How the Baltimore Orioles can win the World Series next year

How the Baltimore Orioles can win the World Series next year

I know, I know. The Baltimore Orioles are bad. They’re 13-30 one game into their four-game weekend set with Boston. That’s the second-worst record in Major League Baseball. What am I doing talking about them winning it all next season?

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Hey, it’s not like worst-to-first doesn’t happen now and then. The Amazing Mets pulled it off in 1969. Kirby Puckett’s Minnesota Twins managed it in 1991. The Red Sox fired Bobby Valentine, hired John Farrell and did the deed in 2013. It’s at least a generational thing. Of course, that could mean it’s too soon for the O’s, but there’s another interesting trend that suggests they might have a chance, even though it isn’t something a sane person would put money on right now.

David Price looked like his normal pre-All Star self in the first game of the current series. He pitched the full nine innings against Baltimore. Manny Machado ruined his bid for a complete-game shutout by crushing a two-run shot with two out in the ninth. The Bosox were already up six when the shortstop took Price yard for his 14th of the season.

If Buck Showalter was Rich Renteria, we might be talking about his job being on the line. That is the difference between owning a 1517-1432 record and being 151-213. The O’s boss has roughly ten times the experience of his Chisox counterpart.

While that experience counts him in good stead, it can also work against him. With Showalter, what you’ve seen in the past seems to be what you get in the present. He can lay the foundation for a contender but can’t seem to build the roof. Maybe we should be talking about the team cutting ties with the skipper.

In his first three seasons with the Yankees, the then-30-something maverick led the Bronx Bombers to fourth, second, and first-place finishes in the American League East. He did it by relying more on the farm system than free agency. When the team fell back to second in his fourth season, George Steinbrenner panicked, firing Showalter and hiring Joe Torre. The former catcher and first-baseman took Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada et al to a World Series title in his first campaign.

Even though the expansion Diamondbacks wouldn’t begin play for two seasons, Arizona immediately hired Showalter to help them design their minor league system. Again, the club improved in his second season, winning 100 games before falling to the Mets in the playoffs. A regression to 85 wins in his third season left him looking for work again while Bob Brenly delivered the franchise’s only World Series title on the strength of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling’s pitching, and Luis Gonzalez’s clutch hitting.

Another manager wins a World Series on the back of Buck Showalter's good work.

Following another three-year hiatus, Showalter spent four seasons in Texas. Once more, the best year was the second, although the Rangers never rose above third in the AL West during his tenure, and successor Ron Washington needed another four years to build the Arlington club into two-time American League champions.

The first of those pennants coincided with Showalter’s arrival at Camden Yards. After short spells with his previous clubs, Baltimore has shown more faith in the 61-year-old. This is his eighth campaign yet, despite CEO Peter Angelos’ trust, Showalter hasn’t taken his game or the Orioles’ to the next level.

It’s been the same old Buck in Baltimore. The first season was a write-off followed by a strong 93-win second year. Predictably, year three was a step back. Angelos stuck with Showalter, though, and the manager produced his best season in year four, going 96-66. Then, he failed to maintain that level. The O’s played .500 ball in 2015, won 89 the next season and 75 last year. With this season’s woeful start, the pattern of one good season, one bad isn’t even sustainable anymore.

Manny Machado's bat is the one good thing about the Baltimore Orioles in 2018.

Despite a decent roster, the Orioles don’t look like bouncing back in 2018. Machado is the only player producing. He’s on the early-season AL MVP radar with a .339 batting average, 14 HRs, 40 RBI and 26 runs scored. He’s earning a base on balls for virtually every strikeout (23:24) and sports a ridiculous .418/.661/1.079 line. The problem is the rest of the order is letting him down.

Centerfielder Adam Jones is not getting on base enough. In a season where pitchers are walking more batters than ever, Jones is hitting .253. He hasn’t drawn enough walks to boost that number by 20 points. His on-base percentage is only .271. Compare that with the 79-point bump Machado is providing.

Slugger Chris Davis has a pitiful .248/.275/.523 line, his batting average below the Mendoza line. Mark Trumbo has better numbers but just 60 plate appearances. Showalter is showing the same misplaced faith in Davis that the owner has in him.

Meanwhile, Tim Beckham and Anthony Santander are on the 60 and 40-day DLs respectively. Colby Rasmus is on the 10-day version. Caleb Joseph has been sent down to Norfolk.

The pitching is no more encouraging. The staff is carrying a 5.09 ERA and 1.496 WHIP. They’re 10th in the Al in walks, 11th in strikeouts. The busier rotation is the movement between the DL and active status.

