Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The BUCKchelor: The Search for a Rotation

by Ben

Pitchers and Catchers have reported (which is a daily occurrence at the "Man Hole" in Key West), intrasquad games are in full throttle, and our first series of arm and back injuries are filtering out of The Orioles Complex in Sarasota. 

The Orioles pitching rotation has more candidates than a season of The Bachelor. The rotation battle is a mix of prospects looking to live up to their potential, former prospects looking to bounce back and re-assert themselves in the club’s future, Asian pitchers hoping to finally prove that their craft can actually work over in the States, and finally “veterans” looking to earn a stable role. Of these 9-10 pitchers, only 5 will earn a spot in the rotation (for now), and Orioles Skipper Buck Showalter is the man who will decide their fate. Think of pitching coach Rick Adair as Buck’s Chris Harrison, stirring the pot while providing guidance, and asking the same 3 questions over and over.  So let’s meet the men vying for Buck’s affection and the 5 Orange Roses.


Am I really comparing the Orioles pitching rotation battle to The Bachelor? I answer that question with another question…does Ben Flajnik desperately need a new haircut?

Many of us watch The Bachelor whether our wives or girlfriends make us watch it or we just simply watch it on our own accord. It’s ok to admit it fellas.  We are fully in the Trust Tree and unlike that hack psychiatrist from Old School, your secrets are safe here.  

Before we get into the O’s rotation I’ve just got one idea for the next season of The Bachelor. I think it is time for ABC to break away from having the nice guy as their Bachelor, it’s too predictable and only drama ensues only when the chicks get catty.  I’m tired of this emotionally sensitive guy who “just wants to connect.” I think it’s time to put a guy on there with a Tiger Woods-esque “sex addiction”.  Can you imagine the carnage and wreckage that he would leave in his wake after putting it to all those women? It would make Katrina look like a light rain storm.  None of these “engagements” ever last, so we can all stop pretending that’s what this show is about.  Who’s with me?

But enough about that.  In the words of Chris Harrison, let’s meet our candidates! 

Dana Eveland was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the winter meetings. He’s a bad-bodied lefty journeyman and the Dodgers felt he had a better chance at making the Orioles starting rotation than making their Triple-A rotation. Enough said.  If Dana Eveland makes the Orioles rotation I will write a post about why Jeffrey Maier is an American Hero and does not deserve to be kicked in the nuts by EVERY Orioles fan.

Tsuyoshi Wada is being lauded as The Duke’s biggest off-season acquisition.  Writing that sentence sucked, but not as much as reading it over again.  Now don’t get me wrong, I actually think Wada is going to be a really nice piece for the Orioles, but the fact that a 31 year old soft tossing lefty from Japan that was not sought after by many big league clubs is being tabbed as the team’s biggest off-season move is a bit unsettling. But that is neither here nor there.

Wada has great control and plus breaking stuff.  Like many of his Japanese brethren his fastball is not going to light up many radar guns, but it has nasty movement.  He hides the ball well and is a relative unknown to Big League hitters, which makes him better suited to come out of the bullpen.  Wada received an injection into his left elbow a few days ago and has been shut down by the team.  This apparently is normal for him, and he is expected back in a week or so.  Either way, my gut says the bullpen is going to be where Wada finds his role.

Wei-Yin Chen, remember this name Orioles fans. Easy for me to say, it took me six tries to spell his name right.  There are more combinations you can make with his name than a Chinese food menu. Chen was the other notable international signing made by The Duke.  I really think Chen is going to be a rotational mainstay for the O’s for the next few years. The 26 year old left hander from Taiwan has a fastball that sits in the low 90’s, but can reach 94-95.  When he hits the mids 90’s we will call that the “Chennar Cheese”, OK? Good, glad that is settled.

He also boasts a slurvy (slider/curveball hybrid) breaker a forkball that would make Hideo Nomo blush.  His forkball appears like a cross between a splitter and a changeup.  Like Wada, Chen has exceptional control. Chen has more control than a Mormon at a strip club.  Wei-Yin is a frontrunner to receive an orange rose from Buck and will settle in nicely at the backend of the Orioles rotation.

