Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Look at the "Other" Orioles

On our collective front pages in the Orioles rebuilding effort there’s Nolan Reimold and Brad Bergesen, Matt Wieters and maybe even David Hernandez, but there are some other players on the roster who aren’t “enjoying” the scrutiny that comes with a high profile. Well maybe it is time some obscure blog gave them a bit of attention too.

Don’t get mad about last night’s game; sometimes there is simply just a better team on the field. Jon Lester wasn’t going to be stopped yesterday and the O’s aren’t ready to take down the pitcher who is now 8-0 against Baltimore. But let’s not let the Orioles entirely off the hook. Jason Berken has looked little better than any of the journeymen this team has brought in to complete the rotation in recent years, and after 7 starts I am beginning to wonder whether hitters didn’t need a whole lot of time to figure him out. Through his first 2 starts, Berken was looking like he could fill a hole in the rotation as more than just a stopgap, allowing just 3 earned runs in 12 innings. Since that start however, Berken has had a whopping 8.51 ERA and only narrowly avoided creeping above that disastrous 9 mark with some fortuitous breaks.

So what will the Orioles do with Berken? For lack of a better option, keep him in there and hope things work out. Baltimore has so depleted its AAA stockpile of pitchers that the only options remaining are the all-but-untouchable Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, and Brian Matusz. The O’s pitching staff could have an ERA over 10 and Matusz would stay down, but Andy MacPhail hasn’t ruled out bringing up Tillman late in the season. However, I would think that this hinges largely on whether a healthy Koji Uehara can be put back in the starting rotation. If he is and David Hernandez starts to improve, Berken could be the one sent down. If Hernandez continues to scuffle however, Baltimore will likely try to protect their investment in Hernandez and send him down, and let the welcome surprise (but not long-term prospect) Berken take his lumps.

The Orioles lack a true third baseman in their minor league system, or at least not one who is having anything more than a solid year during an otherwise unremarkable career. When Oscar Salazar started to get his at-bats and began making solid contact (8-22 so far this season), I grew extremely hopeful that he could spell Melvin Mora more frequently to keep him fresh (and extend his career), or even replace him for a year or so until the Orioles came up with a solid young player. And then I saw him in person against the Nationals on Sunday, and had the experience of sitting right behind third base to get a close look at Salazar. Playing next to Robert Andino, one could see that Oscar does not have the range or instincts as a fielder to play every day at third base. His bat is still powerful and can be great in a pinch-hitting role, but this is one time I won’t question Trembley’s decision to keep him on the bench.

At 31 years old, Salazar’s glove isn’t going to get any better. He can be a good bat when Baltimore needs it for as long as they need it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was sent down to make room for Cesar Izturis in July- in the National League it is critical to have extra hitters on the bench, but an American League team needs to put more emphasis on having solid defensive players first. It won’t be an easy decision for management, but it would be the right one.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Looking at the Farm: Snyder moves up, Matusz/Tillman honored, Brandon Erbe recovering

Hello everyone -- apologies for the lack of Prospect Reports, but I've been having difficulty finding time to get myself to Bowie or Frederick recently. Regardless, I expect to be back doing them soon(ish). This week however I would like to talk about some of the things happening in the O's system, because it remains as the bright spot for O's fans everywhere. Certainly after being swept by the Marlins, the O's faithful can enjoy looking to the future.

1. Brandon Snyder makes the move to Norfolk -- Yes, yes, yes, this is old news (Falco is going to get mad when he sees that I'm writing about old news, but oh well). Still, it's important that I take some time to address this as so many people are late to the game in recognizing Snyder's rise to legit prospect status. For those of you who read my Prospect Report last season, it was apparent that the writing was on the wall for Snyder to make a big time comeback. He's one of the feel-good stories in this organization, having rebounded strongly from a shoulder injury which appeared to derail his career. He still has the high average at the plate, like last year, but he has improved vastly in his ability to stay off of bad pitches and it has shown in his improved OBP. His power stroke is starting to develop as indicated by his 10 home runs in 201 at-bats for the Baysox, and after a slow start at Norfolk he is now hitting a clean .280 in 25 at bats. Keep an eye on this kid, he will be in Baltimore sooner than you think.

2. Matusz and Tillman selected to pitch in the Futures Game -- These two top prospects for the Orioles have been selected to pitch for Team USA in the Futures Game, and now the Orioles have had four pitchers in the past three years invited to the game. This represents a quantum leap for the organization, and gives fans alot to look forward to. As of right now, I can say that Chris Tillman is putting more and more pressure on my assertion that he must not be exposed to the majors this season, as he has continued to show the poise and professionalism that led to his domination of AA hitters last year. Brian Matusz seems to be on the Wieters timetable, but either way it appears that these two will undoubtedly be in the Orioles rotation early next season. No, the future is not now. But it's coming quick.

3. Brandon Erbe on the mend -- I'll keep this short, seeing as I'm writing this on my lunch break. But it's important for O's fans to keep an eye on Brandon Erbe who is looking to continue his rehab tonight at Aberdeen, returning from shoulder fatigue which kept him out after only starting four games for the Baysox. In those four games Erbe was nothing short of brilliant, striking out 19 while walking only 8 and posting a ridiculous 0.90 ERA. Brandon Erbe is a local boy from Owings Mills, and he's got the sort of stuff to translate into a big-time starter for the O's down the line. How he is handled with this delicate situation now could have big ramifications on whether he reaches that potential.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Free Kicks: Thursday Edition

Ordinarily I struggle to come up with three solid topics that we haven’t otherwise covered that week for Free Kicks. However, for a week in late June there are certainly enough stories to go around. Why Thursday Edition? Windsor is "working" apparently, but he will be back tomorrow. In the meantime, let’s line up for the kick…

Soccer on Free Kicks?!
I know, I was surprised too when I came up with my list of Free Kicks (it just seemed so… logical), but the U.S. defeat of Spain on Wednesday afternoon is simply too stunning to be omitted. I don’t know if the Spanish simply underestimated a team that had squeaked into the semifinals on little more than a technicality, their only win in the Confederations Cup coming against unimpressive Egypt. Regardless, the U.S. team rose to the occasion by scoring twice on a team that had not allowed a single goal in this tournament and was ranked 1st in the world with the longest win streak in history at 15 matches. This win won’t make soccer relevant in the United States- this team could go on to win the World Cup and I don’t think it would make soccer viable in the long run. But between Olympics when we are looking for something to wave our collective flags at, it’d be wise to remember that on the world stage of soccer, the United States is the underdog- it is an unusual role for this country, and perhaps it is nice to relish it now and then.