Overall, it’s a bleak picture. So, why do I think the Orioles can win it all next year? You may have noticed what happens to teams after Showalter leaves. The Yankees and Diamondbacks both earned trips to the White House. Texas took longer but won two pennants under Showalter’s replacement. Like Meatloaf said, two out of three ain’t bad.

Admittedly, I’m grasping at straws, but sometimes you just need to get out of your own way. Peter Angelos has had seven years to see that Buck Showalter has nothing more to offer. If he decides to let him go while there are still talented, hopeful pieces for a new man to work with, there’s a 67% chance the club can put a championship run together.

And why not? It’s not like the Orioles are going anywhere now.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.

 

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Is Ozzie Albies the second coming of Andruw Jones?

Is Ozzie Albies the second coming of Andruw Jones?

In 1996, the Atlanta Braves were World Series Champions. They had beaten their American League clones, the Cleveland Indians, in six games the previous fall.

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The Braves were in the midst of a 15-year run as the National League’s dominant team. From 1991-2005 they would win the National League West [’91-93] or the East [95-05] a combined 14 times, at least 90 games 13 times, 100 in a half-dozen seasons, and go to five World Series [1991, 92, 95, 96, 99]. For all that, the 1995 Series was the only one they would win. From that perspective, the 1996 season began a long decline.

It didn’t look that way at the time. Exactly the opposite in fact.

While it was lefty Steve Avery’s final season with the team, the rotation appeared ready to dominate for years. John Smoltz, five seasons away from his conversion to the closer’s role, was the 1996 NL Cy Young winner. Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were also on course for Hall of Fame careers.

There was speed and power up and down the lineup. Javy Lopez, Fred McGriff, Chipper Jones, Marquis Grissom, Ryan Klesko, Terry Pendleton, Jermaine Dye, David Justice, Luis Polonia. The Braves were going to score runs.

Bobby Cox’s coaching staff was formidable as well. First base, third base, and bullpen coaches Pat Corrales, Jimy Williams, and Ned Yost would all become major league managers in their own right. And Bobby always had Leo Mazzone’s company. The venerated pitching coach only stopped rocking in the dugout when he stood up to go to the mound.

That said, the best advertisement for the Braves’ future was a teenager who came up to the club late in the season to play left field. Andruw Jones was 19. He hailed from the Caribbean island of Curacao, off the Venezuelan coast, and he had some pop in his bat. In 31 games, he drove hit five home runs, drove in 13 runs, scored 11, stole three bases, and showed excellent range in the outfield.

It was in the Fall Classic where he made the greatest impression, however. In his first World Series game, the teenager hit two home runs and drove in five in the second and third innings to spark a 12-1 rout in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees would lose Game 2 as well before rebounding to sweep the next four,. Nevertheless, Jones became a fixture in the Braves outfield for the next 11 seasons before bouncing around the major leagues for another five, the last two with the Yankees. His major league resume reads more than 400 home runs and 150 stolen bases, a career 62.8 Wins Above Replacement, five All-Star appearances, the 2005 MLB home run and National League RBI crowns, and ten Gold Gloves.

That’s a tough act to follow. The Braves seem to have a pipeline to Curacaoan talent, though. Two players from the tiny island have followed Jones’ path to the big leagues.

Andrelton Simmons didn’t quite work out. His first full season at Turner Field held promise. The shortstop finished the season with 150 hits, 59 RBI, 76 runs, and 17 HRs. When his production dipped in the next two campaigns, the Braves traded him to the Angels in 2015. Last season, Simmons rediscovered his hitting stroke, setting new career marks for hits, doubles, homers, runs, RBIs, stolen bases, and walks. He also struck out more, although that was a fair price for the increased production. The 28-year-old has the talent to enjoy a solid major league career. It just won’t be with the Braves.

Last season, Atlanta mined their private Caribbean island for a third time, bringing away a second-baseman. Ozzie Albies made his debut on August 1st and quickly turned heads. In 57 games before season’s end, he cracked 62 hits, knocked six out of the park and collected 28 ribbies. His power was complemented by speed. Albies scored 34 runs and stole eight bases in nine attempts.

This season, he is proving it’s not a fluke. With teams coming up on the season’s quarter-pole, the 21-year-old infielder is third in the majors in run production, having scored or driven in 67. Only Boston’s Mookie Betts and the Yankees Aaron Judge, with 69 and 68 respectively, surpass the islander. Albies’ batting line reads .304/.564/.868.

