Orioles

Bowl-eligible Syracuse set for finale at Temple

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Bowl-eligible Syracuse set for finale at Temple

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Syracuse has made a habit of losing the last game of the regular season. The Orange have lost seven straight and figure it's about time to end the dubious streak.

``I've never won my last regular-season game,'' senior wide receiver Alec Lemon said as the Orange prepared to face Temple on Friday morning. ``That's something I want to do - go out with a win. We've got to win every down, go out there and be physical, and make every play when the ball's thrown to you.''

Syracuse (6-5, 4-2 Big East) was sitting at 7-3 entering the final two games of 2010, eligible to play in the postseason for the first time since 2004. Instead of finishing with a flourish, the Orange floundered, losing to Connecticut and Boston College at home before rebounding to defeat Kansas State in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Last year, the Orange stood at 5-2 at midseason and lost their last five games.

``I kind of don't want it to creep into our minds,'' offensive tackle Justin Pugh said. ``That's kind of what happened with that Pinstripe Bowl team. We kind of felt complacent after that. We had two games and we lost those two games. We could have really had a good year that year and we kind of let off the pedal.

``Last year, losing those last five games, we don't ever want to end a season (that way). Our goal is to go out and win this next game and win three in a row.''

Syracuse has rallied with four wins in five games to qualify for the postseason for the second time in three years and has something more to shoot for. While the Big East's BCS bid will go to Rutgers or Louisville, Syracuse and Cincinnati (3-2 Big East) can still clinch a share of the conference championship if a number of games go their way in the final two weeks.

``We were fortunate enough to achieve our goal this season, but our regular season isn't over yet,'' said Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, who grew up in West Chester, Pa. and will have a large entourage at the game. ``We've still got a game ahead of us that we want to win. We want to finish the season off right, finish the regular season with a winning record.''

Temple (4-6, 2-4) has a lot riding on the game, too. The Owls, in their first season back in the Big East since 2004, are trying to schedule a 12th game in Hawaii, and a win over Syracuse is paramount. If the Owls do get that extra game and beat both the Orange and Hawaii, they'll have the six wins needed to play in a bowl game.

``We're down the home stretch right now,'' Temple head coach Steve Addazio said. ``We have to play Syracuse. I told our team we're playing for a bowl game,''

Syracuse is coming off an impressive comeback victory Saturday night at Missouri. Nassib hit Lemon for the winning touchdown in a 31-27 win with 20 seconds left on the clock, but the Orange left the field in tough shape and with a short turnaround.

Head coach Doug Marrone said half his 22 starters were banged-up, and there's no rest in sight. Temple beat Army 63-32 last week at West Point to snap a four-game slide - all in the Big East - as the Owls scored nine more points than in the four losses combined.

Montel Harris rushed for a Big East-record 351 yards and seven touchdowns against the Black Knights and gave quarterback Clinton Granger some breathing room in his first college start. Granger threw only four passes.

The Orange expect a difficult game.

``Everybody is a little sore, banged-up. You fight through it,'' Syracuse defensive tackle Jay Bromley said. ``Especially with what they did last week at Army, you can't look at this team as a pushover. You really have to go out there and play this game because they're going to give you everything they've got.

``We know that Temple is not what their record says they are. When we were 1-3, we knew we were better than our record. With Temple, they're way better than their record shows they are.''

And with Temple, you know what you're going to get.

``We know they're going to run, run, run, and when they get tired run some more,'' said Bromley, who had six tackles and two sacks against Missouri. ``They're a hard-nosed football team. We know we have to work hard to beat this team.''

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What exactly did the Orioles get in return for Manny Machado?

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What exactly did the Orioles get in return for Manny Machado?

So, the Orioles made some headlines earlier this week. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but minor league pitcher Asher Wojciechowski exercised his opt-out clause and is no longer with the organization. Please keep Orioles fans in your thoughts during this trying time.

As everyone reading this is undoubtedly already aware, the Orioles *also* made a trade yesterday, sending 26-year old superstar Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In return for their once-in-a-lifetime talent, the Orioles received a whopping five prospects from the Dodgers’ minor league system.

Yusniel Diaz, OF, 21

It’s fitting that this trade is being compared to the Erik Bedard trade, which was also a five-for-one, because Diaz could be a poor man’s Adam Jones. He’s not the prospect Jones was, but he could end up being a really nice player.

Talent evaluators are split on his ultimate ceiling. Some describe him as a bona fide stud, and others leave him off their top 100 lists. I’ve seen him ranked as high as 31st overall (by Baseball Prospectus), which, if accurate, is a terrific main piece in a package for a star rental. 

Most consider Diaz’s main flaw as a prospect to be his in-game power, though anyone watching the 2018 MLB Futures Game would be confused by that, as he became the second player ever to hit multiple home runs in the game. It’s possible that more power develops as he matures, and he certainly wouldn’t be the first player to hit for more power once reaching the Majors, but for now, it’s not a strength. I wouldn’t expect him to top 20 home runs in most seasons.

His bat-to-ball ability is his clearest strength, as he projects to consistently hit for a high average. His batting eye, while formerly a weakness, has become a strength in 2018, as he’s actually walked more times than he’s struck out (a rarity in this day and age). That will play well with O’s fans who are tired of seeing their players challenge strikeout records.

Dean Kremer, RHP, 22

Kremer isn’t a major name, which is a disappointment for O’s fans and one of the reasons their haul felt so uninspiring. Compared to more highly-touted prospects like Dustin May, Kremer looks like the team settled.

