Friday, May 20, 2011

Checking in with the Orioles: Mid-May

I DVRed the Orioles-Red Sox game from Monday night and watched it over three evenings. Part of me wonders about the sense of this given that by the morning after the game, I knew not only the final score but also all about Adrian Gonzalez's walk-off double. But, as it says at the top of the page, every game is a story. It's fun to watch one from beginning to end - even if you already know the ending.

Guerrero photo via Yahoo! News UK

And so, as the game entered the bottom of the sixth, I found myself wondering how on earth the Orioles had managed to lose this one. They were up 6-0. Chris Tillman, despite allowing runners to get as far as third base in two different innings, had kept a clean sheet through five. But he was done for the night, as all of the O's young hurlers are on strict pitch-count limits. The offensive production was there, too. Apparently, they've decided they can run on Jason Varitek. The Birds stole four bases on the night. As of now (5/20/11, 6 pm EDT), they've only stolen 19 all year. So, how did they lose?

The bullpen let this one get away. I don't want to be too tough on the pen as they had a magnificent night on Wednesday against the Yanks. But the sixth inning on Monday was just ugly. Three different relievers pitched in the inning, combining to allow five runs. It all started with the ill-fated Michael Gonzalez who was responsible for four of those runs. The Sox smelled blood in the water. The kill shot in the ninth was almost inevitable.

Even with such a disappointing loss, there were definitely some bright spots for the O's. Vladimir Guerrero went 3-for-5 with 2 doubles, an RBI and 2 runs scored. While the pen struggled, there were definitely those who fought valiantly to stem the tide. Lefty Clay Rapada put a merciful end to the sixth inning, not allowing any runs to score once he entered the game. Righty Koji Uehara (more on him later) pitched a scoreless eighth.


Time to check in on the 10 things Matt Trueblood feels the Orioles must do to win the pennant. Oh, to dream...

1. Brian Matusz becomes an ace. May 28th is the current target date for his return from injury. He has his second rehab start tomorrow in Bowie (AA).

2. Koji Uehara wins the closer role. Current closer Kevin Gregg has seven saves so far, though he's blown three. Uehara blew the only chance he had. Overall, however, Uehara does have the better ERA: 2.50 vs. 3.31. The case is increasingly strong for the change to be made.

3. Nick Markakis elevates. The O's right fielder has had a slow start, though really the whole offense has been sluggish to this point. Markakis's overall numbers are down from last year: .249 BA as opposed to .297, .317 OBP vs. .370 and .343 slugging way down from .436. There is, however, some good news. His ground outs/air outs ratio is down to 0.95 from 1.04, suggesting the potential for greater power numbers over the long run.

5. Justin Duchscherer gets healthy. Now it seems June is the earliest possible return from the DL.

6. Buck Showalter makes the team his own. Slugging and fielding were Trueblood's two main points of interest here. Slugging is down: .376 as a team as opposed to .386 in 2010. The team fielding percentage, however, is up slightly: .985 vs. .982. The team winning percentage - the most important stat to this fan - is definitely up: .452 vs. .407. I still say Buck is the man and the longer the team sticks with him, the better.

7. Zach Britton finds his way. Since our last check in, Britton has allowed 4 earned runs over 27 1/3 innings. For those without a calculator handy, that's a 1.32 ERA over 4 starts. Yeah, this guy's pretty good. Most impressive to me were his nine shutout innings on 108 pitches against the Mariners on May 12th.

8. Left field poses a good problem. With Brian Roberts (2B) and Derrick Lee (1B) on the DL, the team will frequently require the simultaneous services of both Luke Scott and Félix Pié. Pié is holding down leadoff duties in Roberts's absence. Scott is covering first.

9. Chris Tillman breaks the ceiling. As noted above, Tillman did well on Monday night. Combine that with the fact that Brad Bergesen was thoroughly bludgeoned by the Yankees last night and Tillman's long-term prospects of staying in the starting rotation may have improved slightly.

10. Adam Jones becomes Batman. The batting average is up, .292 as opposed to .284 last year. The slugging percentage is up slightly: .448 vs. .442. The stolen base percentage is up: 100% vs. 50%. The fielding percentage is exactly the same: .984. The range factor is up slightly: 2.93 vs. 2.91. This definitely qualifies as good news.

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