Eight questions for every baseball fan

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Eight questions for every baseball fan

From Comcast SportsNetThe Baltimore Orioles began the week with the best record in the majors, with Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals close behind. Albert Pujols was slumping, Bobby Valentine was getting booed and Derek Jeter was hitting nearly .400.Signs of the season, or mere mirages? A quick look at the big questions so far in baseball:-------- Can the Orioles stay atop the AL East? Cleveland teased fans last spring, Pittsburgh stuck around until summer. Sure looks like a charmed year in Charm City, too, coming off DH Chris Davis' improbable stint on the mound. Buck Showalter has the Birds believing, bolstered by a shutdown bullpen. The O's haven't had a winning season since future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar led them to a division title in 1997 -- let's watch the next two weeks when Texas, Tampa Bay and the Yankees visit Camden Yards. The call: The Orioles fall back a couple spots before the All-Star break.-------- How many home runs will Albert Pujols hit? After ending the longest power drought of his career, the three-time NL MVP was still hitting in the .190s. He's in a new, better league, facing many pitchers he's never seen, playing in a park that's not ultra-homer friendly. His 240 million contract draws a lot of attention, but these are the numbers worth noticing -- 47 homers in 2009, down to 42 in 2010, down to 37 last year with St. Louis. The call: Pujols drops again, and finishes with 33.-------- Will Washington win the NL East? All eyes are on Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals right now. They're fresh, fun and full of rising talent. Plus, they're winning minus injured closer Drew Storen. Manager Davey Johnson provides a steady hand, and the Nats will do OK while Jayson Werth's broken wrist heals. The last time a baseball team from the nation's capital reached the postseason was 1933, when FDR was in office. It might be time for President Barack Obama to begin warming up his left arm. The call: The Nats just miss the playoffs.-------- What will Derek Jeter hit? In recent years, the Captain has become perhaps the most polarizing player in the majors. Really, try to find a single fan who stays anywhere near neutral when talking about the Yankees star. At this point last year, Jeter seemed washed up at the plate and in the field. Since homering for his 3,000th hit right before the All-Star break, he's completely rejuvenated. Manager Joe Girardi is being diligent in giving the 37-year-old shortstop proper rest, and the results appear to be showing. The call: Jeter hits a robust .321.-------- Can Bobby Valentine survive the season? This sure isn't what Bobby V had in mind when he returned to the big leagues. Battered bullpen, banged-up roster, mini-feud with popular Kevin Youkilis and angry crowds at Fenway Park. Many fans in Boston wondered how much worse it could get after last year's collapse. Well, last place isn't looking so great. That said, he won't be the first manager to get chopped in 2012 -- that's much more likely to be Kansas City's Ned Yost. The call: Red Sox management will preach patience, Boston starts playing better and Valentine makes it through the year.-------- How many more no-hitters will there be? Jered Weaver, OK, maybe some could've foreseen that. But Philip Humber's perfect game, no way. Predicting no-hitters is a tricky business. A lot of people claim they're more possible nowadays, with hitters in the post-Steroids Era. Maybe a pair of gems in less than two weeks means more are on the way. Even so, all it takes is a checked-swing blooper to wreck a bid. The call: One more this year, pitched by Matt Cain.-------- What's in the future for Mariano Rivera? The greatest closer of all-time is holding out hope that he'll pitch again this year. Such comebacks from torn ACLs have occurred, although not with 42-year-old ballplayers. If the Yankees reach the playoffs, look for daily stories on how Rivera is close to rejoining them. Mo' likely, a return in 2013. The call: "Enter Sandman" blasts away at Yankee Stadium next season as Rivera, with almost a full year to rest his arm, loses very little off his cutter.-------- Who will win the World Series? Tampa Bay looks sharp with all its pitching, St. Louis has done well as the defending champion and Miami is starting to play well under Ozzie Guillen. And how magical it would be if Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Dodgers captured the crown? The call: There can be just one champion, and that team is Texas. With Yu Darvish on his way to winning 20 games and Josh Hamilton leading a beastly lineup, the Rangers will shake off the disappointment of losing two straight World Series and hammer whichever NL team dares to get in their way.

