24 Days Later… Days 17-24 (The Big Finish)

Alright, people.  We’ve made it to the homestretch.  We’ve got the last batch of 8 things going through my mind as I get caught up with current events.  Now I get to talk mostly about the craziest shit.  And it ends with the biggest Eff You.

Part 1.

Part 2.

#17:  Second Round Predictions.

Just getting caught up with basketball.  Second round started just as soon as I was finding out how the first round was ending.  But here we go anyway.

(1) San Antonio Spurs over (5) Los Angeles Clippers.  I want to go with the Clippers in an upset.  I really do.  But I think the Clippers season ends here.  The Spurs are just too good, too consistent.  If the Clippers were packing a healthy Chauncey Billups, I think I can make the call.  If the Spurs hadn’t quietly destroyed the league in the second half, I think I can make the call.  But I can’t.  And I think Blake Griffin is going to be a monster this offseason.  It’s probably for the best.  Spurs in 6.

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder over (3) Los Angeles Lakers.  OKC takes this.  In fashion.  Maybe the Thunder fall short of winning it all this year, but this will still be the year they told Kobe and the Lakers to just go home.  And it’s too bad.  If the seeding had worked out, we could have had a Lakers-Clippers series.  A quick rivalry before Blake takes over the town.  The Thunder are just too good.  They look so relaxed out there.  OKC in 5.

(4) Boston Celtics over (8) Philadelphia 76ers.  Once again, this is the basis of the Twitter feud that spawned LRDP.  I think the Sixers know how lucky they are to even be in this round.  The Celtics just carry this stigma of a legendary warrior.  The Sixers will be major players soon, but if things get dirty in this series, Boston is going to still be the won to crawl away a winner.  And you really won’t be able to get mad at them for it.  Boston in 6.

(3) Indiana Pacers over (2) Miami Heat.  No, this isn’t another example of Lebron-hating.  This is a real prediction.  I want to see Boston-Miami so bad.  I want one more classic Big 3-Big 3 series.  But I think the Pacers are launching an attack the Heat wasn’t prepared for.  Especially without Chris Bosh.  Roy Hibbert is the main force down low and now the Heat can’t beat it with quickness.  Paul George and Danny Granger can try to keep up with Dwayne Wade while David West tries to put some muscle into Lebron.  The Heat might be more flash, but the Pacers are gonna hit and hit hard this round.  Indiana in 7.

#18:  Clippers vs Lakers.

Maybe next year…

This is a matchup I want to see.  And it needs to happen in the playoffs.  But I think it needs to be in the Western Conference Finals… at least when it happens for the first time.  And I don’t think we are going to see either one of these teams in the next round.  For as exciting as Blake has been, his flaws have really shown this year.  DeAndre Jordan is a young, big man.  But his scoring hasn’t been what I think the Clippers were hoping for.  He can play some defense against Bynum, but the Lakers have a distinct advantage.  The Clippers have a fun bunch of guards (CP3, Mo, Nick Young, Foye), but this would be a series that Chauncey Billups was acquired for—maybe it’s best that this matchup doesn’t happen this year.  Chris Paul and Kenyon Martin offer experience, but Kobe and Pau are still going to be too much to take on.  I think LA is still a Laker city until Blake can round his game out, Caron Butler shows that he’s a viable third option, Jordan adds some offense, and Chauncey is ready to suit up.

#19:  Celtics vs Heat

If I was Chris Bosh, I’m in no rush to get back from my strained abdominals.  Boston-Miami has turned into the type of feud where it might be easier to deal with the scenario in which Miami loses to Indiana and everyone treats it as a major upset and surprise than it is to deal with one in which a young and hungry Heat is unable to finish off a dying Celtics on their last legs.  I want to see one more series that pits KG-Pierce-Ray-Rondo on one side and James-Wade-Bosh on the other.  But I want it to be an all-out fight to the death.  Loser leaves town.  At least, for this generation.

For as long as Rondo is hanging out around Harbor Yard and Lebron is partying on South Beach, I think Boston-Miami lives on.  But this is the original setup.  This is the purest stage of the fight.  I want blood.

This is Wrestlemania.  John Cena vs The Rock.

