Tag: Baltimore Orioles

Why Did MLB Home Run King Mark Trumbo Come so Cheap to Orioles?

Major League Baseball’s reigning home run champion has a new contract, and it’s not the most expensive contract signed this winter.

Not even close.

Mark Trumbo, he of the league-leading 47 home runs in 2016, agreed to return to the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports was first with the details of his new deal:

And that’s all there is to it. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, there’s no opt-out in Trumbo‘s contract. He’ll be an Oriole for three more years, spanning his age-31 season to his age-33 season.

With that, we now know the terms of the 11th-largest contract signed this winter.

Trumbo‘s deal ranks just ahead of the three-year, $33 million pact that Kendrys Morales signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. The group of 10 players ahead of him is headlined by Yoenis Cespedes at four years and $110 million and also includes three relievers (Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon), a platoon outfielder (Josh Reddick) and an oft-injured starter (Rich Hill).

OK, so it’s not the biggest injustice that Trumbo won’t be making more money than most or all of those guys. But if nothing else, he is coming in under initial projections.

The guys at MLB Trade Rumors, for example, had Trumbo pegged for $60 million over four years. That didn’t sound so unreasonable for a guy who had hit 131 homers in five major league seasons even before breaking out in 2016. Teams normally do love power, after all.

But in retrospect, the danger of Trumbo struggling to find a market existed from the very beginning.

As good as it looks on the surface, Trumbo‘s career year in 2016 was more like a career half-year. He was unstoppable with a .923 OPS and 28 homers in the first half. He was then quite stoppable in the second half with a .754 OPS and 19 homers.

This was an effect of pitchers treating Trumbo like the kind of slugger he was. As Brooks Baseball shows, the righty swinger’s first-half power was concentrated on the inside. So pitchers went from challenging him:

To pitching him almost exclusively away:

A more advanced hitter might have been able to adjust, but nobody’s ever accused Trumbo of being one of those. With too many strikeouts and not quite enough walks, his hitting has always been about power first and everything else second.

That’s one thing prospective suitors had to worry about. They also had to worry about Trumbo‘s defensive limitations.

He’s not too shabby a first baseman, but most of his experience has been in corner outfield spots. With minus-24 defensive runs saved for his career, he has been shabby there. The man himself was honest back in July, saying the outfield is “daunting” at times, per Eno Sarris of FanGraphs.

Trumbo was thus prepared to head out onto the open market with a bat-only profile in which even the bat came with question marks. He then added another black mark to his profile when he rejected a $17.2 million qualifying offer from the Orioles, tying himself to draft-pick compensation.

In past offseasons, he might have found his desired payday anyway. Heck, it was just a couple years ago that Nelson Cruz, an older hitter with a similar profile, landed $58 million despite being tied to draft-pick compensation.

But at a certain point, it became apparent this offseason was different.

Reality started to sink in when Edwin Encarnacion signed with the Cleveland Indians for just $60 million over three years. That was well below the $92 million MLBTR projected for him and less than he seemingly deserved in light of his average totals (.912 OPS, 39 HR) since 2012.

More recently, Jose Bautista became the next slugger to land short of expectations when he accepted a deal from the Blue Jays that only guarantees $18 million for one year.

With Trumbo being the latest to come in below expectations, things aren’t looking so hot for remaining free-agent sluggers Chris Carter, Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, Pedro Alvarez and Adam Lind.

Certainly, this is an unusually large collection of sluggers for a single offseason. But as Dave Cameron argued at FanGraphs, there’s something fishy about any notion of there being more supply than demand:

But the way you get a big supply of free agents or players available in trade at one spot is to have a lot of teams losing a player at that spot, so if the demand was there to replace the skillset, price shouldn’t be impacted all that heavily. But what we have now is supply without demand, as there just aren’t that many teams looking to add bat-first players to their rosters this winter…

This could be teams miscalculating how much they need power. But since the smart people who run these teams tend to be good with calculations, this is more likely the effect of a larger trend.

This brings us to a reality that B/R’s Jacob Shafer wrote about recently: Power on the free-agent market may be devalued because power is suddenly everywhere in today’s game.

Trumbo wasn’t the only one launching bombs in 2016. Pretty much everyone was. There were more home runs per game last year than every year in baseball history except 2000. In an environment like this one, power hitters aren’t such a rare commodity.

It all adds up to a tough break for Trumbo and a solid deal for the Orioles. And one they needed to make, to boot.

The Orioles won 89 games and nabbed a wild-card spot in 2016 in large part thanks to an offense that clubbed an MLB-high 253 home runs. With Trumbo back in the fold, they once again have a shot to ride a wave of home runs to October.

