Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Scenes from an ugly O's win

The Orioles beat the Blue Jays last night, 6-5, in what was not the best-played game of all time, to say the least. Still, the O's did get the win (in extra innings!), so it's not all bad.

Here were some of the good, and embarrassing, plays from the game. Some of these videos are embeddable, while others are not, which is weird.

Bottom of the 2nd: With the O's down 3-0, Matt Wieters jacks a two-run bomb to center field. That gives him 15 home runs for the season.

Bottom of the 4th: On a swinging bunt by Nolan Reimold, Brett Cecil makes the mistake of attempting an off-balanced throw to first, which allows Robert Andino to score from second, tying the game at 3. Cecil had no chance to get Reimold.

Top of the 5th: Can't find a video of this, but after a leadoff double by Eric Thames, Jose Bautista hits a pop-up in front of the pitcher's mound. Wieters is the guy to get under the ball first, but Mark Reynolds, playing first base, also has plenty of time to call Wieters off, since the play is easier for him to make. Reynolds doesn't call him off, and Wieters drops the ball. Luckily, with the bases loaded and no outs, the Blue Jays fail to score any runs after a double play and a fly out to center.

Bottom of the 5th: Still tied at 3, Vladimir Guerrero hits a double off the scoreboard in right field, scoring Adam Jones. Unfortunately, Guerrero tries to advance to third (with one out at the time) and is thrown out. Vlad seems to get thrown out a lot on the basepaths, or maybe I'm just imagining that. Either way, it was both a good and bad play for the O's. O's now lead, 4-3.

Bottom of the 7th/8th: Still up 4-3, the O's start off both innings by getting runners on first and second with no outs. In the seventh, Jones grounds into a double play, which basically kills the inning. But in the 8th, the O's try to play small ball, and it fails. There doesn't appear to be any video of Andino's adventures at the plate (more to come), but in this instance he doesn't get a very good bunt down, and the Blue Jays get the force out at third for the first out. After a Reimold walk to load the bases, Ryan Adams and J.J. Hardy are both retired to end the inning.

Top of the 9th: Here's where things get really crazy; predictably, Kevin Gregg is involved. In typical Gregg fashion, he allows a leadoff single and then walks Mike McCoy. So, yes, he allows both the eighth and ninth place hitters to reach base. With pinch-runner Dewayne Wise on second and McCoy on first, the Blue Jays, with Yunel Escobar, who, keep in mind, is trying to give himself up to advance the runners, end up with runners on second and third after the O's fail to cover both third and second while worrying about Escobar's potential bunt. Most of this disastrous play can be attributed to miscommunication, which is embarrassing. Miraculously, the Blue Jays only score one run on Escobar's sacrifice fly to right field. But even that play requires a diving catch by Nick Markakis. In the blown save, Gregg allowed a hit and three walks, while also throwing just nine strikes in 26 pitches. Can't wait to watch him next year, too!

Bottom of the 9th: The O's get another leadoff batter on (via a Markakis walk), but Jones grounds into another double play. Vlad then grounds out weakly to first. Extra innings!

Top of the 10th: Willie Eyre relieves Gregg and allows a leadoff triple to Kelly Johnson. Matt Angle, in for Reimold, probably overruns the play a bit, but either way there was no chance he was going to make the catch. With one out, Johnson scores from third on Eyre's wild pitch, giving Toronto a 5-4 lead.

Bottom of the 10th: Brian Tallet is in to pitch for the Blue Jays, and he helps out the O's by walking the first two hitters (Wieters and Reynolds). Andino is up next, and Buck Showalter asks him, again, to get a bunt down. Showcasing bad technique and understandably looking frustrated, Andino fails and ends up striking out after bunting the ball foul with two strikes. Thankfully, pinch-hitter Jake Fox ties the game with a single to right field (though, on the play Wieters got a horrible jump from second and probably could have been thrown out at home if Bautista is paying attention). Then with the winning run on third and one out, Ryan Adams hits a walk-off single that bounces on the warning track and over the fence in right field. O's win, 6-5.


