Monday, May 31, 2010

The Waiting Game

Another weekend sweep has brought on another uncomfortable Monday off day for Baltimore Orioles manager Dave Trembley. Speculation has been swirling for weeks regarding Trembley’s job status, and with three runs total this past weekend in Toronto, Trembley can’t be feeling too great about his survival chances. I’d put them at about 10% that he is still with the team after the all-star break in July.

What has happened to the Orioles these past two months is not all Trembley’s fault. There are many factors that have contributed to this horrid start. Injuries, underperformance, and simple bad luck have all contributed to the 15-36 start. Say it again: 15-36. 21 games under .500 before June. That is simply unbelievable.

Somebody is going to have to take the fall. The Birds play with no fire or confidence that they will win on any given day. Trembley has officially brought a losing attitude and it will never wear off. That much has become obvious over the past two months. Many people say that Trembley doesn’t do much wrong, that he’s been given a bad hand. That’s true to some extent; but it is totally ridiculous in many respects.

Trembley has overused the bullpen the past three seasons before June. The bullpen, which has had to overcome injuries to three of their best arms all season, has imploded mostly because they are overused and put in spots to fail. Trembley goes “by the book” every night. Wouldn't he think that maybe the so-called "book" is flawed? The matchups with lefty-lefty and righty-righty have backfired completely on him all season, yet he continues to employ the strategy.

For a team that cannot score runs or get many extra base hits, you’d think Trembley would steal, hit and run, or bunt guys over just to create runs and put more pressure on the defense. Nope. Trembley doesn’t even do that.

Another Trembley-ism is mixing up the lineup EVERY SINGLE DAY. Not just after losses---after wins, too. Trembley is always putting guys in different spots in the lineup. Nick Markakis has fabulous numbers in the number two spot, yet Trembley keeps running him out to the three-hole. Adam Jones hit .188 in the leadoff spot. In fact, it was fairly obvious after three games that Jones wasn’t comfortable hitting there and that he was hurting himself and trying too hard to succeed. It ruined Jones’ season, and it really didn’t have to be that way. Why Trembley continued to put one of his most talented young players in a position to fail is beyond me.

The Orioles have put themselves in a position to fail. They needed to either trade for a big bat or sign one, and they did neither. You cannot send young players out there without any protection or any other veteran production. It just doesn’t work because then they feel too much pressure to succeed. The Orioles with this horrid start now must pick up the pieces and trade some of their arms for a big bat (Prince Fielder) because there is no way a prime player is coming to Baltimore through free agency. It’s the sad reality for the Orioles right now, but it is what it is. They have dug themselves this hole with their reluctance to wisely spend money outside of the organization and in the draft. Matt Hobgood? Are you kidding me? I hate to get down on the kid because he didn’t draft himself, but to draft a guy who clearly was a signability pick when you preach spending through the draft to acquire players is ludicrous.

The draft is coming up next week, and the Orioles better hope they pick one of the best players available at the three spot or they will have a very, very long summer with their fans. If I'm the Orioles and I do not pick pitcher Jameson Tallion from Texas or shortstop Manny Machado from Miami, I have a ton of explaining to do.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Delaying the Stras

The Nationals have done it again. Lose? Actually, no. The Nats have put together a very solid team in 2010 to go along with quality pitching and timely hitting. Then what have the Nats done again?

Public relations blunders like it’s 2006-2009.

For months, speculation has centered on all-world prospect Stephen Strasburg making his major league debut during the June 4-6 Cincinnati Reds series at Nats Park. I had a few friends tell me in April that they had already bought tickets for all three games in this series just to make sure they saw him. Dave Sheinin, a fantastic baseball writer for the Washington Post, has been following Strasburg around the minor leagues, and has long speculated that June 4th would be the date of the messiah’s rising.

Then came a report last night that Strasburg would make his debut sometime during the Pittsburgh Pirates series on June 8-10 at Nats Park. Meanwhile, the June 4th game is already sold out except for the single game tickets only sold on game day. Would the Nats really do this to their fans and then start Strasburg on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday?

The Nats have known for a while now that fans were clamoring to see Srasburg on June 4th. They have not denied or for their part admitted that Strasburg was going to start on that Friday night. However, I have a real problem with them just letting people think what they wanted, and this June 4th date has been blowing up. They’ve had many advertisements for June 4th on MASN and at Nats Park games, and they’ve given reason to believe that June 4th is the day. A Friday night in early June would be a perfect night to showcase their superstar prospect.

How could they screw this up?

The Nats have had many PR blunders in the past including a scandal with a Dominican prospect, and numerous times when they’ve screwed with the uniform or fans. Remember Stan Kasten inviting people down from Philly for the Phillies game?