In lieu of the contract he may have been hoping for, maybe that’ll do as a consolation prize for Trumbo.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

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Mark Trumbo Re-Signs with Orioles: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

Outfielder Mark Trumbo agreed to re-sign with the Baltimore Orioles on Friday, the team announced

Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun first reported the deal on Thursday. 

According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the three-year deal is for $37.5 million. ESPN’s Jim Bowden reported Trumbo has a limited no-trade clause for seven teams and incentivized, tiered bonuses dependent on how many times he wins the Silver Slugger award. 

Trumbo, 31, had a career year for the Orioles in 2016, hitting .256 with 47 home runs—the most in the major leagues—and 108 RBI. His home run and RBI totals were both career highs.

While Trumbo flashed excellent power earlier in his career—from 2011 to 2013, he hit 95 home runs with 282 RBI for the Los Angeles Angels—he established himself as one of baseball’s most dangerous power hitters last season.

That was in stark contrast to his stints with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners in 2014 and 2015, when he totaled just 36 homers and 125 RBI.

His surge in production left him as one of the most appealing free agents on the market for teams looking to add a big bopper to the middle of their lineups. That made Baltimore’s chances of retaining him uncertain, though Trumbo seemed inclined to return to the Orioles following the season.

“I love it here,” he told Steve Melewski of MASN after the team’s Wild Card Game loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. “Had a great time and I’m sure we’ll talk at some point. Who wouldn’t (want to come back)? It has been an absolute blast this year.”

The Orioles wanted him back just as much and now will be hoping that Trumbo’s power numbers were his new norm and not an outlier.

If Trumbo doesn’t knock the ball out of the park, his value wanes. He’s a below-average fielder, and he’s unlikely to provide a great batting average or on-base percentage. Baltimore bet big money that Trumbo’s power surge will continue in 2017.


You can follow Timothy Rapp on Twitter.

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Should the Orioles Sell High on Uber-Closer Zach Britton?

Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton didn’t win the American League Cy Young Award. He didn’t even finish among the top three, much to the consternation of his skipper.

“It’s shocking,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Britton‘s snub, per MASN’s Roch Kubatko.  

Here’s another shock that could hit Orioles nation: the sight of Britton leaving via trade.

Kubatko recently floated the notion, though he added O’s executive vice president Dan Duquette “is adamant” Britton isn’t going anywhere.

So take what follows with the requisite grain of salt, and don’t mash the panic button if you’re a Baltimore fan and an ardent Britton booster.

Still, the idea has merit. Designated hitter/outfielder Mark Trumbowho signed a one-year deal, $9.15 million deal with the Orioles last season and proceeded to lead MLB with 47 home runsfigures to have multiple suitors. Catcher Matt Wieters is likewise a free agent.

The Orioles plan to hang back and let the market develop, as Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun reported, and don’t seem likely to be in on the handful of high-impact players.

That means if they want to get better, a trade is the path to take.

Moving Britton would sting—no argument there.

The 28-year-old left-hander had one of the best seasons ever by a relief pitcher, posting a 0.54 ERA in 67 innings with 74 strikeouts and 47 saves.

His season ended on a sour note when Showalter left him languishing in the bullpen in the Orioles’ crushing 5-2, 11-inning loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL Wild Card Game.

Other than that and the Cy Young rebuke, however, virtually everything came up Britton

So why would Baltimore dream of letting him go?

For one, the Orioles have a deep pen that features right-handers Brad Brach (2.05 ERA, 79 innings, 92 strikeouts) and Mychal Givens (3.13 ERA, 74.2 innings, 96 strikeouts), each of whom has the stuff and results to slot in as a closer.

And they have a farm system Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter ranked No. 29 in the game. A package that included MLB-ready talent and younger, developing studs could boost the O’s in 2017 and, more importantly, set them up for success down the road. 

Remember, they compete in the AL East, where the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox not only have deep pockets, but also the No. 1 and No. 4 farm systems, per Reuter

Granted, there are multiple top-shelf closers available via free agency, including Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon.

Britton, though, is set to hit the market after the 2018 campaign and his agent is Scott Boras, which means he will be angling to swim in money, Scrooge McDuck style. 

He’s been excellent for a few seasons, posting ERAs of 1.65 and 1.92 in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and making two straight All-Star teams.

This could be his sell-high moment, however. Relievers are notoriously mercurial creatures—brilliant one year, mediocre the next. 

As ESPN.com’s Buster Olney noted, “the relief market has exploded so much that Baltimore should at least go through the due-diligence process of asking other teams what they’d give up for Britton.”

Baltimore can hold out for a gaudy package. Maybe the Los Angeles Dodgers lose Jansen and are willing to part with a top pitching prospect such as Jose De Leon. Or perhaps the Yankees whiff on Chapman and dip into their MiLB reserve (that’s doubtful, given the division rivalry, but possible).

