Saturday, August 29, 2009

What are the O's to do with Pie?

The Orioles aren't confronted with many dilemma's they would like to have these days. Usually, they have to figure out which minor leaguer is the best candidate to be promoted in order to replace a struggling player on the big league roster. However, the Orioles are confronted with the opposite situation.

A few months ago, featured a piece on the O's young outfield (pictured) including Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis. There's no argument that the trio make up one of the best young outfields in the majors. However, what ESPN did not account for at the time is the Orioles new-found depth in the outfield. With Felix Pie's increased playing time and opportunity to prove why he was once the Cubs number one minor league prospect, number 18 has suddenly burst onto the scene as more than just your everyday fourth outfielder.

Since his cycle game, Pie is batting .386 going 17 for 44 over that span of 15 games. What's most impressive is that his power numbers are drastically improving in just a short period of time. On August 12, his slugging percentage was stuck at an unimpressive .336. Since then, he's raised his slugging to .459, a 123 point increase in only a couple weeks! It doesn't appear that this recent hot streak is simply a fluke. A few weeks ago, the O's hitting coach Terry Crowley announced that he helped Pie make his swing more compact. Since working with Crowley, Pie has shown instant improvement which suggests he isn't just getting lucky.

So the dilemma the Orioles are in now is what to do with Pie. He's filled his role as the team's fourth outfielder very well but is he beginning to outgrow his role? With Adam Jones return to the lineup after a mild back injury, Pie is back on the bench except for Sunday games and the occasional spot start. I would expect Trembley to start letting Pie play more often than he has in the past. However, Nolan Reimold earned his spot in left field months ago so how does Pie factor into the O's future? I understand that Pie needs to prove himself over a longer stretch of time but it wouldn't surprise me if the Orioles have four legitimate young outfielders by the time the off-season rolls around.

Is it feasible to let Nolan Reimold take a shot at playing first base during spring training next year? He's only played one game at first in his professional career but the Orioles have been successful at converting players in the past. Melvin Mora was brought up as an outfielder and they were able to develop him into a solid third baseman, one of the hardest positions on the field. The Orioles gave Luke Scott, a career outfielder, an opportunity to play first base this season and he's filled in adequately for Huff's vacancy.

Or is it more feasible to let go of someone like Luke Scott in order to allow Reimold to be the DH next year? As much as I like Luuuuke Scott and his scorching hot streaks, I wouldn't be opposed to seeing him go. In the past, I would've been completely against trading Scott because he is only 31 and seems to have a decent number of productive years left. He also recently signed a contract extension. However, two or three years from now, do you see the 34 year old Luke Scott playing a bigger role than Nolan Reimold or Felix Pie in the O's future?

Andy MacPhail has stressed that the Orioles should have an inventory of young players. I couldn't agree more but at some point, the O's need to distribute their wealth and surplus of young players at certain positions in order to fill holes in the roster where perhaps they don't have players waiting in the wings. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the Orioles don't have incredible depth in their minor league system at first base. How about we give Reimold a shot at first and go from there?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Changeover Begins...

We all knew it was coming, it was just a matter of when. The inevitable changeover in the Baltimore sports landscape from the last-place Orioles to the Super Bowl seeking Ravens is complete. With the Ravens first regular season game only a few weeks away, local sports fans are quickly forgetting about the O's and devoting their full attention to the Purple and Black.

As of now, the O's are in last place in the AL East and have the 3rd worst record in all of baseball at 51-75. The team is going through it's annual late-season swoon as they have only won one series since the All-Star break. Orioles fans and even team president Andy MacPhail had mild expectations for the season. Those lowly expectations are coming into fruition.

Fortunately, all hope is not lost for the O's. The young pitching staff is showing signs of potential dominance and the O's offense only has a couple glaring weaknesses. Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, David Hernandez, and the former AL ROY contender Brad Bergesen have all shown how well they can pitch in the majors. They have also shown how there is a lot of work to be done before the staff becomes respectable. The light at the end of the tunnel that everyone speaks of is visible for the birds. For now, that light is being blocked by a different type of bird, a Baltimore Raven.

