Results tagged ‘ Baltimore Orioles ’

Baltimore Orioles: ChiSox look past the nose on their face with Tony LaRussa hire

The Baltimore Orioles will have a new/old face with whom to contend in 2021 when they play the Chicago White Sox. The “southsiders” have just (re) hired Tony LaRussa as their manager. It’s a return to his roots for LaRussa, 76, who’s first managerial job was with the ChiSox. He managed them from 1979-1986.

It was LaRussa’s ChiSox that were defeated by the Birds in the 1983 ALCS. Of course the O’s went onto win the World Series against Philadelphia that year, their third title. LaRussa was fired as Chicago’s manager midway through the 1986 season, and a few weeks later was hired as the manager of the Oakland Athletics. The rest, as they say, is history.

This is obviously a shocking move, and one heck of a splash by the ChiSox. And quite frankly, I applaud them. In a way, it goes against the grain of where people seem to want the sport to go. LaRussa’s certainly one of the greatest managers of all time, however at 76 those days appeared to be in the rearview mirror. It seems that fans and the league alike want both coaches and players to be younger now. To embrace analytics more…

…LaRussa’s obviously an old school coach. He’s the type who may not embrace analytics as much. But his prowess in the dugout can’t be second-guessed. So while the sport as a whole is going in one direction, the ChiSox kind of went back to their roots – in more ways than one. This is a classic case of someone looking past the nose on his face, and again I applaud that.

It’ll be interesting to see how exactly LaRussa handles himself. Because in a case like this (an old, albeit gifted coach returning to the game after an absence), there’s always a question of whether the game’s passed him by. We’ll obviously find out as time goes on next year, but again kudos to the ChiSox for looking past the nose on their face in their managerial search!

Baltimore Orioles: Baseball acumen triumphs in Fall Classic

Baltimore Orioles fans saw a division rival crash and burn in the World Series last night – the Tampa Rays. The sad thing is…it didn’t have to be that way. However manager Kevin Cash put his loyalty to metrics and analytics above sound baseball acumen.

Let me be clear; there’s a place in baseball for analytics. They say that stats don’t lie, and they don’t. However Kevin Cash and his Tampa Rays take it well past an extreme. I’ve said many times when they’ve been playing the Orioles that if there were a stat or a study which said that they had a better shot at recording an out on a given batter with the outfielders dressed as ballerina’s, they’d do it.

My point is this: everything in moderation. And that includes analytics. Last night in a World Series elimination game, Tampa led the LA Dodgers 1-0. (For the sake of clarity, it was an elimination game in the sense that LA needed one more win to clinch a World Series title. Had Tampa won they would have forced a game seven tonight.) Starter Blake Snell appeared to be pitching a gem. He had allowed no runs and a base hit through 5.1 innings (while striking out nine). That’s EXACTLY the type of outing you want from a pitcher in any circumstance, be it an exhibition game or an elimination game.

Snell allowed a second base hit in the last of the sixth inning. A singular base hit – he was otherwise pitching a gem, and LA was having trouble getting guys on base. And Tampa (and Snell) was winning the game. Yet out emerged Kevin Cash from the dugout to change pitchers.

The runner at first later scored on a wild pitch. Los Angeles would then take the lead on a fielder’s choice, and Mookie Betts would smack a solo homer in the eighth as an insurance run. All of that combined gave Dodger Blue it’s first World Series title since 1988.

But make no mistake, the World Series was lost from Tampa’s perspective the moment Kevin Cash left the dugout to remove Blake Snell. There’s no sound baseball logic since the beginning of time which has said you remove your starter in that situation. However apparently the metric said that Snell facing the Los Angeles order a third time (specifically Mookie Betts) around had a higher probability of securing a win than did leaving him in. That’s why the move was made.

And Tampa has a stellar bullpen. However you don’t lift a starter who’s pitching the way Snell was – REGARDLESS of what analytics say. You have to manage the game while having a feel for the game. However that’s just not the way younger managers are doing it. We saw the same thing last year in the World Series when AJ Hinch pitched to the Washington Nationals with first base open. Incidentally, Mookie Betts smacked a double in the at-bat where he otherwise would have faced Snell. The irony.

