Monday, January 31, 2011

O's sign Duchscherer

The O's signed the oft-injured Justin Duchscherer to an incentive-laden deal.

The O's made a low-risk, high-reward signing this weekend, signing 33 year old pitcher Justin Duchscherer to an incentive-laden MLB contract. The move will barely register with most Oriole fans, but it could be a big part in giving the Orioles their first winning season since 1997.

Duchscherer, who was with the Oakland A's from 2003 to 2010, has battled injury problems throughout his career. And while missing the entire 2009 season he dealt with depression. So his risks don't only come in the physical form.

That said, when healthy, Duchscherer can be an asset. He has a 3.13 career ERA and in 2008, as a starting pitcher, he went 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA and made it to the All Star Game. He doesn't strike out a lot of batters (6.9 K/9), but he keeps the ball in the park (0.9 HR/9).

The signing may mean that Chris Tillman will once again start the season in Norfolk, but it gives the Orioles an extra level of pitching depth headed into the season. All in all, this is a small but very solid signing for the Orioles.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I feel the need...the need for high speed rail

Amtrak's overpriced Acela Express is all that passes for high-speed rail in the United States.

In his state of the union speech the other night, President Obama spoke about the importance of high-speed rail in America.

It probably caught some people off guard since the speech was primarily about cutting the government's spending, and building a high-speed rail network would cost hundreds of billions of dollars, but Obama laid out a 25-year plan that would give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail.

And I am glad he brought it up, since the state of America's passenger rail service is a sad state of affairs. In Europe, the train is the number one mode of inter-city transportation. It's cheap, the trains are clean, and they run on time. Meanwhile, Amtrak -- the government-aided company which currently is the only major passenger service in the country -- overcharges for tickets and offers slow service.

For example, I just went to Expedia and punched up a flight from Washington DC to New York City on March 1, 2011 and returning on March 3, 2011. Tickets start at $140 and the flight time is 1 hour and 11 minutes. Yet on the same dates, Amtrak charges $98 for a round trip ticket and it takes 3 hours and 39 minutes to get there. Is $40 worth 2 and a half extra hours to you? Probably not. The Acela Express train trims off 50 minutes but the tickets are $280 for round trip service.

Why anyone traveling on their own dime takes trains these days is beyond me. Sure, flying can be a hassle with security and waiting to board, take off, etc...but saving money and time are the two biggest factors when traveling and Amtrak fails in both areas. I'm willing to bet that most passengers on Amtrak are businessmen, traveling at the expense of their company, since working on a train is easier to do than on an airplane.

Trains still have that romantic nostalgia to them, and they could be an effective way to travel close distances if overhauled. Hopefully Obama's high-speed plan is able to depart from the station. It would create tons of jobs and make America more connected, with potential for living in one city, say Philadelphia and commuting to another, say New York, Baltimore or Washington, DC.

In the end, it's probably a pipe dream, since America has not relied on the train for over 50 years and airline companies and their lobbyists will try their hardest to kill any progress. But I am glad Obama put a light on rail service in America, because right now, it's pretty much a joke.

When is the last time you even considered taking the train anywhere?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

National Bohemian back on tap!

Now you can taste Natty Boh the way nature intended it -- straight from the tap!

This could be the greatest news to hit Baltimore since the Cleveland Browns announced that they were moving to Baltimore.

National Bohemian beer, ie -- Natty Boh -- is coming back in kegs, meaning fans of the nostalgic Baltimore beer can taste it the way it was intended -- straight from the tap!

To celebrate this glorious occasion, several Baltimore-area bars are hosting "tap the keg" parties. I hope to attend the one at Brewer's Art on February 5th.

The only remaining thing that the Pabst-owned beer could do to make this better is re-open a brewery somewhere in Maryland -- maybe have it contract brewed at the Flying Dog brewery in Frederick -- so that we Natty Boh fans can proudly proclaim that our favorite beer is once again brewed in Maryland!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Academy Award Nominations

The 2011 Academy Award nominations were released today.

