September 21, 2016
I’ve been saying on this blog since August that if the Orioles won every series until the end of the regular season on Sunday October 2 they’d win the American League East for the second time in three years.
That desired outcome took a hit this past weekend when the Orioles could only split at home a four-game series with the last place Tampa Bay Rays while the Red Sox swept four from the arch-rival Yankees at Fenway.
The Bosox have now won the first two games of their series in Baltimore by identical 5-2 scores. The losses to Boston were not really as close as the final score indicated. The Bosox took the lead in the third inning of both games and never were headed.
They lead the O’s by 5 games with 11 games to play. Realistically AL East titledom and avoidance of the wild card game are no longer realistic goals for the Birds. Yet as Buck Showalter constantly advises, players don't live in the long run. They live through daily play and a pitch or a bad bounce can change fortunes in a twinkling.
It must be said though that there are some impressive Killer B’s in the Boston lineup – Mookie Betts an excellent right fielder and leader for MVP consideration, Zander Bogaerts from Aruba a slick shortstop, Jackie Bradley Jr who covers a lot of ground in center, and now rookie left fielder Andrew Benintendi has been added to the B brigade.
As a great believer in scouting and player development, I cannot complain when Boston has signed and nurtured all of these Killer B's. Ditto to the Yankees for waiting for years for catcher Gary Sanchez to become a possible rookie of the year based on some outstanding play on both sides of the ball since early August.
Sanchez has provided a lift to the Yankees comparable to what Manny Machado brought to the Orioles late in the 2012 season. Loving baseball is a lot about loving youth and the fresh legs and lively spirit that prospects bring to the game.
Back to the formidable Bosox for a moment, I haven’t even mentioned old Boston standbys Dustin Pedroia, who has been hitting over .400 since being moved to leadoff hitter, and DH David Ortiz in what is presumably his last year. He’s setting all-time records for productivity over the age of 40.
As always that winning feeling has been fueled by the improved Boston pitching led by 21-game winner Rick Porcello the Seton Hall Prep New Jersey product. He dispatched the O’s with complete game ease on Monday night.
The $217 million southpaw David Price has also rounded into form and the bullpen has also improved. With Price and Porcello and Pedroia the Red Sox have Potent P's to go with the Killer B's.
I’m not saying that other AL division winners Cleveland and Texas won’t have something to say come October. Don’t rule out the possible wild card contestants Toronto and Detroit or Houston and maybe even the Orioles if somehow they score more than two runs a game. Seattle and the Yankees are fading now but they’ve had impressive winning streaks lately so can’t be totally counted out.
Right now though Boston has put it all together at the right time of the year, late September. Meanwhile in the NL there is a three-way fight for the wild card among three flawed but occasional potent teams, the Cardinals, Giants, and Mets. The big bad Cubs are lurking in post-season along with the Nationals and Dodgers.
Notable Recent Highlights:
**Baseball scout John Hagemann’s plaque now occupies a honored place in the Scouts Wall of Fame at the Hudson Valley Renegades Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill, NY.
One of the highlights of Hagemann’s distinguished career as a scout for the Expos, Orioles, Braves, and now the Phillies, was his recommendation in 1987 that the Braves obtain Class A minor league pitcher John Smoltz in the trade with the Tigers for veteran hurler Doyle Alexander.
Alexander helped the Tigers to the playoffs but Smoltz became a Hall of Famer.
Hagemann also signed out of their native Staten Island pitcher Jason Marquis.
His major league career now probably over, Marquis will pitch for Israel in the World Baseball Classic elimination tournament Sept. 21-24 at the Brooklyn Cyclones MCU home field on Coney Island. So likely will former Red Sox southpaw Craig Breslow and former Met infielders Ike Davis and Josh Satin.
More on that fascinating tourney matching Israel, Brazil, Great Britain, and Pakistan in the next installment of this blog.
For now as always: Take it easy but take it!
September 11, 2016
The only way to stay relatively sane in a tense pennant race is to invoke the mantra again and again: “If we win every series, we will make the playoffs.” Though like most Oriole fans I have been disconsolate at the O’s fade since they were a season-high 18 games over .500 in early August, they just won two big series on the road.
They head to Boston two games behind the first-place Red Sox and tied with Toronto for the two wild card positions. The Tigers and the sizzling Yankees are two games back and Houston, Seattle, and Kansas City are still alive in the tight race. (There is less drama in the NL but there is a tight race for the two wild cards in progress between the Cardinals, Giants, and Mets.)
To beat the Tigers two out of three at Comerica Park gave the Birds a big boost. ‘Twas especially nice after they lost the Friday night opener 4-3 despite a solid effort
from Kevin Gausman. Reliever Brad Brach lost the game on an 8th inning solo home run by Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez who may not be able to run any more but he still can hit, especially from the left side.
On Saturday the Birds jumped on obviously still-rusty Jordan Zimmermann for two HRs in the first inning and they were never headed in an 11-3 win. Adam Jones homered on the first pitch of the game and Chris Davis followed with a two-run dinger.
It was a rare laugher for an Orioles team that has been struggling in close contests because of a homer-or-bust offense. Reborn Ubaldo Jimenez came through with seven solid innings and catcher Matt Wieters iced the game with two homers accounting for 5 RBI.
Sunday’s rubber game was a taut classic from the first pitch to the last. In the 3-1 Baltimore victory 15-game winner Chris Tillman pitched six strong innings in his first start in three weeks, sidelined because of shoulder bursitis.
