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When Your Team Starts Losing or Not Winning Series

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!
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Can Orioles Turn It Around In September? & Other Late-Season Thoughts

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!
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