Tuesday, December 30, 2008

CaBBrera signs with the Nationals

So I’m a little behind in writing about Daniel Cabrera being non-tendered and signing with the Nationals.

The O’s haven’t exactly given me much of a reason to follow their moves this offseason, so sue me.

Anyway, yeah... Daniel CaBBrera signed with the Nationals.

The era ends.

Maybe now the Orioles won’t lead the MLB in walks.

I guess he won’t be plunking opposing batters as much any more, knowing he could get plunked himself when he steps into the batter’s box.

Even if Cabrera finds his “potential” in D.C., he was done as an Oriole. He constantly regressed over his career and he’s likely to be even worse in the NL, where his short temper and attention span will have to grapple with hitting. Or trying to hit.

So far he’s 0-14 in his career with 14 strikeouts and a sacrifice bunt (doesn’t count as an at-bat). But, he’s currently struck out 8 times in his last 8 at-bats, so only 5 more to go to break the record of 12 consecutive K’s by a hitter, which was set by Dean Chance in 1965.

Hey, that right there is enough reason to watch the Nationals more than the Orioles this year.

But don’t worry O’s fans. The O’s promptly filled Daniel Cabrera’s spot with Mark Hendrickson and his 5.07 career ERA.

Hendrickson may not walk as many batters, but the ERA will be about the same.

It’s all about consistency in Baltimore these days.

O's sign Hendricksuck... I mean Hendrickson

What is Andy MacPhail thinking?

That’s got to be the question on the dozen or so Orioles fans left in Maryland.

Yesterday the O’s agreed to terms with Mark Hendrickson. Hendrickson is a 36-year old journeyman who has never really been any good at any point in his career. If he was a right-handed pitcher who wasn’t eight-feet-tall he’d probably be working a cell-phone kiosk in a mall.

Hendrickson’s career ERA is 5.07. His ERA the last 2 seasons, in two of the most pitcher-friendly stadiums in the majors was 5.21 and 5.45. God only knows how his ERA will fare in Oriole Park, something akin to a band-box, in the AL East, where the #9 hitter is not swinging a toothpick.

MacPhail says he views Hendrickson as a long relief/spot starter type guy. Funny, I thought our entire pitching staff was filled with that kind of AAA-fodder in 2008. Now we’re going to pay more than the minimum for a guy like this?

Was Lance Cormier and his 4.02 ERA not good enough for you in blow-outs?

OK, I’ll be fair. As a reliever, Hendrickson’s ERA is not terrible. Over his career, it’s actually a respectable 3.39 in 103.2 IP. But last time I checked, we’re still paying Jamie Walker to suck, so unless we’re going to release him during Spring Training, I don’t know how we’re going to explain 2 worthless LHP in the bullpen.

My opinion? We’re being told Hendrickson is viewed as a spot starter, but in reality, he’s likely our #2 or #3. It’s the typical O’s move. “Hey, Hendrickson was good against us when he was with the Rays. He’s got to be good right? Throw him in the rotation! What the hell!”

Look up lazy move in the dictionary and pictures of Mark Hendrickson and Andy MacPhail will be staring back at you. There are any number of minor league free agents who could out-pitch Mark Hendrickson and it should be Andy MacPhail’s job to find that guy and sign him instead of giving innings to Too-Tall Hendrickson.

Maybe I’m miffed because I just watched Severna Park-native Mark Teixeira sign with the fucking Yankees or maybe I’m pissed I’ve got to take down the Christmas tree in a few days. And not because I’ll miss it.

But foul mood or not, Mark Hendrickson does nothing to improve the Orioles now, or in the future. And it’s high-time we start finding guys who at least have some potential to do that.

I thought Andy MacPhail wasn’t going to make these kinds of moves. Guess not.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ravens Beat Jags, Year in Review & Playoff Outlook

The Ravens secured a playoff berth yesterday by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-7 to finish the 2008 season with a surprisingly solid 11-5 record.

The Ravens gave us fans a small scare after allowing the Jaguars to score an early touchdown, which put the Ravens down 7-3, but the defense re-grouped and didn’t allow the Jags to score again, and the offense dropped 24 unanswered points to close out the celebratory win.

Joe Flacco passed for 295 yards (a career high) and recorded no touchdowns or interceptions. His deep ball was a thing of beauty, but even more beautiful was the sight of Mark Clayton running down those passes to the tune of 128 yards and making some great catches to bail out his QB. Flacco, meanwhile, seems back on track just in time for the playoffs.

On the ground, Le’Ron McClain scampered for 70 yards and 2 TD while Willis McGahee got the rock just 4 times, but ran impressively on his 13-yard TD run. He finished with just 24 rushing yards, but caught 2 passes for 25 yards.

Defensively, the unit was excellent save for the early touchdown they allowed. Jags’ RB Maurice Jones-Drew ran well for 78 yards, and they allowed a total of 245, but they came up big with 4 turnovers, including 2 more interceptions by Ed Reed.

After the Ravens marched down the field following the Jacksonville touchdown to retake the lead 10-7, the game became more of a celebration of the Ravens’ season than anything else.

With a win in the bag, the attention turned to the Dolphins/Jets game which decided the outcome of the Ravens opponent in the first round next week. Had the Dolphins won, the Ravens would be travelling to Miami. Had the Dolphins lost, the Ravens would be going north to New England to take on the Patriots.

The Dolphins won, which means the Ravens take on the Dolphins in Miami this Sunday for the second time this season. It’s a good thing too, because while I do believe the Ravens could beat the Patriots in New England, I feel much more comfortable facing the Dolphins again.

After all, the Ravens trounced the Dolphins earlier in the season, 27-13, and the Ravens are likely to be the favorites again. Granted, the Dolphins are a sound football team and committed the fewest turnovers in the NFL this season, but the Ravens match-up extremely well with Miami. Chad Pennington is not the kind of QB that gives the Ravens secondary problems and while Miami’s running game is strong, it is also likely to be contained by the Ravens tough run-stopping defense.

For the Ravens to lose, they’ll have to play a sloppy game, full of turnovers and mental mistakes.

Yes, Miami is much better than they were when they played the Ravens earlier in the season, but so are the Ravens. Prediction: Pain. Actually, I see a repeat of the first game in my crystal ball. 28-17.

Looking back, this has to be one of the most satisfying seasons in Ravens history. I predicted them to win 3 games at the beginning of the season and even the most optimistic fan couldn’t see them winning more than 6, maybe 8 games.

We are happy to be proven wrong.

The Ravens’ unpredictable success was due in large part to the play of rookie QB Joe Flacco. Flacco was named the starting QB during the pre-season when Troy Smith went down with tonsillitis and Kyle Boller suffered a season-ending elbow injury. From the start, Flacco looked the part, standing tall in the pocket and having great accuracy. It took him some time to gain confidence and see the field clearly, but watching him yesterday he looked like he’d been in the league 5 seasons. He finishes the season with an 80.3 passer rating, 2,971 passing yards, 14 TD, 12 INT and 2 rush TD’s. However, after the infamous Colts game where he threw 3 INT, Flacco went on to have a magnificent 11-game stretch where he tossed 13 TD and 5 INT.

On defense, the usual suspects of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed had what could be called career seasons. Lewis will never top his prime from 1997-2001 seasons, but that is like climbing Mount Everest and then looking for a taller mountain to climb. Lewis responded to the critics who said his age was catching up to him (I myself was even believing it) and totaled 84 solo tackles, 3 sacks and 3 interceptions. More importantly, he still played the game with his patented intensity and leadership that fueled the rest of the defensive unit.

Ed Reed, who played most of 2008 with a severe neck injury that many said could end his career, equaled his career high in interceptions (9), and scored a career-best 3 defensive touchdowns as a game-changer in the secondary.

And they were all lead by rookie head coach John Harbaugh. Many critics said that Harbaugh was the only choice the Ravens had after Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett turned them down, and other potential candidates were hired elsewhere, but Harbaugh has made drastic changes in the Ravens organization in just one season. The Ravens are now a more disciplined unit than they were under Brian Billick, and perhaps the most important characteristic Harbaugh has going for him is his ability to let his staff do their job.

And that has allowed offensive coordinator Cam Cameron work his magic. No longer do the Ravens struggle to score more than 14 points a game. Cameron, in just his first season as Ravens OC, and working with a rookie QB mind you, has catapulted the Ravens offense from the depths of the NFL to 11th of 32 teams in points scored. He’s also demolished the “don’t lose” mentality that Billick lived and died by, by taking the training wheels off Flacco around the half-season mark.

The Ravens, or more specifically, Ozzie Newsome, also made a ton of smaller, but very important roster moves that contributed to their 11-5 season. They traded for CB Fabian Washington on draft day, who has filled in nicely for a deactivated Chris McAllister. They picked up OL Willie Anderson to shore up an inexperienced offensive line after the Bengals cut him. And they signed a veteran-savy Lorenzo Neal to block for Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee. They've also smartly worked Troy Smith into the offense, bringing with him an unpredictible and explosive potential.

