Monday, August 30, 2010

O's make history

Buck Showalter doesn't put on a jersey. The jersey puts on Buck Showalter.

And for once this season, it's not bad history.

With their sweep of the Angels this weekend, the Orioles did two things they A) have never done and B) have never done since 1997.

A) The Orioles swept the Angels 6-0 for the season series, the first time they've gone undefeated against the Angels in Orioles history. Granted, these aren't your older brother's Angels. They're a struggling team and will miss the playoffs for just the third time since 2002. But any time the Orioles can do that, on the west coast, to a team that has been much better in recent years, is a major accomplishment.

Now on to B) -- and what I believe is the bigger of the two accomplishments if you've followed this team closely in the last 13 years -- is the Orioles had a winning month of August for the first time since 1997.

Yes, you read that right. They've actually won more games than they've lost for a whole calendar month. And that month was August, which along with September is usually when the Orioles pack up camp, play the rest of the games with their tails between their legs, and countdown the hours until the season is over.

But I'll be damned. The O's finished the month of August 16-11.

And we have Buck Showalter to thank for it. He's gone 16-10 since taking over for Juan Samuel as manager of the Orioles, and must've found the team's switch and flipped it from "crappy" to "pretty darn good".

Get this: the Orioles only allowed 1 run in the sweep of the Angels. Only 1 run!

I don't care how down on the team you've been this season, what they have done since Showalter has joined the club is impressive.

And if the Orioles can sustain this competitive streak of baseball until the end of the year, you're gonna see the Bad Oriole become pretty freaking excited for 2011.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Terminator 3000

OK, now imagine him animated, and PG-13.

All I can say was bound to happen.

Dark Horizons ,as well as several other movie news sites, are reporting that a new installment of the Terminator series is going into development. But here's the catch...the movie is going to be 3D, completely computer generated...and wait for it....PG-13.


I know, I know. It's not the best of news. But more Terminator is always good news, in my opinion. I just wish they would take the $70 million dollar price tag and make a more stripped down live action movie. The PG-13 rating doesn't even really bother me that much. Christopher Nolan has proven that you don't have to compromise by making a PG-13 film, as he has proven with The Dark Knight and Inception. I would prefer Terminator movies to be rated R, but let's face it, an R rating is not going to all the sudden make it good.

Also, it sounds like Terminator 3000 could be a reboot of sorts, using the original characters from the first two movies. And if that is the case, it sounds like this could just be a CGI version of The Sara Conner Chronicles. Why the need to make more movies that take place after T2? Was T3 that bad? Was Terminator Salvation that horrible? Sure those movies had their problems but they advanced the story line well and didn't embarrass themselves as many third and fourth installments so often do.

I guess I am just worried that my cold, hard and violent Terminator movies are going to get Disneyfied.

But I am willing to hold out hope. It looks like I don't have another choice.

Ravens win preseason opener

Was Mark Clayton being showcased for a trade last night? He had 2 receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown in the Ravens win over the Panthers.

The Ravens opened the preseason last night with a soaking wet win, beating the Carolina Panthers, 17-12.

While the Ravens' first team offense was on the field, it was if they were saying, "Look ma! No Ray Rice!"

Rice didn't see a single play last night. The Ravens instead opted to use La'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee at the RB position. McClain was the only RB who ran well, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

The absence of Ray Rice allowed the Ravens to come out and throw, and boy did they ever. On the Ravens' first play on offense, Joe Flacco hooked up with Derrick Mason for 23 yards. Anquan Boldin was getting double coverage on the left side of the field allowing Mason to skirt under the single coverage for the reception. Hopefully a coming attraction of what is to come this season. And we all know Boldin will get his catches despite the double coverage he will see often.

But ironically it was Mark Clayton who had the biggest night receiving. He caught 2 passes for 48 yards including a 30 yard touchdown catch. Are the Ravens showcasing Clayton for a trade? Could be...they do need some secondary help.

Boldin was mostly quiet on the night, catching 1 pass for a 12 yard gain. However, it was nice to see what a #1 WR can bring to the table, getting double covered and allowing the other WR's to practically roam free.

Flacco, meanwhile, looked like he was in midseason form. Aside from taking some sacks that he may have been able to slip out of, he looked great. The touchdown pass to Clayton was on a dime and he finished with an impressive 8 for 12 with 120 yards passing and a touchdown.

Marc Bulger took over for Flacco late in the second quarter, and looked a little rusty. He hasn't seen action on the NFL field since last November, when he went down with a season ending injury. Bulger still has a nice quick release, and throws a tight spiral. But last night he overthrew some receivers who were open. He finished 5 of 12 with 67 yards.

Troy Smith took over mop-up duty in the third quarter and couldn't get anything going. He completed just 2 of 6 passes for 18 yards. He did, however, score a TD on an 8-yard run, but it was set up by Prince Miller's 57-yard punt return.

