Can ‘dem O’s keep this up?

The Orioles have been playing waaayyyy over their heads so to speak in the last week. There’s no doubt that Buck Showalter’s given the team a shot in the arm. As it stands now, Brian Matusz is losing to the White Sox, however he appears to be turning in the team’s seventh straight quality start. So what gives? Why couldn’t this have happened earlier in the season? If I’m Dave Trembley sitting down in Florida watching these games, I’m asking why these guys couldn’t play like this for me.

First off, I like Trembley. The professionalism with which he approached his job, and the decency that he appeared to have in doing his job were always much appreciated from my standpoint. As an example, I always noticed that Trembley would sign autographs for fans (home and away). He would pay special attention to kids, as he knew what it was like to be on their side of the wall. While he never thought twice about it five minutes later, those kids would remember meeting a big league manager for the rest of their lives. Dave Trembley had been a minor league coach for his entire life; I suppose it’s very possible that while he was a good X’s and O’s guy, he wasn’t the motivator that the team needed at the time. Some teams need a Vince Lombardi-style coach that’s going to get them going before a game, and some teams don’t. Neither way is right or wrong, it just matters what mix of guys that you have at the time.

This is not to say that Showalter’s a fire-breather behind closed doors either. I really don’t know if he is or not. However he is a man who’s reputation precedes him, and who’s immediately commanded respect in the club house. Showalter will demand that guys at the very least give their all in games; he won’t hesitate to bench players that don’t run out ground balls, hustle out of the box, etc. So again, why couldn’t this happen earlier in the year? First off, the injuries that doomed this year made that almost impossible. However again, this team appears to be one that just needed a little extra motivation. Furthermore perhaps in always trying to be professional, the Orioles forgot that this is a game. Certainly it’s also a job for all of these guys, however a game’s a game, and it’ll always be a game.

So can they keep it up? A baseball season always has it’s peaks and valleys. It seems that through last week the Orioles’ season has been nothing but valleys. So the law of averages should say that the Orioles are due to have two great months to end the season, right? I suppose, but they’ll have to earn it. The fundamentals under Showalter have visibly been much better, and that’ll have to continue in order for the O’s to continue this trend. However here’s another thing: how they finish this year might well impact 2011. In the past, the Orioles have been noted for their second half swoons. Perhaps if they can have a second half surge this season, instead we’ll see the Orioles shoot out of the gun in 2011. Hey, it could happen…!

Who’s today’s Oriole hero?

I was talking to a friend of mine of late and we were discussing the single greatest player in the history of each team.Obviously this is a matter of opinion moreso than anything else, however in my opinion Brooks Robinson is the greatest Oriole of all time. (Most people raise their eyebrows when they hear me say that because Cal Ripken Jr. was my hero as a kid, but I think that even Cal would probably argue for Brooksie.) Nevertheless, my friend is a Cub fan, and he decided upon Ernie Banks as the greatest player in the history of that franchise.

Again, this is all a matter of opinion. However to go off on a tangent of sorts from that question, who’s the Oriole hero for today’s generation? It’s safe to say that for most “baby bommers,” Brooks Robinson was the hero of the day. You can’t really argue with 16 straight gold gloves. Whenever people try to argue with me that Mike Schmidt is the best third baseman of all time, I just mention Brooksie’s 16 straight gold gloves, and that generally ends the argument.

I was born in 1981, which was Cal Ripken’s rookie year. By the time I started following baseball, he was turning into a star. However for me and my generation of fans, Cal was most definitely the hero du jour. In fact, he was the true definition of a “hometown hero,” as he was from Aberdeen, MD. Anyone that followed sports in this region in the ’80′s and ’90′s revered Cal. I’ve met my share of sports stars and celebrities over the years, however Cal’s one person who would definitely make me nervous if I ever met him. (I say that not because I’m afraid by ny means, but because…how many of us get to meet our boyhood hero’s?!)