So looking back, I really couldn’t have been more wrong about the Ravens and the prediction of 3 wins. The Ravens proved that they could rebuild on offense faster than expected while the defense still played dominant championship-caliber football. And it has all culminated at the right time, with the team playing their best football as they head into the playoffs.

What does that mean? I don’t exactly know. I think they can beat anyone, anywhere with the way they are playing now, but I still do worry about facing the likes of the Titans, Steelers and Colts on the road. And while I am completely confident that the Ravens can handle their business in Miami this Sunday, a costly mistake in a close game can make all the difference.

So I think the Ravens will go as far as they allow themselves to go. If they play mistake-free football, they can beat any team the NFL can throw at them. But, the game film to beat the Ravens is there. Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 78 yards yesterday. The Giants trounced the Ravens by rushing for over 200 yards in a loss earlier this season. And the Colts put on their yearly clinic on how to make the Ravens defense look like a bad high school team.

But the most important thing to remember is that the Ravens were never expected to do anything. They had a rookie head coach, a rookie QB and a defense that people called over-the-hill. It was supposed to be the end of an era. And now they’re playing their best football as they head into the playoffs and they can hang with anyone.

Not bad for a team that essentially never had a bye week, huh?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Teixeira signs with.... who the hell do you think he signed with???

Highly coveted 1B Mark Teixeira signed with the New York Yankees today to the tune of 8 years, $180 million. For those counting at home, it's $22.5 million a year.

Teixeira had O's fans drooling since he filed for free agency because Teixeira is from Severna Park and played high school baseball a Daniel-Cabrera-wild-pitch from Camden Yards. But the O's never upped their initial offer of 7 years, $140 million, and the "hometown discount" that many fans were talking about never came into fruition.

In all seriousness, aside from the Baltimore ties, Teixeira didn't fit in with the Orioles' plan. Andy MacPhail has stressed over the last 2 years that he wants to add as many cheap, young and talented players as he can get, whether that be through the draft or via trades. Teixeira is great, but is only getting older and now, very, very expensive.

Yeah, Teixeira in Baltimore would have been a huge draw on paper, but until the Orioles start winning games in July through September, fans will never come out like they did in the 90's. It's a cold hard fact.

And $22.5 million a year for 8 years is a lot of money for just one player. But not for the Yankees. In case you haven't noticed they now have the top 4 highest paid players on their roster (A-Rod and Jeter, and this year's top 2 free agents in Teixeira and Sabbathia) and also signed highly-coveted free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett earlier this offseason. So if they didn't represent everything that is wrong with baseball before, they definitely do now.

If the Yankees and Red Sox (with an emphasis on the Yankees) are the only 2 teams that can afford high-priced players like Sabbathia and Teixeira, and are in the same division no less, then the system is broken.

The Teixeira signing doesn't exactly surprise me, and it shouldn't surprise anyone. All along Teixeira looked headed for the Red Sox until the Yankees came in with the highest offer and stole him away from Boston. It was simply bound to happen. But in my opinion, it represents what is the beginning of the end for a no-salary-cap Major League Baseball. So if it took a Maryland native like Teixeira to sport pinstripes for the next 8 years to fix the system, then so be it.

Because when the next labor agreement contract expires, mark my words, there will be another strike and it won't end until the players accept a salary cap, because quite simply, baseball cannot exist under these conditions.

And with the O's becoming more and more of a mid-market team, and not winning anytime soon, a baseball-less summer won't make a bit of difference to me. And not many other O's fans.

Now back to the O's. They must've been crossing their fingers hoping that Teixeira would take a lot less money to play for a losing organization a few miles from his childhood home. But in the end, it simply wasn't going to happen. And to be honest, they probably knew it would play out like it did. They covered their asses with a fair offer and have an excuse locked and loaded for the angry fans who have to watch as another star free agent dons pinstripes only to crush their O's 18 times a year.

But at the same time, a lot was riding on the Tex-in-Baltimore pipe dream. Because unless the Orioles somehow significantly improve the roster between now and February 1st, Brian Roberts is unlikely to extend, meaning he will be a free agent at the end of 2009, along with Melvin Mora, Aubrey Huff and several other players.

And since the O's don't appear to be in the running for any other remaining big name free agents like Adam Dunn or Ben Sheets, the O's might as well jus trade Roberts for the best package of prospects available.

Maybe Teixeira would have fooled fans and the front office for a year or two, thinking that they were close to contention, but let's be real. The O's are going nowhere until at least 3 pitchers now in the minor leagues develop into reliable starters. And that is with or without a dozen Mark Teixeiras.

And other than Erik Bedard, when was the last time the O's developed one of those and didn't trade him before he became any good (John Maine)?

So BLOW IT UP!!! Get on with it! Tex is gone! There is no plan B. Hell, there never was a plan A! Let's get the ball rolling so we can have some winning baseball in Baltimore again while we're all still alive.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Big Win in Big D

The Ravens did the seemingly impossible last Saturday night, spoiling the Cowboy’s final game in Dallas Stadium, winning 33-24 and helping their playoff prospects immensely.

Dallas jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead after a Joe Flacco fumble gave the Cowboys the ball on their own 9-yard line. But then the defense stepped up, shutting out Dallas for the next two quarters.

During that span, the offense chipped their way back into the game with 3 consecutive Matt Stover field goals. Then with 2:51 left in the 3 quarter, Flacco found Derrick Mason, his favorite target, in the corner of the endzone for the Ravens first touchdown of the game, putting them ahead, 16-7.

Dallas and the Ravens traded field goals over the course of the next few drives, and after a Tony Romo to Terrell Owens touchdown brought them within two, at 19-17, it appeared the Ravens would be headed for another late loss.

With 3:32 left in the game, and on the first play of the drive, Willis McGahee busted off a 77-yard run to put the Ravens up 26-17 and driving what appeared to be the final nail in Dallas’ coffin.

But Dallas wasn’t quite dead just yet. They drove down the field at will on Rex Ryan’s soft prevent defense and scored a Jason Witten touchdown to pull within 2 points again at 26-24.

With 1:18 left, the Ravens just needed a first down to kill the clock and win the game. But just like the drive before, on the very first play, Le’Ron McClain huffed and puffed his way to an 82-yard TD, and this time, ending the game at 33-24. It was also the longest TD run by a visiting running-back in Dallas Stadium. Way to send it off, right?

The most comforting thing about this win, besides the huge help it gave the Ravens' playoff chances, was the return of a smart and effective Joe Flacco. After 2 disappointing games, Flacco finished with 149 yards and a TD and most importantly, 0 INT. His fumble was costly, but you can't blame him when the pocket collapses like the dam in Superman: The Movie. Flacco made the passes he needed to make against a pretty tough defense and was instrumental in winning the game.

And Derrick Mason was a warrior. Mason played through a separated shoulder, finishing with 66 yards and a TD. You really can't say enough about Derrick Mason, a veteran who plays with heart and has become a leader on offense. And when you look back and remember that Mason chose Baltimore over New England, you almost want to cry with happiness.

So here the Ravens are, at 10-5, headed into their final game against the 5-10 Jacksonville Jaguars. If the Ravens win, they’re in the playoffs and will travel to Miami, New York or new England in the first round. If they lose and New England loses to Buffalo, they are still in. Otherwise, if they lose, they’re out.

However, this game against Jacksonville is no gimmie. The Jags gave their all against Indianapolis and really should have won that game if not for a late David Garrard interception returned for a touchdown. Maurice Jones-Drew is a weapon, and while the Ravens are proficient at stopping the run, he presents a host of challenges since he can catch the ball out of the backfield.

But, all that said, the Ravens should beat the Jaguars. It’s all on the line and the Ravens are too well coached under John Harbaugh to look past the Jaguars to the playoffs.

And after coming off a disappointing loss to the Steelers and heading into Dallas, the writing was on the wall. It didn’t look good for the Ravens. But they saved their season. So failure against Jacksonville is not an option.

In closing, I am very worried about the Ravens guarding a small lead. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan plays too soft, and the results are disastrous. Up 9-6 in the 4th quarter against the Steelers, Ryan played the prevent defense and the result was a Steelers 92-yard drive for the win. And up 9 against Dallas, the Ravens played off the line of scrimmage and Dallas marched down the field, 70 yards, for the score. Thankfully for the Ravens sake, Dallas was down by 2 scores.

So, if the Ravens find themselves in that position again, protecting a small lead, I sincerely hope that Ryan doesn’t call off the dogs. He should have learned his lesson by now.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Steel a Victory

It was a rough night to say the least. I had too much to drink before the game and can’t remember much of the first half.

However, I wish it was the second half I couldn’t remember, especially the Steelers’ 90-yard, game-winning drive with just seconds left on the clock.

When the Ravens were leading 9-3 and 9-6, I didn’t have faith that the Ravens would be able to hold the Steelers to just a few field goals the entire game. These are, after all, the same Steelers that found a way to score 17 points in seven minutes to beat the Cowboys last week after trailing 13-3. But the Ravens, especially their defense, laid down when it mattered most and essentially let the Steelers offense walk down the field to win the game.

