Showing posts with label Baltimore Orioles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baltimore Orioles. Show all posts

Thursday, October 6, 2016

'You don't use your closer in a non-save situation'? Nonsense

Buck Showalter (left) and Terry Collins
Biggest takeaway from the wild-card playoff games this week: One manager lost because he failed to use his closer in a non-save situation; another manager lost because he did use his closer in a non-save situation.

Countless times through the years, I've heard fans and even some media members remark that you're not supposed to use your closer in non-save situations. The argument for this is the idea that closers are successful only because of the adrenaline rush that goes along with a save situation, so they can't pitch effectively if that carrot isn't dangling in front of them.

Nonsense.

I'm of the school of thought that it's never a bad play to bring your closer, who is presumably your best or second-best reliever, into a tie game. Does it make sense to save your closer for a save situation that might never present itself? I don't believe so.

That means I will join the chorus of people who have criticized Baltimore manager Buck Showalter for bringing in Ubaldo Jimenez to face the top of the Toronto batting order with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning in a 2-2 tie Tuesday in the AL wild-card game.

Jimenez, he of the 5.44 ERA, needed just five pitches to blow the Orioles' season. Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson singled for Toronto, setting the table for Edwin Encarnacion to hit a three-run homer and send the Blue Jays to the ALDS with a 5-2 win.

Meanwhile, Zach Britton sat unused in the Baltimore bullpen. Britton is the best reliever in baseball this year, and he's a legitimate candidate for the AL Cy Young award. He was 47 for 47 in save opportunities, has a ridiculous 0.54 ERA, and has held right-handed batters to a .155 average this season. Travis, Donaldson and Encarnacion are all right-handed.

In the face of these facts, does anyone want to argue that Jimenez was the right choice? Does anyone want to argue that you don't use your closer in a non-save situation? I wouldn't think so.

Incredibly, Showalter's move is now conventional wisdom in the game. MLB Network's Brian Kenny had a useful discussion on the air Wednesday, where his research showed that managers used their closer in situations such as Baltimore's on Tuesday just 27 percent of the time in 2016. We're talking about spots where you're on the road, the game is tied in the ninth inning or later, and you need your pitcher to put a zero up in the bottom of the inning to force an extra inning.

So, 73 percent of the time, managers are using non-closers in those spots. That seems like a very high number, and to me, that's not smart baseball.

In contrast, I cannot blame New York Mets manager Terry Collins for his club's 3-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants in Wednesday's NL wild-card game.

The situation was a little bit different, of course, because the Mets were playing at home. The game was scoreless into the ninth inning, and there was no chance at that point for a save situation to arise for New York closer Jeurys Familia.

With everything on the line in the ninth, Collins wisely went to his best reliever, Familia, who screwed the pooch. Familia gave up a double to Brandon Crawford, a walk to Joe Panik and a three-run homer to former White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie.

That was all San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner needed, as the left-hander continued his postseason mastery by throwing a complete-game, four-hit shutout.

From the Giants' perspective, credit goes to Bumgarner and Gillaspie, and from the Mets' perspective, Familia is wearing the goat horns. Collins made the right move. It didn't work.

You see, I like to judge a manager's moves on the philosophy and logic behind the decision more than the result. Baseball is a game where the right move still can lead to a bad result, and sometimes a move that makes no sense comes up aces.

Philosophically, from my perspective, it's never wrong to use your best reliever with the game on the line. If that reliever fails, it's on him. However, it is wrong to leave your best reliever sitting in the bullpen while a lesser pitcher flushes your season down the toilet.


Monday, August 8, 2016

White Sox drop two out of three to first-place Orioles

Carlos Rodon
The White Sox threw the back end of their starting rotation against one of the American League's most powerful lineups this weekend at U.S. Cellular Field.

Predictable results ensued, as the hard-hitting Baltimore Orioles maintained their slim lead in the American League East by taking two out of three games from the South Siders.

Let's reflect back on the weekend's action:

Friday, Aug. 5
Orioles 7, White Sox 5: Baltimore never trailed in this game as it jumped on Sox starter Miguel Gonzalez for a run in the second inning and three more in the third to take an early 4-0 lead.

The Sox got two back in the fourth, highlighted by Jose Abreu's 13th home run of the season, and to his credit, Gonzalez (2-6) settled in and kept the score close at 4-2 through six innings.

Unfortunately, attrition has taken its toll on the Sox bullpen, and the unreliable arms now outnumber the reliable ones. That means manager Robin Ventura at times has to roll the dice and hope some lesser relievers can keep games such as this one close in the late innings.

This was one of those times where that completely blew up on the Sox, as Tommy Kahnle allowed three runs on four hits in just one-third of inning. The Orioles increased their lead to 7-2, and wouldn't you know it, the Sox countered with three of their own in the bottom of the inning to make it close again. Too bad Kahnle failed to keep the score at 4-2, huh?

The Sox ran themselves out of the inning in the bottom of the eighth. They scored three runs to make it 7-5, and had runners on second and third with only one out for Adam Eaton. The Sox outfielder grounded out to first for the second out, and Dioner Navarro -- the runner at third -- strayed too far off base and was thrown out trying to get back to bag.

That was a bad baserunning double play, and with it, the Sox squandered their best chance to tie the game. Typical White Sox nonsense.

Saturday, Aug. 6
White Sox 4, Orioles 2: Sox lefty Carlos Rodon got a no-decision in this game, but his performance was the most encouraging part of the win.

Rodon was in big trouble in the top of the first inning with runners on first and third and nobody out -- and a 3-0 count on Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado. Using a fastball that hit 100 mph and a devastating slider, Rodon rallied to strike out Machado. Then, he struck out Mark Trumbo and Steve Pearce to escape the inning with no runs allowed.

Rodon ended up with five consecutive strikeouts after he began the second inning by fanning Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy. He went six innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits. He finished with seven strikeouts and walked just two. He left the mound with the score tied at 2.

The Sox hung a rare loss on Baltimore ace Chris Tillman (14-4) by scoring a run in the seventh on an RBI single by rookie catcher Omar Narvaez. Eaton added his ninth home run of the season for an insurance run in the eighth, making a winner of Nate Jones (5-2), who worked 1.1 innings of scoreless relief.

