Baltimore Orioles: A World Series for the ages

The last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series the Baltimore Orioles (as they exist now) didn’t exist. And in fact they wouldn’t exist for a long time from that point. Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House, and the legendary double-play combination of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance was still active. Just for some historical perspective.

Two world wars, a great depression, a cold war, and generations later, it’s finally happened again. I suppose that the only sad thing about this particular World Series was the fact that someone had to lose. Both Chicago and Cleveland were feel-good stories, and both had compelling storylines that made you want to root for them. This World Series was truly a win-win for baseball.

The main storyline of course is Chicago breaking the curse that had made it to 108 years. However another major part of this is the fact that Chicago was down 3-1 in the series before coming back to win. That’s how you break a curse!

Ironically, the other big curse that was broken in most of our lifetimes was the Curse of the Bambino, of course with the Boston Red Sox. In that case, keep in mind that Boston was down 3-1 in the ALCS against New York before storming back and advancing to the World Series. So perhaps there’s something to be said for having your back against the wall. It sure seemed to work for those teams!

Needless to say, this will go down as one of the greatest World Series’ in history. In fact, game seven itself might go down as one of the greatest games in World Series history. Heck, perhaps even baseball history. The rain delay at the end seemed to add to the mystique of the event, and that combined with the curse made it perfect.

So with that said, the entire league is now in the off season. But given that this World Series ended in November and spring training (games) begins in February, we have only two full months without baseball. Easy, right?! The Orioles specifically have a lot of work to do regarding which players are staying and which are walking. Needless to say, there’s no such thing as an off season in that sense.

But with that in mind, America should take a collective breath today and celebrate with the new champions of her national pastime. It’s certainly been a long enough time coming. And as I said, this World Series was a win-win for everyone involved.

Baltimore Orioles: Did Chicago pull a Buck Showalter?

As I’ve made quite clear over time, I had no issue with the Baltimore Orioles’ Buck Showalter not using closer Zach Britton in the American League Wild Card Game. I thought it was actually smart, as you don’t want to use a guy in a spot in which he’s unfamiliar in a game with stakes that high. However I recognize why it rubbed some fans the wrong way at the time and still. Needless to say, I get why it was controversial.

So with that said, did we possibly see the foundation for another controversy involving a closer last night in game six of the World Series? Chicago manager Joe Maddon opted to use closer Aroldis Chapman in middle relief, prompting Chapman to throw 20 pitches in game six. After the game Maddon said that everyone on the roster was availabile in tonight’s game seven. But…

…did he set himself up for criticism? Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t have used Chapman. Now I recognize that some people are reading this and saying that my view is compromised given the fact that I thought Buck was right to leave Britton in the bullpen nearly a month ago. However Chapman also threw 40+ pitches in game five. While there was a day off in between, that’s almost three games worth of work in a sense.

And it also gets back to using someone in a strange spot. Chapman isn’t used to working in middle relief. Now granted you should be able to pitch in any spot at any time, however I’m refering more to who would in theory end up pitching in Chapman’s normal spot – just as I was in the case with Showalter and Britton. What happens if you bring in someone who’s not used to closing as it is…in game seven of the World Series?

This is debatable both ways for sure. My point also comes out to be that last night’s game was all but in hand. Was it really necessary to use Chapman? At the end of the day, if Chicago wins the World Series tonight it won’t matter. Nobody will even remember whether or not Chapman pitched last night. (Especially when you factor in the fact that it’s been 108 years.) That’s a given…

…but Maddon will be crucified in the Chicago media if they lose and somehow the Chapman situation comes into play. What if they have the lead and he blows it? Do we think that fatigue might not be a factor?

At the end of the day, Maddon is aware of the fact that this type of scrutiny comes with the job. And if it comes to that, I suspect he’ll be the first one to accept the blame. That’s to his credit. However leaving Chapman in the ‘pen last night would have taken that issue off the table.

Baltimore Orioles: Are the Birds doing it all wrong?

Along with the rest of the league, the Baltimore Orioles will be at home watching game six of the World Series tonight in Cleveland. First off, both teams are great stories. I would also submit that neither team’s “suffering” will truly continue (as it did before at least), as they both exorcised a few demons this year.

