Monday, August 31, 2009

Ravens over Panthers

The Ravens continued to roll in the preseason, improving to 3-0 with an impressive 17-13 win over the Carolina Panthers on Saturday night.

Take from a 3-0 preseason record what you will, but one thing is for sure, the offense looks like it's coming together in year 2 of Joe Flacco as QB and Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator.

Things got off to a shaky start, however, as the Ravens drove to the 1-yard line in their first possession of the game, thanks to several Flacco passes of 10+ yards to Derrick Mason and Kelley Washington, only to be backed up by consecutive penalties. And when they couldn't get into the endzone, Steve Hauschka missed a 27-yard field goal, leaving the kicking situation up in the air.

On the Panther's second drive, the Ravens demonstrated their "bend don't breal" defense, allowing the Panthers to drive downfield almost at will before being bottled up at the Ravens' 20-yard line. John Kasay kicked a FG to make the score 3-0 Panthers.

Then the Ravens picked right back up where they left off on their scoreless drive. Starting on their own 20-yard line, the Ravens gave the Panthers a steady dose of Ray Rice before Flacco connected with Washington again, this time for a 42-yard gain. Then after more Rice, Flacco threw a perfect TD pass to Todd Heap.

The next Panthers drive was a 3-and-out.

On the next Ravens drive, the Ravens previewed what we could be seeing a lot in 2009, Ray Rice as a receiver. He caught passes of 15 and 14 yards to kick off the drive, which eventually ended in a Willis McGahee TD run.

Before the starters left the game in the 3rd quarter, Flacco did drive the Ravens down for another Hauschka field goal attempt, which he did make this time. But when it was all said and done, the Ravens offense looked well-oiled and ready to steamroll their way over Kansas City's non-existent defense in week 1.

Flacco finished with 247 yards passing, 1 TD, 0 INT and a 115.3 QB rating.
Rice finished with 32 rushing yards and 67 receiving yards.
Mason finished with 71 receiving yards.
And Washington had 66 receiving yards.

And there you have it. Cam Cameron isn't afraid to call passing plays and Joe Flacco isn't afraid to spread the ball around the field to different receivers. I only hope they continue to pass as often as they have this preseason when the regular season begins.

Let's unleash Flacco on the NFL.

Keep in mind, this is all happening without Mark Clayton, who has yet to play a down in the preseason. When he comes back, it will be just another target for Flacco to work into this exciting offense. And Todd Heap, who'd been bothered with injuries and then had been busy blocking when healthy, finally factored into the offense again, hauling in that TD pass and then making a great catch, going up for the ball and then taking a tough shot before falling to the ground awkwardly in a now typical Heap fashion. He finished with 35 receiving yards and a TD.

The defense collected 2 sacks, and pressured Jake Delhomme well, but rookie RB Mike Goodson rushed well against the Ravens, one week after Jets RB Leon Washington carved up the Ravens pretty nicely too. However, Terrell Suggs has yet to play in the preseason, so hopefully the Ravens will be able to contain opposing RB's better than they have in the last 2 preseason games.

But all in all, it was an impressive showing by the offense, which might actually be asked to do more than kill the clock in 2009. And by the looks of it, they are chomping at the bit to do so.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The curious case of Adam Jones

The Orioles lone-All Star in 2009 was Adam Jones. And by the looks of Jones now, you'd wonder how he even made the team in the first place.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in Jones, and still believe he is the answer in CF for years to come. But looking at his splits is cause for alarm. Here's why...

Jones kicked off the 2009 campaign with an almost unbelievable hot start. In April, Jonesy posted a 1.062 OPS, with 4 HR and 7 doubles. He still had an excellent May, this time exuding more power with 7 HR, but his OBP dipped .064 points.

Then June happened. And as usual in Baltimore, June seems to bring out the worst in players, and the team.

Jones posted a .609 OPS in the month of June, and hit only 1 HR, but his hot start was good enough to get him to the All Start Game where he played well, driving in the winning run with a sacrifice fly.

Jones rebounded a tad in July with an OPS .764 and 5 HR, but hit only 2 doubles and walked only 5 times the entire month. Whereas Jones seemed to have a brand new patient approach at the plate in April -- after having a .311 OBP in 2008 -- Jones regressed into a free-swinger, which has also hurt him in August (.639 OPS).

Put his 2009 numbers together .283 AVG, 19 HR, 70 RBI, .805 OPS and Jones is on pace to have the best season as an Oriole CF since Brady Anderson was in his prime.