Closer David Robertson got three outs for his 27th save in 31 opportunities.

Sunday, Aug. 7
Orioles 10, White Sox 2: I had to back off my criticism of the James Shields trade for a little while after he put together six consecutive quality starts. But now that Shields had allowed 14 runs over his last 2.1 innings, I think I can go back to talking about what a stupid decision it was to acquire him.

The Sox were trailing 10-0 after three innings, thanks to the latest Shields meltdown. On Sunday, he gave up as many home runs as he recorded outs (four). He lasted just 1.1 innings, allowing eight earned runs on six hits. Not a single one of those hits was cheap.

Machado made a little bit of history by homering three times in three at bats in the first three innings. He drove in seven of Baltimore's 10 runs. The first two homers were off Shields, the last was off Matt Albers.

There were few positives for the Sox, although Abreu homered for the third time in four days. He's up to 14 on the season now.

After three innings, and given the thin nature of the Sox bullpen, I thought this one might end with Baltimore scoring 20-plus runs and the Sox using position players to pitch.

Mercifully, Kahnle, Carson Fulmer and Michael Ynoa combined to throw six innings of garbage-time, scoreless relief.

Don't worry, folks, the Sox will be out from underneath Shields' contract at the end of the 2018 season.

Friday, April 29, 2016

John Danks torpedoes another White Sox winning streak

John Danks is 0-4 in four starts.
From April 9 to 15, the White Sox won five games in a row. John Danks put a stop to that by getting shelled in Tampa Bay on April 16.

The Sox won six games in a row this week. Danks put a stop to that Thursday by getting shelled in Baltimore.

The veteran left-hander was staked to an early 2-0 lead on Todd Frazier's first-inning home run, but it was all downhill from there as the Orioles clobbered the South Siders, 10-2.

Danks lasted five-plus innings, allowing six runs on nine hits. He struck out four and walked two, one of which was a four-pitch free pass to Baltimore's No. 9 hitter, Caleb Joseph, in the third inning. That walk started a four-run Orioles rally that featured back-to-back home runs by Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo. By the time the fourth inning rolled around, the Sox were facing a 5-2 deficit.

Baltimore broke it open with five in the sixth. Jake Petricka, providing no relief, gave up a grand slam to Manny Machado, but realistically, the game was lost early when Danks let it get away from him.

The Sox are 16-7 through 23 games, but Danks is 0-4. His ERA has swelled to 7.25. His WHIP sits at an unsightly 1.746.

Danks' woes have created the first crisis for the Sox in this 2016 season. As we've stated before, we can't attribute this slow start to a small sample size, because Danks finished last year on a struggling note. If you combine his final 10 starts of 2015 with his first four starts of this year, you come up with an ugly 1-11 record and a 5.13 ERA.

"It's been a pretty miserable April," Danks said in this MLB.com article. "I'm just not throwing enough strikes, just not throwing enough quality strikes. There's been games where I can full on eliminate a pitch, because it doesn't have a chance."

If you can believe it, Danks' velocity is down from last year. His average fastball velocity is 87.90 mph through four starts this season. That's only six miles an hour quicker than his changeup, which sits at 81.16 on average. They say you want an average variance of 9 to 11 mph between those two pitches, so Danks' reduced velocity is really killing him. It's hard to tell the difference between the fastball and the change. To the hitters' eye, it all looks the same. Danks is easy pickings for a hard-hitting team such as the Orioles right now.

By way of comparison, his fastball velocity in 2015 averaged 89.86. Danks had 15 starts, most of them toward the end of last year, where his fastball averaged 90 mph. If he touches 90 with his four-seamer, that's at least enough to give him a fighting chance with the 81 mph changeup. Right now, those lost three ticks on his fastball have put him in a situation where he needs to be pinpoint with his command, and he has been anything but pinpoint.

The Sox have to be thinking about making a change at the back of the rotation at this point. We've already seen Miguel Gonzalez come up for a spot start. Other viable options from Triple-A Charlotte include Erik Johnson and Jacob Turner.

General manager Rick Hahn has addressed several problems on this team since the end of last season -- a new third baseman, a new catching duo, a new second baseman, a new shortstop, an upgraded outfield defense. The Sox have the look of a contender, and they've come too far to show too much patience with Danks.

I'd be inclined to make a change now, but at most Danks should get no more than two more starts to pull himself together. It's hard to sustain winning streaks when you've got one starting pitcher who is putting you in a three-, four-, or five-run hole in the early innings more often than not.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Orioles add Pedro Alvarez to a lineup that already has a DH

Pedro Alvarez
Former Pittsburgh Pirates 1B/3B Pedro Alvarez agreed Monday to a one-year, $5.75 million contract with the Baltimore Orioles.

Alvarez was No. 2 on our list of top 5 remaining free agents going into March (posted earlier this week), and he figures to add power to an already-potent Baltimore lineup. Alvarez has clubbed 101 home runs over the past four seasons. Last year, he hit .243/.318/.469 with 27 home runs and 77 RBIs in 150 games with the Pirates. He also struck out 131 times.

Pittsburgh, being a National League team, most likely parted ways with Alvarez because he is a defensive liability at both first base and third base. The Orioles have Chris Davis at first base and Manny Machado at third base, which means they can have Alvarez serve as designated hitter and hide his deficiencies with the glove.

There's just one problem with that: Where does that leave Mark Trumbo? I would have projected Trumbo as Baltimore's DH before this Alvarez move. Now, Trumbo is probably going to play right field, where he's just as big of a defensive problem as Alvarez would be at first base.

I wonder if the Orioles will try Davis in right field and have Trumbo play first. I'm not sure that's any better, but I won't be surprised if Baltimore manager Buck Showalter at least experiments with that defensive look during spring ball.

Baltimore is going to score some runs this season. Adam Jones, Davis, Machado, Trumbo, Alvarez, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy; they have a deep lineup with plenty of guys who can hit the ball off the wall and over it.

I question whether the Orioles have enough starting pitching to contend in the AL East. With a projected rotation of Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo, Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman, there isn't an ace in that group -- unless the 25-year-old Gausman, a former first-round draft pick, takes a giant leap forward.

I think Baltimore is going to need to play good defense behind that questionable rotation, but it looks to me like there are too many weak gloves in its projected lineup. That's going to drive Showalter crazy, as he is known as a manager who values good defense.

