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After Fast Start, Franco Needs to Kick it Back Into Gear

As Orioles general manager Mike Elias sought to add talent to the organization whilst in the middle of a deep and lengthy renovation job, one of the avenues he’s taken frequently is picking up flamed out prospects from other organizations.

Take Rio Ruiz, for example. The former top prospect from the Atlanta Braves never panned out in Atlanta but got a chance to revive his career in Baltimore in 2019. So far, Ruiz has been nothing more than a stopgap infielder who will likely be jettisoned once some of the Orioles’ infield prospects arrive at the major league level.

The Orioles took a flier on another talented infielder this offseason in Maikel Franco. At one point, Franco was a top-100 prospect in the Phillies organization. Since then, Franco was demoted and non-tendered in 2019 and non-tendered again in 2020 by the Royals.

So late this spring, the Orioles took a chance on Franco as an option at third base. For a bit, it seemed like Franco was going to solidify his spot in the lineup for the rest of the season. But lately, Franco is becoming more and more of a liability.

Through April, Franco’s OPS stood at .708, a mediocre but respectable number. Since the turn of the calendar, however, Franco has just three hits. And only one of those was for extra bases. Franco’s May slump has tanked his overall OPS to .599.

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There's More To Means' Story Than Throwing A No-Hitter

As I was leaving work Wednesday, I immediately checked my phone to see how the Orioles’ game was going.

I’d already received a notification that Trey Mancini hit a three-run nuke to push the O’s lead to 6-0, but I had no idea that something bigger was at play.

I looked at the box score and saw the “0 0 0” for the Seattle Mariners, which only meant one thing.

John Means was dealing.

At risk of getting pulled over by our friendly officers in blue, I drove home as fast as I could manage to make sure I didn’t miss it. I got home just in time to see the top of the ninth, and I think that’s the only time I’ve ever wished for the O’s to end their half of the inning as quickly as possible.

Means took the mound for the final time, just three outs from the first Orioles’ individual no-hitter since Jim Palmer in 1969, one of the coolest guys to ever wear black and orange. To put that into perspective, my dad, another lifelong Orioles fan, was four years old. The O’s last no-hitter, a combined effort in 1991, came three years before I was born.

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Orioles' Top Prospects Do Not Disappoint In MiLB Debut

Contain yourselves, but only a little bit.

Orioles fans across the country rejoiced Tuesday, as Minor League Baseball made its triumphant return from the COVID-19 shutdowns. For a franchise in the development phase of its rebuild, getting their minor league prospects actual game innings for the first time in over a year is critical.

Some of the Orioles’ top prospects did not disappoint.

Start with the organizations top two pitching prospects — 2018 first-round pick Grayson Rodriguez and 2017 first-round pick DL Hall. Starting for Single-A Aberdeen, Rodriguez tossed four shutout innings and allowed just one hit. And at Double-A Bowie, Hall threw 4.1 innings and allowed no runs while striking out a career-high 10 batters.

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Freddy Galvis Continues To Surprise As Orioles Win Again

Well into the midnight hour, I was laying in bed winding down after a night of bowling. I was enjoying the Orioles-Mariners game, of which the O’s were trailing 1-0.

Then, the Birds proceeded to wake me up.

Cedric Mullins hit a two-run bomb, pushing the O’s ahead. After an RBI groundout from Mikael Franco, Freddy Galvis launched another two-run bomb into the Seattle sky, giving the O’s a 5-1 lead.

So much for sleeping.

Aside from enjoying the comeback, which was exhilarating, I finally thought about Galvis, a guy who I’d written off weeks ago.

I was wrong.

Of all the Orioles hitters, I didn’t expect a 31-year-old journeyman to be a reliable force in the lineup.

I mean, how could anyone expect a shortstop who’s played on four teams in four seasons with a career OPS of .679 to provide stability and production? No reasonable person would’ve come to that conclusion.

But here we are.

Galvis’ batting line is up to .265/.315/.470, an easily respectable slash for a stopgap signing by general manager Mike Elias. After a disastrous start, Galvis has hit safely in 11 of his last 13 games, a stretch that includes three home runs.

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Overachieving O's Have Chance To Cement Their Relevance

My favorite video game to play right now is MLB The Show 21. The lead commentator for the game, former major leaguer Mark DeRosa, has a saying that sticks with me.

“By May, you really start to have an idea about what kind of season you’re going to have.”

