What’s gone wrong with the Orioles

In short—nearly everything has gone wrong.

In game one of the ALCS, the Orioles wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the 9th inning, only to surrender two home runs in the tenth.

In game two, the middle of the order failed to seize opportunities to put runs on the board.  In game three, it was more of the same good fortune that seems to have attached itself to one side of this series.

Kansas City’s bullpen has been lights out.  The Orioles, thought to have a comparable arsenal of arms, hasn’t gotten the job done well enough. The Royals’ starters have pitched well enough to win; the Birds’ rotation has done just enough to lose.

The bitterness only gets worse with each game.  Close enough to be in-the-game and within reasonable striking distance; far enough away from causing any real threat or imposing any true danger to a team that’s become as flawless as any in the history of October baseball.

Perhaps that’s just it.  Maybe it’s just “their time.”  Much like the 2012 Ravens, who went on a magical playoff ride behind the arm of Joe Flacco—who had an otherwise average season with pedestrian numbers—these Royals heroes are playing above the level that anyone thought possible.

Mike Moustakas, a struggling third baseman who hit only .212 this season and spent time in AAA earlier this year, has a .280 postseason average with four homers and a slew of plays that have made him look like the lovechild of Brooks Robinson and George Brett.

Eric Hosmer, who batted .270 with only nine home runs during the season, has become an intimidating cog in the middle of a batting order that only featured only three players who recorded double-digit home runs.

Even defensive-minded players like Alicides Escobar and Omar Infante have gotten into the mix of timely hits and solid contact—which has been the issue for Orioles pitching since the first inning of the series.  The Royals just don’t miss pitches, they work and work and work the count until they slap the ball to an area where defenders aren’t.

It’s the classic case of old-school baseball—“hit ‘em where they ain’t.”  The Royals have perfected it.

On the other side of the series, the Orioles have done the stark opposite. Adam Jones—perhaps the most undisciplined hitter in the history of the modern game—has swung at anything moving in his general direction; a strategy that’s responsible for his .137 career postseason average.

In many ways, the Orioles were going to go as far as Jones was going to take them.  The lineup, outside of Jones and Cruz, doesn’t strike much fear into the hearts of the Royals’ pitching staff.

Considering that the only true starter in the infield is shortstop JJ Hardy, it’s no wonder the Birds have run into Royal-blue-brick-wall in this year’s ALCS.

Steve Pearce is a feel-good story, but he’s not truly the type of guy you really want batting fifth in your order when you’re playing for a World Series.  

Ryan Flaherty is a decent utility player—primed for being a defensive replacement.  When he plays every game at the hot corner, it doesn’t say much for the prospect of cranking out big-time run production.

Of course, Pearce and Flaherty’s daily presence can be attributed to Manny Machado’s untimely injury, but more credit should go to Chris Davis for selfishly breaking the rules and taking a banned substance at the risk of throwing a wrench into his team’s chemistry and personnel maneuvers.

Moreover, Jonathan Schoop and Caleb Joseph are raw rookies who are on a larger stage than they’re ready for, while Nick Hundley is nothing more than a light-hitting backup on any true contending team.

Couple these shortcomings to the ineffective at-bats from Jones and Nelson Cruz—not to mention the lack of Delmon Young usage—it’s not too hard to see why the Orioles are in a 3-0 series hole.

Heading into the fourth—and potentially final—game of the ALCS, the Orioles will need to right the ship quick.

Adam Jones has to display patience.  Miguel Gonzalez has to throw blanks for at least six innings.  Nick Markakis has to either hit for power or do something on the basepaths.  The bullpen has to avoid late inning walks.  Buck Showalter has to understand when to send pinch hitters to the plate.  And on, and on, and on.

So far, through three games, nearly everything has gone wrong.  And with the above list of fixes, it’s hard to imagine anyone or anything can right this sinking ship in the next four-to-six hours.

 

Wiz Reactions: O’s one step closer to “stopping”

-“We won’t stop” has been the battle cry for the Baltimore faithful this October. With Tuesday night’s gut-wrenching loss to the Kanas City Royals, the Orioles are one game away from being told that they, in fact, will have to “stop” and watch the Royals move on to the World Series.

