Wei-Yin Chen’s Best Season

At this point in the season, it seems that all O’s fans are feeling that “Orioles’ Magic.” To those O’s faithful, this year has proven that “Orioles’ Magic” is definitely alive and well.

There are any number of players who have delivered in the clutch and have outplayed expectations. As a whole, the pitching staff has far exceeded expectations (with the exception of Ubaldo Jimenez). Consistency has been a theme for the pitching staff for most of the season. Largely thanks to the staff, the O’s find themselves seven games up in the AL East, despite a projected fourth place finish. Can we give some credit where credit is due though? Wei-Yin Chen is having the best season of his career and is continuing to play well as we head towards October.

Chen joined the Orioles prior to the 2012 season after spending four seasons playing in Japan’s Nippon Baseball League. Chen, who hails from Taiwan, has always been a consistent performer, but coming into 2014, he had a career record of 19-18.

This season, things have really come together for the Orioles’ southpaw and he’s put together a phenomenal season. Chen’s 13 wins lead all Orioles and, as of August 29, were 12th best in the majors. His 3.76 ERA is lowest he’s posted in his career, and Chen has nearly four strikeouts for every walk he’s allowed.

MLB 14 The Show (English Version)_Vita_CChen’s best season of his career is coming at the best possible time for the O’s, who are playing some of their best baseball as of late. There is increasing pressure being put on the pitching staff to keep runs off the board due to Manny Machado’s season-ending knee injury.

In his last 10 starts, Chen has posted a 6-2 record. He has not logged more than one loss in any month yet this season and his opponent batting average has dropped each subsequent month. For the Orioles to continue to win, Chen will be integral.

Pitching is what it takes to win in October and with the play of the Taiwanese ‘MLB Show’ cover athlete, Wei-Yin Chen, the O’s look poised to make a run at the AL pennant and possibly the World Series.

 

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Premier League Wrap-Up: Week 2

EPL

Byline BenHey folks, it’s that time again! Welcome to this week’s Premier League Wrap-Up, presented by Baltimore Birds Blog. This week was no less eventful than the last, but in the interest of space and time, I want to only look at a few key moments from this week; United is in freefall, Di Maria is in a red jersey, and Arsenal has started its midseason slump a little bit early this season.

Freefall

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Manchester United is officially in the beginning of another freefall; much like the one that was seen last season. The first problem of the week came during the game against Sunderland, when United ended up settling for a tie against a markedly inferior team.

Tying with Sunderland immediately after losing to Swansea City is not a good streak to have for a top-tier team like United, and unless van Gaal can get his locker room in order fast, expect more poor performances from this once-mighty club.

Speaking of poor performances, it is worth noting that United got knocked out of the FA Cup after a disastrous game against MK Dons (4-0 was the final score), a team currently in the second tier of English professional soccer. Although this was not an EPL match, nor will it even be a potential EPL matchup for some time, it is still a match worth noting, since it shows just how far United may yet fall this season.

All United fans can do right now is hope that the addition of Di Maria from Real Madrid is enough to at least keep the team from any further embarrassments, and at the very least keep them hovering around the middle of the standings.

Trouble at Highbury

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Arsenal, with its tie against Everton and the recent (and likely season-ending) injury of Olivier Giroud, is officially on our freefall watch, even with the Champions League advancement this week. Giroud is a huge part of the Gunners’ squad, and without the trio of him, Ozil, and Sanchez at the top, the Gunners may experience their annual midseason slump a little early this year.

Wenger cannot keep relying on Aaron Ramsey to fill the shoes of missing stars for too much longer; defenses have shown in the past that can figure him out, leaving Ozil and Sanchez without backup when they need it the most. Arsenal also cannot just keep hoping that they get a lucky shot or two when their opponents have been tired out, as they did against Everton.

By all accounts, Arsenal is a broken team, and unless some major changes come to Highbury, then the Gunners will suffer yet another mediocre season under Wenger’s leadership.

Hola, Di Maria!

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As mentioned earlier, Manchester United has officially completed the signing of Argentine midfielder Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid. Di Maria is without a doubt one of the best players on the Argentine national squad, and having him will provide a big boost to the Red Devils’ midfield, which this week demonstrated that it still needs work.