However in looking at the Cleveland Indians more specifically, it makes you wonder if the Orioles’ way of doing things isn’t starting to become outdated. One could definitely argue that here the Birds were spending all of this money on the likes of Chris Davis, and here Cleveland is playing their small ball game and getting to the World Series. There’s always a certain amount of luck involved in getting that far, but the fact is that Cleveland deserves to be there.

The Orioles built their team to compete in the AL East. It’s always been a division of mashers – look at Boston, NY, and Toronto. Yet all of those teams are at home also. And again, it’s Cleveland and their small ball game that’s representing the American League in the fall classic.

I cover an east coast team – so from my perspective while it does on occasion serve it’s purpose, small ball is almost foreign to me. However in the midwest it’s how the game is played. For the record however, there is a small ball team in the AL East: Tampa. And look at where they finished this year. So…

…it’s all kind of a Catch-22. It’s tough to compete by playing small ball in the American League East. Unless your pitching is so off the charts it’s impossible to lose, it just doesn’t work against the likes of Boston, NY, Toronto, and the Orioles. But whether or not fast and furious home run reliance works come October is another story also.

Again, I’m not suggesting that how the Orioles are construed is wrong. They had to re-sign the likes of Davis. Replacing him with a first baseman who was really good at moving runners over just wouldn’t have sufficed. But whether or not this type of team is going to make it to the World Series is another story.

The Orioles, just like all mashing teams, have a horrible habbit of having all of their bats go to sleep at once. With small ball that’s much more unlikely given the fact that the offense is based on making outs and piecemealing runs together. Is this the direction in which the game is going? That remains to be seen.

Baltimore Orioles: What to do about Chris Tillman?

The Baltimore Orioles will enter the 2018 season with a lot of questions surrounding them, but perhaps the one regarding Chris Tillman is the most unsung of all. We hear a lot of the likes of Machado, Schoop, and a few others needing to be signed down the road. But we nary hear a lot about Tillman’s situation.

Chris Tillman is in what’s known as a walk year, which in essence means he’s in the final year of his contract. He’s the closest thing that the Orioles have to an ace pitcher. In fact, he’s probably the closest they’ve had to an ace since the days of Mike Mussina (with all due respect to Erik Bedard). So is re-signing and thus retaining Tillman as important as it is to do the same with Machado and Schoop? I say yes.

The Orioles’ issue in 2016 was pitching – this much we know. So it thus becomes imperative for the Birds to keep what decent pitching that they have, all which trying to better themselves. Tillman had a solid 2016 after struggling in ’15. And given the fact that he’ll be in a contract year shortly, odds are he’ll have an even better 2017.

If they don’t re-sign him, the Orioles won’t necessarily lose Tillman. They could make him a qualifying offer next year, which would tax their payroll but if he accepted it he’d remain an Oriole. However I would submit that in the immediacy of today (that being next season), keeping Tillman around should be of supreme importance in the Warehouse.

The contracts of Gallardo and Jimenez will also come off the books after next season. So there’s some money right there that the Birds could put towards Tillman. This is one of the reasons why front office jobs in baseball are so difficult. You aren’t working so much for today as you are a year or sometimes two down the road.

My personal opinion is that the O’s should get Tillman squared away this off season. Right now they’re the only team with whom he can legally deal – they should take advantage of that! But that would also say a lot to Tillman about how dedicated the organization is to him personally, and how much he’s valued. It would say we didn’t want to wait so we wanted to ensure now that you’ll be with us down the road.

That would also give them a chance to open up their time next off season to deal with guys like Machado. You’re only as good as your roster, and if your roster ceases to be what it has been you’ll cease to be as good.

Baltimore Orioles’ Zach Britton wins AL Reliever of the year for 2016

Prior to last night’s World Series Game Four at Wrigley Field, Zach Britton of the Baltimore Orioles was presented with the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the year award. Britton of course was virtually unbeatable in 2016, with a sub-1.00 ERA, and 47 saves. And in saying 47 saves, I mean of course 47 in a row. Britton didn’t blow a save in 2016.

This is a high honor for any reliever, however it was all but a given that Britton would get the honor. There are a lot of great bullpen guys out there (including Cleveland’s Miller), but nary any of them have ever come close to not blowing a save over the course of a season. But putting it like that unfairly removes it from a bit of important context; Britton didn’t blow a save while having 40+ chances.