If the Orioles are to be a playoff team in 2016, they are going to have to outslug the opposition on most nights.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

OK, so Dexter Fowler is actually rejoining the Cubs

What the hell is going on with Baltimore?

Yesterday, it looked like Dexter Fowler was the new Orioles right fielder. Today, he has signed a one-year deal to remain with the Cubs.

Fowler’s deal with the Cubs will guarantee him $13 million and could be worth a total of $17 million if both sides pick up a mutual option for 2017, according to an ESPN report. Fowler will make $8 million this season and has a $5 million buyout if he does not receive the $9 million second-year option.

Earlier reports said Fowler had agreed to a three-year, $33 million contract with Baltimore, but reports indicate talks broke down when the Orioles did not grant Fowler's request for an opt-out clause.

Um, OK.

Meanwhile, the Orioles also restructured an agreement with pitcher Yovani Gallardo. The two sides initially agreed to a three-year, $35 million deal, but concerns about the pitcher's shoulder arose during a medical examination.

Gallardo still is signing with the Orioles, but he's going there on a two-year deal worth $22 million that includes an option for a third year, according to an ESPN report.

Hopefully that sets the record straight. I don't think I'm going to write anything more about the Orioles this week. Wait five minutes and the story could change again.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Orioles put Gallardo deal on hold, agree on terms with Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler
Remember what we said about the Baltimore Orioles signing pitcher Yovani Gallardo? Never mind, at least for now. That deal is on hold after questions about the veteran right-hander's health emerged during a team physical.

This isn't the first time Baltimore has uncovered issues with a free-agent pitcher during a medical examination. Remember Grant Balfour? The Orioles spiked a deal they had with him in 2013 over a problem they found during a physical. Balfour ended up signing with Tampa Bay, and never pitched well during his time with the Rays. He ended up being released before the completion of his two-year contract.

With the Gallardo deal possibly unraveling, the Orioles added to their offense on Tuesday, agreeing to terms on a three-year, $33 million contract with outfielder Dexter Fowler.

Fowler, 29, hit .250/.346/.411 with 17 home runs and 46 RBIs in 156 games with the Cubs last year. He figures to bat leadoff for Orioles, as he did in Chicago, but with Adam Jones anchoring center field in Baltimore, Fowler is destined for a move to a corner outfield spot.

Fowler's free agency didn't seem to generate a lot of interest because of a qualifying offer. The Cubs offered him the one-year, $15.8 million deal, which Fowler declined. As a result, the Orioles now owe the Cubs a draft pick.

Orioles surrender draft pick, sign Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo
One significant signing from the weekend I neglected to mention: The Baltimore Orioles signed pitcher Yovani Gallardo to a three-year deal worth a reported $35 million.

Gallardo rejected a qualifying offer from his previous club -- the Texas Rangers -- so that means the Orioles had to surrender a draft pick to sign him.

No doubt, that's why Gallardo stayed on the market for this long. Despite a rising WHIP and a declining strikeout rate, Gallardo has made 30 or more starts for seven consecutive seasons. There's value in that. He won 13 games and posted a 3.42 ERA for the Rangers in 2015.

There's no question Baltimore needed to address its starting rotation, which finished next-to-last in ERA and third-to-last in innings pitched last season. The Orioles had one of the weakest starting staffs in the American League by any measure, and then they lost Wei-Yin Chen to the Miami Marlins in free agency.

The Orioles now add Gallardo to a projected rotation that includes Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman.

Is it enough? I say no, because Gallardo represents more of the same. He's a middle-of-the-rotation guy on a staff that's already fill of middle-of-the-rotation guys. Who can the Orioles trust to be the ace? They simply don't have one.

Baltimore has a good offense, and I'm sure that would be the reason for optimism for them and their fans. Problem is, they play in a division that is full of good offenses. The Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox are certainly going to score a lot of runs. The New York Yankees are likely going to score a lot of runs. Only the Tampa Bay Rays figure to struggle offensively among AL East teams.

The Orioles are going to have to score a lot to overcome their pitching issues, and it's going to be a tall order to outslug lineups such as those in Toronto and Boston.

As for impact on the White Sox, the Orioles surrendering their pick moves the South Siders up from No. 28 to No. 27 in the draft order, so there's that.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Chris Davis gets big bucks from Orioles; Ian Kennedy to Royals

Chris Davis
It pays to be a left-handed slugger. It also pays to have Scott Boras as your agent.

The Baltimore Orioles on Saturday agreed with first baseman Chris Davis on a seven-year, $161 million contract. The deal reportedly includes a limited no-trade clause.

I'm shocked Davis got this kind of money, especially in what has been a cool market for free-agent hitters. Sure, Davis hit a league-leading 47 home runs last year and amassed 117 RBIs, but he's also just two years removed from a 2014 season where he hit just .196 and got suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.

Also, if you look at the 29-year-old's career, he only had two good years in his 20s -- 2013 and 2015. What in the world makes the Orioles believes Davis will be productive for seven years into his 30s? 

It will not happen, and you have to wonder whether Boras got Baltimore to bid against itself in this deal.

This signing could be good news or bad news if you're a White Sox fan, depending on your perspective. First the good news: the Orioles won't be signing Yoenis Cespedes now. As recently as Friday, we heard reports that Baltimore was offering the free-agent outfielder a five-year deal worth $90 million -- an offer the Sox would be unlikely to match or beat. But now that the Orioles have made their move to sign a hitter, that's one less potential landing spot in play for Cespedes or Justin Upton.

Now for the bad news: If Davis is worth seven years and $161 million, then aren't both Cespedes and Upton now in position to demand at least that much money and years, if not more? If that's what the market will bear, then the Sox aren't going to pay. And I'm not sure they should, frankly.

Kansas City signs RHP Kennedy

Speaking of questionable contracts, how about the Royals giving $70 million over five years to Ian Kennedy?

Kennedy was great in 2011 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he's never been able to duplicate that success:

2011: 21-4, 2.88 ERA
2012: 15-12, 4.02 ERA
2013: 7-10, 4.91 ERA
2014: 13-13, 3.63 ERA
2015: 9-15, 4.28 ERA

Kennedy's 4.28 ERA last year came with pitcher-friendly San Diego as his home ballpark, so that doesn't bode well for a smooth transition to the American League.