He is a playmaker and a goal scorer, so he should work well with Rooney, Mata, and Van Persie, and hopefully turn United’s season around. At the same time, however, it is clear that some serious team-building needs to be done at United, and fast. Di Maria, talented as he may be, is likely not the immediate answer for a club that has to address some very fundamental issues.

Couple these existing issues with the adjustment period every player faces when first joining a new team, and you get a recipe for at least a few more losses before United may look competitive again. Van Gaal set the Premier League transfer record with the purchase, so let’s hope that he is able to get a nice return on his investment.

A Look at September Call-ups

Tyler's BylineIt’s almost Sept. 1 and that means it’s almost time for the Orioles to bring up a new line of players via call-ups.

Baltimore has a seven-game lead right now in the East, but could definitely use extra players to help secure the division and give some starters rest.

Some of the hitters that could be added to the roster are catcher Steve Clevenger, first baseman Christian Walker, infielders Steve Lambardozzi and Jemile Weeks, and outfielders Quentin Berry and Julio Borbon.

502182Clevenger has already been called up this season and posted a .305 average at Triple-A Norfolk, along with two homeruns and 30 RBIs.

Walker is the biggest longshot to be added to the team, as the Orioles have depth at first baseman.

However, Walker’s numbers are hard to ignore, as he has hit 25 homeruns and batted .291 between Double-A Bowie and Norfolk.

Buck Showalter may want to wait until next season to use the young first baseman, but it won’t be shocking if the O’s choose bring him up.

It’s a guarantee that either Steve Lombardozzi or Jemile Weeks will be called up in order to add depth to the middle of the infield.

Steve Lombar

Lombardozzi has a better chance of being called up over Weeks though, as he can play multiple positions.

He played well for the O’s at the beginning of the season; batting .288 in 20 games, but had to be sent down in order to make room for Manny Machado.

Lombardozzi has batted .280 at Norfolk since then and should provide solid depth as a utility man.

Weeks may be called up as well, as the Orioles are lacking speed and could choose to use him as a pinch-runner.

Quentin Berry and Julio Borbon are also options, as they also provide decent speed. Berry has 24 steals at Norfolk, while Borbon has 32 steals of his own.

As for pitching, the main options for the Orioles would be Joe Saunders and Ryan Webb.

Saunders, who is most memorable by O’s fans for his playoff win against the Rangers, has pitched well in Norfolk. He’s pitched 11 innings and has only given up two earned runs.

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Showalter could call Saunders up in order to use him as a spot starter for the end of the season.

Webb has pitched most of this season for the Orioles and is also a guarantee to be called up.

Buck has a lot of options on he can bring up, as the O’s look to wrap up the East and get ready for a playoff run.

Ravens vs. Redskins Review

Byline JasonThe Ravens suited up Saturday night against the Redskins in the most recent edition of the “Battle of the Beltway.” With this being the third preseason game, the starters were expected to play at least the first two quarters before they presumably rest during next week’s preseason finale. This was the last chance to see the starters out there before week one versus Cincinnati.

Before an announced crowd of just over 70,000 at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens put on an impressive performance, edging out the Redskins, 23-17. There were many guys who stood out and a lot of pieces that should make Ravens fans feel optimistic. Here are my notes and observations from last night’s game:

Steve Smith, Sr.

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If the Ravens get the guy who played today for a full 16 games, watch out! He played just one half and hauled in 6 catches, 80 yards, a touchdown and showed impressive elusiveness escaping tacklers on a 30-yard reception in the first quarter. Smith has enormous talent for sure, and I’m excited to see what the Smith & Smith combo can produce in 2014. Of course, this is all set up by….

The Kubiak Offense & Passing game

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The offense looked very smooth today. Joe Flacco had a great feel for the offense and seemed to always find the right place to put the football. He spread the ball around, hitting all the top targets in Smith Sr, Smith, Pitta, Juice (it’s easier to just say Juice).

Flacco appeared confident at the line and in the pocket. Kubiak has already put his stamp on the offense, and so far, the results look good. Kubiak made excellent in-game adjustments as the Redskins started putting more and more guys up near the line of scrimmage. On the flip side, however, the passing game is not going to be effective without a good…

Running game!

