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Injuries and inconsistency dog some Pac-12 QBs

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Injuries and inconsistency dog some Pac-12 QBs

Oregon State's quarterback shuffle is emblematic of what has been happening around the Pac-12 all season. Injuries and inconsistency have dogged many teams in a league that has always been known for its strong quarterbacks.

The No. 15 Beavers started out the season with Sean Mannion under center. Because of injury they went to Cody Vaz. Then it was back briefly to Mannion. This week it's undetermined.

Other Pac-12 teams that have switched quarterbacks include No. 14 Stanford, which started with Josh Nunes but swapped him for dual threat Kevin Hogan, and beleaguered Colorado, which started the season with Kansas transfer Jordan Webb but is now looking toward Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman.

Washington State has gone back and forth between Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday.

Injuries are also an issue. Cal senior Zach Maynard is nursing a sprained left knee. Arizona quarterback Matt Scott missed a game with a concussion and might not be back in time to face Utah on Saturday. They Utes are expected to start true freshman Travis Wilson, who unseated Jon Hays.

This week, as Oregon State (7-2, 5-2) prepares to host California (3-8, 2-6), the starting quarterback is still up in the air - on both sides.

The Beavers' situation is certainly unique.

Mannion took over the Beavers as a redshirt freshman last season when the team finished just 3-9 overall. He got off to a strong start this year, leading Oregon State to four straight wins while throwing for an average of 339 yards a game.

But Mannion's fortunes took a turn when he injured his left knee on a handoff during a game against Washington State. Two days later, the Beavers announced he needed surgery and the timeline for his return was uncertain. So Oregon State turned to Cody Vaz, who had not started since high school but coolly led the Beavers in victories over BYU and Utah, helping the team to its best start since 1907.

Mannion made an unexpectedly quick recovery and returned to start the next week at Washington. He struggled, however, throwing four interceptions in the Beavers' first loss of the season. So Oregon State turned back to Vaz, who helped the team to a victory against Arizona State.

Vaz started last week in a 27-23 loss to Stanford, but he injured his left ankle during the waning moments. Mannion was taking snaps in practice earlier this week while the Beavers waited to see if Vaz would be cleared.

Oregon State is lucky. Since Vaz had a few quality starts, the Beavers know what they're getting with either quarterback.

``With either guy, we just decide what's going to be best to do against the upcoming team. They're both passers first, the both manage the offense and I think they're both good players,'' coach Mike Riley said. ``They don't really bring something different than the other guy, nor do we have to tone some things down in regard to either guy. That's the beauty of the thing, they both - in spring practice and fall camp - basically shared the turns for two years. We just run our offense.''

On the other side, Maynard was also iffy for Cal. If he can't go, Allan Bridgford will start for the Golden Bears.

If Hirschman isn't cleared from a concussion, Colorado (1-9, 1-6) will start Wood against Washington (6-4, 4-3) on Saturday. Washington coach Mike Leach, who has plenty of other issues to worry about this week, has said he plans to start Tuel this weekend when the Cougars (2-8, 0-7) visit Arizona State (5-5, 3-4).

If Scott can't go for the Wildcats (6-4, 3-4), junior college transfer B.J. Denker will start at Utah (4-6, 2-5).

Probably the most daunting task this weekend belongs to Hogan, who will face No. 1-ranked Oregon at Autzen Stadium.

If the redshirt freshman has any advantage at this point against the Ducks, it may be that last season he led Stanford's scout team in their preparation for Oregon.

``Obviously, you can only do so much in a week. They're doing it all the time,'' he shrugged. ``So it's pretty hard to simulate.''

With a victory, Stanford (8-2, 6-1) would claim the Pac-12 North and knock the Ducks out of the national title contention - something Oregon did to the then-No.3 Cardinal last season with a 53-30 victory in Palo Alto.

There are still a handful of lucky teams in the league, quarterback-wise. Two of them are in Los Angeles and face off this weekend in a battle for the Pac-12 South.

Senior Matt Barkley hasn't lived up to some expectations this season but still ranks 14th in the nation with an average of just over 297 yards passing per game for the No. 21 Trojans (7-3, 5-3) . He leads the conference with 33 touchdowns, but he's also thrown a league-high 13 interceptions.

UCLA freshman Brett Hundley is not far behind Barkley with an average of 274 yards passing a game for the Bruins (8-2, 5-2).

The other stalwarts among the league's quarterbacks this season are steady Washington junior Keith Price, Arizona State sophomore Taylor Kelly, and undefeated Oregon's redshirt freshman, Marcus Mariota, who is hearing Heisman candidacy whispers prior to his final two regular season games.

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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.