O’s Fall to Hot Royals

The Baltimore Orioles’ magical 2014 season, which started in February with a backdrop of sunny skies and palm trees in Sarasota, Florida, has come to a disappointing end after running into one of the hottest teams in baseball.

The Orioles lost to the Kansas City Royals 2-1 in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, as the Royals capped off a sweep at Kauffman Stadium to reach the World Series for the first time since winning it all in 1985. Kansas City won the series thanks in large part to better play from its bullpen, and highlight-reel defensive plays all over the field.

After jumping out to a 4-1 lead after three innings in Game 1, Baltimore pulled to within 5-4 by scoring three runs in the fifth, highlighted by third baseman Ryan Flaherty’s two-run single. The Orioles tied the game at 5 in the sixth on an infield single by left fielder Alejandro De Aza that fell in front of a diving Alcides Escobar just behind the pitcher’s mound. In the ninth, Zach Britton walked the bases loaded, but got out of the jam by inducing a force-out at home and a double play. He wasn’t so lucky in the 10th, when Royals left fielder Alex Gordon led off with a home run to right. With one out, Mike Moustakas drilled a two-run shot to right-center to put Kansas City up 8-5. In the bottom of the inning, Flaherty singled to right with two out. Pinch-hitter Jimmy Paredes walked, and Delmon Young followed by coming off the bench and hitting a single to center that scored Flaherty. However, Royals closer Greg Holland got Nick Markakis to ground out to second to close out an 8-6 win.

In Game 2, it was the Lorenzo Cain Show. Cain went 4 for 5 with a double and an RBI, and robbed J.J. Hardy of an extra-base hit with a spectacular diving catch to end the seventh. In the ninth, Escobar broke a 4-4 tie with a single to right that scored pinch-runner Terrence Gore. Cain followed with his RBI single to left, scoring Escobar. Holland allowed only a two-out single to Nelson Cruz in the bottom of the ninth before striking out Steve Pearce to end the game and give the Royals a 2-0 series lead heading back to Kansas City.

After being delayed a day by rain, Game 3 saw the Orioles get a lead for the first time in the series, as Pearce and Hardy hit back-to-back doubles to give Baltimore a 1-0 lead. However, after Gordon tied the game with an RBI groundout with the bases loaded, the game featured more stellar defense by the Royals, this time with Moustakas. Adam Jones hit a pop-up in foul territory that was heading towards a group of field-box seats near the Orioles dugout. Moustakas reached over the railing, caught the ball and held on while tumbling over the railing and being caught and helped back onto the field by fans. In the bottom of the inning, Butler hit a sacrifice fly to score pinch-runner Jerrod Dyson to give the Royals a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t give up. The Orioles managed only three hits, and their final 16 batters were retired in order.

The following afternoon brought out a dominantly blue-clad crowd that featured some fans holding brooms looking for the sweep. The home team gave them something to cheer about early, as Escobar singled, and right fielder Nori Aoki was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the first. Cain laid down a sacrifice bunt to move up both runners, and Eric Hosmer hit a grounder to Pearce. However, catcher Caleb Joseph couldn’t handle Pearce’s throw, and both runners scored to give Kansas City a 2-0 lead.

In the third, Flaherty led off with a long home run that stayed inside the right-field foul pole to make it 2-1, but that was as close as the Orioles would get. Hardy led off the fifth with a long fly ball to deep left, but Gordon tracked it down and held on despite crashing hard into the fence in front of the out-of-town scoreboard. The collision was so hard that Gordon was slow to get up. In the sixth, Jonathan Schoop led off by drawing a walk, and went to third on a two-out single by Jones, but was stranded there when Cruz lined out to second. In the ninth, Jones led off with a walk, but Cruz hit into a fielder’s choice back to Holland. Delmon Young struck out, and Hardy grounded out to third to set off the celebration in Kansas City.

Cain was named the MVP of the series. He went 8 for 15 in addition to his impressive defense. The Royals will face the winner of the National League Championship Series (either San Francisco or cross-state rival St. Louis) in the World Series, and will have home-field advantage.

Orioles bring September, October magic back to Baltimore

By Andrew R. Koch

The Baltimore Orioles have been on a run for the ages since the end of May, as what was once a weak spot is now one of their strengths.

photo credit Keith Allison under a Creative Commons License
photo credit Keith Allison under a Creative Commons License

On May 30, the Orioles were 26- 27. They were struggling with consistency both at the plate and from their starting pitching. The starters were struggling to get past the fifth inning on a regular basis, putting a heavy strain on the bullpen. Since then, it’s been the starting pitching that’s been leading the way.

