Random thoughts and concerns

The Orioles are off today, which pretty much matches their play for most of the road trip.

See if you can tell the difference.

Here's one way to do it: There won't be a final score later.

If we're led to believe that the Orioles are improved - and their record compared to last season points to that truth - they can't lose four of six games against the Nationals and Pirates.

OK, those teams are improved, too, but the Orioles need to be ... more improved. They need to beat these clubs if we're going to grudgingly accept that they're outmanned against the Red Sox and Yankees, and against the Rays and the Blue Jays. Against a division that keeps wiping its feet on them.

The Reds are coming back to Baltimore for the first time since the 1970 World Series. I don't envision Mark Reynolds robbing Lee May.

Cincinnati is no longer the Big Red Machine, but it's two games above .500.

The Cardinals are next, and they're five games above .500. Albert Pujols is on the disabled list. Too bad he can't take a few more teammates with him.

The Orioles will hit the road again before the All-Star break, facing the Braves, Rangers and Red Sox to close the first half. Those teams are a combined 28 games above .500.

This could get ugly in a real hurry unless the Orioles start hitting in the clutch and get more innings out of their starters. And unless the players in the trainers room stop outnumbering the cotton balls.

Vladimir Guerrero returns to the lineup tomorrow night, giving manager Buck Showalter his cleanup hitter. But the pitchers had seven hits in the National League ballparks. I might not tamper with a good thing.

So much of the Orioles' success this year hinged on the young starters. Well, Zach Britton has one win in his last nine outings, though he produced his 10th quality start yesterday. Brian Matusz has made only four starts, and he limped off the mound Saturday because of cramping in his hamstring. Jake Arrieta won't start until Wednesday because of a sore right elbow. Brad Bergesen has been riding that Triple-A Norfolk shuttle again, and he's currently in the Orioles' bullpen. Chris Tillman is in the Tides' rotation.

Jeremy Guthrie had an MRI on his back Friday that revealed a strained muscle, which actually served as good news. That's how it's been going for the Orioles. You breathe a sigh of relief over a strained muscle.

Not to dump on Blake Davis or any other second baseman this season, but I feel pretty confident that Brian Roberts fields that ground ball yesterday and enables the Orioles to keep their one-run lead. His absence is felt in many ways.

Get used to it. I don't know when he'll return to the 25-man roster. I don't know if he'll return to the 25-man roster. I'm making that assumption, but I won't wager on it.

I'm wondering how reliever Jeremy Accardo will be used at Norfolk now that he's cleared waivers. Do the Orioles want him stretched out? Will he be allowed to close some games, as he once did in Toronto? Or will he simply be asked to reduce his baserunners per inning to single digits?

Now I'm going back to a reader's question about the "NF" that appears on MLB.com's pitch tracker.

I'm still waiting for that mystery to be solved.

Someone suggested that it meant "Nasty Factor," which led to my lame quip about Hugh Hefner using it to find his next girlfriend. I'm pretty sure each Kardashian sister has her own rating.

I checked with a colleague and a former major league pitcher, and I still couldn't get an answer. All I know is the number is much lower than the "mph."

And finally, Comedy Central canceled "Sports Night With Norm Macdonald," and I can only figure that a hilarious show starring a brilliant comedic mind was more than the network could handle.

What the H?

Idiots.

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