Uehara Can’t Take the Heat
Literally. It appears as though Koji Uehara asked out of his last start after 76 pitches in the 6th due to fatigue, and reports indicate that he has had an ongoing problem dealing with the heat of pitching outside in June. He is used to the temperature-controlled stadiums in Japan, and I understand that, but you’d think he would have thought about the impact of pitching in 80 degree weather before he came here. There is a bit of a push to move Koji to the bullpen and bring David Hernandez back into the rotation, and from a baseball perspective I get it. You can use Koji as a long reliever and open the door for a pitcher who was effective in his short stint in the majors. However, you also won’t get Koji the rest between outings he is accustomed to- he will be pitching every 3 days or so, which won’t do much to relieve his elbow fatigue even if it is only for a couple innings. Additionally, Uehara has never been a relief pitcher, and with his esteemed career and exceptional history in Japan it is unclear how he would react to the move; whether he would perceive it as a demotion and react as such. When dealing with a player like Koji, you need to be more delicate than with a journeyman. Dave Trembley and Rick Kranitz ought to sit down with him and ask him what is best for his body right now. If he wants to stay in the rotation, ask him whether he can go every 6th day (as the O’s have been giving him). If he can’t, then you can move him to the bullpen. At 34 years old, Uehara knows his body- let him decide what it can handle at this point.

Which trade was better- Jefferson or Shaq?
With the draft almost upon us, there has already been significant readjustment of the NBA landscape. LeBron James got his supposed answer for Dwight Howard in Shaquille O’Neal, and the aging Spurs got younger (and deeper) with the acquisition of Richard Jefferson just a year after Jefferson was traded to the Bucks. I am sure the Shaq trade will get more attention, but as much as I like Shaq I can’t endorse the move from the Cav’s side. When Shaq was experiencing a renaissance in Phoenix the team still wasn’t winning, and his presence created friction underneath the basket between him and Amare Stoudemire. The Suns were simply unable to play their game when having to force the ball down low to O’Neal, who needs a lot more touches to get the production he used to. In a fast-paced offense like Phoenix’s, the slow-footed Shaq just didn’t fit, no matter who good his numbers were. In Cleveland, LeBron will have to contend with Shaq wanting his touches, not to mention his ego and overwhelming presence in the locker room. Secondly, how exactly is Shaq an answer to Dwight Howard at this point in his career? Last year, after calling out the young center and his coach, O’Neal went on to embarrass himself against the Defensive Player of the Year, flopping to draw fouls while unable to get his easy lay-ups. The Cavs had big problems against the Magic, but Shaq won’t fix them.

As for Richard Jefferson, the Spurs got a versatile player who can spell Manu Ginobili or any other of the Spurs aging stars (except perhaps Tim Duncan), and could have the same effect that Roger Mason did in infusing some younger legs (and for San Antonio, 28 year-old Mason is a lot younger) into that lineup. Additionally, they will likely be able to get back at least one of the three players they sent to Milwaukee if they are bought out in this transparent salary slashing move. Here I thought Milwaukee had a nice young nucleus to work with, and instead they are dumping talent before they even get started. Is the hope of 2010 free agents really worth the possibility of mortgaging one’s future? I don’t know what the Bucks are doing, but I know what the Spurs are doing- gearing up for another title run with a much better chance of winning the West.

Monday, June 22, 2009

O's Sweep World Champs, Have Won Five Straight

Jeremy Guthrie is struggling. Brian Roberts isn't showing enough energy. The starting pitchers are not lasting. They are playing with a backup shortstop. This team has no power. Get a lead against them into the ninth, and Baltimore has no chance.

Despite all of these criticisms the Orioles seem to be getting by outside sources, the Birds are responding with victories, winning five straight including sweeping the World Champion Phillies as two come-from-behind wins in the ninth inning after having zero such games before Thursday.

Of these five wins, only one was by more than two runs. The bullpen was stellar for the most part, with pitchers from Mark Hendrickson to George Sherrill doing very well. The bats are coming alive with more home runs and key hits from leaders Brian Roberts and Aubrey Huff. Interleague play has been good to the Orioles, who have a 9-3 record against National League teams this year, the best in the AL East. Some strange things have been happening. Robert Andino has been playing very well in place of the injured Cesar Izturis both offensively and defensively. Gregg Zaun hit a home run in the comeback win against the Angels. Guthrie finally had a big start. And finally, people other than Luke Scott and Nolan Reimold hit home runs.

Even though the Orioles are still in last place in the division, this five-game win streak is important in other ways. Not just for the morale of the team, but also for possible trade deadline deals. Names that have been thrown around include Aubrey Huff, Danys Baez, Melvin Mora, among others. Andy MacPhail has stated that there will not be any salary dumping, so if any trades go down, it will be because they get prospects in a good deal. But the cornerstones of the franchise and the potential young guns will still be here.

For now, the Orioles should enjoy the winning. The Orioles have two series left in interleague play, at Florida and the second round of the Battle of the Beltway with the Nationals.

(Photo credit: AP)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Free Kicks: O's, Golf, & a Somber Note Edition

I have a lot to say, so no unnecessary intro. Let's just line up for the kick...

Huff, Puff, and Blow the Mets Away
Well, Aubrey Huff did it again- but I can’t give him all the credit for winning the game last night as the Orioles came back to win in the bottom of the ninth. Francisco Rodriguez did not have his best stuff last night, and clearly was struggling to get the ball in the zone. When K-Rod finally forced one in the strike zone Aubrey Huff found it and made it count. Now, if the Orioles had a winning record all the analysts would say how the 9th inning shows that the team “knows how to win,” but I will hold myself back from rehashing that rant at this particular moment. However, all that said this team put together one heck of a comeback, and there is no way to take away from their performance. Against one of the top closers in the game, the O’s didn’t hurry their swings or get over-anxious at the plate. There are more than a couple major leaguers who would start swinging away after getting into a pitcher’s count like Adam Jones did in the at-bat that sent in the tying run. Instead, he patiently watched balls miss high, miss away, miss down, and finally give him the walk. Nor was he unique- the same team that was pressing a week ago is taking long, thoughtful at-bats.

What surprised me most about this game is how it happens to be the first 9th inning comeback of the season for the Orioles. It certainly seems odd to me, especially for a team that became known for their late-inning comebacks a couple years ago. Oh well, I am sure O’s fans will take it however they can get it.

