Posted: Wednesday April 27, 2005 2:33PM; Updated: Wednesday April 27, 2005 2:33PM
Because the world needs another sports blog ...
For the Birds
When will it be safe to say the Orioles are contenders without being fitted for a straitjacket? I'm not ready for the sanitorium just yet, but I'm starting to like this ballclub an awful lot. Their rally at Fenway Park last night -- the O's won 11-8 after being down 8-4 after four innings -- wasn't the type of victory a flukey team would pull off. Here are two reasons besides the obvious (i.e. Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora can rake) that the Orioles will hang around the AL East race:
1) Brian Roberts is for real. He can't keep up this blazingly hot pace (.368- .450-.713), but it's clear he will at least be an above-average player from here on out. Last season, he set a team record with 50 doubles. A surge in doubles often can be an indicator of increasing power in a hitter; indeed, Roberts already has set a career high with seven home runs this season. Plus, he's only 27, the traditional prime of a career.
2) B.J. Ryan is emerging as an elite closer. With New York's Mariano Rivera and Boston's Keith Foulke slumping, Ryan's contributions can't be overstated. The 29-year-old lefty has struck out 17 batters in 10 2/3 innings this season after whiffing 122 in 87 innings in 2004.
-- Jacob Luft (2:30 p.m.)
It amazes me that the vacant brains on ESPN don't seem to notice that last night's Orioles victory was at least as significant as the third replay of A-Rod's three dingers. Add to the O's prospects the fact that Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Jay Gibbons and Larry Bigbie haven't gotten going yet. What a killer lineup it could be. They'd win a lot of games even if I were pitching. But they are far from scrapping bottom in the arms department. Bruce Chen seems to be much improved. Sidney Ponson might be better rather than worse. -- JDD, Alexandria, Va. (3:16 p.m.)
Jacob, I half-heartedly agree with you. Yes, Roberts is for real. Yes, B.J. Ryan is a good closer. And yes, Tejada is one of the best leaders in baseball. However, the Orioles still don't have the pitching. Ponson is a bum and the rest have talent but are too erratic. They'll hang around until midsummer and then slump. -- Greg, New York City (3:21 p.m.)
There is no question that Ryan is a dominating closer and Roberts, although he will cool off, is an above-par player. The real diamond in the rough on this team is Todd Williams, who hasn't allowed a run in 10 innings this season. Opponents are batting just .088 against Williams. Throw Julio and Parrish into the mix with Ryan's closing and that is one solid bullpen. Leads will be safe for the Orioles this season. -- Nick Reed, Mount Airy, Md. (4:29 p.m.)
Why does everyone keep saying the Orioles need Ponson to pitch well? Ponson is the O's worst starting pitcher, not their best. If he does well, that's great, but in the meantime Erik Bedard is going to dominate you, while Bruce Chen and Rodrigo Lopez are going to give us a solid chance to win every night out. -- J.D. Bolick, Greenville, N.C. (5:07 p.m.)
Most Orioles fans (including this one) are still holding their breath about the starting rotation. This offense will produce all year, but wild cards such as Ponson, Bruce Chen and Daniel Cabrera are worrisome. The O's could remain in the wild-card race just based on their killer offense and bullpen, but a firm grasp on "contender" status requires a frontline starter and one or two proven, consistent guys. -- Steve, Fairfax, Va. (5:10 p.m.)
It has been a while since Baltimore fans have been this excited about their team, and with Roberts streaking and Williams leading the hot bullpen, the team will continue to entertain if nothing else. If the starting rotation can hold on and someone out of JDD's group of Sosa, Raffy, Gibbons or Bigbie steps up, this team will continue to win and possibly contend for a wild-card spot. -- Steve, Stafford (5:26 p.m.)
John Kruk said it best concerning the lineup: Three guys can slump, but you still can get crushed by the other six. As for Ponson, he is our No. 4 starter. And when June hits we will have the money and prospects to make a move on at least one starting pitcher. -- John, Baltimore (5:41 p.m.)
Today is the first time in recent memory that I've been disappointed an Orioles game was rained out. Last night was an impressive win. I was wondering if it was a fluke last week when Boston came to Baltimore and totally shut us down. But responding by going to Toronto and beating Roy Halladay to sweep the Blue Jays was tremendous. That game last night has convinced me that this team isn't simply a flash in the pan. Do we have the pitching? I'm still not sure. But I'm not sure the Yankees or Red Sox do either. It's fun to feel like we have a chance again! -- Bob, Muncie, Ind. (6:21 p.m.)
Yeah, these guys should be in it all year long. They have the lineup to offset the starting pitching "concerns." Moreover, if they make it to the postseason, where bullpen strength and lineup flexibility (they can go righty-lefty with any team in the league) are so important, they have potential to make some noise. Welcome back, Birds. -- Mike, Austin, Texas (6:36 p.m.)