I keep waiting to see something from Smith, being a former Heisman winner and all, and I liked what I saw from him during his starts in 2007. But since then, he hasn't shown me much of anything in the preseason games he's played in. I know he's playing with the 3rd stringers, many of which will be out of football in a couple weeks, but you'd think that Smith would show some flashes of talent that many people still think he has. I am just not seeing it.

The first team defense had some problems stopping DeAngelo Williams early, as do most defenses, but overall, the defense played well last night, sacking Panthers QB Matt Moore on a 3rd down and totaling 7 sacks on the night. And Cary Williams had himself a nice interception. Williams, who will be suspended for the first two games of the season looks to add some depth to a Ravens secondary that is banged up.

And on Special Teams, Prince Miller turned heads with an impressive 57 yard punt return that set up a Ravens touchdown in the 3rd quarter. Miller, a cornerback, could earn himself a spot on special teams as well as the secondary if he keeps this up.

So was it fun to watch football again? You least for the first half.

The Ravens play the Redskins in Washington on Saturday the 21st.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Buck Keeps Rolling

Matt Wieters gives Brad Bergesen a pound after Bergesen's complete game win over the Indians where he allowed only 2 hits.

The Orioles' 8-1 record since Buck Showalter took over as manager is the best record in the majors in that time.

Was it a work of magic?

It's as good as anyone's guess. Maybe it's the dry erase board that Showalter hung up in his office. It lists the organization's depth chart, meaning someone like Brad Bergesen, Felix Pie or Josh Bell can see who is down in the minors trying to take their job. It's apparently made the O's players realize that they won't be in Baltimore just on looks alone, so they are now playing to prove they belong.

And it's working.

I can actually say is that it's more exciting to be an Orioles fan now than it has been at any time this season -- and maybe even the past few years.

For once, things are finally looking up for the Orioles, and not just in the major leagues. Several of the O's top prospects struggled to start the year, but as of late, many of those players (Brandon Snyder, Nolan Reimold, Matt Angle, Zach Britton, etc...) have turned their seasons around, much like their Oriole counterparts, and salvaged some of the hope that was lost earlier in the season.

A prime example of this was last night's performance by Brad Bergesen in the Orioles 3-1 win over the Indians.

Dogged by injuries, lack of confidence and fussy mechanics, Bergesen found himself wearing out a path to Norfolk this year, having been demoted twice this season. But in his last 3 starts, Bergesen has been stellar: 23 IP, 4 ER, 12 H, 14 K, 4 BB. In that time he's lowered his ERA from 6.95 to 5.84.

And last night, he was almost perfect. He pitched a complete game, allowing only 2 hits and 1 run. Even more impressive, Bergesen only threw 102 pitches and got better as he went along. He'd struck out only 1 batter through the first 7 innings before fanning another 3 hitters in the final 2 innings of the game.

When is the last time an Orioles starting pitcher has gotten better in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings?

If Bergesen can finish the season the way he's pitching now, it would go a long way in solidifying the Orioles rotation, which has been pitching much better as of late, but is still shrouded in question marks.

Josh Bell also had a good night last night. Bell, acquired in the George Sherrill trade last year, struggled with his defense and hitting left handed pitching during his time in the minors, but excelled everywhere else. And since he's come up to Baltimore, he's done little to show he's improved in his trouble areas. But last night, before the game, Bell was seen working with hitting coach Terry Crowley, and then went 3-4 in the game including a good diving stop and throw to first to nail a runner. Third base is definitely Bell's spot for the rest of the season so it's good to see him working hard to make sure it stays his next year, too.

It all goes back to the dry erase board theory. These players now know that they won't be able to skate by any more.

And finally, is it good to have Brian Roberts back, or what? It's safe to say that the Orioles horrid first 105 games of the season were largely in part because Roberts was injured and the Orioles couldn't find anything close to a a competent lead-off hitter. And since Roberts has come back, he's been the genuine lead-off hitter he's always been. And this was perfectly exemplified last night in a 12-pitch at bat where Roberts fouled off several pitches before taking Indians starting pitcher Josh Tomlin deep for a home run.

So there it is. Take it or leave it. You can either get excited about the Orioles under Buck Showalter or you can continue to wallow in the misery of the first 105 games of the season.

Me? I'm trying to stay optimistic, but I have to admit: forgetting those 105 first games is hard to do. But the Orioles go for another 3-game sweep tonight, after taking 3 of 4 from the White Sox and sweeping the Angels.

It almost makes you forget the Ravens first preseason game is on tonight.

In the past, you know what I -- and many other Baltimore fans -- would be watching tonight.

Not any more. Go O's!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A rocky summer doesn't lower expectations

For many Ravens fans, the start of training camp should come as a relief. This past offseason had reached a boiling point. Fans over-examined the smallest details in an article. It was getting ridiculous.

Remember Joe Flacco's interview where he said he wasn't sure how Marc Bulger would affect the team's chemistry? Fans took it as Flacco directly insulting Bulger, when Flacco was really just speaking about the solid chemistry that he had with back-up QB's John Beck and Troy Smith.

Remember Ed Reed's public ploys to get a new contract, even though he'd hinted at retirement last season and still says he is not close to being 100% healthy? A lot of his comments were strange, but overall it was just Reed posturing for a new deal.

