ORIOLES WEEK IN REVIEW AND A LOOK AHEAD
With a mark of 45-40, the Baltimore Orioles entered the 2012 All-Star break with a winning record for just the second time since 1998, which ironically was the last time the team managed to finish with a winning season. With Lee Mazilli as skipper, the 2005 version of the Orioles entered the break at 47-40, two games behind the first place Boston Red Sox in the American League East.
However, the good times did not last, and the Orioles would win just eight of their next 25 games following the Mid Summer’s Classic. Lee Mazilli would eventually be fired and be replaced by Sam Perlozzo, as the Birds would finish the second half 27-48, and fourth in the division.
It appeared as if the O’s, who have finished an average of almost 14 games below .500 during the second half since 2006, were on their way to another subpar second half as they came out of the 2012 break. The O’s dropped two out three at home to the white hot Tigers, and the first two games to the Twins in Minnesota. During the first game of the Twins series last Monday, Baltimore allowed 19-runs as Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman never made it out of the first inning.
The Orioles followed up Monday’s blowout loss by coughing up a 4-1 lead as Zach Britton, and the Orioles bullpen looked tired and disharmonious as the Twins rallied to beat the Birds 6-4 at Target Field.
From there, the orioles, as they have done during the past 12 seasons could have folded up the tents, suddenly announced that they were sellers instead of buyers as the trade deadline approaches and shift their attention to getting some of the younger players developed. You know, the new Orioles way of playing baseball from July through early October.
However, this O’s squad decided they were not done being talked about as surprise contenders at the All-Star break, and in the blink of an eye, gained a split as they took the final two games in Minnesota, and are now on the verge of a four game sweep in Cleveland. The O’s have won five straight, and after briefly dropping to third place for the first time since mid-June, are back on top of the A.L Wild Card standings. They return to Camden Yards to host the struggling TB Rays in a pivotal three game series that could further distance the O’s from the Rays, not just in the A.L East, but also in the Wild Card standings as well.
The Orioles picked a great time to win five in a row. The division leading NY Yankees were swept over the weekend in Oakland and in the process watched their nine game lead in the east drop to six games.
Here is a brief recap of the past week, a preview of the Rays series, and some O’s stats you may hear tonight during the broadcast. All notes courtesy of MLB.com.
Monday July 16: TWINS 19 ORIOLES 7
The Twins Denard Span led the 20-hit parade with five RBIs. Ben Revere and Justin Morneau each had four hits, as the Twins crushed the O’s at hot Target Field. Following 8 1/3 innings in Seattle in which he did not allow an earned run in his previous start, O’s pitcher Chris Tillman turned in a career-low 2/3 of an inning and allowed eight baserunners over that stretch, unable to shut the door after a Mark Reynolds’ error gave the Twins a pair of two-out runs.
The Twins, who hadn’t scored more than five runs since July 3, scored their most runs ever at Target Field and picked up their second win in nine games, while the O’s dropped to 46-43, the first time they have been fewer than four games over .500 since April 24.
Mark Reynolds, who drove in a run in the third and delivered a three-run homer in the fifth, led the Orioles offense. Endy Chavez also went deep for a two-run homer in the ninth. However, it was not nearly enough to tip the scale back in their favor, as the Orioles — who remain in second place in the American League East despite the loss — need to turn things around in a hurry.
“It’s one game,” Wieters said. “It doesn’t matter if we lose a game 3-2 or 19-7. It’s one game and we got three more this series.”
Tuesday July 17: TWINS 6 ORIOLES 4
The Twins trailed the Orioles by three runs in the fifth before storming back, finally taking the lead by stringing together four straight two-out singles in the seventh inning to score two runs, with Ben Revere’s single putting the Twins ahead to stay.
It was Orioles starter Zach Britton’s much-anticipated season debut, and a few early jams aside, when the 24-year-old took the mound in the bottom of the fifth inning, Britton still had a three-run lead and a chance to secure the win in his first Major League start in nearly 10 months.
Instead, he failed to record an out. Britton, who struggled with his command throughout Tuesday’s start, loaded the bases on a single and a pair of walks — issuing a career-high six free passes — en route to becoming the latest young Orioles starter to disappoint.
Britton, who went 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA as a rookie in 2011, did not last long into the fifth inning, and the O’s bullpen, which needed to register 22 outs the night before, was again being asked to work overtime. Britton turned the ball over to reliever Luis Ayala, who let three inherited runners score to push Britton’s final line to four runs on six hits and six walks over four-plus innings.