In fairness, there are a few things that might make this OK for the Royals. First, their outfield defense is much better than San Diego's, and that should benefit a fly-ball pitcher such as Kennedy. Secondly, Kennedy has previously worked with pitching coach Dave Eiland; both were in the New York Yankees system when Kennedy was a young prospect.

Third, the Royals looked similarly foolish when they signed Edinson Volquez, who like Kennedy had his fair share of struggles in the National League. As it turns out, Volquez has turned his career around in Kansas City and been solid under Eiland's tutelage.

Kansas City is obviously banking on a similar improvement from Kennedy.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

White Sox vs. Orioles -- no fans allowed; I watched it on TV

I had a chance to watch Wednesday's game between the White Sox and Baltimore Orioles on TV, and as expected, it was a little weird to be watching a game where no fans were in attendance.

The ballpark was closed to the public because of the recent rioting in Baltimore, so nobody saw the Orioles thump the Sox, 8-2, in person except for some scouts and assorted members of the media.

I have to say the game felt extremely odd for the first three or four innings, but after that I got used to it.

For at least the past 30 years, I've been listening to White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson say "Souvenir, right side" every single time a right-handed hitter hits a foul ball over the first-base dugout. Sox first baseman Jose Abreu hit just such a ball in the top of the first inning Wednesday, and Harrelson caught himself in mid-sentence, realizing that foul ball would not be a "souvenir" for anybody on the "right side," because there were no fans in the park. Harrelson instead said, ".... And ... that's a foul ball into the upper deck." For one afternoon, he was forced to drop one of his familiar catchphrases.

A fielding error by Abreu opened the door for the Orioles to have a big inning in the bottom of the first, and have a big inning they did. Baltimore scored six runs off Sox starter Jeff Samardzija to put the game out of reach early, and it was quite bizarre to hear no cheers coming from the crowd while the hometown Orioles were playing well.

Chris Davis launched a 3-run homer well over the right-field fence during that six-run rally. It was the kind of shot that always draws a reaction from the crowd, even if it's hit by a member of the visiting team, but in this case all you heard was the crack of the bat and then silence. It was eerie in a way.

Later, Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones made a fine running catch on a drive off the bat of Sox catcher Geovany Soto. Again, the cheers were conspicuous by their absence.

The Orioles enjoyed an 8-2 lead by the time the fifth inning concluded, and with the outcome no longer in doubt, I felt like hitters from both sides started giving away at-bats over the final four innings. I saw a lot of first-pitch swings and a lot of quick outs. The game was played in just one hour, 58 minutes. It seemed like the players were eager for the whole ordeal to be over, and I can hardly blame them for that.

As I watched the late innings, the game started to feel like your usual run-of-the-mill blowout, the kind where the crowd leaves early to beat traffic. There was nothing notable happening in the game, so the lack of cheers, boos or otherwise was less significant.

Any in case, I've never watched a game like this before, because there never has been a game like this before. Hopefully, nothing like this ever happens again. No one wants to see any city burn like Baltimore has the past couple days, and you hope Major League Baseball never has to take safety precautions like this again.

This was a one-of-a-kind game. As far as I'm concerned, it can stay that way.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Royals take 2-0 lead in ALCS; Bumgarner dominates Cardinals in NLCS

The Baltimore Orioles hadn't lost back-to-back home games since June 28-29 -- until the Kansas City Royals came in and won the first two games of the American League championship series.

The Royals scored two runs in the top of the ninth inning Saturday to come away with a 6-4 victory in Game 2 of the ALCS. They'll take a 2-0 series lead back to Kansas City, where the series resumes Monday night.

I'm happy for the Royals and their long-suffering fans, but as I watched Saturday's ninth inning unfold, I couldn't help but have a bit of sympathy for Baltimore fans. That game-deciding rally by the Royals was death by 1,000 cuts for the Orioles, and as a White Sox fan, I've seen that movie before in games against Kansas City.

Here's how the Royals manufactured their two runs: a swinging bunt infield single, a sacrifice bunt, a perfectly placed RBI double right down the first-base line, an error and a ground ball through a drawn-in infield for an RBI single.

As we noted yesterday, Kansas City has been on a power surge lately, and it got another home run from Mike Moustakas on Saturday -- his fourth of the postseason -- but the aforementioned go-ahead double by Alcides Escobar was more indicative of what we typically see from the Royals offense.

They swing for contact, they put the ball in play, they "hit 'em where they ain't," and they run the bases well. In that RBI situation, Escobar wasn't trying to do anything heroic. He hit the ball to the opposite field. It happened to be in the right spot, and he got the desired result.

When your team is playing against the Royals, you feel like they should be able to stop them, but they can't. Kansas City often creates rallies out of nothing. They put the ball in play. They come at you with speed. They keep the pressure on. They force teams to execute defensively.

That approach is the opposite of what you see from a lot of teams today, where offenses are focused on being "dangerous" at all times and hitters don't care if they strike out while swinging for extra-base hits. For the most part, the Royals are looking to single and double teams to death, and they just might ride that all the way to the World Series. They are now just two wins away.

Giants blank Cardinals in NLCS opener

There is no underdog story on the National League side of the bracket. The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals have combined to win the last four NL pennants. This NLCS is a clash of the usual suspects, with most people picking the Cardinals to win.

The Giants, however, drew first blood with a 3-0 victory behind ace Madison Bumgarner on Saturday in St. Louis.

The San Francisco left-hander set a postseason record for most consecutive scoreless innings pitched on the road. He ran his streak to 26.2 innings with 7.2 spotless frames in this Game 1. He hasn't given up a run on the road in the postseason since 2010.

In case you were wondering, the previous record was 23, held by some guy named Art Nehf, who pitched in the 1920s. Kudos to any reader who knows anything about Nehf.

The Giants have now won 12 of their last 13 postseason games dating back to their World Series win in 2012. St. Louis is known for being at its best in October -- the Cardinals have made the NLCS four years in row -- but San Francisco also seems to save its best ball for the playoffs.

The teams face off in Game 2 on Sunday night.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Royals win ALCS Game 1 with more home runs

The Kansas City Royals on Friday became the first team in history to win four extra-inning games in the same postseason with an 8-6, 10-inning victory over the Baltimore Orioles in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

The Royals won only five extra-inning games the entire regular season, but now they've won four of them in about a week on their way to a 5-0 record thus far in the playoffs.