When Cal Ripken retired after the 2001 season, Baltimore was potentially left without what one might call a “hero.” Certainly in the span of time since then the Orioles have experienced some major buzz kills, but there have been plenty of good players over that span of time as well. When I say a “hero,” I mean one player that kids of that generation point to who defined their childhood fandom as Oriole fans. There are plenty of players that would be in the argument, but that would probably be forefronted by Brian Roberts. Not only has Roberts been the best and most consistent player from 2001 until now, however he’s also defined by longevity; Roberts and Ripken were actually teamates for a brief period. Melvin Mora would also be in the discussion, as he had quite a few good years with the Orioles.

I suppose that it’s also a matter of opinion just as any of these arguments could be, however I’d vote for Brian Roberts. The perception of people also figures into the conversation, as many young children today might vote for Nick Markakis or Adam Jones. This is all part of the beauty of sports, as everyone can and does have an opinion.

Fans in the stands

I know, I know…everyone’s talking about Buck Showalter right now, myself included (check me out at www.fanhuddle.com/baltimoreorioles, and/or http://camdenheros.com). Let me just say that I think he’s going to be a great manager for the Orioles, and that eventually he’ll get us to where we need to be. He came across as an incredibly fair-minded person in his introductory presser, which is exactly the kind of leader that I want to see for the Orioles. Buck Showalter’s teams have always consisted of hustle and effort, and that’s exactly the kind of moxie that the Orioles need right now.

However I do have one concern; what’s Buck going to think when NY and Boston come to town in that he’ll effectively be playing a road series in his home park? Showalter talked about how great the fans were in Baltimore, and that’s most certainly the truth, however we all know that those fan bases come to our park en masse when their teams come to town. People like to blame the 13 straight losing seasons combined with the fact that those teams win consistently. That probably does have something to do with it. However I would also point to this region in itself as part of the issue. I attended Sunday afternoon’s game between the Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies in DC. I enjoy taking in a Nats’ game from time to time because it gives me the opprotunity to watch as an observer as opposed to being in the thick of the game when I watch ‘dem O’s. On my subway ride from the suburbs to Nationals Park before the game, you could have pinched me and said that I was on the SEPTA going to Citizens Bank Park in Philly and I probably would have believed it. In this case both teams’ colors are red, however most of the red that I saw on the DC subway was Phillies’ red. There were a few curly W’s, however a heck of a lot more P’s.

First off let’s be frank; Washington and Philadelphia are not far away (throw Baltimore into that mix as well). So a Phillies fan could easily come down for an afternoon game, or even for a weekend series (which many of them did). Philadelphia has the same dynamic as NY or Boston in that they’re a contending team, and their fans have a hard time getting tickets in their home park so they go to Washington/Baltimore because the tickets are easily accessible and cheap. However the fact remains that alot of these people have relocated to this region for work, family, etc. So when their hometown team comes to town, they want to see them play. (As a Northern Virginia resident, I’m no exception to that because when the Orioles play the Nationals in DC I attend all three games). The mid-Atlantic region is full of people from elsewhere; Pittsburgh, NY, Boston, Philly, and even Chicago appear to be popular points of origin amongst people. So I can’t blame the Orioles, the Nationals, or their fans in total for “allowing” take-overs of their ballparks, because a lot of the people that are booing our home teams in our parks are bona fide members of our communities.

The Washington Capitals seem to have “gotten it” in terms of out-of-town fans. Ted Leonsis, the owner, flat out refuses to sell tickets to people with area codes or credit card numbers that correspond with PA addresses (if the Flyers or Pens are in town). At the beginning perhaps he lost some revenue because seats were left empty. However little-by-little, Capitals’ fans seemed to respond and now the place is full of hometown fans every game (it should also go mentioned that the Caps are a winning franchise). I suppose my point is that if you take steps to “protect” the hometown fans, they’ll eventually come to appreciate that. Stan Kasten of the Nationals openly soliciting Phillies’ fans to come to DC to see their team play is absurd, and is a perfect example of how NOT to protect your fanbase. In the Orioles case, I wish that they sold tickets to Boston/NY games on a season ticket basis, and walk-up sale basis only. That would mean that aside from buying a ticket package, in order to get tickets for those games in advance you’d have to physically walk up to the box office at Oriole Park and buy them in person. Then 24 hours before gametime, the rest of the ticket inventory could be released for sale to the general public online and through any other outlet. Would the Orioles guarantee themselves the sellouts that they normally get? Probably not, but I doubt that they’d be too far off, and the majority of the fans in the ballpark would be wearing orange as opposed to red or pinstripes.