Holy crap, I’m surprised I’ve never read an article with that parallel…  It’s genius.  Because it just happened.

The perfect metaphor.

John Cena is the Boston Celtics.  He is the hometown boy–FROM MASSACHUSETTS.  He grew up with dreams to be a champion and the greatest wrestler ever.  He doesn’t care how many beating it takes to get to the top.  He’ll just smile and go on to the next one.  He’s the one that people might not always like, but they will respect.  He’s the one hard, honest workers can believe in.  And he’s about doing the things that win.  The good guy.

The Rock is the Miami Heat.  He is Hollywood–FROM MIAMI.  He might have started with dreams to be the best champ ever, but he also wants more.  He wants the glitz and the fame.  He wants to be the hippest, coolest thing.  He might not run away from a fight, but he might be more willing to pick a fight from someone smaller so that he looks bigger.  He’s what the cool kids want to be like and the what old-schoolers  think is disrespectful.  The cool bad guy.

You really can picture it: while John Cena is in the gym—busting his ass, The Rock is on a red carpet.  That’s the Celtics and the Heat.

Unlike Wrestlemania though, the Celtics have to come out on top.

#20:  AL East.

These were the AL East standings, as recently as 10 May 2012:

Baltimore Orioles   20-12 (.625), 9-7 home, 11-5 road, +13 run differential

Tampa Bay Rays   20-12 (.625), 13-3 home, 7-9 road, +11

Toronto Blue Jays   18-14 (.563), 2.5 GB, 8-7 home, 10-7 road, +23

New York Yankees   17-14 (.548), 3 GB, 9-7 home, 8-7 road, +13

Boston Red Sox   12-19 (.387), 8 GB, 4-11 home, 8-8 road, -14

Keep looking at that.  A couple things stand out.  (a) The Orioles are in first place**.  (b) The Yankees and the Red Sox are at the bottom of the division.  (c) The Red Sox are 4-11 at home.

**Every year, the Orioles have a stretch of awesome baseball.  But this time it feels real.

Here are the standings, one week later (present day, 17 May):

Baltimore Orioles   24-14 (.632), 12-9 home, 12-5 road, +16

Tampa Bay Rays   24-14 (.632), 14-3 home, 10-11 road, +17

New York Yankees   20-17 (.541), 3.5 GB, 11-8 home, 9-9 road, +10

Toronto Blue Jays   20-18 (.526), 4 GB, 9-9 home, 11-9 road, +22

Boston Red Sox   17-20 (.459), 6.5 GB, 9-11 home, 8-9 road, +11

Some things still stand out.  (a) The Orioles are still in first place.  (b) The Red Sox are still at the bottom.  (c) It was only one week, but the numbers look pretty much the same!

Nationals leading the NL East.  Orioles on top of the AL East.  Something’s in the Chesapeake.  Something like tiger blood.

It’s started…

#21:  Orioles FTW!!!

I can’t believe the Orioles are playing so well.  It’s like everything is just lining up.  I am eating up close games.  And I’m digging the way they play in extra innings.  They’re crushing homers (most of them solo shots, but a HR is a HR)… they’re playing good D… and the pitching has been exceptional.  This is the team that we keep claiming to be.  But now it’s winning.

And no one saw it coming.  We were a popular pick as the worst team in baseball.  We were supposed to be the easy opponent.  Our pitching was supposed to be our weakness.  And our “prospects” were supposedly topped out.

Our record suggest we’re (one of) the best teams in all of baseball.  But the trusty espn.go.com gives us some proof:

Offense:

Ranked #5 in runs with 177… (#1 is Texas, 216; #30 is Pittsburgh, 106; MLB average is 157)

Ranked #7 in hits with 334… (#1 is Texas, 395; #30 is Pittsburgh, 261; MLB average is 318)

Ranked #4 in doubles with 72… (#1 is Boston, 108; #30 is Toronto, 50; MLB average is 65)

Ranked #1 in homeruns with 60… (#2 is NY Yanks, 56; #30 is San Diego, 15; MLB average is 35)

Ranked #4 in total bases with 596… (#1 is Texas, 646; #30 is Pittsburgh, 407; MLB average is 503)