The Nats have come a long way from that and have begun to act like a professional baseball team in all ways. On the field and off; but I can’t believe they would do this to their fans and start him on another day other than the 4th of June when the anticipation has been this high for months. The difference in hype between starting him on a Friday and starting him on a weekday is monumental Friday brings the whole weekend of excitement, while the weekday game doesn’t bring as many fans any way you look at it.

We’ll just have to see what the Nats decide to do, but I can imagine there are a lot of unhappy people who bought expensive tickets for a Friday night when John Lannan is going to be pitching, and not Strasburg.

Monday, May 24, 2010

National Debt

The Orioles lost two of three this weekend against the Nationals in Washington, DC. Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

I know---sorry attempt at humor; but after that debacle this weekend it’s hard to find anything too positive heading into the summer months.

The Orioles team on Friday night didn’t have Brian Roberts, Matt Wieters, or Adam Jones after he homered and walked in his first two at-bats, respectively; yet they still beat the Nats. Let’s not forget that Jim Johnson, Koji Uehara, and Mike Gonzalez are all out., and all three of those players were the most integral pieces of the bullpen entering the season.

On Saturday night, the Orioles blew a 6-3 lead in the later innings. I was unable to see most of the game because of a prior engagement, but from what I read and heard from reliable sources, they completely gave the game away.

Enter Sunday afternoon.

The Orioles blew another game. With the bases loaded and two outs, Nats right fielder Roger Bernadina hit a fly ball to right-center field where Jones got to the ball easily, and either miss-timed his leap or didn’t know he wasn’t so close to the wall, and he missed the ball. It allowed the only three runs of the regulation nine innings to score.

In the sixth inning, Cory Patterson led off with a single and stole second. With no outs, Nick Markakis hit a fly ball to the warning track in right field. One out and man on third with Miguel Tejada---wait---no. Patterson, for whatever reason, didn’t tag up. Tejada grounded out with what should have been an RBI to make the score 3-2, but instead Patterson was stranged on third to end the inning.

The Orioles would battle back in the ninth inning against Nats closer Matt Capps to tie the game and send it to extras, but it didn’t matter. The Orioles newest closer Alfredo Simon came in and got four easy outs, except on the fourth out he strained his hamstring. Unbelievable.

Predictably, Cla Meredith came in and surrendered a walk-off home run to Josh Willingham.

The Orioles completely gave this series away. Their mental breakdowns have cost them so many runs this season, and they just look like they know how to lose more than they know how to win. That mentality will not get it done. It’s just a killer, and everything that could have gone wrong this year has. I’m not saying Dave Trembley needs to go---but he needs to go. This team needs an attitude makeover in the worst way. If you don’t think the manager makes a difference, then you just don’t know sports or baseball. The manager sets the tone. He is the one who determines where guys hit, where guys can most succeed---and most importantly, he batted Jones in the leadoff sport where he hit .188 for a month even though it was obvious after two games that that was not a spot that suited him. I could go on for days about the gaffes Trembley has made, but this is a blog.

What do you think? What is the first thing this team needs to do to get back on track?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Great Wall of China-Town

Well, the Washington Bullets---err, I mean, Wizards---finally got lucky in the NBA draft lottery on Tuesday night.

They came in with a 10.3% chance of winning---and got the first pick.

Everybody knows about the "Curse o le’Bullez," coined famously by longtime Washington Post sports columnist Tony Kornheiser. This is a franchise that has spun its wheels for so long, and had so much negativity come into its walls that even when they got a bright young franchise player getting into his prime, he managed to tear his knee up, and bring weapons into the locker room.

The Bullets and Wizards had gone into their last 13 draft lottery’s moving down or staying in their slotted position 12 times. Does it get any unluckier than that? The one time they moved up? 2001. They got the number one pick in a year that featured no true number one selection and they drafted high school star Kwame Brown. Brown is still playing in the NBA, but he was not even close to being worthy of the number one selection. In their defense, most teams wanted Brown and would have taken him with the number one selection in the 2001 draft.

In 1992, the Bullets missed out on getting Shaquille O’Neal.

In 1993, the Bullets missed out on drafting Chris Webber (though they would get him via trade the next year, giving up three future number one picks in the process)

In short, the Bullets/Wizards missed out on a lot of guys. In 1995, they drafted Rasheed Wallace only to trade him the following year. Why? Well, that is another rant and tirade on Abe Pollin that I will not go in to. Pollin valued character and loyal yes men by his side at all times, and it cost this franchise dearly for nearly 25 years.

Pollin passed away last November.