The above-mentioned scenario would only stop people from coming en masse from those cities. As I said, many of the out-of-town fans live here in our region, so they could walk up to the Camden Yards box office and buy tickets just like an Oriole fan. However it would certainly help the problem. Furthermore, motorcoach companies buy books of tickets to O’s vs. Yankees/Red Sox game and sell packages so fans can come down here. My idea would totally remove that dynamic from the picture. It would make for huge lines at the box office on gameday and so forth, but people would just have to deal with that.

My point is that it’s frustrating for teams to play in front of hostile crowds in their home park. As a hometown fan, it ticks me off. You get 81 home games per season, and I wish that the Orioles had that in truth. I suppose what I’d like to see is for all of the area teams to get together and do their best to recognize this problem and perhaps deal with it together. The Washington Wizards suffer from the same issues when certain teams come to town, as do even the Redskins and Ravens. When you go into a local sporting goods store, you’re just as likely to see a Derek Jeter prominently displayed as you are an Adam Jones or Ryan Zimmerman jersey. Perhaps if we didn’t promote every other team around as much as we do the home teams, people wouldn’t root for them. Capisce paisani?!

Gee thanks MLB…we really appreciate it

As MASN’s Amber Theoharis reported before tonight’s O’s/Blue Jays game, the league shortened Ty Wiggington’s suspension by one game, effective immediately. Wiggy was previously given a three-game suspension, so I suppose they did in fact rule in Wiggington’s favor to a certain degree. However I’m still waiting to hear what punishment the league handed down to umpire Gary Darling for his role in the melee. Had Darling gotten the call right, none of this would have happened. Don’t get me wrong folks; I’m not naive in that I understand that umpires don’t get suspended. I’m just trying to prove a point.

Apparently the ruling didn’t come down until two-and-a-half hours prior to gametime. So the Orioles had to somewhat scramble to get a new lineup in effect because they lost Wiggington. Would it have killed the league to make a decision earlier in the day? This leaves the Orioles a man short tonight and tomorrow, so hopefully we don’t see any injuries with the short bench; not that injuries have been a problem this year or anything. An injury would force the Orioles to potentially have to give up their DH, or perhaps even use a pitcher as a field player. (Honestly, I’d take my chances inserting the pitcher into the batting order.) Isn’t this fun?!

Let’s all get hurt and party like it’s 1999!

…because odds are we’ll lose everytime. I’m not going to chronicle how Brian Roberts got injured in game four of the season, or the injuries of Felix Pie, Michael Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, Luke Scott, and others. We all know the stories. However, Matt Wieters was injured in Texas just prior to the all-star break. With him set to come off the DL tomorrow, the Orioles had a bit of a dilema in terms of who to keep. Craig Tatum or Jake Fox? Coming out of spring training, I was in the Chad Moeller camp in terms of being the backup catcher. However Tatum has proved his worth to this team in my opinion. First off he had to sell himself to his new teammates in that he beat out a guy with whom they played last season. I also like how he calls a game, and I think he’s done a valiant job behind Matt Wieters.

However, Jake Fox is obviously a much more versatile player since he can catch and play the infield. I like Fox also, so one way or another it was going to be a difficult decision. While Tatum had earned the right to stay with the club, the signs seemed to point to him being the one sent down due to Fox’s versatility at other positions. (Chalk that up into the “life’s not always fair” category.) Having said all of this, the speculation of who it’s going to be came to an end tonight when Tatum had a foul ball inadvertantly hit off of his throwing hand while catching.

I suppose you can look at this in one of two ways. First off, you don’t have to make a decision on either of these guys for the time being. On the flip side, HOW MANY FRIGGIN’ INJURIES CAN ONE TEAM HAVE IN A SEASON?! I don’t know, but I would suspect that Tatum will get put on the DL tomorrow which will allow the Orioles to activate Wieters. In the interim between now and 15 days from now, there’s a better-than-average chance that the Orioles will trade a player, which would open up a roster spot for Tatum again. One way or the other a trip to the minors would have probably been very temporary, however it just once again illustrates the doldrums of the Orioles’ luck this season. Some of the muscle pulls (ie-Luke Scott) could cause someone to question the eptitude of the Orioles sports medicine staff. However this one was just a freak thing, about which nothing can be done. Furthermore, you could try 10 times to get hit the way that Tatum did, and you probably wouldn’t succeed. Eh…I should head to the Bud Light Warehouse bar when I’m at the ballpark tomorrow and enjoy an ice cold beer, along perhaps with an ambien.