Since ending the first half of the season with an American League-leading 2.75 ERA, the bullpen has pitched to a 7.15 ERA in five games. Their success, which buoyed the team through some early uneven pitching performances, will hinge on the starters as the season wears on.
The offense, which has been sluggish the last month, couldn’t capitalize on the early ineffectiveness of Twins starter Samuel Deduno. After getting a first-inning run, which scored on a wild pitch, Jones broke a 1-1 tie with a three-run homer off Deduno in the fifth.
Thirteen of Jones’ 21 homers have tied or given the Orioles the lead this season. But that was all the O’s could muster, despite chasing Deduno from the game after 4 1/3 innings and a line that included six hits and five walks.
WEDNEDSAY JULY 18: ORIOLES 2 TWINS 1
After allowing 25 runs in the previous two games combined, the Orioles Tommy Hunter help settle down the O’s staff and pitched his team to a one run win. Francisco Liriano racked up double-digit strikeouts for the second straight start, but it was the O’s Hunter, in his first start since June 19, who got the win, allowing one run over 7 1/3 innings, making Adam Jones’ first-inning two-run homer hold up.
The 26-year-old Hunter turned in the team’s longest outing since Chris Tillman on July 4, helping take the pressure off an overworked bullpen that had pitched 26 2/3 innings in the previous five games. Recalled from Triple-A Norfolk prior to the game, Hunter attacked the strike zone early and often and was able to limit his Achilles’ heel — giving up home runs — by allowing just one solo shot, to Josh Willingham in the fourth.
The team’s defense — which has been a sore spot all season — held firm for Hunter, making all the plays to allow Jones’ first-inning homer to stand up. Of Jones’ 22 home runs this season, 14 have given the Orioles the lead or tied the game, and Wednesday’s held up as the decisive blow against starter Francisco Liriano, who struck out 10 and exited after six innings.
THURSDAY JULY 19: ORIOLES 4 TWINS 3
Wei-Yin Chen allowed two runs in the first, but settled down to pitch seven strong innings for the O’s, and Mark Reynolds delivered the win for the left-hander with a two-run single in the eighth inning. Like the second half of their season appeared to be, last Thursdays game appeared destined for another disappointing result for the Orioles. Baltimore stranded baserunner after baserunner, bobbling opportunity after opportunity and continuing a troubling trend.
However, when the O’s put the tying and go-ahead runs on in the eighth inning, Mark Reynolds came through. Reynolds hit a bloop single to center field, which was enough to score two runs and propel Baltimore to a 4-3 win over the Twins at Target Field.
The win salvaged a series split after the Orioles dropped games on Monday and Tuesday, and improved Baltimore’s record to 18-6 in one-run games. Baltimore had been 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and entered the game 9-for-56 (.161) in scoring situations over the previous eight games.
Chen’s day started in shaky fashion with a two-run first inning. Ben Revere’s one-out infield single was followed by a walk to Mauer and an RBI single by Willingham. Chen struck Morneau out, but Plouffe hit a double to score Mauer and give the Twins an early 2-0 lead.
The left-hander allowed only three additional hits after the first inning. The win snapped a losing streak for Chen, giving him his first win since June 17 at Atlanta. Baltimore has given Chen just 30 runs of support over his last 12 starts.
FRIDAY JULY 19: ORIOLES 10 INDIANS 2
Ryan Flaherty’s three-run homer and Mark Reynolds’ two-run double highlighted a six-run third inning and Jim Thome passed Sammy Sosa on the all-time home runs list in the Orioles’ blowout of Derek Lowe and the Indians on Friday.
The Orioles rocked struggling pitcher Derek Lowe for nine runs in the first four innings, and they cruised to a 10-2 win over the Indians in the first game of a four-game series at Progressive Field. It was Baltimore’s third consecutive win after dropping 17 of its previous 24 games.
The Orioles had nine total extra-base hits, and eight different Orioles players contributed at least one. First baseman Mark Reynolds had a two-run double in the decisive third inning, and No. 9 hitter Ryan Flaherty smacked a three-run homer into the right-field bleachers later in the frame. Catcher Matt Wieters and right fielder Chris Davis also each had an RBI for the Orioles.
Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez, who was a little shaky early, settled down to earn his second win of the season. He gave up a first-inning solo home run to Asdrubal Cabrera, and then faced a bases-loaded situation in the inning when he walked Carlos Santana and hit Travis Hafner with a pitch. Nevertheless, Gonzalez worked out of it, and he was barely threatened again.
