Orioles

Rolen's error gives Game 3 to the Giants

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Rolen's error gives Game 3 to the Giants

From Comcast SportsNetCINCINNATI (AP) -- Joaquin Arias hit a grounder toward third base and took off, covering those 90 feet in a blink as a full-to-capacity ballpark went silent with angst.Which would get there first, the infielder or the ball? Who would win the decisive playoff dash?"That's the fastest I've ever run to first," Arias said.Fast enough to extend the San Francisco Giants' season one more day.Reds third baseman Scott Rolen bobbled the short-hop, giving Arias enough time to beat the throw as the go-ahead run scored for a 2-1 victory Tuesday night that avoided an NL division series sweep.Hardly able to get a hit the last two games, the Giants turned a passed ball and a misplayed grounder into a win that cut their series deficit to 2-1 and extended Cincinnati's 17 years of home postseason futility."These are the type of games we've played all season long," said Sergio Romo, who pitched the last two innings for the win. "We are a gritty and grinding team."And, with their season on the line, a little lucky, too."We got a break there at the end," manager Bruce Bochy said.Left-hander Barry Zito will pitch Game 4 on Wednesday for the Giants, who have won the last 11 times he started. The Reds have to decide whether to try ace Johnny Cueto, forced out of the opener in San Francisco on Saturday with spasms in his back and side.Manager Dusty Baker said after the game that they hadn't decided whether to let Cueto try it, bring back Mat Latos on short rest again, or replace Cueto with Mike Leake, who wasn't on the division series roster.Switching out Cueto would leave the Reds ace ineligible to pitch in the championship series should the Reds get that far."It's very difficult, but it all depends on if your ace can't go or whatever it is," Baker said. "That's part of the conversation -- us going without him. We realize what's at stake."They were hoping to avoid having to make that choice. One grounder forced the issue.The Giants managed only three hits against Homer Bailey and the Reds bullpen, but got two of them in the 10th -- along with a passed ball by Ryan Hanigan -- to pull it out. San Francisco won despite striking out 16 times.Rolen, an eight-time Gold Glove winner, couldn't cleanly come up with Arias' grounder, which put him in a tough position."I've gone through the play many times in my mind between then and now, and I think I would play it the same way," Rolen said. "It hit my glove. I just couldn't get it to stick."The Reds haven't won a home playoff game since 1995, the last time they reached the NL championship series. One win away from making it back there, they couldn't beat a Giants team that has barely been able to get a hit.San Francisco got only two hits while losing 9-0 on Sunday night, setting up that 2-0 deficit in the series. The Giants had only one single in seven innings off Homer Bailey, making his first start at Great American Ball Park since his Sept. 28 no-hitter in Pittsburgh.Fortunately for the Giants, Bailey's one lapse led to a run. He hit a batter, walked another and gave up a sacrifice fly by Angel Pagan in the third inning.That was it until the 10th, with the Giants going down swinging -- the Reds set a season high with 16 strikeouts. Closer Aroldis Chapman got a pair of strikeouts on 100 mph fastballs during a perfect ninth inning, keeping it tied at 1.San Francisco's one-hit wonders finally got it going against Jonathan Broxton, who gave up leadoff singles by Buster Posey -- the NL batting champion -- and Hunter Pence, who pulled his left calf on a wild swing before getting his hit.With two outs, Hanigan couldn't come up with a pitch, letting the runners advance. Moments later, Cincinnati's chance for a sweep was over.Instead, a Reds team that lost a lot -- closer Ryan Madson in spring training, top hitter Joey Votto for six weeks at midseason, Baker for the NL Central clincher, Cueto in the first inning of the first playoff game -- ended up with another playoff loss at home.Baker was back in the home dugout at Great American for the first time in nearly a month, recovered from an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke. After a pregame ovation, he settled in his red folding chair with a toothpick on his lips.The 63-year-old manager watched his pitching staff dominate again, but fail to get that breakthrough win. This time, the offense came up short, getting only four hits.Cincinnati hasn't won a home playoff game since beating the Dodgers 10-1 at Riverfront Stadium for a three-game division sweep in the 1995 NLDS. They then got swept by Atlanta.They didn't get back to the playoffs again until 2010, when they got no-hit by Roy Halladay and swept by the Phillies in the opening round.The second-largest crowd in Great American history was still getting the hang of playoff rooting. A video board message instructed the 44,501 fans not to wave white rally towels while the Reds were in the field -- could be distracting.Didn't take long to get those towels twirling. Brandon Phillips led off with a single, but was thrown out at third when he tried to advance on a ball that got away from Posey. It was costly -- the Reds went on to score on a walk and a pair of singles, including Jay Bruce's RBI hit to right.The Reds got only one more hit the rest of the way.NOTES:The game started 3 minutes late because a sign-waving fan ran onto the field. He was tackled by police in center field. ... Giants avoided their third playoff sweep in franchise history. ... The Giants haven't lost three in a row since they dropped five straight from July 25-30. ... Tom Browning, who pitched the Reds' previous no-hitter -- a perfect game against the Dodgers in 1988 -- threw the ceremonial pitch. ... Bailey fanned six in a row, matching the Reds' postseason record. ... The only larger crowd at GABP was for the 2010 playoff game against Philadelphia.

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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.