That said, he’s currently sporting the best K/9 ratio in the minors, and could end up being a diamond in the rough. He’s come a long way since being a 14th-round pick two years ago, and you have to wonder if the Orioles’ much-maligned pitching development can pick up where the much more successful Dodgers instructors left off.

Kremer is also notable for being the first Israeli-born player ever drafted in Major League Baseball.

Rylan Bannon, IF, 22

Bannon was an 8th-rounder last year and is having somewhat of a breakout this season. He’s leading the league in home runs, though playing in a notorious band box of a home park is skewing those numbers.

Bannon is undersized, but has a reputation of a good, if not elite, fielder. He’s a third baseman, but will likely spend some time at second as well. If the power breakout is real, he could end up a solid starter for the Orioles down the road. Again, that’s about all you can hope for in trades of this nature.

Zach Pop, RHP, 21

Pop has been described as potentially a future “right-handed Zach Britton,” which every O’s fan would take in a heartbeat. Of course, he’s not ranked like a future All-Star, as even in the weaker Orioles farm system he’s likely no better than around 25th. 

Still, the filler players in big trades like this are just lottery tickets, and considering his lack of pedigree, Pop seems like a relatively “safe” pitcher with projectability. He strikes out a lot of batters and gets a lot of ground balls, and at the very least can likely become a decent middle reliever.

Breyvic Valera, IF, 26

In a best-case scenario, Valera becomes the Orioles’ Ryan Flaherty replacement. If you squint, you can see somewhat decent upside in each of the other returning players, even despite their modest prospect rankings, but Valera is a clear utility player. 

He gets on base and hits for contact well enough to stick around and has proven capable of defending multiple positions, so there actually might be a spot for him at the end of the Orioles bench.

Overall

This trade has been described as anywhere from adequate and somewhat deflating to a great haul O’s fans should be excited about. Four of the five players have decent ceilings, though the chance of all four (or even just two of them) reaching those ceilings is highly unlikely. It’s just the nature of baseball.

Ultimately, this trade will be judged on the success or failure of Yusniel Diaz, who is the clear centerpiece of the package. Whether or not he succeeds will be partially up to him, and partially up to the front office and player development team.

If this trade is the beginning of the core for the next competitive Orioles team, then it’ll have to be considered a success. If these players each bust out of the league, then it was still the correct decision to trade Machado instead of settling for draft pick compensation, but it will still sting all the more for O’s fans seeing Manny soar to new heights elsewhere.

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Nationals players were critical of Dave Martinez's decision-making in the first half

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Nationals players were critical of Dave Martinez's decision-making in the first half

Baseball fans love the long ball. They love the flashy plays. They love the no-hit bids and the rare perfect game. All of these things dominate headlines and capture our attention. 

The often overlooked bullpen of a club, however, almost always serves as the glue holding everything together. Relief pitching is derived of unsung heroes who are asked to perform on short notice and in sticky, high-pressure situations. 

Head skipper of the Washington Nationals, Dave Martinez, is being criticized for his handling of the bullpen during the first half of the season. 

By now it's well-documented that the Nats played their first 96 games at .500 leaving the club in third place in a division the team has walked all over back-to-back years. 

Sure, one can chalk it up to injuries, lack of roster changes or an inexperienced first-year manager working through kinks. But, there's a reason this team expects to compete for a pennant year in and year out: depth. The buzz around Martinez's decision-making continues to point toward his inability to dish out relief pitching assignments to the player's liking.  

Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, Sammy Solis and Matt Grace once made up the team's relief staff in May. Between disabled-list periods for Kintzler and Madson, and Sammy Solis being sent down to Class AAA Syracuse, the staff took a beating in the month of June. 

Nats relievers aren't necessarily upset about overuse, but more so because of a lack of communication between player and manager. 

At times during the first half of the season, relief pitchers felt overworked and that their wishes were not being acknowledged nor granted by Martinez. 

Sean Doolittle was quick to point out that the addition of Kelvin Herrera, who joined the team on June 18, sparked a change in Martinez's approach. 

“Over the last maybe month or so, maybe since we got Herrera, he’s gone around to the relievers and been a lot more proactive with that communication,” Doolittle said.

On a more tricky note, trust has also been targeted as an area needing improvement. 

When a starter gets in a jam or doesn't seem like he is 100%, Martinez often calls on reinforcements to begin the warming up process. Guys have noticed a pattern in which relief pitchers who initially warm up are often not the ones who start the following inning. 

From a relief pitcher's perspective, this is a sign of Martinez's distrust. Dramatic or not, there was a glaring disconnect throughout the first half of play. 

“With a veteran group, I think we all expect to come into a team and say we’ve all been there; we just want things to go boom, boom, boom and be a piece of cake. But we also all know it’s not like that,” Shawn Kelley said.

Handling his veteran rotation in the second half of the season should become easier for Martinez as Stephen Strasburg is expected to start Friday. The right-hander was placed on the disabled list June 10 with right shoulder inflammation. 

Strasburg pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac on Sunday, allowing three runs while striking out seven and walking one. It was his second rehab start since going on the DL. He allowed one run in 3 1/3 innings for Potomac on July 11. Strasburg is 6-6 with a 3.46 ERA this season, striking out 

95 in 80 2/3 innings.

One thing that hasn't been criticized is Martinez's positive attitude. Players often rave about him as a person and how he brings a source of energy in the clubhouse. 

This was on full display during Monday night's Home Run Derby at Nationals Park. 

Moments after Bryce Harper won the Derby, Martinez was among the first to congratulate his All-Star slugger as he hoisted him in the air. 

As the second half of the season gets underway Friday, expect to see a manager who brings forth an openminded approach to his club while in pursuit of a deep October run.