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Baltimore Orioles Opening Day Primer

2011 Record: 97-65 Manager: Buck Showalter

The Orioles seemed to stall in the driveway last year with their young guns starting pitchers struggling out of the gate and disappointing performances across the board. Only Matt Wieters and Adam Jones seemed to develop in the way this club expected coming out of spring training. They’ll need a lot more development of their young talent this season if they are to get the locals excited in the Inner Harbor.

Player in the spotlight: Adam Jones CF

Adam Jones has gone from a tremendous defensive centerfielder to one who can hit as well. Jones is now a solid 25 HR type of hitter with an average around .280. If he’s able to continue to improve and the Orioles get some production ahead of him, Jones could become a 30 HR and 100 RBI producer in the next year or two.

Biggest question mark in the lineup: Brian Roberts 2B

Roberts is suffering from post-concussion syndrome and his return is unknown. He hasn’t played a full season since 2009 and at $10M per season through 2013, the Orioles have some valuable resources being tied up in a player who is a huge unknown. If Roberts is able to get healthy and regain his pre-injuries form, the Orioles will have a great leadoff hitter who can help the young pitching staff gain an early lead in games.

Pitcher in the spotlight: Tommy Hunter

Hunter was acquired from the Rangers last year where he was unable to crack the rotation after a very solid 2010 season. He’s only 25, but he’ll be asked to provide veteran stability to a staff that traded away mainstay Jeremy Guthrie in the offseason. If Hunter is able to revert to his 2010 level of performance, the O’s will get closer to lining up a respectable staff this year.

Biggest pitching question mark: Zach Britton

Britton starts the season on the DL with some shoulder trouble. He’s expected to return but the date is unknown. Britton had a solid rookie campaign in 2011, winning 11 games and looked poised to take over the role as staff ace. If he’s unable to pitch or pitch well this season, the O’s face another huge uphill climb to respectability. That puts a lot more pressure on the rest of the young pitchers led by Jake Arrieta, who got the opening day start.

Prospect with a chance to make an impact this year: Joe Mahoney 1B

The O’s lack top level prospects with a chance at breaking in over the next season and a half, but Mahoney is probably the one who could make it up. Mahoney will start in AAA Norfolk and could get the call up if he does well and the Orioles start slipping out of contention (a cynic might say they will never be in contention).

Prediction: 5th in AL East

The Orioles need their young pitchers to develop at the major league level. Then they can go out in the offseason and find some solid starters to hold the fort until their top prospects can arrive in 2014. It’s always an uphill battle in the AL East, but it’s even more so when seemingly all of the O’s prospects turn into journeymen type players. Unless Jones and Wieters become superstars, the O’s next hope comes with SS Manny Machado in September of 2013.

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MLB Daily Balk Morning Rundown 4/20

Enter Sandman, Exit Loss

Best of Yesterday April 19

James Shields crafted a complete game victory for the Rays over the White Sox. Shields gave up only 4 hits, 1 BB, and 1 run while getting 9 strikeouts in the 2-1 win. The Rays have now won 8 of 11 and only trail the Yankees by 2 games in the AL East.

The Brewers pitchers shut out the Phillies at Citizens Bank. Starter and ex-Phillie Randy Wolf went 6 innings giving up only 2 hits and 3 walks while striking out 5.

Jake Arrieta led the Orioles pitchers in shutting out the Twins at Camden Yards. Arrieta’s battery mate, Matt Wieters drove in 4 of the O’s 11 runs. Buck Showalter was impressed with Wieters.

Travis Snider broke his bat over his knee last night before hitting the game winning double in the 10th inning to give the Blue Jays a 6-5 win over the Yankees.

Ryan Roberts of the Diamondbacks blasted two homers, drove in 3 runs, and even stole a base in the D’backs 5-4 win over the Reds. Roberts is now hitting .382 on the season and might not even be in the majors if Geoff Blum hadn’t been injured before opening day.

The Marlins Josh Johnson continues to establish his Cy Young credentials during the first month of the season as he threw 7 scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 1.00 on the season. His 9 strikeouts give him a 27-6 K-BB ratio in 27 innings this season.

Rookie 1B Mike Trumbo delivered his 3rd homer and drove in 4 runs in the Angels rout of the Rangers on Tuesday night. Rangers starter Colby Lewis and the rest of their pitchers were feeling labor pains throughout this one.

Royals starting pitching Bruce Chen went to 3-0 on the season after giving up 2 runs in 7 innings in the Royals 5-4 win over the first place Indians on Tuesday night. Chen’s ERA is now at 2.42 and the Royals are 11-6 and one game behind the Tribe in the AL Central.

Panda time as Pablo Sandoval took Ubaldo Jimenez deep in the first inning for a 3-run homer as the Giants beat the Rockies 6-3 on Tuesday night. There are only two games separating the teams in the NL West now.