There's not a whole lot to say, other than I wish allowed more of these videos to be embedded. I guess not enough of them were home runs. There were also some solid defensive plays that I didn't include, including a nice defensive play by both Andino and Reynolds. But, for the most part, this was an ugly game. Tom Emanski would not have approved.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

After setback, Jenkins is staying positive

When the Redskins selected Jarvis Jenkins in the second round (41st overall) of the latest NFL Draft, many draft analysts weren't sure of the pick. Some thought it was a reach. But Jenkins quickly made a name for himself when practices officially started, and he had arguably been the team's most impressive rookie heading into the Ravens game last Thursday. Unfortunately for both Jenkins and the Redskins, though, he tore his ACL in the game, forcing him to have surgery later this week to repair the injury that ended his season before it even started.

So Jenkins won't get to take the field this year, an obvious disappointment for a player expected to provide the Redskins with some flexibility -- and talent -- at defensive end. But Jenkins seems to be staying positive instead of focusing on all of the negatives of the injury. Here's what he had to say:
"If you think positive about your injuries, only positives will come out of it. I can learn the defense better. I get a chance to watch more film on guys for next year. I get a head start, and also I can get this leg stronger. I can work on myself. There are a lot of things I can do to make myself better for next year."
That's a great way to look at it. The Redskins will certainly miss Jenkins's presence on the field this season, but assuming his surgery and rehab both go as planned, the Redskins can pencil Jenkins in at defensive end next season. He will not have played in any official games, but he'll get to watch a ton of film and learn from players and coaches all season long. There's only so much to be gained from off-the-field work, but assuming Jenkins puts in the time and effort, his defensive IQ in the Redskins' 3-4 system will grow.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mike Flanagan's death an apparent suicide

It's awful enough to find out that former Orioles great Mike Flanagan has passed away, which was reported last night. But it's an entirely different level of sadness, though, to read this morning that he may have taken his own life.

Here's a snippet from the WBAL story:
Police did not immediately identify the cause of death, but sources confirmed that Flanagan took his own life "despondent over what he considered a false perception from a community he loved of his role in the team's prolonged failure," [WBAL-TV 11 Sports Director Gerry] Sandusky said.

The soft-spoken and well-liked left-hander grew over the years into a fixture in the Orioles organization. From 2002-08 Flanagan shared or held the top baseball executive position in the organization. During that time Flanagan, according to those closest to him, struggled with not being able to the job the way he wanted to do it, Sandusky said.
The Orioles obviously meant the world to Flanagan, but for him to end his life over the current state of the team and how some perceive his role in the team's failures? I just hope that's not the case.

Flanagan was a true Orioles legend, and the countless stories written these next few days will reflect what he meant to the Orioles, but more importantly to his family and friends.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Orioles and bad pitching

At 47-74, the Orioles have been bad in most phases of the game. Their hitting and fielding have been below average, but their overall pitching has been atrocious: The O's 4.86 team ERA is last in the majors. The Astros are the next closest team at 4.64. Considering the Astros play in a much weaker division, that may be a worse number. Still, the O's pitching has been horrendous, so let's see where they rank in some of the advanced pitching categories:

FIP: 4.67 (30th)
xFIP: 4.25 (28th)
fWAR: 5.7 (29th)
K/9: 6.4 (27th)
BB/9: 3.3 (23rd)
HR/9: 1.25 (30th)

So, yeah, not very good -- at all.

Right now, the O's only have four pitchers who have accumulated more than 1 win above replacement this season: Zach Britton (1.7), Jim Johnson (1.5), Jeremy Guthrie (1.3), and Koji Uehara (1.1). And Uehara is no longer with the team. Three other guys -- Chris Tillman (0.9), Alfredo Simon (0.8), and Tommy Hunter (0.6) -- are close to 1 fWAR, but still may not get there before the end of the season.