Yes, the referees were horrible. They blew a first down spot and called a Santonio Holmes catch in the endzone a touchdown even though the ball never crossed the plane. They did this even after reviewing the play, too! But one bad call by the referees should not erase the Steelers’ drive of 90 yards, and the defense’s inability to stop them.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Ravens dropped several passes and Cam Cameron went conservative when he should have been aggressive. The Ravens love to chuck the rock around the field, and use their nifty trick plays when they are playing the Browns, Bengals and other assorted bad teams, but clinging to a narrow lead against the Steelers, they became the same old “don’t lose the game” Ravens from the Billick-era again.

That said, when Joe Flacco was throwing the ball, he was inaccurate. He completed a pathetic 39 percent of his passes. He had a chance to win the game late, with just seconds on the clock, but forced a pass into triple coverage, which was picked off for a second time.

Is Joe hitting that fabled rookie wall? I don’t think so. I think he is hitting the “I’m starting to play better defenses” wall.

On the positive side of things, Le’Ron McClain managed to gain a respectable 86 yards against the #1 defense in the league, but that is about the only positive thing you can say about the offense today. The receivers dropped too many passes and the Ravens gained only 202 yards of offense the entire game.

In short, it was a typical Steelers win. They kept the game close and gave themselves a chance to win at the end of the game and were helped out by the referees. Oh and remember that tough four-game stretch that the Steelers had? You know the one Ravens fans were pointing to and saying the division was as good as theirs?

@ NE – W
@ BAL – W

Yes, they still have Tennessee in Tennessee, but the Titans were just beaten by the Texans and don’t look anything close to the 10-0 team they were just a few weeks ago. I think the Steelers will end that tough four-game stretch undefeated. Much respect. They won the AFC North for a reason.

Today’s Ravens loss also significantly hurt their chances to make the playoffs too. With the Ravens travelling to Dallas to take on the Cowboys next Saturday at 9-5, the Ravens are giving themselves a small margin of error to make the post-season. However, they still control their own destiny. If they win out, they’re in. If they lose to Dallas, they need help assuming they can beat the Jaguars at home in the last game of the season to end the year at 10-6.

So, can the Ravens regroup in Dallas after a tough loss at home to the Steelers? Can the Ravens win the last game in Dallas Stadium against a Cowboys team as hungry as them to make the playoffs?

It’ll be a tough order. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

O's make moves...

The Orioles finally made some moves this offseason that will impact the 2009 opening day roster. They traded catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Cincinnati Reds for utility-man Ryan Freel and 2 minor-league prospects.

They also have agreed to terms with short-stop Caesar Izturis and appear to be close to officially signing the defensive specialist.

Neither of these moves is going to create excitement in the fan-base, but they do somewhat improve the make-up of this team.

Trading Hernandez was addition by subtraction. His constant laziness behind the plate and inability to run out ground balls quickly turned fans against him despite his still decent offensive output.

By adding Freel, the Orioles get the competent utility guy they’ve been missing since they traded Chris Gomez. Freel is a career .272 hitter with a .733 OPS. He’s a vast improvement over former UTI-men Freddie Bynum, Brandon Fahey and Alex Cintron.

The 2 minor league prospects involved in the trade are 2B Justin Turner and 3B Brandon Waring. Turner will be 24 and has not played above AA-ball, meaning that he will likely be AAA fodder, but he has shown some power throughout his MiL career, with a .445 SLG.

Waring is the intriguing one, but at 23, he is a tad old to have not advance beyond single-A. However, Waring has a ton of power .523 career SLG. His downfall, however is the strikeout (156 K in 441 AB in 2008).

Both players somewhat deepen the offensive talent pool in the O’s minor league system. Look for Turner to start in Bowie and Waring to begin the year in Frederick.

The O’s also just announced the signing of short-stop Caesar Izturis. Some call the signing a lazy one, but with the O’s expected above-average offense in 2009, they can afford a no-stick SS with a great glove, and Izturis fits that bill. And at 2 years, $6 million, he comes cheap.

In addition to these moves, the Orioles were still very busy, and a reported 4-way deal involving the O’s, Padres, Cubs and Phillies was at one point close to being completed. The move would have sent LHP Garrett Olson to the Padres and brought back LH OF Felix Pie from the Cubs.

It is unknown whether it is still on track or fallen apart.

In any case, Felix Pie was the centerpiece of the oft-reported Brian Roberts trade last offseason, but that deal never was completed. So far, in limited MLB at-bats, Pie has yet to live up to his Adam Jones-like potential, but the O’s still believe he can become a starter in the OF.

That obviously means that the O’s soured on Olson in 2008, and it would be hard for them not to. Olson did pitch well in about half of his starts, but was shelled in the other half, finishing with a 6.65 ERA. One has to think that Olson will improve in ’09, simply because he can’t get any worse, but after compiling 165 IP in the majors over 2 seasons, Olson’s career 6.87 ERA is causing hopes to rapidly fade.

The potential Olson/Pie deal also likely squashes any hope that the O’s had in Nolan Reimold becoming a starter in 2009. Reimold had a great ’08 season for AA-Bowie, hitting 25 HR, knocking in 84 RBI and compiling a .868 OPS. But adding Pie to an already crowded OF with Scott, Jones and Markakis, means that Reimold will either be traded or become AAA fodder in ’09.

There were also rumors that the O’s would be getting back SP Jason Marquis in the Olson deal. Marquis is basically a salary dump for the Cubs, who have soured on his failure to live up to his excellent 2004 season when he won 15 games with a 3.71 ERA for the Cardinals. Since then Marquis has turned in ERA’s of 4.13, 6.02, 4.60 and 4.53. He does, however, eat innings, and rumors of the O’s thinking hard about signing Jon Garland support the O’s desire to have someone in the rotation who can give the bullpen a smaller workload despite the mediocre-at-best outcome.

Unfortunately there is still little movement on the Mark Teixeira or A.J. Burnett front, although the O’s have officially met with both players and their agents. And with the Washington Nationals reported to throw their hat into the ring for Teixeira, O’s fans are already starting to worry that Tex will be playing for the “other hometown team” in 2009. And let’s face it, being outbid by the Nationals, would be an embarrassment to O’s fans.

My take? Tex re-signs with the Angels or comes back to the east coast to sign with the Red Sox.

So there you have it. Things are starting to heat up as the winter GM meetings in Las Vegas continue. Stay tuned to the Bad Oriole for updates and takes on any solid rumors and official moves!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Black Beltway

It is often said that the best pitchers in baseball will find a way to beat you even when they don’t have their A-game. Well, if ever that could be said about a football team, it could be said about the Ravens last night as they beat the Washington Redskins, 24-10.

It’s true, the Ravens didn’t play all that great. Joe Flacco only threw for 134 yards, including a TD and an INT. Excluding the 8-minute drive in the 4th quarter when Le’Ron McClain pounded the ball down the Redskins throat, the Ravens had trouble running the ball. The wide-receivers dropped too many passes. And special teams kept committing penalties to back up the offense.

But, the defense played extremely well, holding the Redskins to only 254 yards of offense and forced the Skins into four turnovers. More importantly, they created 2 turnovers within the first five minutes of the game to give the Ravens an almost instant 14-0 lead.

And that made the game somewhat anticlimactic. The Redskins were visiting Baltimore for the first time in Ravens history, and Baltimore fans still hold a massive grudge toward the Redskins for former-owner Jack Kent Cooke trying to force his team on Baltimore. So fans were amped up to get their revenge. And there were a lot of Redskins fans in the crowd, but the fast 14-0 lead kept them silent.

But M&T was rocking last night despite the freezing cold temperature and wind. Take a look at this Redskins forum thread about how Skins fans are jealous of the Ravens home field advantage and calling for a new stadium even though FedEx Field is barely 10 years old. It’s good for a laugh.

Hopefully M&T will remain rocking when the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town next week. The Ravens will need the 12th man more than ever to beat the Steelers who despite not playing extremely well, keeps finding ways to win. They came back from a 13-3 deficit with seven minutes left to defeat the Cowboys last night, 20-13. They are still a game up on the Ravens for first place and have won the first two games of their difficult 4-game stretch. The last two: @ BAL, @ TEN.

But last night the Ravens dominated the Redskins in a game where they didn’t play that well. So imagine what it’ll be like when they are running on all cylinders. Hopefully they will be next week.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Why I don't really hate the Deadskins anymore...

With the Washignton Redskins coming to Baltimore this Sunday for the first time in Ravens history, I figured I’d share my thoughts on the Redskins, and quite to my surprise, why I don’t really hate them as much as I’m supposed to.

I’m the typical near-30 Baltimore guy. I love my city, rep its teams via clothes and license plate frames, and drink lots of Natty Boh.

I came of age in that 13-year gap between the Colts and the Ravens. I had friends in elementary and middle school who bled burgundy and gold. I had to sit through their trash talk during their two Super Bowl victories in 1987 and 1991.

I rooted for the Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers as a kid. Not exactly the class of the NFL.

It would have been easy for me to root for the Redskins and I don’t think anyone would have really chided me for that. After all, Baltimore didn’t have a team, the Redskins were only 45 minutes away, and most importantly, they were good.

But I couldn’t do it.