I don't know about you, but no movie I saw this year blew me away like movies have in previous years. I have yet to see 127 Hours, The King's Speech and Toy Story 3, but all the other nominated films left me just pleased instead of awed. The closest any movie came to blowing me away was Inception, for obvious reasons, but it was emotionally empty.

The Kids Are Alright would get my vote, but it seems like The Social Network or The King's Speech are the current front runners. I expected more out of True Grit, and was slightly disappointed when its tone was so light compared to some of the Coen Bros. darker films such as No Country for Old Men or Miller's Crossing. Winter's Bone was more of a Coen Bros. movie and could have filled the void, but I was disappointed the way the film's mystery fizzled instead of building into a suspenseful climax.

I really wanted to root for The Fighter since I love boxing films and it has the best acting of any of the films nominated, but instead of becoming a Rocky for Massachusetts, the inter-family drama in the film was swept under the rug too easily.

Thankfully, there were a lot of great performances in films this year. My money's on Jessie Eisenberg, since this is likely the only time he will ever be nominated, and Natalie Portman -- Hollywood's hottest current commodity. It will allow the academy to celebrate young Hollywood and pass the torch from one generation to the next. The supporting actresses from The Fighter will probably split their votes, meaning that Hailee Steinfeld will win for True Grit. Christian Bale is the only lock of the Oscar's so far, winning for his portrayal of Micky Ward's drug addict brother in The Fighter.

For best director (where's Christopher Nolan for Inception?), I think David Fincher will take home the statue for The Social Network for his ability to condense a real-life multi-faceted drama into an engrossing film -- like he did in Zodiac. And despite The Fighter's flaws, I think David O. Russell deserves the recognition for getting three Oscar-worthy performances from his supporting cast in a sports movie -- something usually populated with cliched characters.

And on a final note, did Toy Story 3 really need to be nominated for both best animated film and best film?

So there you have it. I do feel like there are a lot of good films this year, but no great ones, unless the ones I have yet to see are the best of the bunch.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Baltimore inferiority complex is real

I feel your pain, girl.

Baltimore fans have it tough.

In the NFL, they have the Steelers, who made their third Super Bowl appearance in six years yesterday with a win over the Jets. And make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, "Sixburgh" is about to become "Sevenburgh" or "Seventh Heaven" or whatever cute name Steeler fans invent for themselves. As my friend Jay said after the Ravens loss, the Steelers winning the Super Bowl is the stone cold lead pipe lock of the year.

In the MLB, they have the Red Sox and Yankees, who combined have won seven of the last fifteen World Series. Even the the Tampa Bay Rays have risen from the ashes to win two of the last three AL East Divsion titles.

Think it gets easier for University of Maryland basketball fans? Think again. Duke and UNC have won four total championships since 2001.

And if you count the Capitals as a Baltimore team, which you could, and why not, since it gives the city another chance to root against Pittsburgh, the Penguins are fresh off their own back-to-back Stanley Cups victories in 2008 and 2009.

So when does it end? Each year it seems Baltimore fans are tortured as they forced to watch a bitter rival bring home another title while poor little Baltimore gets nothing but freezing temperatures.

Maybe it's worse this year, since the Ravens were primed to go all the way, and the loss to the Steelers was so epically disappointing that it makes you more aware of this stuff.

I don't know.

But what I do know is that the Baltimore inferiority complex is real. How could it not be?

Thank God for the Baltimore Mariners.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Vlad the Impaler

The Orioles and Vladimir Guerrero are reportedly dancing.

There have been several reports that the Orioles are close to a deal with free-swinging slugger, Vladimir Guerrero, formerly of the Expos, Angels and Rangers.

Guerrero was always one of my favorite players, especially when he was on the Expos, a team I rooted for throughout my childhood until they moved to Washington and became the Nationals. I loved Guerrero's hack-first, ask questions later approach at the plate and his ability to take a pitch two inches off the ground and put it into the seats.