The most surprising part of this development is Kansas City is doing it with home run power. The Royals had the fewest home runs of any team in the league, 95, while their opponent in this series led the AL with 211. You would think the Orioles would be the team hitting home runs to win games, but you'd be wrong.

On Friday, Alex Gordon's solo home run off Darren O'Day broke a 5-5 tie in the top of the 10th inning. Later, Mike Moustakas hit a two-run shot off Brian Matusz, his first home run off a left-handed pitcher in two and a half months, to make it 8-5. Baltimore scored one run in the bottom of the 10th, but could not recover from the three-run deficit.

The Royals also won two of their games in the ALDS on extra-inning home runs, one by Moustakas and one by Eric Hosmer.

Why the sudden power surge? Who knows, but the Royals have shown remarkable resiliency for a team with no postseason experience. James Shields, the Kansas City ace, was not effective in Friday night's game, letting an early 5-1 lead slip away. It didn't matter. The Royals kept their composure and found a way to win, just as they have since the playoffs began.

As an aside, one of the most annoying things about this postseason has been listening to commentators repeatedly referring to Shields as "Big Game James." Now, Shields has been a solid pitcher in the American League for several years, but let's remember he's 3-4 with a 5.19 ERA in nine career postseason starts. Some announcers seemed to have deluded themselves into believing "Big Game James" is lights out in the playoffs. Don't let the nickname fool you. He is not.

The Royals bullpen, however, has been lights out, and Friday was no exception. Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis each fired two shutout innings. Neither man gave up a hit. Davis struck out four of the six men he faced.

Perhaps the key to the whole game was the shutdown inning Davis posted in the bottom of the ninth. In the top half of the inning, Baltimore closer Zach Britton walked the bases loaded with nobody out. But, Hosmer and Billy Butler failed to produce any runs, with Butler grounding into a double play against O'Day to end the threat.

The momentum seemed to swing to the Orioles side at that point, but Davis would have none of it. He fired a clean inning and got the Royals right back to the plate quickly, and then Kansas City scored three runs to take the lead.

Closer Greg Holland was a little shaky in the 10th, giving up a two-out run, but the insurance runs Moustakas provided with his two-run homer proved to be the difference.

Game 2 is Saturday afternoon, and it's a big one for the Orioles. With the way the Royals have been playing, I don't think Baltimore wants to head to Kansas City down 0-2 in this best-of-seven series.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Thursday produces two wins for perceived ALDS underdogs

The prevailing wisdom says the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels are on a collision course to meet in the American League Championship Series.

Naturally, the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals have other ideas, and both perceived underdogs threw a wrench in that plan Thursday with Game 1 victories in AL Division Series action.

The Orioles took advantage of Detroit's leaky defense and lousy bullpen by scoring eight runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, breaking open a tight contest on their way to a 12-3 victory.

Meanwhile, third baseman Mike Moustakas hit a solo home run in the top of the 11th inning to lift the Royals to a 3-2 win over the Angels.

Baltimore's rotation: Better than we think?

Anyone else think the experts are underestimating the Orioles? They won 96 games this year. They must have done something right.

I keep hearing Detroit has an overpowering edge in starting pitching. I'll be honest: I disagree with that. Detroit's starting pitchers are all prominent media names, but they haven't necessarily pitched better than the guys in the Baltimore rotation throughout the season.

We saw today how things don't always go the way you might expect. Quite a few observers assumed Detroit ace Max Scherzer was going to own Baltimore's Game 1 starter, Chris Tillman.

That did not happen. Tillman only lasted five innings, but he allowed just two runs and left the mound with his team leading, 3-2. He ended up getting the win.

Scherzer took the loss, allowing five earned runs over 7.1 innings pitched.

Shocking? Not really.

Scherzer had a 3.15 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP this year. In comparison, Tillman had a 3.34 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. Sure, you would have to give Scherzer the edge on paper in that matchup, but not decisively so.

The Game 2 matchup in this series is an interesting one. Detroit's Justin Verlander has the Cy Young awards and the playoff experience. He also has a puffy 4.54 ERA, his worst since the 2008 season. Baltimore's Wei-Yin Chen is unfamiliar to casual fans, but don't underestimate him: He won 16 games this year and posted a 3.54 ERA -- a full run better than Verlander. It's hard to bet against Verlander in the playoffs, but his mound opponent is formidable. Game 2 is hardly a slam dunk for the Tigers.

Looking ahead to Game 3, Detroit will send David Price to the mound against Baltimore's Miguel Gonzalez. Again, Price has a Cy Young award and the playoff experience. But it's Gonzalez who posted the better ERA this year (3.23 to 3.26).

This isn't to say the Detroit starters won't ultimately outpitch the Baltimore starters over the course of this five-game series. They might. But keep this in mind: The Orioles have a great chance to win if their starters are good enough to keep the game close into the late innings.

Here's why: Baltimore has a nasty bullpen. Closer Zach Britton and his power 96 mph sinker totaled 37 saves and a 1.65 ERA this year. The Orioles have a outstanding lefty-righty combination setting him up. Midseason acquisition Andrew Miller had a 1.35 ERA in 23 games with the O's since coming over from Boston. Darren O'Day, the right-handed setup guy, posted a 1.70 ERA this season.

We saw all three of those relievers in Thursday's game. The Tigers found out they are pretty tough to beat.

Two of the relievers Detroit is counting on to work in high-leverage situations, Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria, contributed to that eight-run eighth inning meltdown in this opening loss. You better believe the bullpen is a huge concern for the Tigers. Detroit's 4.29 bullpen ERA was third worst in the majors this year.

Yes, Detroit has a bit of an edge in starting pitching, primarily because of all that playoff experience among Scherzer, Verlander and Price. However, I don't believe it's a huge edge. If there's a huge edge in this series, it's the advantage the Baltimore bullpen enjoys over the Detroit relievers.

All the Oriole starters really need to do is keep it close into the late innings. That's what Tillman did Thursday. Baltimore got its desired result.

Can the Royals pull it off? 

If you're looking for a reason to believe Kansas City can upset the 98-win Angels, here it is: Los Angeles has a starting pitching staff that is in disarray.