In my house growing up, we weren’t D.C. patsies. We rooted for the Orioles and whoever played the Colts and Redskins. I didn’t really know the Bullets or Capitals existed until I was a teenager. We hated Jack Kent Cooke for trying his damndest to keep football out of Baltimore. And when the 1993 expansion failed to net Baltimore a team, and Paul Tagliabue told Baltimore to build a museum, we hated him too.

And if ever there was a time to break down and join the Redskins bandwagon, after the expansion meltdown would have been it.

But no. I stayed strong. I went to Baltimore Stallions games. I watched the then Baltimore CFL’s lose in the Grey Cup their inaugural year. In the NFL, I kept rooting for the Steelers. Anything to break down and become a Redskins fan.

Plus I thought, and still think, that the Redskins uniforms are some of the ugliest in the league. No way could I root for a team with ugly uniforms.

But then it happened. Art Modell announced he’d be moving his Browns to Baltimore. Finally, I was saved from ever having to become a Redskins fan. Thankfully, Modell left the Browns’ ugly uniforms in Cleveland.

During the Ravens’ first few years, when they had some pretty heinous uniforms themselves, my hatred of the Redskins remained. And as time passed, and as the Ravens got good, the Redskins got bad.

It’s hard to hate a team that stinks. Although I still do hate the Raiders and their fan base. But since 1992, the Redskins have pretty much stunk. And so does their stadium.

Meanwhile, Baltimore was growing as a city. No longer were we the bastard stepchild of D.C.

We got Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which to this day, is the nicest stadium I’ve ever been too. The Inner Harbor and surrounding neighborhoods underwent unprecedented renewal, and the Ravens Stadium is one of the best in the NFL. Then came the best piece of art ever to be created. The Wire. Made and shot in Baltimore by two Baltimore guys.

And while I still enjoy a daytrip to D.C., it’s a soulless city filled with transients. Its suburbs are crowded concrete dominated mini-cities unto themselves, and the 496 Beltway is a nightmare 23.5 hours of the day.

Years later, when Peter Angelos tried to keep D.C. from getting baseball, I couldn’t really be mad at ‘ol JKC anymore. They were both greedy businessmen looking out for themselves. I can’t defend Angelos’ actions any more than I can blast Cooke for his.

Then I moved out toward Frederick, which is pretty evenly split between Ravens and Redskins fans. When driving home from work in Columbia, MD, I was forced to listen to D.C. sports talk since WJFK AM became static after Mariottsville Road. And what I found on D.C. sports radio was some of the best entertainment I’ve ever experienced.

Have you ever listened to Redskins fans? You really should. It’s priceless. They anoint themselves Super Bowl Champions after winning a pre-season game and then say the Redskins are the worst team in the NFL after losing one regular season game.

If ever there was a knee-jerk reaction fan base, the Redskins fan base is it. They’re annoying like that house-fly that won’t go away. You know it’s harmless, but crushing it under a rolled up piece of newspaper feels euphoric.

Plus they dress up as fat women and wear pig snouts.

How can you hate them for that? We should be feeling sorry for them.

And you know how annoying the Baltimore Ravens marching band is? (Although I must admit, they have gotten better, and less annoying, over the years)

Well the Redskins are the only other NFL team to have a marching band. So we’re pretty much brothers. Heck, we’re practically Siamese twins.

So there you have it. Hating the Redskins is much like hating that homeless guy on the corner. But I guess the real reason I don’t hate the Redskins as much as I used to is because now I have something to occupy my time. And that is rooting hard for the Ravens.

That said, I hope the Ravens kick the Redskins’ fucking asses on national TV this Sunday night.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Invading Cincinnati

A few weeks ago, I checked StubHub.com for Ravens-at-Bengals ticket prices and was surprised to see $65 tickets on sale for $20. So I snatched up five tickets and this past weekend, Impressions from 540 and Friends invaded Cincinnati.

We came… we saw… we conquered.

Ravens 34, Bengals 3.

It almost wasn’t even fair.

Remember the days when a little rain would turn the Ravens’ offense into a high school team?

Not anymore.

Remember when the Ravens offense would struggle to score points against even the worst defenses?

Not anymore.

Remember when the Ravens were almost guaranteed to turn in a dud on the road, against a division rival?

You get the point.

540’s man-crush, Joe Flacco, tossed his now-to-be-expected 2 TD’s (another long one, this time for 70 yards), Mark Clayton (yes, you read that right) threw a 32-yard TD pass to Derrick Mason and Le’Ron McClain bashed his way to 86 yards in the lopsided victory.

The defense shut down the hapless Bengals offense, resulting in a long day for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (12-31, 120 yards). The Bengals managed only 155 yards of offense in the game.

Truth be told, I actually felt sorry for Bengals fans. Coming into the game, the Bengals were 1-9-1 and missing Carson Palmer like the deserts miss the rain. The stadium was only 3/5 full at kickoff, granted there was some rain, but by the end of the third quarter, the Bengals fans staged a mass exodus to find a drier, and happier place.

The ones who stuck around cheered loudly as the third-string QB, Jordan Palmer, entered the game. To add insult to injury, the first pass he threw was intercepted and returned for a TD.

It was the same old Bungles so I couldn’t exactly gloat too much in my first Ravens road trip. But, the Ravens hadn’t won in Cincinnati since 2004, so I’ll take it.

That said, it was an awesome experience. Once the game was over, I mean officially over since it was very much over before it began, my friends and I headed toward the Ravens tunnel to cheer them on as they left the field with the rest of the Ravens faithful who made the trip. To my surprise, Daniel Wilcox threw me his glove, which I caught and will lovingly wear to bed each night.

As a city, Cincinnati left a lot to be desired. I’m not sure if I missed some hotspots or not, but the downtown area seemed empty and generic. My friends and I did manage to find a nice sports bar (Sully's) and bar/nightclub (The Lodge) close to our hotel, but trips around the city and across the river for action turned up empty.

And the Skyline Chili was almost room temperature.

Paul Brown stadium is in one word – funky. I still haven’t figured out if that’s a good thing or not. It’s angles and lines are too modern and the stadium is too wide-open to hold noise. Also, you can’t walk around the entire stadium from the upper deck. Yes, my friends and I did walk all the way up to the wrong side of the upper deck. So that sucked. But it was pretty much the worst thing about the entire trip.

Moving forward, the Ravens take on the Washington Redskins (7-5) next Sunday night. The Redskins are fighting for a playoff spot that is starting to slip through their fingers and it doesn’t help that Clinton Portis left the game with an injury in their loss to the Giants and is questionable for this Sunday.

Despite their recent struggles, the Redskins are an overall solid team, but against the Ravens, they look to be practically dominated in every facet of the game, especially if Portis is forced to miss any time.

QB Jason Campbell is at his best when the Redskins running game is clicking, and hasn’t demonstrated the ability to take over games and win them by himself. When he is forced to win the game on his own, he becomes prone to turnovers. He looks to be in for a very long day against the Ravens’ second-ranked defense.

The Ravens still control their own destiny in the playoff hunt, but will have to walk a tight-rope to win a Wild Card spot with the Colts finding ways to win (even when they don’t score offensive touchdowns) and the Patriots and Dolphins breathing down their necks. The Ravens’ best bet is to steal the division from the Steelers, but that might be easier said than done after the Steelers crushed the Patriots in New England last weekend.

However, the Steelers next three games are still tough: Dallas, at Baltimore and then at Tennessee.

But let’s not look ahead too much. The Redskins come to Baltimore for the first time and it’s a prime-time game.

Remember when the Ravens laid an egg in prime-time games?

Let’s hope we can add that one to the list.

Monday, November 24, 2008

How do you like your Eagle cooked? Well done!

The Ravens helped their playoff chances yesterday, overcoming a slow first half, eventually dominating the Eagles in route to a 36-7 drubbing of the Philadelphia Eagles.

In the first half, the Ravens and Eagles traded punts before a second-quarter Ed Reed interception gave the Ravens the ball at the Eagles 6-yard line. Two runs later, QB Joe Flacco hit TE Daniel Wilcox for his 9th TD pass of the season, putting the Ravens ahead 10-0.

On the following kickoff, the Eagles’ kick-returner Quentin Demps ran 100 yards through the Ravens kick-coverage like a hot knife through butter for the touchdown. 10-7 Ravens.

But, that was where the Philadelphia scoring ended.

In the 3rd quarter, Eagles head coach Andy Reid benched Donovan McNabb, who had thrown 3 INT in the first half, and handed the ball to Kevin Kolb. Kolb had just as much trouble moving the ball as McNabb, and a stalled drive resulted in a blocked Sav Rocca punt a safety. 12-7 Ravens.

After Kolb threw an interception to Samari Rolle, a Matt Stover field goal put the Ravens up 15-7 Ravens.

And that’s where the fun began.

After another stalled Eagles drive, Flacco hit Mark Clayton for a 53-yard touchdown, his 10th TD pass of the season. 22-7.

And get a load of this: In the last 5 games, Flacco has had 4 touchdown passes of 43 yards or more. When was the last time that happened to a Ravens QB?

Shortly after that, Ed Reed caught his second INT of the day, this one in the Ravens endzone, and returned it for an NFL record 108 yards for a TD. 29-7 Ravens.