The Athletics Brett Anderson was spectacular in their win over the Red Sox on Tuesday night. Anderson won his first game by shutting out the Sox for 8 innings, giving up only 4 hits, 1 walk and he had 8 strikeouts. His ERA is now 1.63 on the season.

Ichiro and Chone Figgins combined to go 7 for 9 and steal 3 bases at the top of the order for the Mariners in their 13-3 win over the Tigers on Tuesday night.

What Happened Yesterday?

Mariano Rivera showed that he was human as the Yankees iconic closer as he blew his first save opportunity of the season on Tuesday night in Toronto. The usually immaculate Rivera walked one and gave up four hits in the 9th inning and only a brilliant double play initiated by 3B Eric Chavez kept Mo from losing his first game.

Terry Francona got tossed for the first time this season in the Red Sox 5-0 loss at Oakland. Francona was arguing a, you guessed it, a balk that wasn’t called on A’s pitcher Brett Anderson in the 4th inning when Dustin Pedroia was picked off first base.

Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero is hitting a gaudy .380 so far this season. But the backstop committed his fifth error of the season against the Reds on Tuesday night. There’s no DH in the National League to hide your glove, Miguel.

The Dodgers entered the top of the 9th inning against the Braves down 2-1 and hoping for another walk off win. Unfortunately, Dodgers relievers Kenley Jansen and Ramon Troncoso didn’t get the memo and gave up 8 runs between them in the inning. That’s going to leave a mark on their ERAs for awhile.

The Daily Balk’s Take

Geoff Baker writes that the Mariners won’t be trading ace Felix Hernandez this season, but might entertain that possibility during the winter or next season.

  • The bottom line here is that Felix is 25 years old and under contract through the 2014 season for very palatable salaries. The Mariners, or any team, would be foolish to trade a pitcher of this quality and value until they know if their young talent is going to pan out for them. If the young players don’t improve enough for the Mariners to contend by the end of the 2013 season, then maybe the Mariners could look to deal Felix. Until then, it just doesn’t make practical sense.

 

AL News/Notes

Sam Fuld of the Rays has led them to an 8-4 record since moving into the leadoff spot. The once 0-6 Rays are now right back into the AL East race at only 2 games behind the Yankees. Rays manager Joe Maddon even believes that Fuld is playing defense better than Carl Crawford in left field.

Tyson Ross will take over for the injured Dallas Braden in the Athletics rotation. Ross pitched well in spring training and almost won the fifth starter’s job. Ross is ranked by Baseball America as the A’s 4th ranked prospect and if he pitches well, could join the rotation fulltime or become a trade piece for GM Billy Beane to use to improve the offense in June or July.

The A’s are 26-22 against the Red Sox since 2006. That’s the best in the AL over that time period.

First baseman Kila Ka’aihue of the Royals is only hitting .151 this season in 15 games. With top prospect Eric Hosmer off to a quick start in Omaha, Ka’aihue’s days in KC could be numbered.

NL News/Notes

Starting pitchers for the Pirates, Kevin Correia and Charlie Morton have combined for the most complete games in April, 2, by the Pirates staff since 1992. The 92 Bucs won the NL East and lost to the Braves in the NLCS in Barry Bonds last season in Pittsburgh.

The Cubs and Padres will play a day-night doubleheader at Wrigley on Wednesday after Tuesday night’s rainout.

Crazy weather in St. Louis sets up a doubleheader on Wednesday at Busch between the Nationals and Cardinals. This will be a day-night doubleheader like the Cubs and Padres.

Ike Davis of the Mets has been in the majors for a year now.

“Five Finger” Mike Leake of the Reds is still scheduled to make his start on Thursday despite his legal issues from Monday.

David Hernandez and JJ Putz have stabilized the 8th and 9th innings for the Diamondbacks. Last year, the D’backs were historically bad.

Opposing hitters are batting .524 against the Braves Tim Hudson in the first inning this season. Hudson has yielded 7 runs in the first inning and only 6 runs for all of the other innings combined. Also, Hudson’s pitch in the vicinity of Jerry Sands’ head on Monday night was a purpose pitch. But Hudson signed a ball for him after the game.

Cody Ross is back with the Giants but was not activated for Tuesday’s game at Colorado. He should be in the lineup on Wednesday.

Brandon Belt of the Giants turns 23 on Wednesday and could get a plane ticket to Fresno as a “gift” from manager Bruce Bochy.

Streak of the Day

The Royals Wilson Betemit and Alex Gordon both extended their career long hitting streaks to 11 and 13 games respectively.