I was very disappointed when Vlad rejected the Orioles in 2004 to sign with the Angels. After the additions that the Orioles had made that year (Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez and Rafael Palmeiro) signing Vlad and putting him into that line-up would have been a coup. But Vlad wanted to play in a city with a large Latino population and as we all know, Los Angeles has muchas Latinas.

Guerrero, now 36, with a back that is on life support, can still be an offensive weapon. Last year he hit .300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI's. He also played in 152 games after missing 80 games over the two previous years before that. So while his health and age would be a major concern, there is still reason to believe that Guerrero could make it through the season.

But looking at the current roster, one has trouble seeing where Guerrero would fit. Luke Scott is currently the team's DH, and his 2010 campaign was even better than Guerrero's. Signing Guerrero, who shouldn't be playing any position in his physical condition, would move Scott to LF, a position he hasn't played regularly since 2008. Scott would also supplant defensive whiz, Felix Pie, and stick him on the bench and place comeback hopeful Nolan Reimold back in Norfolk.

The O's could also trade Scott if they signed Vlad, but I would be against it. Vlad would be here for one year and Scott is signed through the 2012 season for about $ 5 million dollars a year, depending on arbitration, and is a steal at any contract that pays him less than $10 million. Unless the O's were able to land a young SS or 1B prospect for Scott, I'd rather keep him despite his radical political views.

So while adding Guerrero to a line-up would give the team some offensive depth, it would decrease our defense and handcuff Showalter since Guerrero would be a DH-only. Also, signing Guerrero for 1 year does nothing for the long-term future of the team. If the Orioles believed they could contend in 2011, Guerrero could make some sense. But not even Andy MacPhail or Buck Showalter should believe that they can contend for the postseason this year so adding Guerrero really doesn't do anything for the Orioles. Especially when you consider the very real possibility that he will miss a portion of the season.

So while I would enjoy seeing one of my former favorite players in an Orioles uniform this season, it would only be for one year, and the Orioles would probably be better off taking the money they'd spend on Guerrero and invest it into the amateur draft or international scouting -- two things that would help the future of the club.

Friday, January 21, 2011

What the hell...

The Ravens sacked themselves in the loss to the Steelers. It was another one of those kinds of games where fans say "they beat themselves" and not "we lost to the better team".

It's been almost a week since the Ravens ripped my heart out of my chest by losing to the Steelers to end their 2010 season. So I guess I might as well get it over with and move on.

Although I still put the 2006 home loss to the Colts above this one, I do believe this was the hardest Ravens game to watch in franchise history. The first half saw the Ravens dominate the Steelers, go into halftime up 21-7, and the second half saw them give the game right back to Pittsburgh, ultimately losing 31-24.

And yet it was a game much like the Ravens other losses this season: they were unable to gel on offense when it mattered, the defense couldn't get off the field on third down by allowing some big plays at crucial times, and the penalties called on the Ravens were at times questionable to downright horrible (pass interference on Josh Wilson, holding on Marcus Smith), not to mention some penalties that should have been called on the Steelers, and weren't (Chris Kemoeatu's late hit and Ike Taylor's head butt on TJ Houshmandzadeh).

But in the end, the Ravens have no one to blame but themselves. They gained just 125 yards of total offense. In the second half Ray Rice fumbled, Joe Flacco threw an interception, and Matt Birk fumbled a snap. All of these mistakes allowed Pittsburgh to close the gap and win the game. Then there were key drops by Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmandzadeh -- two all-pro wide receivers who were brought in to help take this team to the Super Bowl -- who ultimately contributed to the loss.

In the week since the loss, fans have been busy laying blame on just about everyone, from John Harbaugh down to the waterboy. I can understand the frustration after such an emotionally draining loss to a hated division rival, but fans need to get a hold of themselves. Yes, this loss was hard to swallow, and will be until the 2011 season begins, but fans need to also look at the bigger picture.