Again, analytics and metrics do play a role in the game. Odds are they always have to some degree. But to put all of your trust in a computer the way that Kevin Cash did last night, and in the way that countless others do everyday? Too much. As a manager you have to know what to do. There’s no a fan in America who thought Snell should have been pulled last night. Yet the one guy who’s opinion mattered most was the one guy who saw it as a good idea.

After the game Cash tried to defend or at least explain his actions:

We owe it to ourselves to bring it all together and try to make the best decisions. Some of the decisions I’ve made this postseason, they are gut-wrenching. You feel for Blake. What we try to do is put our team in the best position to win. I totally respect any opinion off of that.

The margin of error Blake was pitching with, I felt the different look would be beneficial.

Quote Courtesy of Gabe Lacques, USA Today

Even afterwards, he evasively tried to defend the decision. “Bring it all together and try to make the best decisions,” in essence means I’m using the analytics that are at my disposal. Again, analytics should play a role in all games. But should they take the place of true baseball acumen and feel for the game? The answer to that has to be a resounding NO!

Make no mistake, this will go down as one of the biggest managerial blunders in World Series history. There’s absolutely no question in my mind. And it allows old school guys such as myself the ability to rest easy tonight knowing that these ridiculous new age-type tactics DON’T NECESSARILY WORK.

Baltimore Orioles re-sign Stevie Wilkerson to a minor league deal

The Baltimore Orioles have re-signed Stevie Wilkerson to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Wilkerson completed physical therapy last week after fracturing his finger in Philadelphia during an exhibition game. It cost him the entire 2020 season.

Wilkerson is excited about getting back to the team following his injury. He’s also excited about the possibility of having a normal off season following the craziness of 2020. He and his wife are in the process of moving to Sarasota, FL, which of courser is where the Orioles train.

Just as a reminder, a minor league deal isn’t a guarantee that Wilkerson will make the big league roster. However I suspect he’ll find his way onto the 25-man roster that goes north next year coming out of spring training. I doubt they would have re-signed him if thy didn’t want him.

Baltimore Orioles: On hiatus

The Baltimore Orioles and the rest of the baseball world is paying attention to the LCS’ in both the American and National Leagues right now. And that’s about all that’s going on. There’s not much to report in terms of team news.

So for the time being, this column is going on a bit of a hiatus. If for whatever reason there’s news about the Orioles, it will be reported here. But usually that’s not the case during the post season. And who knows when things start popping again. I suspect a lot of that has to do with COVID.

Nevertheless, fans can always correspond with me on twitter, @DomenicVadala. But once things in the off season get popping again, we’ll be back here on Birdland Crush. Back and better than ever!

Baltimore Orioles: What does Tampa have that others do not?

The Baltimore Orioles have struggled with the Tampa Rays for years. But it’s not just the O’s. They’ve been a thorn in the AL East’s side for a long time. However Tampa and their $74 million payroll currently lead the ALCS one game to none.

So why is it that lady luck seems to smile on them in a sense? Why is it that they seem to play so loose…to the point to where their opponents are intimidated and they eventually make mistakes? What is it about them?

I mentioned their payroll above; they remain a young team, always. It seems that every few years they’re selling off assets and getting what appears to be peanuts in return (in the way of prospects). But somehow those peanuts turn into bigger pieces that seemingly will Tampa onto victory.

Look at it this way; the Tampa Rays as an organization are unafraid of failure. They’re willing to accept failure for a period if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Because that’s exactly what you’re doing when you trade for prospects. You’re playing not for today, but for five years from now. They’re willing to stink now to be great later.

Those characteristics are tough to find. Contrast that with the Orioles, who waited until well after the 2018 season was past salvaging to make their deals. Had they done that even a month prior, they probably would have gotten more for their players. That’s not to say that they got nothing, but you get my point.

Tampa also has to study game film better than any team out there. They find the smallest things, and if they’re able to expose those things to their advantage, they will. As I’ve said before, if there was a statistic which said this hitter is more likely to record an out if the team in the field is wearing pink leotards, the Tampa Rays would make that happen. They’re a very sharp organization, and they do their homework.

And that’s probably why they’ve made it as far as they did. They leave no stone unturned, well after their opponents have called it a day. They just keep plugging onward. And it’s worked.

Baltimore Orioles: Alternate realities and junction points

On this day in 1996, the Baltimore Orioles were all but screwed out of a possible game one win in the ALCS against the New York Yankees. We all know the story – a kid named Jeffrey Maier at the very least “assisted” in a Derek Jeter home run in the last of the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. The Birds held a slim one-run lead at the time, and they ended up losing in extra innings.

