The Baltimore Orioles Are Only A Game Out Of First Place

Say it with me, The Baltimore Orioles are only a game out of first place.

Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?

The Baltimore Orioles are only a game out of first place.

After 14 straight seasons of hard living below the baseball poverty line, an Orioles fan like myself could get use to this.

The Baltimore Orioles are only a game out of first place.

To be fair, schools are still in session and we’ve witnessed these sort of speedy starts from the Birds before. But something about last night was different. Jake Arrieta pitched like a boss. Heck he didn’t allow a single Yankees baserunner to reach second base. That’s right, for 8 innings the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira were relegated to pedantic discussions with 1st base coach Mick Kelleher.

The Baltimore Orioles are only a game out of first place.

Has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? My flock is conditioned to believe that this string of early season success will eventually wilt under the warm summer sun and intense pressure of the eternally hyper-competitive AL East. With upcoming series against Boston, Tampa, and Texas, Baltimore’s precocious starting pitching staff will be tested and it’s hard to image that the bottom of the Orioles lineup, especially Chris Davis and Robert Andino, will continue to get on base and drive in runs as they have so far this season. But….

The Baltimore Orioles are only a game out of first place.

Not too shabby for a team picked by most to finish a distant 5th in the AL East. I was fortunate to be in “The House That $1.2 Billion Built” for last night’s game and unlike previous Yankee/Oriole tilts in the stadium New Yorkers were made to pay attention to and dare I say respect the performance of their once proud rivals from down the I-95 corridor.

The Baltimore Orioles are only a game out of first place.

14 years of losing and a heart full of optimism. If only the season ended today.

The Baltimore Orioles are only a game out of first place.

 

 

Monday Morning Musings: Trades, Trades, and More Trades

Check out this view from the right field bleachers at Friday night’s Orioles/Yankees game. A little further to the right and you wouldn’t be able to see left field from your seat. That’s because the Mohegan Sun sports bar, that tinted window monstrosity lording over the center field wall, obstructs the view for hundreds of hard working bleacher creatures. What is this, 19 aught 8? A modern day palace that cost nearly a billion dollars to build shouldn’t include an entire section of seats where you can’t see a part of the field. I’ll give Fenway Park and Wrigley Field a pass because they are relics of a simpler day and age where architects didn’t have the luxury of blueprints. But not the new Yankee Stadium which has become a testament to all the commercial trappings of baseball what with all it’s boutique shops and lounges. A perfect place for a $15 roast beef sandwich!

A Quick Trip Around the Bases

1B – Back to Friday night’s O’s/Yanks game for a second, if you look closely you can see Jeremy Guthrie on the mound for the Birds. Two quick reactions: 1) it’s amazing the Orioles won this particular game because usually they saddle Guthrie, who has been solid again this season, with very little offense making him the quintessential tough luck loser. 2) It was a surprise to many that Guts was still wearing a Baltimore jersey on Friday night. Many experts had him booked on the next flight to Boston, Detroit, or maybe even the Bronx as part of a blockbuster trading deadline deal. But the O’s decided to hold onto their veteran “ace” in hopes that he can steward the next crop of young arms in 2012. The Orioles weren’t totally inactive this last week, trading away veterans Koji Uehara and Derek Lee to the Rangers and Pirates respectively.  Coming into 2011, who would have thought that either the Orioles or Pirates would have been buyers and that they would be involved in a deal together? Good for Pittsburgh, not so good for Baltimore.

2B – Did you ever think the trading deadline would pass without the Yankees acquiring a superstar? I guess we’ll have to wait until the end of August, once the waiver wire closes, to fully evaluate who won/lost this year’s version of let’s make a deal. For now, the clubhouse leaders are (in no particular order): Rangers, Indians, Mets, Rockies, and Giants. I could have put the Boston Red Sox on this list if I weren’t staunchly opposed to the whole Erik Bedard experience. When he pitched for the Orioles a few years back he was more than capable of double digit K’s every time he took the mound. The problem for Bedard in Baltimore was that he was equally capable of pulling his latissimus dorsi or, even worse, slowly sulking off the mound in the 3rd inning after being pulled for ineffectiveness. And, are we sure he’s even healthy? Or that he’s ready to take the ball in a big game?

3B – I could have put both the Braves and Phillies on the list of trading deadline winners, except I’m not quite sure how much of a difference Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn will make heading down the home stretch. Bourn to the Braves makes a lot of sense because he adds a tremendous amount of speed and defense to a lineup that was very well balanced to begin with. I don’t really see how Pence to the Phillies makes all that much of a difference. With their excellent starting pitching they were most likely going to win the NL East regardless of the moves they made. All I know about Pence is that he is a versatile player, with power and speed, who also happens to wear only one batting glove. We need someone to compile a list of “Best MLB players to wear only one batting glove”. I feel like Pete Rose should be somewhere near the top of that list. Any other suggestions?

HR – Switching leagues for a second, I’ll have plenty more to come on the NFL free agent madness later this week but for now here are just a few quick hits. 1) What is Bill Belichick thinking? Albert Haynesworth doesn’t enjoy playing football and Ochocinco lost that step two seasons ago. Looks like a couple of desperate moves by a coach driven for at least one more Super Bowl before Tom Brady hands the keys over to Ryan Mallett. 2) Like the Plaxico Burress to the Jets move. Not sure if he still stretches the field like he did before prison but he should help to make up for the loss of Braylon Edwards. Of greater concern to Jets fans should be the loss of Brad Smith to the Buffalo Bills. New York is going to miss the “Swiss Army Knife” and I hope for his sake that Buffalo will figure out a way to take advantage of his wide array of skills.

 

Leave the $12 Beer. Take the Roast Beef Sandwich.

