inning marathon, 4-1. The Washington win marked Atlanta’s ninth loss in ten games and pushed the Nationals 4.5 games ahead of the Braves in the National League East.

A bases loaded single off the bat of Wilson Ramos in the 11th inning was the difference in the game, as the Washington catcher plated Anthony Rendon for the go-ahead run. Kevin Frandsen followed Ramos with a double over the head of Jason Heyward, scoring Adam LaRoche (who had singled) and Bryce Harper (who had walked).

Skipper Matt Williams was pleased with his team’s effort. “Considering all that happened today, and the way we had to fight through the last couple of days, it was pretty good for us,” Williams said after the hard-fought victory. “We fought all the way.”

The game featured a solid pitchers’ duel, with Washington’s Tanner Roark matched up against Atlanta’s Aaron Harang. The two hurlers numbers were similar, with the Nats and Braves trading singles and runs through ten straight innings. Roark’s and Harang’s final lines (each threw seven complete and gave up a single earned run) reflected just how tightly the two teams play.

Washington scored first, in the sixth inning, on Adam LaRoche’s 16th home run of the season. Atlanta responded in the bottom of that frame, when Jason Heyward’s sacrifice fly scored Tommy La Stella. Washington’s bullpen was, once again, outstanding: Matt Thornton, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano held the Braves scoreless through four complete, with Soriano picking up his 26th save.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s mid-August (the dog days, when the season seems to go on forever), so analysts, pundits and columnists are searching for things to write and talk about. On Friday, MLB Network listed nominees for the A.L.’s MVP award, apparently because it’s never too soon to speculate . . .

Among those listed were Baltimore’s Adam Jones, L.A.’s Mike Trout, Detroit’s Victor Martinez, Seattle’s Robinson Cano and Oakland’s Josh Donaldson. The surprise in the list (at least for us), is Victor Martinez, who is worthy but often overshadowed by Detroit superstar Miguel Cabrera, who’s having an off year — at least for him . . .

Our pick is Adam Jones, who’s the heartbeat of the first place Orioles. You won’t find Jones at the top of the league in batting average (he’s hitting a respectable .285 on the year), but he’s plated 22 round trippers, which puts him in the company of Jose Bautista and Albert Pujols and he’s knocked in 70, which puts him 11th in the A.L . . .

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Nats Notes: The Road To October Still Goes Through Atlanta

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals might have lost in Atlanta last night, but they’re still sitting on a solid lead in the National League East. And their lead is now the second largest in the majors (the Baltimore Orioles’ lead is just a tad more impressive). The recent homestand against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Fighting Showalters, and the New York Mets delivered everything the Nats have been doing well and (let’s admit it) everything they haven’t.

The Nats were given a chance to set the pace for the NL pennant run, but they let two blowouts and a scraper to two sub-.500 teams get past them. As much as we like to complain about how well they should have done, we can take heart that the hated Atlanta Braves fared even worse. The Barves were swept on their West Coast road trip and returned to Atlanta reeling from an eight game dip.

Nice as it is that Washington is in first place, the Washington 9 get blown away whenever their starter has a meltdown — or can’t make it past the third inning. And they drop one and two run games whenever the bullpen can’t lock it down or the defense is sloppy. Conversely, they win squeakers when the pitching is on point, the defense is tight, and their baserunning is smart. And they blow away the other guys when everything is firing on all cylinders.

We admit — that’s pretty standard stuff for any team. When the Braves, Marlins, Mets or Phillies can’t “lock it down,” they look as bad as (or worse than) anyone.

But wouldn’t it be nice if the Nats could (just once) author a blow-out of the Chops (as they did with the Phillies) that would leave Fredi Gonzalez reeling, and the Upton Brothers wondering what hit ‘em. That’s the kind of win the Nationals need just now to seal the feeling of inevitability that’s the hallmark of a champ.

Pointing out the positives from the homestand, Bryce Harper’s two-run opposite-field walk-off homer in the 13th inning against the Mets was well timed, both for him and the team. Each of the outfielders (Harper, Denard Span, and Jayson Werth) notched at least one outfield assist, and Span is working on a 34 game on-base streak, a definite plus for a lead-off hitter.