But were April and May an aberration? Is Jones still the low-OBP, free-swinger as opposed to the patient hitter he worked hard to become in spring training? Is he a mediocre fielder who routinely plays too shallow as opposed to the orange blur he was in CF in 2008?

It's important to remember that Jones just turned 24 and is still developing in all aspects of the game. He just collected his 1,000th AB at the MLB level a month ago. But after the blazing hot start to the 2009 season that had many Orioles fans calling for GM Andy MacPhail to give Jones a contract extension, it might be wise for MacPhail to wait Adam Jones out to see the kind of player he becomes.

Because other than an out-of-character April and May, Jones appears to be the same player he was in 2008.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ravens win game 2

The Ravens scraped by the New York Jets in game 2 of the preseason, 24-23.

The first team looked solid, especially the defense, frustrating Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez early on in the game. His first pass attempt was an interception by Haloti Ngata for a TD, and Sanchez took a nasty shot from Ray Lewis on the play.

The offense sputtered early on, but eventually got going, thanks to Joe Flacco. Flacco completed only 44% of his passes, but ended up with 120 passing yards after finding a rhythm with Derrick Mason (who else?), who caught 3 passes for 68 yards, including a 43 yard bomb that set up a Ray Rice touchdown on a nifty trick play where Flacco faked a quick throw, only to tuck the ball and then hand it off behind his back to Rice for he score.

On the ground the Ravens only rushed for 73 yards. Rice started with the first team and lead the way with 29 yards on 8 rushes and the TD. By the time Willis McGahee came into the game most of the starters were gone and the Jets had no problem shutting him down (23 yards on 8 attempts) and none of the other Ravens backs rushed for more than 10 yards.

The Ravens had only 56 offensive plays the entire game.

While the first team scored 21 points before halftime, 2 of the touchdowns came on defensive TD's, so it looks like the defense is still carrying this team, but you can come away impressed with the offense once they got clicking.

Needless to say, once the starters were removed, the game slowed down to a crawl.

Troy Smith looked unlike himself, staying in the pocket too long and making bad decisions, one of which ended up in an interception. He ended up 4 of 9 with 84 yards and 1 INT. On the other side of the ball, the Ravens couldn't stop Jets RB Leon Washington, who racked up 48 yards on 8 attempts. He also caught 2 passes for 35 yards and a TD.

The Ravens only gained 248 yards as a team, but the offense was finding its comfort zone around the time the starters were removed from the game. It would have been nice to see the second and third string players fare better, as we like to believe that the Ravens are extremely deep, but at least they held on to the lead and won the game, even though no one will remember the win in a couple weeks.

All in all it was typical pre-season football. Pretty boring. Still 2 more to go.

The Ravens travel to Carolina to take on the Panthers this Saturday at 8 p.m.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The #1 Pick Race

So it turns out the Orioles are in a white-knuckle race this season, just not for the pennant or Wild Card.

It's a race for the #1 pick in the 2010 draft.

Here's how the race for the #1 overall pick is breaking down:

Team / W-L / Games Back

Washington / 43-76 / 0.0
Kansas City / 47-72 / 4.0
Baltimore / 48-71 / 5.0
Pittsburgh / 48-70 / 5.5

Despite Washington having the worst record in baseball, they have been playing much better since firing manager Manny Acta, and have won 11 of their last 15 games.

In the the race for the #1 overall pick, we call this "choking".

Kansas City has played almost as bad as the Orioles since the All Star Break (10-21), but they still have a somewhat decent team ERA of 4.74 with Zach Greinke and his 2.33 ERA leading the way. They'll probably choke down the stretch too as Greinke gives the Royals a chance to win every 5th day.

Then there are the Orioles. They are 8-23 since the All Start Break with a 5.15 team ERA and the 10th best offense in the AL. Their best pitcher, Brad Bergesen, is on the DL. The Oriole seem poised to make a move in the standings, as their patented second half collapse continues.

I am feeling good about the Orioles' chances.

However, getting the #1 pick is not always what it's made out to be. The Nationals went through harsh negotiations this week with their #1 overall pick Steven Strasburg. Strasburg's agent is the infamous shark, Scott Boras, and the Nationals ended up handing Strasburg $15 million dollars without him having thrown a pitch in pro-baseball. Considering Boras was opening the negotiations at a whopping $50 million, maybe the Nationals got Strasburg for a steal.

But would the conservative Andy MacPhail make such a signing? When the Orioles signed Matt Wieters in 2007, another Scott Boras client, it went down to the 11th hour. And in this year's draft, the Orioles drafted Matt Hobgood, who was ranked lower than where he was drafted at #4, because of his "signability".