Bethpage Blunders
The fact that they played at all yesterday was incredible given the conditions out on the course, but I worry a great deal about how the PGA is handling the fallout from the course being rained out after one group got even 11 holes in. I understand there isn’t anything they can do about the weather, but why not just push the whole event back a day now that one day was all but rained out entirely? Instead they are looking at certain players having to play 36 holes today while some will only be playing 25 and forcing a 7:30 tee time for those who already had to trudge through the muck yesterday and sacrifice shots to the weather while those who didn’t start were waiting in the clubhouse. In golf every shot matters; so don’t tell me it will all balance out when you go out in the rain, get soaked and exhausted trying to make it through 9 holes, then have to get up at 5:30 in the morning the next day- oh yea, and they are starting Round 2 at 4:00 PM.

And then the fans who actually came out and sat through that mess of golf yesterday won’t have their tickets recognized today by the course. I am sorry, but these people paid to see the first round of the U.S. Open, not to see half the players go half the course and go home. When tickets are going for about $100 a head, this isn’t a small expense for people. This act shows a complete disregard for their fans at a moment when their fans are the ones committed to coming out and seeing the game despite the conditions. Moreover, when they extend the Open through Monday (and they will), I am sure they will have a whole other set to tickets to sell, just to put a little more money in their pocket. In this economy it is good to know that golf hasn’t lost its elitist streak entirely.

A Question of Values
Donte Stallworth killed someone. It was dark. He killed someone. The guy was running across the street. He killed someone. Stallworth allegedly flashed his lights to notify the guy he was coming. He killed someone. Stallworth is going to give the family a lot of money for their pain and suffering. He killed someone. Is there something I am not understanding about this process that makes it okay for someone to kill another human being and only get 30 days in jail? I know Donte is paying out money to the family but they could easily get the money through a civil suit if they wanted to. Furthermore, why do we care whether his family is content with the settlement; why should it matter?

I will never understand what makes someone drink and get behind the wheel of a car, and I will never understand why there are people who think that it is alright to get off with a slap on the wrist. I do understand that this was an accident and that he didn’t do anything intentionally- except for drive drunk, which was all he had to do to take a life. Any time someone makes that kind of “mistake” and someone else winds up dead, it is time for more than 30 days in prison. His conscience should make him want to go to jail, but unfortunately we don’t live in a world where accountability matters. This man would be more vilified in this society if he was a baseball player who used legal steroids when the game didn’t even ban them. There is something very wrong with our values when Manny Ramirez's steroid use invokes more outrage than running someone down in your car.

Are we so inured to death that a dog’s life (see Michael Vick’s 18 months in prison) is that much more valuable than a human’s life? I understand that what Vick did was intentional, but when Donte Stallworth got behind the wheel of his car he was just as responsible as Vick was for the death that occurred on his watch. He may not have meant to fire, but he loaded the gun and took the safety off.

Why don’t we care?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

For Ravens, No Cavalry Coming to Bail Out Wide Receiver Position

Do you know when the last time we had a post (aside from Free Kicks) that wasn’t about the Orioles? A month ago, on May 17th. That is incredible, considering even last year we couldn’t keep up with that much content on the team as it entered their annual free fall. This year it seems as though nothing can stop the news coming out of Camden Yards, even as the team hovers ten games under .500. However, I think we all need a break to talk about that other Baltimore team- the Ravens, who in most recent years have made this city forget about the Orioles by mid-May. While the O’s struggle to find a steady rotation, the Ravens are finding themselves in their own struggle for players, most notably at the wide receiver position. Many names have been thrown out over the past six months- Anquan Boldin, Braylon Edwards, and most recently, Brandon Marshall.

So who has Ozzie gone out and gotten? No one. Not in free agency, not in the draft, and not in any trades. But don’t for a moment confuse this with satisfaction with the Ravens current roster. Derrick Mason is a solid, sure-handed receiver with enough speed to be a productive Number 1 guy for another couple years, but he has had very little help from his supporting group and is not the kind of guy you want going deep anymore. Likewise with Mark Clayton, who was drafted as an ideal slot receiver but has not had the opportunity to play much at that position due to the lack of a consistent Number 2 receiver on the opposite sideline. There was nothing sadder last season than seeing Mark Clayton try to go deep and look overmatched and out of place as he struggled to make the catch. Clayton is a very good player, but only in the right role. He can be electric going over the middle, but given the limited options he is forced out of his natural position.

And then there is the enigmatic Demetrius Williams, who when he was drafted was thought by many as one of the shrewder moves by Ozzie Newsome as he picked up the 6-2 speedster in the 4th round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Since then we have not seen all that much of the supposed deep threat, having played in just 16 games since his rookie season, and in only 7 last season. Consistent, nagging injuries have slowed Williams’ career almost to a halt, and it will take a great (and injury-free) season to assure the Ravens that he can be productive for them. I want him to be successful, but in his fourth year it is time for him to put up numbers or find another less painful line of work.

Behind these guys are a host of also-rans and late round picks who failed to make an impact last season- only one ball was caught last season by a wide receiver that wasn’t caught by either Mason, Clayton, or Williams. So what are the Ravens to do? Certainly they could use a talent like Brandon Marshall, this week’s wide receiver “trade me” flavor of the month. However, his price tag of a 1st and 3rd round pick, in addition to his demands for a salary in the $8-9 million stratosphere, not to mention his laundry list of criminal complaints (and ongoing prosecution) make him an unpalatable choice. As far as other trades go, the Ravens value their draft picks and utilize them incredibly well. As such, I couldn’t see the Ravens giving up any more than 2nd and 3rd round picks, almost as much as they gave up in the Willis McGahee deal. There is a chance this could happen. If Brandon Marshall is traded (and the Broncos GM has indicated he will try to unload the troubled wideout), that could open up another player for the Ravens to acquire, in addition to a trading partner very eager for additional draft choices to take the sting out of their deal. This will depend on where Marshall lands, but if he heads to the Browns then Cleveland would be even more apt to part ways with Braylon Edwards (whose drops might decline with a decent quarterback).

This isn’t altogether likely, but I suppose the lesson to take from all these trade rumors is this: Even when you are in a serious need for a player and there are good players out there, it still doesn’t make sense to make a deal. The Ravens will keep looking but for now they will have to hope that Demetrius or one of the young guys like Ernie Wheelwright or Justin Harper become a legitimate threat for opposing defenses. The price tag is far too high for a known commodity in the NFL. This team might have to just sit with what they have rather than mortgage the future- and with young Joe Flacco under center, the future is what matters.

