Split Decision

It was an interesting day at Camden Yards yesterday as the Orioles experienced both ends of the spectrum. In the first game of the double header just about everything went right. In the nightcap, well barely anything went the O’s way.

The Orioles won the first game 7-1 to give the Rangers their first lost and knock them from the ranks of the last unbeaten team in the MLB. Zach Britton left the game after 7.2 innings to a standing ovation after allowing no runs and striking out two in a 103 pitch performance that silenced one of the most potent offenses in the AL. After the game Rangers manager Ron Washington was quite complimentary of Britton saying, “He kept the ball off the fat part of the bat, Give him credit. He did a good job.” Nick Markakis and Mark Reynolds took Colby Lewis deep for their first homers of the year and the Birds cruised to a 5-0 victory.

As well as the first game went, the second game was just as bad. Jake Arrieta was roughed up to the tune of 6 hits, 2 walks, and 8 earned runs in 3.1 innings. The game got off to a good start as Adam Jones got the scoring underway with a solo shot in the bottom half of the second, but then the Rangers bats that were silenced in game one woke up. Josh Rupe came in to pitch 2 scoreless innings before giving way to newly recalled Chris Jakubauska who came in and had about the same amount of success that Arrieta did. The result was a 13-1 loss and a split for the day.

To make things worse, shortstop J.J. Hardy left the game after the second inning of the second game with discomfort in his rib cage. Bad news looks likely as Orioles MLB.com writer Brittany Ghiroli is reporting that he could be out for an extended period of time, perhaps as long as 6 weeks.

The final game of the series is underway right now with no score as Texas bats in the top of the second. A bounce back win will do alot for confidence heading into the off day tomorrow and the team heading to the Bronx for three with the Yankees.

No 162-0

Okay, so now we can extinguish the 162-0 talk and fire up the 161-1 talk. Just kidding on that last part. Something had to give. Justin Verlander had never lost to the Orioles and the Orioles were 4-0. The result, a 7-3 Tigers victory. As much as I would have loved to see an O’s victory, the loss might have come at a good time. There’s a difference between optimism and unrealistic. Anytime I’m seeing ESPN talking about whether or not Baltimore has a legitimate shot at winning the AL East it’s time to put the brakes on. Just a side note, the last Orioles team to start the season 5-0 was the 1970 team that won the World Series. Yeah those comparisons were sure to come out next.

There were some positives to come out of the game though. Derrek Lee hit his first home run, Vlad drove in his first run, and we realized the pitching staff was human and would give up more than one run in a game. To be fair, Verlander has won 17, 18 (twice), and 19 games in the past five seasons so in no way did they lose to an inferior pitcher.

There were a few signs that it wasn’t going to be the Orioles’ night. Their three best hitters so far this season (Roberts, Markakis, and Wieters) went a combined 0-10. In the first four games they committed one error. They committed two in the second inning last night, which led to two Tigers runs. Then there’s the obvious, they gave up more than one run.

All things considered, the O’s are still in great shape. Boston’s 0-6 (that sounds almost good enough to repeat…numerous times) and so is Toronto so there’s plenty of cushion there. And we have games against the Yankees and Red Sox this month so there’s the opportunity to do damage head-to-head, which will go along way. Let’s hold off on the the predictions for a few more weeks. We’ll have a much better idea of what we have then.

Circa 1997

Season #20 at Camden Yards is under way

The last time the Orioles made the post season was 1997. With a 5-1 victory over the Tigers today the Orioles have started the season 4-0 for the first time since, you guessed it, 1997. Are they going to make the playoffs this year? I’m not saying that, but the start has been good, and I’m fully ready to ride with it as long as it lasts. Mother Nature is even cooperating with them. After a weekend of rain and chilly weather we had our warmest day of the year today with highs in the low 80’s for an absolutely perfect home opener.

The big question heading into the season was whether or not the starters would be able to produce. Including today’s game, Orioles starters have gone 26 innings and given up only 2 earned runs for an ERA of 0.69. Raise your hand if you predicted that through the first four starts. I’ll admit that Guthrie pitched probably the best game I’ve seen from him in an O’s uniform on Friday, Tillman pitched out of his mind Saturday, and Britton’s major league debut was, well better than I thought it would be. Arrieta followed them up today with a start that was just as good. Is it realistic to expect this kind of production for 158 more games, no. I’m not greedy, it doesn’t have to be 1 run given up per day, I’ll settle for 2.

The bats, outside of Roberts, Markakis, and Wieters, have yet to come around so imagine when they do. Markakis is hitting .429, Wieters isn’t far behind at .385, and Roberts is hitting .294 with 2 homers and an AL leading 8 RBI’s. Lee, Guerrero, Jones, and Reynolds have gotten off to slow starts, but with the other three carrying the load and the dominant pitching they haven’t been needed, yet.

