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Baltimore Orioles: What to make of Tampa’s bizarre bullpen model

You might notice that Sergio Romo is starting for Tampa this afternoon against the Baltimore Orioles. He also started Friday night against the Birds. Is this the bizarro world?!

Not if you look at it under the guise of how Tampa and manager Kevin Cash are using their pitchers this year. Cash is employing a bullpen hand in many cases as an “opener;” this as opposed to using a closer. And after between 1-2 innings, that bullpen hand is being lifted for what one might call a regular starting pitcher.

This is all very unconventional, but baseball fans have learned to expect that from the Tampa Rays. They don’t do this for every game, although each turn of their rotation is in essence a “bullpen game.” But they tend to do it against lineups such as that of the Orioles which are heavily stacked with righties. Again, it’s unconventional, which is part of where a lot of the criticism towards Cash comes from – and for the record, Cash seems to take that in stride (quote courtesy of Doug Padilla, mlb.com):

I’ve been called an idiot, but that has happened before.

However Tampa’s attitude towards anything has always been well if it works who’s the dumb one? They were the team that started the trend of employing shifts on almost every batter. Old school baseball people such as myself weren’t really comfortable with that – a shift here or there is one thing, but every hitter? Heck, Tampa at times will put a fielder in motion during the at bat if they think it’ll give them an edge. Well now everyone seems to do that – the shifts, that is.

Speaking for myself, I think using an “opener” instead of a closer is ill-advised. You’re burning through your bullpen literally from the moment the game begins. However I suppose that part of the theory is that it prevents opponents from stacking their lineup for a starting pitcher, lest they want to make wholesale changes early in the game. But again, the fact is that it’s unconventional.

Does that make it wrong? No, of course not. But Tampa is a team that seems to want to re-invent the wheel at times. And again, the thing with the shifts has certainly caught on league-wide. However that’s not to say that this will as well. Because I believe that it’s asking a lot of bullpen relievers. It’s also asking a lot of coaches to literally play match-ups on every at-bat. To be quite blunt, I think it’s nothing more than a fancy way of dressing up the fact that they can’t find five viable starters.

 

Baltimore Orioles: Is fair now foul and up now down?

The Baltimore Orioles are in Chicago to take on the ChiSox, who of course share a city with the Chicago Cubs. That would be a team that’s apparently hot for Manny Machado. Since the Winter Meetings last December, the Orioles have been willing to trade Machado…for the right price. They’ve yet to see that price.

That aside, selling Machado would indicate that the franchise is potentially looking to sell players off and start over. I really hesitate to use the word rebuild, because in a sports sense I’m not a fan of it. It’s one thing to “warm-over” your team. But are fans really going to stand for a true rebuild? You know, where you tear EVERYTHING down and build it back up?

I’ve always said that’s a tough sell to fans. You’re asking people to continually spend their money to come out to the ballpark and pay big league prices for what amounts to a non-big league roster. And while someone such as myself might see the benefit of becoming entrenched with a group of players from the get-go, I’m in the minority. Most people want that big league product, and they want it now. That’s why the Orioles have never committed to rebuilding over the years – because it’s a tough sell to fans.

But I’ve noticed something in the past few years that challenges that line of thinking. Heck, everything else I know to be true in baseball is getting challenged (including the concept of a nine-inning game), why not that also?! The 2016 Yankees were a veteran team and they decided to cut ties with several players mid-year. The haul they got back included the likes of a guy named Judge. They went on to contend for the wild card that year.

The Tampa Rays of this year sold off what few big name players they had in the off season. They wiped the slate totally clean. And they’re playing way over their heads. In general I’m not a fan of youth, because I don’t want to deal with the on and off-the-field mistakes. But are the current youth different than before?

The answer is mixed. Young kids are always going to mess up here and there. And in saying that I suppose I’m talking more off the field than on. I’m talking about things such as Sidney Ponson‘s various driving violations among other things. That’s the type of thing that neither the Orioles, nor the fans want to have to deal with. No matter how good the player could be.

However many of these young players are also able to provide a shot in the arm to teams. Again, look at the 2016 NY Yankees, and this year’s Tampa team. In terms of wins and losses, they’re actually better than they were with the vets. Why is that?