And finally, to add insult to injury, the Ravens tacked on yet another score, this time it was Le’Ron McClain for a 1 yard TD. 36-7 Ravens. Final.

After a rocky game in New York, Joe Flacco returned to his usual cool, calm and collective self, passing for a now standard 183 yards and 2 TD’s. Despite a slow first half, and an impressive pass rush by the Eagles, Flacco never panicked. He moved around the pocket well, and threw the ball away instead of forcing passes.

It’s really nice to have a QB you don’t have to worry about.

However, the Ravens had trouble getting the running game going for the second game in a row. Willis McGahee and Ray Rice combined for 15 yards. But big Le’Ron McClain did the rushing dirty work, ripping and romping for 88 yards on 18 carries and the late TD. At one point early in the game, I think McClain rushed 6 straight times on the same play.

On the receiving front, Mark Clayton had the best day, hauling in two passes for 76 yards and the big TD. It’s nice to see someone other than Derrick Mason catching passes for once, and after a miserable 2007 season, Mark Clayton is back on the map.

So in review, the game was closer than the lopsided score might indicate, but the Ravens turned it on when it mattered most. Not only did they improve their playoff chances with a win at home, they also pretty much hammered the final nail into the Eagles coffin of a season.

And I couldn’t be happier about that.

There were a lot of Eagles fans down at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday, and despite coming off an embarrassing tie with the lowly Cincinnati Bengals, one where your star-QB had no idea that a game could end in a tie, Iggles’ fans were quite vocal in the very limited opportunities they could be vocal. And as a result, there were quite a few shoving matches up in 540.

Thankfully, the Ravens shut the Iggles’ fans up and sent them home early in the second half. Sorry Iggles fans. That Phillies World Series win will have to keep you warm during your long and cold playoff-less winter.

Back to the Ravens. At 7-4 they head to Cincinnati to take on the 1-9-1 Bengals. And while you never want to say a road game in the NFL is an easy win, if there ever was an easy road win, this is it.

With Carson Palmer still on the sideline with a shoulder injury, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick looks to be in for a long day against the Ravens defense. The Bengals will get Chad Johnson back for the game after a deactivation, but he’s been a non-entity this season without Carson Palmer, and it appears Ocho Stinko’s conspiracy theories about not being thrown to are proving true. Johnson has only caught 41 passes so far this season.

So, the Ravens have to take advantage of the struggling Bengals this week before their schedule gets difficult again, with Washington and Pittsburgh at home, and then Dallas on the road.

And with so many teams fighting for the Wild Card in the AFC, the Ravens’ easiest path to the playoffs could be by winning the AFC North. The Ravens currently trail the Steelers by 1 game, and on top of facing the Steelers once more this season, Pittsburgh has a pretty tough schedule in front of them: @ NE, DAL, @ BAL, @ TEN.

So, will the Ravens make the playoffs? Can they win the division? Stay tuned.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Waiting Game

For years, fans have drooled over the prospect of Mark Teixeira becoming a free agent so that the O’s could bring their favorite homegrown player back to Baltimore.

And apparently, it wasn’t just the fans who were drooling. For years, rumors have swirled like leaves in the wind about Peter Angelos wanting to bring Teixeira to Baltimore. Angelos believes that giving the fans a Maryland-born heir apparent to Cal Ripken will do wonders for attendance. And it doesn’t hurt that Teixeira also has the potential to hit 40 home runs a year in Camden Yards.

So now that Mark Teixeira actually is a free agent, what have the Orioles done to put Tex in one of those new O’s uniforms?

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

The Orioles appear to be playing their favorite game - the waiting game - waiting to see where C.C. Sabbathia will land to get the ball rolling on the 2008-2009 offseason.

I really didn’t expect the Orioles to come out of the gate, guns blazing, and blowing Teixeira and his super-agent, Scott Boras, away with an offer to bring Tex to Baltimore.

But I really wished they would have.

Because if the Orioles play the waiting game and lose out on Teixeira, they could find that all of their back-up plans are gone too.

It’s in the Orioles best interest to make their best offer to Teixeira now, and if he doesn’t agree to it, fine. Move on to the next option.

Making a good offer right off the bat would also appease some of the fans who tire of watching the Orioles sleepwalk their way through the offseason.

But, it appears that the O’s are content to hunker down and wait like a Star Wars fan in line for Episode III.

And in Baltimore, like always, the hot stove remains cold.

Giant Loss

Going into yesterday's game against the New York Giants, the question on everyone’s mind was if the Ravens run-stuffing defense could stop the Giants’ “Earth, Wind and Fire” rushing attack of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw.

That question was answered right away with a resounding “NO!”

Brandon Jacobs scampered for 52 yards and the TD on the Giants' first offensive drive and it set the tone early as the Giants went on to beat the Ravens 30-10.

As a team, the Giants rushed for 207 yards (but no one had over 100 yards individually! YAY!)

Meanwhile, Joe Flacco led the Ravens in rushing yards with 57, which should tell you all you need to know about how well the Ravens were able to run the ball.

They couldn’t.

As a passer, Flacco was mediocre. He threw a bad interception in the second quarter and then made a great pass to Le’Ron McClain for a TD in the third quarter before his bobbled pass to Derrick Mason was intercepted and returned for a TD by Aaron Ross at the end of the third.

But without a running game to set up the passing game, Flacco struggled to gain any semblance of rhythm. And asking a rookie QB to win the game with his arm is a tall order and one he’s not ready to fulfill. Yet. Flacco finished with a less than stellar line: 20-33, 164 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT.

Some might say that the game was closer than the 30-10 score, but I’d have to disagree. The Ravens were pretty much dominated in every facet of the game. They couldn’t run and they couldn’t stop the run. And without the run, the Ravens couldn't get the passing game going either.

The closest the Ravens ever came to making it a game was late in the third quarter. While trailing 20-10, the Ravens were driving down the field, and had they scored, (either a field goal or a touchdown), they would have been down by only one score. But Flacco’s pass was bobbled by Mason and returned for the TD that put the game out of reach at 27-10.


In my opinion, yesterday’s loss was a reality-check. The Ravens looked good for the last month, beating up on the NFL’s bottom feeders (excluding the Dolphins, who are now 6-4), but as they’ve faced the better teams in the league, they’ve found ways to lose.

And the schedule doesn’t let up any time soon. The Eagles come into town next week. Philly is licking their wounds after playing to a tie with the Cincinnati Bengals, and they’ll be playing hard to save their season, which is on the ropes in the tough NFC East.

Then the Ravens get a break of sorts as they travel to Cincinnati to face the somewhat improved Bengals. But the Ravens haven’t won in Cincy since 2004. Then it’s Washington and Pittsburgh at home, at Dallas and then home against Jacksonville to close out the season.


At 6-4, the Ravens are still very much in the mix for the playoffs. But if they want to make it to the postseason, they’ll have to actually beat some good teams for once.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Give fans a reason to buy new uniforms...

By unveiling their new uniforms today, including putting “Baltimore” back on the road uniforms for the first time in 36 seasons, the Orioles have set themselves up for an offseason that could use the uniform change as a pre-cursor for bigger things to come – or a wasted opportunity to reinvigorate a desperate fan base.

In simple terms, today’s uniform unveiling was an appetizer. A small cube of fish served decoratively over squiggly lines of a white-wine lemon-butter sauce.

The entrée would be watching as GM Andy MacPhail signs free-agents-with-local-ties Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett and trading for a short-stop who won’t be a liability at the plate.

Dessert would be giving fans the first winning season in twelve years and restoring the passion that fans had when the Orioles were winning back in the mid-90’s.

Will I buy a new road uniform with Baltimore on the front? Yes. I’m happy it’s finally back where it belongs. But it won’t change the way I feel about this team and won’t satisfy the heart-breaking desire I have to see them get back to the positive side of a .500 record and the playoffs.

So what will it be, Orioles?

Should I go ahead and order the entrée? Or should I just skip out after the appetizer and head home to nuke some leftovers?

My final opinion on the new uniforms? They look great, but give fans a real reason to rush out to Dicks and Sports Authority to buy them.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Wins are bigger in Texas

Can you believe that people were once talking about the Ravens 2008 season with low expectations? I myself even pontificated whether or not the Ravens could get to 4 wins this year.

Shame on me for not believing. Talk about a pleasant surprise.

Even if it was only the 3-5 Texans they beat yesterday, the Ravens sent a message. They finally have a QB in Joe Flacco and they finally have an offense to go along with their still-dominating defense.

The Ravens scored a season high 41 points en route to a dominating win over the Houston Texans, 41-13, and were once again running on all cylinders.

Joe Flacco turned in another solid game, going 15-23 for 185 yards and 2 TD’s. In the four games since the Indianapolis meltdown where Flacco threw 3 picks, he’s thrown 6 TD’s and 0 INT’s. He also completed another long TD pass, this time connecting with Yamon Figurs for 43 yards.