Jered Weaver is the Angels' lone reliable starter, and he pitched well in Game 1 on Thursday. However, Kansas City's Jason Vargas matched him. The game was tied, 2-2, when the starters left, and the Angels' bullpen blinked first with Moustakas hitting the home run off Fernando Salas.

Los Angeles has burned up its best starter and trails in the series. The Angels will be counting on rookie Matt Shoemaker, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 15 due to an oblique strain, in Game 2. C.J. Wilson is in line to pitch Game 3 for Los Angeles. Wilson has had a terrible second half -- his ERA is 6.05 over his last 16 starts.

The Angels definitely miss ace Garrett Richards, who is gone for the year with a serious knee injury.

Kansas City has a shot if it can take advantage of the iffy Angels starters. The Royals are 65-4 when leading after six innings, so it could be tough for Los Angeles if its pitchers put them behind early in games.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

White Sox trade Adam Dunn to A's; deal Alejandro De Aza to Orioles

When the Oakland Athletics visit U.S. Cellular Field for a four-game series starting Sept. 8, White Sox fans will get their first opportunity to boo Adam Dunn as a member of the visiting team.

That's because the Sox traded Dunn and cash considerations to Oakland on Sunday morning for minor-league pitcher Nolan Sanburn.

Dunn, who was hitting .220 with 20 home runs and 54 RBIs at the time of the deal, finishes his White Sox career with a .201/.321/.410 slash line. Dunn hit 106 home runs during his nearly four-year tenure on the South Side, but he leaves town as a symbol of the franchise's failings over the past four seasons.

Dunn fell out of favor with the fans after an historically bad 2011 campaign, and while he rebounded somewhat the past three years, he never performed to his previous career norms while wearing a Sox uniform.

So why would Oakland want him, you ask? The A's are leading the majors in runs scored, but that's a bit deceiving. The A's traded their cleanup hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, to the Boston Red Sox for ace left-hander Jon Lester on July 31. While Lester has performed well (2.66 ERA in 6 starts), Oakland's offense has slumped. The A's rank 20th in baseball in runs scored during August, and no doubt they are hoping Dunn can give them a boost.

The Sox, meanwhile, save themselves about $1.25 million and acquire some organizational pitching depth with Sanburn, who has been working in relief at Class-A Stockton this year. He has a 3.28 ERA in 71.1 IP with 73 strikeouts and 25 walks.

The Dunn deal comes on the heels of another move the Sox made Saturday night, in which they traded left fielder Alejandro De Aza to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for minor-league pitchers Mark Blackmar and Miguel Chalas.

De Aza figures to be a fourth outfielder with Baltimore. He was hitting .243 overall at the time of the trade, but as we've noted before on this blog, De Aza is a left-handed hitter who can produce against right-handed pitchers. He owns a .279/.347/.410 slash line against righties, and he will be a useful offensive player for Baltimore if spotted correctly in matchups that are favorable for him.

Of course, baserunning blunders, defensive gaffes and lollipop throws from left field also are part of the package with De Aza. To put it mildly, the Sox will not miss those things.

Blackmar owns a 10-1 record with a 3.18 ERA in 26 games (18 starts) with Class-A Frederick this season. Chalas (2-3, 4.80 ERA) has been working in relief at Frederick for most of the year. He was recently promoted to Triple-A Norfolk.

Nobody can say for certain whether any of these three pitchers will one day contribute to the White Sox. If nothing else, these are moves that help replenish organizational depth. If one of the three pans out and becomes a major-league pitcher, that would be great news for the South Siders.

The best part of these trades for the Sox? Neither Dunn nor De Aza was going to be back with the team for the 2015 season, and these moves open up playing time for younger players. It's evaluation time for the organization.

We know Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia are part of the White Sox outfield plans, both now and in the future. One spot remains open. Now, instead of wasting their time with De Aza, the Sox can take a longer look at Jordan Danks, Moises Sierra or even Jared Mitchell, if they wish.

With the subtraction of Dunn, the door opens for 1B/DH Andy Wilkins, who was recalled from Triple-A Charlotte and is making his big-league debut Sunday for the Sox. Wilkins is a left-handed bat who hit .293 with 30 home runs, 38 doubles and 85 RBIs for the Knights this year. Can he help the Sox in the middle of the order? I don't know, but now is the time to let Wilkins play and gather more information about him.

Of the 25 roster spots available on the 2015 White Sox, you have to figure at least half of them are still open. Some younger players are about to receive an opportunity to put themselves in the picture for a job on next year's club.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

White Sox designate Scott Downs for assignment; Eric Surkamp called up

The White Sox on Thursday designated left-handed relief pitcher Scott Downs for assignment.

Downs, 38, was 0-2 with a 6.08 ERA in 38 appearances this season. Downs was working on a one-year, $4 million contract, with an option for 2015. The Sox will eat about $2 million as a result of this decision, but this is the right move to make -- especially since the $4.25 million option for next year would have vested had Downs reached 55 appearances.

Apparently, the walk Downs issued to Chris Davis in the middle of Wednesday night's eighth-inning meltdown was the final straw in what has been a string of poor performances by the washed-up lefty.

Whenever a player gets designated, it's never about one single game. Downs has been bad all season, and the Sox letting him go only reinforces the point I made after last night's loss -- why do managers feel the need to bring a left-hander into the game just because a left-handed hitter is at the plate? In particular, why bring a left-hander who has pitched so poorly that he's on the verge of release into a high-leverage situation? How is that fair to the team?

No one should be surprised that Downs failed. He's failed all year, and now he can go fail somewhere else. 

Left-hander Eric Surkamp has been called up to take Downs' place on the 25-man roster. Surkamp, 26, was picked up on waivers from the San Francisco Giants in December. He was once a top prospect in the San Francisco system, before Tommy John surgery stalled his career.

In 14 games (11 starts) at Triple-A Charlotte this season, Surkamp is 3-4 with a 4.54 ERA. Those numbers might not impress, but he's been trending the right way recently. He was named the Triple-A International League Pitcher of the Week for June 16-22. He owns a 2.63 ERA over his last four starts, with 31 Ks in 24 IP.