We’ve reached the start of this pivotal month, when pretenders fall short of their April standard and start showing their true colors. Or, for teams who had a bad start, they begin to shine as the weather heats up.

The Baltimore Orioles, everyone’s favorite punching bag for the last three years, are facing this month head on. Their series win vs. the red-hot Oakland Athletics showed that.

The O’s won the first two games of the series behind rock-solid pitching from John Means and Matt Harvey, who pitched a combined 12.2 innings and allowed four runs. Means was particularly impressive, scattering three hits over seven innings on Friday while striking out nine.

The Orioles’ offense woke up on Saturday, bringing eight runs across on 10 hits. Even in the season finale defeat on Sunday, the Orioles scored five runs.

Baltimore stands at 13-15 as of May 2, and the O’s are just 3.5 games out of first place. Even if you think the Orioles are one of the worst teams in the league, you have to admit they’re at worst plucky. At best, maybe everyone in the media was wrong and this team isn’t as bad as we all thought they were.

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The Orioles Need Mountcastle To Get It Going

The oft-used phrase “sophomore slump” seems to apply to a lot of professional athletes these days, which makes sense: the opposition has had an entire offseason to adjust after a rookie season, so teams coming into matchups against a player who were blind before are now armed with enough info to tear apart your gameplan.

So when Ryan Mountcastle started off slow this season, I figured it was because teams were attacking him differently. He would need time to reformulate his approach to at-bats. Maybe a couple weeks.

But that hasn’t been the case so far. Mountcastle is slumping pretty hard — he’s slashing .167/.208/.264 through 20 games and has just one home run thus far. Mountcastle is about to enter May as one of the least productive hitters in baseball. Here’s Mountcastle’s Statcast profile (right) to make it clear.

What’s changed? Why is Mountcastle struggling so much this season? Let’s attack that problem from a couple different angles.

Pitchers Aren’t Attacking Mountcastle Much Differently

Mountcastle saw fastballs 52.7 percent of the time in 2020 and he mashed, hitting .356 and slugging .492 against those pitches. Mountcastle saw breaking balls 35.4 percent of the time in 2020 and still found success, hitting .327 and slugging .442.

In terms of pitches seen, Mountcastle is seeing slightly more breaking balls and slightly fewer fastballs than last season. His fastball percentage has dipped to 49.1 and his breaking ball percentage has climbed from 35.4 to 39.4.

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Orioles Pitching Has Thus Far Exceeded Expectations

Throughout my time as a baseball fan, which spans almost two decades, I’ve noticed that rebuilding teams usually struggle the most in the pitching department.

It’s a lot easier to develop hitters than it is to develop pitchers — hitters generally stay healthier and as hard as it is to hit a baseball, it’s a little harder to pitch effectively.

So before the season started, I expected the Baltimore Orioles to hit and score at a decent clip, but struggle in the run prevention department.

As usual, I was wrong.

Through Friday night, the Orioles are 8-11. Baltimore ranks 13th in team ERA at 4.10, which is a highly respectable number in the juiced ball era that we’re living in. That number gets better when you exclude the Orioles’ starters, as the Birds rank sixth in bullpen ERA in the major leagues.

While the offense has spent most of the season floundering — Baltimore ranks 25th in runs scored — the pitching staff has kept them in ballgames. It’s encouraging, to say the least.

I can’t shower the Orioles’ starting rotation in compliments, but they’ve generally kept their club within striking distance. Bruce Zimmermann is looking more and more like a back-end starter at the major league level, holding a 4.57 ERA through four starts. He’s allowed three or less earned runs in each of his four starts and has finished the fifth inning in three of those starts. Zimmermann’s stuff isn’t exciting, but he’s started taking advantage of his curveball more this season and he’s seeing results.

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It's A Great Plan, But Now The Real Work Starts...

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the last three years is that a plan without execution is just a dream. Dreams are fleeting and fragile.

You have to do the hard work necessary to make it a reality.

There’s a lot of hard work on the horizon for Virginia Tech, who announced an ambitious capital campaign that includes $400 million in fundraising over an eight-year period for various investments in the athletic department. The Reach for Excellence campaign outlines significant boosts to the football staffing budget, a massive renovation to Cassell Coliseum and numerous investments into other sports.