Baltimore's proudest and most elite sports team is proving that they have the capability to bring another Lombardi Trophy to the city. In their first two preseason games, the Ravens have showed what they're capable of when their first team is on the field. I know not to look too far into preseason results (the Detroit Lions were 4-0 last year in the preseason), however, the Purple and Black have dominated nearly every stat category in their first couple games. The Passing attack looks formidable even without a star wide receiver. The running game looks solid and it appears Ray Rice has the tools to be a exceptional primary back. The defense is a year older but doesn't appear to have lost their intensity even with the departure of Bart Scott and the injury to Terrell Suggs. The only unresolved spot on the team is the kicker, a position which doesn't usually make or break an entire team. I'm confident the Ravens will resolve the kicking dilemma one way or another.

There's a lot to look forward to this year with the Ravens. Joe Flacco has a year under his belt and Ray Lewis stays with the Ravens to lead one of the most dominant D's in the game today.

As for the O's, their time will come, just not this year. Let's Go Ravens!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Best Games of the First Half

In this supposed 'rebuilding' year for the O's, there have been a handful of thrilling games with spectacular performances from the young guys and veterans. While their record was 36-45 at the half-way mark, the majority of fans agree that this team is on the right track. Here is a list of the 5 most memorable games from the first half.

Opening Day, April 6th. Orioles 10 vs. Yankees 5.

The Orioles kicked their season off on the right foot by beating the Yankees and their prized off season acquisitions. Mark Teixiera was properly greeted by tens of thousands boos hollered by bitter O's fans. C.C. Sabathia allowed six runs as Roberts, Jones, and Markakis combined for 8 hits and 7 runs between the three of them. This game was more than just a win but rather a benchmark for where this team was fostering hope for the future.

Reimold's Heroics, May 27th. Orioles 12 vs. Blue Jays 10 in 11 innings.

Nothing was in the Orioles favor for this game. For one, it was a day game, they were facing the American League's best pitcher at the time in Roy Halladay, and it was the final game of a series in which they won the first two games. Despite all of those pieces in the Blue Jays favor, Orioles Magic returned to Birdland. Halladay was bumped from the game after 7 solid innings and the O's had there chance. The Orioles were down by 5 runs entering the 8th but battled back with a merry-go-round of hits to tie the ballgame. In the top of the 12th however, Danys Baez gave up a two run homer to Aaron Hill to break up the tie. In the bottom half of the inning, up stepped Nolan Reimold playing in just his 13th career major league ballgame. With the score 10-9 and two runners on base, the rookie jacked the 1-1 pitch over the left field fence, game over, O's win 12-10!

Wieter's Debut, May 29th. Orioles 7 vs. Tigers 2.

This potentially historic game drew national attention as the #1 prospect in baseball was called up. However, Matt Wieters' debut in front of a packed house at the Yard was overshadowed by Luke Scott's two home run performance and Bergesen's gem. Luke's grand slam onto the flag court and Brad Bergesen's 8 strong innings helped the O's win their 7th game in 8 days.

Roberts Silences Citizens Bank Park, June 20th. Orioles 6 @ Phillies 5.

In the midst of interleague play, the Orioles stunned 40,000 Phillies fans at Citizens Bank Park by taking the lead after trailing by two entering the top of the ninth. After a Ryan Howard bomb off Danys Baez in the 7th to give the Phils a two-run lead, the O's used a Gregg Zaun solo shot and a Brian Roberts two out, two strike, two-run home run to overcome the Phils. The Orioles went on to sweep the World Champions the following day.

Historic Comeback, June 30th. Orioles 11 vs. Red Sox 10.

What really is there to say about this one? Wow! Everyone who was at or watched this historic game was speechless. This is perhaps the most memorable game of the past decade for the O's. The Birds overcame a nine run deficit, yes a NINE RUN deficit, to beat the first place Red Sox. With five runs in the 7th and five more in the 8th, the Orioles set a franchise record for largest comeback in team history. This win is a testament to the team's heart and persistence regardless of the situation, the two qualities winning teams must have in order to succeed. Unfortunately, Orioles fans will always remember the 4-run lead the Orioles blew in the 9th the following day. That's baseball.