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Lucas Giolito's velocity remains down, but he and Nats aren't worried

Lucas Giolito's velocity remains down, but he and Nats aren't worried

Through Lucas Giolito's first four big league starts, there has been something noticeably off from what we've seen and heard over the years about what makes him one of the top prospects in all of baseball. His fastball is supposed to sit comfortably in the high-90s and occasionally touch triple digits. From his arm angle at 6-foot-6, and countered with his hooking curveball, his fastball was a big reason scouts say he has superstar potential.

He could very well still become one of the game's best pitchers, but the Nats' rookie remains a work in progress and his fastball is currently nowhere near as fast as it once was. On Sunday against the Colorado Rockies, Giolito sat consistently around 93 miles per hour. That's not bad at all, but it's a far cry from the prodigious speed he used to have.

We've heard manager Dusty Baker offer his theories and so far he's downplayed it as not being a concern. On Sunday, we heard for the first time from Giolito himself on the subject, as well as from his opponents.

Here is what Giolito had to say:

"I can pitch at 93 if I’m hitting my spots and mixing up well. I think I left way too many fastballs up over the middle of the plate. Those are the ones that got hit pretty hard. So, the velocity I don’t think is a huge deal as long as I’m pitching the way I should be pitching."

Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who homered and landed an RBI single off Giolito, offered his take on the velocity dip.

"The reports you read about him say he throws about 95, 97. Those are the reports we saw and on video. It wasn't that," he said. "It doesn't matter. His length, the ball kind of gets on you, has a little jump to it. He's so tall, so big. It's not a comfortable at-bat," Arenado said.

Rockies manager Walt Weiss said that despite the results and the velocity, he can see why there was so much hype around Giolito.

“The future is bright, for sure,” Weiss said. “Big kid, big time arm. He showed a really good breaking ball and threw some good changeups to go with a power fastball. I have heard a lot about him, going back to when he was in high school, and for good reason."

Giolito remains a big part of the Nats' future plans, but at this point in his career he is a raw talent. He's still building confidence with his changeup and working on the command of his curveball. And now he's trying to learn how to pitch with a fastball that's not as lethal as it once was.

That's a tough situation for a young pitcher who doesn't have the experience a veteran would have to draw from.

"I’ve been pitching a lot better [at Triple-A] and figuring some stuff out. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to execute on a few pitches today," Giolito said after Sunday's 5-3 loss. "The only thing I can do is continue to work and try to get better about living down the zone, getting ahead of guys, and then throwing all my pitches for strikes and putting guys away."

Giolito still showed promise on Sunday with a career-high five innings pitched. But the swing-and-miss stuff that he's shown over the years as a prospect has yet to follow him to the majors.

"We haven't seen it yet at the major league level," Baker said. "His fastball is relatively straight, so you've gotta locate it well. Hopefully it will get better."

[RELATED: Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies]

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4-star DeMatha OL Marcus Minor commits to the Maryland Terrapins

4-star DeMatha OL Marcus Minor commits to the Maryland Terrapins

Four-star DeMatha Catholic OL Marcus Minor has committed to Maryland, he announced during the 6 p.m. edition of SportsNet Central on CSN.

Minor becomes the 16th player committed to the Terrapins in the class of 2017. He is the next in a line of DeMatha players pledging to play in College Park, joining players that include DJ Turner, Tino Ellis, Terrance Davis, and Lorenzo Harrison.

Watch his commitment above.

Stay tuned for more...

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Gausman gets first road win in more than 2 years

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USA TODAY Sports

Gausman gets first road win in more than 2 years

 

NEW YORK---Kevin Gausman had grown tired hearing about the streak. He wanted it over. 

After 25 consecutive winless starts on the road, Gausman won his first start on the road since Aug. 17, 2014. 