The end goals look good. Tech is shooting for a $30 million “football enhancement fund” that will aim to make it easier for the Hokies to hire better coaches and more lower-level assistants, among other things. Virginia Tech is also planning various investments into their non-revenue sports, helping with facility upgrades and enhanced nutritional support for athletes.

Don’t forget the headliner of it all — a $50 million renovation project that will modernize and revamp Cassell Coliseum into one of the nicest and most unique venues in college athletics.

Now none of these plans are necessarily brand-new — Virginia Tech has been talking about increasing the football program’s budget for years and the Cassell renovations have been in the works for just as long. But this is the first time it’s all been laid out and shared with the fanbase in a detailed way.

That’s cause for excitement.

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Orioles Win 2 of 3, Option Kremer To Alternate Site

It's never a bad weekend for Orioles fans when they win two of three and end up being tied for third in the AL East, something they did against the Texas Rangers this weekend. 

But remember, the 2021 season matters far more in terms of the progress of the Baby Birds than whether or not the O’s win a lot of games. The former is important so that eventually, we can worry about the latter.

The first of the Baby Birds to be demoted is starter Dean Kremer, who came over in the Manny Machado trade in 2018. Kremer wasn’t necessarily the headliner, but he’s one of the first from the trade to make it to the majors.

O’s fans watched in 2020 with glee as Kremer allowed just three runs in his first three starts. Kremer worked at least five innings in all of those three starts and never allowed more than four hits. So when Kremer ran into a buzzsaw in his final start of the season, there wasn’t a ton of reason to panic. Rookies hit bumps in the road.

Unfortunately, Kremer’s 2021 season has been pretty rocky.

Kremer didn’t pitch past the third inning in his first two starts of the season, allowing seven runs over those two outings. Kremer pitched just 4.2 innings in his Saturday start vs. Texas, though he only allowed one earned run.

So when the Orioles optioned Kremer down to the club’s alternate site at Bowie, it was a logical conclusion for a team in need of bullpen arms. Baltimore has two off-days coming up — one on Monday (today) and another on Wednesday. Kremer must be down for at least 10 days, meaning he can re-join the major league club on the 28th, right in the middle of a four-game stint vs. the Yankees.

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What Happened 14 Years Ago Is Ingrained In All Of Us

I had a bad day yesterday.

I won’t get into the details — we all have our own issues that we deal with on a regular basis. Sometimes we handle it well. Sometimes we don’t. At 26 years old, I’ve been through my fair share of good times and bad, and yesterday wasn't a good one. So as I sat there on Thursday night, I threw back a strong cocktail and tried to make sense of it all.

Then I looked at the date — April 15.

April 16 holds a special place in my heart, as it does for anyone and everyone associated with Virginia Tech. I was just 13 years old when 32 Hokies were taken from us on that tragic day, but I knew well what was happening. As a kid who’d been raised a tried-and-true Hokie, it was pretty devastating.

I've spent 14 years now grieving for those 32 families as well as the others on campus who escaped unscathed.

But to be real, they were unscathed in name only. They will carry what happened on April 16, 2007 for the rest of their lives and will never be able to truly escape.

For 14 years now, the Virginia Tech community, and to an extent the Commonwealth and the country, have spent this day in mourning. The three years I was a student at Tech, I spent the few minutes before midnight on April 16 and the next hour or so afterwards standing outside huddled around the memorial in front of Burruss Hall with my Hokie brothers and sisters, all of us mourning the loss of those 32. Through the rain, the stinging wind that whips across the Drillfield on an April night in Blacksburg, we stood silently as each of the 32 names were read aloud. We walked through the memorial, spending time at each stone, trying to make sense of what had happened.

What happened on April 16 is now ingrained in who I am. It’s probably ingrained in who you are, too. It’s become a part of who we are. Even if you weren’t there on April 16, you feel like you were.

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It's Time For Orioles To Start Ramon Urias

I will not overreact. I will not overreact. I will not overreact.

Forget it. It's time to start Ramon Urias. 

There was plenty to like in Baltimore's doubleheader-split on Tuesday. The O's fell down early in both games and came back to make both competitive. They found a way to win the nightcap, ensuring they weren't swept by the AL West basement-dwelling Mariners.

Several players helped in each comeback, but perhaps none more than Urias.

The utility infielder started at second base in Game 1 and slugged a two-run homer in the fifth inning, closing the O's deficit to just one. Urias started at second in Game 2 as well, saving his lone hit until the bottom half of the seventh to walk it off, as you can see in the embedded video.

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