The safe money is on Britton staying put. There are enough free-agent options to satiate closer-starved contenders, with names like high-upside reclamation project Greg Holland and solid veteran Brad Ziegler also available.

Baltimore needs to pick up the phone, though, and maintain an open mind. Sometimes, you have to give up something great for the greater good.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Complete Offseason Guide, Predictions for the Baltimore Orioles

Sometimes, the baseball gods just don’t smile down upon you.

Baltimore’s season came to a brutal end in extra innings, as Edwin Encarnacion’s three-run blast off Ubaldo Jimenez in the bottom of the 11th inning gave the Toronto Blue Jays a 5-2 victory over the Orioles, who are now 2-8 in their last 10 playoff games dating back to 2012.

It was a puzzling move for manager Buck Showalter to not turn to his All-World closer, Zach Britton, who he confirmed in his postgame press conference was indeed available, via Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com. Perhaps things would have worked out differently for the Orioles if he had.

But Britton and most of his teammates will be back at it again in 2017, though there will certainly be some changes to the roster before Opening Day.

What follows is an overview of some of the decisions that the team will have to make—and some of the players they may look to—in order to bolster the roster for a return trip to the postseason, and perhaps the Fall Classic, in 2017.

Begin Slideshow

Orioles Clinch Playoff Berth: Highlights, Twitter Reaction to Celebration

The Baltimore Orioles are headed to the postseason for just the third time since the 1997 campaign.

Baltimore clinched a wild-card berth with a 5-2 victory over the New York Yankees on Sunday, as the team shared on Twitter:

The Boston Red Sox won the American League East, relegating the Orioles to the American League Wild Card Game.

The Seattle Mariners were eliminated from contention after a 9-8 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Saturday, which left the Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers battling for the two wild-card spots at the start of Sunday’s schedule.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports explained the situation before the Tigers lost to the Atlanta Braves, ensuring it will be Toronto and Baltimore in the Wild Card Game:

While the scenarios were confusing, that didn’t stop the Orioles from celebrating after they knew they did their part. The team shared some of the scenes after Sunday’s win:

Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com passed along more of the celebration:

Kevin Gausman pitched 7.1 inning Sunday, allowing two earned runs. He received some run support from Matt Wieters, who drilled two home runs.

Long balls are nothing new for Baltimore’s offense. As of Sunday, it led the major leagues with 251 home runs, far ahead of the second-place St. Louis Cardinals (224). Mark Trumbo, the team’s primary slugger, was slashing .256/.316/.533 with 47 home runs and 108 RBI entering Sunday’s contest.

Elsewhere, Chris Davis has 38 homers, and Manny Machado has 37. Pedro Alvarez, Jonathan Schoop and Adam Jones also each boast more than 20 long balls on the 2016 season.

The team’s slugging was critical as the Orioles earned a trip to the playoffs with lackluster starting pitching, ranking 24th in the big leagues with a 4.74 ERA as of Sunday.

However, Chris Tillman and Gausman both have ERAs below 4.00. In shortened postseason series, they can take the mound multiple times and keep Baltimore in contention.

The Orioles also have a lights-out bullpen that should help shorten those October games. As of Sunday, it was third in the majors with a 3.41 ERA.

Closer Zach Britton, the anchor of the group, had sparkling numbers entering Sunday’s game: a 0.54 ERA, a 0.84 WHIP, 47 saves and 74 strikeouts in 67 innings. A weapon like that at the back end of the bullpen is a scary proposition for any postseason opponent.

Between the bullpen and the power, Baltimore has the pieces to challenge for its first World Series title since the 1983 season.

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Resurgent Ubaldo Jimenez Emerging as Secret Weapon in Orioles’ October Hunt

Unlikely heroes rise in the postseason.

With the Baltimore Orioles fighting for their playoff lives, right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez is getting an early start.

Jimenez twirled 6.2 scoreless frames Thursday in the Orioles’ 4-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, allowing one hit with three walks and five strikeouts.

The win moved the O’s (87-72) into a tie with Toronto for the American League‘s top wild-card spot and 1.5 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers, the closest WC competition.

The Orioles finish the season with three games in the Bronx against the dangerous New York Yankees. The Jays get three on the road against the division-winning and possibly complacent Boston Red Sox, while the Tigers take on the cellar-dwelling Atlanta Braves.

Baltimore’s work isn’t finished, in other words. There’s a scenario where the club sits at home for most of October.

If the Orioles do flutter into the playoffs, however, Jimenez’s resurgence will be an unexpected boon—and a serious secret weapon.

His overall numbers aren’t pretty. The 32-year-old owns an 8-12 record and 5.44 ERA through 142.1 innings. He hasn’t posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2013.

Lately, though, Jimenez has resembled the pitcher who once upon a time made the All-Star team and finished in the top five in Cy Young Award balloting with the Colorado Rockies in 2010.