Gary’s no Darling for Wiggy, Samuel, and Kranny

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Orioles were losing 4-0 to the Minnesota Twins, first base umpire Gary Darling had to offer his opinion of ‘dem O’s as well. In the sixth inning JJ Hardy was on first base and appeared to get picked off between the bases. Hardy slid back into the bag head-first…and was called safe by umpire Gary Darling. The problem is that Hardy was BLATANTLY out. Seriously folks, it wasn’t even close…not by a long shot. Wiggy absolutely lost it and then some. Long story short, he was tossed, but not before he put on a great show of sticking up for his team for the fans by the first base camera well. I haven’t seen that kind of display from someone in an Oriole uniform since Lee Mazzilli threw the gum dispenser on the field. While the Orioles lost Wiggington’s services for the rest of the night (possibly longer if Wiggy gets suspended), that was a moment that had to happen. You don’t obtain the record the Orioles have and blame umpiring, however it does seem like each close call in a game always goes against the Orioles. Go figure, this one was no exception.

To top it off, pitching coach Rick Kranitz got tossed later in the inning from the dugout, and Juan Samuel was subsequently tossed for defending him. As if Wiggy’s performance wasn’t good enough, Samuel gave the fans an absolutely virtuoso performance in his rant to the umps. I’m talking a hat-throwing, arm-waving type of deal. This call didn’t lose the game for the Orioles, however it didn’t help. I woiuld agree with MASN’s Rick Dempsey in that Gary Darling is a decent umpire that just made a bad call. However I stand behind any coach or any player in any sport that lets an official know that he made a mistake. I have a real problem with the fact that fans and media hold players and coaches accountable for what they do on the field, yet umpires don’t have to make one comment.

As I watched the O’s Xtra show on MASN after the game, analyst Jim Hunter absolutely let loose on the call, and as he did so I stood and applauded. I’ve long said that if players or coaches don’t do their jobs, they get sent to the minors, cut, etc. If an umpire blows a call, he shows up the next day and calls the game the next day. As Hunter said, Chris Tillman was sent to the minors after a poor outing the other day. Gary Darling will be umping home plate tomorrow night. People’s jobs are at stake here, and one guy’s bad decisions can affect the lives of others. As I said, any coach or player that argues a call like that will always have an ally in me.

Do the Orioles need to hire Showalter immediately?

I’ve always liked Buck Showalter as a manager. I feel that his teams always play hard, and that’s partially the result of their manager paying close attention to detail. Not to mention that the guy’s a two-time AL Manager of the Year, so it’s obvious that he knows what he’s doing. Last week we heard a lot of rumors that put Buck Showalter in the Orioles’ dugout as early as this past weekend. (I would also mention that many national outlets such as ESPN were saying this, while local outlets such as MASN correctly reported that no deal was imminent.) When that ended up not happening, many fans assumed that the Orioles were doing something to stall the negotiations or something along those lines. Whatever the case may be, Showalter is not the manager at this time although he presumably remains the top candidate.

With the news that Lou Piniella was retiring as manager of the Chicago Cubs at the end of the season yesterday, we now know of at least one other team that will need a manager at the end of the season. So would it behoove Andy MacPhail to pull the trigger on Showalter immediately? First off, I think that Juan Samuel is doing an admirable job as the interim manager of this team. However I’ve said from the beginning that I’d like to see an experienced manager that’s won previously in the dugout. Buck Showalter fits that bill. I’ve also said that I feel that whomever the next manager is should be hired immediately so as to give him the opprotunity to learn the players and to better know what he has going into next season.