UPDATE: My mistake- I wrote that Justin Harper was the #4 receiver for the Ravens while I meant to refer to Marcus Smith, the other second-day receiver Baltimore drafted last season. The point remains though, thanks to Windsor for the heads up.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Expectations Are A Funny Thing

Remember when O’s fans and baseball writers were projecting this season? The only rookies that were mentioned of coming up and having an impact this season were Matt Wieters and in some cases Chris Tillman (usually from the more less-educated writers). Well, we are a good portion through the season and all that can be said is that expectations are a very funny thing. The ones who most pundits least expected to make an impact (if they even knew their names) -- Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken, Nolan Reimold, David Hernandez – have made significant cases for being full-time players in the major leagues. Meanwhile, Matt Wieters seems to be feeling the effects of the immense pressure put on him (also known as being a human being) and is off to a struggling start to his career.

So what do we make of all this? I know the first question that all fans want answered is about Matt Wieters, and whether he will turn it around as we all are starting to sweat about his struggles. Honestly I think that fans need to be patient with Matt and understand just how he’s going about his plate appearances. It’s very clear that the hitting fundamentals are there; he seems to know the strike zone well and his swing is gorgeous. However, it is apparent that Matt is still thinking a lot while he’s up to bat, and that’s natural for a young player. He’s still getting used to the pitchers, and is obviously still trying to get his timing. When all is said and done he’ll be fine, just breathe and remember the prolonged struggles of Nick Markakis and Adam Jones when they first started with the O’s. They turned out just fine.

Of the successes, I have to say that some of it should not be as big of a surprise as it is to most. Particularly I’d like to bring up Brad Bergesen, who is currently the most effective starter on the Orioles roster. Bergesen spent all of last season outperforming the top pitching prospects in this organization, and showed that his stuff could play in the major leagues during Spring Training. The only question was whether or not that would hold up when the games counted, and after going through a rough patch, his string of brilliant outings has shown that it can. As I stated in last year’s Prospect Report, Bergesen’s mental makeup and pitch control suits him perfectly for the major leagues, and we’re now watching him do in the majors just what he did in the minors. Nolan Reimold has probably been the most unexpected success, not in that I didn’t think he was capable of popping some home runs, but the level of discipline and maturity he has shown at the plate and on the field has been so far and away better than I expected from watching him previous years. There’s a good chance Nolan Reimold and Brad Bergesen will not just be competing for the O’s Rookie of the Year, but the AL Rookie of the Year.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Orioles Find Where They Hid the Bats, Put Them to Use on Derek Lowe

Look, I like the Braves. I really do. I have family down there and spent a year living in Atlanta- it’s a nice ballpark, too. However, few things made me feel better than watching the Orioles let loose on Atlanta like they did over the last game and a half, racking up 17 runs in their last 13 or so innings. Moreover, Sunday’s performance meant even more than the 6-run inning Baltimore strung out on Saturday. On Sunday, the scoring was consistent- 3,2,2,3 for the first four innings. To me that is a sign of the entire order doing their part, a large departure from early in the season. Do you remember back to the offensive showpiece of April? The top three O’s hitters were carrying the entire team and the bottom third of the order was among the worst in baseball. Hopefully as the season wears along the order becomes even more balanced, as Matt Wieters begins to discover his major league swing and Reimold stays hot. Granted these are just two games, but coming after a 2-9 skid against mediocre competition, I will take any good news I can get.

So what made the Orioles bats come alive? Was it the effects of Dave Trembley’s meeting with his players? Certainly, as Peter Schmuck pointed out, it wasn’t an individual player stepping up to motivate the team. I thought his piece was a bit melodramatic to be honest, painting the Orioles as a locker room of jovial characters but ill-suited for leadership. Likewise, Jim Palmer ripped into the team for not having the character or fortitude of a winning team; not knowing “how” to win. These sorts of characterizations are disturbing to me. It seems like having great pitching and a talented lineup has an amazing way of turning ordinary players into “leaders.” No, the Orioles aren’t winning much this year- and the bottom is no where in sight for where this team might be in September. However, it isn’t because of any lack of leadership or lack of winning experience. I would trace it perhaps back to the lineup whose stats- after the “correction” of the previous 11 games are looking more like we expected them to be. In fact, Adam Jones’ .330 average is still leaps higher than anyone predicted, even though Aubrey Huff has yet to get hot and Nick Markakis is slumping after erupting for the first couple months of the season. I have a fun prediction for everyone- let’s see how many articles come out about the newfound “leadership” on the Orioles during their next winning season (it will happen eventually). Never mind that the rotation will be improved and the lineup will be upgraded; the amorphous concepts are much more interesting to bored sportswriters and commentators.

Let me offer a theory as to what woke up Baltimore’s offense. Time and trials. You hit yourself out of a slump, you don’t talk your way out of it. It started when the O’s stranded close to major league roster’s number of baserunners, and is still working its way out right now. I am not worried about this team “knowing how to win.” I am content if they know how to hit and pitch- the winning has a miraculous way of coming around when that happens.

What was even more interesting to me was the performance of one Brad Bergesen. If I told you that Bergesen would be the best starting pitcher (statistically) on this team in April, would you believe me? Okay, for lack of many better options some of you might, but Bergesen is dealing right now. He has done what few Orioles pitchers have been able to do this season- go deep into a ballgame. In his last 4 games he has pitched all but 5 innings, including his complete game on Sunday. Through those 31 innings, he has allowed a total of 6 earned runs. He won’t wow you with the strikeout; he will induce ground balls and field his position. He won’t blow you away with a 97 mph fastball; he will control the pitches he has and not walk batters unnecessarily. Even during his struggles earlier in the season, he wasn’t walking anyone- indicated by his paltry 17 walks given up in 71 1/3 innings this season. I have always been a huge fan of any pitcher who can control his stuff, though it seems as though General Managers far too often become enamored with a cannon of an arm instead of a laser.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Free Kicks: Finals Edition

Hey, thanks to Windsor and Falco for their great MLB Draft coverage, and for Windsor for covering for me on the last Free Kicks. While it has little to do with our region, some attention must be paid to the NBA Finals and the surprisingly exciting Stanley Cup Finals. Let's line up for the kick...