Newcomer Michael Bourn showed he was born again by hitting a two-run homer off Detroit ace Justin Verlander and Jonathan Schoop’s solo homer added an important insurance run. Schoop is striking out too much these days and perhaps his swinging for the fences is hurting his all-around proficiency at the plate.
Yet the Orioles are an ultra-aggressive team at the plate and they continue to play solid defense. Adam Jones made two outstanding catches mid-game that maintained the Orioles lead. And back on the horse in the 7th inning, Brach pitched a solid inning.
Mychal Givens – he of the 95 mph sidearm fastball – got Miguel Cabrera to hit into an inning-ending DP in the 8th. Zach Britton got his 41st consecutive 2016 save in the 9th not before yielding two base runners. But he was in control, keeping the ball on the ground when it was hit.
Holding Cabrera hitless in the three games was a key to the series win. It was playoff baseball of great intensity with Cabrera in the middle of a good deal of testiness. Gausman on Friday stared down Miguel on more than one occasion.
Sunday’s game saw both Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo complain in the first two innings that Cabrera’s awkwardness with his feet around first base left them vulnerable to being tripped and seriously injured. Fortunately, no further incidents occurred in the game.
I don’t predict outcomes, and it is amusing how the proliferating pundits' websites are filled with percentages of what will happen for the rest of the season. Baseball is a game of inches and penalties, as Branch Rickey as usual wisely said, and the only way to watch it successfully is pitch-by-pitch without preconceived notions.
One thing that MUST be corrected by next year is the over-expansion of September rosters. Teams play from April through August with a 25-man roster but come September 1, the full 40-man roster is eligible to play. Teams have been using as many as 12 pitchers in a single game.
It’s just not right and must be modified. Orioles skipper Buck Showalter and others have called for a taxi squad for September games. Before a series, a team must list no more than 30 people eligible for the games, they argue correctly.
Another issue that has marred games all season is the incessant meetings on the mound, especially between pitchers and catchers. That number must be reduced by
rule to only a handful.
In spite of these irritating flaws, it is great to be alive in September, isn’t it?
Let the games continue in all their beauty and yes agony.
September 2, 2016
As play begins on Labor Day weekend, the Orioles find themselves tied for the second AL wild card with the resurgent Detroit Tigers. The Houston Astros are nipping on their heels and the born-again Yankees with a lot of new blood are only two lost games behind Baltimore and Detroit.
The Yankees are regularly winning series these days, including recently cooling off defending World Series champion Kansas City. The Orioles are in reverse, losing series that they won earlier in the season.
They are now a long shot to win the AL East trailing the Blue Jays by four games and the Red Sox by two. Right now Boston leads the battle to host the wild card game but of course a lot can happen in September.
There are a lot of explanations for why the Orioles, a team that peaked at 18 above .500 in early August, have slipped. Most prominent is the failure of any consistent starting pitching. A troubling shoulder injury to 15-game winner Chris Tillman has obviously hurt as well as the multiple injuries to key reliever Darren O'Day.
No one has stepped up to fill the starter void although Kevin Gausman did momentarily stop the bleeding in a great seven inning-shutout performance at Yankee Stadium on the last Sunday in August. I was fortunate to attend that game.
Steve Pearce got his first RBIs in his return to the O's - a solo HR and a huge two-out bases-loaded single. He also threw out the Yankees wunderkind catcher Gary Sanchez trying to go first to third on a single with nobody out in the fourth.
Manny Machado was way off third base in a defensive shift but managed to get back to the bag to receive Pearce's throw. Turned out to be a huge play. Pearce left the game after top of 7th but his balky elbow is evidently all right.
Mark Trumbo hit a long HR for the insurance runs in the eighth. Most important the defense sparkled for the first time in a while, Machado and Jonathan Schoop making unbelievable plays. Probably was no accident that good starting pitching with a fast working Gausman kept the defense on their toes.
Alas, losing the following series to Toronto at home stopped any possible momentum.
The first "meaningful games in September" begin tonight Fri Sep 2 against the Yankees at Camden Yards. Since negative thoughts can cause considerable damage, I will refrain from any such exercise. Am hoping for the best by winning every series for the next month - that's the message.
**How about Stephen Cardullo of the Colorado Rockies? He made his major league debut
last week in a makeup home doubleheader against the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. He not only got his first MLB hit and first HR in game one, but he belted a grand-slam in the second game.
Not bad for a veteran of four seasons in independent leagues who made The Show at the advanced age of 29. That the Dodgers scored 8 runs in the last two innings to come-from-behind to win the second game put a damper on Cardullo's achievement, but to coin a phrase, they can't take that [debut performance] away for him.
**On the negative side, the Washington Nationals reigning MVP Bryce Harper still doesn't know the word "remorse." He was recently ejected from an extra-inning game for throwing his helmet at home plate after being called out on strikes. His team was already shorthanded in a game they eventually lost.
Afterwards Harper was still fuming at the plate umpire's call (which on replay didn't seem to me outrageously wrong). I guess when you are a megasports celebrity who hobnobbed with first pitch thrower/Olympic swimming champion Katie Ledecky before the game, you feel you can do anything without paying a price.
That's all for now - more on the dramatic pennant races coming up later this month.
Plus my report on the induction of revered baseball scout John Hagemann into the Hudson Valley Renegades Scouting Wall of Fame Friday night September 2.
Always remember - take it easy but take it!