The playoffs are all about the hot team. Look no further than the Green Bay Packers or New York Jets. If you keep making the playoffs, which the Ravens have done in all of Harbaugh's 3 years as head coach, you give yourself a chance to get hot and make a run...much like the Ravens did in 2008. So while there is some cause for concern after such a tough loss, there is a bright side to things, as difficult as it may be to see.

It appears that Cam Cameron will be back as offensive coordinator next year, which is a big part of concern for many fans. Cameron did a poor job calling plays this season, and no one would shed a tear if he were let go. I really don't know why it's been reported that he will be kept, but I guess I have to defer to Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh on this one. Another key factor in retaining Cameron is the uncertainty that hangs over the 2011 season. With a hold out and late start to the season a possibility, maybe the Ravens want to keep as much consistency as they can on offense, even though it will be Cam Cameron who is calling the plays.

On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Gregg Mattison left the Ravens to take the same position at Michigan, so the Ravens promoted former secondary coach Chuck Pagano to defensive coordinator. Like Cameron, Mattison was heavily blamed for the defensive struggles, especially in the second half of games. Pagano is said to be a very aggressive and well liked coach, who will try to maximize turnovers, something that should work with the current make-up on defense. So Mattison's departure could be a blessing, because it had been reported that he would also be returning in 2011.

Moving forward, I would like to see the Ravens upgrade their offensive line, and if Jared Gaither does in deed return to Baltimore, that would be a big step in the right direction. The OL allowed the second most sacks in the NFL and had trouble opening running lanes for Ray Rice and Willis McGahee for much of the season. The Ravens may also want to consider moving Michael Oher back to the right side of the line since he had an unimpressive season as the left tackle.

I think we can also agree that the Ravens need a deep threat in their passing game. Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmandzadeh are very similar receivers who aren't known for their speed. So with a Mike Wallace or DeSean Jackson kind of down field threat, the Ravens offense should become much more dynamic and dangerous.

On defense, the Ravens should continue to look at pass rushers and linebackers. They did a poor job pressuring the QB for most of the season and were unable to stop the run like they have done in the past. In the secondary, it should help that Dominique Foxworth will return after missing the entire 2010 season, and if Ed Reed decides to return, a Pagano-lead defense should be exciting to watch with the likes of Josh Wilson, Chris Carr and Ladarius Webb all having turned in solid seasons for a unit that was projected to be the Ravens weakness on defense and turned out to be one of its strengths, especially once Reed returned.

So that's it.

The Ravens 2010 season will always remain a very sweet and sour mix of emotions for fans. A 12-4 record is not something to overlook, but losing to the Steelers in the playoffs the way they did has the ability to erase all the positives that happened before. Throw in the offense never clicking and living up to its potential and the defense falling from a dominant unit to just an above average one, and many Ravens fans will have you believe that the Ravens were 4-12.

But with a solid draft and offseason, the Ravens can reload for another shot at the Super Bowl in 2011.

Just keep repeating that as you watch the Steelers, and not the Ravens, hosting the AFC Championship Game against the Jets this weekend.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

PECOTA Projections

It's no surprise that the 2011 PECOTA projections have the O's finishing in last place with a record of 77-85. It's still a disappointing record, but it would be the team's best record since 2004 when they won 78 games.

Man, has it already been 7 years since the high water mark of the 00's? Ouch.

I do believe that many people around baseball view the O's as a team on the rise, especially after some of the solid but shortsighted moves they've made this offseason. I do believe they could be better, but also much worse, as we saw occur last year to a team that many predicted to win around 75 games.

PECOTA also gives the O's a 5.3% chance of winning the division, 5.6% chance of winning the wild card and an 11% chance of making the playoffs.

To borrow a line from Lloyd Christmas, "So you're telling me there's a chance!"

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Charm Card / SmarTrip Card

The SmarTrip card (above) is DC's version of the Charm Card (below).