-One of the keys to tonight’s game was to finally take a lead in this series. The Orioles did that by capitalizing on back to back doubles from Steve Pearce and JJ Hardy. Unfortunately what could have become a very big inning was for not as the bottom of the order went quietly to finish out the second-inning.

-It’s hard to imagine that this lineup full of “power” could only muster up one lone run; especially against an aging and very mediocre Jeremy Guthrie.

-If you don’t believe in “Oriole Magic,” you should, because it’s made Oriole bats completely disappear.

-Where is Delmon Young? In the bottom of the seventh inning, catcher Nick Hundley brought his .077 series average to the plate. Rather than Buck Showalter calling for Young to pinch hit and have a shot to tie the game with one swing, he left Hundley in to do exactly what .077 hitters do—strikeout in weak fashion.

-In the 8th inning, instead of allowing an overmatched Jonathan Schoop lead off the inning, why not Young?

-In the 9th inning, Adam Jones continued to show why he’s not an elite player by swinging at the first pitch and popping out weakly to start the inning. A truly piss-poor at-bat at a time when the team desperately needed a spark.

-Wei Yin Chen was decent, but certainly is nothing more than a middle-of-the-road starter. With his impressive postseason, Kevin Gausman has the makings of being a top of the rotation guy by next season.

-If you ask me, I’m more confident in Miguel Gonzalez than I am Chris Tillman in game four.

-There are 3 reasons the Royals are only a win away from the sweep of the O’s….

#1: Mike Moustakas is playing like he’s the next coming of Mike Schmidt. In this postseason, the guy has 4 homers, an average well into the 300’s, and has gotten himself into the conversation for ESPY Awards.

#2: The starting pitchers don’t nibble, they attack; unlike the Orioles staff who seems reluctant to challenged opposing hitters. It’s almost like each O’s starting pitcher don’t trust his stuff.

#3: They have speed off the bench and they know how to use it. On then flip side, the Birds can’t manufacture runs and it’s a proving to be a series-killer.

It’s ok to keep chanting “We Won’t Stop.” Just so as long as you realize it’s very possible that it’s just not true.

Props and Stops: Ravens bury Bucs

PROPS:
-Joe Flacco wasn’t just “Good Joe” this week, he was “Great Joe.”  The oft-criticized quarterback did nearly everything right during the first half of football in sunny Florida, including not trying to do too much.  There were opportunities for Flacco to chase the NFL record of seven touchdown passes in a game, but after building a 38-0 lead, his focus was clearly centered on working on some fundamental pieces, as if the rest of the game were a scrimmage and avoiding any sort of injuries to anyone in purple.  

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-Justin Forsett continued his upward march toward being “the guy” in Baltimore.  The shifty journeyman is looking more and more like an every-down back, especially with his ever-improving blitz reads and blocking abilities.


-Gary Kubiak’s game-plan was terrific.  Against the antiquated Tampa-2 defensive scheme that Lovie Smith continues to believe in, Kubiak’s offense did exactly what it needed to in order to exploit the soft spots over-the-middle.  The endless slant patterns to Torrey Smith to start the game was a way to really cut into the heart of the Bucs secondary from the get-go.  It was a perfect design.


-Speaking of Torrey Smith, welcome back, big fella.  


-And how about Michael Campanaro’s big-time touchdown catch?  Welcome to the show, little fella.


-Of course none of this offensive success would have been possible without another solid performance from the offensive line.  A week after struggling in Indianapolis, the line looked in sync and was very competent in giving Flacco time to look down field for the big-play.


-Switching over to the defensive side of the ball, finally the pass-rush looked alive.  Terrell Suggs is starting to look a little thinner and a little more spry—perhaps he needed the first five weeks to get into game-shape?


-On the other end, Elvis Dumervil has settled into the role of being a solid player.  He’s no longer a great player, but he’s still got game and is a solid contributor on all three-downs.


-The linebacking corp continued to excel with CJ Moseley at the center.  Although he was beaten for a touchdown in yesterday’s game, the rookie middle-linebacker plays nothing like a rookie and should continue to get better and better as the season goes on.