Since the All-Star break, Jimenez owns a 2.82 ERA, tops among Baltimore starters. 

He threw into the sixth inning or later in each of his last seven starts and mixed in a complete game Sept. 5 against the Tampa Bay Rays.

A formerly good but recently blah hurler on a mini hot streak wouldn’t grab headlines on most contenders. The Orioles, though, are so hard up for starting pitching that Jimenez’s roll counts as a revelation.

Baltimore starters own the third-worst ERA (4.77) in the AL and are easily the worst among postseason hopefuls in both leagues.

Chris Tillman has been a mixed bag since returning from the disabled list. Kevin Gausman has yielded 17 hits and nine earned runs in his last two decisions, both losses. Dylan Bundy, Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley are all covered with warts.

There isn’t a clearor even murkyace in the bunch. 

It’s asking a lot to expect Jimenez to become that ace. A promising half and handful of superlative starts don’t erase years of mediocrity.

But Jimenez, as Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun noted, has “found the command of his sinker and been able to effectively utilize his breaking ball off that.”  

He’s harnessing his stuff, even as his velocity remains consistent with the past couple of seasons. And he’s concurrently gaining swagger. 

“When things are going good, you feel confidence,” Jimenez said, per Encina. “You don’t have to get on the mound and wonder what is going to happen. Even before you get on the mound, you know you’re going to be able to compete and you feel good mentally, physically, everything is good.”

The O’s reportedly tinkered with Jimenez’s delivery in mid-August, and the stats suggest it helped, as ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark noted:

The Orioles can hit. They rank third in the AL in OPS (.760) and pace baseball with 247 home runs. The bullpen is an asset, fronted by the three-headed hydra of Mychal Givens, Brad Brach and Zach Britton.

But it’s tough, if not impossible, to make a deep run without at least a couple of reliable starters. A few months ago, the idea that Jimenez could fill that role would have seemed absurd.

Now, as the autumn leaves turn and the lights get brighter, he’s doing a credible impression of an unlikely hero.

Which is exactly what Baltimore needs.


All statistics and standings current as of Thursday and courtesy of MLB.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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From a Fractured Skull to Baseball’s Best Closer: ‘It’s a Real Miracle’

Watching on television, through the eye of the center field camera, the pitch looks unhittable.

Standing at home plate, with a bat in your hands, it looks just about the same.

“A devastating pitch,” Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. “Really hard, and with tremendous sink. It looks straight until it gets to the plate, and then it goes down.”

Zach Britton throws it, game after game, pitch after pitch. Hitters pound it into the ground, or they just whiff. According to FanGraphs, their batting average against it was .154, the slugging percentage was .197, and nearly 30 percent of the time they swung, they missed, through Sept. 24.

The average velocity: 96.3 mph.

“It’s the best left-handed sinker I’ve ever seen,” said one American League scout with decades of experience watching thousands of pitches.

“He’s kind of like the modern-day Mariano Rivera,” Longoria said. “Basically just one pitch, but it’s a devastating pitch.”

The pitch—call it a turbo sinker or, in the words of Baltimore Orioles general manager Dan Duquette, “a sinker with a trap door on the way to the plate”—has helped turn Britton into baseball’s best closer.

Brandon Crow, Luke Elliott, Tommy Kimmerle and the other kids from the 2003 Canyon High freshman team watch and marvel. That’s their buddy, their onetime teammate. That’s the kid they remember from that awful day at Bouquet Canyon Park, lying on the ground, screaming in pain after he ran head-on into a light standard.

Even now, 13 years later, Crow can remember details from that day. Even now, Elliott says that day sticks in his mind more than anything else from his high school baseball career.

They remember the sound, the “thwack” as Britton collided with the standard. They remember the scene, the blood and the medics arriving to take Britton to the hospital.

They remember, and then they think of what that 15-year-old kid has become.

“It’s a real miracle, to be honest,” Crow said.

Britton is the one guy who barely remembers the details of that day in Santa Clarita, California. One minute he was chasing a fly ball, thinking he had a chance to catch it. The next thing he knew, he was in an ambulance, in pain.

Then he was in a hospital bed, with a fractured skull, a fractured right collarbone, a separated shoulder and a doctor telling his parents he had bleeding in his brain. If the swelling didn’t go away, they would need to drill a hole in his skull.

“That’s when I knew it was serious,” he said.

The freshman team at Canyon practiced at Bouquet Canyon Park, across town from the school. The varsity team got the main diamond, and the junior varsity squad had a park closer to campus.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was what they had, and they were freshmen and they weren’t going to complain. They’d grown up together, some playing in the Canyon Country Little League and others, such as Britton, playing in the nearby Hart Little League.

“I remember Zach pitching against us when we were eight or nine years old,” Crow said.