The MTA and the WMATA recently partnered up and released the Charm Card, a transit card similar to the SmarTrip card in Washington, DC which allows riders to add money to the card and swipe it at turn-styles and on buses to avoid the time-consuming and often frustrating process of buying a fare card for each journey on the metro or bus. In Baltimore, this process can often mean missing a light rail train and being forced to wait upwards of 10-15 minutes for the next train or fumbling with money on a bus as it pulls away from a stop. So when this partnership was first announced, many people celebrated, myself included.

Also, the Charm Card would work not only on all MTA services (metro subway, light rail and local bus), it would also work on all WMATA services in Washington. And presumably, the SmarTrip card would work the same way.

However, when I used the metro last week to head downtown, I tried to add money to my SmarTrip card at the West Cold Spring Lane metro station and received a message saying that money could not be added to my SmarTrip card.

I sent an email to Michael Dresser, from the Baltimore Sun's "Getting There" blog, and he responded with the following email:

Could this be a case of just one machine being out of order? Did you try any other kiosks? I haven't been hearing a lot of complaints.

Unfortunately, I was already running late and didn't want to spend any time following up on the matter. I should have just asked the person working in the booth if the SmarTrip card worked, but based on what I hear of many MTA employees, they may not have been able to give me a straight answer.

In the mean time, I have an email into the MTA Administration, and they usually respond within 48 hours. So I will update this entry when I hear back from them.

As a mass transit nut, I was excited to use this new process on the MTA since buying individual fare cards can be a minor pain in the ass. So I was disappointed to see that I wasn't able to add money to my SmarTrip card at an MTA kiosk. Since I use the MTA more often than WMATA services, I don't know when I will be able to add money to my card since I am unable to do it on line.

Hopefully, the future will bring a fully comprehensive system, where you can add money to either card at either system. After all, that's what this whole thing was supposed to be about, right?


The MTA finally got back to me and had the following to say...

Mr. Jester,

Thank you for your email in reference to using your SmarTrip card. You can add money to the card at all Metro Subway Station TVM machines, Light Rail TVM machines and on the local bus where SmarTrip and CharmCard(r) are accepted in the Baltimore and Washington DC area. You cannot add money to the card on-line at this time; however, we are hoping to have that technology in the near future.

Denise Hagans
Customer Services Officer

So I guess it was just a broken kiosk I was using to add money to my card. We shall see...

The one and only...

If you've followed the Bad Oriole at all, you know that this has been a blog about the Orioles during it's 4 year run. But I've recently decided to funnel all my blogs (Impressions from 540 and Random Musings) into this one.

So while I'll still continue to focus heavily on the Orioles, I'll also write about the Ravens and whatever else comes to mind.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ravens/Steelers III

When the smoke clears, will the Ravens be victorious?

Well, the day has arrived.

The Ravens take on the Steelers this afternoon at 4:30 p.m.

All the shit talking, all the analysis and all the predictions that took place earlier this week don't mean a thing now. All that's left is the game to be played.

Am I nervous? Of course. These are the Steelers -- the Duke or Yankees of the NFL, where things seem to always go their way, especially late in games. They are just one of those teams. Hard to kill.

I am expecting another hard-fought, physical game, as are most fans and analysts. But for some reason I expect this game to get a little more out of hand than they have in the recent past. And if there is a lop-sided win, I believe it will be the Steelers winning and not the Ravens.

I would love a lop-sided win in Pittsburgh though. It would give my blood pressure a rest and it would be nice to see those Steeler fans heading for stadium exits early. It also eliminates the chances of a key turnovers or questionable penalty playing a part in the outcome. I'd hate to see something like that cost the Ravens the win today.

But it all comes down to execution. The Ravens need to protect the ball while being creative on offense. They can't expect to do the same things they've done against the Steelers and have greater success than they have. They need to be aggressive on offense, attack the Steelers secondary and maintain drives. Keep Ben Roethlisberger off the field and keep our defense rested. Have you noticed how much better our defense has played lately? That's because they have been on the sidelines a lot, staying rested.

Well, that's it. I really don't have anything else. I am already exhausted by this game and there are still seven hours until kick-off.

