2013 Preview: Baltimore Orioles

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Baltimore Orioles.

The Big Question: Was last season a fluke?

Wanna make an Orioles fan mad? Tell them that the Orioles got lucky in 2012. Tell them that winning all of those one-run and extra innings games was fluky and rare. Cite their pythagorean record (82-80) and say that it was way more reflective of team quality than their actual record (93-69). Tell them that their — well, let’s call it good fortune for now — in close games was unprecedented in recent baseball history and, as such, it is not something that can be expected to be repeated in 2013.  Hoo-boy, they get rather perturbed at that!

Thing is, it wasn’t just dumb luck as in “wow, how the hell did that happen?” luck. Winning so many tight games was mostly a function of the bullpen. Jim Johnson, Darren O’Day, Pedro Strop, Troy Patton and Luis Ayala all managed to have great seasons at once, and Buck Showalter was damn nigh masterful at deciding when to put them into games. That actually happened, without supernatural interference. But it’s also something that, historically, isn’t easy to replicate.

Which isn’t to say that the bullpen will be bad this year. It’s a very good bullpen. But things change from year to year. Guys who had big workloads in one year like Johnson don’t alway maintain their mojo. Pitchers who have been hurt before, like Darren O’Day, can get hurt again. No team in baseball history has ever had everything go right one year and then have all those same things go right the next year. It just doesn’t work that way.

So maybe the real question isn’t whether last season was a fluke. Last season happened and it nothing will ever take that away. But without even getting into the question of luck, one must acknowledge that what occurred last season as far as dominant bullpen work in addition to a few fortunate bounces here or there, is unlikely to occur this season or, at the very least, is not something one can count on with any amount of certainty in March.  If the Orioles are to make the playoffs again, they’ll have to improve in some other areas, anticipating that they’ll regress in the one area where the exceeded any reasonable expectations in 2012.

So what else is going on?

  • All of that talk about the luck of the Orioles and, particularly, their pythagorean record, obscures the fact that the team changed incrementally over the course of 2012 and the version we saw later in the season was legitimately good, not just lucky. Calling up Manny Machado and getting an unexpectedly good performance from Nate McLouth were sub-headline news items which nonetheless contributed to a team that did outscore its opposition late in the season. It seems, based on the very quiet offseason, that Dan Duquette and Showalter continue to treat the O’s as a work in progress which is better to be tinkered with than overhauled. This gives a lot of O’s fans pause, of course, but it seems smart given how uncertain the AL East is right now.
  • The bullpen was an obvious strength last year, and part of the reason it had to be was that the rotation was not one. Wins don’t matter a heck of a lot, but only one starter won ten games or more last season, and that’s just kinda odd for a playoff team. Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and … Jair Jurrjens? Jake Arrieta? Field? Aren’t gonna scare anyone. A couple of someones in that group need to pick up the slack from the bullpen this year. I know many will clamor for Dylan Bundy to come in and save everyone, but it’d be a surprise to see him in the majors before September if he appears in the bigs at all this season. He’s really a 2014 guy, methinks.
  • The offense has some nice top-end-for-their-position talent in Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Matt Weiters, but it’s not an especially deep and potent group. Nick Markakis is healthy again and the O’s need him to return to his old form. A full season of Brian Roberts would be nice, but after so much time lost it’s hard to count on him being the Brian Roberts of old. Manny Machado has a ton of potential and a lot of room for improvement, but he’s still a baby. There’s a decent chance that Chris Davis and Nate McLouth remember that they are Chris Davis and Nate McLouth and do not replicate their second half production this year. In other words, the offense is a mixed bag.
  • Wilson Betemit got hurt on Monday and is going to miss at least the first two months of the season. The O’s will miss his production — he hit .302/.357/.502 with 10 homers in 255 at bats against right-handed pitching last season — but it’s worth remembering that he missed most of the end of last season and all of the postseason too, so Baltimore is not in uncharted waters here.

So how are they gonna do?

Like anyone else in this crazy division I could see them winning it all or see them finishing fifth. Sorry, I know that’s a copout, but that’s where the AL East is right now. We’ll call them: Fifth Place, American League East, but please don’t think of that as some sort of damnation. I just say that because Matthew already did the Red Sox and Rays and predicted them fourth and second, respectively, I did the Jays and picked them first, and I’m gonna do the Yankees and have a hard time picking them last ever. Take this preview for what comes before and consider the actual prediction to be the least committed prediction ever.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Nationals 5, Mariners 1: Anthony Rendon hit a three-run homer. He hit two homers and drove in five on Tuesday. Guess you can say he likes playing the Mariners. Then again, everyone should like playing the Mariners these days. They’ve lost five in a row and have been outscored 41-5 in that span.

Athletics 4, Marlins 1: Sonny Gray struck out 11 batters over seven one-run innings. Gray has only pitched five times this year but so far the results are pretty good, pointing to the sort of bounceback season the A’s were hoping for from their potential ace. He’s got a K/BB ratio of 28/8 in 29.2 innings, a WHIP of 1.08 and is holding batters to a .216 average.

Twins 4, Orioles 3: The Twins swept the O’s in Baltimore — the first team to even win a series there this season — but what I would really like to do is I to show you a couple of pitches Jose Berrios threw yesterday afternoon:

And this:

That game started at 1pm. I know the studies are inconclusive — and it may make me sound old fashioned — but I think it’s wrong to show this sort of pornography when children were awake and could have easily stumbled upon them. Please, Paul Molitor, only allow Jose Berrios to pitch after dark.