Ranked #5 in slugging at .448… (#1 is Texas, .477; #30 is San Diego, .334; MLB average is .396)

Ranked #2 in extra base hits with 137… (#1 is Boston, 153; #30 is Pittsburgh, 87; MLB average is 108)

Pitching:

Tied for #1 in wins with 24… (least wins is Minnesota, 11; MLB average is 19)

Ranked #9 in ERA with 3.42… (#1 is Washington, 2.89; #30 is Minnestoa, 5.33; MLB average is 3.87)

Ranked #1 in saves with 16… (#30 is LA Angels/Miami, 5; MLB average is 9)

Ranked #9 is opponent batting average at .242… (#1 is Washington, .214; #30 is Minnesota, .285; MLB average is .250)

Ranked #9 in save percentage with 76%… (#1 is Minnesota, 88%; #30 is Miami, 36%; MLB average is 66%)

Ranked #7 in WHIP with 1.25… (#1 is Washington, 1.11; #30 is Colorado, 1.55; MLB average is 1.30)

Those are some solid stats, people!  And the Orioles have been looking strong all year.  I know it’s so early in the season.  But I think the O’s can stay on this pace.  It’s a real good story, enough to even get noticed by Grantland.

There are 2 reasons why we are playing hot ball right now.  And 1 signature, defining moment.

Here it comes… the “big one” is evident…

#22:  Orioles Offense.

I don’t remember anyone saying that we wouldn’t hit.  From the pre-season stuff that I read, our problem was supposed to be pitching.  And that we played in the AL East.  And that we haven’t made any shocking moves in the past decade+.

But our offense is really hot this year.  I already listed some of our more impressive rankings in a few offensive categories.  Let’s look at some of our better batters:

  • Matt Wieters—Has been awesome.  He’s going to win a few Gold Gloves, I think.  And his hitting is approaching the levels he was projected to be at.  Batting average could probably be a big higher, but the power is starting to show.  As of 17 May, he’s sitting on 8 HR and 20 RBIs.  That’s tops for all catchers for HR and a solid #6 for RBIs.
  • Chris Davis—Has been awesome.  And I think I have more to say about his performance.  But real quick, he’s been a nice bat to have in the lineup.  5 HR, 15 RBIs, and a .281 average… despite not being in the lineup every night.
  • JJ Hardy—Has been awesome.  Last season was a nice showing, but I don’t think a lot of people thought Hardy was the real deal.  So far this year, he’s on 9 HR and 18 RBIs.  That actually ties him for 12th in HR for the league.
  • Nolan Reimold—Has been awesome.  He had that promising rookie year before he kind of bottomed out and struggled last year.  He’s been battling a back injury, but he put up a quick 5 HR and .313 average.  Pretty much the kind of numbers that were supposed to help make the Reimold-Jones-Markakis outfield so promising.
  • Adam Jones—Looks like he’s ready to be the star.  This is a big contract year for Jones.  And he’s finally taking huge steps towards being the franchise.  A very impressive 12 HR, 24 RBIs, and .295 average.  That’s 6th in HRs and 23rd in RBIs.  A good sign.
  • Nick Markakis—Has been awesome.  It’s like he didn’t spend the offseason injured.  And his bat is looking more like it did during his rookie campaign.  He’s definitely a pure hitter.  But he’s showing power again.  6 HR, 19 RBIs, and a batting average that should be a lot higher.
  • Wilson Betemit—Has been an awesome pickup.  6 HR from a guy that can play the field and DH.

This is an offense that hits a lot of homeruns.  I have the ESPN app on my phone and I get scoring updates for all O’s games.  It feels like every time my screen lights up, it’s a notification saying the O’s just went deep.  And those are just our major hitters so far.  We also feature a bench that offers Mark Reynolds (platoon-roled for now, I guess) and Bill Hall.  Plus youngsters like Ryan Flaherty, Xavier Avery, and Luis Exposito.

And down in the minors, we have Dylan Bundy… just waiting for the right time to come up.