Where was it? While the Redskins did begin to stack the box, the lack of a running game tonight has to be a concern, given last year’s enormous struggles. Bernard Pierce ran four times for -3 yards, Lorenzo Taliaferro ran 11 times for just 25 yards and Justin Forsett rushed seven times for 30 yards. If this team is going to make the playoffs, they have to be able to pound the rock. Of course, it’s a lot easier to do well running the ball with a good performance from the…

Offensive Line

This was arguably the worst performance this preseason from the offensive line. Any kinks need to be worked out ASAP, especially considering the Ravens start the season with three straight divisional matchups. Flacco was sacked twice in just one half of play.

Although one could be argued as a coverage sack, the front office isn’t going to be happy to see their $120 million man on his back. They weren’t terrible by any means, but there’s definitely room for improvement before the Bengals come in to town Sept. 7.

Defense

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After struggling at times in the first two preseason games, especially at cornerback, the Ravens defense was spectacular last night. They yielded just three points to the Redskins’ first team offense and sacked Robert Griffin III three times. RGIII managed just 20 yards passing and was intercepted by C.J. Mosley on a deflected pass. Alfred Morris and Roy Helu combined for 13 carries and 59 yards.

Brandon Williams

Keep an eye on him this year. I think he’s going to be special.

Justin Tucker

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Beast.

Random stat: Since John Harbaugh became head coach of the Ravens in 2008, the Ravens are 18-9 in preseason games overall and 17-6 overall since going 1-3 in 2008. I have no idea if this means anything at all… purely an observation.

Manny Gone, but O’s Not Out

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Tyler's BylineThe Orioles and fans found out yesterday that Manny Machado would be undergoing season-ending knee surgery.

Machado suffered the knee injury on August 11 and the Orioles initially thought the star third baseman had avoided a serious injury and only needed an extended stay on the 15-day DL.

However, the Platinum Gold Glover got advice to get knee surgery, which ends his season and leaves Baltimore without a true third baseman.

The Orioles will likely have to go with a combination of Chris Davis, Ryan Flaherty and Cord Phelps to play third base for the reason of the season.

Losing Manny Machado is obviously a tough blow to the team, but the Orioles are still in good position to make a playoff run.

EAST W L PCT GB HOME ROAD RS RA DIFF STRK L10 POFF
Baltimore 73 53 .579 34-26 39-27 541 479 +62 Lost 1 6-4 96.3
NY Yankees 65 61 .516 8 31-31 34-30 494 533 -39 Won 2 4-6 4.6
Toronto 65 63 .508 9 33-27 32-36 568 568 0 Lost 1 3-7 4.3
Tampa Bay 63 65 .492 11 29-36 34-29 507 483 +24 Won 2 5-5 3.7
Boston 56 72 .438 18 29-38 27-34 486 554 -68 Lost 6 3-7 0.1

Machado is a big part of the Orioles success, but the team has actually gone 5-3 without the third baseman.

The O’s may choose to go out of house for a third baseman to fix the problem, though, with Adrian Beltre being a possibility.

However, Beltre would come at a decent cost (three years left of a five-year, $80 million deal) and the O’s may not want to give up a lot for a rental-type player.

Baltimore should still be able to make a big run, even without Manny Machado because of solid pitching and timely hits.

Those two reasons have been the reason the Orioles have been one of the top teams in the MLB this season and won’t be affected greatly by the Manny-departure.

It’s a tough and sad blow for Oriole fans, but don’t expect Baltimore to lose its winning ways. Expect a good postseason.

Premier League Wrap Up- Week 1

EPL

Byline BenNow that the first week of league play has concluded, let’s look back at some of the best moments and biggest headlines from this week in the English Premier League. It was a week full of surprises, but in the interest of space, I want to look at just a few key matches that changed the landscape of the Premiership in a very big way, as well as a major signing by Liverpool and the trouble brewing in the halls of Crystal Palace.

Swansea City 2, Manchester United 1

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Swansea City shocked the world by beating Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday. The Swans seemed to have caught van Gaal’s Red Devils completely by surprise, since it seemed that no matter what strategy they used they just could not find a way to beat what is by all accounts an inferior team.