In limiting the New York Yankees to seven hits in seven innings, Gausman gave the Orioles a much-needed solid start after two blowout losses. 

On a day when Mark Trumbo became the eighth Oriole to hit 40 home runs in a season and Steve Pearce batted leadoff for the first time and had three RBIs, it was clearly Gausman’s day in a 5-0 win over the New York Yankees before 38,002 at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.

The Orioles (71-59) escape the Bronx with a win after two losses when they allowed 27 runs and 36 hits. In their seven games here this season, they’ve won only two—both on getaway days.

Gausman (6-10) has won three straight for just the second time in his career, and the first time since June 2014. He struck out nine without walking a batter.

“That’s about as good as I’ve seen him,” manager Buck Showalter said. “He could have continued and will in the future.” 

Showalter wanted to get Tommy Hunter, who returned to the Orioles after 13 months away, and Zach Britton an inning each. 

Gausman had one difficult inning, the fourth, when he allowed three hits to New York (67-62), but none scored. Gary Sanchez led off with a single, but he tried to advance to third on Mark Teixeira’s single to right, but Pearce’s throw to Manny Machado was in time to nab Sanchez. 

Brian McCann singled to right with one out in the seventh, but Aaron Judge lined to Kim in left and Ronald Torreyes hit a hard grounder to third that Machado fielded on his knees to grab and throw Torreyes out. 

Gausman was done after that play, and he could watch the end of his unwanted streak.

“I’m pretty relieved about it. It’s been kind of annoying to hear,” Gausman said. 

In his last two starts, Gausman has pitched 13 shutout innings.

“I think there’s obviously some things that are going my way. Those line drives are kind of going right at guys right now. Seemed like earlier in the season I’d be pitching great and there’d be a bloop hit, ground ball through the four-hole or something. I don't think it’s anything different. I just think I’m being a little more fine, a little more consistent,” Gausman said. 

Pearce hit his 12th home run, and his second since rejoining the Orioles on Aug. 1 to lead off the sixth, and added a two-run single in the seventh. 

With Adam Jones sidelined with a strained left hamstring and facing CC Sabathia (8-11), who owns 19 regular season wins against the Orioles, Showalter decided to go with Pearce on top of the lineup for the first time. 

“You know Sabathia is a guy who works real slow, he’s very tries to get you to expand the strike zone,” Showalter said. “It’s a challenge, you want someone who can slow the game down a little bit. Stevie had a big day for us.”

Mark Trumbo hit his 40th home run in the eighth. Trumbo has done something Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell never did. 
“It’s obviously really nice. It’s hard to have a goal like that coming into the year because it’s such a lofty number. At least for me it has been, because I haven’t gotten there before. But I think I’ve been inspired by the guys around me. This year, especially, that’s probably helped out a bit,” Trumbo said. 

In Friday and Saturday’s losses, the Orioles allowed 27 runs and 26 hits. The bullpen threw 10 2/3 innings and gave up 14 runs and 23 hits. 
Showalter got to rest Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Donnie Hart and Vance Worley as Hunter pitched a scoreless eighth, allowing a double to Sanchez and needed 12 pitches to retire Teixeira. 

“I was kind of hoping not to throw 25,000 pitches, but hopefully I can work on that and eat some innings for these guys to get some rest and help the ballclub out,” Hunter said. 

Britton retired all three batters he faced to complete the Orioles’ fifth shutout of the season. 

The Toronto Blue Jays come to Baltimore for three games beginning Monday. Toronto (74-56) leads the third-place Orioles by three. Marco Estrada (7-6, 3.47) faces Wade Miley (8-10, 5.51). 

“It’s going to be a dog fight, they always are. It’s the AL East in (August). This is what it’s all about. We’re going to have them at our place. We’re going to go out there, bring everything we’ve got and try to take care of business,” Pearce said. 

MORE ORIOLES: HUNTER: 'BALTIMORE IS SPECIAL TO ME'