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On The Sad Return of the Woerioles Plus Other Nicer Stories

The old canard, “You can’t win a pennant in April but you sure can lose it,” seems truer than ever. The Orioles’s offensive futility is so bad that I turned off a game on Monday night April 30 when they were only trailing 2-0 in the 7th.

So I missed them tying in the 9th at Anaheim against the Angels. Only to lose it in bottom of the inning. Once-reliable reliever Brad Brach must be feeling the pressure of his impending free agency because he has not been effective this year.

(It reminds me of similar problems for Bud Norris in his last year as a Bird. Norris, who won the last post-season game the Birds played in 2014 against Detroit, has landed for the time being with Cardinals.)

Oriole starting pitching was considered a big issue in 2018 and it remains that way. Now the bullpen, the defense, and the anemic offense have all been revealed as defective.

But one thing I will NOT do is pile on against my bedraggled team like Joe Posnanski did this week on mlb.com rehashing the 21-game losing streak to start the 1988 Oriole season. Instead I always find something remarkable to write about baseball on its many levels.

Here's even a tip of cap to the Yankees that won a thrilling day game at Houston on May 3, earning a series win, 3 out of 4 against the defending world champions.

Down 5-3 going into the top of the 9th (after leading 3-0 going into the bottom of the 7th), they scored 3 runs on the dreaded leadoff walk, a few singles and sprightly base running by their impressive rookies Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres and pinch-hitter Aaron Hicks.

Team speed is so undervalued in baseball and it is nice to see games won with legs and not just massive home run-hitting forearms. Houston’s bullpen ineffectiveness might become an issue as the season wears on.

Maybe Seattle and the Angels with Mike Trout and the young Japanese import DH-pitcher Shohei Otani might challenge the Astros. Meanwhile, it looks like the nomination for AL Least might be the AL Central where the Indians have sputtered out of the gate though its less-heralded rivals have been even worse.

In the NL East, the youth movement in Atlanta seems about to pay off as the Braves came into CitiField this week and swept the Mets convincingly. They have moved into first place in the very early going.

Former Oriole Nick Markakis is providing veteran leadership and great all-around play. He didn't want leave to Baltimore but management didn't want to pay him for the fourth year of his contract.

On the college baseball front, Yale is a virtual lock to host the best-of-three Ivy League championship in New Haven on May 19, and 20 (if necessary). Dartmouth has a one-game lead in the lost column over Columbia that is really two games because the Big Green won 2 out of 3 against the Lions at Dartmouth earlier in the season.

Columbia needs to sweep Cornell at Ithaca on May 12-13 and hope that Dartmouth loses two games of their remaining six against Princeton at home and Harvard in Cambridge. There is also a 4-4 tie against Penn that the Big Green may need to resume if that game becomes crucial.

Columbia ended its home season with a series victory against Penn. The Lions’s senior leader second baseman Randell Kanemaru hopefully dodged a serious injury in the climactic rally to win the rubber game.

Last year’s league MVP got on base after being hit in the “lower stomach” with a pitch. He moved to third later in the inning and then tried to score on a wild pitch. After a violent collision with the Penn pitcher at home plate, he was called out.

There are no replay provisions in the Ivy League but it looked like a bad call. Worse, he was writhing in pain after landing on his left shoulder. His right throwing shoulder has been aching all year forcing his shift to second from third base.

Fortunately there was no major injury. He has a chance to end his career on the playing field, ideally for fans of Columbia, playing deep into the spring.

In the Big East, perennial powers St. John’s and Seton Hall square off on Fri May 11 at Seton Hall at 4p. Both will make the Big East tournament that will be in Ohio May 26-28.

In the Big Ten, Rutgers has a 6-9 league record but is 23-18 overall after spanking Columbia 15-4 in a mid-week game on May 1. Mets third baseman Todd Frazier's alma mater may have a chance to do some damage in the playoffs.

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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Only One Week Left of Misery for 2015 Orioles

They have been the epitome of inconsistency. Most recently they swept the Nationals in Washington but then went on to Boston and not only were swept but were shut out three times – the first time they endured such embarrassment in 58 years.