There’s No Magic in Orlando
There is a pattern emerging with the Orlando Magic. In all of their heartbreaking losses- LeBron James’ clutch three, Big Baby Davis’ jumper, and Derek Fisher’s tying three pointer- the Magic have failed to guard the ball handler closely in the waning moments of the game. They have been lackadaisical when the game needed their resolve. Up by 5 with a little over a minute to go, they fail to hustle down the court, costing them scoring opportunities and allowing the Lakers to come back. And once it was in overtime, didn’t you just know that the Magic wouldn’t take this game? This is a team that has had so many thrilling ends to games simply because they don’t close out their opponents. Teams with inferior talent (as the Magic do to the Lakers) must take advantage of any opportunity to steal a game. Up by 12 at the half, the Magic sat back against the best team in the NBA and watch them turn the game into a dogfight. This series could easily have been 3-1 Magic, but I won’t be crying that they were jobbed. The better team has won these games because they knew how to close it out, and didn’t let up at the end of the game. I have been pulling for the Magic, but they won’t lose this series because they weren’t as good as the Lakers- they will lose it because they aren’t as mentally disciplined.

The Motor City takes on the Steel City in Game 7

I know many sports fans out there have had excuses for not watching the Stanley Cup Finals- the NBA Finals have conflicted with them, there is no Baltimore-area team in the finals, and well, people just don’t care about hockey. However, a Game 7 is always special in hockey. You can see more evidently than any other sport when the energy is ratcheted up, when the hits are harder, and when players are laying themselves out on the ice to make a play. Besides, do you really want Pittsburgh to take home another title at the expense of a city that has seen more than its share of hardship (even athletically, comparing the Super Bowl Champion Steelers and 0-16 Lions). As far as the game itself is concerned, the Red Wings and Penguins are both battered, but the Red Wings are older and more injured at this point in the season. They have been told for over a month that they are on their last legs, that the Penguins are on a roll- a team of destiny after going 15-2-3 towards the tail end of the season to go from out of the playoffs to the #4 seed in the East.

However, as far as the game is concerned, the Red Wings have two key advantages. They don’t look tired at home, where they last won 5-0 and have one of the wildest crowds in the NHL. They are also the more experienced team. Going down 2-0 in the 3rd period to the Penguins, Detroit didn’t get down and their coach didn’t panic. After scoring to make the game 2-1, the Wings nearly scored twice in the last 2 minutes to tie the game. They didn’t, but they also didn’t make unwise decisions or start throwing bodies all over the ice. These players know how to handle themselves in the playoffs. While the Penguins did beat the Ovechkin-led Capitals at Washington in a Game 7 on their way to the Finals, the Red Wings have a much better supporting cast than Washington did. In fact, they are a supporting cast; not led by the singular superstars that can go hot or cold at a moment’s notice. I trust teams, not superstars- give me the Red Wings to repeat.

There’s Something Unique about Baseball

Only in the MLB Draft do you see such camaraderie, such personal and familial ties when it comes to drafting players. It seems that all the sons, brothers, and friends of current and former greats find their way to that very same team. Two years ago Eric Perlozzo, son of former Oriole Manager Sam Perlozzo was selected in the 35th round of the draft by Baltimore. This season, the 12th round saw the selection of Steve Bumbry, son of Orioles legend Al Bumbry. The Virginia Tech grad doesn’t have the numbers of his father and will likely never make his way to the major league roster, but it is intriguing the way that baseball teams are so eager to hold onto their roots, even through generations.

It isn’t just the historic bonds that tie certain families to certain players. The selection of Joe Flacco’s brother, Mike Flacco, in the 31st round speaks to the regional and local bonds that make baseball towns so special. Football teams, basketball teams and the like may have a slight public relations pressure to sign the local kid, but only in baseball are there enough rounds and enough picks to sign players almost solely for that reason. It strengthens the family that forms around the team, and harkens back to the roots of the sport that made it such a locally oriented team and experience. Perhaps I am too nostalgic, but perhaps sports could use a bit more nostalgia.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Recapping the First Three Rounds

Well, it was a heck of a night for Orioles fans, with excitement both on and off the diamond. Before I get to offering my take on the first three picks by the Orioles in last night's draft, I do want to take a moment to comment on what was really the most encouraging thing about last night's game.

The Orioles had lost five games in a row, and it was not their veteran stars who pulled them out of it but their youth, with Nolan Reimold knocking in two runs and Bergesen pitching eight shutout innings in a 3-1 win over the Seattle Mariners. If you look at guys like Nolan Reimold and Brad Bergesen, they represent the hope that Orioles fans can have for the future in that not only are they rookies performing well, but they are not even considered the best young prospects this organization has. Nolan Reimold was an afterthought heading into this season, and Bergesen was a relative unknown across baseball. Nevertheless both have exploded onto the map, with Reimold leading all rookies in home runs and RBIs and Brad Bergesen settling into the surgical efficiency with which he pitched in the minors last season. Both players are looking like early contenders for AL Rookie of the Year, and both were drafted and brought up through this group by Joe Jordan and his staff. I profiled both of these players last season as prospects, and while I expected some success I'll be honest I did not see this immediate impact coming.

The success of these rookies in last night's game should give fans immense confidence in Joe Jordan and the scouts for this organization. Reimold and Bergesen are the first Jordan-drafted players to come to the majors, and based on recent successes (Billy Rowell aside) in the lower levels as well it is becoming apparent that he has earned the benefit of the doubt in the draft process. I'll have more of my thoughts on this year's rookie class in a later post, but I feel that in this draft time it's important to address the brains behind the picks. Now, onto the selections.

Round 1, Pick 5 -- Matthew Hobgood, RHP, Norco HS (CA)
A good number of people didn't like this selection, but I'll be honest I'm very happy with it. Falco did a good job profiling the young man yesterday, who wasn't even on the radar initially. But in examining the list of options out there I do believe that the O's made the correct selection in choosing the big right hander. He is a late riser, true, and oftentimes that can increase the bust factor significantly. This is a philosophy I hold very true in football, but I believe that the draft is a completely different animal in baseball and that Hobgood is deserving of his late rise. Not only does he have an ideal build for a workhorse pitcher, but he has the right mentality. Unlike other young phenoms, he has had to deal with hardship in his own life and takes a very aggressive blue-collar attitude to pitching. That sort of bulldog mentality is exactly what you want of a young pitcher who has great raw stuff with somewhat spotty command. Over time his command can be improved, and his below average changeup is a pitch that can be developed over time. What you can't teach -- the arm strength, the devastating curve ball, the mental makeup, the natural build -- is what this guy has in spades. Joe Jordan scouted this player heavily and took time in the decision, and I believe he made the right one.