Alfredo Simon re-joined the Orioles last year midway through the season after some personal issues, and provided a bit of a boost like a hired gun at the trade deadline.  Alfredo Simon is very inconsistent as a pitcher; sometimes he uses the strike zone for target practice, and sometimes he comes in firing blanks.  As a starter he tends to run out of gunpowder by the 5th or 6th inning, where as a reliever he can come in for a quick strike and fire 3 quick bullets and get you out of a jam.  At the end of the day relying on Simon to be a viable starting pitcher is like playing Russian Roulette, and it doesn't help that he's semi-automatic as a closer.  But who knows, maybe he’s still got one in the chamber for us Orioles fans.

Bergesen = Bullpen. Moving On.

Tommy Hunter is the odds on favorite to be the Opening Day Starter for the Orioles, which is like being the skinniest contestant at the start of The Biggest Loser [Cut to a recently freed Jeremy Guthrie nodding grimly].  Normally I would take this opportunity to extend my sincerest of middle fingers to the GM who allowed my favorite team to be placed in the position of trotting Tommy Hunter out as the opening day starter. However, this is the team The Duke inherited, and the fact that Hunter maybe our best option this year is not The Duke’s fault.  With all that said, I really like Tommy Hunter, and think he has a good future ahead in the black and orange.  But the fact remains, he is not an ace, he does not have opening day caliber stuff.  In reality Hunter is a very solid no. 3 or no. 4 pitcher, but the Orioles are not in such a fortunate position, and Hunter will be relied upon to be the staff leader.  Hunter is steady and has good control (1.59 BB per 9 innings) and he eats innings like he eats chicken wings at the postgame spread (He weighed 280 lbs. last season…).  He is stable and reliable, and he has World Series experience from his days with Texas.  Therefore his resume for opening day is stronger than anyone else on this staff, so kudos to you Tommy Hunter.

Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta will make the rotation coming out of spring training. Britton is arguably the best pitching prospect in the whole bunch and had a very strong start to last season going 6-3 with a 2.14 record before the league caught up to him.  He still has a lot of polishing to do, but it will have to be done at the major league level.   Arrieta as well was racking up wins last season, but he consistently fell behind hitters, which led to a lot of walks and long balls.  Jake the Snake is coming off elbow surgery that ended his 2011, which could have been the main cause for his decreased velocity and his inflated ERA.  Arrieta could use a little more seasoning in the minors, but the Orioles will need him in the rotation.  I would like to see both Britton and Arrieta settle in to the back end of the rotation and beat up on inferior starters around the league just so they can get their confidence up.  Young pitchers need to be placed in positions to succeed and not fail and Britton and Arrieta are no different.

Chris Tillman tears up triple-A – with a no hitter on his resume – but has routinely struggled with big league hitters.  Tillman struggled with control last year both in the big leagues and the down on the farm.  He is still just 23 years old, so his book is not written and he still has a future with the Orioles.  I think ultimately he will be the no. 3 starter, but he will start the season in the Minor Leagues for just a little bit more marinating.

Ahhh Brian Matusz.  His 2011 season was the biggest head scratcher I have ever seen in the game of baseball.  He lost 5-6 miles an hour on his fastball(or so it seemed), which is fine if you’re 44 years old, not 24.  Matusz came into camp last year unprepared mentally and physically and it showed.  His walk rate was up and he was giving it up to hitters more than a passed out girl at a frat party.  2011 was a nightmare for Matusz and for those of us who own his T-Shirt jersey.  He has worked out like mad all off-season with Oriole Legend Brady Anderson, which can only be a good thing.  Just like Tillman, the future is bright for Matusz, but he is better suited to start the season in triple-A.  He can fine tune his mechanics and get some wins under his belt.  Once he gets his confidence back, Orioles nation will hopefully see the true Brian Matusz.

Jason Hammel was acquired from the Rockies in the Jeremy Guthrie trade, and has spent parts of his career as a starter and as a reliever.  He is serviceable, but ideally he will be a bullpen arm.  This all hinges on the young arms, and whether they can earn spots in the rotation.  However, nothing ideal ever happens for the Orioles so expect Hammel to receive his orange rose and join the rotation.  If I were Buck – which would be a dream come true – I would place Hammel at number 2 in the rotation and match him up against the opponent’s better pitchers.  That way the younger pitchers can be matched up against other teams no. 4 or 5 starters, get some wins under their belts, and get their confidence up. Either way Hammel is hopefully just keeping the seat warm for Matusz or Tillman.