If the Orioles get the #1 overall draft pick, will they pass on the unanimous 2010 #1 pick Bryce Harper to draft a more signable player? And one less talented?

I am thinking "yes".

The Nationals had their back against the wall with Strasburg. They'd failed to sign their first round pick in 2008 and had they lost out on Strasburg, perhaps the most hyped player in draft history, they wouldn't have been able to recover from fan backlash. They had no choice but to give Strasburg and Boras what they wanted.

So maybe it's better that the Orioles remain in the #3 or #4 spot in the 2010 draft. I just don't think they will be able to do it. They are in the middle of "Operation Shutdown 2009". They probably won't win more than 60 games.

So there it is. The Great Race of 2009. The Orioles have 5 games to make up on the Nationals for the #1 overall pick in the 2010 draft.

That's what it's come down to, folks. Enjoy it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Huff traded

No, Detroit is the other way, Aubrey.

The Orioles traded 1B Aubrey Huff to the Detroit Tigers today for Brett Jacobson, a RHP relief pitcher. Jacobson is 22 and will be assigned to high-A Frederick.

Huff's struggles in 2009 were well documented since he didn't come close to equaling his resurgent offensive numbers from 2008 when he hit 34 home runs and knocked in 108 RBI. And at the time of the trade, Huff is one of the worst offensive 1B in baseball.

So why did the Tigers want him? Probably as a bat off the bench and/or DH, which is about all that Huff is good for nowadays. But hey, at least he will have a chance to play in the playoffs this season.

I always liked Huff, despite his "Baltimore is a horse-bleep town" comment that was taken way out of context during an appearance on the Bubba the Love Sponge show. Huff seemed to have a wise-ass sense of humor, that I enjoy, and will always be fondly remembered for showing up Joba Chamberlain with a fist pump after going yard off of him earlier this year.

Hopefully Huff is the last in a long line of mediocre-veteran-signing for the Orioles, who can ill-afford to sign declining players to multi-year contracts for more money that they're worth. In that regard, he won't be missed.

It looks like Luke Scott is playing 1B according to tonight's line-up, so maybe the O's will try to work him out there for future use. If anything it allows Felix Pie to get into LF more often with Nolan Reimold at DH. Ty Wigginton will probably get a fair share of starts at 1B as well, at least until the rosters expand in September, at which point a AAA 1B like Brandon Snyder or Michael Aubrey might make a cameo appearance.

As for Jacobson, here is what was said about him on

Jacobson, 22, went 1-3 with 6 saves, a 3.74 ERA (55.1IP, 23ER) and 44 strikeouts in 35 games with Class-A Lakeland this season. The 6’6”, 205-pound righthander was the Tigers’ 4th round selection in the 2008 First Year Player Draft out of Vanderbilt University.

Jacobson went 2-2 with a 1.52 ERA (29.2IP, 5ER) and 31 strikeouts in 21 games with Class-A West Michigan in 2008 and was named Detroit’s #10 prospect by Baseball America.

So it's nice to get more than just a warm body for Huff. And it's another quality MacPhail trade.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Impressive Shutout Win

The Ravens blanked the Washington Redskins last night, 23-0, in the first preseason game of 2009. It took the team a while to get going, but once they did -- even after the first team came off the field -- they got going.

All 3 QB's (Joe Flacco, Troy Smith and former Dolphins QB, John Beck) each threw for over 100 yards. Smith threw for 200 and a TD.

Flacco started the game and played the entire first quarter and finished the drive into the second, going 9 for 15 for 103 yards. He hit Ray Rice on a screen for a large gain of 34 yards which eventually lead to a Steve Hauschka field goal. Then on the next drive, Flacco connected with Kelley Washington for consecutive 15 and 16 yard gains, which eventually lead to another Hauschka field goal to make the score 6-0.

Most of the second half involved the Ravens and Redskins trading punts, but Troy Smith did hit L.J. Smith (former Eagles TE) for a nice 35 yard gain. The Ravens eventually punted.

Toward the end of the first half, the Redskins put together a nice drive that took almost 6 minutes off the clock. But after a Redskins fumble at the Ravens 35-yard line, the Ravens recovered with 1:12 left. It was the perfect time to execute the hurry-up offense, and the Ravens did. Troy Smith chipped his way down the field with passes of 14, 14 and 13 yards before capping off the drive with a 19-yard touchdown to Justin Harper with 5 seconds left.