Round 2, Pick 54 -- Mychal Givens, RHP/SS, H B Plant HS (Tampa, FL)
The Orioles again went to a young high schooler, this time going for a two-way player in Mychal Givens. The organization, based on Joe Jordan's comments to Roch Kubatko of MASN, seems to view Givens as a shortstop which certainly increases his value to the club. Standing at 6'1" and 190 pounds, Givens seems to fit better on the infield than on the mound, and although he has a high 90's fastball I believe that the right decision is being made by moving him to the infield. Not only do the Orioles desperately need infield help in their farm system, but Baseball America does have him listed as the third best shortstop in this year's draft. His rocket arm certainly increases his ceiling overall, and could end up with one of the superior arms across the majors from the shortstop position, not to mention his plus speed. He was known as an excellent defender in high school and does have the frame to potentially develop more power.

There is always heavy risk when drafting a high school position player, as there is immense guess work on where their body will mature and whether or not they can make adjustments to superior pitching. There are certainly a number of risks with this pick, but for the second round it's hard to find player with this high of ceiling so I think that fans should be more than happy with this pick. As with Hobgood, the Orioles see no need to draft a player who would be expected to contribute in the very near future. With the young talent coming along in the upper levels, there is no reason for impatience. Roch Kubatko posted a YouTube of Givens which can be found here.

Round 3, Pick 85 -- Tyler Townsend, 1B/OF, Florida International University
The Orioles went back to the college ranks for their third round pick, selecting the 6'3" power hitter from FIU. Unlike the previous two picks, Townsend not only fills a need but also looks to be able to contriubute sometime in the next few years. He batted well over .400 with 24 home runs this past season and was named an All-American. Best of all it seems is that the Delaware native is ecstatic about joining this particular organization, which is key not only for signing purposes but for clubhouse presence down the line. Though Townsend did play primarily in the outfield, there is little doubt that the Orioles will place him at first base and are looking for him to provide much needed help at that position. As it stands right now, the only legitimate prospect at the position is Brandon Snyder (and maybe Brandon Waring, though I'm not sold) and thus the organization could certainly use his bat in the near future. As of right now I don't have much information on this left-handed hitter, but seeing as he is expected to be in Aberdeen later this summer, I smell a Prospect Report coming on.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Orioles Select......Matt Hobgood

The Orioles have made their selection, and it is Matt Hobgood, a RHP from Norco High School. He has a good fastball and very reliable offspeed pitches with a good attitude for pitching. He has some control issues according to the MLB Scouting Report on him. Harold Reynolds of the MLB Network compared him to a Joba Chamberlain-type pitcher. He is currently committed to Cal-State Fullerton.

A bit of an eyeopener, considering some had Hobgood going much lower in the first round. Some may have expected Zach Wheeler or Tyler Matzuk at this spot. But the fact is that taking a high schooler in the first round is a risk in itself, and MacPhail probably took Hobgood due to the solid offspeed pitches. A player that will likely sign instead of heading to college and one that could be a good starter some day.

Although this is not the biggest need for the team, this is a good decision. The Orioles went for a solid pitcher in a pitching heavy draft and did not reach down for a need. The farm system gets another young arm, and Hobgood will be a project. He will probably start in the rookie leagues and perhaps we will see him by the mid-2010s.

Baltimore's next pick is the 54th selection.

(Photo credit: Stan Lim, the Press Enterprise)

Eyeing the 1st Pick on the MLB Draft

Today is the first day of the MLB Draft, and also for Andy MacPhail to work. Obviously a farm system is built through the draft, but most picks are important. The Orioles have the 5th pick in the draft.

Looking over the first round draft field: This is a very pitching heavy class, primarily from high schoolers. Only a few position players have a chance to break the top 15. Steven Strasburg is expected to be taken first overall by the Nationals, but their is plenty of solid arms behind him.

Possible position targets with the 1st pick:
Starting Pitcher: A farm system never has enough starting pitching, even the Orioles. The Orioles have had mixed success looking for a starter in the first round. Getting Brian Matusz seems to be working out, but getting Adam Loewen did not. Starters can go one of two ways in the draft, you could draft a high school player as a four-five year project, or a college player expecting to play in the majors within two or three seasons.
Possible targets for starting pitcher:
--Aaron Crow, RHP, Fort Worth Cats: A power pitcher with a big fastball and a deadly sinker, Crow refused to sign with the Nationals in last year's draft. Could be a wildcard due to this, but expected to go top-10, with many believing top-5.
--Tyler Matzek, LHP, Capistrano Valley HS: A solid starter with a good fastball and reliable off-speed pitches. Obvious risk going on a high school player, but Matzek is considered by many as the top high school pitcher in the draft, and should go top-10, possibly top-5.
--Tanner Scheppers, RHP, St. Paul Saints (formerly Fresno State): A strong fastball-changeup pitcher has great potential, but is coming off shoulder problems from last year and did not sign with the Pirates last year after being drafted in the second round. A high-risk player with high reward chances, and will probably go top-15.
--Zach Wheeler, RHP, East Paulding HS: A raw talent righty with an excellent fastball and potential in other areas. A number of possible risk factors, but with time could develop as a big starter. Will go top-10 most likely.
--Ben White, RHP, North Carolina: A starter with a wide array of pitches that make him a strikeout machine. He does have control issues and can be inconsistent, but his upsides are great. Was preseason top-5, but may have fallen to 6-15 range.

First baseman or other top position player: The main weakness of the Orioles farm system is its position players, primary at the infield corners.
Targets for position players:
--Dustin Ackley, 1B/OF, North Carolina: A very consistent player with great power and contact, plus can play outfield and first baseman. However, it is very likely he will not fall to #5, but the Orioles should take him if he does.
--Donovan Tate, OF, Centerville HS: A smart player with great speed and great defensive abilities. His bat will be the focal point, as there are questions with contact and potential power. Should go in the top-10, but where exactly is a question.

Shortstop: The Orioles do not have anyone in the farm system considered a long term solution at shortstop with the possible exception of Blake Davis. A good shortstop is very hard to come by, and as Baltimore knows very well, is a very important defensive position.
Targets at shortstop:
--Grant Green, SS, USC: A quick shortstop with very good contact and can place the ball well. Not much power and will need to work on defensive skills. Pre-season was top-10, but may have fallen to the 11-15 range, so the pick may be not be worth getting Green.

Because Ackley will be off the board by #5, I believe the Orioles will target a pitcher and take advantage of the big arms of the draft. Also because of the success of other pitchers in the farm system, it may be worth it to target a high schooler for the long term. I believe at #5 the best player to take will be Tyler Matzek, and let him grow into the system as a project. As Andy MacPhail has said, "Grow the arms, buy the bats."