Britton was the best player on the Canyon freshman team, the Most Valuable Player when the team handed out postseason awards. But the team wasn’t winning its league, and on that late-spring day, coach Mike Newman decided to have a little fun.

Instead of a normal practice, the kids would play over-the-line, a baseball-like contest popularly played by kids on California streets. Newman divided the group into two teams, and the game began.

Britton played the outfield on days he didn’t pitch, and he was standing in the outfield that day when Crow was at the plate. Newman was pitching, and Crow swung and hit it foul down the left field line.

“Everyone else peeled off,” Crow said. “But Zach kept running. He wanted to get the ball.”

Crow and Britton‘s other Canyon teammates say that was just Zach. He went all-out after everything. He always had.

“My dad had me play Pop Warner football one year,” Britton said. “He thought maybe I’d get some of the energy out by hitting people on defense.”

The light standard was just off the main field, on a berm that several players described as looking like the center field hill at Houston‘s Minute Maid Park. And it wasn’t just any light standard. It was huge, like something you might see on the side of a freeway.

“One of those monster light standards,” Britton said.

The ball kept going, and Britton did, too.

“I was watching the ball, the pole and Zach all coming together,” Crow said.

As they reconstructed later what they had seen, some of the kids figured Britton might have lost his balance as he ran up the berm chasing the ball. They all remember hearing the sound, although some at first thought it was the ball hitting the light standard.

It wasn’t the ball.

Britton went into the standard with enough force to fracture his skull and collarbone. He’s still not sure exactly where he hit, because there’s no scar (and no memory).

He hit the post, and then he hit the ground. And then he tried to get up.

“He got up, and he went right back down,” Elliott said. “It went from ‘ooh’ to ‘oh, wow’ to ‘I hope he’s all right.'”

Some of the players went right to Britton, who was screaming and covered in blood. Any touch brought on louder screams. Other players went to an elementary school across the street in search of ice bags. The park medics came quickly, and so did Britton‘s mother, Martha.

“I remember thinking this is bad,” Elliott said.

The Britton family was well-known in the Canyon High School baseball community. Zach’s older brothers, Clay and Buck, were both starting players on the varsity team, Martha Britton was active in the booster club, and Greg Britton helped get the field ready for games.

“We knew Zach was going to be all that and more,” said Adam Schulhofer, the varsity coach. “He was the best athlete in the program.”

Schulhofer wasn’t at Bouquet Canyon Park, but when Zach was at Henry Mayo Hospital, he went to visit.

“I went and saw him, and he was flanked on both sides by his parents and brothers,” Schulhofer remembered. “It may have been a little tense at the time, but luckily it all worked out.”

It was more than just a little tense.

“It was really one of the worst days of our lives,” Greg Britton told Kevin Van Valkenburg of the Baltimore Sun for a 2011 story. “When we were in the hospital, the doctors showed us his scans, and he had a bubble on his brain about the size of a quarter. They told us: ‘If this doesn’t go down in a day or so, we’re going to have to drill through his skull to relieve the pressure. And if we do that, it may affect his motor skills.’

“At that point, you just drop to your knees and start praying.”

Zach still remembers the look on his parents’ faces as the doctor spoke. He remembers doctors testing his ability to speak and his sense of taste.

“I remember them giving me math stuff to do,” he said. “I was just like, ‘I’m not good at math, anyway.'”

He could tell his left from his right and knew he was fortunate the broken collarbone was on his right side. The collarbone remained sore for a full year, but because he threw left-handed, he was able to return to pitching later that year.

Britton returned to Canyon High before the school year ended. His arm was in a sling and his neck was in a brace, but by then, doctors were confident he had avoided any serious damage to his brain.

His teammates were thrilled to see him but couldn’t resist one question: “What were you thinking going after that ball?”

“I don’t know,” Britton told them.

He knew one thing. He was lucky it wasn’t worse.

“I got pretty fortunate,” Britton said. “It could have been something pretty serious.”

The journey from hospital room to the title of baseball’s best closer wasn’t always smooth, but the obstacles had little to do with the injuries Britton suffered that day at Bouquet Canyon Park.

He was back to playing baseball later that year after the family moved from California to Texas. He was a third-round draft pick three years later and a highly rated prospect who made the Opening Day rotation in 2011 with the Orioles.

He had already shown off the signature sinker, a pitch Britton stumbled on in 2007 in Aberdeen, Maryland, when coach Calvin Maduro was trying to teach him to throw a cutter. Instead of cutting, the ball sank.

“It was doing the opposite of what we wanted it to do,” Britton said. “He said, ‘OK, well just keep doing it.’ Over the years, I started doing a few different things, throwing it harder.”

It seems a little funny now. The closer Britton is compared to the most is Rivera, who made his career throwing basically one pitch—a cutter he said appeared when he wasn’t trying to throw one.