Tight End Todd Heap came back from the dead, hauling in 2 TD’s for 58 yards. If Heap can start contributing like this week to week, the Ravens passing offense is going to start to scare opposing defenses if they haven’t already. No longer can opposing defenses stack the box to stop the run. They have to worry about Flacco’s ability to throw the deep ball, which the Ravens have done successfully for 2 TD’s in two straight weeks as well as the now successful “Suggs Package” with Troy Smith lining up under center (Smith tossed a late-game TD to Todd Heap).

I wonder if Terrell Suggs is happy yet?

For the second straight week, the Ravens got a huge performance from their running back. This time it was Willis McGahee, rushing 25 times for 115 yards and 2 TD’s.

And even though the defense allowed 355 yards of total offense, they stepped up when it mattered most, picking off Texans’ QB Sage Rosenfels 4 times including a Haloti Ngata tipped pass and catch for an INT in the endzone, preventing a Houston TD. Ray Lewis also had 2 INT's, and Samari Rolle, fresh off of the injury report, caught one too.

The win in Houston has given the Ravens a four game winning streak, and they have rattled off the first two wins on a three game road swing. They are tied with the Steelers for first place, although the Steelers currently hold a tie-breaker over the Ravens.

The 3-game a road trip comes to an end next Sunday, as the Ravens travel to the Meadowlands to take on the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants who won last night to improve to 8-1.

And even though the Ravens sent a message with their win yesterday, to go into New York and beat the Giants, would strike fear into the hearts of the NFL.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Get a load of this

Danys Baez wants to start.

Yes, you heard that right. The Orioles reliever who pitched to a 6.44 ERA in 2007 and missed all of 2008, now wants to be given a chance to join the starting rotation.

I don’t blame the guy. He probably looked over the statistics from the 2008 rotation and thought he could do better. But even I could do better. You probably could too.

Baez is in a contract year and probably thinks that becoming a starter gives him a better chance for one more payday before retirement. Again, I don’t blame the guy.

But there is just no chance in hell this happens.

True, Baez did have some success as a starting pitcher in Cleveland during the 2002 season, posting a 4.41 ERA that would have looked Cy Young-worthy on the O’s 2008 rotation.

But that was seven years ago.

Andy MacPhail was diplomatic, saying, "He's expressed some interest in preparing himself as a starter, and we'll see how things go from there. It seems to make sense. I don't know if you lose anything by doing that. Preparing yourself so that you are going to start is not going to retard your development whatever the role you end up being in."

Read between the lines, and MacPhail said this, “Hahaha. Good try Danys. You were grandfathered in from the Flanagan/Duquette days when they spent millions on crappy players like Jay Payton and yourself. Times have changed. I can pitchers better than you in most beer leagues, but go ahead. Practice as a starter. Throw more pitches. If, and it’s a very big if, you make the team, preparing yourself as a starter will only make you a better mop-up guy.”

And MacPhail did use the word “retard”, too. Coincidence? I think not.

I seem to remember Baez wanting to be the closer when he signed his 3 year, $19 million dollar deal. Who is this guy to make such demands? Doesn’t he realize he’s lucky to still be in the major leagues at this point?

If the Orioles entertain this past a few starts in spring training, I really have to wonder about MacPhail’s intelligence. This should be nothing more than a few early November laughs around the water cooler before the offseason action begins.

The Orioles have a crop of MiL pitchers ready to join the rotation but are also in need of a few veteran starting pitchers who can keep the team in the game and eat innings.

Danys Baez does not factor into that.

He’ll be given his chance to earn what’s left of his paycheck during spring training, and if he doesn’t metamorphosis back into the 2005 version of himself, he’s gone.

And rightfully so.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Viva La Ravenlution!


If ever there was a game to represent a revolution in the Baltimore Ravens organization, yesterday’s 37-27 win over the Cleveland Browns was it.

The Ravens overcame a 14-point deficit after trailing 27-13 with 6 minutes in the 3rd quarter to score 24 unanswered points.

The Ravens of old would have switched to auto-pilot, especially on offense, where the three-and-outs would have abundant.

Not yesterday.

Down 14 points in the 3rd quarter, the Ravens offense turned it on when it mattered most. And then the defense matched the offense blow-for-blow, shutting down the Browns offense for the rest of the game.

After the Browns scored their last touchdown making the score 27-13, the Ravens drove right down the field for a Le’Ron McClain touchdown. After the Browns were forced to punt, Joe Flacco hit Derrick Mason for his second TD of the day, tying the game at the start of the 4th quarter. And after Ray Rice scampered for a 60-yard run which put the ball at the Browns three yard line, the Ravens couldn’t get in the endzone, so Matt Stover kicked the go-ahead field goal with a little over five minutes left.

That gave the Browns offense some life, but Terrell Suggs quickly snuffed it out, returning a Derek Anderson interception for a touchdown.

Game. Set. Match.

I am still in awe. Did the Ravens really score 24 unanswered points in a little over 20 minutes?

Yeah. They did.

And it couldn’t have happened without Joe Flacco. Unibrow has played 3 flawless games since his 3-INT debacle in Indianapolis, throwing 4 TD and 0 INT in that span, while rushing for a TD as well. He hit Mark Clayton (he lives!) for a 47-yard TD bomb that reminded Ravens fans that deep passes can result in something other than incompletions or interceptions. But what was really impressive about Flacco yesterday was how he performed in the clutch.

Flacco and Mason are starting to go together like Hall and Oates. Flacco hit Mason 9 times for 136 yards and a TD. Flacco was also able to work Mark Clayton back into the offense, hitting him 4 times for 87 yards and the 47 yard TD bomb.

No Willis McGahee? No problem. Rookie Ray Rice filled in admirably, rushing for 154 yards and caught 3 passes for 22 yards. Le’Ron McClain chipped in, rushing 13 times for 34 yards and a score.

Despite the 27 points allowed, the defense played well, especially in the 4th quarter when it mattered most. Even though they only sacked Derek Anderson once, they were able to disrupt his momentum, and he underthrew and overthrew several receivers. If there was one unit that underperformed, it was the Special Teams, who allowed Browns kick-returner Josh Cribbs to score a TD and give the Browns the ball deep in Ravens territory on another occasion.

All in all it was a wonderful win, and a reminder that the changeover in coaching staff personnel is starting to take hold on the Ravens sidelines.

Next week, the Ravens fly to Houston to play the Texans in a game that was originally supposed to be played week 2, but was postponed because of Hurricane Ike. The Texans have a high-flying offense, regardless of who is under center (Matt Shaub or Sage Rosenfels) and a pair of wide-receivers who are among the best in the league in Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter. The Ravens, however, should be able to stop the Texans mediocre running game and the Texans’ defense is their weakness. They rank 17th overall in yards allowed, and 27th in points allowed.

Playing the Texans should remind fans of playing the Browns, but with a better offense. If Chris McAllister is in deed out for the season, the Ravens weak secondary could be exposed by the Texans WR’s. But, if Flacco and the rest of the offense are on their game like they were yesterday against the Browns, there is no reason to think that the result can’t be similar.

And it would be nice to steal another game on the road before the Ravens travel to New York to take on the defending Super Bowl Giants in two weeks.

At 5-3, the Ravens are a half game behind the Steelers, who play the Redskins in Washington tonight.

Things are getting interesting. Especially now that the “new Ravens” have arrived.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

It starts...

Now that the World Series is over (congrats to Philly fans, please don’t destroy Pat’s or Gino’s during your celebratory riots), the real fun for O’s fans begins.

Trade talk, free agent signing rumors, roster speculation... these offseason rituals are often more fun than watching the team actually play in the regular season.

Unfortunately, the 2008-2009 offseason doesn’t look to be as entertaining (or tedious depending on how you look at it) as the 2007-2008 offseason since the O’s don’t have two valuable trading chips on their roster like they did last offseason with Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard.

Aubrey Huff generated about as much interest as Pepsi Clear during the 2008 trade deadline and my gut tells me Brian Roberts will be signed to an extension, leaving Ramon Hernandez as the O’s lone tradable player. Even then, Ramon is owed $9 million in 2009, so if the O’s want any one of value in a trade for Hernandez, they are going to have to cover a large chunk of his salary.

That leaves the O’s offseason moves limited to free agency, something they have pretty much steered clear of since 2004. The big names of Mark Teixiera and A.J. Burnett are at the forefront of free agent talk, and the fact that both players have local ties gives fans an added hope that the O’s will sign them both.

But I don’t see it happening. It’s just not Andy MacPhail’s M.O. He prefered the slow and steady route and during his time as GM in Minnesota and Chicago, and his free agent signings were of the minor variety. MacPhail wants to see more of a homegrown core established in Baltimore before he throws money at big-name free agents like Teixiera or Burnett, and I kind of agree with him.

What if they sign Tex and Burnett and the team fails to develop the young pitching they have in the minors? It’ll be like 2004 all over again, letting Miguel Tejada go to waste in a line-up that has little chance to win.

Now don’t get me wrong. Mark Teixiera would be a great addition to this line-up. He’d fill a gaping hole at 1B and bring a legitimate clean-up hitter’s presence to a line-up that should be pretty solid in 2009 with Roberts, Markakis, Jones, Huff and Matt Wieters in it. As long as he won’t cost the farm, I’d love to bring Mark Teixiera back home to Baltimore.