Reds 4, Indians 3: Speaking of pornography, check out Billy Hamilton‘s speed. He beats out what would’ve been a game-ending double play if anyone else on the planet was running and then he scored from first base on a single (and outfield miscue by Michael Brantley) to help the Reds come back from a 3-2 deficit in the ninth inning to win the game:

That Brantley brain lock aside, I don’t think many other runners score on that play. Hamilton’s wheels won that dang game for Cincinnati.

Rockies 7, Phillies 2: Tyler Chatwood allowed one hit in seven scoreless innings and struck out eight as the Rockies continue to impress. They scored seven runs in the third, hitting, collectively, for the cycle in the inning. Carlos Gonzalez hit the homer, Ian Desmond hit the triple, Trevor Story hit the double and Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado all singled. Fox executives are gonna jump outta windows when they see the ratings for this year’s Rockies-Twins World Series, but it’ll be totally dope for most of us if it happens.

Blue Jays 8, Brewers 4: Ryan Goins is gonna lose his job to Troy Tulowitzki soon, but he’s not letting that bother him. He hit a grand slam here and Kevin Pillar, Devon Travis and Jose Bautista went deep as well.

This has nothing to do with anything, but I want you to know that in the course of putting these recaps together I came across this ad at the bottom of a web page:

Given that he’s been dead for 11 years I’d say it’s understandable that fans were stunned regardless of the reason he left the show. And that’s the case even if the shuffling, decomposing corpse of Don Knotts were merely citing something boring like creative differences with Desilu Studios or a desire to more movies.

Working on the Internet is so cool. OK, back to the recaps:

Yankees 3, Royals 0: Luis Severino‘s year of fulfilling his potential continues as he allowed four hits over eight innings, striking out seven. The 23-year old is looking better than he did in his rookie year and way better than he did in 2016. On the bad side of things, Jacoby Ellsbury slammed into the wall while making a catch in the first inning and left with a concussion and sprained neck. It’s the second time this season he’s face-planted like that.

Diamondbacks 8, White Sox 6: The sweep. The Dbacks have won 8 of 9 and are ten games over .500 for the first time in six years. Five different Arizona batters drove in a run. Jose Abreu was 4-for-5 with a homer and three RBI in a losing cause.

Red Sox 9, Rangers 4: The Sox were down 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh but then they put up a seven-spot. Chris Sale struck out only six batters, snapping his streak with double digit strikeouts at eight, but I’m sure he’s cool with it.

Padres 6, Mets 5: Mets blew a 5-1 lead but had a chance to tie or win it in the ninth only to be smacked down by Brad Hand. New York loaded the bases with nobody out, but Hand struck out Curtis Granderson and Rene Rivera and then Juan Lagares flied out to end it. Losing a lead and seeing a would-be rally fizzle like that are demoralizing enough, but having them both happen in the same game is a real kick to the beans.

Pirates 12, Braves 5: Speaking of demoralizing: the Braves — whose bullpen has been pretty fantastic lately — had a 5-3 lead in the ninth inning only to see Jose Ramirez cough it up by surrendering a two-out, bases loaded single to Jose Osuna. The tenth inning was way worse, when Josh Collmenter came on for Atlanta and decided it’d be more fun to spread kerosene all over the place than to get dudes out. Collmenter allowed six hits — three of them homers — and seven runs in the final frame. The 10th inning dongs came back-to-back-to-back in the space of ten pitches. The men doing the yard work for Pittsburgh: David Freese, Osuna and Jordy Mercer

Rays 5, Angels 2: Steven Souza homered twice. Too bad he did it in May. Two months earlier and we could call him “The March King.”

Cubs 5, Giants 4: Anthony Rizzo homered twice and Kyle Hendricks allowed two runs over seven. Wade Davis allowed two runs over one, via a homer to Mac Williamson, but he got the save anyway.

Tigers 6, Astros 3Jose Iglesias finished a triple shy of the cycle — which is not a thing, even if it’s fun to say — and Ian Kinsler had two hits and scored twice. The Tigers snapped a three game skid.

Cardinals 6, Dodgers 1: Mike Leake allowed four hits over eight one run innings. His ERA is now down to 1.91 on the year. Yadi Molina homered and drove in two. Someone let me know if this game was more interesting to Bill Plaschke than Tuesday night’s game, which he found boring despite the fact that it featured a nine-inning pitcher’s duel featuring an all-time great and ended on a walkoff hit by the home team. As this one only took two hours and 44 minutes, I presume it was more pleasing to him.

Baseball writers, man. They’re the worst.

Albert Pujols hit his 597th career home run

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Angels DH Albert Pujols smacked his 597th career home run, a two-run shot in the top of the first inning during Wednesday night’s 5-2 loss to the Rays. The blast was off of Erasmo Ramirez and marked No. 6 on the season for the future Hall of Famer.

Pujols finished 1-for-3 with the homer and a walk. After Wednesday’s game, he’s hitting a lackluster .244/.296/.378 with 34 RBI and 14 runs scored in 186 trips to the plate.

Pujols currently ranks ninth on baseball’s all-time leaderboard and is three shy of joining the 600-homer club. He’s currently 13 home runs away from tying Sammy Sosa for eighth all-time.