Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. There are no easy wins in AL East this year.
On today’s SI:AM:
🐦 These are not your same old Orioles
🌱 Djokovic wins number 21
⚾ The Yankees dominate the MLB All-Star roster
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Reconstruction is nearing completion
Don’t look now, but the Orioles are once again a competitive baseball team.
Baltimore just completed a four game sweep of the Angels with a 9–5 victory yesterday. The O’s have now won eight in a row, dating back to July 3, which puts their season record at 43–44. They’re still in last place in the stacked AL East, but it’s unlikely they’ll be just two games behind last place in the AL.
It’s a stunning turnaround for the Orioles, who, after letting Manny Machado walk in free agency before the 2019 season, gutted their roster and embarked on a daunting “rebuild.” Their Opening Day ’18 payroll was $148.6 million, 13th highest in the majors (for a team that finished 47–115). In ’19 they cut that to $80.2 million, 27th highest in the majors. They went 54–108 in ’19, 25–35 in the season-shortened ’20 and 52–110 last year.
But the Orioles are showing signs of life this year. Their overall stats won’t knock your socks off, but they’re doing well. They’ve scored 360 runs this season (league average is 372) and allowed 374. But the league average is a big improvement over where this team has been the last few years, and it’s bringing fans back to the ballpark. Friday and Saturday’s games at Camden Yards scored first time since May 2018 that the Orioles drew at least 25,000 fans on consecutive days (excluding games against the Yankees and Red Sox that are usually dominated by out-of-towners).
There are a few guys to thank for the turnaround, most notably Adley Rutschman. After selecting him first in the 2019 draft, the Orioles finally called Rutschman up to the majors in late May, and he’s off to a thoroughly respectable start, slashing .221/.307/.407. However, Baltimore’s greatest strength is its pulp. The starting rotation is a glaring weakness (ranked fifth-worst in the majors by wins-above-average), but the bullpen is the best in baseball by the same metric. Reliever Cionel Pérez has a 0.96 ERA in 28 innings, and only one reliever with more than 20 appearances has an ERA above 2.61.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan pointed out yesterday in a post on Twitter that the Orioles are finding a way to win “with a payroll lower than Max Scherzer’s salary,” which, depending on your opinion of the ownership class, is either a remarkable achievement or a total indictment. I’m inclined to say it’s a frustrating display of austerity. If the Orioles can only be .500 midway through the season with the lowest Opening Day payroll in the majors ($43.7 million), then imagine what they could do if they were to spend money. This offseason, they signed just one free agent to a deal worth more than $900,000: pitcher Jordan Lyles (one year, $7 million). Lyles, who is tied for the AL lead in runs allowed, and Trey Mancini are the only players on the team paid more than $3.2 million by Baltimore. (Orougned Odor is making $12 million this year after being released by the Rangers, but the Orioles are only paying him the veteran minimum of $700,000.) The Orioles would never pay Scherzer, but how much better off they would be if they had sign a guy like Carlos Rodón or even Jon Gray to improve that unhappy rotation?
Baltimore’s recent hot streak creates a very interesting dilemma. Mancini, who can become a free agent this winter if he declines his $10 million joint option, has been mentioned for weeks as a potential trade target. But could the Orioles be inclined to keep him, or—panting– even added at the deadline, in hopes of making a run for one of the last spots in the expanded playoffs? Recent history says no, but if they continue to play the way they have the past few weeks, the front office may not have a choice.
The best of Sports Illustrated
As we begin to market the “Where Are They Now?” The Package Today’s Daily Cover features Chris Ballard on John Amaechi, the first NBA player to come out as gay and now a psychologist.
The Wimbledon men’s final “lived up to its billing”, writes Jon Wertheim, with Novak Djokovic winning his fourth consecutive title in London to move within one of Rafael Nadal’s record for all major championships times. … Ben Pickman rated every player in the WNBA All-Star Game, highlighted by Kelsey Plum, who scored an ASG record 30 points. … Before being named to the All-Star team, Emma Baccellieri wrote about Sandy Alcantara’s ability to play deep in games.