When asked about the award, Britton was incredibly humble and credited his teammates around him for helping him win it (quote courtesy of Mark Newman, mlb.com):

I think it’s a credit to the teammates around me. Obviously you’re only as good as the guys behind you on the field. Me relying on ground balls, obviously we have a great defense back there. So a lot of the credit goes to the teammates and putting me in situations to be successful, too. The coaching staff, everyone really went out of their way to make sure — or put me in situations to be successful. That’s really what it comes down to at the end of the day. You’re only as good as the guys around you.

That speaks volumes about Britton, but also to what the Orioles are all about. There are very few individual achievemetns on this team. Everyone else’s success comes as a result of the team around them. And that’s how it should be on a team.

In 69 appearances, Britton also had a record of 2-1. He only gave up 38 hits and one homer. Britton is also thought of as someone who should be in the running for the Cy Young award, but that’s another story for another day. Whether or not relief pitchers should be eligible for that award is a matter of opinion. But needless to say Britton was THE BEST guy coming out of the bullpen for any team in baseball in 2016. You don’t win 47 games in a row and chalk it up to simply good luck. This award was well-deserved without any doubt.

Baltimore Orioles: Do ballparks need all the bells and whistles?

The Baltimore Orioles play in the best ballpark in baseball – perhaps in sports. Oriole Park at Camden Yards of course is known as The Ballpark that Forever Changed Baseball. And that’s a fact, as the Orioles literally trademarked that phrase. However are the Orioles and perhaps numerous other franchises doing things (or perhaps NOT doing things) which are hurting their attendance numbers?

In listening to sports talk radio this week, I heard a segment whereby the hosts were saying that perhaps one of the reasons that fans leave Maryland football games early is due to the fact that some of the bells and whistles of modern technology aren’t found in the stadium. Specifically, this of course speaks to millenials, as that conversation surrounded college students. Anyone that knows me knows that I work my “twitter machine” during Orioles games – but that’s due to the fact that I’m live-tweeting game highlights.

A lot of younger fans simply must have access to their social media accounts at all times. And I’m not saying that in a derogatory manner, I’m saying it as a matter of fact. Heck, I’ve even had people tell me that I’m living a lie based on something I may have said on Facebook or Twitter, and what reality truly is. Because if it’s posted on social media it must be true – right?

Oriole Park at Camden Yards doesn’t have wifi, nor does it have features such as device-charging stations or social media lounges. It’s a ballpark; with the exception of a few attractions such as the Orioles’ Hall of Fame, Dempsey’s Brew Pub, and some interactive aspects such as a jungle-gym for kids, what you see is what you get. And I would submit that’s how it should be.

But I come from a different generation than do the young adults of today. Many of them can’t find it within them to show up for a game – and just for a game. They need wifi to check their fantasy stats, post on Instagram, and check their Facebook feeds. Furthermore they need to be able to post on Snapchat so as to let the world know that they’re at the game.

And the fact is that people’s attention spans are very short now. Fans don’t go to the game trying to strategize and figure out what the team’s going to do next. Perhaps some do that for a bit, but as soon as a new Instagram post from a friend pops up they’re sidetracked.

Whether or not the Orioles should upgrade some aspects of the gameday experience remains to be seen. I would submit that if you make it easier for fans to surf the internet during games, you’ll start seeing more and more people getting hit with foul balls. There’s already wifi in the pressbox – having it in the seating bowl also might not be the worst idea ever. After all, Millenials don’t like to be told NO!

Baltimore Orioles: MLB needs to take notice of the NFL’s drop in ratings

The Baltimore Orioles and Major League Baseball need to take note of what’s happening in the National Football League. First off, keep in mind that the NFL and MLB don’t necessarily compete against each other. They overlap a bit, but baseball is a summer sport. Football is an autumn/winter sport.

That aside, the NFL is seeing a bit of a dip in their ratings. Not a huge dip mind you, but a slight one. However that would have been unheard of even a few years ago. And there may be numerous reasons why that is, including perhaps people watching non-stop election coverage. However my own theory is actually fairly simplistic: too much regulation.

Perhaps more so than in any other sport, we’ve seen a lot more rules in football of late, many of which are legitimately designed to protect players. However I’ve previously touched on how rules can at times contradict one another, such as the player who thought he wasn’t in violation when he pretended the football was a basketball and shot a fadeaway over the goalpost after a touchdown. However he was flagged for “using the ball as a prop.”

