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No Baseball Excitement In Baltimore This September

It is hard for an Orioles fan to face the disaster the 2015 season has become. Since 2012, “Playing meaningful games in September” had returned as a happy Birdland mantra.

It won’t be chanted this September. A four-game sweep at home by the resurgent Minnesota Twins followed by a 1-6 road trip at defending AL champion Kansas City and surprising Texas has put Baltimore four games under .500 and in danger of falling into the AL East basement.

The two biggest culprits have been the lack of consistent starting pitching and a homer-happy strikeout-happy offense that produces little else. The defense has remained solid and at times spectacular, but you have to score some runs. When you don’t, the pressure on mediocre pitching to be perfect builds to impossible levels.

There is still a full slate of September games to be played, mainly in the AL East where the O’s so far have a 26-24 record. Playing spoiler is not what Oriole diehards expected in March though I did pick them for 4th.

I thought the starting pitching was overrated and the loss of free agent outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis would create a void in the offense. Having top reliever Andrew Miller bolt to the Yankees didn’t bode too well either.

The MLB's 2014 executive of the year Dan Duquette thought he could piece together an outfield from bargain-basement free agent pickups but the strategy failed miserably.
Losing Markakis to the Braves really hurt because he played hard and played hurt and he played every day.

I can understand why Duquette probably convinced owner Peter Angelos not to give a fourth year to both Markakis and Cruz, but in Nick’s case he had been a loyal Oriole for 10 years and deserved the reward.

Though his new team the Braves are rebuilding in a very difficult way for Braves fans, Markakis's numbers are excellent. And again he was always more than the numbers.

The state of the Oriole farm system has improved and the worst thing a franchise can do is to throw money wildly into the free agent market. Unfortunately, the Orioles stand to lose its biggest run-producer Chris Davis (wildly streaky that he is) and useful southpaw-though-no-ace Wei-Yin Chen to free agency after the season.

So it is not an easy time to be an Orioles fan. There have been no rabbits in manager Buck Showalter's hat this season. However, there is some core young talent that should be given reasonable multi-year contracts, esp. third baseman Manny Machado, an emerging though still immature star, and All-Star closer Zach Britton.

Alas, I will watch the last weeks of the regular season and the post-season with interest but devoid of the passion of the true fan.

I’ve always liked Joe Torre’s explanation for why he returned to managing after years in the broadcast booth. “I missed the winning, . . . and the losing,” he said.
When games matter and there is always hope for tomorrow and the day after, that is what baseball rooting is all about.

I will also keep an eye on the waning days of the minor league season in the New York City area, esp. the short season New York-Penn League that ends its regular campaign on Labor Day, followed by two short best-of-3 playoffs.

There is quite a race going down to the wire in the McNamara division of the NY-PL.
Only a half game separates the Staten Island Yankees, the Hudson Valley Renegades (the Tampa Bay farm club), and the Aberdeen Ironbirds (the Orioles affiliate).

In late August I saw the SI Yankees and the Ironbirds split a doubleheader in front of an intimate crowd at the lovely ballpark on New York Harbor, only a short walk from the Staten Island ferry. BTW the ferry is a free ride in each direction and remains one of the great attractions of NYC.

A tip of the cap to the HV Renegades, one of the Goldklang group of minor league franchises. On Sat Sep 5 at 5:30p, before the regularly scheduled 7:05p game against Aberdeen, veteran scout John Kosciak will be the 14th talent hunter honored with a plaque on the Dutchess Stadium Wall of Fame.

Kosciak, now a pro scout with the Pirates, has worked in baseball for more than three decades. As a Houston Astros scout, he was instrumental in signing of budding star outfielder George Springer from the University of Connecticut.

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever) Journal - First 2005 Entry

As the days get colder but also happily longer, it is about time to issue my first YIBF - Yours In Baseball Forever – blog of 2015. It was a disappointment that the Orioles’ remarkable 96-win regular season did not lead to their first World Series since 1983.
After sweeping the bullpen-and-bench deprived Tigers in three games in the ALDS, the remarkable speed and bullpen arms of the Kansas City Royals turned the tables on the Orioles in the ALCS.