You might chalk it up to youthful exuberance, however I need something a bit more tangible than an emotional argument. The fact is that college baseball as an institution is getting much stronger than it was even 20 years ago. I don’t think it’ll ever reach the point of being as popular as football or basketball, but it’s growing in popularity. And that means that there’s better coaching out there, and skill.

Point being that players are more ready when they get to the big leagues than they previously were. They have a stronger skill set, because they have solid foundations – both from the minors and from college. That makes a world of difference.

I still say that a full rebuild is too tough a sell to a fan base. Because what if it doesn’t work? What if you exchange your talent for what turns out to be lemons? You’re kind of up a creek without a paddle – that’s what happens.

Baltimore Orioles: Sour grapes?

Baltimore Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter didn’t hold back on his opinion of home plate umpire Tony Randazzo’s strike zone after last night’s game (all quotes courtesy of Roch Kubatko, MASNsports):

Kevin’s got a bubblegum card, too. Those pitches, I’m very biased, but I didn’t think he got a fair shake tonight.

It’s rare that you hear a big league manager be quite that clandestine about his displeasure with the strike zone after a game. And in fact, during the course of the game Showalter appeared to be woofing about the strike zone fairly vehemently. And after one pitch, Kevin Gausman stood on the mound with his hands in the air as if to say how is that not a strike?!

Gausman also had some interesting comments himself with regard to the stolen bases that occurred against him:

I thought it was weird that two of the three times they stole on me, I was picking,” Gausman said. “It kind of raises some eyebrows as to how they knew and those types of things, but that’s all on me. It’s one of the things that we can control.

These comments are spot on by both Showalter and Gausman. The strike zone did appear to differentiate between Gausman and Boston’s David Price. I don’t question Randazzo’s integrity, not do I think Showalter is. I think he was just inconsistent. And it was noticeable.

However comments such as these are also tough sells. They come off as sour grapes, correct as they might be. In Gausman’s case, he passive-aggressively accused Boston of stealing signs. And it kind of makes sense that they would do that – nobody had stolen on Gausman all year. That and he had a rookie catcher behind the plate with him.

However it also boils down to much of what I said last night. Boston’s not the type of team that’s going to sit back and let the game come to them. They reach out and take not only what’s theirs, but what’s yours. So in Gausman’s case if he’s picking and doesn’t step off, Boston’s going to take that and thus take second base.

This is not to say that the Orioles should start stealing signs. However when an opportunity presents itself, they need to take advantage of it. When guys get on base, they need to find a way to get them home – among other things. Were Showalter and Gausman’s comments spot on last night? Yes. Should they have been made? I suppose it just matters how you want to come off.

Baltimore Orioles rained out

The Baltimore Orioles waited out a three hour plus rain delay before their game with Philadelphia was finally rained out. It will be made up at 7 PM on July 12th. The weather is also in question tomorrow, and the start time has been moved from 12:35 to 12:05 PM.

Some might question what the use of that is. In order to move a game time more than 30 minutes, you have to get the approval of both teams and the MLBPA. So while I do question what 30 minutes will do, the O’s are moving the game up by as much time as they can without any further approval. Andrew Cashner is now listed as tomorrow’s starter – weather permitting.

Baltimore Orioles open a huge stretch for 2018

The debate about whether the Baltimore Orioles should sell or not (and when) rages on as Philadelphia rolls into town this evening for a short two game series. In fact, this is a series that will last about a day-and-a-half, as tomorrow’s game is an afternoon affair. Players and coaches alike aren’t fans of these two-game sets. It’s only one game less than a regular series, however it’s somewhat disruptive to the normal grind.

At 13-28, people are saying sell, sell, sell. And almost conveniently, whatever return the Orioles got in a sale would probably not be enough for some people. But I digress. Dan Duquette said he wanted to wait things out until about Memorial Day before making any big decisions. We now enter a stretch that will leave us right at that point.

Philadelphia’s a good team, but they could also be suseptable here and there, especially with a young manager. The Orioles would do well to sweep them, however statistically most of these two-game sets end in splits. The Birds then head to Boston for four games (one of which is a makeup game). The O’s are playing better, and Boston’s looked ever-so-slightly more pedestrian than they did the first time the two teams met. Might the Birds have a shot at splitting that series also?