Excitement surrounding the Orioles is higher than it’s been since, well probably 1997. I even saw SportsCenter pose the question whether or not Baltimore can win the AL East. I think it may be a bit premature to begin that kind of talk, but the buzz around the team right now is great to see. The Orioles are being talked about outside of Maryland for the first time in forever and it’s not because of losing. Here in town the pictures of packed bars downtown for today’s game, a filled to the brim stadium, and pre-game festivities rivaled that of a Ravens game, who have dominated the sports scene here in recent years.

A quick look at April’s schedule shows 6 games against the Yankees, 3 against Boston, and 3 against the defending AL Champion Rangers. Those 12 games will probably go along well in telling us what kind of season we’re in for from the Orioles. The pitching will get a good test from possibly the top 3 lineups in the AL. A slug fest or two can probably be expected in a few of those games, so the lineup will probably need to plate a bit more than the 3, 4, and 5 runs they have scores so far. Quiz passed. Test coming up.

Britton To Make Debut Sunday

Zach Britton will make his much anticipated debut in tomorrow’s series finale against the Rays. Today MASN’s Gary Thorne spoke with him regarding his call up making his first start.

Off To A Good Start

After the Brian Matusz news this afternoon I’m sure the spirits of O’s fans were a bit down heading into the opener. 3+ hours later those frowns are upside down after a 4-1 victory over the division rival Rays.

The Good:

Jeremy Guthrie – You might not have been able to script a better start to the season for Guthrie than the 8 inning, 3 hit, 1 walk, 6 strikeout, and 0 ER outing he threw tonight. He mixed up his pitches well, was aggressive in the strike zone, and stayed ahead of hitters all night.

Brian Roberts – Had a key at bat in the 5th inning when he hit a triple that scored Wieters and Hardy. The most impressive thing about the at bat wasn’t even the hit itself. Watching him fight off pitches to keep the at bat alive is exactly what you want to see from your leadoff hitter. I’m sure I, along with many, watched Roberts rounding the bases wondering if we we would see him pull up due to those lingering back issues he had been fighting all spring. Test passed. He looked great rounding bases, a good sign for both Showalter and his fantasy owners.

Nick Markakis – In the third inning, like Roberts in the 5th, he worked Price into giving him a pitch he could handle and hit a clutch 2-out single to give the Birds a 1-0 lead. A great job of situational hitting in the 5th saw him lift the ball into the outfield over a drawn in infield for a sacrifice fly that plated the fourth and final run.

The Bad:

Not much. J.J. Hardy had the only walk of the evening. The Orioles struck out 7 times against David Price, but he finished 8th in the AL last year with 188 so that was probably expected. Jim Johnson gave up a leadoff homer to Ben Zobrist in the bottom of the 9th, but he came back and recorded the next two batters via strikeout before getting Manny Ramirez to ground out to Hardy to end the game.

Good start to a season that started with optimism coming out of spring training. Looks like the O’s are picking up where they left of last season after Buck Showalter took over. More of this please.

Notes:

Brittany Ghiroli, from mlb.com, reported that Matusz will be headed to the DL with a back strain. So we’ll see Tillman on the mound tomorrow in game two and Zach Britton will make his much anticipated debut on Sunday.

Matusz To Miss First Start

 

Nothing will dampen the spirits of opening day like injury news. That’s exactly what the Orioles received earlier today when Brian Matusz, after a bullpen session, felt soreness in his left side. He was scheduled to pitch in tomorrow’s game and has already been scratched from the start.  He underwent an MRI today, the results of which are not known at this time. Showalter will wait until the severity of the injury is revealed to decide how to adjust the rotation.

Orioles Down to 25-Man Limit

Today is a day that was anticipated by some and dreaded by others. Final cuts were made to get down to the 25-man limit today. Backup catcher Craig Tatum was optioned to AAA Norfolk and Brendan Harris was sent to the minor-league camp. The third name was one that O’s fans were hoping to not see, but unfortunately saw anyway.

Top pitching prospect Zach Britton will start the season in Norfolk along with Tatum. A stellar spring of 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA wasn’t enough to earn him a spot on the big league roster for opening day. This won’t be the last we hear of Britton this year for sure and I’m not referring to the impressive numbers he’s sure to put up in AAA. We’ll just have to be patient to see his name on the Camden Yards scoreboard.

Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman will break from camp part of the squad. One will likely get the start this Sunday. Buck’s keeping us in the dark a bit longer on that one it seems. Due to the off days scheduled early in the season the Orioles won’t need a fifth starter till April 10th, so which ever doesn’t start Sunday should get the ball that day.

The feel good story of this year’s spring training had to be Jake Fox. After being acquired last June in a trade from Oakland he struggled to find playing time and came into this spring as a long shot to make the team. That long shot turned into reality today as he found out he will serve as the team’s backup catcher.