Enter new majority owner/Capitals owner/businessman/entrepreneur/media favorite/fan favorite Ted Leonsis. Leonsis has been there and done that in terms of trying to get that one player to win a championship. You can bet the house he won’t make any outrageous signings this summer because he knows this team is in trouble. Their image is porous; their recent draft picks have not lived up to billing, and their local interest is in vast decline.

But not today. Turn on any DC sports radio station today and they are talking Wizards. Why?

With incredible luck, the Wizards just happen to have the number one overall pick in a draft where there is a clear number one.

John Wall out of Kentucky has been the consensus first pick since his junior year of high school in North Carolina. Wall is quick, skilled, and a pass-first point guard in the Derrick Rose/Rajon Rondo mold. I compare him more with Rondo because of his build, but he shoots much better than Rondo did at this stage of his career. Wall also stands out because he is a shutdown perimeter defender, which is something the Wizards have lacked for many, many years. Wall will almost certainly be the Wizards pick, and he will resuscitate a franchise that is in dire need of a young franchise-type point guard.

This pick may not work out, and the Wizards may still be the same old Wizards. But it was a great night for Leonsis, and the Wizards fan base to finally get some luck on NBA draft lottery night.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Productive Weekend at One Winning Drive

The Baltimore Ravens took their first step this weekend towards their ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl in 2010.

The minicamp got underway on Friday, and immediately a surprise took place: Michael Oher took reps with the first team at left tackle and Jared Gaither was on the right side. Joe Flacco hurled passes to new receivers Donte Stallworth and Anquan Boldin, and the rookies took their place on the field learning the ropes. Sergio Kindle looked like a monster coming off the edge and David Reed....wait, let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's still May. I sounded like a Redskins fan for a second there!

The minicamps are really just organized practices so that the team can get together without pads on or pants, and they can run through plays and get accustomed to football playing shape. Coach John Harbaugh still runs an effective practice where guys are going at it competitively even without tackling. The practices now also help make training camp more effective because they won't spend the better part of July or August learning the whole playbook or getting in football shape.

Jared Gaither was out on Saturday and Sunday with a foot injury that was suffered, well, nobody knows when. Is it a ploy to be traded elsewhere by Gaither? He is presumably not happy with his contract or being moved from left tackle. But let's be honest, Oher is a much better left tackle and deserves to protect Flacco's blindside. Gaither is seen as lazy by the coaches and has all but worn out his welcome.

Trade speculation about him is rampant now and he only has himself to blame. He was given a tremendous opportunity coming out of the supplemental draft to be drafted by a good organization with tremendous people around him. He was also given the opportunity to be the left tackle of the future for a winning organization. Just like at the University of Maryland---Gaither seems to have blown a great opportunity for himself.

Keep checking back for Ravens updates throughout the spring and summer as we head into the 2010 season this September.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Learning to Fly

Forget the Foo Fighter reference or even the Might Ducks reference. This weekend is the first mini-camp of 2010 for the Baltimore Ravens. With what has to be regarded as their best wide receiving core since 1996, the Ravens will start the process of dramatically improving their passing game for the 2010 season.

The Ravens acquired Anquan Boldin, signed Donte Stallworth, and re-signed Derrick Mason. They will help quarterback Joe Flacco take the next step, and will help take the pressure off of running back Ray Rice and former number two wideout Mark Clayton. Clayton may have a tough time making the squad as the fourth receiver because he doesn't play special teams. Your fourth and fifth wide receivers on the depth chart must make an impact in the special teams department if they want to stick.

The Ravens have set up their wide receiving core perfectly. They have Boldin to work the middle of the field, make tough catches, and bully his way up the field after the catch. Mason still works the sidelines better than 95% of the league, and can occasionally get deep when he's matched up one on one. Stallworth is faster than any receiver they've ever had, and will be asked to run down the field most downs. This opens up Mason and Boldin underneath or in the intermediate routes. Clayton or whoever the fourth and fifth receivers are will be asked to play the slot and make only a small contribution.

One must remember that Ray Rice led the team with 78 receptions out of the backfield, which went along with his 1,339 yards rushing. He is a budding superstar in the league, and somebody every defense must account for at all times. Rice's presence alone should help open things up for the other players.

The Ravens hope their playmakers make plays; they also hope their young offensive line continues to get better. Michael Oher and Jared Gaither are solid bookend tackles, and guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda are a force to be reckon with. They're anchored by solid veteran center Matt Birk. This line is very young and should continue to gel.