So until then, all I have to say is Let's go Ravens! Beat the Steelers!!!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ravens pound Chiefs, advance in playoffs

Oh no he didn't: Willis McGahee mocks the Chiefs chop after scoring a touchdown to put the Ravens ahead 30-7.

First it was the Dolphins, 27-9 in 2008. Then it was the Patriots, 33-14 in 2009.

And last Sunday, the Ravens continued their trend of making short work of their first-round opponent in the playoffs, beating the Kansas City Chiefs, 30-7.

It was also the first dominating win for the Ravens in 2010.

The Chiefs racked up only 160 yards of total offense, including just 70 yards passing for Matt Cassel, who also had 3 interceptions on the day. It was one of the worst statistical performances from a QB in playoff history. A stunning accomplishment, considering that Cassel had been one of the most efficient QB's in 2010, throwing just 7 interceptions all season.

Remember those second halves when the Ravens would go on autopilot and let their opponent creep back into the game? Not this time. The Chiefs managed drives of 43, -7, 1, 3, and -12 yards in the second half. Meanwhile, the Ravens totaled 184 second half yards and scored 20 points.

Joe Flacco, having performed poorly in five career playoff games, turned in his best postseason performance by far, throwing for 265 yards and two scores.

Todd Heap was a dominant force in the offense, catching 10 passes for 108 yards. Anquan Boldin, who had all but disappeared in the passing attack for the last month or so, caught 5 balls for 64 yards and a touchdown.

The rushing attack didn't boast gaudy numbers, but it got the job done on a day when the passing game was working well. Ray Rice lead the way with 17 carries and 57 yards while Willis McGahee fared better with 44 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

The defense took a while to reach the level they played at during the second half of the game, and for a little while, it looked like they were going to have trouble containing Chiefs stud RB, Jamaal Charles, who scampered for 82 yards and the Chiefs lone score. But the defense chomped down in the second half and kept Charles, as well as the entire Chiefs offense, in check. The Chiefs star WR Dwayne Bowe didn't even record a catch on the day.

So where do the Ravens go from here? I'll give you one guess.


Would you want it any other way?

Thankfully, the Ravens are pretty healthy and peaking at the right time. The Steelers have had the Ravens number with Ben Roethlisberger as QB, but the Ravens are still smarting after their tragic loss to the Steelers in Baltimore and are thirsty for revenge. And with Joe Flacco playing well, having gotten the "poor performance in a playoff game" monkey off his back, the sky's the limit for the Ravens, even with a daunting task ahead of them this weekend.

So, it's going to be an epic battle.

Ravens vs. Steelers III


Friday, January 7, 2011

These are your 2011 Orioles...

With this week's signings of Derek Lee and Kevin Gregg, you could say that the Orioles are finished significantly upgrading the team for the 2011 season. As it is now, the 25-man roster looks like...


Vanden Hurk



So how do you feel about that team?

I can get excited about that team. But at the same time, I am as skeptical as I am excited.

The pitching turned it on during the last two and a half months of the 2010 season and the offense looks to be much improved with the additions of Mark Reynolds, Derek Lee and JJ Hardy. So predicting a .500 finish in 2011 is not crazy talk.

But every offseason, O's fans find themselves looking over the roster and saying the same semi-optimistic things, only to be proven wrong by June. So is this team any different from those disappointing teams from the last 13 years?

Yes and no.

For the first time in many years, the Orioles enter the season with a line-up that boasts some real power in the middle of the order. But each of the new additions in Reynolds, Lee and Hardy come with their own risks. I am sure each of them will have their own struggles in 2011 but overall they should give the Orioles the power surge they've lacked over the last few years.

The key to a successful 2011 season still lies with the pitching. Yeah, the rotation pitched extremely well at the end of the season last year, but can they maintain that level for an entire season against the best division in baseball?

Did Buck Showalter make *that* much of an impact last year when the Orioles were the second best team in the AL with Showalter as the skipper?

That's why I'm not ready to pencil this team in for 80 wins next season. I just don't believe that this team is capable of sustaining that kind of play over a 162 game season.