He allowed only two runs on seven hits over 6 2/3 innings, and after needing 24 pitches to get out of the first inning, Gonzalez threw only 90 during the next 5 2/3 frames, facing the minimum number of batters in a frame four times. The only other blemish came in the seventh when he allowed a solo home run to Jack Hannahan.
SATURDAY JULY 21: ORIOLES 4 INDIANS 1
Looking as though he may not make it out his second straight first inning, Orioles starter Chris Tillman settled way down after allowing a homer to lead off the game. Tillman only allowed five more hits over the next 6 2/3 innings, and after Jim Thome hit a rocket of a two-run homer in the seventh, the Orioles cruised to victory. Ryan Flaherty also homered for Baltimore.
Not only did Ryan Flaherty keep pace with Jim Thome, the young infielder one-upped his 41-year-old teammate on Saturday.
One inning after Thome launched a go-ahead, two-run homer, Flaherty turned on a Zach McAllister fastball and sent a majestic, 430-foot drive over the center-field wall to seal Baltimore’s 3-1 victory over Cleveland. For the second consecutive night, Thome and Flaherty both homered. On Saturday, the O’s designated hitter rounded the bases for the 611st time in his career. Flaherty, 25, circled the bags for the fourth time.
SUNDAY JULY 22: ORIOLES 4 INDIANS 3
J.J. Hardy accounted for three Orioles’ RBIs, and Zach Britton pitched six shutout innings. Britton had a lead before he ever threw a pitch Sunday, and the young left-hander looked like a new man in his second start of the season. But the bullpen almost let it slip away.
In his debut, Britton struggled with confidence and control, walking six, but Sunday, he went six scoreless. Luis Ayala and Jim Johnson had their hands full getting out of the ninth inning, though, holding off the Indians in a 4-3 victory Sunday at Progressive Field. Britton (1-0) scattered four hits over six innings, walking a pair and striking out five. He said he had moved on from his rocky start earlier in the week against the Twins, and he pitched that way.
O’s closer Jim Johnson recorded his league-leading 30th save.
The Orioles and Indians meet in the finale of their four-game set and the last game of an eight-game road trip through the Central Division that opened with the Birds splitting four games in Minneapolis. The O’s have won five straight and are 6-4 since the break.
The Birds will go for a four-game sweep in Cleveland tonight…The last time the O’s swept a four-game set from the Tribe in Cleveland was September 24-26, 1971 (doubleheader on the 24th)…The O’s have won three games in Cleveland for the first time since 1998 (3-3)…The last time the O’s won four games in Cleveland in one season was 1992 (4-3)…The last four-game road sweep by the Birds was August 22-25, 2011 at Minnesota.
The Birds will send right-hander Tommy Hunter to try to close out the Tribe tonight. Hunterwill be making his 15th start of the season and his 8th start on the road…Hunter is 1-3 with a 6.81 ERA (39.2IP 30ER) in those starts away from Camden Yards…Hunter is 1-0 with a 6.14 ERA (14.2IP, 10ER) in three career games (two starts) against Cleveland, including 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA (13.1IP, 5ER) in two career starts at Progressive Field.
In his last 12 starts combined, the Orioles have scored 34 runs while Tommy Hunter was in the game, with 11 of those 34 coming in his June 14 start against Pittsburgh…The O’s have scored two or fewer runs while Hunter was in the game in seven of his last 12 starts.
NEXT UP: TAMPA BAY RAYS
WHEN: JULY 24, 25 & 26
WHERE: CAMDEN YARDS
The Rays, who have been in a free fall over the last month, will look to get back on track against the Orioles, one of their rivals in the American League East and in the Wild Card race. The two teams will open a three-game series in Baltimore on Tuesday and the Orioles hold a two-game lead in the Wild Card standings as of Sunday afternoon. The Rays are 14-22 since June 11, when they were last in first place in the division, and are coming off a series loss to the Mariners in Tampa Bay. With a nine-game road trip beginning Tuesday, the Rays will turn to right-hander Jeremy Hellickson as they try to reverse their losing trend.
The Rays will play the Orioles, Angels and A’s on the road trip, all of whom are competing for the two AL Wild Card spots. Hellickson knows how important it is to win these key head-to-head matchups.
Rays: Upton heating up in July
Center fielder B.J. Upton got off to a poor start this season but has begun to turn his season around in July. He is hitting .261 with four home runs this month, a marked improvement on his .243 with five home runs in the first three months of the season.
Upton’s recent surge has him just one home run shy of 100 in his career. If Upton hits his 100th home run before his 28th birthday on Aug. 21, he will become the eighth player in Major League history to hit 100 home runs and steal 200 bases before turning 28.
