“Oriole Magic” comes up just short against Yankees in ALDS

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Nobody gave the Orioles much of a chance in the one-game Wild Card playoff against the Rangers last Friday, so it’s not surprising that they entered the ALDS as the underdogs against the big bad Yankees. However, this series followed a very similar path to how their regular season played out. They surprised, they overachieved, they made the Yankees sweat. But ultimately, they fell a little short.

The Orioles lost to the Yankees 3-1 this evening in a decisive Game 5 at Yankee Stadium. They just couldn’t get much going against CC Sabathia, collecting just four hits while striking out eight times. They had their best chance in the eighth inning, but failed to capitalize on a bases-loaded situation.

Save for a rough ninth inning by closer Jim Johnson in Game 1, the pitching wasn’t the problem for the Orioles in this series. They allowed three runs or less in four out of the five games. None of their starting pitchers allowed more than two runs. But their bats didn’t show up. Aside from Nate McLouth, that is. It’s tough to win when you hit .187 as a team. To name some prominent examples, Adam Jones went 2-for-23 (.087) while Matt Wieters went 3-for-20 (.150) and Mark Reynolds went 3-for-19 (.158). One wonders how this series might have played out had Nick Markakis been healthy.

While the Orioles fell a little short in this series, it doesn’t diminish what they accomplished this season. Buck Showalter’s group managed to breathe life back into a fan base at a time where many long-suffering fans in the Baltimore/D.C. area were tempted to switch their allegiance to the Nationals. It’s unlikely that the Orioles will be able to repeat their historic success in one-run and extra-inning games next season, so if they are going to win again, they will probably need a new formula. But the franchise is alive and relevant again. And that’s a good thing for baseball.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.