But we’re also seeing more and more defensive players being flagged for unnecessary roughness when in fact they’re making legal hits. They legislated helmet-to-helmet hits out of the game, however now defensive players are starting to be flagged even when they’re leading with their shoulders. Now apparently the line has moved from helmet-to-helmet to if it’s a hard and cracking hit, it’s a penalty.

The point is that in my opinion these regulations are getting excessive. Furthermore some contradict each other, and that dilutes the product the league is looking to put out. And here’s another point; there are too many prime time games. It used to be Sunday and Monday nights, but now they also do a Thursday night game. So two teams are playing on extremely short rest each week. Again, that makes the product itself worse than it needs to be.

So this is where MLB needs to take notice; perhaps let players play the games, and not umpires. A common hashtag I see league-wide is #umpshow. Fans use it when umpires seemingly get out of control and appear to aim to be “the show” (as opposed to the players). When you heap all of these regulations on umpires, they have to figure out which ones to enforce and how to do so. That’s what’s going on in the NFL right now – refs are confused. And it’s affecting the ratings.

Furthermore, and I’ve said this previously, replay reviews are out of control. In both the NFL and MLB, officials can review the play for as long as they want. And then they have to split hairs over what’s considered irrefutable evidence. In my view you should get two minutes to physically look at the play; if you don’t know after that amount of time, it’s inconclusive.

I recognize that officials in all sports are trying to do their best. No umpire or referee wants to get the call wrong. But in heaping so many rules, angles, regulations, etc. onto them, the lines between fair and foul are often being blurred. And if the NFL is any indication, it’s affecting viewership.

Baltimore Orioles: Is there a need for more weekday matinee’s?

Baltimore Orioles fans are probably asking themselves, “…Domenic, what in the name of pearl are you writing?!” And I get it folks – I really do! I’m the first one to tell you that it’s sometimes called fluff. You know, a column for the sake of writing a column. But when you’re marketing a new column such as I’m doing with The Orange Crush, you do what you have to do.

In looking at the Orioles’ 2017 schedule at this point, we see no times for the most part listed on the games. Those haven’t been decided as of yet, although I presume that the Orioles will for the most part stick to what they’ve done in the recent past. Monday-Friday home games at 7 PM, Saturdays at 4 or 7 PM, and Sundays at 1:30 PM. But should they consider a change?

And by a change, I don’t mean anything overly drastic. However weekday matinee’s seem to be a rarity in Baltimore. The Orioles occasionally will play an afternoon game during the week, but generally on the road. They’re almost always on a Wednesday or Thursday, and usually during the 1 PM (local time) hour.

I’m kind of a throwback to previous generations in that I have so much love and respect for the fact that the roots of the game are in afternoon games. However I recognize why the majority of games can’t be matinee’s any longer – not unless teams want attendance to dip so far that the sport itself becomes obscure. However an afternoon game on a weekday is really a special treat for fans, and if you sprinkle a few throughout the schedule over the course of 81 home games you probably won’t see a huge attendance dip.

Most teams schedule matinee’s on getaway days, which of course are the final games of a series. One or in many cases both teams are on the move immediately following the game. Often times the home team will schedule an afternoon game so that they and/or their opponent can get out of the city and onto their next destination early. In fact, the rare occasions that the Orioles do schedule afternoon games during the week are generally when they’re headed out west immediately following the game.

But speaking for myself, I think it’s something they should consider. It gives fans the opportunity to perhaps take a vacation day mid-week and head out to see a ballgame. It gives them the impression that they’re playing hooky or getting away with something. But that aside it’s a simple change from the status quo. And while players are creatures of habit, sometimes a change in the status quo is needed in the monotony of a 162-game season.

I see little chance of this happening, but one can hope. Presumably the Orioles have done studies and thus have come to the conclusion that they get better gate revenues for night games. And that probably goes without saying. But here and there, it probably wouldn’t hurt. Incidentally, I think that the weekend game times should stay right where they are. Saturday night games are perfect for a community like Baltimore, and obviously most Sunday games will be in the afternoon anyways. I could see moving Sunday games back to 1 PM, but now we’re splitting hairs!

Baltimore Orioles release Spring Training schedule for 2017

Amid the excitement for last night’s World Series game one, the Baltimore Orioles released their Spring Training schedule for 2017 earlier this week. What exactly does that mean for the here and now? Well, nothing much, although you can view the schedule by clicking here.

