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How 13-22 Might Be More Hopeful Than 22-10 & Columbia Returns to Ivy League Baseball Playoffs (slightly revised)

On the first Saturday night of May on Star Wars Night at Camden Yards, struggling Dylan Bundy threw the best game of his career.  He pitched into the 8th inning to lead the Orioles to a 3-0 victory over the first place Tampa Bay Rays.

 
Last night (Mon May 6) rookie southpaw John Means contributed a similarly deep outing in a 4-1 victory over the Red Sox. Though my Birds seem consigned to permanent basement residence in  the AL East, they are now 13-22 and on a two-game winning streak.  Whoopee! and I am not being sarcastic.  

 
Two years ago harboring dreams of contention, the Orioles started 22-10 before reality set in.  They wound up 2017 under .500 setting the stage for the disastrous 47-115 of 2018.     

 
Allow me to note some cautiously hopeful signs for 2019.

 

**The overall defense is improved.

**Some decent offense has been provided (and good defense) by Blue Jays castoff outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. and young veteran Trey Mancini (gamely playing right field these days though better suited for first base). 

**Chris Davis is no longer an automatic out but certainly not yet a consistent threat.

**Rookie manager Brandon Hyde has the team playing hard if not always well or smart. 


Any solid hope will depend on the pitching staff.  Much has been expected of Dylan Bundy once a top pick in the draft.  His latest efforts have been encouraging.

 

Nothing was expected of John Means.  "I was never a prospect," he says, but he developed four pitches during his five-year minor league apprenticeship. So far he is rising to the occasion at the major league level.

 

A third starter veteran Andrew Cashner looks like he can provide five or six innings most of the time. Don't ask about where other starters will come from or what the bullpen will look like. Converted shortstop Mychal Givens has closer potential but hasn't shown consistency.

 

Repeat after me class - "If consistency were a place, it would be lightly populated." Don't know who coined the phrase but you can quote me.

 
One thing I've learned in nearly 70 years of intense baseball watching is that won-lost records don't mean much until at least Memorial Day weekend. In the 24/7/365 frenzied mass media world we live in today, it is a good point to remember. 

 
Good examples:  The once high-flying Seattle Mariners now limp towards .500 or worse.

The early promise of the Mets has sunk along with a record now below .500.


Turning to the much shorter season of college baseball, Columbia on Saturday May 4th earned its ticket into the Ivy League Championship Series with a 4-0 shutout in Philadelphia over perennial power Penn. 

 
Needing just one victory to make the playoffs, the Lions had lost four in a row. Gone was the hope of hosting the championship series that will now open at Harvard on Sa May 18.

 
The Lions faced elimination in Saturday's second game after a tough 5-2 loss in the first game when Penn got four runs in the bottom of the 8th. The Quakers had won a similar Winner Take All game two years ago. 

 
Short memories are so essential for baseball success. So senior righthander Ethan Abrams pitched shutout ball into the seventh inning and junior southpaw Leo Pollack earned the save in a 4-0 win. Junior catcher Liam McGill delivered two RBI, a single in the first and a huge insurance HR in the eighth.  

 

It's been quite a run for the Lions under coach Brett Boretti now in his 14th season.  A win over Harvard in two weeks will mean the fifth Ivy League title in the last seven seasons for the native of the North Shore of Boston. Though he still roots for all New England pro teams, there is no doubt that proud alums and all fans of the Columbia Light Blue and White feel that he is the answer to the question posed in the great school fight song, "Who owns New York?" 

 
Harvard will provide stiff competition for Columbia as they seek to repeat their thrilling series win two weeks ago. They have a deep pitching staff and a formidable one-two punch  in senior first baseman Patrick McColl, in the running for the Golden Spikes award as college player of year, and junior right fielder Jake Suddleson.

 
In case of a split on Saturday May 18, there will be a winner take all game on May 19. Games can be seen on the paying service ESPN+ but this is a matchup I must see in person.

You'll read about it and other college baseball matchups in this area in future posts. 

 

There are at least two college tourneys in the NYC area before Memorial Day: Fordham's Rose Hill campus in the Bronx will host the Atlantic 10 tournament May 22-25. On the same days the MAAC will have their tourney at the Yankees' Staten Island ballpark.

 

Coming up in early June will be the PSAL high school championship game. More info on these matchups in the next post.