Let’s say that happened – just for conversation’s sake. That would put them at either 17-30 or 16-31; still not exactly competing for the division title. However look past that – the O’s head to the south side of Chicago for four games. The ChiSox are looking worse than the Orioles, who at least can say that they’ve seen an uptick in their play the last week or so. Would three-of-four be a stretch?

Following the Chicago series, the O’s head to Tampa for three games over the physical weekend days on Memorial Day weekend. The Birds just finished up with Tampa, who while having the spunk and audacity of youth, is still a young team. Again, would it be a stretch to say they could take two-of-three?

If things occurred just as I said above, the O’s would be at either 22-32 or 21-33. And we’d literally be at Memorial Day, when Washington comes to town. Many of you will say that the record would still indicate a sell-off is necessary. And I’m on record as saying that I think the Birds should consider selling Machado right now (IF they get the proper return, that is). But it would be interesting to see what people would be saying if the O’s were able to string together a few positive series’ in the next week-and-a-half or so.

And here’s the other thing; a lot of people out there refuse to look just a bit deeper and thus past the tips of their noses (no matter how long) at this team. It’s all fine and dandy to simply read the box score and/or look at the standings and callously suggest that you know what’s going on or what the story is. Let’s keep in mind that this Orioles team was incredibly nick’d up the first five weeks or so of the season. The likes of Schoop, Beckham, Trumbo, Britton, and O’Day were on the DL. Some of them still are. Now they have Schoop and Trumbo back, and that at least has the offense looking better.

They also had just about everything go wrong in games that could have gone wrong. And I’m not talking about errors, many of which could be attributed to some of the aforementioned injuries. I’m talking about balls taking weird hops, instant replay overturns that shouldn’t have happened, strike zones changing, etc. So what, am I saying that the Orioles are actually a team in contention in disguise?

No, not at all. I’m saying that there are intangibles in games, all of which seemed to break the opponent’s way regarding the Orioles for some time. You’re never as bad as you’re made out to be when things are really going poorly. The Orioles are an example of that. And when things are going well, you’re never really as good as you think. As I said above, Boston’s looked just a bit more human over the past couple of weeks.

Mind you folks, when I went through the litany of games and series’ above, those weren’t predictions. Those were me saying what was possible and where it would leave the Birds. If they’re going to end up with a respectable record, they have to start shaving space off between wins and losses. And you do that by winning series’.

The series with Philadelphia opens tonight at Camden Yards. Andrew Cashner gets the start for the O’s, and he’ll be opposed by Philadelphia’s Nick Pivetta. Game time is set for just after 7 PM.

Baltimore Orioles: Should MLB tweak interleague play?

The Baltimore Orioles are off today, as are their next opponent: the Philadelphia Phillies. These two teams used to be one another’s “local rival,” that is prior to the Washington Nationals moving in closer. However you still have a situation where the further north of Baltimore you go the more the fan bases start bleeding together. For the record, I’ve always seen the Delaware/Maryland state line as the demarcation point so to speak.

However that aside, the Orioles will go into interleague play tomorrow evening when Philadelphia comes in for the first time this season. But keep in mind that this series, along with their next interleague series against Washington, won’t necessarily be a huge deal for the Birds. It’ll be like any other game in a sense, because the games will be played at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. That means American League rules – under which the Orioles play almost every game.

It’s when the Orioles make a return trip to Washington and Philadelphia in June and July respectively that things will feel different. The Orioles will have to then surrender their DH, and insert their pitchers into the lineup. Let me be honest; I prefer the National League game. I enjoy seeing pitchers hit, and quite frankly I’d prefer to see the American League get rid of it. I recognize that the NL is much more likely to adopt it at some point than anything else, however that’s just my personal preference.

However do the different rules in different leagues not give the National League teams a distinct advantage? For this week’s short series, Philadelphia will be able to in essence take a position player and have him swing a bat as a DH instead of a pitcher. However fast forward to when the O’s go on the road in an NL park. They lose a bat in favor of a pitcher.

This is not to say that there aren’t pitchers who can’t make a difference at the plate. Washington’s Max Scherzer has turned into a decent hitter (hitting .292 on the year thus far, although with only 24 plate appearances). He even stole a base earlier this year. The Orioles once won a game in Washington off of a swinging bunt by reliever Danys Baez. Again folks, off the bat of a relief pitcher – even National League teams seem to rarely have a relief pitcher have to take his turn at the plate. (The Orioles were out of hitters in that situation and had no choice.)