If you’re one of the thousands of fans who makes an annual pilgrimage to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota to see the Orioles during Spring Training, you can now start making your plans. The Birds actually start playing games in February next year, which seems earlier than normal. However they’ll begin on February 24th with two consecutive road games, against Detroit in Lakeland and then the next day against Pittsburgh in Bradenton.

The home opener at Ed Smith Stadium is on Sunday February 26th against Pittsburgh once again. As is usually the case, most of the games are at 1 PM. However the Orioles will play four evening games at Ed Smith Stadium next year. And I’ve always thought that was a smart thing to do, especially towards the end of Grapefruit League play. It gets players acclimated to playing night games as they generally do during the regular season.

Ironically, the Orioles will only host the NY Yankees once during Spring Training, on February 27th. They’ll host Boston, Tampa, and Toronto twice.  Philadelphia will make three appearances at Ed Smith Stadium, as will Detroit.

Keep in mind that it’s always challenging for the Birds to get their Grapefruit League schedule finalized. Teams literally line up to come and play the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium due to the great facility that the Birds have created there. Whereas when they trained in Fort Lauderdale teams wouldn’t want to come play them, in Sarasota they have to beat them away with a stick!

This year’s slate also includes a game against the Dominican Republic on March 7th as they prepare for the World Baseball Classic. Presumably this would not in theory count towards the Grapefruit League standings, which in reality count only in a kangaroo court-type setting. But it’s on the schedule, needless to say.

The Birds finish up on Thursday, March 30th in Sarasota against Detroit, but don’t open the regular season until the following Monday at home against Toronto. In the past they’ve scheduled some additional exhibition games, either against local Sarasota-area colleges, or in some cases against the Norfolk Tides. If anything like that is in the works, it hasn’t been announced as of yet. So there you have it Birds’ fans…get your reservations set for spring!

Baltimore Orioles: Jake Arrieta isn’t a conviction on the Birds’ coaching or methodology

As was covered here previously, two former Baltimore Orioles will be in the World Series for Chicago tonight: Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. For this purposes of this article, I’m going to focus more on Arrieta, mainly because he’s a starting pitcher. However also keep in mind that the Orioles drafted him, brought him through their system, and he began his big league career with the Birds.

Arrieta of course was traded in 2013 to Chicago for veteran Scott Feldman, who of course finished out the year with the Birds and then moved on. Arrieta since then has seen his career take off – and big time at that. Not only has he thrown two no-hitters since then, however he’s just been plain outstanding on the north side of Chicago. A lot of fans point to this as a reason to say that the Orioles have a poor organizational direction, among other things.

But is this fair? Arrieta had basically accomplished everything that he was going to accomplish in Baltimore. In fact, his departure was widely applauded by a great many Orioles fans. In effect, he’s what you call a classic change of air type of guy.

Many folks try to argue that Arrieta wasn’t allowed to pitch the way he truly wanted to pitch in Baltimore. However that’s incorrect; why would the Orioles truly be opposed to him using his most effective pitches? In reality, Arrieta’s issues began well before the current regime was in Baltimore. He rode the “Norfolk shuttle” far too often, and would get sent down and called back up almost weekly for a time. That seemingly continued even when the likes of Showalter arrived, however with the urgency to win today that couldn’t be helped.

So I suspect that when he went to Chicago, he got the same message(s), but delivered in a different manner and by different people. However again, many people will point to the fact that Arrieta is on a World Series team and say that obviously the Orioles are doing something wrong. Unfortunately folks, that’s just how the game works sometimes – for better or for worse.

I throw in that line, for better or for worse, for a reason. Do you think that Texas would have traded Chris Davis had they known what he would turn into? Could you imagine Davis playing in a bandbox like Texas 81 games a year? Sometimes these trades work out, and sometimes they don’t. Yet do people complain that Texas’ philosophy had to have thus been flawed?

The same is true with Mark Trumbo. What was Seattle thinking when they basically gave him to the Orioles? (In return for what amounted to a triple-A catcher…who later ended up getting suspended for twitter comments.) Point here is that you really have to have a narrow view of things if you’re going to say that the Orioles have a poor organization squarely because of the Arrieta trade. Sometimes these things work out, and sometimes they don’t.