 

The NYC PSAL has been using wooden bats for several years now. Colleges still use composite bats. I don't like their ping sound any more than baseball purists do, but if you want to see baseball with plenty of hustle and stress on fundamentals, check out the college game.  


That's all for now!  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!

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It's Only Early September But American League Wild Card Race Getting Wilder and Wilder + Two Good Causes

The innovations of the second wild card and mainly divisional play in September have made for amazingly exciting American League races. Blasé folks will say, “It’s only mediocre teams fighting for the right for an early playoff elimination.”

They may be right, but for an Orioles fan the sudden re-emergence of Baltimore to the fringe of the wild card race has been very welcome. They only split four games with the cellar-dwelling Toronto Blue Jays this weekend, but their two extra-inning wins kept hopes alive for even more meaningful games later in September.

Both wins went to rookie right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis, a thirteenth round draft choice out of St. Joseph’s of Philadelphia, a school known more for basketball than baseball with the major exception of southpaw Jamie Moyer.

Yacabonis hails from Matawan, New Jersey, and has a grandfather who played pro ball in Cuba. It’s always rewarding to see kids from the Northeast, where weather conditions are always capricious, make a mark in the Show.

A tip of the cap to the Blue Jays who are not a bad team and are coming off two straight playoff appearances. But I knew they would struggle this year when they decided not to re-sign powerful Edwin Encarnacion who took his wares to Cleveland.

They have also lost key pitchers to injury, but they played the Orioles very tough this weekend. A 21-year-old middle infielder Richard Urena had a memorable first MLB at-bat in Friday night’s Orioles nail-biting 1-0 13-inning win. He fought off 10 pitches from reliever Brad Brach before delivering a ringing double to left field.

It was a sign of improved Bird pitching that Urena was stranded. The double shutout lasted until Jonathan Schoop doubled home Manny Machado with the winning run in the bottom of the 13th.

It was Schoop who got the leadoff double in Sunday’s 5-4 extra-winning win that came around to score on Mark Trumbo’s double. (It helped that Toronto walked the struggling Chris Davis to get to Trumbo.)

Schoop has not only been clearly the Orioles’ MVP in 2017, but if he keeps up his clutch hitting and sturdy defensive play he’ll get into the league MVP consideration. He’s driven in over 100 runs for the first time and is closing in on league RBI leader former Oriole Nelson Cruz.

These close games are always draining for the fans. At least they players get to play and try to forge their own destiny. For now I’m just savoring the narrow series split and taking some deep breaths before the Yankees come to Baltimore on Labor Day for a three-game series.

Dylan Bundy takes the ball on Labor Day, and I hope he realizes he cannot match his his last performance, a complete game one-hitter over the Mariners. I think he is mature and talented to stay within himself and give the Birds a good chance to win.

To give you an idea of how wild the AL wild card race is, the Orioles swept Seattle and knocked them under .500. They went home to sweep the A’s and are now only one game behind Baltimore.

The Yankees and Twins still lead the race for the two wild cards but as long as you are over .500 and within three games of the second WC, you have a chance. So take heart Rangers, Royals, and even Rays fans too.

TWO GOOD CAUSES FOR YOU TO KNOW ABOUT:
1. Bernie Williams, the classiest of all the Yankees' great turn-of-20th-century teams, has become a key spokesman for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. His father, Bernabe Williams, Sr., died of the disease. Google PFF for more information.

On a Labor Day weekend Yankee broadcast, Williams didn't take the bait of a question about his favorite Yankees World Series-winning team.

But he did say that the 2001 team, that lost in the 9th inning of the 7th game, was very special because it came after 9/11. How the country and not just New York City rallied behind them remains an indelible moment.

Bernie's new career as an accomplished guitarist is going well. He even applied a musical twist to a question about why he isn't considered a member of the Core Four with Jeter, Pettitte, Posada, and Mariano Rivera. "I like the sound of the Core Four Plus Bernie," he quipped.

2. Here is word on a special organization founded by Chicago White Sox John Tumminia. Baseball Miracles that brings the joy of baseball to underprivileged youngsters all over the world.

They've been to Kenya and Native American communities in the Dakotas and many other stops. Next up this fall is a trip to Argentina. For more information about how to donate equipment and make contributions, check out: http://www.baseballmiracles.org

That's all for now, butalways remember: Take it easy but take it!
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