Surkamp has posted some good peripheral numbers in the minors. He has struck out more than one batter per inning -- 84 Ks in 73.1 IP. He has walked only 17 and given up just eight home runs -- about one every nine innings -- this year. He's been throwing strikes, missing some bats and generally keeping the ball in the park. We'll see if he can make these numbers translate to the big-league level.

The left-hander has a plus curveball, which is the reason for the high strikeout total. His fastball sits in the high 80s, so he's not going to overpower anybody with that pitch. The key for Surkamp will be locating his fastball well enough to keep big-league hitters from hurting him. Then, if he's ahead in the count, he can use his breaking ball as an out pitch.

The standard isn't real high here. All he has to do is be better than Downs, and in a rebuilding season, the Sox have nothing to lose by seeing what Surkamp has to offer. 

Robin Ventura's strict adherence to lefty-righty matchups costs White Sox in Baltimore

Anyone who has ever watched a game with me knows my biggest pet peeve in baseball is walks. I hate pitchers who walk people. I hate giving hitters a free 90 feet. Just throw the damn ball over the plate, will you?

But, a close second on that list of pet peeves is the way modern-day managers adhere strictly to lefty-righty matchups at all times. Robin Ventura's belief in lefty-righty matchups played a significant role in the White Sox' 5-4 extra-inning loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night. Ventura is hardly the only manager in baseball guilty of this sin -- all of them do it these days -- but the bottom of the eighth inning of Wednesday's game is a good case study in why this lefty-righty stuff drives me absolutely bananas.

The Sox were leading 4-0 going into the fateful eighth inning. Starting pitcher Hector Noesi had been sailing along until that point, but he gave up back-to-back singles to start the frame. With runners on first and second, the middle of the lineup was due for Baltimore. Ventura likely didn't want Noesi to face Steve Pearce, Adam Jones or Chris Davis for a fourth time, so he correctly went to the bullpen and brought in reliever Zach Putnam.

Putnam did a fine job. He retired Pearce and Jones on fly balls to center field, and his stuff looked good. The runners were still planted at first and second with two outs, and Putnam looked poised to work out of the jam and keep the Sox ahead by four runs.

Alas, Davis is a left-handed hitter, and by golly, we can't leave the right-handed Putnam in to face a left-handed hitter, can we? No. That would be dangerous. So, Ventura summoned his washed-up lefty reliever, Scott Downs, who by the way failed to retire Davis when he faced him on Tuesday night.

The Sox are lucky Downs didn't give up a three-run homer to Davis during the course of the at-bat. He hung Davis two breaking balls. Fortunately enough, Davis fouled off both of them. Eventually, Downs walked Davis to load the bases (did I mention I hate walks?), which brought Nelson Cruz to the plate.

Cruz, a strong right-handed hitter, ranks second in the American League in home runs. You can't leave Downs in to face him, so Ventura had no choice but to go to the bullpen once more. He summoned Javy Guerra, which is probably as good a call as he could have made under the circumstances, but I trust Putnam more than Guerra. It would have been nice to have Putnam on the mound in that high-leverage spot, but he had already been relieved of his duties.

Guerra fell behind in the count and eventually served up a game-tying grand slam to Cruz. Baltimore went on to win the game in 12 innings.

I firmly believe that if Putnam had been allowed to face Davis, he would have retired him, and the Sox would have taken a four-run lead into the ninth. More than likely, the outcome of the game would have been different.

Why do managers insist on removing an effective right-handed pitcher from the game just because a left-handed hitter is at the plate? Why do managers feel they need to burn through three or four relievers in the seventh or eighth inning? To me, if you bring in enough relievers, eventually you are going to stumble on a guy who doesn't have his stuff.

Putnam had his stuff. What excuse is there for not sticking with him? There is none.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Home Run Derby: Jose Abreu says no

White Sox rookie first baseman Jose Abreu ranks third in the American League with 22 home runs, and he'll likely be selected for the All-Star Game. So, it stands to reason he's a prime candidate to participate in this year's Home Run Derby.

Abreu, however, says he's not interested.

"Home Run Derby is not something I’m too crazy about," Abreu told the Sun-Times on Tuesday through a translator. "It’s a good thing, but I’m not really interested or looking forward to. I really wouldn’t want to do it. I did it in Cuba several times, and I wasn’t much into it.’’

That probably won't make a lot of fans happy. Most would want to see Abreu's prodigious power on display in the home run contest, but the slugger is worried participating in the event would screw up his approach.

"The first thing it does is affect you mentally," he said. "You go out and try to hit home runs. I'm not a guy who tries to hit home runs. I let them come whenever they come. And sometimes it messes with your mechanics."

I don't blame Abreu for not wanting to do something he isn't comfortable with, especially since this is his first season in the United States and he's still working to establish himself as a big-league hitter.

We could debate whether participating in the Home Run Derby screws up a hitter's swing, but what's the point? I can find examples of guys who declined in the second half after the derby, and I can find examples of guys who were unaffected.

Abreu knows himself better than any fan or anyone in the media, so if he says he's better off not competing in the derby, then he's right to sit this one out.

Sox make rotation change, stick with Belisario as closer

The Sox made one change in roles with their pitching staff on Tuesday, but it wasn't the one people might have expected.

Scott Carroll will replace Andre Rienzo in the starting rotation and pitch Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Rienzo (4-5) has lost his last five starts and has allowed 22 runs in 22.1 innings over that span.

Carroll (2-3) made five starts earlier this season, going 1-3 with a 6.15 ERA. Since moving to the bullpen, he has thrived in a long relief role, posting a 1.83 ERA over six appearances.

More than likely, this move won't make much of an impact. Neither Carroll nor Rienzo is a long-term solution as a starting pitcher. But, Carroll has started throwing a cutter during his time in the bullpen. He now has one more pitch in his arsenal than he did during his previous stint in the rotation. We'll see if that makes any difference in results.

Meanwhile, the team stuck with Ronald Belisario as its closer, and he earned a shaky save in the Sox' 4-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night. The tying runs were on base before Belisario induced a double-play grounder that allowed Chicago to snap its five-game losing streak.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ronald Belisario's cold streak coincides with his promotion to closer

Remember back on June 12 when the White Sox were only 2.5 games out of the AL Central lead? Some were talking about this team potentially making a surprise run at the division title. Yeah, that was fun while it lasted. Since then, the bottom has fallen out.