Once the over night dates in the fantasy suite are over and the spring training games are in the books, Buck will have to hand out 5 orange roses.  My projected rotation is
1) Tommy Hunter
2) Jason Hammel
3) Zach Britton
4) Wei-Yin Chen
5) Jake Arrieta

Let's hope we see the young arms take another step forward and solidify themselves as big league pitchers.  Heck, I'll settle with 2 of the 4 young guys emerging.  Chen's mystery will be something to watch this spring as well.  All in all this rotation will be a work in progress and we are likely to see many of these guys get their opportunities to start.  Hope springs eternal right???

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Birdland Bulletin: Guthrie is Gone

by Ben

In a story that stunned Birdland and reverberated throughout the fan base, news broke yesterday morning that the Orioles top starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie had been traded to the Colorado Rockies for big league pitchers Matt Lindstrom and Jason Hammel.  The move is being questioned and dissected by many of us, and while I understand the trade it is somewhat perplexing.

Before we reminisce about the class act that Jeremy Guthrie was, I think it is best if we look at what the Orioles received in return for their staff ace.

Matt Lindstrom: 31 years old, 5 MLB seasons. 312 appearances.
12-15 w/ 3.81 ERA, 45 saves.

Lindstrom emerged as the closer of the Florida Marlins in 2009 with 15 saves in 17 opportunities.  He was then traded to the Houston Astros where he notched 23 saves in 29 chances.  This marks the 3rd straight offseason in which Lindstrom has been traded, so essentially this guy switches zip code as much as a registered sex offender.  He has a live arm with good velocity and a hard biting slider. He is a back end of the bullpen arm who can close or setup.  He should help in the late innings and could challenge Jim Johnson for closer duties.

Jason Hammel: 29 years old, 6 MLB seasons. 169 appearnces/115 Starts.
34-45 w/ 4.99 ERA, 3 saves.

Hammel was originally a starting pitcher who could be found at the back end of the rotation.  Most recently, Hammel was coming out of the Rockies bullpen as a middle reliever.  Whether he is a starter or a reliever for the Orioles will be determined in Spring Training, but you’ve got to like the fact that he is versatile. He is a big dude at 6’6 he has 4 pitches thanks to his days as a starting pitcher. His fastball is in the mid to low 90’s, but his best pitch is either his hammer curveball or his sweeping slider.  Is any of this accurate? Maybe. Am I trying really hard to talk myself into Jason Hammel? Absolutely.

This trade is a bit of a head scratcher because the Orioles traded away their number 1 starting pitcher in exchange for two 30-year-old pitchers whose best days are more than likely behind them.  It would have been nice to receive prospects (Eric Young Jr. perhaps) but according to Roids -err- Roch Kubatko and Buster Olney, this was the best offer the O’s received.   Guthrie would have probably left after this season anyways so at least the O’s got two proven big league arms.  Therefore, we as a fan base should accept it and move on.   No sense in crying over spilled milk, right Barry

The trade has left the Orioles in search of their Opening Day Starter, a role Guthrie had embraced.  The early favorite is probably Tommy Hunter, but it would be nice if Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, or Jake Arrieta stepped up in Spring Training and reaffirmed all the hype surrounding them.  Another possibility is the Orioles make another trade for a bonafide starting pitcher, but the chances of this are slimmer than Demi Moore these days.

Best case scenario: Arrieta, Britton, or Matusz emerge.
Most likely scenario: Tommy Hunter grabs the ball.

For the better part of five seasons Jeremy Guthrie has been the staff ace in Baltimore and has never once complained or griped despite receiving some of the league’s worst run support. Guthrie’s win-loss record never indicated how well he pitched for the Birds the past 5 seasons.  While pitching for the Orioles, Guthrie has been constantly surrounded by washed up veterans like Steve Trachsel, Kevin Millwood, and Adam Eaton.  Quick note to Trachsel: everybody knew how old you were when you pitched in Baltimore despite the fact that you frosted your tips every other week. Guthrie was never apart of a relatively good rotation and much of the onus was put on him to be the staff ace and the stopper amidst many a losing streak. 

Jeremy Guthrie was by all accounts a great teammate and a true leader.  This was very evident in the way he embraced being the elder statesmen in a rotation recently full of young and promising yet unproven pitchers.  He took “The Calvary” under his wing and really did everything he could to get the young guns going in the right direction.  He discussed pitching with them daily, worked on their mechanics, and taught them how to conduct themselves professionally during the day to day.

Guthrie has been a class act and never forgot how far he had come just to make it to the Big Leagues.  He was very active in the Baltimore community and was a Model Oriole. He bought into the Oriole Way from the get go and I’m glad I had the opportunity to watch him pitch every 5th day. 