Remember the on-going Jared Gaither saga all offseason? Gaither was on the trade market all offseason but will remain a Raven in 2010. Unfortunately, he does not have a good work ethic, but is still one of the best offensive lineman the team has.

Now that the team is back together at McDaniel College in Westminster, fans should breathe a sigh of relief. There is real football to discuss and not just dissecting a player's quotes.

That said, there are some troubling things hanging over the team right now.

Sergio Kindle, the team's first draft pick in the 2010 draft, suffered a fractured skull in a fall down two flights of steps just days before he was to sign a contract with the Ravens. It was as tragic as it was suspicious. Kindle has had a history of alcohol abuse and many linked his fall to being drunk, but no official report has come out saying how or why Kindle fell. Apparently, Kindle suffers from narcolepsy, and people have made the connection, blaming that for the fall. But we don't really know. And we may never truly know what caused the fall. All we as Ravens fans can do is hope for the best for Kindle's sake. Here is a man about to sign a multimillion-dollar contract and now his entire career is up in the air. Just tragic.

Then there is Reed, who did raise fans' eyebrows with his constant remarks in the media about the Ravens disrespecting him by not letting him review game film or giving him a new deal. Reed's comments are all over the place. He's talked about retirement, said he's not 100%, says the Ravens don't treat him as they should -- and yet he wants a new contract. I think Reed realizes his career is coming to an end and wants one last payday but he is going about it the wrong way. What he needs to do is focus on getting ready for the 2010 season, and let everything else take care of itself. Currently Reed's return is unknown. Rotoworld currently says he could miss the first six weeks of the season.

As a matter of fact, the entire secondary is pretty much up in the air at this point. A week ago, CB Dominique Foxworth suffered a torn ACL and will miss the entire season. Ladarius Webb is rehabbing a knee, and is on the PUP list for training camp and the earliest he could return is week 2 or 3. And Fabian Washington, who also suffered a knee injury last season, was just removed from the PUP list and is able to resume full football activity. Hopefully Washington will be able to remain healthy now that the secondary's depth has been slashed.

That still leaves promising guys like Dave Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura in the secondary, giving them a chance to step up along with a few late draft picks and undrafted free agents, but if the Ravens have a weakness heading into the season it's definitely in the secondary.

But, getting past all those issues, there is still reason for high expectations in Baltimore. Aside from the secondary, the Ravens are loaded with talent at every position. The offense, with WR Anquan Boldin, finally looks to be the strongest unit on the team, and the defense, with Ray Lewis still front and center, should remain strong.

What does it all mean? I think the Ravens are setting themselves up for a deep run into the playoffs, but anything can happen. The Ravens probably have their best team on paper, but as we have seen in the past, anything can happen on Sunday. And if the injuries continue to pile up, all bets are off.

But despite the setbacks the team has suffered this summer, nothing short of a disaster is going to lower expectations now. And for good reason.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What the Buck?

Buck is watching you. Yes, you.

Imagine that.

The O's hire Buck Showalter and win his first 2 games as manager. Even more shocking, they actually looked like a fundamentally sound baseball team doing it, too.

Buck had the team doing infield before the game, and the result has been good -- two games played under Showalter, no errors and no major brain farts. And the O's are even starting to collectively hit.

So did Buck snap his fingers and make this team better than the 31-73 team it was before he arrived?


I liken Showalter's presence in the dugout to a pissed off father removing his belt when his kids have been goofing off. Funny how that always seems to get them back in line really quick.

All season long, Jim Palmer has continuously laid into the Orioles' lazy work ethic and blahzay mental state. He said they didn't work hard and weren't bothered by the losing. Well, Buck's here now and he's not going to take it. And for two games, it looks like it's working.

That doesn't mean that all the Orioles' problems have suddenly been fixed. These players need to buy into Buck's philosophy and his demands that they play the game hard. Some will buy in and some won't. It's just the way it goes.

What I am looking for in the final 50 games is a prolonged level of competition. The schedule over that 50 game stretch is brutal. If the Orioles are even close to finishing the season on a high note, the city of Baltimore should throw them a parade.

And that brings me to the 2007 Rays. In the final 56 games, the Rays went 26-30 -- still nothing to write home about, but for a team that was 40-66 (.377) in its first 106 games, a .464 finish to the season was noticeable improvement.

We all know what happened with the 2008 Rays.

OK, I know what you are saying. A decent finish to the season doesn't mean the O's will be playing in the World Series next year. I am not that crazy. All I am saying is that some measured improvement over these next two months can carry over to next season. Combine that with Buck's first offseason and spring training, and the 2011 season may turn out to be more like what we thought the 2010 season was going to be about -- noticeable improvement over an entire season.

But I'm not holding my breath. Like I said, the schedule to finish the season is extremely tough. But....and I do mean but... if the O's can show a pulse until the final game of the season, they just might hook me in again for the next season.

Because a few days ago I was ready to burn all my O's gear and call it quits.

Not so much anymore.