Harper had a tough time getting going, having dropped his first 2 or 3 passes, but his touchdown catch was pretty, and his final line of 4 receptions for 57 yards was second only to Jayson Foster, who racked up 79 yards receiving on 3 receptions. Harper has been the guy to watch in training camp, and with Mark Clayton nursing a torn hamstring, Harper could be the one to step up and fill in. And he eventually got around to impressing fans last night.

The running game took second fiddle to the passing attack, with Cam Cameron utilizing the pass to get a better look at his unknown wide-receivers. However, Willis McGahee looked fresh, and busted a highlight-worthy 16 yard run in the second quarter, dodging several tacklers. He only rushed 4 times but ended up with 26 yards. Ray Rice rushed for 22 yards, but his 38 yards receiving (including the big 34 yard catch) proved that he will be a pass-catching threat out of the backfield this season. Cedric Peerman rushed twice for 9 yards and a TD. But undrafted RB Matt Lawrence racked up the most yards on the ground, 36 on 9 carries, all of them coming against the 3rd string defense.

The defense played as well as a defense can play in a shutout. They stifled the Redskins first team offense, pressuring Redskins QB Jason Campbell, and stuffing the run. The Skins were without Clinton Portis and Santana Moss, but it was still nice to see the Ravens defense shut them down completely. Tavares Gooden lead the team with 5 tackles, and looks to be a potential breakout player on the defense in 2008 after Bart Scott followed former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to the Jets. The Ravens also collected 3 sacks on the night.

One of the few roster battles this preseason is between the two kickers, Hauschka and Graham Gano, one of whom will eventually take over the kicking duties following the departure of Matt Stover. Hauschka made 2 field goals, the first 21 yards and the second 37, and Gano kicked a 39 yarder, but missed a 28-yarder late in the game. They each made an extra point. Hauschka has been with the team since last year, filling in as the long-yardage FG kicker and kickoff specialist, but played only one year of D-1 college football. Gano, however, kicked for Florida State and won the Lou Groza award for his 2008 season. He can also punt. The battle between the two kickers, will be the one to watch for the remainder of the preseason.

However, the impressive shutout win was not without injuries. WR Marcus Smith, who the Ravens hoped would step up in his second season after not catching a pass during his 2008 rookie campaign, injured his Achilles tendon and looks to be out for the season. John Beck hurt his throwing shoulder when a Redskins player ran into him and had to leave the game in the 4th quarter. It is unknown what the severity of Beck's injury will be.

Preseason or not, the Ravens looked like they were in mid-season form. They racked up over 500 yards of offense, and it seemed like whoever was on the field, the Ravens could do no wrong. Granted, the Redskins were without some key players, but it was nice to see the Ravens on the good end of a 23-0 game rather than the bad end.

The Ravens take on their former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, now head coach of the New York Jets, next Monday, August 24th.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Played out

Melvin Mora and Aubrey Huff will hopefully not be back in 2010.

Currently, Mora is sitting at a .644 OPS with only 3 HR and 12 doubles. He's complained to Dave Trembley and the press about a "lack of respect" he received when Ty Wigginton began to get more starts at 3B. Clearly Mora doesn't believe in stats.

The Orioles have an option to bring back Mora in 2010, but it appears unlikely. Especially after Mora's little outburst last week.

I've always liked Mora. I appreciate his loyalty to a team that hasn't played a meaningful game since he arrived in 2000. But Melvin needs to realize that he's not what he used to be. And as his career in Baltimore (and in baseball) winds down, the Orioles should start thinking about the future at 3B. If that is Ty Wigginton, then he should be getting more starts at 3B.

However, since Mora's blow-up (and Trembley's comments that Mora will sit more), Mora has started 4 games in a row at 3B.

Josh Bell, the 3B prospect who was acquired from the Dodgers in the George Sherrill trade, can't get here soon enough.

Huff is also playing out his contract, which ends at the end of 2009. His .720 OPS for a 1B is among the lowest in baseball. It's beyond safe to say his 2008 season was a fluke. Yet he is regularly penciled in for 1B and still bats clean-up on most nights.

There's not much Trembley can do, since there are no clear-cut clean-up hitters on the roster, but it's gotten to the point where anyone but Huff is a better option. And when rosters expand in September, hopefully the Orioles will use the time to get a better look at a potential 1B solution.

Michael Aubrey, who was claimed in June when the Indians put him up on waivers doesn't look to be anything special (.742 OPS in Norfolk), but he is a former first round draft pick who, when healthy, can be decent.

A more realistic solution could be Brandon Snyder, who crushed Bowie (1.018 OPS) and got off to a slow start in Norfolk. But he has raised his average up to .280 in the last few weeks and looks poised for a September trial at first.