I never thought they would really contend in 2015 because they did not replace Nick Markakis’s consistency and Nelson Cruz’s power and presence in the lineup. I didn’t think their starting pitching was as good as team management thought.

I was sadly proven right in both cases. I would have loved to be wrong.

The specter of more free agent defections looms after the regular season ends mercifully on Sunday Oct. 4. And the farm system, though not as bad as some of the pundits claim, doesn’t look like it will provide quality replacements for the most likely Orioles to leave, slugger Chris Davis and southpaw starter Wei-Yin Chen.

Trades are possible and so are some less expensive free agent signings. However, the glitter has faded from Orioles gm Dan Duquette, last year’s MLB Executive of the Year.

In the last two years Duquette has traded three starting pitchers who are helping other teams considerably. The Orioles’ return was negligible though I have hopes that backup catcher/solid hitter/Baltimore native Steve Clevenger might stick for all of 2016.

Jake Arrieta is the most notable loss, starring for the Cubs who have made the playoffs in the first year under the helm of former Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon.
I am not going to cry too much about this trade because Arrieta simply could not
put it together in Baltimore after being Opening Day starter in two seasons.

He’s not yet 30 and pitchers can bloom late. According to the New York Times excellent national baseball reporter Tyler Kepner, Oriole coaches discouraged Arrieta from throwing across the body for fear of inconsistency and injury.

The Cubs have allowed Arrieta to be himself and he has rewarded them with an astonishing year. Not only baseball’s first 20-game winner of 2015 but becoming nearly unhittable and rarely scored upon.

As the future of Oriole starting pitching is murky at best, the Red Sox can look forward to years with southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez who Duquette traded late in 2014 to rent reliever Andrew Miller. Miller helped the Orioles to the playoffs but then signed as a free agent with the Yankees where he has been a shutdown closer.

Late this season, believing that Birds were only one bat from real contention, Duquette traded young righthander Zach Davies to the Brewers for the rental of Gerardo Parra. Parra has not been the answer at the plate while Davies has shown promise in Milwaukee with a victory over the Cubs already under his belt.

I realize that ardent fans can let emotions eclipse reason so maybe I’m going too far when I say that Davies has potential Greg Maddux-type abilities. But signed after high school he did improve every year working up the minor league ladder.

Duquette and manager Buck Showalter are signed on for at least the next three years in Baltimore. Though Duquette flirted with taking the presidency of the Toronto Blue Jays last off-season (a position recently filled by longtime Indians executive Mark Shapiro), I presume he will stay on the job.

I just hope that the future of my favorite team doesn’t seem as bleak as it does at the current time. One thing that I would highly recommend though is the rewarding with longer than one-year contracts Manny Machado and closer Zach Britton.
Along with a healthy second baseman Jonathan Schoop their performance has
made the Orioles usually worthy of watching this disappointing year.

AN ATTEMPT AT PUNDITRY: Looks like the playoffs will be very exciting again and maybe even a Wild Card play-in between Astros and Angels before they start. Defending American League champion Kansas City has lost a lot of games in September as well as its closer Greg Holland to likely Tommy John surgery.

It is true that the Royals have not had meaningful games to play for weeks. They must be thinking that they can turn it on when it matters. That remains to be seen.

Toronto has passed them for best record in the American League and thus home field throughout the playoffs. They could make the World Series for the first time since 1993.
David Price has become the ace they had lacked and despite the injury to another late-season pickup/shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, they are showing that they know how to win.

I don’t watch the National League as closely as the AL but the Cardinals are on pace to win 100 or more regular season games. Despite many major injuries they are like the Timex watch – “they just keep on ticking.”

So a week before the playoffs I am leaning towards a first-ever Toronto-St. Louis World Series. But I think the Pirates, Cubs, Mets, Dodgers in the NL and the Yankees,
Rangers, Astros or Angels or less likely Twins, will disagree firmly.

For now always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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