He could certainly walk more, especially as pitchers are now pitching around him. His slugging percentage is seventh-best in the National League. It was fourth going into the weekend. It’s his turn to adjust now. The youngster must lay off pitches outside the strike zone to get on base more.

Couple Albie’s numbers with first-baseman Freddie Freeman’s power, though, and it’s little wonder the Braves are setting the pace in the National League East. Still young, Albies has the potential to be even better as he learns. If he does, people will start to look at Curacao less as the home of Andruw Jones and more as a baseball hotbed.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.

 

Yankees showing they have pitching depth to go with the sluggers

Yankees showing they have pitching depth to go with the sluggers

If you’re going to cherry-pick one statistic to rate a team in any sport, it should be goal/run/point difference. Some teams can score like nobody’s business but can’t defend to save their lives. Others are just the opposite. They can’t do anything with the ball but won’t let you have any fun, either. When the margin between for and against is wide, though, you know you have a team that can do it all.

The World Series champion Houston Astros have the league’s fourth-best record at 24-15 but are lapping the field in run difference. They have scored 86 more runs than their pitchers have allowed. That would suggest they run hot and cold, which is why you must be careful when picking cherries.

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On the other hand, the league’s two best teams are running neck-and-neck in run difference. They’ve also been playing a three-game series at Yankee Stadium that wraps up tonight. The Bronx Bombers [26-10] have taken the first two to wrest the American League East lead from the Boston Red Sox [25-11]. Aaron Boone’s squad is on an 8-game winning streak in which their hitting has largely covered for a slumping pitching staff.

The first two games were 4-0 shutouts over the typically potent Astros. In the first, 25-year-old lefty Jim Montgomery only lasted an inning. ‘Gumby’s’ injury was later diagnosed as a flexor strain in his elbow that will cost him 6-8 weeks. The bullpen covered for him with eight scoreless innings. In the second game, Luis Severino pitched a much-appreciated complete game shutout. He surrendered only five hits while striking out ten. From there, the bats took over.

Masahiro Tanaka couldn’t get out of the seventh, giving up three runs after pitching six scoreless innings in the series finale. The bullpen surrendered two more, but Yankee bats came alive in the ninth, ringing up three runs to come home to New York with three of the four games and an unbeaten start to May.

Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez can now rub elbows with Giancarlo Stantaon, as well.

Cleveland came to town to open the six-game homestand. The Yankees raked Terry Francona’s staff for 19 runs in the three games and needed most of them. Boone’s pitchers surrendered 12.

Things settled down a bit in the first game against the BoSox. Severino went six-plus, surrendering two runs and the Yankees eked out a 3-2 win. Both teams went to town in the second game but the Bombers prevailed 9-6. They’ll have a chance to extend the winning streak to nine while adding a small cushion to their division lead.

The unbeaten run is something of a surprise. Montgomery’s loss is hardly the Yanks’ only injury concern. First baseman Greg Bird has been nursing a broken spur in his ankle. Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s plantar fasciitis and hip problems will keep him out until June. Pitcher Adam Warren will be out a couple of weeks with a back issue. Relievers Tommy Kahnle and Luis Cessa are also on the 10-day DL.

The Yankees have powered through, however. Opponents thought they’d have to deal with three sluggers coming into the season. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and new signing Giancarlo Stanton are all on nine home runs through the season’s first six weeks but shortstop Didi Gregorius leads the way with an even ten. The group has combined to position New York as the league’s most prolific hitters. They’ve scored 209 runs already. Boston is second with 200.

More importantly to their postseason hopes — I know, it’s early — is the pitching staff’s contribution. As Aaron Boone has had to reach into the minors to keep arms in the bullpen, Larry Rothchild’s group has remained stingy. They’ve combined with the starters to yield the American League’s third-fewest runs, behind the Astros and Red Sox. The Yankees’ ERA is a respectable 3.46, their WHIP 1.165.

The Yankees rotation is putting together solid numbers despite Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka's struggles.

Rothchild has some work to do with Tanaka and Sonny Gray. The Japanese star has decent numbers. In 46 innings he’s walked only ten. His WHIP is below the team average at 1.101. He is struggling to make the out pitch, however. Gray is a more alarming problem. His control is way off. The former Oakland ace has issued 21 passes in 33 IP and is allowing six runs per nine innings.

On the other hand, Severino is handling duties as an ace with aplomb and CC Sabbathia is rolling through lineups as the fourth man in the rotation. If Kahnle and Cessa return soon, the Yankees have a chance to open up some distance on the Red Sox.

The first step will be completing the series sweep tonight.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.