Around the Harbor Prediction- Orioles 1st Round: Tyler Matzek

Monday, June 8, 2009

West Coast Brings Birds Batting Down to Earth

It had been nice for the Orioles, defeating the Nationals two out of three, sweeping AL East rival Toronto, then taking two of four from AL Central leading Detroit. But on the west coast against Seattle and Oakland, the Orioles bats fell silent, losing five of six games and scoring a combined 10 runs in those games. Only once did the Orioles score more than two runs in those games.

Things came front and center when Aubrey Huff got in a tirade in the dugout after another close hit. The last five games certainly have been frustrating, but the problems with the Oriole bats were clear on the west coast.

A number of combined factors came into this. Brian Roberts has gone two for his last 30 at-bats. No one other than Luke Scott or Nolan Reimold has homered in the last 10 games. A number of Aubrey Huff's hits have been close to home runs, but not close enough. Cesar Izturis was put onto the DL, so a .260 bat is out of the lineup. Early struggles with Matt Wieters and current ones with the Orioles bench also do not help.

With the struggles of the rotation, the Orioles need the bats to succeed. Jeremy Guthrie has not looked good at all lately and the young arms of the rotation can only do so much. Although the bullpen has been good, the fact is this team will normally need to win by establishing strong leads and holding on to them in the late innings. Very rarely with this squad can the starting pitching win games on their own. So when the bats are silent, like this west coast trip, the Orioles will not win.

With Oscar Salazar coming up for Izturis, more Norfolk players are coming up. Although they have been doing well, in the long term for the season they will probably struggle. There really is not much the front office can do about this. The Orioles are not in competition mode and should not sign anyone, and the Orioles would not benefit much by bringing up more Tides players. So this will come down to the veteran bats doing well. Roberts and Huff will need to get out of their slumps plus some of the other players will need to step up in the wake of injuries.

The season continues to be a struggle, but the team has plenty of bright spots, and there is time to get back to winning ways. At the very least, they will not be going back to the west coast until the start of July.

(Photo credit: AP)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Free Kicks: Windsor Edition

Expatriate is a bit busy today, so I'll be filling in for him on the Free Kicks today. Just a quick aside first, as I give many thanks to Falco and Expatriate for filling in for me over this past week. But! Plenty enough about myself, and lets line up for the kick.

Jamie Walker Not Getting Another Chance
A day after speculation about left-hander Jamie Walker's future with the Orioles, it has been announced that he's expected to be released by the organization. Fellow blogger Falco offered up his evaluation of the situation yesterday insisting that Walker deserved more time before the Orioles will release him. In all honesty however, I have to say that I do agree with the club's decision to release the struggling reliever. Jamie Walker is a stand-up guy and is a fantastic teammate from all that I have heard, but at the end of the day he just was not getting any better. Walker's best days are behind him, and the Orioles could not afford to keep trotting him out there against left handers when they were mashing him at a .458 clip. I like the guy and I like all he does volunteering with members of the armed forces, but he just wasn't able to do his job at a major league level. In his stead, the Orioles are expected to bring up Alberto Castillo, who is a lefty sidearmer; left handers are batting .256 against him at Norfolk, which isn't great but the Orioles are hoping he provides a boost to that aspect of the bullpen.

Orlando Could Still Be Magical
It is very true that the Magic were thoroughly outplayed in last night's Game 1 defeat at the Staples Center, but don't let it fool you into thinking that this series is over. Far from it, in fact. The simple fact of the matter is that Kobe Bryant had a transcendent game and the Magic's three point shooters were off the mark on wide open looks. Quite frankly anyone who knows basketball could guess that there would be a game like that in this series, as Kobe Bryant is still the best player in basketball and perimeter shooting teams always have an off night or two in the series. Dwight Howard did not get into a rhythm early and played well under his capabilities, but he's bound to have a big game if the Lakers keep guarding him one-on-one. Meanwhile, Stan Van Gundy and his staff have now seen what Jameer Nelson can contribute on the big stage in his current condition, so his minutes should be managed in a better fashion in later games.

Just remember that if nothing else has been learned about the Orlando Magic this postseason, it's that they can take a punch in the mouth and come back stronger. Just look at the Cleveland series, in which they never blinked at massive early deficits and refused to let the momentum of the series slip away after LeBron James' heroics in Game 2. The Magic have built their postseason success on bouncing back, so let's see how they come out on Sunday before writing them off.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Jamie Walker Needs Another Chance

After giving up two home runs in Tuesday's loss to the Mariners, Jamie Walker's job in the bullpen could be in trouble. Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun reports that Walker's time as an Oriole "may be numbered."

In the article Zrebiec quotes Dave Trembley as saying about Walker's future: "Obviously, I'd like things to be better; I'd like to see him be more effective against left-handed hitters. I'm aware of what's going on. Hopefully, it gets better."

Since he got here in 2007 from Detroit, his job has been to be a lefty-specialist, perhaps even be a setup man at times. His current line is not terrible, a 5.12 ERA with nine strikeouts and no walks. He has yet to earn a decision and has only blown one save. But opponents are batting .373 against him, and he has not been doing well in his job of getting out lefties. He was given another chance this season after struggling last year with injuries, and after starting well, he has done very poorly in the last four weeks.

But this is a little harsh to bring his way. No doubt Walker is struggling, and it is possible he is on his last legs at 38. But the Orioles will not be gaining much with losing Walker. No one will take him in a trade, and he won't go to the minors. Sure he isn't playing well, but he had a wonderful start to the season. Plus, another young arm would have to come up to replace him. The only person that could be brought up as a lefty specialist would be Alberto Castillo from Norfolk, but there is no telling that he will be any better. Chris Ray needs much more time and is not a lefty specialist, and no one else from the Tides would be a valid replacement. The only thing the team would gain by dropping Walker is salvaging a little bit of salary.

Obviously he needs to perform better or else the Orioles truly will need to release him, but for now, it is worth it to try to fix Walker's problems and keep him as an Orioles. Maybe he will be able to pitch better with more time from Matt Wieters. Maybe the pressure will get him to perform better. Give him the chance, for now.

(Photo credit: ESPN)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Brady defending Angelos?

According to Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun as well as numerous other outlets, Brady Anderson has been coming to the defense of Orioles owner Peter Angelos. He wrote an op-ed piece in the Sun in response to Sports Illustrated's list of the worst owners in each of the major sports, and Angelos was named the worst in MLB. And Brady has not been happy with that.