Guys like Wieters, Jones, Matusz, Arrieta and Tillman *should* take that giant step forward this year, but every time we as O's fans say that, players usually end up taking a step backward.

And that's the kind of team Andy MacPhail has assembled...again. A team full of promising players with risks. He's still hoping, as are fans, that the planets can align and more goes right than wrong over the course of a season.

The problem is, Andy's only been here for a little over 3 years. So for him, it's worth one more try. But us O's fans have been hoping and praying that the duct tape will hold for an entire 162 game season.

And until now, it never has.

Maybe the duct tape reference wasn't fair. This year Andy's used duct tape *and* super glue.

Here's to hoping it holds up.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ravens beat Bengals to end season

Ray Rice lead the Ravens offense with 77 yards rushing and a touchdown.

The Ravens finished their season with a win over the Bengals this last weekend.

The win was basically the season in a nutshell: the Ravens did what they needed to do to win, but it wasn't pretty and it left fans feeling uneasy.

The Ravens beat the 4-12 Bengals by a score of 13-7. The Bengals, who were playing without Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson (you'll never be Ochocinco here, sorry Chad), had a chance to win the game at the end, needing a touchdown. Their drive stalled at the Ravens' 2-yard line.

Thankfully the Ravens have won the last two games they've played when their opponent had the ball with a chance to win the game. The first win came against the Saints two weeks ago. So at least they're closing out victories although you could say that they shouldn't be doing it in this fashion in the first place.

But I digress. The Ravens finished 12-4 which ties their second best season record, which came in 2000. The Ravens also beat a Carson Palmer-lead Bengals team for the first time since week 1 of the 2008 season. Thankfully it appears to be his last game as a Bengal. And with the win, the Ravens defense finished 3rd overall in points allowed and 10th in yards allowed.

But the offense has been the fans' bugaboo this season and it was again on Sunday. The offense mustered a paltry 199 yards against the Bengals defense. Flacco passed for only 125 yards and threw a pick. And the running game managed only 98 yards on the day.

Thankfully the defense held up their end of the bargain and played a solid game, forcing 5 turnovers on the day including 2 Carson Palmer interceptions. And thanks to the turnovers, the defense held the surprisingly effective Bengals offense to only one touchdown. Jerome Simpson had a big day to cap off what has been a monstrous few weeks for the former reserve WR, catching 12 balls for 123 yards and a touchdown. With the Ravens traveling to Kansas City for their first round playoff game, Dwayne Bowe must be licking his chops.

So can the Ravens beat the Chiefs? Sure...they can beat any long as Cam Cameron is calling a good game plan and the offensive line can block for Flacco, who was sacked 4 times last Sunday and was the second most sacked QB in the NFL this season.

The Chiefs are a solid young team who may be a little out of their league at this point. They played a weak schedule which included the entire NFC West, where the 7-9 Seahawks won the division, and a last place schedule which included the Browns and Bills. However, they went 7-1 at home, same as the Ravens, and feature the best running game in the NFL. Matt Cassel, their protective QB, threw 27 touchdowns to only 7 picks. Their defense is solid, 11th in points allowed and 14th in yards allowed.

But like what I said about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier in the season before they came to Baltimore, I have to believe that the talent and experience on the Ravens' roster gives them a big advantage over the Chiefs, who's average age is 25.3 compared to the Ravens, of 27.3. And while those may only be 2 years, they are mostly 2 years of playoff-caliber football, in which the Ravens have gone 3-2, all on the road.

So do the Ravens have a tall order ahead of them? Of course. Whenever you go on the road in the playoffs you're facing an uphill battle. But the Ravens are familiar with playing on the road and have done well over the last 2 seasons away from home.

And how the Ravens do in the playoffs will largely determine how people view the 2010 season. All season, the Ravens were waiting to reach their potential and it never happened for a variety of reasons. Finger pointing amongst the Ravens fanbase has been a hobby this season and I'm sure it will continue into the postseason. Much of it is deserved, but at times, the fans are demonstrating why they are on the sidelines and not being paid to call the shots.