But you get where I’m going with this; the National League has a distinct advantage. Interestingly enough however, the American League has the historical advantage in interleague games at 2890-2574 (dating to the end of 2017). However I’m not talking about overal records between the leagues. I’m talking more about in the here and now. That’s the bigger deal.

While Philadelphia is in Baltimore, New York will be in Washington this week. Thus they’ll surrender their DH, while Boston won’t be. Philadelphia will be enjoying the luxury of a DH (a better bat in the lineup), whereas Washington won’t be. Yes it all evens out in the end, but sometimes it does matter when you end up facing teams and so forth.

So I would submit that the rules should be streamlined for interleague play. Pick a set of rules, and have all interleague games played by those rules. Odds are that if such a thing happened they’d pick American League rules, and have a DH universally used during interleague play – both in American League and National League parks. If I had my pick it would be the pitchers hitting in both league’s parks. But either way, make it uniform across the board.

Baltimore Orioles, David Hess gas Tampa in game one of twin bill

You have to love what David Hess did this afternoon in game one of a doubleheader for the Baltimore Orioles. In his big league debut, Hess only shut Tampa down (after a bit of a rocky start), pitched a quality start, and saved the Oriole bullpen from overuse for game two. Hess’ line: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 3 K.

Unfortunately for Hess, from the outset it looked like he was going to be the one getting gassed. He allowed a couple of base runners, and a three-run homer by Duffy in the third inning. However Hess managed to do what seasoned veterans at times can’t – he centered himself. After that rocky first inning, he settled down and just pitched.

And Oriole bats rewarded him for it. Jonathan Schoop smacked a solo homer to left in the last of the second. Later in the inning Chance Sisco’s RBI-double cut the Tampa lead to 3-2. So the Birds put Tampa on notice right away that they weren’t going away.

But they weren’t done – for the game or that inning. The O’s called for a double-steal later in the inning with runners at the corners. And it was Sisco who scored from third, with a steal of home plate. Tampa challenged the play on the basis that the runner was out at second, however it was upheld. How often do you see a catcher stealing any base, much less home plate?!

One inning later the Birds had the lead for good. Manny Machado’s solo homer gave them a 4-3 lead. But before the crowd could even settle down after that home run, Schoop came back up to bat and hit another one of his own. So it was a two homer game for Schoop, as the Birds went back-to-back.

The O’s would add another run later in the game as Trumbo scored on a wild pitch in the last of the sixth. However the story of the game was David Hess. If you’re going to write a story on how your big league debut will go, you can’t write a better one than that. The question is whether or not Hess stays with the club. Personally I say yes. At the very least I see him staying until Tillman comes back. What happens after that remains to be seen. But all of that is merely my take. He may be on his way back to Norfolk by now for all I know.

The O’s now turn their attention to the nightcap of this doubleheader. Alex Cobb gets the start for the O’s, and he’ll be opposed by Tampa’s May Andriese. Game time is set for approximately 6:10 PM.

Baltimore Orioles: Should Dan Duquette be making deals?

Here’s an interesting take regarding Dan Duquette that Baltimore Orioles fans should consider; should he be making trades? As we know, Duquette’s contract is up at the end of the season. Most fans and writers alike agree that odds of Duquette getting a contract extension are slim. However regardless of that, he’s a lame duck (unless or until he gets a new contract).

The trade talk regarding Manny Machado and others has heated up the past couple of weeks. But…do fans really want Duquette making that decision? As a lame duck, one might question the motives behind what he’s doing, or how he’s doing it. Am I suggesting that Duquette would do anything shady or that he operates in a shady manner? Not in the least. But the potential for something unfortunate to happen is there.

Could you imagine what would happen if the Orioles made a trade with say the Los Angeles Dodgers, and then Duquette turned around and signed on in their front office next year? You could have the semblance of collusion, tampering, or something else. You also could have a situation in which someone (Dan Duquette in this instance) becomes a victim of circumstance after doing something very innocent.

Dan Duquette may be a lot of things, but he’s never done anything that would make anyone distrust him. So I don’t think that anything along these lines to occur. All I’m saying is that it could.