That's about it in terms of moderate pitching production. Some of the following guys have pitched well at times, but for the most part, they've struggled to bring much to the table (listed by 2011 fWAR numbers):

Brad Bergesen (0.4)
Troy Patton (0.2)
Chris Jakubauskas (0.1)
Willie Eyre (0.1)
Jake Arrieta (0.1)
Mark Hendrickson (0.0)
Clay Rapada (-0.1)
Kevin Gregg (-0.2)
Jo-Jo Reyes (-0.2)
Mike Gonzalez (-0.2)
Pedro Viola (-0.2)
Jeremy Accardo (-0.2)
Mark Worrell (-0.3)
Josh Rupe (-0.3)
Mitch Atkins (-0.4)
Jason Berken (-0.5)
Brian Matusz (-0.5)

Never thought I'd see Matusz's name on a list like this, but his issues have been well documented. But, wow, there's a lot of bad pitchers on that list. The sad thing is that there aren't a whole lot of pitchers ready in the minor leagues now who can do much better. More could be good to go in a year or so, but unless they go out and sign a couple of pitchers, the O's will just be hoping that guys like Matusz, Arrieta, Britton, and Tillman pitch better next season. That strategy hasn't worked so far, though.

When looking at some of the names above, I am reassured by the fact that the O's at least signed Dylan Bundy. Hopefully he reaches his potential, because the O's could sure use an ace.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

O's do something right, sign their top draft picks

The biggest question mark for the Orioles heading into last night was whether they were going to sign three of their top draft picks: Dylan Bundy (1st round), Jason Esposito (2nd), and Nick Delmonico (6th). Surprisingly, the O's got deals done with all three, which will add some badly needed talent to the organization's farm system.

Bundy, the fourth overall pick and the first high school pitcher selected, received the major league contract he had been seeking. (Click here for an explanation.) Bundy's deal is apparently worth a little more than $6 million, with a $4 million bonus. That bonus seems a little low, so it's possible that Bundy sacrificed some bonus money in exchange for the major league contract. For those wondering if it was a good idea to give Bundy that major league deal, here's Keith Law's take:

Yes. He is the exception. RT @MrFish0: @keithlaw Okay with Bundy getting a ML contract?Tue Aug 16 05:07:32 via Seesmic

Law agreeing with an Orioles decision? That's good to hear.

The O's also reached agreements with Esposito ($600,000 bonus) and Delmonico ($1.525 bonus).

As expected, Orioles scouting director Joe Jordan is thrilled: "It's a great day, we got everything we wanted today. We had all the support like we always do from Andy (MacPhail) and Mr. Angelos. I don't know how the hell it could have been a better day."

That's a great way to sum things up, and the O's certainly did a great job of making sure deals with those three guys got done. But now comes the hard part for a struggling organization: actually developing these prospects and getting them to realize their potential. But there will be plenty of time to discuss that later. For one day at least, O's fans can be happy that the front office did something positive.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Deciphering Showalter's logic

Here's Buck Showalter on Vladimir Guerrero getting the day off:
“I talked to him today about [his wrist]. I wanted to make sure that the wrist, that wasn’t bothering him. He’s always a pretty level guy. I can tell in the dugout he’s been a little frustrated lately because he’s trying so hard,” Showalter said. “He’s hit a couple balls on the button right at somebody, and you can see he’s had a little different response afterwards that he usually doesn’t have. He’s a proud man, and I want to treat him with the respect that he has coming.”
And here's Showalter again, speaking about Nolan Reimold after last night's 6-4 win:
“Nolan’s a strong guy with a lot of skills,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s got some skills that could play up here if he can grasp some of the small things, and tonight he got a good return for some of the work he’s been putting in. I know he was excited. So were we.”
Showalter was discussing Reimold because he hit a walkoff, two-run homer in the 10th inning in last night's game. Showalter, though, is talking about Guerrero and Reimold like there's a massive difference between the two. From Buck's quotes, you get the sense that he thinks Guerrero has been dealing with an injury and is hitting into some tough luck, but that he still deserves a consistent spot in the lineup. And in Reimold's case, Buck believes that he's got talent but still has a lot to prove.