I believe the Ravens will win in Kansas City, but all bets are off if they have to travel to New England or Pittsburgh. Sure, the Ravens should have won in New England earlier this season and did win in Pittsburgh, but the Patriots are in "take no prisoners" mode after losing to the Browns in week 9 and the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger back, who was suspended when the Ravens won in Pittsburgh earlier this season.

So it's looking like the 2010 season is headed for disappointment. But if it doesn't, it'll mean we're Super Bowl Champions. So fans should get used to that idea in the next few days.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

O's ink Kevin Gregg

Will Kevin Gregg be fist-pumping as the Orioles closer?

The Orioles signed relief pitcher/closer Kevin Gregg this afternoon, ending what had been a month long song and dance between the team and the pitcher. Gregg reportedly signed for a 2 year, $11 million contract, which is eerily similar to the one the Orioles gave Mike Gonzalez last offseason.

And like Gonzalez, Gregg is a wild card with an emphasis on wild. His walk rate is higher than you'd like to see in a potential closer at 3.7 per 9 innings. Last year it was the highest it's been in his career, at 4.6 BB/9. His K/IP rate is solid, at 8.3 for his career, and he's known to get up into the 9's. Unfortunately, his ERA hasn't been below 3.50 since his rookie year in 2003. And at 33, Gregg is headed toward the downward curve of his career, which means that his already worrisome numbers could get worse.

But he does have some gaudy save numbers -- 37, 23, 29 and 32 -- in the last four years which is probably what the O's decided to pay for. Which means the Orioles have not learned much from the rash of bad bullpen signings they've made in the past, which explains the multi-year signings of Gonzalez last year and Gregg today.

Gregg is basically a right handed version of Mike Gonzalez (thanks Ben) and the Orioles are paying both pitchers closer money in 2011. Meanwhile, Koji Uehara is the team's best closer. So while the Orioles continue to be a frugal ball club when it comes to signing bigger name free agents to more expensive contracts, they don't hesitate to burn millions on risky bullpen arms like Gonzalez and Gregg and reclamation projects that were doomed to fail from the start (Garrett Atkins).

I've always believed bullpens should be made up of talented young arms who for whatever reason couldn't crack a starting rotation. And the Orioles have seen guys like Jim Johnson and Jason Berken become solid bullpen arms after their MiL careers as starting pitchers flamed out. But the Orioles obviously like Gregg for some reason despite his troubling walk rate in 2010.

We'll just have to wait and see what that was -- if there was ever anything to like at all.

Monday, January 3, 2011

O's sign Lee

The Orioles signed Derrek Lee to a one year deal.

The Orioles signed Derrek Lee this past weekend, filling a vacancy at 1B that’s remained open since Rafael Palmeiro left after the 1998 season even though many first basemen have come and gone since then.

And you could still say that the vacancy remains open despite the Lee signing.

Lee will not be a long term fixture at 1B, but he shouldn’t embarrass the Orioles at the position the way Garrett Atkins did in 2010. Lee, 35, is coming off a down year in which he had a .774 OPS but was dealing with an injury for most of the season and missed 14 games.

In 2009, Lee had a .972 OPS with 35 home runs and 111 runs batted in. And while he probably won’t bounce back enough to replicate that season in ‘11, he should be able to give the Orioles a .850 OPS with around 30 homers. And that would be just fine for one year. Plus, with the additions of Mark Reynolds and JJ Hardy, the Orioles are making themselves a nice little slugging line-up if all goes according to plan.

In the end though, it’s a safe move by the Orioles. Lee most likely won’t be with the O’s in 2012, putting them back in 1999 when they were looking for someone to replace Palmeiro. But if you’re going to go with a one-year stop gap – better to do it with someone who is still playing at a high level in Lee than go with an all out risk like Garrett Atkins.

And what do you know…Derrek Lee is a former Cub to boot.

Oh, Andy.