Honorable Mentions

Battle of the Beltways part 1, May 22 @ Nationals. 4-2 in 12 innings.

The Orioles kicked off their interleague schedule by taking a trip down 95 to play in the 'Battle of the Beltways' versus the Nats. This was a very well played game by both teams and it took a fluke play to split the 2-2 tie. In the top of the 12th, Danys Baez was forced to hit because the O's ran out of bench players. He swung at the second pitch he saw and the ball dribbled down the left field line as Baez reached first safely to keep the inning alive. Roberts and Jones followed with consecutive doubles as Baez scored what ended up being the game winning run. Take that, 12-29 Nats!

K-Rod's Collapse, June 18 vs. Mets. 5-4.

Trailing 4-3 entering the bottom of the 9th, the O's were in line to add another loss to their 0-34 record when trailing after 8 innings. With arguably the best closer in the majors on the mound primed to record another save, the Orioles stood no chance right? Nope, the O's defied the odds and scored two runs of Francisco Rodriguez, aided by a game winning single by Aubrey Huff, to win the series against the Mets.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

RIP Steve

While he only played two seasons for our Baltimore Ravens, I consider it an honor to have watched Steve McNair play in a Raven uniform. He'll always be remembered as a Tennessee Titan, as he should be, but he'll also go down as one of the toughest and grittiest players in NFL history.

During his time in Baltimore, it seemed like he was always on the injury report with a strained back, sore shoulder, or bruised ribs, among many more injuries. Regardless of the ailment, he persevered and led the Ravens during the 2006 season when they went 13-3 and won the AFC North. At the end of his career, it appeared his injuries finally caught up with him as the perennial hall of famer was forced to call it quits after 13 seasons.

However, his past statistics and achievements take a backseat to today's news that McNair, 36, was tragically shot and killed in Nashville. It is unclear exactly what happened but when it comes down to it, a young man and woman lost their life due to an act of gun violence.

On my way home today, I heard a piece of the Sporting News radio show during which they were discussing the link between professional athletes and violence. As of now, it does not appear that Steve McNair put himself in any danger. However, professional athletes, especially NFL players, seem to find themselves in the middle of dangerous situations. Sean Taylor, Darrent Williams, and Steve McNair are just a few of the athletes who have recently been killed or involved with gun violence. Their deaths give creedence to the notion that high-profile athletes are targeted more often than average joes. I've got to believe that professional athletes are going to feel more inclined to protect themselves.

Would you feel comfortable with more athletes wielding firearms for protection? Occasionally, professional athletes are the danger as seen through Tank Johnson's and Plaxico Burress' off the field gun-related problems. It is a very complicated issue that may never be fully resolved. As for now, our prayers go out to the McNair family as they mourn the loss of a true competitor.

RIP Steve

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Historic Day at the Yard

What really is there to say about this one? Everyone who was at or watched this historic game was speechless. This is perhaps the most memorable game of the past decade for the O's. The Birds overcame a nine run deficit, yes a NINE RUN deficit, to beat the first place Red Sox 11-10. With five runs in the 7th and five more in the 8th, the Orioles set a franchise record for largest comeback in team history. The comeback was the largest by a last place team over a first place team in major league history, wow! This win is a testament to the team's heart and persistence regardless of the situation, the two qualities winning teams must have in order to succeed.

On a slightly separate note, I was prepared to post an article about the poor umpiring in this series (which is continuing into the third game of the series). The umpiring in this series has been atrocious. I'm usually not one to openly complain about the umps. I've always believed, regardless of the sport, the officials can't make a team win or lose, they just make it harder.

In last night's game, Jim Palmer sounded off about umpire Tony Randazo and his deplorable calls behind the plate.

This is after a ball at least 6 inches off the plate is called a strike during Felix Pie’s at bat in the bottom of the 8th when facing Jonathan Papelbon with 2 on and only 1 out. Pie later strikes out in the at bat.