A lot of SI's list was not based on the personality of the owner. It was mainly about economic issues and the current status of the team. With the Orioles, it was not hard to put Angelos low on the list, as the Orioles went from a competitor that often put 40,000 in the seats each game to a laughingstock that is lucky to get 25,000 in a contest. So on a pure economic and competitive standpoint, this conclusion is a provable one.

But Brady sees Angelos in a different light. Among the things mentioned in Peter Schmuck's blog was his willingness to spend money in the past, the nice treatment he gave some players, and him trying to get Palmeiro's brother out of Cuba.

It is certainly a different way to look at Angelos. And really, Brady is qualified to speak on the subject, as he so says in the article. However, it is hard to argue with what has been happening. The Orioles have had losing seasons for many years, and often it has seemed like Angelos would get rid of people that would be good for the organization. Pushing out Davey Johnson, not rehiring Pat Gillick, and seemingly just hiring free agents with no care to the farm system. The only constant throughout the years has been Angelos. Attendance and ratings are way down and the Orioles have lost a lot of popularity with their own city.

All that said, the current conditions of the Orioles are looking good, and the system may work the team into a winning one soon. If Angelos allows it to continue and does not hinder what MacPhail is doing, then opinions of him could change.

But I understand that Brady wishes to defend him. Angelos does have some good qualities, and Brady was here a long time, and is a good person.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hill, Wieters Succeeding in Unexpected Ways

Well I am back from my two-week hiatus, and I wish I could say it felt like forever. However, I just couldn’t let Falco and Windsor flail around on their own on this thing, could I? With the O’s getting hot and the young guns mowing down batters as of late, this is just the perfect time for me to jump in and talk some baseball. As for last night’s game against the Mariners…

1-0? Not exactly what any of us expected out of these 2009 Orioles, but I suppose they haven’t done much but surprise us in the small ways that do just enough to keep a fan base interested but not quite enough to take the leap we all expect them to make in 2010. With David Hernandez, Jason Berken, and Brad Bergesen in the starting rotation it is easy to forget about what could become the best acquisition the Orioles made in this offseason- Rich Hill. I won’t rehash Hill’s incredible 2007 success and his “rising star” status in the majors before he came crashing down to Earth in 2008, but it seems as though there couldn’t have been a better spot for the former Cubs’ starter. He has put his complete trust and confidence in Baltimore’s pitching coaches Rick Kranitz and Alan Dunn and it has paid off. After two solid (albeit short) outings to start the season, and one early yank at the hands of the Blue Jays, Hill found his groove against the Mariners last night, pitching 7 innings (one of the longest any starter has gone this season for Baltimore) and allowing only 2 hits. Most importantly, he walked just three batters- this time last year he was throwing wilder than Daniel Cabrera. Hill knows that he needs this group of coaches and this organization to succeed. The Orioles know that a composed and effective Rich Hill does wonders for the starting rotation. It may be one game, but it could be a sign that this pitcher is regaining his front-end-starter form.

It was reported that Wieters would be DHing last night, so it was a pleasant surprise when the rookie catcher got behind the plate. While his bat may not be catching up to major league pitching just yet (2-15), I have been impressed with his ability to handle pitchers thus far. Granted, he has gotten to catch for Jeremy Guthrie, but the numbers don’t lie. In his starts behind the plate (and the Orioles last 4 games including Zaun's catching on Sunday), Orioles starters have had a 1.93 ERA compared to 5.13 overall (28th in the majors and 2nd to last in the American League). Moreover, Wieters is doing an excellent job of blocking the plate, which was on display when I was able to see him on Saturday. Will this continue at this pace? Of course not, and I am sure that he has a long way to go in handling pitchers- that is the part of his game that always needs work as a young catcher. He may not be starting the way O’s fans would like with his bat, but for now he appears well ahead of schedule with his glove.

It seems as though Erik Bedard has rediscovered the talent that made him such an attractive trade piece in 2008, bringing the Orioles Sherrill, Jones, and Chris Tillman in return for the leftie. His 2.48 ERA is good for 4th in the American League, and he is no longer harping at his manager or refusing to throw more than 100 pitches in a game. It will be intriguing to watch what happens tonight when the Seattle starter goes up against his old team for the first time (he was injured and his rotation spot was not up the last two series’ these teams played). Bedard has not allowed more than 3 runs in any start this season- and he is going up against David Hernandez, who was excellent in his solitary start this season. Veteran ace vs. a rookie who probably should still be in AAA? Let’s hope the Orioles bats are louder tonight than they were yesterday.

He's Back.......Erik Bedard against O's on Tuesday in Seattle

For the first time since the infamous trade that dealt him to Seattle in 2008, Erik Bedard will be facing the Orioles on Tuesday. It has been over 15 months since the deal. The game is in Seattle. Bedard had normally been out when scheduled against the Orioles last season.

The big deal had the Orioles shearing a lot of the sheep of the Mariners. Among the players sent to Baltimore included Adam Jones, the future star centerfielder, George Sherill, the Orioles closer, and Chris Tillman, a current top prospect and bigtime starting pitcher in the farm system.

This year, Bedard has been showing his stuff of old. In his nine starts he has fanned 54 batters with just 15 walks and a 2.48 ERA. But he is facing similar problems when he was with Baltimore; he has a 3-2 record. Very often he is not getting run support. But he is still showing his stuff.

This is quite the reunion between Bedard and the Orioles. Bedard did not seem happy in Charm City, especially in his final year with the O's. After Andy MacPhail got here, he needed to rebuild the farm system, and with Bedard being a relatively low paid pitcher with the possibility of being an ace, the O's shopped him around and found a suitor in Seattle. MacPhail also traded Miguel Tejada, but this deal was the headliner. When asked about the game today, Bedard told the media, "Seeing the guys again, I'll try not to laugh."

This is also a reunion for the other traded players. Seattle was an extremely disappointing team last season, and Adam Jones and Chris Tillman were two of the best prospects in the system that were lost in the trade. Though Tillman is still in the minors, Jones has been shining for the O's. But him coming back more is the reminder of last season. Last year Seattle was supposed to compete in the American League, and the acquiring of Bedard was supposed to push them over the top. Instead, despite a large payroll, the team lost over 100 games as saw the firings of GM Bill Bavasi and manager John McLaren. Though it happened yesterday and not today with Bedard pitching, in some ways it was just as important.

David Hernandez will be on the mound for the Orioles. After a huge game from Rich Hill on Monday, the Orioles look for the series win today. But the reunion between the two is finally here. It should be an interesting game.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)