Left-hander WeiYin Chen has only lost twice in his last 24 starts, and ace right-hander Chris Tillman hasn’t lost a start since July 12. That, along with a 3.46 team earned-run average that’s good for third-low- est in the American League, have contributed to Baltimore’s 70-39 record since the end of May. The final homestand of the season was highlighted by Baltimore clinching its first division title since 1997, and the first at home since 1969, with a final division lead of 12.5 games over New York and 13 games over Toronto. Center fielder Adam Jones celebrated the division title by smashing “Victory Pies” in fans’ faces, and dousing the head groundskeeper in beer on the field. The Orioles also once again lead the league in long balls, with 210 home runs this season. The Colorado Rockies are second with 185, followed by A.L. East rival Toronto with 177. Baltimore scores nearly half of its runs on homers.

Baltimore’s bench players are getting some of the limelight due to injuries to key starters. Jimmy Paredes, who was called up from Triple-A Norfolk, has been playing third base with Manny Machado out due to season-ending knee surgery. Paredes is quickly winning his way into the hearts of fans with some power, to the tune of four doubles, two homers and driving in eight runs in 11 games since being called up. With Chris Davis sitting out the rest of the regular season because of a drug suspension, Steve Pearce has gotten regular playing time at first base, and has responded with a career high .293 batting average and 21 home runs. Ryan Flaherty has seen regular playing time at second base and shortstop due to the struggles of rookie Jonathan Schoop at the plate and back spasms for J.J. Hardy. Flaherty has also shifted over to third as manager Buck Showalter works his defensive substitutions and lineup of relievers in the bullpen.

The Orioles finished off the regular season by going 3-4 on the road in the Bronx and in Toronto. The A.L. Division Series will start on Oct. 2.

Photo Credit

Orioles Purchase Contract of Johan Santana

By Andrew R. Koch

With the Baltimore Orioles struggling to stay above .500 and make some headway in the American League East thanks in large part to inconsistent starting pitching, the team has purchased the minor-league contract of a veteran pitcher in the hopes of aiding the starting rotation.

On June 2, the Orioles announced that they’d purchased left-handed pitcher Johan Santana’s contract from Triple-A Norfolk and added him to the 40-man roster. Santana was then placed on the 15-day disabled list. He hasn’t pitched at all since undergoing surgery on a torn capsule in his left shoulder in April 2013. It was the second time in three years that he’s had shoulder capsule surgery. He last pitched in August 2012 with the New York Mets.

Santana is scheduled to make rehab starts at both Double-A Bowie and then Norfolk, and could join the Orioles by the middle of this month. Manager Buck Showalter has left open the possibility that when Santana comes off the DL, the Orioles could move to a six-man rotation. Showalter says he’s been thinking about adding an extra starter to the rotation anyway.

Hunter, Wieters Making Progress in Recovery From Injuries

Two key pieces of the Orioles roster—closer Tommy Hunter and catcher Matt Wieters—remain on the disabled list, but are both making good progress in their recoveries.

Hunter, who’s been on the DL since May 22 with a strained left groin, threw a bullpen session prior to the start of the Orioles three-game series at the Texas Rangers. He also took pitchers fielding practice. Showalter said the bullpen and fielding sessions both went very well. The Orioles have been using a closer-by-committee to finish off games in Hunter’s absence.

Also prior to the start of the series against the Rangers, Wieters threw for just the third time since going on the DL with a sore right elbow on May 11. Wieters made 30 throws, including throws from as far as 100 feet. Wieters says he’s encouraged with the progress he’s making in his rehab as he tries to avoid season-ending surgery. He says he’s been getting stronger each day he’s thrown, and has been able to make more throws before getting fatigued. Wieters will now extend his throwing to 120 feet.

Bundy Nearly Done With Extended Spring Training

Right-handed pitcher and top Orioles prospect Dylan Bundy will soon take a major step forward in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

Bundy pitched four-plus innings in an extended spring training game in Sarasota, Florida. Showalter says Bundy will make one more appearance in Sarasota, and then join the Aberdeen Ironbirds (short-season Class A New York-Penn League), whose season will begin on June 13.