Jim Palmer: Oooooh, you’ve got to be kiddin’ me. That ball is so far outside that is, i mean that’s just, that’s just horrible umpiring. I don’t care if this was George Sherrill. I mean look at this ball. That’s pathetic umpiring whether you’re the Orioles or the Red Sox and he should be ashamed of himself because you just gotta be better than that.

Gary Thorne: Boy, not even close

Jim: Yea that’s, I tell you what. I know Richie Garcia was here last night, he’s got to be embarassed about the performance Randazo is putting on tonight….Because you know, Dave Trembley, he certainly doesn’t want to get tossed or one of these players to go but again, you have supervisors because they’re supposed to sit behind home plate. You can have all the cameras in the world and if you look at Jerry Lane, that was horrible last night for both sides. Tonight Randazo’s been horrible. You can’t put up with these kind of guys. You know if you play poorly, they send you to the minor leagues. And Joe Torre used to say ‘hey, you know what? They make mistakes, we go to another ball club, they go onto the next city and sooner or later you have to make umpires accountable.’ They have not been very good in these first two games.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Stover Question

10-10 game. 4th down. 57 seconds left in the 4th quarter. AFC championship game berth on the line. From 43 yards out. Who do you want kicking? Steve Hauschka? Graham Gano?

No way.

You want Matt Stover. Sure, his range may be limited but I want the most accurate kicker in the NFL on my side. At a spry 41 years old, the Ravens most trusted offensive weapon in team history deserves to kick again. He earned it last January when he nailed the 43-yarder to seal it against the Titans.

Some cite his weakening leg and increased unreliability for reasons why the Ravens should move on. I cite the game-winning field goals and the ability to come into the most tense situation without crumbling under the pressure for reasons why he should kick for the Ravens. In a recent Baltimore Sun article, Mike Preston explains Stover's primary problem is that he has been too good for too long.

It's hard for me to doubt Ozzie Newsome's decision making, as he is the sole reason for why this team is able to reach such great heights. I don't know for sure if he made the decision to let Stover go but whoever did should come forward and fully explain why the Ravens are putting their money on the unproven youngsters, Graham Gano and Steve Hauschka. It's possible that one of those two can help the Ravens make a Super Bowl run. However, I would prefer that the Ravens re-sign Stover to kick field goals under 45 yards and keep one of the two young kickers on the roster to kick field goals over 45 and man the kickoff duties.

The Stover question is as easy to solve as the phrase which best summarizes the situation. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

So let me ask again. 4th Quarter. Season on the line. A chance to play for a spot in the Super Bowl. Who do you want kicking? I want Matt Stover. Do you?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Clueless on the Basepaths

The Orioles embarrassing and painful base running came to a boiling point during Wednesday night's 1-run loss against the Mariners. Three Orioles were either picked off or caught stealing, killing rallies during a game in which each base runner mattered.

Only two teams in the majors have been caught stealing more than the Orioles and only four teams have a lower SB%. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, there is no statistic that I found recording the number of runners caught stretching base hits into extra base hits (cough::Melvin Mora::cough). Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck points out the Orioles are hurting themselves by implementing too many hit-and-runs at inopportune times.

Typically, a team struggling offensively, as the Orioles currently are, must be aggressive on the base paths in order to spark the lackluster offense. However, the Orioles offense isn't having trouble getting on base, they are simply having trouble scoring runs. Rather than trying to steal their way to success (which the Orioles clearly are unable to do), I recommend that Dave Trembley sit back and let his potent offense hit their way out of the slump. As I mentioned earlier, the Orioles are hurting themselves by giving away outs to the opposition. There is no reason why Aubrey Huff should be asked to steal at any point (he is 0/5 this year in SB attempts).

Poor base running is not a new phenomenon for this ball club. The O's were 23rd in the majors in SB% in 2008 leading me to believe that the man calling the shots may have something to do with their questionable base running. More often than not, Dave Trembley decides whether or not to give his players the green light to steal or hit and run. What's not under Trembley's control is the absurd number of times the Orioles have been picked off this year, that falls on the players. Of course Dave isn't out there on the basepaths getting picked off or caught stealing however he must send a message to his players that every base runner is critical. The Orioles are going to cost themselves more runs and games if they don't get their wrecklessness on the basepaths under control.