Predicting the O’s playoff rotation

Remember, early this season, when the Orioles lacked “pitching”?

With the magic number at three, the AL East crown is all-but inevitable.  Thus the—for lack of better words—“looming” question is who will pitch the Divisional Round best-of-five-series playoff games?

Chen or Norris? Norris or Gonzalez? Chen and Tillman or Gonzales and Gausman?  Five starters all capable and deserving of pitching in the playoffs—none of whom is anywhere near the pay-grade of Ubaldo Jimenez.  Whodathunkit?

It’s tough to predict which direction O’s skipper Buck Showalter will go—he’s not always the pillar of textbook baseball practices.  But an educated guess would allude to the idea that it’ll be a three-man turn, with something close to this:

Game 1 (in Baltimore)—Miguel Gonzalez

Game 2 (in Baltimore)—Wei Yin Chen

Game 3 (away)—Chris Tillman

Gonzalez, (9-8, 3.28 ERA) has been the team’s most dominant starter over the past few weeks.  Since the All-Star Break, he’s (5-3, 2.12 ERA).  The big difference between Gonzalez and Chris Tillman, who would be equally as deserving to be the Game One starter is that Tillman is (8-0) on the road this season.  For some reason, Tillman just knows how to win in someone else’s house.  Along with this, he’s (12-5, 3.29 ERA) on the season and (5-0, 2.01 ERA) in the second half; in addition, he’s had 19 straight starts allowing three-runs or less.  It makes all the sense in the world to depend on him in Game Three, which would most likely be in Detroit or Kansas City. 

Looking to game two, Wei Yin Chen has to be the guy.  He’s (15-4) on the season and he’s been dominant in the second-half (6-1, 2.67 ERA).  Perhaps the strongest argument for Gonzalez and Chen to lead the way is the fact that both have successful, albeit limited, post-season experience—something Chris Tillman lacks. 

Alas, it’s Bud Norris and Kevin Gausman who’ll either be left off of the Divisional Round roster or be moved into a long-relief if-needed role.  Norris, who has been terrific since the break (6-2, 3.43 ERA) and solid on the season (13-8), lacks the same consistency that has been shown by Gonzalez, Chen, and Tillman—even though Tillman can drive fans to drinking during his sometimes 30-40 pitch innings. Gausman on the other hand has been solid, but just isn’t at the level of the other four potential starters that the Birds could run with.

There was a time when the Orioles’ Achilles Heel was pitching.  Now, in mid-September, the club has a surplus.  And that’s a problem many other teams would love to have.

Props and Stops: Ravens—Steelers Recap

After coasting to a 26-6 victory over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, this is as good as it gets.

Joe Flacco was sharp.  The running game was effective.  The offensive line was terrific.  Defensively, the Ravens thwarted nearly everything the Pittsburgh Steelers tried to do. 

Props:

Courtney Upshaw—Talk about setting the tone early.  Upshaw’s penalized, albeit-clean hit that lifted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger off of his feet and into the turf set the tone for the entire night and clearly altered Big Ben’s rhythm.

Jimmy Smith—There’s some old-school wisdom about referees and cornerbacks that goes something like “if you aren’t talking about them, then you know they were good.”

Elvis Dumervil—Finally, signs of life from the edges of the defense.  Now if only Terrell Suggs can get rolling.

CJ Mosely—In his second NFL game, Mosely was a presence up the middle, something the Ravens lacked last season.  Mosely’s ability to immediately start and play effectively makes the whole defense that much more capable. 

Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett—Perhaps it was last week’s benching, but Pierce ran with more conviction and vision.  Forsett, who is starting to prove to be a legitimate playmaker and diamond in the rough, is the perfect complement.

Jeremy Zuttah—Centers don’t get much credit, but it’s due in this case.  The obvious upgrade from Gino Gradkowski is already paying dividends as the offensive line looks very solid thus far.

Owen Daniels—If he’s healthy, he’s on the Dennis Pitta ability-level.  After multiple injury-ridden seasons in Houston, it’s nice to see him making plays.

Steve Smith—The guy just grinds.  Hard not to love his fight, play-in and play-out.  At 35 years-old, he’s much more capable than most expected.

Justin Tucker—Let’s not forget how important it is to have a guy that’s becoming as automatic as Matt Stover.

Stops:

It’d be nice to see John Harbaugh show some signs of improvement in his clock-management.  It didn’t matter last night, but later in the season, if someone doesn’t lend a helping hand in managing the clock and the team’s timeouts, his struggles will come back to bite this team.

The bunch formation down at the goal line isn’t working.  It hasn’t worked since the days of Jamal Lewis.  The Ravens don’t have the offensive personnel to play ground-and-pound football inside the five-yard line.  Furthermore, sending your franchise quarterback on two consecutive sneaks at the goal line is idiotic.  If Joe Flacco takes the wrong side of a helmet to the ribs, Baltimore’s season would lie on the shoulders of Tyrod Taylor.  Virginia Tech fans might be interested in seeing what the ex-Hokie can do, but I’m surely not.

Speaking of goal line formations, where is Marlon Brown?  After a promising rookie season, he’s all of a sudden Jimmy Hoffa.  Why not use Brown near the goal line where he can out-size smaller corners in the end zone?

It’s a good day in Baltimore.  The Ravens beat the Steelers handily, the O’s take on the Yankees with a 10-game lead, and the city is buzzing with red-white-and blue pride for Francis Scott Key, et al.