Again, I’m not sure why Showalter is being delayed (it could be just dotting I’s and crossing T’s in the contract for all I know), however I think that the Orioles need to ink him STAT (as they say in the medical field). Are the Cubs a more attractive franchise than the Orioles? Probably, but probably not in many other ways. However regardless of the situation, the last thing that the Orioles want is for another team to swoop in and steal Showalter at the eleventh hour. The question is whether or not Showalter would stall the talks until after the season so as to keep his options open. While this isn’t a conviction of Buck Showalter per se, but…is the beer in the Bud Light Warehouse bar at Oriole Park cold?! My message to Andy MacPhail: GET HIM IN HERE!!!

Let’s talk about unwritten rules again

Let me preface this by saying that in no way am I excusing the Orioles’ poor play over this past weekend when they were swept at home by the Blue Jays. You have to score more than one or two runs per game if you’re going to win. I’m not saying that you have to put up a ten-spot like Toronto did on the Orioles yesterday, but you have to score more than a run or two. Nevertheless, I’ve addressed unwritten rules in the past. The Blue Jays (specifically Cito Gaston) have a reputation as a team that steals signs on a consistent basis. First off, stealing signs is not against anything in the rule book. However moreso than any other sport, baseball has numerous unwritten rules, one of which is that you don’t steal signs.

I attended Saturday night’s game, and from my vantage point in section 17 it appeared that Jeremy Guthrie was throwing up and in on a lot of Toronto hitters. In fact, I noticed this on Friday night as well with Brad Bergesen; in that case it jumped out a lot more because Bergesen’s a sinker-baller, and in general up and in isn’t a big part of his repetoire. Coincidence or not? Guthrie has hit quite a few batters this season, so that in itself might not indicate purpose pitches. However the chin music started very soon after Fred Lewis hit the first pitch of the ballgame out of the park. Did Lewis know the pitch location and selection before it came? There are a lot of things that you notice being in the stadium (be you in the stands or the press box) which you can’t see from television. Each time a Toronto runner was on second, the runner would generally be making some kind of gesture with his hands, helmet, etc. That tells me that there certainly is some sort of tipping off that’s part of Toronto’s game.

The other side of the coin is that the Orioles probably need to protect their signs much better. I noticed Matt Wieters catching with a wide open stance at the beginning of the season, however he’s since closed up a bit. Now that Wieters is on the DL Craig Tatum is the primary catcher, and I noticed he uses that same wide open stance behind the plate, which probably makes it easier for batters to see what’s coming. If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it a million times though…stealing signs (or breaking any unwritten rule) is about as dirty as it gets. Luckily in baseball, things like this have a way of remedying themselves on the field in that pitchers and managers take matters into their own hands by throwing at people. Ironically, you’re not going to get tossed for stealing signs, but a pitcher/manager will get tossed for purposely throwing at someone. Nobody’s going to admitt that they threw at someone, but if they did the league would undoubtably suspend them. So effectively, you have to break a written rule to enforce an unwritten rule.

Toronto is not a winning team, but they looked pretty sharp against the Orioles this past weekend. Earlier in the season, the league actually warned the Philadelphia Phillies about stealing signs and told them to cut it out. (The Phillies actually had a bullpen coach with field glasses looking in at the catcher.) So do all teams that win do this, and is part of the problem with the Orioles that they don’t (presumably)? I suppose my attitude would be that I don’t want to have to cheat to win. The follow-up argument there is that if it’s not in the rule book technically it’s not cheating. Sure, I suppose if you don’t look past the nose on your face that is in fact the case. However I see breaking unwritten rules as much of cheating as breaking rules in the rule book. If you’re up by more than five past the sixth inning, you don’t try to manufacture runs. If you’re being no-hit past the fifth inning, you don’t square to bunt. (The idea is that if you’re going to break up a no-no, you do it the honest way and get a base hit.) On May 21st David Hernandez was pitching a no-hitter at Washington (which was later broken up). A Nationals’ batter squared to bunt in the sixth inning, and Ryan Zimmerman was drilled in the back in the last of the inning. Coincidence?

Why are the Orioles and the DL such odd bedfellows?

