This is an Oriole column, however as I’ve said in the past we try to maintain a level of objectivity in covering the team and the games. So let me preface all of this by saying that you can’t win games by scoring only one run, and by going 1-for-3 with runners in scoring position. (The first problem is that they only had three chances in scoring position, and the second that they only capitalized once.) Incidentally, this came a night after the O’s went 1-for-11 with RISP. While Jason Hammel wasn’t horrible and he probably turned in the best of the three starts the Orioles had in Toronto, he was also ineffective. You can’t win without solid starting pitching. However, is there more than meets the eye to these games?
Following the game, Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun sent out this tweet. In short, Toronto was stealing signs according to Hammel. Let’s take a step backwards for a moment; for years there have been under-the-breath accusations from around baseball that Toronto was an organization that specialized in sign stealing. The New York Yankees accused them of it last August, and in the past the Boston Red Sox have done the same. ESPN published a report last August which detailed a ploy with a man dressed in white that would sit in center field and raise his hand when the pitch was a breaking ball. Hammel’s comments after the game indicated that a team couldn’t swing as heavily at a breaking ball as Toronto was last night and not know it was going to be a breaking ball.
This goes into the whole “unwritten codes” argument that so many baseball fans seem to hate. The opposite viewpoint is that if you think someone is stealing signs, you need to do a better job of protecting your signs. That might be true, however…you get the idea. Hammel gave up four homers in a game for the first time, and a season-high nine hits. In fairness, all four of the (solo) home runs were on fastballs. But if Toronto was stealing signs, who’s to say that they were only relaying breaking balls to hitters? Furthermore Hammel has a great curve, and Jake Arrieta has developed a great curve; both got away from those pitches early in the past two games, going almost exclusively with fastballs. Why would you get away from a pitch that was working?
This is all heresy to an extent; however as I said, there have been prior accusations which led to a media report. (Incidentally it was only after the New York Yankees complained that ESPN ran a story on it.) As I said, the accusations have seemingly been regarding breaking pitches. However if I was taking the time to set up an elaborate scheme like that to tip pitches, I don’t think I would have the alleged man in white tip only breaking balls. It would stand to reason that he’d signal other pitches and tendencies as well. Delving into this a little deeper, when the Orioles were in Toronto in April Brett Lawrie attempted a steal of home plate with two outs and Jose Bautista at the plate. That struck me as incredibly odd at the time, and knowing the past allegations involving stealing signs I wondered if the Orioles hadn’t flashed a bum sign to make them think the pitch was something else. Again, it’s a fair statement to say that a team needs to protect it’s signs, however the fact is that you’re not supposed to steal signs.
The scariest moment of the game came in the 6th inning when Adam Jones was struck in left wrist on a first pitch HBP. Toronto starter Brandon Morrow was merely trying to pitch inside to Jones, however for good measure Pedro Strop seemed to back Jose Bautista (their cleanup hitter) off the plate later in the game. Jones stayed in the game and x-rays on his wrist afterward appeared to be negative. However with Nick Markakis potentially looking at some time on the DL with a wrist injury, the Orioles can ill afford to lose Jones. Luckily for the Orioles help is on the way in the form of Brian Roberts, Zach Britton, and hopefully at some point Nolan Reimold. However losing Jones for an elongated period of time would potentially end the season for all intents and purposes.
The O’s will have today off in Tampa before playing the Rays in a three-game set over the weekend. Hopefully the players can clear their heads today and get back to their winning ways on Friday against Tampa. Nick Markakis wills see a wrist specialist in Sarasota today, which might determine if he needs to spend any time on the DL. If so, the Orioles will probably have to make another roster move prior to Friday’s game. Despite losing eight of their last ten, the Orioles remain in a first place tie with Tampa for first place in the AL East.
I can’t stress enough that if you can’t get effective starting pitching and you can’t hit with runners in scoring position, you’re going to have a tough time winning games. We can’t know for sure if teams are stealing signs, because nobody’s going to admit to it. However it does seem like some weird things happen to a lot of teams at Rogers Centre. The New York Yankees gave up seven runs in the first inning there last year; how often does that happen? In this case you had two pitchers (Arrieta and Hammel) who abandoned a pitch that was working well for them – a curve ball – and had to go to one that wasn’t so hot at the moment. Winning cures all, but it’s also worth noting that the O’s have not been a team that’s offered excuses thus far in 2012. My point is that if they’re pointing it out, there might be something there.
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