After the past few days of drama, this is as good as it gets for Baltimore.

Game Prediction: Steelers @ Ravens

It’s Steeler Week in Baltimore.  Each year, the dates change, the faces change, but the tradition lives on.

This year, in the wake of Videogate, there’s more talk about a haymaker-punch, spit, and lies told by the Ravens’ organization and the NFL’s most senior leaders.

Steeler Week hasn’t been the same.  No memories of James Trapp stepping on Plaxico Burress’ head.  No talk of Bart Scott obliterating Big Ben in route to a defensive effort that produced nine-sacks in a 27-0 shutout of the then-defending World Champion Steelers.  No, this week is all about everything but tonight’s game.

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And it’s because of this that the Ravens will have a very tough time coming away with a victory at M&T Bank Stadium.

RAVENS OFFENSE vs. STEELERS DEFENSE

This isn’t your grandaddy’s Steel Curtain D.  With a shoddy secondary and gaping holes on the defensive line, the Steelers watched the Cleveland Browns’ Brian Hoyer and rookie Terrance West run roughshod over them in the second-half of last week’s blown lead.  

On the flip side, the Ravens have their own offensive issues, starting with quarterback Joe Flacco’s delayed decision-making.  Even though the Steelers don’t possess the kind of fierce pass-rush of the Bengals, Flacco will have to be more sharp on his feet this week in order for the Ravens to hang in the game.  It’s worth noting that Justin Forsett is going to play the bulk of the snaps tonight over Bernard Pierce.  While he was spry and elusive last week, he’s had trouble in the past with blitz pickups and other essentials to the position. 

The Ravens receiving corps will be a key to tonight’s game, as another case of the drops could spell a long night.

EDGE: Even

STEELERS OFFENSE vs. RAVENS DEFENSE

Like the Steelers’ defense, this isn’t the typical Ravens defense many have become accustomed to.  The secondary is below average on every level from corner to safety.  Along with being under-skilled, safety Darian Stewart lacked hustle multiple times last week.  If this continues, coupled with lack of edge pressure from Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, Ben Roethlisberger’s playmaking ability could very-well put the Ravens in a hole early and force Joe Flacco to make more plays than he’s capable of with a suspect ground-game and shaky-handed receivers.  

Along with Big Ben, the two-headed monster of Le’ Veon Bell and LeGarrete Blount are going to be tough to maintain, let alone stop.  Bell, in 17 career games, averages 104 yards-per-game.  Rookie linebacker CJ Moseley will have to play a big game up the middle for anything to go the Ravens’ way in this matchup. 

EDGE:  Steelers

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Ravens still struggle with discipline and it showed last week as Kamar Aiken was flagged with what’s become a weekly tradition of personal fouls during kickoff coverage.  Justin Tucker and Sam Koch on the other hand are superior to Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham and Brad Wing.  If the game came down to kicking, you’d have to like your odds with Tucker.

EDGE:  Ravens

INTANGIBLES

There’s nothing new to note here.  The Ravens are facing adversity like they’ve never faced before.  Some will reach back to Ray Lewis’ murder trial, however that lacked video and social media; not to mention, it was in the off-season. 

The Steelers will likely come into this game laser-focused after nearly blowing a huge lead at home against Cleveland last week.  Moreover, you’d have to think Mike Tomlin smells blood in the water with the distractions surrounding the Ravens.  

The disenchantment of the players and one of their former leaders, as well as the brewing mistrust between the players and the front office could prove to be too tumultuous to overcome—especially on a short week.

PREDICTION:  Steelers 34 — Ravens 19

Pretty Cool Quarterback Trivia stuff

Here’s a look at Week-one Quarterbacks by-the-numbers…

1 Rookie:  Carr, Oak

2 Second-year: Manuel, Buf; Smith, NYJ

16 First Round Draft picks: Palmer, Arz; Ryan, Atl; Flacco, Bal; Manuel, Buf; Cutler, Chi; P. Manning, Den; Stafford, Det; Rodgers, GB; Luck, Ind; Smith, KC; Tannehill, Mia; E. Manning, NYG; Roethlisberger, Pit; Rivers, SD; Locker, Ten; Griffin III, Was

7 Sixth-Round Draft picks or later: Anderson, Car (Round 6); Hoyer, Cle (Undrafted); Romo, Dal (Undrafted); Fitzpatrick, Hou (Round 7); Cassel, Min (Round 7); Brady, NE (Round 6); Hill, StL (Undrafted)

6 Number-one-overall picks:  Palmer, Arz; P. Manning, Den; Stafford, Det; Luck, Ind; Smith, KC; E. Manning, NYG

10 Drafted No. 75 overall or later/Undrafted:  Anderson, Car; Hoyer, Cle; Romo, Dal; Fitzpatrick, Hou; Cassel, Min; Brady, NE; Foles, Phi; Wilson, Sea; Hill, StL; McCown, TB

16 Younger than 30 years old:  Ryan, Atl; Flacco, Bal; Manuel, Buf; Dalton, Cin; Hoyer, Cle; Stafford, Det; Luck, Ind; Henne, Jax; Tannehill, Mia; Smith, NYJ; Carr, Oak; Foles, Phi; Kaepernick, SF; Wilson, Sea; Locker, Ten; Griffin III, Was

8 originally from the state of Texas (most of any state): Dalton, Cin; Stafford, Det; Luck, Ind; Tannehill, Mia; Brees, NO; Foles, Phi; McCown, TB; Griffin III, Was