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About the sports world
Here are the complete MLB All-Star rosters, led by six members of the Yankees. … The WNBA announced plans to play a 40-game schedule next season, up from 36 this year. … The Yankees are reportedly entertaining the idea of trading struggling outfielder Joey Gallo. … The Braves acquired Robinson Canón in a trade with the Padres after he put up good numbers in Triple A for San Diego. … The Steelers stadium reportedly has a new name.
… things I saw yesterday:
5. The reaction of Carlos Rodon’s wife to leave out the all-star team
4. Jose Trevino’s reaction to learn he made the All-Star team
3. Former gymnasium for sale as a house in Indiana
2. Alex Verdugo’s in-game interview tall Sunday Night Baseball
1. WNBA All-Star Game tribute to Brittney Griner
Saturday was the 20th anniversary of the 2002 MLB All-Star Game, which infamously ended in a tie. But it also featured one of the most famous plays in All-Star Game history, when which player robbed Barry Bonds of a home run in the first inning?
AS of Friday: Which of the following players did not score when Germany beat Brazil 7–1 in the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup?
- Thomas Müller
- Mesut Ozil
- Toni Kroos
- André Schurrle
Answer: Mesut Ozil. Tomas Müller opened the scoring in the 11th minute, followed by Miroslav Klose in the 23rd minute. Then the wheels really came off. Toni Kroos scored in the 24th and 26th minutes, followed by a goal from Sami Khedira in the 29th minute to make it 5–0. André Schürrle added two goals in the second half to complete the humiliation. Oscar’s goal for Brazil in the 90th minute equaled a soccer team kicking a field goal to make it 35–3. (You can watch all the goals here. Or, if you’re a real diehard, you can watch the entire match on FIFA’s YouTube channel.)
Brazil had high hopes for the 2014 World Cup. The soccer-mad country was hosting its first World Cup since 1950, when it lost to Uruguay in the final, and was looking for its sixth World Cup victory (all by the team of men). Brazil had not lost a competitive match on home soil since ’75. Losing would be disappointing enough. To be so embarrassed before 30 minutes of play was a tragedy.
From the Vault: July 11, 1983
John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova were unstoppable at Wimbledon in 1983.
Curry Kirkpatrick’s cover story was about how “totally messed up” that year’s tournament had been. Second seed Chris Evert bowed out in the third round after being up all night with a stomach virus New Zealand’s Chris Lewis, world number 91, became the first unseeded player to make a Wimbledon final at 16 and American Trey Waltke was wearing some strange pants. But in the end, all was right with the world as McEnroe and Navratilova cruised to victory.
McEnroe, who won in 1981 and would win again in ’84, lost only a single set during the entire tournament (the opening set against Florin Segărceanu in the second round). And while he played some tightly contested sets (as in his 7–5, 7–6, 7–6 fourth-round win over Bill Scanlon), he outlasted Lewis in the final 6–2, 6–2, 6– 2. Here’s how Kirkpatrick sums up the finale:
“Mac only dropped nine service points all afternoon. On the other hand, he was just as impenetrable, with repeated returns to places where Lewis’s quick feet could not carry him. The fifth game of the second set was a prime example. Lewis took his first serve on all six points, but at 30–15 Mac blocked a backhand winner and then hit two forehand passes within inches of each other for the break. He had 12 and 13 straight points and scored 24 of the last 30 points in the game.”
As for Navratilova, she did not drop a single set. In fact, the defending champions had only two matches (out of seven) in which they lost more than three games. Her seven matches lasted a total of five hours and 32 minutes, or 47 minutes per match. She would go on to win the next Wimbledon, giving her an amazing six titles in a row.
See more from SI’archives and historical images at vault.si.com.
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