Top Wednesday Matchups

3:10 EDT Giants (Cain 2-0, 1.42) at Rockies (De La Rosa 2-0, 3.18)

3:35 EDT Red Sox (Buchholz 0-2, 6.60) at Athletics (Gonzalez 2-0, 0.47)

8:05 EDT Angels (Weaver 4-0, 1.30) at Rangers (Harrison 3-0, 1.23)

8:10 EDT Indians (Masterson 3-0, 1.33) at Royals (Hochevar 2-1, 4.21)

8:15 EDT Nationals (Zimmerman 1-2, 2.45) at Cardinals (Garcia 2-0, 1.35)

Last night’s balks: 1 – Bobby Parnell of the Mets against the Astros

Baltimore Orioles Opening Day Overview

Baltimore Orioles Opening Day Overview

Manager: Buck Showalter            GM: Andy MacPhail

  Lineup:
1 2B Brian Roberts
2 RF Nick Markakis
3 1B Derrek Lee
4 DH Vladimir Guerrero
5 LF Luke Scott
6 CF Adam Jones
7 3B Mark Reynolds
8 C Matt Wieters
9 SS JJ Hardy

 

Roberts suffered from a myriad of injuries last season and was limited to 59 games. When he did play, his power suffered as his slugging dropped from .451 to .391 last year. Always a steady OBP guy(.355 career), Roberts will need to be healthy for this potentially high powered O’s offense to reach its potential. The O’s are hoping for 150 games and for Roberts to maintain his career averages (.283 AVG, .355 OBP, and .419 SLG). Anything more would be gravy for the 33 year old.

Markakis is a steady OBP guy but has receded with his power the past three seasons. With at least 43 doubles in the past 4 season and solid on base numbers, Markakis should set up the heart of the lineup nicely this season.

Lee’s last season with the Cubs ended with Atlanta as he had his worst full season since his rookie season in 1998. The O’s are betting $7.25M on Lee returning to around his career OPS of .865. If he does, this offense will be one of the best in the AL.

Guerrero signed a one year deal as well, for $8M. Vlad had a very good first half last season on the way to 29 HRs and 115 RBI while hitting .300 for the season. The O’s will DH him and hit him fourth while hoping for similar production out of the future hall of famer.

Scott had a career year last season at 32 and the O’s hope that he’ll do it again. But he’s going to be playing in left field and his glove isn’t exactly golden. If his production predictably falls off, then the O’s might look for a righty bat on the trade market to platoon with Scott. Although he’s not going to have another OPS over .900, the O’s would gladly take his career OPS of .857.

Jones improved his batting average but his OBP and SLG both went down. In over 100 more at bats, Jones only walked 23 times and his homers stayed at 19. If Jones is to reach his potential, Showalter needs to get him to develop a lot more patience at the plate, which should lead to better pitches to hit and more production. Keep an eye on his OBP, if he can increase it from .325 last season to over .350, then he’s improved his approach enough to really help this team in the middle of the order and could get moved up to the leadoff or second spot.

Reynolds has struck out 638 times in the past 3 seasons. Yes 3 seasons. Joe DiMaggio struck out 369 times in 13 seasons. But we’re in a different era and Reynolds lack of contact didn’t hurt him until he only hit .198 last year. He’s got tremendous power as his 104 HRs over the past 3 seasons shows and he’ll take a walk. If he can get his batting average up over .250, he can be a similar batter to Adam Dunn with a high OPS.

Wieters took a step back after a solid partial 2009 season. He’s already got the patience thing down at the plate according to his pitches seen. The key now is to simply hit the ball safely more often. The O’s have to be hoping for a return to his rookie averages(.288 AVG, .340 OBP, and .412 SLG) and then some.

Hardy is on his third team in as many seasons. He bounced back after an atrocious 2009 season but failed to return to his 2007 and 2008 production. The O’s don’t need that, but would take it. The O’s are looking for an OPS of around .750, which is right near his career OPS.

  Starting Pitching
1 RHP Jeremy Guthrie
2 LHP Brian Matusz(DL)
3 LHP Zach Britton
4 RHP Jake Arrieta
5 RHP Chris Tillman/RHP Brad Bergeson

 

Guthrie came back from his down 2009 season and pitched over 200 innings again and a sub 4.00 ERA. The O’s need him to repeat that this season and lower his HR allowed. With the added offense, Guthrie could win as many as 15 games if he improves his ERA to around 3.50.

Matusz is on the DL after his opening weekend start was scratched due to a rib injury. When he gets back, the O’s will need him to improve his K-BB ratio from just over 2 to 1. Also, if he can reduce his HR rate to more than one per 10 innings, then Matusz should be able to lower his ERA under 4.00.

Britton pitched well in AA and AAA last season and Showalter’s got him in the opening rotation. He pitched a career high 153 innings last season and the O’s will likely limit his IP to 180 or so this season. If he’s able to keep his ERA at 3.80 or better, Britton could win 12-14 games.