And there’s this: New acquisition Asdrubal Cabrera (2B) slotted right into the defense and even Danny Espinosa (2B) demonstrated that he shouldn’t be counted out of the lineup, at least when he’s batting right-handed.

That said, the team did some things that are still a cause for concern. Jayson Werth has been playing through tweaky knees and a sore ankle (“he’s pretty banged up,” the Post says) the past few weeks and it has shown in his defense. Lately, in right, it has taken him awhile to make it to balls down the line, in the corner, or blooped behind first. First-sacker Adam LaRoche, while healthy, has always been prone to streaks both hot and cold and, until his two-run homer on Wednesday, he’s been pretty cold.

So, was this the best homestand in Nats’ history? No, but neither was it the worst. All of the ingredients are there, a few nitpicks aside, and things should be trending up. A good test is the current series in Atlanta. The road to October always (always) goes through the Barves.

But never fear: this year, and thanks to the way the Chops are playing, that highway may actually be smoother than it’s been in a long time.

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Nats Slug Their Way To 6-2 Win In Baltimore

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

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Home runs by Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth — and seven solid innings of pitching from starter Doug Fister — led the Washington Nationals past the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards on Wednesday night, 6-2. The Nationals victory in the Orioles slugfest secured Washington’s hold on first place in the National League East.

After the extra innings loss to the Orioles in Washington on Monday (during which the O’s slammed four round trippers), the Nationals not only needed the win, they needed to show they could stand toe-to-toe with one of the best hitting teams in major league baseball. They did that last night.

“This is a good ballpark to hit home runs in,” Nationals manager Matt Williams acknowledged following the Washington victory. “All you need to do is look at the other dugout to see that.” Given Fister’s solid showing, and a Nats bullpen that was in shutdown mode, the Ramos-Desmond-Werth show was more than enough to give the Nats the victory.

The Nationals started the night against O’s starter Bud Norris by putting two runs on the scoreboard in the first inning, courtesy of a Jayson Werth double that scored Anthony Rendon and an Adam LaRoche RBI single that brought in Werth. At the end of two, the Nationals led 3-1, thanks to Wilson Ramos’ third home run of the year.

Doug Fister, meanwhile, was befuddling the O’s potent line-up, though he and Nats skipper Matt Williams admitted that the steady righty was struggling with his command. But despite his early troubles (the O’s scored early on an RBI single from Chris Davis, then on a home run from Manny Machado in the 4th), Fister worked to stay in the game.

“Doug continues to battle,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “We stretch him out. We sent him back out there with the notion that if he got in trouble, we’ll go get him. He really found the zone the last inning, especially. He pitched really well.”

The victory on Wednesday also showed why the Nationals and their fans believe Anthony Rendon should be an All Star. With Ryan Zimmerman penciled into the line-up as a Designated Hitter, Rendon was slotted in at third, where he flashed his leather, robbing Baltimore hitters of at least two singles.

“Their third baseman had a great night playing third base,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter told the press following the O’s loss. “We could have got back in it a little bit, but they didn’t let us defensively.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Battle of Texas (it’s now called, alternately, the Lone Stars Series or the Silver Boot series) has never gone well for Houston. The Astros lost 17 of 19 games to their cross-state rival Texas Rangers last year, and were seemingly fated for another last place finish against their sprinting A.L. West rivals in 2014 . . .

Projected as a powerhouse prior to the season, the Rangers had everything: A strong starting staff anchored by Yu Darvish and a line-up that featured one of the game’s best long ball hitters in Prince Fielder. But Fielder is injured (with neck surgery) and out for the year, Darvish is struggling — and now the Texas Rangers are in last place . . .

The Astros made the Rangers fall from grace official last night, pummeling Darvish while running away from the Rangers in a decisive 8-4 victory. The win capped a Houston sweep of their three game series against the Rangers, in which they scored 28 runs while stroking 42 hits. This was a slaughter . . .

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