The Ravens have the best offense on paper that they've ever had. If all of the parts are clicking, it will be a fun year of offense in Baltimore. This weekend will be fun to watch to see just how the moving parts are coming together this offseason.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Lost Opportunity

The Orioles played a terrific game against the New York Yankees last night in the Bronx. They were on par with the Yanks all night, save for one pitch.

Randy Winn came into the game hitting below .100; yet he still managed to hit his first home run in over 400 at-bats against Jeremy Guthrie to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead that they would never lose.

Catcher Matt Wieters got the Orioles on the board in the second with a solo shot to right field off of Yankees ace CC Sabathia. After the homer, Sabathia put the game on cruise control and was only threatened once during the rest of the night. The only other hitters other than Wieters who looked like they had a clue last night were Nick Markakis and Garrett Atkins.

Jeremy Guthrie pitched very well all night. The Yankees 1-4 hitters were a combined 1-17, but when Ty Wigginton booted a sure double play ball in the fourth inning, the floodgates opened. Instead of getting out of the inning without giving up any runs, the Yankees got four. It's something the Orioles have to live with while Brian Roberts is on the DL with a herniated disc.

The Orioles will look to get back on track tonight when their rookie stud Brian Matusz opposes AJ Burnett. Burnett has always been a problem for the Orioles, and tonight shouldn't be an exception. Matusz had one of the best starts of his career last year in his last start at Yankee Stadium. He allowed one run in seven innings.

Check back for some updates, and remember that the Ravens start minicamps this weekend. At least Baltimore has a solid, winning franchise in town.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

How Sweep it is

The Orioles won two games in 2009 against the Boston Red Sox.

They have now won four games against the Red Sox---in six games played in 2010.

Interestingly enough, the Orioles are only 7-18, and coming off one of their worst starts in franchise history.

How is it that this is the year they swept the Sox for the first time at home since the Watergate scandal? Many factors. The Red Sox aren't nearly as formidable as they have been in past seasons, and the Orioles bats have finally awoken. Throw in some gutsy starting pitching performances with clutch, timely hits and you have a sweep.

The Orioles saw the reemergence of Nick Markakis in this series. Markakis had five RBI's on Saturday night, which included a three-run homer. Markakis now has his average above .300 with his OBP above .400. I said last week in a post that Markakis would be around .300 within a month. I'll pat myself on the back for that. The guy is a pure, professional hitter.

We saw Adam Jones start to figure things out and get back to basics. Jones stayed on balls and peppered them to right field with regularity this weekend. When Jones doesn't get himself out, he is a very solid hitter. The guy is not going to be Willie Mays. But that's okay because nobody is Mays. Jones is a solid major league ballplayer and will be for many years. He just needs to continue to stay within himself and not try to do too much. That's when he gets in trouble.

Miguel Tejada was a dominant force this weekend, too. Tejada has shown the doubters that he is an above-average third basemen, and his work-ethic is showing. He swung the bat extremely well, and he, too, is above .300 for the season. Tejada's game tying home run in the eighth inning on Friday night may have provided the spark the Orioles needed. He then followed that with the walk-off single that scored Adam Jones from second base.

Tejada can flat out hit. He has four home runs and 13 rbi so far this season, and his bat truly makes a difference in the lineup.

Perhaps no Oriole has made more of an impact in 2010 than Ty Wigginton. Wigginton has eight home runs this season already, and has filled in admirably at second base for the injured star Brian Roberts. Without him, the Orioles might have three wins this season. The guy knows his limits, and knows what he needs to do to succeed. He isn't an all-star but he has true grit and determination playing the game. Give him at-bats and he will hit.

The Orioles got solid starting pitching this weekend from David Hernandez and Brad Bergesen. However, Kevin Millwood showed the city what a true number one pitcher is all about on Sunday. With the bullpen depleted, Millwood knew he had to go deep into the game today. What he gave the team was an eight inning, five hit gem. He allowed only two runs (both solo home runs) and gutted it out on a steamy day in Baltimore. Millwood has shown himself to be a true competitor with a winning attitude. It's important to have a guy like him around to show other players what winning is all about. Millwood would not be denied today.

The Orioles are not too great of a team. They're much better than their record right now, but their record is reality. The best part? They still have five months left to make up for such a terrible start. Let's be honest: everything that could have gone wrong for this club did go wrong the first month. They blew saves, late leads, and their closer Mike Gonzalez and arguably their best player Roberts have been on the DL most of the season. I knew it would take time for the team to adjust, and maybe they have adjusted. It will be interesting to see how the team plays once their schedule softens up a bit and they don't have to play as many divisional games. The Yankees and Twins are up next.

On a side note, many of you are possibly wondering why the Red Sox are struggling so much. If you'd like me to post thoughts on that topic let me know. I have many.