And this should be a lesson to John & Lou Angelos. Just to be clear, I respect the fact that Peter Angelos and the Angelos family has not only held people to their contracts, but not let them go unless it was absolutely necessary. People can say what they wish about the Angelos’ management style. But I do respect people who honor their commitments.

Now with that said, the act of allowing a GM to go into the season as a lame duck doesn’t work in sports. It allows for scenario’s like I described above to come into play. Now in fairness, John & Lou Angelos just took over management of the team from their father, Peter. This was back in January. So for all we know the decision to have Duquette serve as a lame duck wasn’t theirs.

What should have happened was that they decided last year whether to extend Duquette or move on. Would that have potentially meant firing him? Yes. But if the goal is to win, the organization is severely handicapped right now on that front. Perhaps next time around things will be different.

Baltimore Orioles: Jonathan Schoop to return tonight

The Baltimore Orioles begin a nine-game home stand this evening against Kansas City. And with the home winds comes a welcome re-addition to the club: second baseman Jonathan Schoop. Schoop is expected to come off the DL for this evening’s game, requiring a roster move. If I were a betting man I’d go with Engelb Vielma being optioned back to the minors.

There can be no question that the Orioles have missed Schoop across the board. The infield defense suffered big time in his absence. And his bat has been missed as well in the lineup, and the hope is that it’s presence now helps to streamline the offense just a bit. The Birds aren’t as far away as people want to believe. A base knock here or a homer there – and some of these games might look a little different. The hope is that Schoop provides that type of spark.

It’s still unclear as to whether there will be any personnel changes in the organization before tonight’s game. I was under the impression that if they were going to do anything it would have happened yesterday. But obviously nothing happened. But if anything happens today, stay tuned to my twitter feed, @DomenicVadala, as well as to Birdland Crush for updates.

The series with Kansas City opens this evening at Camden Yards. Dylan Bundy will try to get back on track for the O’s in the starting rotation, and he’ll be opposed by Kansas City’s Danny Duffy. Game time is set for just after 7 PM.

Baltimore Orioles: Does an aspect of MLB’s collective bargaining agreement hurt team’s chances?

I’m inviting readership to take a break from the doom and gloom of the beginning of the Baltimore Orioles’ season for a moment. Trust me folks, if anything breaks regarding personnel moves from the team, you’ll hear them here. So be ready!

Baseball contracts are famously guaranteed. Many of you have tweeted me and commented ad hoc about how the Orioles should release this guy or DFA that one over the years – currently I’m hearing that a lot about Chris Davis. And those comments are always met with the same response from me: MLB contracts are guaranteed, so the Orioles would not only have to continue paying [insert player name], but any other team could claim him off of waivers – and the O’s would still be on the hook for his contract. 

Most of the time that shuts down the argument, although there are some who’ll suggest that paying the guy in question to play for someone else would be money well spent. But in general most people understand what a poor business model that would be. This actually worked to the Orioles’ favor one year, when in 2011 they acquired Julio Lugo towards the end of spring training. Lugo had been traded from the BoSox to St. Louis after being DFA’d, and then was subsequently DFA’d again and traded to the O’s. He played that season with the Birds and was on Boston’s payroll.

From a labor perspective I support the idea of guaranteed contracts. It’s akin to job security. I’d never want to see MLB go to a system such as the NFL, where if you get cut your contract is null and void. I think that’s unfair to the athlete – what’s the point of having a contract if a team can cut you and be done with it?

Obviously in the NFL you still have to abide by the salary cap, and if you cut someone his salary still counts against the cap for that year. However teams are basically forced to keep players who may end up being a dead weight on their books and on their roster. You’re using up a roster spot and spending money on someone who’s probably not helping your club. And it causes bad feelings all around, because usually the guy knows that rule’s the only reason he’s still there.

So what’s the alternative? Using the NFL’s model? No, I don’t think so. First off baseball doesn’t have a salary cap, so it wouldn’t work. (And that’s another story for another day.) However there is a happy medium. If a player gets DFA’d, I agree that his contract should still be guaranteed. So long as he’s a free agent, the original team should be on the hook for his salary.

However, if he gets claimed by another team, let them assume responsibility for the contract. That seems like common sense to me. It also makes teams think twice about whether or not they want to claim someone. That’s not to say that I ever see that happening, but hey you never know – right?!

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