We’re not as loaded at the Rangers.  And we’re not as talented as the Angels or Tigers.  But we have a core to really build around.  On paper, we might not ever be the favorites… but on the field, I like what we have if we can keep the major parts intact (Jones, Markakis, Avery, Hardy, Davis, Wieters).

We’re almost there… Start piecing it together…

#23:  Orioles Pitching.

This is probably the most surprising part of the Orioles success.  Because this is where we are supposed to fail.

One glance at our pitching staff and not a single name makes you think “allstar-caliber”.  More than likely, you see a few names and think “underachiever”.

If we go by one-time potential analysis, we can think of Brian Matusz as the ultimate disappointment.

If we are thinking of guys who just haven’t pitched like we thought they could, that probably includes Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton.

No worries, Chen. You’re better than we expected.

Wei-Yin Chen should have been a mystery gamble.

Kevin Gregg should have been the failed experiment.

Jim Johnson should be the only pitcher we have that teams are kicking the tires on.

Instead, we have a staff of surprises.

Arrieta got the season started on an awesome note.  He might not be overpowering and still needs to find some consistency, but I’m still excited when he takes the mound.  I think he would really benefit pitching after a true ace.  As the #1 now, he’s already gone up against Carl Pavano, CC Sabathia, Phil Humber (he of the perfect game fame), Jered Weaver, (formerly undefeated at the time) Ivan Nova, Neftali Feliz, and James Shields.  I actually think he’s done pretty well for his 2-4 record.

I had no real expectations for Tommy Hunter… except for him to pitch better than 2011 Brian Matusz.  And that shouldn’t be difficult at all.  But the way he pitched the second game of the season, I knew I had completely underestimated him.  He’s actually been pretty solid so far.

Jason Hammel came into the season with one distinction: he’s the guy we got from the Rockies for finally giving up on Jeremy Guthrie.  I was ecstatic.  I know Guthrie was actually a talented guy.  But I hated him as the Orioles “ace”.  I know we didn’t give him much support.  But I would have traded him for a Coors Light beer.  And I’m not a Coors drinker.  But we got Jason Hammel.  The guy who almost pitched a no-hitter in his first start on a new team.  That should have probably been Hammel’s highlight of the year.  And we would be wrong.  Because he might be our best pitcher.  He’s 4-1 on the year.  His ERA is 2.68.  He’s got 8.5 strikeouts per 9 innings.  And he has the lowest WHIP in the rotation.  The one game he lost was a 2-1 thriller to the Yankees—a game he pitched well in.

Then there’s Matusz.  The guy who just pitched the worst season ever for a pitcher.  That’s crazy.  How do you go 1-9 with a 10.00+ ERA?  In a season where you have a 2.114 WHIP.  And allow more than twice as many hits as strikeouts.  A season after you were a candidate for Rookie of the Year?  It would be dumb to give him a rotation spot, right?  Wrong.  Crazy.  He already doubled his wins total from last year**and, after 7 appearances, has about ¾ of last year’s strikeout total.  If Matusz can rebound, then maybe the Orioles pitching isn’t as terrible as we thought.

**Matusz pitched the day this article was written and got the victory.  So he is now 3-4, including 3-1 in his last 4 starts.

Finally we get to discuss Wei-Yin Chen.  Our overseas signings rarely work out amazing.  Koji Uehara might have been our best one and we traded him away… for Tommy Hunter (maybe that worked out pretty well for us).  Chen has the potential to be a great starter for us.  He’s started out 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA.  He’s young.  He’s fresh and unknown.  He just beat Sabathia in Camden Yards… a place where Sabathia had been 10-1 against the O’s (saw a graphic during the game).  He’s got a huge start coming up against Stephen Strasburg**.

**That whole Washington series should be good.  Arrieta-Jackson, Hammel, Detwiler, Chen-Strasburg.

And our overworked, but amazing bullpen.  Pedro Strop and Darren O’Day each have 3 wins.

Just a couple of guys. Being awesome.