Like Rivera with the New York Yankees, Britton struggled to find consistency as a starter. He was sent back down to the minor leagues in July 2011, and while he spent parts of the next two seasons in the Baltimore rotation, he also found himself pitching in Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk in 2012, and at Norfolk again in 2013.

By the time the 2013 season ended, he was out of options and still without a guaranteed job. And just as spring training began, the Orioles spent $50 million on Ubaldo Jimenez, filling what had been the only open spot in the rotation.

But something else happened that winter, something that would have just as big an impact on Britton‘s career.

The Orioles hired Dave Wallace as their pitching coach and Dom Chiti as bullpen coach. Before their first spring training began, Wallace and Chiti flew to California to work with Britton and two other Orioles pitchers in person.

They had both watched Britton on video, and Chiti had seen him quite a few times in person while scouting for the Atlanta Braves. They met Britton at the baseball field at UC Irvine, and they brought along their ideas.

“It was let’s just go back to being simple again [with the delivery],” Britton said. “And they wanted me to only throw the sinker in the spring and focus on commanding it to both sides of the plate. They felt that was going to be the way to stay in the big leagues and be successful.”

It became more than that. The Orioles don’t think of Britton as a one-pitch pitcher, but since going to the bullpen, he has thrown the sinker more than 90 percent of the time.

He stayed in the big leagues. And he was so successful that he made back-to-back All-Star teams and has a chance to win the Cy Young Award.

When spring training began in 2014, the Orioles still weren’t sure what Britton would become or even what role he would fill. But Wallace and Chiti saw quickly he had picked up what they gave him.

“Zach bought it,” Chiti said. “He listened and made it his own. And halfway through spring training, it was like, ‘Here it comes!'”

Britton began the season in the bullpen, but not as the closer. The Orioles went with Tommy Hunter in the ninth inning. Britton was still thinking that if he pitched well enough, he’d get another chance at starting.

Instead, a month into the season, manager Buck Showalter made him the closer.

Showalter still wasn’t sure how it would work. Then came a sequence of games in late June.

Called on to protect a 3-1 lead at Yankee Stadium, Britton gave up a three-run, walk-off home run to Carlos Beltran. It wasn’t his first blown save, but it was the first really bad one.

They wondered how he would react. Here’s how: It was almost a month before Britton allowed another run.

When he converted his next save opportunity without trouble, Showalter turned to Wallace and said, “We may have something here.”

They had something, all right.

Britton converted 37 of 41 save opportunities that season and 36 of 40 in 2015. He still hasn’t missed one in 46 chances this year, and in 43 appearances between May 5 and Aug. 22, he didn’t allow a single earned run.

He’s almost certain to get votes for the Cy Young Award and probably for Most Valuable Player, as well. He’s unlikely to win either one, simply because many voters believe awards like that shouldn’t go to someone who appears in just 60-70 innings a season.

Showalter disagrees.

“You don’t think he’s valuable?” Showalter asked. “Try winning without him.”

There are other things Britton does that you don’t notice. Showalter talked about the work he has done on his defense, which is necessary because his sinker induces so many swinging bunts.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone improve as much defensively,” Showalter said.

Chiti talked about how much of a leader Britton has become in the bullpen.

“Zach does a lot of things to let the other guys in the bullpen know how important they are,” he said. “To me, that’s a sign of people who are better than good.”

As for Britton, he has found that the bullpen suits his personality in a way pitching out of the rotation never seemed to fit him.

The hidden truth is he always preferred hitting and that, as a kid, he was very good at it. Flint Wallace, who coached Britton at Weatherford High in Texas, said Britton was the best hitter he has ever coached.

“That’s what I wanted to do was hit,” Britton said. “I wasn’t completely sold on pitching. There’s something about being able to play every day that I really wanted to do.”

As a closer, he has found the next best thing. Unlike a starter who gets in a game once every five or six days, Britton has to be ready nearly every day.

He pitches one inning a night, but he can go all out. He’s always done that.

He did it as a kid, and he did it on that awful day at Bouquet Canyon Park. No one else was going to keep chasing a foul ball in a simple game of over-the-line.

Zach Britton did it, and years later, the other kids who were there that day say they’ll never forget it.

The memories come back, and because it all worked out, they don’t try to suppress them. They think of Britton, and then they see an Orioles game or an All-Star Game, and there he is.

“Every time I see him on TV, I think, ‘We almost killed the kid,'” Crow said. “Now look at him.”

Now look at him. He’s the best closer in baseball, with the best pitch in baseball.

It is a real miracle.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Adam Jones Comments on Camden Yards Attendance for Red Sox Series

The Baltimore Orioles are in a fight for the playoffs, but the fans haven’t been around to witness it.