Go figure that as the Orioles begin the second half, they do so with yet another starter hitting the DL: Matt Wieters. In last weekend’s series in Texas, Wieters pulled a hamstring running the bases. Ironically, Wieters is the second Oriole (Luke Scott) to do that this season. Unfortunately this appears to be the kind of moxie with which this team has been blessed in 2010. I’m going to spare the rest of the details in terms of the other players that have seen the DL this year, however let’s just say that it’s beyond ridiculous.

The move to put Wieters on the DL is retroactive to July 10th, so he should be eligible to come off on July 25th. In the interim, Craig Tatum is expected to be the starting catcher, with Jake Fox as the backup. The Orioles just can’t seem to catch a break; here they are playing well coming out of last weekend, and they have to wait a full four days without a game. On top of that, Wieters has to go on the DL. Not to mention that there’s still this little issue about a manager. Andy MacPhail said that Juan Samuel would start the second half as the manager. That means that as early as tomorrow someone else (presumably Buck Showalter) could be in the dugout. Or not; who really knows except MacPhail and Peter Angelos?

The Oriole rotation coming out of the break will be Brad Bergesen (starting tonight), Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and Jake Arrieta. However the question now becomes what happens when Kevin Millwood comes off of the DL? Quite honestly, I might consider sending either Millwood or Guthrie to the bullpen (unless they’re traded). Right now I believe that it’s important for the likes of Matusz, Arrieta, Tillman, and Bergesen to continue to get innings in the majors. The Orioles need to be prepared to deal with some growing pains, but in the long run I believe that having the young guys pitch up here is what’s best. So we start again this evening; here’s to hoping that the second act is a heck of a lot better than the first!

What do the O’s need to do in the second half?

Is 2010 over for the Orioles? I suppose that some would argue that it never really began, and in starting 2-16 the O’s aren’t really in a position to argue. However, there’s a lot of baseball left to be played. As it stands now, I hope that all of the Oriole players (with the exception of Ty Wiggington of course) are someplace re-charging their batteries getting ready for the second half of the season. But how do they get their moxie back, or get it at all? The Orioles swept the Texas Rangers to officially close the book on the first half of the year, and that’s the kind of attitude that they’ll need to continue.

According to Roch Kubatko of masnsports.com, Brian Roberts is currently playing in the Gulf Coast League, and will head to Bowie next week to rehab in double-A. This is great news for the Orioles, who’ve been without BRob’s services since the home opener on April 9th. There’s the season in a nutshell right there folks. Once Roberts returns, the Orioles will hopefully be able to play the game that they wanted to play all season long. He’ll give them a much better option in terms of stealing and getting into scoring position. Plus he’s also a team leader, and I believe that the other players in the clubhouse respect him.

Ultimately, the O’s need to keep playing quality baseball. That comment might be a bit overly vanilla, but it’s true. In the last week of the first half, the O’s got quality starts from Brian Matusz (in Boston), Chris Tillman, and Jake Arrieta (both in Texas). Personally I’d like to see this “Norfolk shuttle” concept cease. When a young starter has a bad outing, the Orioles need to work with him a bit and get him back on the mound five days later as opposed to sending him back down to Norfolk to “get his mechanics straight” or something like that. One area that’s vastly improved in the last month is the bullpen, which has looked fairly solid. It appears that Jason Berken and David Hernandez have both found homes out there, and Alfredo Simon’s “stuff” is just nasty as a closer.

The big white elephant is the managerial situation. Juan Samuel has done an admirable job with this team since being named interim manager on June 4th. However I maintain what I’ve said since the beginning, which is that I’d like to see a long-term manager with experience be hired in Baltimore. Buck Showalter appears to be the odds-on favorite, and depending upon who you ask his hiring is either being held up, or is imminent. I would welcome Showalter with open arms; he always had solid teams and his track record is excellent as a manager. Plus (as I found out yesterday), he’s only 54 years old. I don’t know why I thought he was older than that, however assuming he has success with the Orioles he’s young enough to where he could be here for a long time if he’s brought aboard.

My goal at the beginning of the season for this team was respectability. By that, I meant a .500 season (+/- 10 games). Most would say that’s not possible, however…they swept a darn good team in the Texas Rangers on the road this past weekend. If they continue to play as such, ANYTHING is possible. Laugh if you will, however I’d still rather live in hope than die in despair.

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