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Pre-75th Birthday Musings on Orioles and Baseball's Wonderful Unpredictability

I'm not going to say that the Orioles are back in the AL East race on the basis of two satisfying wins at Tampa Bay on Sat. and Sun. But as a pre-birthday caution to myself,
I have dropped the idea of calling this blog entry "The Return of the Woerioles."

Perhaps from little victories big oaks will grow. Dylan Bundy stepped up on Sat. to pitch seven innings of three run ball - late thunder by the Birds led to a 8-3 win.

The score was not insignificant because Bundy's effort - and the work of relievers Donnie Hart and Mychal Givens - broke an embarrassing string of 20 straight games in which Oriole hurlers had given up five or more runs.

That ugly mark is now an unwelcome American League record and ties the 1924 Phillies for major league mound inefficiency. Those Phillies finished 55-96 and 7th in the National League.

The 2017 Orioles have slumped from first in early May to fourth in the five-team AL East. Yet they will resume play on Tuesday June 27 - my birthday - 37-38, only four games behind the Yankees who all of a sudden have lost 10 out of 12 games. The Red Sox are in a virtual tie with their great Bronx rival but they have sputtered lately too.

Since the Orioles burst into contention in 2012, they have not really had a mound ace, but Chris Tillman, a 9-year veteran, was the closest to it. On Sunday June 25 he showed flashes of his previous form at one point striking out four tough Rays in a row.
But he weakened in the 5th and gave up a three-run homer to personal nemesis Evan Longoria.

The Birds battled back and tied it on solo homers by sensational rookie Trey Mancini and increasingly reliable second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Defensively Schoop belongs on a Mount Rushmore of defenders for the way he stands in on a double play and rifles throws to first base. The former shortstop's range is also impressive.

Rays discard Joey Rickard got the game-deciding hit in the 9th, a double down the left-field line, and Brad Brach picked up a two-inning save. Last year's perfect closer Zach Britton should be back from injury in about 10 days, key veteran Darren O'Day is already back so the Orioles bullpen might become a force again.

IF THE STARTERS PROVIDE LENGTH. Still a big IF.

Only the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are seeming locks to be in the post-season. I don't know if the late National League president Warren Giles ever
really said that his dream year was for every team to be near .500 come September, but it could be true for the NL Central and most of the American League in 2017.

To give you a sense of the delicious inconsistency in the A.L. - delicious if you are not an ardent Minnesota or Cleveland fan - the defending league champ Indians went into the Twins' Target Field a week ago and swept the Minnesotans and knocked them out of first place. This weekend the Twins turned the tables on the Indians at Progressive Field.

With more than a half-season to play, the best advice to all fans including yours truly is to take deep breaths and realize that the game of baseball is design to confound you. But if you throw strike one and play solid defense (meaning not giving any outs away), you will be in the hunt come September.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!  Read More 
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Late August Thoughts As The Home Stretch Looms

It is hard being an Orioles fan right now but as you dear blog readers know I have been loyal to a fault since 1970.

I guess we've reached a certain point in this summer slide where we have to say without sarcasm that Sunday’s rain-delayed 5-3 loss to Houston was respectable (after giving up 27 runs in the prior two games). There is enough time to straighten the ship but a schedule of facing contenders doesn’t get any easier.

“To be the best you have to beat the best” is a mantra that Branch Rickey and all winning sports leaders have invoked. So tough schedules have never been an excuse for bad play.

Neither have easy schedules been an excuse for coasting into the playoffs. How well I remember Earl Weaver going ballistic when a writer would say, “If you play only .500 ball the rest of the way, the opposition must play over .750.”
Earl would growl, “Are you telling me we are going to lose half our games?!”

It is up to a genuine contender to play like a champion regardless of the teams on the other side of the ball. And since before the All-Star Game, the O’s have played sub-.500 ball.

The lack of depth in the farm system -- from starting pitching to speedy guys who can manufacture runs -- lies at the heart of the problem. The loss of fleet rookie outfielder Joey Rickard to a hand injury has really been a major blow.

I was at the game at Yankee Stadium a month ago when I heard the thudding sound of his hand colliding with the hard auxiliary scoreboard in right field. Rickard’s broken finger has not sufficiently healed and he won’t be ready to play until sometime in September.

Still, it is too early to throw in the towel on 2016. The O’s remain only two lost games behind Toronto and Boston, but clearly the confidence from leading the AL East for much of the season has been shattered. Someone on the starting pitching staff must step up with a deep effort to allow so-far-perfect closer Zach Britton to work his late game magic.

CONCLUDING BASEBALL THOUGHTS:
**There must be a rule passed in the off-season to place a limit on how long a replay challenge can take. Three minutes might even be too long. You can split hairs on different camera angles, but the cost of disrupting the flow of the game is too great.

Here's a good question to ask in all walks of life these days:
“ISN'T IT BETTER TO BE VAGUELY RIGHT THAN PRECISELY WRONG?'

**I see where it is becoming fashionable again to criticize baseball for being too slow a game for the instant gratification of today's age. I beg to differ.

From my vantage point, baseball doesn’t need a clock between pitches. It needs some courage from leadership to stop batters from adjusting batting gloves after every pitch, and to limit the number of visits of catchers to the pitcher to one per AB or maybe only a few per inning.

Then the natural flow of the game could proceed the way it was intended.

**How about the response of Philadelphia Phillies fans to the return of Chase Utley in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform? He received a standing ovation before his first at-bat, something he admitted he was looking forward to. He received more ovations after hitting two home runs, including a grand-slam.

The emotional bonds between fans and players run very deep, even after a hero has been traded. Utley was a mainstay on the Phillies teams that won 2008-09 pennants and the 2008 World Series. His three-word victory speech at the 2008 parade, “World F----n’ Champs,” won’t ever be forgotten in Philadelphia.

Though New York Mets fans have a far more negative view of Utley for his hard injury-causing slide into Ruben Tejada in last year’s N.L. playoffs, there is no doubt that the Southern California native has always played the game very hard.

Philly fans’ warm reaction to Utley’s return reminded me of something baseball’s first forgotten late 19th century labor hero John Montgomery Ward once said: “Without sentiment baseball would be a very empty game.”

That’s all for now. As the song goes, “See you in September.” And always remember:
“Take it easy but take it.”
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