He wore the number #46, which was Mike “Flanny” Flanagan’s old number.  Guthrie understood and respected the history of the Orioles and went to Flanny to ask if it was ok that he wore his old number, and Flanny said there was no one he’d rather have wear #46.  Guthrie had Flanny’s personal stamp of approval and that is all we need to know as Orioles fans.

Thank you Jeremy and best of luck in Colorado!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Lesser of Two Evils: New York vs. New England

by Ben

Well folks the Super Bowl is on Sunday, and surprise-surprise, a team from New York and a team from the Boston region will be playing for the title.  As a lifelong D.C. sports fan my first reaction following Championship Game Sunday (two weeks ago!) was a feeling of depression and solitude.  Since 2004 the City of Boston has won 7 professional sports titles, including at least one in each of the four major sports.  That’s three more titles than all of the Washington Professional franchises have won…EVER. We did not include the D.C. United into this conversation because soccer is not one of the four major sports, so the soccer hooligans can hold their angry emails. New York recently won their 27th World Series title in 2009, and the Giants won the Super Bowl 4 years ago, while the Redskins really have not been serious contenders since the Tumbling Turk Brothers forget how to coordinate field goal snaps.

The Mount Rushmore of obnoxious fan bases is without a doubt, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Pittsburgh. This year’s Super Bowl features two of these fan bases putting most of us D.C. natives and HOMETOWN HEROES in an uncomfortable position.  Either way, after Sunday, one of these insufferable fan bases will be loud and bragadocious for the next year.  They will turn every conversation into a not so friendly reminder that their team won the 2012 Lombardi Trophy. 

Many of you out there are gamblers and therefore you will be rooting for the team in which your money is resting on, but for the rest of us it’s going to be a tough game to watch.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great matchup full of compelling storylines, but underneath all of that is the fact that there will be yet another ticker tape parade in Beantown or the Big Apple.  The thought of this should make all of your stomach’s queasier than watching the yet to be released Snooki sex tape.  (Don’t kid yourselves folks. Snooki already has one and is waiting to have it “mysteriously” leaked on the internet in a year or so when she has become irrelevant again.)

With all of that said I will lay out for you a few pros and cons for rooting for either team come this Sunday.  And remember folks, one team will win the Super Bowl, but with another ring being shipped to New York or Boston, America loses.



Boston accents make my blood boil.  And if I have to hear a debate in a bar that goes like this, “Tauwghm Brady is the best qwuartahback to EVAH play football. Nauwght to mention his teahs praughwbably cuhre cancah!”  then I am probably going to take a 6 pack of Samuel Adams and hurl it against a brick wall!

The Closeted Boston Fans will continue to come out of the woodworks. Has anyone noticed that the amount of Boston fans has doubled, nay tripled, since 2004? I have glowing respect for the fans of Boston sports that long suffered before this ungodly decade of championship excellence.  They stood by after Bucky Dent’s improbable home run.  They stood by when Buckner let the ball go through his legs.  And they stood by throughout the Rick Pitino and Drew Bledsoe eras.  These are the people I can respect because they suffered similar if not greater pains than us D.C. Sports fans.  It’s the people who can’t name 3 players on any Boston team (combined!) who all of sudden own a jersey for every team that truly piss me off.  Isn’t it weird though how the guy who wears a #34 Pierce Celtics jersey has no idea what Pierce’s first name is?  They will continue to come out of nowhere if the Patriots win on Sunday.  I for one cannot stand these bandwagoners, and I could certainly see myself stuffing a banana in their bandwagon’s tailpipe.


The pursuit of Greatness. The New England Patriots have been led by the incomparable duo of Coach Bill Belichick and Quarterback Tom Brady since 2001.  Spygate aside, Bill Belichick is one of the best coaches of all time.  His ability to prepare, make adjustments, and get the most out of his players is second to a very select few.   The Patriots are a modern day dynasty and have been able to continue to pump out victories and championships under this leadership.  This has become very rare over the past decade or so, and it is something special to watch.

With a fourth ring, Tom Brady vs. Joe Montana will be a legitimate conversation. Josh McDaniels, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis. These are just a few names of people who would not have the jobs they hold today if it were not for Tom Brady.  If it weren’t for Tom Brady, Josh McDaniels would be modeling for Gap Kids, Bill O’Brien would be selling insurance, and Charlie Weis would be a competitive eater. All of us have heard Tom Brady’s story ad naseum, but it truly is something special.  He was not even the every day starter in college, was overlooked by every NFL team 6 times, and came out of nowhere to become one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.  With 4 rings, Tom Brady will be mentioned in the same breath as Joe Montana, and deservedly so.  It could be a fun debate to have for a long long time.

