ESPN’s Karl Ravech on the Orioles, AL East and more

The Orioles are looking to go over the .500 mark for the second time this season tonight. If they win at Boston they’ll move to 8-7 on the year and over .500 for the first time since winning opening day.

The team has seven games remaining in a stretch of playing 19 of its 22 games against American League East opponents to start the year. The O’s are 6-5 so far in AL East games.

The Orioles have done well at Fenway Park the last two seasons, going a combined 12-6 and they are 15-7 in their last 22 games at Fenway.

The Orioles-Red Sox game will be the national telecast this week on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.” Before that game, with first pitch set for 7:05 p.m., Karl Ravech will host “Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown” at 6 p.m. on ESPN.

Ravech believes the Orioles are a very solid team and will be in the AL East race all year.

“I think the Orioles will do better than a lot of people thought,” Ravech said, who celebrated his 20-year anniversary at ESPN last season. “I think that over the course of the season if their pitching improves and if (Kevin) Gausman shows up. They have I think the best starting nine in the division.

“I think there is a level of contagiousness with what happened there the last couple years and that it will continue. People can forget that this first month has been played without arguably their best player. They managed to hang in there, won some low-scoring games and they are not going to hurt themselves.”

On the topic of pitching, Ravech is aware that O’s fans are nervous about the poor start from Ubaldo Jimenez, but he sees the right-hander as being able to get it together and said the fans should not be concerned about the right-hander.

“As long as he’s healthy, no,” Ravech said. “There are a lot of pitchers around baseball whose struggles in the beginning won’t be reflective of what they do the rest of the year. I wouldn’t worry about him as long as he’s physically healthy. He’ll be fine.”

I asked Ravech his take on what might play out in the future with shortstop J.J. Hardy, who can be a free agent after this season along with first baseman Chris Davis and catcher Matt Wieters, who can be free agents after the 2015 season.

“I wish they would take a page from what the Rays have done with some of their core players,” Ravech said. “Identify if you believe Matt Wieters is one of the best, sign him for four or five more years. Jim Johnson’s departure, I know, didn’t sit well with Buck. But they seem to be fine at closer.

“I think to look at the decisions they make without giving consideration to the impact that Buck (Showalter) has on those decisions would be shortsighted.

“I feel good about their ability as a front office and management to make sound decisions, not solely based on this is too expensive for our tastes. I think they will invest in the people they believe will pay off in the long run.

“The decisions they make will be based on sound baseball as well as financial considerations for the future. They won’t just turn around and say ‘We can’t afford them and he’s going to go.’

“I think they’ll make every legitimate offer to keep the people they think long-term will benefit the team. They did it with Adam Jones. I think they’ll do it again provided the player is willing to stay at that number. But I don’t think they’ll foolishly throw money at a player.”

I asked Ravech what storylines about the Orioles the national audience will see in pregame and game coverage Sunday night?

“Probably their ability to play defense,” he said. “The fact that Manny Machado won the Platinum Glove last year. That they don’t make mistakes that other teams in the division will. The development of their pitching and how important that is.

“I think most importantly, from an AL East standpoint, the Nelson Cruz addition stretches their lineup out. If you look at the division in recent years, teams that are patient and provide challenges to a pitcher in the six, seven, eight and nine hole are the ones that win. And the Orioles lineup now does that even better than in years past.”

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