The South Siders have now dropped nine out of 11 and have fallen a season-worst seven games (35-42) below .500. They trail the Detroit Tigers by 7.5 games in the division, and they have lost five consecutive games after Monday's 6-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

This latest defeat should not have happened. Ace Chris Sale was in line for the win after allowing just two runs over six innings. He pitched out of a pair of bases-loaded jams to give the Sox a chance at victory. Jose Abreu hit his 22nd home run of the season and drove in three runs, and things were looking good with the Sox up 4-2 in the eighth inning.

Then, the wheels came off. The Orioles got a solo home run from catcher Caleb Joseph off Zach Putnam to tighten the score to 4-3 heading to the ninth. Sox "closer" Ronald Belisario then presided over a spectacular meltdown.

After jumping ahead of Steve Pearce 1-2 in the count, Belisario served up a fat pitch that Pearce hit for a leadoff single. Adam Jones was next hit by a pitch to move the tying run into scoring position and put the winning run on base with nobody out. After Nelson Cruz struck out, Belisario hung a 3-2 slider to Chris Davis, who hit a three-run home run to lift the Orioles to a come-from-behind win.

It's pretty hard to miss the fact that Belisario has been awful since being named closer following an injury to Matt Lindstrom on May 20. Since that date, Belisario has appeared in 13 games, going 7 for 10 in save opportunities. He's allowed 11 earned runs in 11 innings pitched during that stretch. That's easy math: a brutal 9.00 ERA.

Thing is, you can't fault Sox manager Robin Ventura for going to Belisario, because he was the hot hand at the time of Lindstrom's injury. Prior to May 20. Belisario had gone 12 consecutive appearances without surrendering an earned run.

But as soon as he was named closer, Belisario's effectiveness disappeared. Coincidence? I don't believe so. I think Belisario is one of those guys who is just more comfortable pitching the seventh or eighth inning. That's what he's done for most of his career, and he doesn't seem able to handle the responsibility of pitching in the ninth inning.

The closing situation has not gone well for the Sox this year. Lindstrom and Nate Jones, the two top candidates for the job coming into the season, are both on the disabled list. Daniel Webb was mentioned as a potential candidate by pitching coach Don Cooper in the spring, but he has been too wild (25 walks in 35.1 IP) to be trusted in any high-leverage situation - let alone closing.

Belisario is essentially the Sox' fourth option as a closer. It looks like they'll have to find a fifth option, because Belisario is not getting it done.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Baltimore Orioles take a flier on Johan Santana

The Baltimore Orioles continued their recent habit of shopping in the bargain bin on Tuesday, signing two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana to a minor league deal.

Santana, who missed the entire 2013 season, is attempting to come back from a second major surgery on his left shoulder. Reports indicate he had trouble getting his fastball over 80 mph when he threw a bullpen session for interested teams last week, but apparently Baltimore saw enough to take a flier on the former Minnesota Twins ace.

Since it's a minor league deal, it's not much of a gamble. If Santana is unable to regain his arm strength, the Orioles can just cut him and be none the worse for wear. If Santana impresses this spring, the Orioles can add him to the 40-man roster at a relatively low cost.

The 34-year-old lefty would get a $3 million, one-year deal if he is added to the roster and would have the chance to earn an additional $5.05 million in roster and performance bonuses. He would receive the full amount for 120 days and 25 starts.

Baltimore earlier added pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder Nelson Cruz to its roster late in free agency. I was critical of the Jimenez signing, but I can't blame the Orioles for picking up Santana. They still need pitching help, they don't have anything to lose by giving Santana a shot.

In his Minnesota heyday, Santana's out pitch was his changeup. He threw it from the same release point as his fastball, and there was such a wide variance between his heater and his change that opposing hitters had their timing completely disrupted. But if his fastball is going to top out in the low- or mid-80s, there isn't going to be enough variance between that pitch and his changeup for him to be effective.

The Orioles need to hope Santana can get his fastball back up into the 88 or 89 mph range. If he does, he might have some good innings left in his arm.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Orioles grab from the bargain bucket again

In another late maneuver, the Orioles signed outfielder Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million deal.

Nelson Cruz is taking a one-year deal
and will try again for a longer contract
next winter.
Baltimore had been quiet this offseason until signing pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year deal last week. The Orioles decided to wait out the market on Jimenez and Cruz, who reportedly was looking for a contract in the neighborhood of five years and $75 million. Cruz declined the Rangers' qualifying offer of one year and $14 million earlier in the offseason.

It's obvious now Cruz's agent misread the market for his client's services coming off a PED suspension and lacking much in the way of defensive ability.

The Orioles weren't reluctant to snag Cruz at this price, even while having to forfeit a draft pick to do so. Having already given up their first-round pick in the upcoming draft to sign Jimenez, Baltimore only gave up its second-rounder for this deal.

This might not be the end for the Orioles. Having already invested in two bargain free agents, they might also look to fill another gap in their rotation with Ervin Santana, who also languishes on the free agent market.

With the addition of Cruz, Baltimore's lineup looks like:

RF Nick Markakis
3B Manny Machado
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
LF Cruz
SS J.J. Hardy
2B Ryan Flaherty
DH Nolan Reimold/Steve Pearce
C Matt Wieters

That group could be pretty potent, especially if Reimold gets his bat back on track, or the Orioles replace him or Flaherty.

The rotation looks a little more suspect, with Jimenez leading a group that currently includes Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris. Baltimore is really crossing its fingers here, along with some key spots in the bullpen.

Still, give the Orioles credit for not submitting in what is annually a tough American League East. There's possibly a case that could be made that the Orioles are still no better than the third- or fourth-best team in that division. Every team there still has its flaws, and with a second wild card now in play, Baltimore is still good enough to be pursuing the postseason instead of joining the ridiculous race to the bottom some other organizations choose to run in the name of attaining marginally more valuable draft slots.

Don't get me wrong, draft picks are an important part of maintaining fiscal flexibility for teams in the face of exploding free agent contracts. The Orioles might be missing out on some cheap young talent by dipping into the free agent pool right now.

Still, if the point of keeping your picks is to reap millions of dollars in savings, it's hard to say Baltimore isn't also saving millions of dollars by vulture-picking players to bargain contracts now late in the offseason.