Last night at Yankee Stadium was my first time experience at a baseball game where I sat in a cushioned seat. I always deride the “haves” that sit below “the moat” at the new Yankee Stadium for being out of touch corporate entities that care more about the martini service than the actual game. However, after having experienced life as a member of the bourgeoisie I have an easier time understanding and relating to the Silver Spoons who occupy the upper reaches of the seating chart social pyramid. For a few fleeting hours, that was my cushioned life and those were my privileged people.

Zoom!!! Back to reality. Chris Tillman wasn’t fooling anybody last night. As I commented to one of my friends, it doesn’t look like Tillman has a single “out” pitch, something he can throw at any time, on any count, to retire a batter. The Yankees weren’t falling for either the 89 MPH fastball or the 81 MPH curveball that was breaking five feet in front of the plate. After two measly innings the score was already 6-0 Yankees and I was ready to drown my sorrows in an $11 Bud Light. AJ Burnett was strong once again for New York and if it wasn’t for a few late home runs by Matt Wieters and Brian Roberts I would have left the Stadium in a very depressed state. Alas, the season it still young and the Oriole offense is significantly better than it has been since the late ’90s. If Baltimore can get anything out of their young pitching -Britton, Matusz, Tillman, Arrieta – they should finish above .500 this season.

A few other quick fungos from last night:

– It’s April and the weather was gloomy but Yankee Stadium still felt like a ghost town. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the extra space, but I was just surprised to see so many open seats. Credit the Yankees for offering attendees free bleacher tix to a future home game.

– The ball was really jumping off the bat last night. ARod’s 1st inning oppo blast off Tillman looked like it was still rising when it hit the seats and the Wieters two run bomb in the 7th looked like it was shot out of a cannon. Do people still think it’s too easy to hit a homerun at the new Yankee Stadium? Haven’t heard much of this discussion since year 1.

– Highly recommend the Lobel’s steak sandwich. How often do you find stadium food served with plastic gloves? Well worth the mess if you ask me.

– I have some serious issues w/ Major Deegan – the expressway not the person. On the way home, we were stuck on 87 North for a good 25 minutes before switching over to a different artery. The one positive, listened to the end of Game 1 of the NHL Playoffs between the Rangers and Capitals. Caps came back to win 2-1 in overtime. Don’t know much about hockey but unlike the NBA playoffs, in the NHL an #8 seed has a legitimate chance of upsetting a #1 seed. Apparently it’s all about which team has the hotter goalie and with the Rangers/Caps series, Lundqvist > Neuvirth.

Looking forward to my next trip out to the ballpark. Hopefully Citi Field in early May. I hear there are plenty of good seats still available.

5 Reasons Why the 2011 MLB Season Might not Suck

1) Phillies Rotation….Best Ever?

A lot has been said and written about this Phillies rotation: Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Oswalt. This group will go down in the annals as the best set of starters ever put together. The four combined last year for a 2.84 ERA, which is better than both the ’71 Orioles (Cueller, Dobson, Palmer, McNally, 2.89 ERA combined) and the ’93 Braves (Maddux, Glavine, Avery, Smoltz 3.14 ERA combined). Obviously they are currently only good on paper, and the big question mark of course is age, but if they can all stay healthy, they might go down as the best ever, especially in this hitter dominant age.

2) The Return of the Mustache

This has been going on for a while now, but last night watching the Blue Jays and seeing Travis Snider saunter to the plate with his stache made me smile. Baseball used to be all about moustaches, and certain players had some great ones. Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, Goose Gossage, Rod Beck, Keith Hernandez – those were some great staches. Guys are bringing them back! This could be the best year for mustaches in a decade.

3) The Baltimore Orioles are Back (not just b/c Jon says so)

Don’t sleep on the O’s this year. It has been a long, long time since the Orioles did anything productive in an off-season, and it has been even longer since they have been a legitimate AL East threat. I believe this years Orioles will scare the other teams in their division who play with Monopoly money. One down year and people have forgotten that Nick Markakis is an excellent player. Adam Jones is getting better. Weiters is getting better. Matusz is legit. Add the power (and K) threat of Mark Reynolds and the still intimidating Vlad Guerrero and this team is for real. Even as a Red Sox fan I can say this is very good for baseball. Baltimore has good fans and they deserve a good team.

4) The Reinvigoration of Giants vs. Dodgers

It took the Giants returning to championship form, but one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports seems to be reinvigorated. These teams used to hate each other. Back when justice and disputes were resolved on the playing field these guys were the masters at sliding spikes first, throwing at the head, and charging the mound. Sal Maglie was a head-hunter, Jackie Robinson was never afraid of a scrap, and Duke Snider was as tough as the came. Many in this new generation of Giants and Dodgers are home grown, and I have to believe that they are learned in the rich history between the two franchises. They may have transplanted coasts, but I believe the bad blood is still coursing through the Giants’ and Dodgers’ veins.

5) Albert Pujols wins First Batting Triple Crown Since Yaz

It has been 44 years since it has been done, but I think Albert’s unique skill set, and pursuit of a contract extension, will combine with the alignment of the stars and he will finally lead the league in average, home runs, and RBI. What makes him the Elite among baseball’s superstars? A few things of note: he has an career contact rate of 89%, last year he had a fly ball rate of  44%, in 9 years he has never had fewer than 100 RBI, he is a career .331 hitter. The Cardinals are not strong offensively this year, and he may not see many pitches to swing at, but he rarely swings at balls anyway, so this will only improve his average. As long as some guys get on base in front of him, he will drive them in. It will take a lot, but it is time for Albert, at the ripe age of 31, with one big contract left in his career, to have one of the greatest hitting seasons ever.