The last time the Baltimore Orioles played a home game on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN was on July 31, 2005. It was an embarrassing night on the national stage as Rodrigo Lopez gave up eight runs in just 1 1/3 innings against the Chicago White Sox. The winning pitcher for the White Sox that night was Freddy Garcia.
This Sunday, the Orioles are back in the limelight. Chris Tillman will face off against Hiroki Kuroda, and hopefully at about 11 p.m. that night the O's will complete a three-game sweep of the Yankees.
In preparation for the game on Sunday, ESPN reached out and offered me the chance to do a Q&A with their Baseball Tonight analyst, Alex Cora. Cora played fourteen major league seasons for six different teams, and joined the Baseball Tonight crew this year. He appears on both BBTN and Beisbol Esta Noche on ESPN Deportes.
Question: Thanks so much for answering a few questions for Camden Chat. The Orioles and Yankees face off this weekend and have been battling for second place in the A.L. East for most of the season. Which team do you think is better off right now and what would each of them need to do to put themselves in a better position to compete through the rest of the season?
Alex Cora: Both teams have been doing a great job with what they have. We all know about the Orioles offense but their pitching staff needs to get better. They have some holes. With the Yankees, nobody thought that they'd be in this situation. Surviving was playing .500 baseball until everyone got healthy. They've done a better job than expected. If we are fair with the Yankees, I think they are in a better position right now. They are only going to get healthier and their pitching staff has done a great job.
Q: Buck Showalter has been given a lot of credit for the success in Baltimore the last two seasons. Based on your experience as a player, what kind of manager tends to get the best out of his players? And what have you observed about Showalter that you think makes him so good at his job?
AC: With Buck, there is structure. When he took over in Arizona, you could tell that there was only one way of doing things. One thing about Buck's teams, they are going to be prepared. They play the game right. No matter who is playing, who is in the lineup, they have the same goal and the same mentality. They go out there with the plan they have and they really think they are going to win the game. It's impressive when he took over in Baltimore a few years ago to have such a quick turnaround. Nobody saw this coming except probably him. Watching his teams play is always a treat.
Q: When he was drafted, Manny Machado played shortstop exclusively and stayed at the position through his time in the minors. He's been an outstanding third baseman, though, for 130 games in the majors. Given your experience around the infield when you played, how tough would it be for Machado to move over to shortstop in 2015 when J.J. Hardy's contract is up? Will not playing the more difficult position for 2 ½ seasons affect him negatively?
AC: He'll be fine. It's always hard to go from short to third. He had limited experience in the minor leagues and he's learning to play the position. He's playing shortstop at third base. The only play he doesn't have to make is going a long way to his right, but he plays deep at third, he's still going to his left and coming in to the ball. To be honest with you, I'm becoming a huge Manny Machado fan. I love the way he goes about his business and what he brings to the table every day. Nothing against J.J. J.J. is doing a great job. I can't wait to see Manny playing shortstop; he's just that good defensively. But we're not pushing J.J. to retirement yet!
Q: Prior to the season starting, you picked the Orioles to win one of the wild card spots in the American League. Are you still confident in that pick after seeing what the Orioles are made of over these first three months?
AC: I am but the one thing I feel they need to do is improve their rotation. I know their bullpen is really solid but when you have to go to them every day for four innings it's tough to do it. This year the division is tougher than last year. The Red Sox are a lot tougher than what people thought, including myself. They need to improve that pitching staff. I know Kevin Gausman is a part of that, hopefully he can help turn it around. But they need one guy. There's a few out there. Obviously, if they get that guy I will feel more comfortable about them still winning the Wild Card.
Q: Regarding Sunday night's game that is airing on ESPN: Chris Tillman will be on the mound for the Orioles vs. Hiroki Kuroda. After three disappointing seasons, Tillman has spent the last two looking like the pitcher the Orioles hoped he'd be when they traded for him. Do you think that he has the stuff to continue to be successful, or high home run rates and left on base % come back to haunt him?
AC: It's like everything else. If he's finding the strike zone, he'll be fine. I don't think his stuff is off the charts but he's a solid pitcher. The key is to get ahead. It seems like he's turned the corner. When you have to face the Red Sox, the Yankees, Toronto and pitch in that division, the numbers can be very deceiving. He's done a good job. They are happy with what he's done this season and I think he can keep it up.