Outfielder Adam Jones voiced his displeasure Wednesday with the lack of attendance at Camden Yards, per Eddie Matz of ESPN.com:

It’s sad. It’s eerie. We grind and grind and grind. We understand, there’s a lot that that factors into it. Ticket prices being higher, although you can bring in food and beverages. Marketing and promotions, I’m sure they’re not the best. I get all that. I’m just saying, the city wanted a winner – the last five years we got ’em a winner. I don’t if know if they’ve gotten complacent already on us winning. I wish they haven’t. I hope they haven’t. Because winning is fun every single year, and being in this race is exciting every single year. So to the ones that come every night, thank you with open arms.

The Orioles are in the midst of a three-game homestand against the first-place Boston Red Sox, a team they trailed by three games entering Monday. Despite the importance of the series, the team drew only 18,456 fans for the first game and 20,387 in the second, according to ESPN.com. Oriole Park at Camden Yards has a capacity of 45,971 fans.

Boston won both games by a score of 5-2 to extend its lead in the American League East, although the Orioles still have control of the second AL Wild Card as of Wednesday.

Attendance issues have been a problem all year long for Baltimore. According to ESPN.com, the squad ranks 20th in the majors with an average of 26,513 fans per game. Interestingly, the Orioles also rank ninth in road attendance.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, Camden Yards has seen a drop of over 2,600 people per game in the past year, which ranks fifth worst in baseball. Of the four teams with sharper declines, three of them (Milwaukee, Minnesota and Cincinnati) are at least 15 games below .500, while the Pittsburgh Pirates have failed to live up to expectations after winning 98 games a year ago.

The Orioles, however, still can’t get fans into the seats despite remaining in contention. 

We’ve fought our tails off for 145 games to put ourselves into a unique situation as of September,” Jones noted.

The question will be whether the fans will hold up their end of the bargain.


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Powerful Orioles Don’t Need Elite Starting Pitching to Get to October

A week ago, a popular view among American League East scouts was that the Baltimore Orioles were a lot more likely to finish fourth than first.

They weren’t catching the Toronto Blue Jays or Boston Red Sox. Not with that starting rotation.

They would finish third and would try to sneak into the second wild-card spot. Or they would drop to fourth, with the New York Yankees surpassing them.

One week later, the Orioles are only one game out of first place.

How did that happen?

The same way it has happened all season. The same way it happened Tuesday night, when the Orioles’ starting pitcher departed after five innings—and they won.

Five innings is not a quality start. It’s not a good start. But when an Orioles starter has finished exactly five innings this season, the O’s are an astonishing 20-12.

When an Orioles starter goes five or more innings, the O’s are 69-39.

They don’t need great starting pitching. They don’t need quality starting pitching. They just need their starters to give them a chance, as Yovani Gallardo did when he gave up two runs (one earned) in his five innings Tuesday at Tampa Bay.

Five and fly is fine, because when the Orioles come to bat, the baseballs tend to fly out of the park. They hit another three home runs in Tuesday’s 11-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, giving them a major league-high 218 home runs this season.

No other team has hit more than 200.

It was Chris Davis (35th of the season), Manny Machado (34th) and Adam Jones (26th) Tuesday, and Machado’s home run was his third grand slam of the season. On another night, it will be Mark Trumbo, who leads the majors with 41 home runs.

No other team this season—and no previous Orioles team ever—has had three players with 30 or more. The Orioles have six players with 20 or more.

They play good defense. They have a good bullpen, with the best closer in the game in Zach Britton and a manager in Buck Showalter who knows how to use his relievers.

Give Showalter a 10-man bullpen, as he has with the ridiculous expanded rosters in September, and he can really work some magic.

It still might not be enough to finish ahead of the Blue Jays and Red Sox. It still might not be enough to hold off the Detroit Tigers, who the Orioles now lead by one game for the final wild-card spot.

But it’s as wrong to write off the O’s as it has been all season.

For one thing, their rotation has stabilized some. In a telephone interview Tuesday, general manager Dan Duquette credited 25-year-old Kevin Gausman (no runs allowed in 19 innings over his last three starts, and a 2.73 ERA since the All-Star break) and 23-year-old Dylan Bundy, who has been more inconsistent but pitched 5.2 scoreless innings last Friday night against the Yankees.

The rotation should get a boost this weekend, with 15-game winner Chris Tillman expected to come off the disabled list. Ubaldo Jimenez has pitched well in Tillman’s absence, with a 2.91 ERA in three starts and the Orioles’ first complete game since 2014, but they’ll be happy to have Tillman back.

Tillman is hardly a traditional ace. He hasn’t thrown a pitch in the eighth inning since June 8. His 3.76 ERA is tied for 34th among qualified major league starters, making him more Ian Kennedy than Jake Arrieta (a former Oriole, of course).