• Hellickson has given up six home runs in eight games against the Orioles in his three-year career. Outfielders Adam Jones and Nick Markakis have two home runs each off the 25-year old right-hander.
STATS YOU MAY HEAR DURING THE GAME:
Jim Johnson recorded his 30th save of the year Sunday, becoming the second-fastest pitcher (95 games) to reach 30 saves in an Orioles uniform. Lee Smith recorded his 30th in 1994 in the 87th game of the year on July 14. Randy Myers, who posted 45 saves in 1997, did not record his 30th until the 104th game of the year (on July 30)…Johnson is on pace for 51 saves, which would set an Orioles record, topping Myers’ 45 in 1997…The last Oriole to save 30 games in a season was George Sherrill, who saved 31 games in 2008…Johnson became the first Oriole to be named MLB’s Delivery Man of the Month in May (award began in 2005)…Both of his blown saves resulted in extra innings wins (June 5 at Boston, 10 innings and July 14 vs. Detroit, 13 innings).
The Orioles have posted five straight Quality Starts for the first time since April 28-May 2 against Oakland and New York…Orioles starters are 5-0 with a 1.87 ERA (33.2IP, 7ER) over the span,…The last time they had six straight Quality Starts was May 10-15, 2011 against Seattle and at Tampa Bay.
The Orioles have won five straight games for the fourth time this year (also May 1-6, May 15-19 and June 9-14)…They have not won six straight since August 22-28, 2011…The O’s have won five straight on the road for the first time since they won nine straight road games from May 1-19.
In their 95 games played, the O’s have had 30 games where they failed to get a hit with RISP and 20 more where they posted just one hit with RISP…The Orioles have won 13 games in which they did not get a hit with RISP and have won nine games in which they recorded just one hit with RISP…In their last 13 games, the Orioles have been held to one hit with RISP four times and were held hitless with RISP five times.
Four of the Orioles’ last nine games have been decided in the 7th inning or later and Sunday’s game ended with the tying and winning runs on base…The O’s are 3-1 in those games and came back from a deficit in each of those victories (July 14, 19 and 21)…The Orioles (38-0) and Pittsburgh Pirates (47-0) are the only major league teams who are undefeated when leading after seven innings this season.
The Orioles are 14-89 (.157) with runners in scoring position in the last 12 games…Since going 8-for-17 with RISP against the Pirates on June 14, the Orioles are 36-for-232 (.155) with RISP in their last 32 games…The Orioles have been shut out seven times in the last 44 games after not being shut out in their first 51 games.
PLAYERS NEWS AND NOTES:
Adam Jones fell two hits and one double shy of becoming the first player in franchise history to record 100 hits, 50 runs, 20 doubles, 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases before the All-Star break…The O’s are 17-4 when Jones homers and 14 of his 21 homers have tied the game (3) or given the O’s the lead (11)…Jones did not hit his 20th HR until August 6 and in 2009 and 2010 he had 19 HR for the season…Jones has hit in 49 of his last 64 games, going 75-for-253 (.296)…He has recorded a hit in 73 of 95 games.
In his 10 games back from the first disabled list stint of his career (fractured right hamate bone), Nick Markakis is batting .364 (16-44) with four doubles, six runs scored, one RBI and a .871 OPS in the leadoff spot…Those 10 starts atop the order are the first of his career…The only spot in the lineup where Markakis does not have an at-bat in his career is the sixth position…He has 1,188 at-bats in the second position and 2,140 at-bats in the third position.
Jim Thome has 611 career homers (seventh all-time) and 190 at Progressive Field, the most by any player at the 19-year-old ballpark…According to Elias, only three active players have as many home runs at any stadium: Paul Konerko, 243 at U.S. Cellular Field; Chipper Jones, 221 at Turner Field; and Todd Helton, 216 at Coors Field…Thome has 178 home runs at Progressive Field for the Indians, seven for the White Sox, three for the Twins and two for the O’s…Over his last seven games, he is 10-for-31 (.323) with three doubles, two home runs, four runs and four RBI.
TOMORROW’S STARTER: LH Wei-Yin Chen will make his 20th start and 10th home start…In his nine home starts, Chen is 4-2 with a 3.32 ERA (57.0IP,21ER) and five Quality Starts…In his only career start against the Rays June 1 in St. Petersburg, Chen was tagged with the loss as he allowed five earned runs in 5.2 innings on five hits and four walks while striking out five…He allowed a two-run homer to Hideki Matsui as part of a five-run, 36-pitch first inning…He faced just one batter over the minimum after the rocky first inning and although he walked a career-high four batters, none came around to score