You'd think Guerrero would be grossly outperforming Reimold. But that's not the case:

Guerrero's 2011: 393 PA, .274/.310/.387
Reimold's 2011: 152 PA, .215/.296/.400

Both of those batting lines are bad. Guerrero's numbers are slightly better and have been accumulated in 241 more plate appearances. But Guerrero has a steady role -- DHing every day and batting in the cleanup spot as long as he's healthy -- while Reimold sits every few days and didn't start playing more until Luke Scott's injury ended his season.

Showalter seems to be viewing Guerrero as the career .318/.380/.554 hitter who no manager would ever consider benching. But Vlad is not close to being that guy. When O's fans look at Guerrero, they see a 36-year-old designated hitter who won't be in Baltimore after this season. They see a guy who's not getting the job done, yet he's being placed in the cleanup spot game after game. And they see a guy who is preventing lineup flexibility because he can't play anywhere in the field. With Vlad in the lineup, the O's can't:
  • DH Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, or Josh Bell or at least use them in some kind of 1B/3B/DH rotation;
  • give any of the outfielders a chance to DH and rest their legs; or
  • allow Matt Wieters to stay in the lineup once every four or five days without having to catch.
The Orioles don't owe Guerrero anything. Well, I take that back: They owe him the rest of this year's salary and the $3 million of his deal that's deferred until 2016-2017. But they don't have to "respect" him by putting his name in the lineup every single game. That doesn't mean they should badmouth him or throw him under the bus for not having a good season. Guerrero has had plenty of opportunities to turn things around, but it's just not happening. And only truly bad teams keep running out players like Guerrero -- guys who barely have any value, aren't helping the team, and are blocking younger guys from having the chance to play every day.

Reimold is not a star. He may end up not being an everyday player. But it's a little embarrassing that the O's still don't have a clue if Reimold, who turns 28 in two months, can be someone they rely on for next season and beyond. The Orioles are terrible at developing young players at the major league level, and how they've handled many of their talented prospects this season is just another example.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Be quiet, Rex Grossman

It's one thing for the Redskins to go into a season with Rex Grossman and John Beck as their top two quarterbacks when they're overhauling the roster and getting younger and better. Fans don't have to like it, but sometimes such things are necessary. But because Grossman and Beck have a high expectancy to embarrass (and just flat out play poorly) on the field, they should be doing whatever they can not to embarrass the team off of it. Unfortunately, Grossman didn't receive that memo:
"We’re fine being the sleepers right now," Grossman said . . . "We’re just waiting in the wings ready to take over the NFC East. Nobody’s talking about us, it’s right where we wanna be. You look at us from top to bottom out here, there’s a bunch of great players. And we don’t need people saying we’re the best right now. But when it’s all said and done, I really feel like this team’s gonna win the [NFC] East."
Players are supposed to be confident, and many of them make wild predictions at inopportune times. It happens every season. And if Grossman would have stopped in the middle of that quote, it would have been fine -- there's nothing wrong with using the "no respect" angle if that's what it takes to get motivated.

But let's get real: The Skins (for one season, at least) appear to be rebuilding -- whether they want to call it that or not -- and they have their share of holes. They finally held onto their draft picks and picked up several young players, but all of them aren't going to perform well from day one, regardless of how talented they are. And even though the Redskins will be better in the long term because of the youth movement, there's certainly no guarantee that they'll improve on last year's 6-10 record.

I'm glad that Grossman is confident, and I'm sure he's a nice guy. But he shouldn't be making any kind of bold predictions about the Redskins winning games when he is looking at a fair share of starts under center. Talent trumps confidence, and the Redskins lack the former at the quarterback position.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A great sign: Redskins lose the offseason

If you look at the Redskins' depth chart, there aren't a ton of exciting, well-known names -- especially at quarterback. The roster is filled with youth and inexperience. But for once, the Skins are actually building an actual roster, you know, with things like talent and depth. Intriguing strategy, fellas.

The best sign of all seems to be that Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen are the guys running the show, not Daniel Snyder. There haven't been any particularly flashy moves made, and the Skins also got rid of their two biggest headaches, Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb. The McNabb acquisition seemed like a Snyder move; going into the season with John Beck as the starter does not.

