May 2, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter in the dugout in the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
The Baltimore Orioles lost the rubber game of their three-game series in Minnesota on Sunday in a game of frustrations and irritations. Yes, the Orioles were irritated, Buck Showalter was irritated, and I am irritated and ready here for a rant-filled post.
We might call these past two losses to the Minnesota Twins “the weekend of long fly-ball outs.” I don’t know when I have seen such a high percentage of balls hit to the warning track where they were caught for simply just another deep out. Buck said, “They were pitching effectively to their ballpark with the big power alleys out there.” So, isn’t the inverse of that statement, “The Orioles were hitting ineffectively to the big power alleys out there”? The only guy who hit balls far enough was Nelson Cruz – who scored four of the Baltimore Orioles’ six runs in three games with his two homers.
So, all in all, it was a frustrating series for the offence. Even when the Birds squared up some balls, they were frequently of the hard-hit “at-‘em” ball variety. The RISP average over the weekend was .094, and that won’t win many games. The Orioles were frankly beaten twice by a very poor team with mediocre journeyman-style pitchers. But that is the nature of the game sometimes, and it is why it takes 162 games in this sport to sort out a true winner.
Yes, I’m a cranky old man. And I am old – as blog writers go. So I’ve been around the sun many times and seen a lot of baseball as a result. I have never seen umpiring so awful as exists in the game today. I will say that the field umps seem improved by the accountability of the replay system. Surprisingly few calls are challenged, and fewer are overturned. The reality is that the system has appeared to make them better.
But the home plate umps are as terrible as ever – with inconsistent strike zones that have players and managers alike frustrated, confused, and angry and yelling from the dugouts.
Umpires are at their best when they are little seen or noticed in the game. The people don’t buy tickets to see them perform, and when they become part of the narrative about a game, well, that is not the way it should be. And on Sunday, the umpires became too much a part of the story.
In the end, Miguel Gonzalez will be remembered in this game for walking four batters in the fifth inning, including scoring one on a bases-loaded pass. In fact, it should not have gone down that way. Gonzalez clearly had Jason Kubel struck out and the inning should have mercifully and scorelessly come to an end.
Later, with Ryan Webb pitching and the O’s deficit cut to 3-2 after Cruz’ monster shot, a balk was called upon Webb that moved a runner from second base to third with one out. There was nothing unusual about Webb’s set position. Yes, it was quicker than average, but he came to a definitive stop. Webb was clearly shaken and irritated by the call, and after an intentional base on balls to set up a double play … well, yes … it was a double, though of a different sort – over Cruz’ head and the game was now an affair with a three-run margin. Totally irritating!
Though the Baltimore Orioles are among the teams most deploying over-shifts against certain opponents, I truly hate this strategy; and regular readers my recall my postulating that this is not in the best interests of the game in the big picture of things. I am sure I am in the minority in this regard, and likely the statistics support the expansive use of such techniques.
However, it very much struck me when attending the recent doubleheader and seeing (what is infrequently visible on TV) how extreme some of these shifts are. For example, in the event of a severe shift against a left-handed pull hitter, there is no defender anywhere near third base. If a runner is on third, he could essentially lead off base more than halfway to home without any fear of inability to get back to the bag. Someone is soon going to steal home on one of these occasions.
The point here is that baserunners are going to become more brazen about these situations, balks are likely to be called, and the Orioles are going to be disadvantaged at a critical moment. I remain a skeptic about the entire value of these defensive positionings and wonder if they will not create more trouble than they solve.
OK, so, I’ve waited for an entirely negative blog post to write about what I think is an irritating phrase – calling the final, deciding game of a series a “rubber game” or a “rubber match.” Where the heck did that come from? It just doesn’t sound very macho or American, so I researched it a little bit. Well, I guess it comes from the card game called “Bridge.” Yes, that high energy game that makes a 49-pitch first inning by Chris Tillman look like the 9th inning of game seven of a World Series. But it gets worse. Apparently the term dates back every farther to the exciting British sport of lawn bowling, and refers to some infraction in that man’s man sport. Geez! C’mon, let’s get rid of this terminology!
So, it turns out that Keven Gausman has pneumonia, and everyone is pleased to hear that it is not some sort of strain. Well, amen to that. But, there is also a sense that if he is given his week off to bounce back, he’ll be good as new. I don’t think so. On this one I’ve “been there, not done that!” Though I’m not equating myself with Guasman in any one-to-one fashion, since my collegiate fastball was probably about the speed of his curveball, I did pitch in college. And I did contract pneumonia before the beginning of my junior season. And, at least in my case, my effectiveness did not come back that season at all. The weakness lingered. I redshirted that year, seeing early in spring training that though every pitch felt and looked the same to me, the results were quite different from my experiences in seasons before and after.
Yes, that is me – irritated to the core. So I’m going to bed after posting this to appear at 7:00 a.m. Maybe I’ll wake up feeling more cheerful.
OK, one more little rant … some of the beat writers on the Orioles post things at midnight and then again at 5:12 a.m., and people think that these folks never sleep. Hey, the computer program lets you set things in advance. And as great as the Baltimore Orioles writers are, they are not awake 24/7 writing about the Orioles!
Come back this afternoon for a discussion on the idea of Zach Britton and Miguel Gonzalez switching their pitching roles on the staff.