In the meantime, it's frustrating to watch 2 veterans end their career in Baltimore during yet another horrid finish to the season. For Mora, he will likely be remembered as the Orioles second best third basemen in franchise history and a loyal Oriole, despite his random tirades. With Mora, it's a little easier to swallow.

For Huff, who was a misguided signing by Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette in 2007, well...we'll always have that "defining season" of 2008.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Matusz to start tomorrow...

I'm still getting used to the fact that Brian Matusz will be starting against the Detroit Tigers tomorrow, just 3 months after I saw him pitch for the Frederick Keys. He was the team's first round draft pick last year. Last year!

Matusz's rise through the Orioles minor league system has been a flash.

In 113 innings between Frederick and Bowie, Matusz has a 1.91 ERA, 121 strikeouts and 32 walks. Still, Matusz's promotion to the big leagues is somewhat out of necessity. Jason Berken was completely ineffective in his 13 starts and there was no one else in Norfolk worthy of a call-up. Sure, you could call-up David Pauley (4.23 ERA in Norfolk) and let him make a few starts, but he'd likely be no better than Berken.

You might as well start the future now.

And Matusz is ready, as his stats in Frederick and Bowie have proven. A trip to Norfolk would have been a formality. The Orioles desperately need a shot of hope after their recent 4-12 record since the All Star Break and Matusz brings that to the table.

He knows how to pitch so well he pitches backwards, meaning lots of curve balls early in the count. His fastball is his out-pitch. One scout said that Matusz would be the Orioles best pitcher the day after he was drafted.

So unlike Chris Tillman, who was shaky in his debut and makes his second start tonight, Matusz should look like a veteran in his debut. Kind of like Brad Bergesen.

That doesn't mean Matusz won't struggle. But he shouldn't struggle for long, that's for sure.

Same old, same old

The Orioles were swept at home by the Red Sox over the weekend, and have dropped to 2-11 against the Red Sox on the year. Add in the Yankees, and the Orioles are 5-20 against the top 2 teams in the AL East.


Outside of the Yanks and Sox, the Orioles are 39-40. Some people actually take solace in that.

Not me.

What that proves is the Orioles outside of the Yankees and Red Sox are just a mediocre team. If they had a winning record outside of those 2 teams, maybe I'd feel a little better. Maybe if that was the case, I'd think that beating the Yankees and Red Sox will be the last hurdle to overcome on the Orioles path to contention over the next few years.

However, the Orioles are also 8-17 against the AL West.

16-34 on the road.

They haven't had a month above .500 all season.

And, they appear to be in the midst of another late-season collapse.

Anyway you slice it, the Orioles are not competitive. You can't "take away" teams to make yourself feel better about the Orioles' record. The Orioles are not going to avoid playing the Red Sox and Yankees in the years to come. To be the best you have to beat the best.

The O's still have a chance to redeem the 2009 season by finishing strong. They are 4-12 after the All Star Break. It doesn't look good, but it could still happen.

Just like there is a chance that pigs fly and hell freezes over.

He's back!

Derrick Mason ended his "retirement" this weekend, and reported to training camp in Westminster, MD.

Mason has been dealing with some "personal issues", most likely stemming from former Titans and Ravens teammate Steve McNair, who was murdered in July. Mason announced his retirement a few days following the funeral.

It's also possible Mason was using the retirement as leverage to get an extension, as 2009 is the last year on his contract. But as Mason showed up at camp over the weekend he stated his intention to "finish this thing". Whether he is talking about his contract or a Super Bowl win is up to you.

Having Mason back allows the Ravens and their fans to take a deep sigh of relief. Without Mason, the WR corps looked like a rudderless ship. Mark Clayton is better suited as a deep-threat #2 WR, not the ball-controlling #1 that Mason is and has been throughout his career. And the remaining WR's in camp have only a handful of NFL games between them.

Without Mason, the Ravens were relying on the planets to align to get production from the WR's they had. With Mason back, they have a veteran leader, someone with great route-running skills and good hands. And Joe Flacco has his security blanket back.

However, the Ravens should still be looking for ways to improve the passing game. Having Mason back puts the Ravens back where they were at the end of 2008, which was still a game short of the Super Bowl and 0-3 against the Steelers.

But Mason takes away the desperation of having to make a move, like trading for Brandon Marshall or signing a troubled player like Plaxico Burress. Luckily, the Ravens were never actually considering making either move.

At any rate, welcome back, Derrick!