One of the hidden keys to the O's success has been the return of pitching coach Ray Miller. Under Miller the Birds' staff ERA dropped significantly last year and continues to improve this year. Miguel Tejada may be the best player in the American league, and it's unfortunate that A-Rod gets all the publicity when he's not even the best third baseman in the AL East. That would be Melvin Mora. -- Jason Carmello, Columbus, Ohio (6:56 p.m.)
Could the O's win a war of attrition in the AL East? If I'm thirtysomething and the ankles are bearing extra weight, the last thing I want to see is Brian Roberts singling, stealing two bases and scoring on a ground out. Both David Wells and Curt Schilling already are on the DL. As Carl Pavano said after Mora's liner careened off his noggin into foul territory, " I feel fine. I have a slight headache. My name is Dontrelle Willis." Now what if Damon and Jeter had a night out with the Canseco twins?. -- R. Ferguson, Baltimore (8:26 p.m.)
Yankees fans love to rip on Alex Rodriguez for doing most of his damage at the plate in blowouts. Does that criticism still hold if A-Rod is solely responsible for the game being a blowout? He drove in 10 of the Yankees' 12 runs last night in a rout of Bartolo Colon and the Angels. As far as Mike Greenwell impersonations go, that was a pretty good one. A-Rod's eruption led at least one Yankees follower to ask, "Is he a 'True' Yankee now?"
-- Jacob Luft (2:30 p.m.)
As a Twins fan, I'd really like to have that sort of dilemna. A-Rod may have a penchant for producing in garbage time, but he still produces. Also, haven't studies into so-called "clutch hitters" like Jeter mostly proven that there's no such thing? Believe me, watching the 2005 Twins bat with the bases loaded gives me a special yearning for clutch hitting -- I'm just not sure there's any such thing. You're a good hitter or you're not. -- Mike, Rapid City, S.D. (2:41 p.m.)
"Clutch hitting" has been a raging debate ever since Bill James started putting pen to paper. Here's a recent study on the topic that I found fascinating and pretty much bears out what you said -- good hitters are usually good hitters, regardless of the situation. -- JL (4:32 p.m.)
I still don't think he is a true Yankee. Even though he has 25 RBIs, more than half of those have come in two games that were both blowouts. He still has yet to consistently produce in the clutch like a Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter or Hideki Matsui. I think A-Rod can eventually, though. -- Craig, New York City (3:21 p.m.)
Saying there is no such thing as a clutch-hitter is ridiculous. In virtually every profession there are those who elevate their performance when the pressure is on and those who crack. Yes, the most talented tend to be the most clutch (that explains the misleading stats), but you simply cannot quantify the mental aspect of baseball. It's about having the confidence to get the job done. And once you do it once, it gets easier in each sucessive situation (see B-H Kim in 2001 World Series and Mariano Rivera vs. Boston the past two seasons). Kim and Mo were/are terrific closers, but the opposition has the mental edge in those situations, thus making it easier to be "clutch." -- Bill, Berlin, Conn. (5:21 p.m.)
Although A-Rod's production in the clutch is an important question, it should be noted that it is not the only factor in whether or not he is a "True Yankee." The Yankees image is one of calm poise and professionalism, while Rodriguez's attitude, both on and off the field, has been that of a whiny complainer. He hit the bottom of the barrel in last year's ALCS. If the Yankees go the next 86 years without winning the World Series, it will go down in history as, "The Curse of the Girly Wrist Slap." -- Michael Heller, Washington, D.C. (5:46 p.m.)
Boy, people love to pile on A-Rod. "Whiny complainer?" All I ever hear from him is, "I hate myself more than any fan does when I screw up," and "Feel free to blame me. I'm a big boy and I can take it and I acknowledge it when I make mistakes." All players should be "whiners" like that guy! As for "clutch" hitting, the guy's lifetime batting averages in every possible men-on-base situation is .300 or better, except that he's a .293 with a runner on second base. In fact, he's a lifetime .298 with none on and .314 with men on base. Enough about the "choker" tag, already. Derek Jeter, whom I love, is better with none on, but almost identical with men on base, and actually a bit worse with runners in scoring position. And A-Rod is still getting used to playing third base, a transition that has to be affecting his production at the plate. -- Paul, Los Angeles (7:21 p.m.)
A-Rod is probably most comfortable hitting in blowouts. He did play in Texas. Besides if a team is getting hammered they normally don't put in their ace to stop the damage. They will put in some guy you've never heard of instead. Either way, stats are stats. Twenty years from now anybody looking at A-Rod's career numbers isn't going to be talking about his clutchness or lack thereof. -- Patric Farrell, Tulsa, Okla. (9:51 a.m., Thursday)