A.J. Burnett is more of a risk. Burnett has been injury prone his entire career, and as a pitcher, he’ll get a lot of money just for being mediocre. It’s the going market for pitching these days. Burnett’s wife is from Annapolis and he’s hinted about wanting to play for the O’s, so if he opts out of his contract with the Blue Jays, you can bet Burnett is going to be waiting for the O’s to call. But how much will he cost? And can he stay healthy? If healthy, Burnett would take some pressure of Jeremy Guthrie as the ace, and bring another anchor a pitching staff that is in desperate need of someone who can give you 6 innings each night and keep you in the game, taking stress off the over-worked bullpen.

But 2009 should be about staying the course. Make Matt Wieters the starting catcher and continue allowing Markakis and Adam Jones to improve. Keep giving the deep crop of starting pitchers we have scattered throughout the minors a chance and hope that a couple of them can stick in the rotation. Then, in 2010, go all out and sign the guys you believe can get you over the hump.

Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what MacPahil can do. He worked wonders with the Bedard and Tejada trades, so maybe he can squeeze another team for Huff or Hernandez. I just hope the O’s can continue to improve the future of this team, whether that is by signing free agents or making some trades.

After watching the Tampa Bay Rays make it to the World Series after 10 years of misery, it gives me hope that the Orioles can somehow do the same.

And it should start with this offseason.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Williams on IR, McAllister headed there too

The Ravens placed WR Demetrius Williams on the IR today, ending his season.

Remember that 70 yard catch for a touchdown last week against the Raiders? The one where he was wide open? It could be your last memory of Williams in a Ravens uniform. Throughout his career, Williams has battled injuries, and there’s a good chance the Ravens will part ways with Williams in the offseason and try to find a healthier alternative.

They may have found a candidate in Terrance Copper, whom the Ravens sighed to replace Williams on the roster. Copper played two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and three seasons with the New Orleans Saints and did well for a few weeks filling in for an injured Marques Colston in 2006.

While Copper isn’t exactly going to open up our passing game, it’s nice to replace a Williams with a WR who has a similar skill set. In other words, we shouldn’t expect much of a drop off from Williams to Copper.

In other Ravens news, it appears that cornerback Chris McAllister is headed for the IR as well. He’s been bothered by a knee since training camp.

C-Mac’s squabbles with head coach John Harbaugh are well known by now, and if McAllister is in deed placed on the IR, the Colts game could be your last memories of Chris, as well.

Don’t expect me to shed any tears. For years McAllister has been a solid, if not slightly overhyped (by himself) CB on the field and a nightmare off of it, mouthing off and causing trouble in the locker room. He may not be Pacman Jones, but McAllister has clearly worn out his welcome in Baltimore. His latest brush with the Ravens rules of conduct involved marching through a hotel lobby in shorts, violating the Ravens team dress code. He also had three women with him. When Harbaugh benched McAllister in the Miami game, Chris apparently butted heads with Harbaugh over the decision. So his knee may not be the only reason McAllister is heading to the IR.

I’ll always remember McAllister for being a part of the Ravens 2000 Championship team, but it’s time to move on. The Ravens need to clean up their image on defense and perhaps McAllister just needs a chance of scenery.

Although something tells me he needs more than just that.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dissention in the ranks?

Sailor Jerry over at Orioles Hangout apparently has some inside connections with the team and has posted some disheartening information about Peter Angelos and his involvement with the operations of the Orioles.

According to Jerry’s sources, Andy MacPhail wanted minor league director Dave Stockstill fired, but Angelos stepped in and overruled MacPhail’s decision.

Uh oh.

The past year and a half has done a lot to quell our fears that Angelos was still the meddlesome megalomaniac owner he’s been since the late 90’s. He’s seemingly turned over the baseball operations to MacPhail and stayed out of the way. But if this insider information is true, it could prove to be yet another roadblock in getting the Orioles back to respectability.

Jerry says:

“My sources say Stocky makes little in the way of contributions. When he can't even get into the computer system to give reports on his players... dude has to go.”

“But it almost cost them [scouting director Joe] Jordan, since the minor league side gets along with the scouting side about as well as pink jerseys and diehard fans. The disfunction remains!”

“And if you still don't think Stocky is rubbing people the wrong way, ask yourself why a top prospect like Rowell isn't playing winter ball while a bunch of non-prospects who won't get past Frederick are in Hawaii. Hawaii being the same league guys like Wieters and Snyder and Arrietta played in last year.”

These quotes are not very promising, and when looking at the results the Orioles have gotten from their minor league players recently, the writing is on the wall.

The minor-league system is rife with pitchers who can’t throw strikes and/or injury setbacks. Finding O’s hitters in the farm system who can take walks are like finding a needle in a haystack. In short, the fundamentals in the MiL system are severely lacking.

And now that there are some legitimate rumors about Angelos overruling MacPhail’s decision to fire Stockstill, excuse me if I’m not all warm and fuzzy about the Orioles right now, even on the eve of their new uniform unveiling.

The Orioles have been mired in 11 years of losing for a reason. Mostly because Angelos has made too many important decisions himself or hired incompetent people to make them for him. He’s ignored the importance of the MiL, and even after it appears that he’s started to change his ways, it still sounds like he’s not fully understanding the importance of key organizational building blocks like trusting your employees to make decisions right on down to MiL player development.

And it doesn’t end there.

MacPhail’s M.O. in Minnesota and Chicago was to build winners through the minor leagues and keep the payroll at a manageable level. So far, MacPhail has shown this to be the case in Baltimore too.

Think again.

Angelos has apparently made it known that he intends to go after big-name free agents Mark Teixiera and AJ Burnett.

On the surface, these would both be solid signings. Teixiera is a local product and could bring back some of the hometown heroism that’s been missing since Cal Ripken retired. AJ Burnett’s wife is from Maryland and Burnett has dropped subtle hints time and time again about playing for the O’s.

Now, it’ll cost the O’s an arm and a leg to sign either one of these players. And if the O’s throw their hat into the ring for either of them, it’ll more than likely be an Angelos decision than a MacPhail decision.

And as much as I’d like to see Teixiera and Burnett wearing orange and black next year, I’d like to know that Andy MacPhail is running the organization more. We know where Angelos-as-decision-maker takes us.

Actually, we’re still there.

Man... what a week for the Orioles. First they lose Adam Loewen to the Toronto Blue Jays and now this?

Just another day at the warehouse, I guess.

Purple and Black Hole

The Ravens turned in another dominating performance yesterday, beating the Oakland Raiders 29-10 to improve to 4-3, only 1 game back of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost at home to the Giants last night.

For the Ravens, it was all about keeping the momentum they established last week in the win at Miami, and boy did they ever.

Terrell Suggs has to be pleased now that Head Coach John Harbaugh listened to Suggs’ remarks about Troy Smith getting playing time, working Smith into the offense with much success. Smith lined up at QB with Flacco lined up as wide-receiver several times yesterday, and Smith did it all. He ran, he optioned and he completed a 43-yard pass to Joe Flacco, who would have had a touchdown if not for stumbling after the catch.

After the game, Harbaugh playfully dubbed it the “Suggs Package”. I find that funny and a relief, since Suggs was about to derail the season with his controversial remarks, compounded with the on-going McAllister-Harbaugh feud. But Harbaugh kept it light in the post-game interview and Suggs can’t do anything but smile after seeing his boy Troy worked into the offense.

In the standard offense, Joe Flacco turned in another solid game, and has put together two great weeks of QB play after turning in the dud at Indianapolis. Despite his slow start, he went 12-24 for 140 yards and a TD. The TD pass accounted for half of his yards when Flacco found Demetrius Williams wide open for 70 yards and the score. It was the first time I’ve seen a Ravens WR that open since Shannon Sharpe was waving his hand above his head downfield in Tennessee in 2000. More importantly, however, Flacco didn’t turn the ball over all day.

The running attack was on point as well, and everyone got involved. Rookie Ray Rice was the most impressive, gaining 64 yards on 8 carries while McGahee had trouble finding holes. He gathered just 58 yards on 23 carries, but found the endzone once. McClain got the ball 7 times and rushed for 32 while Flacco pounded out 23 yards, including a TD to close out the game late. Rounding out the rushing attack was Troy Smith in the “Suggs Package” with 3 rushes for 13 yards.

The defense came to play, and put a lot of pressure on JaMarcus Russell, sacking him 4 times, including once for a safety. Russell was very erratic, completing only 45% of his passes, but did complete a 60-yard bomb, and racked up a somewhat impressive 228 yards against the stout Ravens D. The defense bottled up the running game, holding the Ravens to just 47 yards.

Special Teams also contributed nicely, with Ray Rice gaining 54 yards on 2 kick returns and Jim Leonard getting 1 return for 16 yards. The Special Teams also pinned Oakland deep in their own territory on several occasions, but it didn’t help that an Oakland KR ran a kickoff out of bounds at the 4-yard line, a reminder that the Oakland Raiders are a team mired in turmoil.