STOPS:


-As good as Moseley has been in his first season in Baltimore, that’s as bad as Matt Elam has been in his second.  Elam is a major liability on every snap.  He struggles in coverage, he’s a below-average tackler, and lacks the vision to really be a contributor anywhere in the secondary.  There were questions of whether or not he was overrated coming out of the University of Florida, where he was a product of a great team and an even better system. Perhaps those questions are becoming answers.


-On the other side of the defensive backfield, Darian Stewart is no better.  After pressuring quarterback Mike Glennon early-on, the Ravens pass-rush relinquished a bit and it again exposed Stewart, who is really nothing but a veteran version of Elam.  The Ravens are going to have to find some other answers at safety as the regular season becomes crunch-time and battle for the AFC North is in full swing.


-Bernard Pierce, on an ability level, isn’t in the same league as Forsett or rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro.  The coaching staff clearly remains committed to getting the third-year back into the fold, but his presence on the field continuously slows down the offense and limits the explosiveness and power that is evident when the aforementioned duo is swapping in and out of the game.


The Ravens head home next week to face the Atlanta Falcons in another Joe Flacco vs. Matt Ryan battle—it’s very possible that the Falcons may have a new coach by then, because there are grumblings that Mike Smith is on his way out after another lowly performance by a team that was projected to be among the elite of the NFC.

Gut reactions to game 2 of the ALCS

-Prior to the game, it was hard to understand why Buck Showalter would give the nod to Bud Norris in game two. Given the Royals’ multiple lefties, Wei Yin Chen seemed like a better option—especially coming off of an ALDS start in which he’d probably like to have back.

-After Norris surrendered a pair of runs in the first, Chen and Miguel Gonzalez looked even better.

-When Norris proved to not be able to get out of the 5th, hindsight was screaming at Buck Showalter.

-Adam Jones finally found his bat.

-Adam Jones completely forgot to make the adjustment to the situation. Trying to hit a ball off of the Hilton, when a base knock would do is amateurish and exactly what keeps him from being an elite player.

-Kansas City seemingly can’t do anything wrong.

-Baltimore seemingly can’t catch a break.

-The crowd was moderately lame at some critical points in the game.

-The best thing that can happen is a day off tomorrow. The next two games are very winnable against Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas. If that’s the case, it’ll be a whole new series.

How to win Game 2 of the ALCS

The Royals will win if….

1. Yordano Ventura is able to get into a groove.

The young fireballer can blow up the radar gun, hitting 100-plus at will; the caveat to that he has the tendency to over-challenge hitters, much like he did in the Wildcard game in Oakland when he suffered from proverbial whiplash from watching the ball fly all over the ballpark.

2. The speed takes over.

Last night’s game one proved the Royals didn’t necessarily need their speed to win a game. Prior to belting three bombs last night, KC had only hit three homers as a team in the prior 25 games. With Caleb Joseph behind the plate tonight, the Royals certainly will look to test the base-stealing waters.

3. The bullpen can get into the mix.

The Royals strongpoint, much like the Birds, is the backend of their bullpen; and last night proved that the Royals were just a little better than the Orioles—at least for one night.

If the Royals hand a sizable lead—think two runs or more—to their pen, it’s hard to feel positive about the Orioles’ chances to knot the series up at one.


The Orioles will win if….

1. Bud Norris does what Chris Tillman couldn’t.

Tillman, the club’s de facto ace, was inefficient and flat-out ineffective. Bud Norris will need to keep his pitch count down and save manager Buck Showalter from having to go to his cornerstones—Andrew Miller and Darren O’Day—too soon.

Moreover, it’s equally important to avoid gambling on the middle of the bullpen with the likes of Brian “big knock” Matusz and Tommy “hell if I know where the ball is going to wind up” Hunter.

2. Adam Jones hits.

The Birds” center fielder knocked in a run last night, but is 5 for 45 in his playoff career—much like Eddie Murray of 1979, Jones’ inability to get big hits is going to plague this team, unless he finds a way to avoid swinging at poor pitches and asserting himself as an automatic out with two-strikes.

3. Zach Britton finds himself again.

Nothing is worse than watching your closer falter in the playoffs; Baltimore has seen plenty of that from the like of Jim Johnson, Randy Myers, and even Armando Benitez—who was more a set up man, but was poised to close in the regular season.

Britton, in his last two outings, has went from shaky to awful. Last night’s inability to throw a strike with Kansas City hitters trying to give up outs via sacrifice bunts was little-league style inexcusable.