Chad Ochocinco would get a Super Bowl ring.  There is no mistaking the fact that Ocho has been a colossal disappointment in New England.  He was signed for $6 million, and many envisioned him having a historic season playing with Tom Brady.  Well, Ocho’s season has gone about as well as Jaleel White’s acting career after Family Matters.  He’s made 15 catches for 276 yards and 1 touchdown in 15 games this season.  He has been deactivated in the playoffs and is in real jeopardy of not being active in the Super Bowl.  But would it surprise anyone if he was activated for the Big Game and hauled in 10 catches for 180 and a touchdown? It wouldn’t surprise me one bit, and giving him the platform of being a Super Bowl Champion could only be a great thing for ESPN, twitter, VH1 (another dating show perhaps?), and any and all other social avenues.  Go get em Chad!



New Yorkers. The fan base of New York Sports makes my blood boil more than having to watch Rex Grossman play quarterback for the beloved Redskins.  The only thing more obnoxious than New York fans is a pack of New York fans who just drank 3 Red Bulls while watching their team win.  I’ve heard New York fans utter such phrases as “they (The Giants) owe us this one!” or “We deserve this championship!”  How much do these entitled fans think their teams “owe” them?  First off your baseball team has won 27 rings, and your football team won 4 years ago while Redskins Nation was still reeling by the murder of our star player and fan favorite.  I will always resent the Giants, but that 2007-2008 Super Bowl Championship was all the more painful for us Redskins fans.  Giants fans would be insufferable if their team won another ring…


Eli’s first ring already has done a TON for Down syndrome awareness, so just think about what a second ring would do! Seeing one of their own bucking the odds for one ring was monumental, but a second ring would completely…

OK that’s enough of that bit.  I can feel the flames from Hell burning the bottoms of my feet.  Down Syndrome is one of the crappiest hands that God deals out, so making jokes about these people is not where I wanted this to go. People with Down syndrome already have it hard enough and being mentioned in the same breath as Eli Manning is just plain cruel.  On the other hand, you cannot deny the excess drool that drips out of Eli’s mouth guard.

On a more serious note, Eli Manning has really cemented himself as one of the game’s best.  The 2011 season has been one to remember for the younger Manning as he led 4th quarter comebacks seemingly every week, and set a career high with 4,933 yards passing.  He made a comment at the beginning of the year that he considered himself in the same breath as the Tom Brady’s of the league and he was ripped relentlessly for it.  To his credit, he has backed up that talk and another ring would all but confirm the fact that he is one of the best in the business. Eli has earned the respect of so many with his play this season and all of it is over due and deserved.

Another side story involving Eli is that this would be his 2nd ring which would be one more than older brother Peyton.  While Peyton’s career may be going the way of Orlando Bloom’s acting career, Eli’s career is on the ascent.   It could also make Thanksgiving dinner at the Manning compound very awkward:

Archie: OK Eli, you get two pieces of turkey for both of your rings, and Peyton you get only one. 

Peyton: Awww DAD! That’s so unfair. Peyton leaves table and storms up to his room.

The final Pro for the Giants winning the Super Bowl –I just threw up in my mouth a little bit– has to do with the Washington Redskins.  In a rather disappointing, discouraging, and overall dismal season, the Washington Redskins defied the odds and beat the New York Giants twice!  Beating the NFC champs twice in one season is great, but saying you swept the Super Bowl champs is a horse of a different color.  It would make this season go from a full on abortion to just an unplanned pregnancy.  When those incredulous New Yorkers are running around our town running their yaps about their latest and greatest team we can always respond with “Yea, well you couldn’t beat the Redskins”, and it will help us D.C. natives sleep at night.

In a perfect world people would just root for the teams that play in the cities they live in.  But we don’t live in a perfect world and live is not fair, just ask Chaz Bono.  Our region is full of transplants and New Yorkers and Bostonians flock to our boroughs like the Buffalo Bills front seven flock to John Beck.  Regardless of who wins on Sunday there will be a much hated fan base rejoicing and thus there will be many of us who will contemplate pouring acid into our ears in order to go deaf.  I hope this list of pro’s and con’s can help give you a few interesting nuggets to root for and root against, but in the end it’s going to be a rough one.