The bottom line yesterday was that the Ravens dominated a team they should have dominated, and made the day very enjoyable for the fans in the stands. But the next few weeks shouldn’t be as easy. They start a 3-game road trip next week in Cleveland, who after a bad 0-3 start have gone 3-1. The Browns offense has woken up, but Derek Anderson and Braylon Edwards have yet to re-establish their rapport from a year ago when Anderson passed for 29 TD’s, 16 of which went to Edwards. The Ravens have also lost 3 of their last 4 games in Cleveland.

For the Ravens to win, they need to establish the run early and wear down the defense like they did in Baltimore in week 3. I would also like to see the Ravens continue to work the “Suggs Package” into the mix a little more, keeping the Cleveland defense guessing. It would also help if the defense pressured Derek Anderson early and often, forcing him to throw some of his patented interceptions. The Cleveland running game looks to be a non-factor with the way the Ravens shut down the run, but never overlook a passionate Jamal Lewis when he plays his former team.

It’s going to be a hard-fought game, much like the game in Pittsburgh earlier this season, against a division rival on the road. But I do expect the Ravens to come out a winner. And it would be nice to steal this game before traveling on to Houston and then New York (Giants) in the following weeks.

But for now, the Ravens sit at 4-3, a game back of the Steelers, confident in knowing that they could easily be 6-1, but smart enough to know they can’t overlook anyone.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Loewen Blow

Adam Loewen pulled a fast one on the Orioles today, signing a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Loewen, a former first round pick (#4 overall in 2002), decided to quit pitching when he couldn’t stay healthy and started a comeback as a positional player. And when the Orioles released Loewen earlier this week, they had the intention to re-sign him to a minor league contract, and believed that they had Loewen’s word that he would accept such a deal.

Enter Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Remember Gaston? He was Baltimore’s public enemy #1 in 1993 when he failed to get then-Oriole pitcher Mike Mussina into the All Star Game, which was being played at Camden Yards. It prompted the city to don “Cito Sucks” shirts at O’s games.

Expect those shirts to be making a comeback.

Once Loewen was released, Gaston got on the horn, and sold him on the Blue Jays organization. It worked. Loewen is a native Canadian and apparently rooted for the Blue Jays as a kid growing up in British Columbia. And in the end, Loewen went back on whatever word he’d given the Orioles to sign with the Blue Jays.

I don’t begrudge Loewen’s decision to make a little more scratch, and go home to play for the team he grew up rooting for. But, after the Orioles stood by him and supported his decision to make a comeback as a positional player, despite the overwhelming odds, this does sour the Loewen legacy in Baltimore.

In the end, this is likely to be much ado about nothing. There is a minimal chance Loewen makes it back to the majors as a hitter, despite almost being drafted as one back when the O’s selected him #4 overall in 2002. Loewen hasn’t consistently swung a bat since he was in college. And as much as people want to bring up Rick Ankiel, the odds are against Loewen. Ankiel’s success story is the exception, not the rule.

Well, we can only hope.

And after he turned his back on an organization that stood by him since day one, and paid him handsomely for only 164 innings pitched in the majors, don’t expect me – or many Orioles fans – to be rooting for Loewen.

You do know what this means though, don’t you? Loewen’s going to be the next Rick Ankiel. Hell, maybe he’ll challenge the most famous ex-pitching slugger of all time.

Remember him? He has Baltimore ties too. He was born here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Shut the Suggs Up

One has to wonder what Ravens LB Terrell Suggs is thinking sometimes. Especially after making the following comment which was reported on Pro-Football-Talk.com:

“I think [Flacco] should get some playing time, but I think Troy should be the starter,” Suggs said. “[Flacco] started out hot, [but] I mean we played two teams [Cincinnati and Cleveland] at the bottom of the league in defense, so everybody was going all crazy about him.”

Terrell, for one, needs to keep his mouth shut when it comes to this kind of stuff. What he thinks about who should be starting over who means about as much as what he thinks about the sagging economy, the war in Iraq and whether or not Britney Spears looks hot in her new music video.


Secondly, Suggs should use some common sense and take a look at both QB’s. Both are inexperienced players, but now that Flacco has started in 6 NFL games, he has 3 times as much experience as Troy Smith, who only started 2 games at the end of 2007.

Thirdly, Flacco has been entrenched as the starting QB since the third week of pre-season and has practiced with the first team offense since that time. Smith, meanwhile, was busy losing 30 pounds while suffering through a nasty bout with tonsillitis.

Yeah, it’s unfortunate that Terrell’s boy Troy lost his job to a freak virus, but it is what it is. Flacco gives the Ravens the best chance to win based on experience and overall talent.

And it doesn’t end there.

Suggs had Joe Flacco on his weekly radio show and what did he break out with? You guessed it, the Shane Falco references from The Replacements. Remember that movie? The one where Keanu Reeves plays a washed-up college QB who crosses the picket lines to play football during a strike and Baltimore stands in for Washington, DC?

The Falco reference may not be a direct insult to Flacco. After all, Shane Falco eventually does become the QB he knew he could be. We only hope that Flacco can turn out the same way. But come on Terrell, show some respect for your QB. Call him by his real name. Especially on the radio, and especially after the defense has suffered through the likes of Kyle Boller, Anthony Wright and a decimated Steve McNair who couldn’t throw the ball longer than 10 yards. Joe Flacco has kept the defense rested by maintaining drives and has showed promise on several occasions by standing tall in the pocket and completing 64.1% of his passes thus far.

Meanwhile, Smith has completed 52% of his passes.

My question to Terrell Suggs: What game are you watching?

In my opinion, this kind of crap can’t go undisciplined. For too long the defense has been the aggressors in the locker room, bullying the offense left and right. Suggs is just another loud-talking ego, and that is something the Ravens need less of.

Take Chris McAllister for instance. Wondering why he sat out the Dolphins game last weekend? Turns out he violated the team’s dress code, wearing shorts through the hotel lobby while 3 women were hanging from his arms. There are also some rumors floating around that McAllister dared Harbaugh to sit him out of the Miami game. You can read McAllister's comments on the benching here. He doesn't sound too happy.

I’ll be amazed if Terrell Suggs and Chris McAllister are on the Ravens next year. Yes, both are amazing talents, but at some point, this thug-mentality that has plagued the Ravens defense for so long has to come to an end. And losing these two players after the season is over is a good place to start.

And if you can trade Terrell Suggs to the Arizona Cardinals for say, Anquan Boldin, I would make that deal in a heartbeat.

In the meantime, just shut up and play.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fish in a Barrel

The Ravens broke out of their three game losing streak yesterday, in a game that purged most of the negatives from the Ravens massive 31-3 loss to the Colts a week ago, beating the Miami Dolphins 27-13 to improve to 3-3.

Rookie QB Joe Flacco played his best game as a pro yesterday, going 17-23 for 232 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t turn the ball over, stood tall and confident in the pocket and didn’t force passes into coverage like he had done in Indianapolis and two weeks ago in the loss to the Tennessee Titans.

If I was doubting head coach John Harbaugh’s decision to name Flacco the starter for the season, I was proven wrong by Flacco’s performance yesterday. For the first time this season, Flacco used several targets. Derrick Mason (6 rec, 87 yds, 1 TD) was again Flacco’s #1 target, but Flacco spread the ball around nicely, finding Todd Heap 3 times for 29 yards and even the ghost of Mark Clayton once for 13 yards. The screen pass also returned in a big way yesterday, and it helped the offense maintain drives and control the time of possession (31:43 to 28:17). Willis McGahee had 47 yards receiving and Ray Rice 46.

Another pleasant surprise was McGahee’s running game. McGahee had been chided for coming into the season out of shape, and it showed during the first few weeks of the season as McGahee appeared out of breath and nicked-up on several plays. However, against the Dolphins defense, McGahee hit holes hard and showed determination, breaking tackles and fighting for the extra yard instead of going down after the first hit. He finished the day with 105 rush yards and a TD. The only blemish on McGahee, and the Ravens day, was McGahee’s fumble deep in Miami territory. The fumbled was rendered moot, and McGahee’s improved play meant less time for Le’Ron McClain, who just rushed 6 times for 17 yards.

The defense was ready to get the sour taste out of their mouths from a week ago, and they did just that. They declawed Miami’s wildcat offense, stuffing the Dolphins run game (71 total rush yards) and keeping QB Chad Pennington off balance all day. Despite his 295 passing yards, the normally accurate Pennington had to hurry several passes, which meant a lot of them were way off target. It would have been nice to see the Ravens get after Pennington a little more, and the Ravens’ pass rush is something that needs to be improved going forward. In the last 3 games, the Ravens have recorded only 3 sacks.

The Ravens host the Oakland Raiders next week, and this game represents a great opportunity for the Ravens to get above .500 as they then hit the road for three consecutive weeks. Oakland is coming off a big team win against Brett Favre and the Jets, but have played poorly on the road, especially when coming to the East Coast, where they are 0-3 lifetime against the Ravens in Baltimore.

In today’s NFL, fans are usually of the mentality that a team is as good as their latest game. If that has any truth to it, the Ravens have proven that they are better than the team that was dominated a week ago. The Dolphins may not be a powerhouse in the AFC, but they are a team on the rise, but the Ravens bumped them back down, at least for one week.