If the keys are handed to Britton in the ninth, it’s no longer a sure bet that he’s who you want out there. And, to win games in October, you have to be able to slam the door.

Prediction….

Last night’s game was the first adversity the O’s have faced in October. It’s anyone’s guess how they’re going to respond.

The crowd will be loud, but it might be possible that this Royals team is “more destined” than the Orioles.

Royals 4-2

Gut reactions to game one of the ALCS

-Has anyone seen Adam Jones’ bat, because he clearly can’t find it. He’s now 5-for-45 in his postseason career.

-Darren O’Day was stellar, as it’s incredible he was able to work out of the bases-loaded jam in the ninth. Unfortunately, he made a really bad pitch to a pretty good hitter in Alex Gordon.

-Brian Matusz shouldn’t see the mound again as a member of the Orioles. For years, Matusz has done nothing but prove he’s unreliable and ineffectively mediocre. His postseason woes from 2012 have carried into present-day. For a first-round draft choice and big-time prospect, he’s one of the biggest busts in Oriole history.

-Did anyone realize Nick Markakis broke really late on the bases-loaded double by Alex Gordon? -Chris Tillman isn’t a big-game pitcher.

-Zach Britton allegedly told some reporters that he didn’t want to “give in” to the Royals’ hitters when he walked the bases loaded in the ninth inning. And that takes the cake for the dumbest thing anyone has said in a week; moreover, anyone who believes that doesn’t understand baseball. The Royals were trying to sacrifice bunt runners over, there’s no such thing as “giving in” in that spot. He looked like the left handed version of Jim Johnson.

-The Orioles handed out rally towels again last night. The towels cost about 0.002 to make. Why does this franchise have to consistently mistreat the fans and refuse to give out extra towels upon request. The team can bone up and pay JJ Hardy $40million but can’t spend an extra 23-bucks on a few thousand extra towels? It’s sad, but at the core, this organization still sucks when it comes to fan-treatment.

-Some people at last night’s game didn’t deserve to be there. The lame “fans” who left after Alex Gordon’s tie- breaking home run should keep walking and never come back to Camden Yards.

-There was a group of Royals fans sitting in front of the press box, and they’ve completely ruined the opinion of Royals fans. I’ve never encountered a more classless group of scum-bag sports fans than that group of about 50 Royals fans. It’s one thing to celebrate your team’s success, it’s another to come into someone else’s city and disrespect and mock them—especially when O’s fans we’re more welcoming than I ever thought they would be. Kansas City should be disappointed.

-In 1997, we won game-one of the ALCS over the Indians via a 3-0 Scott Erickson shutout. We lost the series in six games. Maybe losing game one isn’t such a bad omen? -If game-two goes in KC’s favor, we’re in big trouble.

Dropping game one, O’s face first real test of 2014

The orange-drenched night turned cold and blue, as the Orioles dropped game one of the American League Championship Series.

After a subpar outing by Chris Tillman, a few hits, a little luck, and a big game from Ryan Flaherty (there’s something you don’t hear everyday) pulled the O’s into a 5-5 tie; but it was all for not as Darren O’Day left a pitch up in the zone to Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, which he quickly deposited into the deep right field bleachers.

Moments later, Brian Matusz continued to prove his legacy as a first-class bust as he essentially placed a flat fastball on a tee to Mike Moustakas.

After a horrendous 2012 postseason and pedestrian 2013 and 2014 seasons, it’s hard to accept the choice to even allow Matusz anywhere near the mound in any spot in which the game is close.

In fact, it’s already fair to question the decision to leave fellow lefty TJ McFarland off of the ALCS roster in favor of Matusz, given Matusz’s propensity to surrender big hits in big spots.

With six games remaining in the series, game two isn’t a must-win, but it’s certainly close to it.

After running away with the AL East, the Orioles haven’t faced a true spot of adversity in quite a while.

But if any team can rally around the idea of having their collective backs against the wall, it’s Baltimore’s Birds.

After losing Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to injuries and Chris Davis to suspension, this Orioles’ team has continued to rally around hardship and march forward to victory and milestones.

Certainly if any team can come back from anything, this team can. But a loss in today’s game two will make it awfully tough.