Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. There are no easy wins in the AL East this year.
On today’s SI:AM:
🐦 These aren’t your old Orioles
🌱 Djokovic wins number 21
⚾ The Yankees dominate the MLB All-Star roster
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The reconstruction is closer to completion
Don’t look now, but the Orioles are once again a competitive baseball team.
Baltimore just ended the Angels’ four-game hitting streak 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 unlikely just two games back of the last AL wild card spot.
It’s a stunning turnaround for the Orioles, who, after letting Manny Machado walk in free agency before the 2019 season, stripped their roster down to the studs and began the dreaded “rebuild.” Their 2018 Opening Day payroll was $148.6 million, 13th-highest in the majors (for a team that finished 47–115). In 2019, they dropped that to $80.2 million, 27th in the majors. They went 54–108 in ’19, 25–35 in the shortened ’20 season and 52–110 last year.
But the Orioles are showing signs of life this year. Their overall stats won’t blow you away, 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 huge improvement over where this team has been in recent years, and it’s bringing fans back to the ballpark. Friday and Saturday’s games at Camden Yards marked for the first time since May 2018 that the Orioles have drawn at least 25,000 fans on consecutive days (except for games against the Yankees and Red Sox, which 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 overall in the 2019 draft, the Orioles finally called up Rutschman to the bigs in late May, and he’s off to a perfectly respectable start, slashing .221/.307/.407. Baltimore’s greatest strength, however, is its bullpen. The starting rotation is a clear weakness (ranked fifth-worst in the majors in wins over average), but the bullpen is the best in baseball by the same measure. 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 in a tweet yesterday that the Orioles find a way to win “with a salary less than Max Scherzer’s,” which, depending on your opinion of the ownership class, is either a remarkable achievement or a complete indictment. I’m inclined to say that this is a disappointing display of frugality. If the Orioles can be just shy of .500 in the middle of the season with the lowest Opening Day payroll in the majors ($43.7 million), then imagine what they could do if they actually spent money. This offseason, they signed only 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 Baltimore is paying more than $3.2 million. (Rougned 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 were never going to pay Scherzer, but how much better off they would have been if they had signed a guy like Carlos Rodon or even John Gray to improve this weak 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 mutual option, has been mentioned for weeks as a potential trade target. But could the Orioles be inclined to keep him, or…pant— even add at the deadline, hoping to compete for one of the last spots in the expanded playoffs? Recent history says no, but if they continue to play like they have the past few weeks, the front office may have no choice.
The best of Sports Illustrated
As we begin rolling out our annual Where Are They Now package, today’s Daily Cover features Chris Ballard on John Amaechi, the NBA’s first openly gay player and now a psychologist.
The Wimbledon men’s final “lived up to expectations”, writes John Wertheim, as Novak Djokovic won his fourth straight London title to move within one of Rafael Nadal’s all-time major championship record. … Ben Pickman rated every player in the WNBA All-Star Game, highlighted by Kelsey Plum, who scored an ASG-high 30 points. … Before he was named to the All-Star team, Emma Bachelieri wrote about Sandy Alcantara’s ability to go deep in games.
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In the world of sports
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 Cano in a trade with the Padres after he pitched well in Triple A for San Diego. … The Steelers’ stadium reportedly has a new name.
The first five…
… things I saw yesterday:
5. The reaction of Carlos Rodon’s wife about him being cut from the all-star team
4. Jose Trevino’s reaction by learning, he entered the all-star team
3. The former high school gymnasium for sale as a house in Indiana
2. Alex Verdugo’s in-game interview during Sunday night baseball
1. Tribute to Britney Greener at the WNBA All-Star Game
Saturday marked 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 history, when which player robbed Barry Bonds of a first-inning home run?
Friday’s SIQ: Which of the following players did not score when Germany beat Brazil 7–1 in the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup?
- Thomas Muller
- Mesut Ozil
- Toni Kroos
- Andre Schurle
Answer: Mesut Ozil. Thomas 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 Sami Khedira’s goal in the 29th minute to make it 5-0. Andre Schuerle added two second-half goals to complete the humiliation. Oscar’s goal for Brazil in the 90th minute was the equivalent of a soccer team kicking a field goal to make it 35-3. (You can watch all the goals here. Or, if you’re really sick, you can watch the entire game on FIFA’s YouTube channel.)
Brazil had high hopes for World Cup 2014. The soccer-mad nation 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 men’s team). Brazil had not lost a competitive match on home soil since ’75. A loss 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.
Currie Kirkpatrick’s cover story was all about how “completely broken” the tournament was this year. 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 reach a Wimbledon final in 16 years and American Trey Waltke wore 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 1984, dropped just one set throughout the tournament (the first set against Florin Segarchanu in the second round). And while he did play some hard-fought sets (such 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 summed up the finale:
“Mack dropped just nine service points all afternoon. On the other side he was just as impenetrable, repeatedly blistering back to places Lewis’ quick feet couldn’t carry him. The fifth game of the second set was a prime example. Lewis got her first serve for all six points, but at 30-15, Mack blocked a backhand return winner and then swung double forehands inches apart for the break. He had stretches of 12 and 13 straight points and scored 24 of the game’s final 30 points.”
As for Navratilova, she did not lose a single set. In fact, the defending champion had only two games (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 game. She would go on to win the next Wimbledon, giving her a staggering six consecutive titles.
See more from SI’s archives and historical images at vault.si.com.
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