And the Royals certainly contributed to a memorable seven-game World Series before succumbing to the mastery of Madison Bumgarner of the Giants. It is hard to recall a Series where one player was so outstanding and dominant as Bumgarner.
Whether as a starter or five-inning reliever in the climactic Game Seven, the good young boy from North Carolina put himself in the record books forever.
Fully deserving of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s 2014 Sportsman of the Year award.

What does 2015 look like for my Orioles? Certainly much work is needed to replace the 40 home runs of Nelson Cruz (off to Seattle on a four-year deal) and the stellar southpaw bullpen work of Andrew Miller (off to the hated Yankees also on a four-year deal).

Those defections did not surprise me, but most surprisingly, the O’s will now have to replace the steady, daily grinding presence and great defense of Nick Markakis (off to Atlanta on another four-year deal). No doubt owner Peter Angelos felt burned by the long-term contracts he gave the now-retired second baseman Brian Roberts and Markakis.

Unlike the oft-injured Roberts, Markakis played every day and played hard even if his run production has fallen off year by year. He was an Oriole all his career and probably wanted to stay. But the Braves, having traded potential superstar Jason Heyward to the Cardinals for righthander Shelby Miller, needed Markakis, who grew up in the Atlanta area. Unlike Angelos and Oriole general manager Dan Duquette, the Braves under new gm John Hart did not seem concerned about Markakis’ pending neck surgery and came up with the better contract.

(I cross my fingers that Manny Machado, back from a second major knee injury in two years, Chris Davis, eligible to play in game 2 of the season after his adderall suspension, and catcher Matt Wieters back from Tommy John surgery can all pick up some of the offensive slack.)

Speaking of John Hart, he was one of the protégés of former Oriole general manager Hank Peters who died at the end of 2014. Peters, 90, had a distinguished career in the front office beginning with the St. Louis Browns, the Orioles’ lineal descendant.
He went on to work for Charlie Finley’s A’s in both Kansas City and Oakland. Peters was instrumental in signing the core of the Oakland great dynasty from 1972-1974 – Sal Bando, Reggie Jackson, and Joe Rudi.

Under Peters the Orioles survived the major defections of the first free agent class of 1976-77, notably Bobby Grich and Reggie Jackson, to stay in contention and win the AL pennants of 1979 and 1983. It was no coincidence that when Peters left the Birds for Cleveland after 1986, Baltimore sunk and the Indians rose to contention with such home-grown stars as Sandy Alomar Jr., Carlos Baerga, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome.

On the cusp of the new year, the baseball world also lost two notable nonagenarian scouts – the longtime Red Sox talent hunter Bill Enos and the Mariners’ Bill Kearns. At the age of 92 Kearns was still working for Seattle when he suffered a ruptured aorta and drove himself to a Boston hospital where he passed away quietly.

I had the pleasure of conversing with Kearns when in the spring of 2013 the scouting profession was honored with a permanent exhibition at Cooperstown.
He was courtly, incisive, and modest. “I’m just a guy,” he often said, but those who knew him will never forget his grace and intelligence.

Stay warm, dear readers, and back to you soon with another YIBF installment focusing on the post-season dinners and clinics I have attended. Here's a tease.

At the 42nd annual BeTheBest baseball clinic in Cherry Hill, NJ earlier this month, Grand Canyon University coach Andy Stankiewicz had one of the great comments.
The former Yankee and Diamondback second baseman said that he couldn't relate to pro golfer or pro tennis players.

"I liked to pick up my teammates and have them pick me up,"he observed. You can see why that scrappy little guy, who never signed more than a one-year contract in his 14-year MLB career, is considered a comer in the coaching ranks.

BTW Grand Canyon is in Phoenix and happens to be the alma mater of Ron Polk class of 1965, another clinician in Cherry Hill. The irreverent Polk is the only coach to take three teams to the College World Series and is now the volunteer assistant at UAB - University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Until next time - Stay warm, dear readers, and always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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