But this season really isn't about Beck. It is, in a sense, I guess. Shanahan keeps going on and on about Beck's potential, which may be necessary to keep fans involved and coming to games. Fans don't seem to be as interested in going to training camp this year, which can partly be tied to having Beck and Rex Grossman as the top two quarterbacks on the roster. But that's more of a combination of things like the lockout, unbearable weather, a lack of marquee names, Snyder backlash, and the fact that the Redskins have been poorly run for a long time. It's a little early to overreact about that, but it's difficult to expect fans to keep showing up when the team has been so inept. Oddly enough, even though Beck appears to be the likely starter, this would be the perfect time to support the Redskins. They drafted well and didn't do anything ridiculous in free agency. Isn't that what fans want?

I'm not buying all of the Beck stuff. Sure, there's a chance that he plays competently enough, but there's an even smaller chance that he actually plays well. Shanahan has to know that; then again, maybe I don't understand just how big Shanahan's ego is. But even if Beck does OK, the Redskins are still going to be a bad team. The ceiling is probably the record they had last season, 6-10, though they're probably a win or two worse than that. Regardless, they're still going to pick a quarterback in the first round next year, and if Beck (or even Grossman, somehow) proves that he can fill in without doing a terrible job, he'll give that young quarterback a little more time to mature. That's not the most ideal strategy, but Shanahan and Allen certainly discussed something along those lines heading into last year's draft. Did they want to take a quarterback then? It's possible. But they also could have looked at the options, saw that several quarterbacks were being taken way too early, and decided to go in a different direction. That's the type of thinking that could eventually turn the Redskins around. That is, if the other players they drafted are actually good.

I'm not saying that Shanahan, or anyone in the organization, wants to intentionally lose games or tank. But there's nothing the Redskins could have done to not be a bad team this season -- even if they had signed Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Matt Hasselbeck, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, or any other combination of the top free agents available. That would have been more of the same, and the Redskins still would have finished no better than 8-8.

Whether or not the Skins are actually rebuilding remains to be seen. The defense seems improved and should be better at putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but the offense has plenty of question marks -- not just at quarterback, but also on the offensive line. Again, it's still a bit early. But if they do go through this season and find that they've put together a decent roster filled with young, improving talent, well, then it will only look better if/when they're able to add a young, skilled quarterback to the mix.

But first things first: Let's find out which of these young guys can actually play.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Examining the O's starting pitching options

Jake Arrieta will miss his next start because of discomfort in his right elbow, and he may need surgery to repair the problem, which would end his season. The news isn't too alarming -- the status of Arrieta's elbow has been speculated about a few times in the last several weeks -- but it does present another blow to an Orioles rotation that's in disarray.

If Arrieta is lost for the season, here's the rotation the O's could be forced to use:

Jeremy Guthrie
Alfredo Simon
Tommy Hunter
Zach Britton
Brad Bergesen

That is, uh, not good. Guthrie and Simon are no-brainers. Hunter may end up pitching out of the bullpen a few times first, but he'll be in the rotation soon enough.

After those three, though, things get convoluted. Britton's still on the roster, meaning he'll likely make his next start. His presence would look better if not for how bad he's pitched lately: He's failed to make it out of the first inning in his last two starts for the O's. After Britton, the next-best option may be Bergesen, who probably should be in the bullpen. He'll put together a solid outing every few starts, but he's just not very good, especially when he's walking opposing batters. But I'll give Bergesen a break, for now, because he just had a kid.

If Britton and/or Bergesen falter, which is probable considering how awful the O's are, these guys could also see starts:

Jo-Jo Reyes. The O's (who also released Justin Duchscherer) claimed Reyes earlier today off of waivers from the Blue Jays. He hasn't pitched well this season, but he has made 20 starts, meaning the O's may use him to soak up some innings.

Chris Jakubauskas. If the O's had any kind of pitching depth, he wouldn't be on the roster. The same could be said of Reyes. But he's still in the bullpen, which means that if the guys in front of him keep pitching poorly or get hurt, he could start a game or two. But hopefully that doesn't happen.

Jim Johnson. He may be more of an option to join the O's rotation next season, because 1) there's not a whole lot of time to stretch him out before the season is over, and 2) he's already helping out the O's bullpen, which is also terrible. But it's possible.

Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz. I'm going to lump these two together since they're in Triple-A Norfolk, but either guy could make a few more starts before the season ends. Tillman was just demoted after pitching poorly against the Yankees in New York. He got off to a promising start and worked two scoreless innings to begin the game. But he lasted just 4.1 innings, giving up five earned runs on eight hits. He walked just one while striking out six, but he also demonstrated some of the bad habits that have plagued him throughout his young career, particularly pitching from behind and throwing straight fastballs right down the middle of the plate. As for Matusz, he's still working hard to regain his pitching form and velocity, but there hasn't been any sign from the O's that they're ready to bring Matusz back just yet.

Remember the days when the O's were looking forward to a rotation including Matusz, Arrieta, Britton, and Tillman? That seems like such a long time ago.

Palsson leaving Terps to pursue professional career

According to The Sun's Jeff Barker, Haukur Palsson is leaving Maryland to play basketball professionally in Europe. Palsson's decision is yet another tough pill for Maryland's basketball program to swallow after Jordan Williams left school for the NBA and some coach named Gary Williams retired.

Here's more from Barker:
Palsson, who is from Iceland, “wants to be closer to home and to be able to start providing for his family,” head coach Mark Turgeon said in a prepared statement Monday night.

Palsson, 6-foot-6 and 190 pounds, averaged 2.8 points per game and 2.1 rebounds per game in his freshman season. But he possessed inside toughness and could step back and hit the 3.
The Terps were already going to have a small lineup, and Palsson would likely have started at either small or power forward. His absence will hurt the Terps' rotation even more, and it'll be difficult for Maryland to face bigger teams -- which will be nearly every team -- without having to consider playing a lot of zone.

Without Palsson, Nick Faust is almost guaranteed a starting spot as a freshman. He was already going to see plenty of minutes on the court -- maybe now he'll see even more. Others who should see more of the court: Ashton Pankey and Mychal Parker, along with James Padgett (a probable starter) and Berend Weijs.

The upcoming season is going to be a long one for Mark Turgeon and the Terps, but at least their guard-heavy offense and up-tempo game should be fun to watch.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Redskins notes: Hightower, Brown, Blades

The Redskins have been relatively busy this offseason -- but it's been a different kind of busy. They've targeted a few big-name free agents, but they haven't thrown insane amounts of money at the top guys, choosing instead to focus on re-signing a few of their own guys at key positions (Santana Moss, Jammal Brown) and younger guys on the offensive and defensive lines (Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Chris Chester). Oh, and they also shipped two guys out of town who you may have heard of: Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb. There's no guarantee that any of these moves actually work, but so far the Redskins actually seem to have a plan and haven't done anything ridiculous yet.

Traded for Tim Hightower

The Redskins acquired running back Tim Hightower from the Cardinals for defensive end Vonnie Holliday and an undisclosed draft pick. Holliday is 35; Hightower is 25. The Skins drafted two running backs (Roy Helu and and Evan Royster) in the 2011 draft, and they already have Ryan Torain as the probable starting running back to begin the season. But Hightower provides some running back depth in case the injury-prone Torain goes down at some point during the season, which is likely. Helu or Royster (or both) will probably get a chance during the season, but now the Redskins won't be forced to rely on them if Torain goes down.

Holliday played well last season but was expendable after the Skins' latest acquisitions on the defensive line. It also fits with their apparent, current mind-set of getting younger.

Re-signed Jammal Brown

Still needing to fill a whole on the offensive line, the Redskins brought back their right tackle from last season, Jammal Brown. The Skins gave Brown a five-year deal worth $27.5 million ($8 million guaranteed). The Redskins desperately needed another offensive tackle alongside Trent Williams, and they surely discussed other options. At the end of the day, though, they decided to bring back the 30-year-old Brown, and it doesn't seem like they paid a whole lot more than what he's worth.

Also re-signed H.B. Blades

Arguably the player with the best name on the Redskins, Blades is now returning to Washington after signing a one-year deal. Blades provides depth at inside linebacker and is also a solid contributor on special teams.