No one in our bullpen has a losing record.  Troy Patton is the only reliever with an ERA over 3.75.  Look at this bullpen:

  • Pedro Strop   3-1, 1.29 ERA, 21 innings in 16 games, 3 runs given up (all earned)
  • Luis Ayala   1-1, 1.86 ERA, 19 innings in 16 games, 5 runs (4 earned)
  • Darren O’Day   3-0, 1.47 ERA, 18 innings in 17 games, 3 runs (all earned)
  • Troy Patton   1-0, 4.58 ERA, 17 innings in 15 games, 9 runs (all earned)
  • Matt Lindstrom   0-0, 1.29 ERA, 14 innings in 13 games, 5 runs (2 earned)
  • Kevin Gregg   1-1, 3.75 ERA, 12 innings in 9 games, 5 runs (all earned)
  • Dana Eveland   0-0, 3.38 ERA, 10 innings in 3 games, 4 runs (all earned)
  • Jim Johnson   0-0, 0.51 ERA, 17 innings in 17 games, 1 run (earned)

Look at that.  We have a closer again.  Jim Johnson is 13 for 13**.  It’s not the fanciest staff.  It’s not overpowering.  But it’s getting the job done.

**14 for 14 after the 17 May win.

We’ve done it.  Brace yourself for impact.  This last one is the biggest yet.

#24:  6 May 2012.  Orioles 9, Red Sox 6.  F/17~.

When we first started LastRoundDraftPicks, I wrote an article about the freefall of the Red Sox.

The descent started well before the Curse of the Andino.  But Andino definitely delivered a crushing blow.  Nearly fatal.

If that article serves as a near-eulogy for the Boston Red Sox, then 6 May 2012 represents a declaration by the Baltimore Orioles.

Watch this.

That’s the war-cry.

That’s the moment that Chris Davis and the Orioles took the stage to say one thing: Eff everyone.  Eff everyone that said the Orioles sucked.  Eff everyone that said the Orioles couldn’t compete in the AL East.  Eff everyone that viewed the Orioles as a minor league team wearing a major league uniform.

And they did it by sending a subtle message to the top of the baseball chain.  You can buy all the big-name players you want.  You can throw all that money around and play from reputation.  But we WANT it.  We WANT to earn everything.

Chris Davis—our 1B/3B/DH—strikes out big-money Adrian Gonzalez.  And watch it again.  It’s not like Davis got lucky and Gonzalez swung at a shit pitch.  That was legit.  83mph.  Down and away.  Money placement.

And when the camera shows the dugout, it’s a perfect scene.  Because the players weren’t going crazy because an 0-for-8 DH struck out one of the game’s better hitters.  They were acting like it’s no surprise.  Like, who’s laughing now?

The ending of the game is further evidence.  Top of the 17th.  Adam Jones, 3-run homerun.  That’s emphasis.  Read that recap from ESPN.  The Orioles were a LEAGUE best 19-9 when that game was over.  Boston had just lost its 5th straight.  It was the first time since 1994 that the Yankees AND Red Sox were at the bottom of the East after May 1.

I love when it’s late and I’m following the game on my phone.  I like it even better when it’s a close game.  Because I have full belief that this is an Orioles team that will grind out wins when most people expect them to give up and revert back to being losers.

When you’re a real fan of a team, certain moments stand out forever.

I remember the move from Memorial Stadium to Camden Yards.

I remember Mike Mussina getting snubbed at the 1993 Allstar game.

I remember Brady’s magic 50-HR season.

I remember 2,131.  I remember Cal’s farewell season.

I remember Eddie Murray.

I remember the flyball Tony Tarasco should have caught.

I remember the wild pitches.

I remember the failed Albert Belle experiment.  And the failed Sammy Sosa experiment.

I remember the Bedard-for-Jones/Sherrill shocker.

The Palmeiro steroids era.

And now I will remember the day that Chris Davis pitched 2 amazing innings.  Because I’m pretty sure this was the moment the Orioles said “Eff you” to the rest of the Major Leagues.  Hopefully it is the point when the Orioles transformed from jokes to the aggressors.

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3 thoughts on “24 Days Later… Days 17-24 (The Big Finish)

    • Sorry, man. But you need to wake up and see that the Lakers days of dominance are both in the mirror and in the future. I think the Thunder are gonna own the NBA for at least the next 5 years (something the Heat were supposed to do).

  1. You can definitely see your expertise within the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to say how they believe. All the time go after your heart.

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