He’s not necessarily an ideal candidate for a Wild Card Game start against David Price or Justin Verlander. Then again, the Orioles have won two of the three times Price has started against them this season. And when Tillman and Verlander met in May, it was Tillman and the Orioles who came away with a 1-0 win (thanks to a Jones home run).

The Orioles will see Verlander again Sunday in Detroit, at the end of an important three-game series.

Just about every one of the Orioles’ remaining series look big. They go from Detroit to Boston to face the Red Sox, who they’ll also see a week later at home. The final week of the season, they go to Toronto and New York.

It won’t be easy, but what the Orioles have done so far wasn’t easy, either. It wasn’t easy, but it is fun, as Machado said (via Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com):

It’s fun for them now, and the AL East race is as much fun to watch as ever. And yes, the Orioles are very much still in it.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. 

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Flamethrower Kevin Gausman Must Thrive as Ace for Orioles to Reach Postseason

The Baltimore Orioles‘ starting rotation is a mess bordering on a full-blown garbage fire. That’s no secret, and it’s certainly not hyperbole. 

Kevin Gausman to the rescue?

That sentence contains a question mark for good reason. Gausman’s ERA hovered over 4.00 for most of August, and he’s lost five of his last 10 decisions.

But the hard-throwing right-hander has strung together two strong starts, which counts as a mini-revelation in Baltimore.

On Sunday, Gausman threw seven shutout innings against the New York Yankees, scattering seven hits and striking out nine as Baltimore prevailed, 5-0, in the Bronx.

Those same Yankees pounded the Orioles on Friday and Saturday, scoring a combined 27 runs in a pair of embarrassing blowouts.

So Gausman’s effort Sunday wasn’t merely a notch in the win column; it was salve in a gaping wound.

It was also, incredibly, his first win away from Camden Yards in more than two years, as MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski noted:

Add the six scoreless frames he authored in his previous start Aug. 23 against the Washington Nationals, and you’ve got the makings of a positive trend. At the very least, it’s a glimmer of hope.

The Orioles can hit. They rank fourth in the American League in runs scored (615), second in OPS (.772) and lead the MLB in home runs (204).

That and a stout bullpen anchored by uber-closer Zach Britton have kept Baltimore in the postseason picture. If the season ended Sunday, the O’s (71-59) would own the AL’s second wild-card slot.

But there are multiple challengers nipping at their heels, including the Detroit Tigers (69-61), Houston Astros (68-62) and Seattle Mariners (68-62). The defending champion Kansas City Royals are lurking, as are the youthful, revitalized Yankees.

At the same time, the O’s are locked in a tight AL East race with the first-place Toronto Blue Jays and potent Boston Red Sox.

Entering play Monday, Baltimore is three back of Toronto for the division lead. Closing that gap and avoiding the one-and-done Wild Card Game is possible.

To do it, though, the Orioles need their starting pitchers to give them something. Outside of Gausman, the picture isn’t pretty.

Ostensible No. 1 Chris Tillman is on the shelf with a shoulder injury. He’s expected back in September, but there’s no way to know how reliable he’ll be.

Rookie and 2011 first-round pick Dylan Bundy teased elite potential after moving over from the bullpen in mid-July, but he’s coughed up 12 earned runs and 19 hits in his last 14.1 innings. 

Yovani Gallardo owns a 5.69 ERA, which looks borderline decent next to the 8.18 mark Wade Miley has put up since arriving in Maryland at the trade deadline.

That places the onus squarely on Gausman. 

“It’s just being more consistent,” he said after his Aug. 23 outing, per Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun. “I think that’s the biggest difference between being a two and a three and being an ace. An ace, every time those guys take the mound, you know you’re going to get a quality start out of those guys.”

Raw stuff isn’t the issue. Gausman’s fastball sits in the mid-90s and can touch triple digits. However, as Camden Chat’s Nick Cicere noted in April, “One of the Gaus’ bigger bugaboos throughout his time in the big leagues has been his lack of a go-to breaking ball…”

Opponents are hitting .275 against his fastball and just .212 against his splitter compared to a robust .339 against his slider this season. 

Big league hitters will punish the hard stuff, even the really hard stuff, if they can simply wait for it. 

We’re in small-sample territory, but Gausman threw a handful of nice-looking sliders Sunday. The fastball was crackling. He benefited from some timely defense, but overall, he looked the part of an ace. 

The fourth overall pick in 2012, Gausman has been a mixed bag of potential and inconsistency since he broke into the big leagues in 2013.

Has he turned the corner? It’s only two starts, but it did come against the NL East-leading Nats and the suddenly big-bashing Yanks. 

O’s fans have a right to be skeptical. But if Gausman can build on those 13 scoreless innings and turn in another dominant outing or two, the question mark may turn into an exclamation point.

As in: Kevin Gausman to the rescue!


All statistics current as of Aug. 28 and courtesy of MLB.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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