Arrieta struggled a bit in his rookie season last year with a 4.66 ERA after posting a 1.85 at AAA. The O’s are looking for Arrieta to continue to improve his walk rate that needs to drop by a third. If he can do that, his ERA should drop as well and Arrieta could be a 13-15 game winner if he lowers his ERA to no higher than 3.60 and pitches at least 200 innings.

Tillman is another young pitcher for the O’s and he has struggled in parts of two seasons with the O’s. He breaks camp in the rotation and will need a K-BB ratio more in line with his minor league numbers(3 to 1) than his major league numbers(1.3 to 1). He also needs to cut his HR rate. He’s given up 24 HRs in 119 career IP. He isn’t likely to have a successful major league career if that continues.

Bergeson will fill in the rotation while Matusz is out. He was solid in 2009 but regressed last season due to a deterioration of his K-BB ratio from 2 to 1 in 2009 to about 1.5 to 1 last year. He also gave up 26 HRs in 170 innings. That has to come down or the Orioles are going to be shopping for starting pitching.

  Bullpen
CL RHP Kevin Gregg
SET RHP Kohi Uehara
  LHP Mike Gonzalez
  RHP Jim Johnson
  RHP Jeremy Accardo
  RHP Jason Berken
  RHP Josh Rupe

 

Gregg comes over from the Jays and will close. He isn’t an elite closer but is reliable enough for a team looking for a winning record this season. The O’s could be in the market for a closer like Heath Bell if they outperform expectations and are in the AL East race longer than expected..

Uehara significantly improved in his second season with the O’s since coming over from Japan. In 44 IP, Uehara struck out 55 batters and only walked 5. That kind of dominance will be utilized in the 8th innings, but Uehara could end up closing again if Gregg struggles.

Gonzalez was expected to close last season but blown saves early in the season combined with arm problems made his year difficult. He’s been a solid pitcher for most of his career and should be solid, if not spectacular in a lefty setup role.

Johnson has been up and down in his 3 seasons with the O’s and last year was about average and keeps him in middle relief. Accardo hasn’t been good since his very good 2007 season with the Jays. He’ll provide another righty arm for middle relief. Berken didn’t fare well as a starter in 2009 but pitched pretty well in relief last season. Rupe has bounced around with no success and gets a chance now with the O’s.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 3B Josh Bell
2 2B Ryan Adams
3 OF Matt Angle

 

Bell struggled with the O’s as the regular third baseman for less than two months and is back at AAA. With Mark Reynolds at third now, Bell could be used as trade bait to acquire a veteran arm. Adams is the heir apparent to Roberts at second and could be called up if Roberts’ injury issues flare up again. Angle can hit and has good speed and should be the first OF called up.

Three Questions:

1. Can the Buck Showalter magic continue in 2011?

  • The Orioles were 34-23 under Buck last year after he took over and that has carried over into this season. He’s impacted everything from the starting pitching to the everyday hitters and the optimism at Camden Yards is higher than it’s been in years. Buck’s track record is to get a team on the brink of playoff success and then his team replaces him. Will this be the team that Buck actually takes to the World Series while he’s manager? Probably not this season, but Buck could be the one taking the O’s to their first World Series since 1983 in the coming years.

2. How will the veteran hitting acquisitions impact the Orioles?

  • The O’s picked up more offensive firepower than anybody in the offseason. They added Vladimir Guerrero, Derrick Lee, and Mark Reynolds. These three hitters could account for over 100 HRs this season by themselves. Guerrero helped lead the Rangers to the World Series last year and Derrick Lee, until last year, was as steady a bat as there is at first base. Reynolds strikes out a lot but can really pound the ball when he connects. If should be fun at Camden this year.

3. Can the Orioles young pitching develop quickly enough to keep them in the AL East race all season?

  • The O’s young arms have a lot of potential, but none of them have broken out with a stellar season yet. If they can get a couple of their pitchers to step up with ERAs in the low 3’s and account for at least 200 IP, then the O’s might be close in late July when they can use their farm depth to add potential pieces to put them over the top.

 

Projection

The Orioles are intriguing and would be a nice sleeper pick in almost any other division. But with the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays all with playoff level talent and an up and coming team in Toronto, the O’s will face nightly battles in the AL East. If they can hang around the AL East race through the first half of the season, the O’s could be major players for pitching and do have the farm prospects to trade for them. Heath Bell, in particular, would be a great piece to add to the back of their bullpen which would add to their depth and if they could find a solid starter, this team should win in the mid 80’s and be within reach of first place until the end. But unless the top teams in the AL East completely implode, it’s probably going to take at least 90 wins to capture the division this year.