They did come back to win game two however, but dropped the series four games to one. Anytime I talk or write about this I always mention that the umpire who made the call of home run, Rich Garcia, admitted afterwards that he blew it. This was well before instant replay in baseball, and Garcia had to make a snap call on a play that occurred quickly. But to his credit he admitted later that he blew it. Not a lot of umpires are willing to do that.

Had that been called properly, Jeter probably would have been awarded second base. There’s nothing that guarantees he wouldn’t have still come around to score. The O’s still could have lost that game. But all things remaining the same, let’s say they had won that game. Would they have still lost the series?

That team had an excellent shot at a World Series title. Had that happened, would the history of the franchise have been altered? Manager Davey Johnson of course was let go following the equally as successful 1997 season – following a dispute over a charity with owner Peter Angelos. (Technically Johnson resigned, but he did so under pressure and would have been fired.) That set off a chain reaction of events that sent the Orioles into the basement – until 2012.

But again, let’s say the Maier incident was ruled properly. And let’s say that team won the World Series. Would Davey Johnson still have been in the hot water he was in when he was in it? Would he have remained the manager? It’s tough to say. But I do think that the history following that time period would have been different for the Orioles.

Ultimately Angelos would be viewed differently had he won a World Series that year. And maybe the embarrassments during the first decade of the 2000’s wouldn’t have happened. It’s tough to say though. Especially knowing how good Boston and New York were doing those years. But were they truly that great, or was some of their greatness at the expense of a divisional foe who at times seemed to be barely trying?

Speaking of 2012, remember that ALDS – again against New York? First off, the Orioles were just happy to be there. As were the fans. That team gave the city and the fans an amazing ride. And from the perspective of a guy who wrote about it, I’ll never forget it.

But the ALDS was tied at two games each going into game five, again at Yankee Stadium. With New York leading 1-0 in the sixth, Nate McLouth hit a long fly ball towards right with the bases loaded. The ball was ruled foul. And that foul ball ruling was upheld on replay.

I’ll be honest; I think that was the right call – upon replay, that is. The call on the field was a foul ball. And the replay has to be conclusive in order to reverse the call on the field. However I’ve always said (and many agree with me) that there was an ever-so-slight change in the rotation of the ball after it passed the foul pole. (Again…right field at Yankee Stadium!) It was very subtle, but in my view it was there. But was the evidence clear and convincing, and did it rise to the level or overturning the call on the field? Probably not.

But let’s say for a moment that they had done that. The O’s would have led 4-1 going into the latter innings of an elimination game. All other things being equal, the O’s would have won 5-3. And gone onto the ALCS.

Did that team have the skill to win a World Series? Probably not. But they would have gone onto the ALCS, and they would have had a shot from there. And who knows what a deeper playoff run would have meant in terms of free agent signings and so forth.

Obviously I think that the Maier incident affected the trajectory of the franchise more so than did the McLouth situation. But needless to say, had either one of them been handled differently it would have severely altered history. Both are very clear junction points for the franchise.

Baltimore Orioles: Fans at the Fall Classic

If fans of the Baltimore Orioles, or those of any other team for that matter, want to attend the 2020 World Series, they’ll be able to do so. The same is true of the League Championship Series’. These will be the first baseball games to admit fans since March when Spring Training was suspended.

I suppose the question is whether or not it’s a good idea. Seats will be sold in a manner that will allow fans to social distance and so forth, but it does call into question whether it’s truly safe. This year of course will also be the first time ever where a World Series (and the LCS’) will be played in a neutral park: the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark.

Coincidentally, the state of Florida yesterday approved the Miami Dolphins of the NFL to allow a capacity crowd of 65K plus at their games. The Dolphins aren’t going to do that, but they in theory could. We hear so much about super-spreader events and so forth, so you have to wonder if sporting events wouldn’t start to qualify as such if fans are starting to be allowed back in.

This week the NHL also announced that their intention is to begin their new season on January 1st. They also said that the intention is for fans to be admitted. That’s a big different because hockey’s played indoors. So who knows how good or bad an idea having fans at any of these games are. I think it goes without saying that everyone in attendance would need to wear a mask. But once people start drinking and so forth – is it truly reasonable to expect those masks to stay on?