United’s only goal of the day came from Wayne Rooney in the second half after trailing the first half. Looking to next week. Swansea has an easy game coming up against Burnley, whereas United has to contend with Sunderland. Sunderland is on par with Swansea in terms of talent, so unless van Gaal has prepared the team adequately, then United could very well lose this next match.

I have serious doubts right now about United being able to break out of eighth place this season, and it is clear that the Sunderland match may prove to be the litmus test as to whether this week was a fluke or a sign of what is to come.

Leicester 2, Everton 2

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Leicester City’s manager made it very clear during interviews in the preseason that they would not go quietly this season, and his team proved it with a tie over Everton. As one of the giants of last season, the Toffeemen were expected to easily beat their opponents from Leicester, but instead, they found themselves in a tougher match than anyone expected.

It is very clear that Everton let its guard down a bit for this match, likely thinking that they would have an easy win. Leicester, on the other hand, feels as though it has something to prove, that it wants everyone to know that it can play with the big kids, and it can remain in the EPL, unlike its previous, short-lived runs in the Premiership.

Everton faces Arsenal next, and since both teams have had their share of problems this week, it is hard to say whether or not Everton will be able to redeem itself, or if they need to address core issues sooner rather than later.

Arsenal 2, Crystal Palace 1

Speaking of Arsenal, the Gunners scared millions of Gooners everywhere by almost tying with Crystal Palace, in a game that the Gunners seemed determined to lose in the first half. I saw flashes of Arsenal teams past this week, and not the trophy winning ones.

Wenger sat out Ozil and Mertesaker, a move that I am still baffled by. Yes, the returning German players had less practice than their teammates recently, but that does not mean they should not be trusted as substitutes at the very least.

Alexis Sanchez showed that he can make the necessary plays, but needs someone with talent to help him score. As good as Aaron Ramsey was that match (especially with the dramatic, last-minute game winning goal), he is no Ozil.

By all accounts, Crystal Palace should have tied with Arsenal, but sheer luck prevented this from happening. Luck does not win championships, talent does. Arsenal sat out its talent in favor of luck, and got an embarrassing performance in return. Let’s hope that next week is a bit better for the Gunners.

Benvenuto, Balotelli! 

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Welcome to Anfield, Mario Balotelli! The Reds made moves recently with the acquisition of the Italian striker from AC Milan, bringing in much-needed talent to fill the hole in the roster left by Luis Suarez.

Balotelli has continually performed well on the pitch, and clearly still has much of his career left to play. How much of it will be at Anfield, no one can be certain, but what is certain is that putting him with Steven Gerrard is dangerous to opposing defenses, and great for helping Liverpool carve out a top spot in the standings this season.

Signing Balotelli, however, does not come without risks. Mario Balotelli’s attitude problems are well-known all over the sports world, and while not quite as bad as Suarez’s biting problem, will provide an unnecessary distraction in the weeks ahead. It is quite possible that the Reds will have to find someone to fill in for him at some point during the season, since Balotelli has a habit of receiving suspensions for confrontations with other players on the pitch.

In addition, I can foresee some kind of conflict in the locker room as Balotelli adjusts to his new team. All Reds fans can do is hope that any potential incident between teammates is minor and can be quickly resolved, since prolonged fights are never good for a team.

Trouble at Crystal Palace

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In light of recent revelations of his appalling conduct at former club Cardiff City, sporting director Iain Moody has resigned from his post at Crystal Palace. While this is likely not going to cause a noticeable change in play on the pitch this coming week, it is still a distraction that a team like Crystal Palace can ill afford.

Crystal Palace, having narrowly avoided relegation last season, is desperately trying to build its brand overseas through the now-global broadcasts of its games, much like the other “small” teams (think Hull City). Having a member of its front office resign after his very nasty, racist texts and emails with former Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay came to light is not exactly good for the brand.

There’s also the distinct possibility that the drama in the front office will in some way spread to the locker room, potentially causing poor performance later down the road. Again, I must stress that a potential decline in performance is likely not to be seen for at least another week or so, but the damage to Crystal Palace’s brand (as well as Cardiff City’s) can be felt immediately.