Hopefully the Fall Classic goes off without a spike in Coronavirus cases. Aside from a rough start, MLB actually did a reasonably decent job of protecting players and coaches. Hopefully that extends to fans as well.

Baltimore Orioles: Will bullpen management change in 2021?

My personal opinion is that Brandon Hyde is doing a great job in the Baltimore Orioles’ dugout. Furthermore he seems committed to the organization, which also seems committed to him. A lot of young managers take a job in a rebuild assuming he’ll be fired at some point. Hyde doesn’t seem overly concerned about that.

But there is one area this year which made me raise my eyebrows. I noticed that he had an incredibly quick hook on his starting pitchers. Now in some instances that’s necessary. You don’t want a pitcher out there embarrassing himself. Especially a young guy.

But I felt like there were other games where the O’s were losing games in the 2-0 range, only to have the starter lifted in the fourth inning. I’m not sure if that’s the way Hyde intends to manage in the future, or if that had more to do with the sixty-game season.

There are plenty of people, both analysts and fans alike, who would argue that short starts are where the game is headed. As in the future will be guys pitching maybe three innings in games. Basically a perpetual slate of bullpen games.

So in that sense Hyde may be riding the wave to the future. My personal opinion is that it would be overly-taxing on too many pitchers to have a system like that. But who knows.

I’ll be interested to see next year how he manages the bullpen. Does that trend continue, or are pitchers given the liberty to go deeper into games?

Baltimore Orioles: 2020 season in review

2020 was perhaps the strangest season in Baltimore Orioles’ history. Well, strike that – in MLB history. After a lengthy delay due to COVID-19, the league opened it’s season in late July. The Birds opened against Boston at Fenway Park – and were promptly blown out by Boston.

But we also saw shades of what the 2020 Orioles were truly all about that weekend at Fenway. The O’s took the other two games of the series. This was a team that bounced back quickly from bad losses, and who wasn’t about to hang their heads for long.

This team had it’s ups and downs. They were swept by Miami, but swept Washington and Philadelphia. And in the process, they found that they had some great pieces going forward.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year was Anthony Santander, who ended up being the Most Valuable Oriole. This despite playing in only 37 games due to a late season injury. Santander hit only .261 on the year, however he was clutch. He always came through when the O’s needed a late hit or run-scoring play. That’s something we’ve seen in Baltimore previously in other players. However it’s a tough trait to find.

The Birds also found some pieces to take forward in the pitching department, such as Thomas Eshelman, Dean Kremer, and Keegan Akin. Where any of these players winds up next year in terms of on the roster, in the minors, and/or in the bullpen depends largely on their spring outings. But that’s also true of a lot of guys.

Again, the O’s had their ups and downs this year. They were streaky. Yet by virtue of the 60-game season, they stayed in mathematical playoff contention until the final week. And that’s due in large part to their never-say-die attitude. We saw it time and time again over the course of the sixty games. And given that the nucleus of the team is expected to at least be similar in 2021, I would expect to see that same trait next year.

For the record, my season prediction was that the O’s wouldn’t finish in the basement of the AL East. I was correct in that. They won 25 games, and Boston won 24. So I was correct by exactly one game. However more importantly, they did improve year-over-year. In 2019 the O’s had a win percentage of .317 (over 162 games). This year it raised to .417 (over sixty games).

Granted the number of games is different, but that translates to 67.5 wins in a 162 game season. This as opposed to last year’s 54 wins. So if you look at it from that perspective they’re trending in the right direction. Whether that progress goes into next season remains to be seen. But in certain senses, 2020 was a success for the O’s.

Baltimore Orioles: Changes on the coaching staff

It appears that there are two upcoming changes to the Baltimore Orioles’ coaching staff. Third base coach Jose Flores and pitching coach Doug Brocail will not be returning. The team hasn’t confirmed these moves, but it appears that both coaches were told their contracts weren’t being renewed.

It’s unclear why this is going to happen, or when their replacements will be named. It could just be an economic thing more than anything else. Or philosophical. Who knows. All we know is that Brocail and Flores appear to be out.

I would say this; the pitching coach position is one that the Orioles need to get right. Not only because of the youth and inexperience on their starting staff, but also because it’s been a long time since they’ve had stability and continuity in that position. Guys have come and gone over a great many years. So for the sake of their young starters, they need to find someone who has some staying power this time around.

%d bloggers like this: