Dan Connolly joined The Sun in 2005. Prior to his arrival in Baltimore, he previously covered baseball and was a columnist for the York (Pa.) Daily Record four four years. His 14-year career also includes stints at Coatesville and Williamsport, Pa. newspapers
Confused in OPACY, Baltimore: With all these balks, I'm not sure what they were doing wrong. In order to pick off a runner, the pitcher has to step off the rubber before doing anything else. If he moves his shoulders or hand before stepping off, he has to throw home? A left hander just has to move his foot towards home in order to commit to home?
Dan Connolly: You are not the only one that is confused. Each balk seems to be different and some (like the third called against Steve Kline against the Yankees) are impossible to discern even when you watch the videotape repeatedly. The basic rule is a pitcher in a set position cannot deceive a runner with movement that isn't part of the delivery toward the plate. But the interpretations are left up to the individual umpiring crew - and that's where the real confusion comes in. The bottom line is this: As the Orioles' balk totals increase, so does their reputation as a team that balks, even if that's not fair. And opposing teams and umpiring crews begin looking for it.
Joe, Seaford, Del.: Do you think Maz is returning in '06? I think he should, but pick his own coaches.
Dan Connolly: I really don't believe that decision has been made yet. I think if the Orioles stay competitive throughout this season, Lee Mazzilli is back. If the team falls apart down the stretch, his contract won't be renewed. There have been whispers that the team is winning in spite of Mazzilli and that the full clubhouse isn't behind him. But managing is results-driven and the Orioles are winning. If Maz produces a winner, he'll be back. I agree that a manager should pick his own staff, but at least he inherited an excellent one. Don't expect him to can the group if his option is picked up. Elrod Hendricks and Rick Dempsey have an iconic status in Baltimore. And he's not going to find a much better quartet of teaching coaches than Terry Crowley, Ray Miller, Sam Perlozzo and Tom Trebelhorn.
Matthew, Des Moines, Iowa: With the Orioles' recent struggles, I expect them to make some moves before the trade deadline on July 31. How likely is it that they'll make a deal to acquire A.J. Burnett from Florida, and do you see any other possible trades in the works?
Dan Connolly: With pitcher Erik Bedard and catcher Javy Lopez on the mend, and reliever Jason Grimsley already back, the Orioles feel they have one true need: A top-of-the-rotation starter. They think Burnett can be that guy. And I would say they are among the three most likely (along with Boston and the White Sox) to land him. Since top-tier starters are scarce in this market, there are at least six teams vying for Burnett. And that's not a good thing for an organization notoriously slow to pull the trigger. I think the Orioles have the players - such as minor leaguer Hayden Penn and reliever Jorge Julio - to entice the Marlins, but it all depends on who makes the best offer. I've been told the Orioles are not close to any deals right now, so we'll see. It is the time of year when baseball double-talk reigns supreme.
Vanessa, Baltimore: As bad as the Orioles' pitching has been in the last month or so, is it possible for them to still make it to the wild card or playoffs if they don't make any trades? Also, what are they going to do with Sidney Ponson?
Dan Connolly: Anything is possible. And with the Orioles closest divisional rivals, the Red Sox and Yankees, riddled by injuries and inconsistency, the AL East is there for the taking. That said, the starting pitching is a concern because of the inconsistency. And Ponson is the only one who has pitched in meaningful games in a pennant race (2003 with San Francisco). So no one knows how the young pitchers will do in high-pressure situations. A betting man would say the Orioles won't make the playoffs if they don't upgrade the rotation, but baseball isn't easy to predict. As for what the Orioles will do with Ponson, I think they'd like to send him to Ocean City with some beers and a watercraft and hope he runs into an irritated judge. Owed $10 million next year, he's very difficult to trade, so they're stuck with him. With his roller-coaster emotions he's not suited for the bullpen. For the next month, they'll keep running him out every fifth day and hope he can turn it around.
Colin, England: Even with the return of Bedard, who was unhittable before his injury, do you feel that the rotation needs to be further strengthened to keep speed with the Bosox and Yankees? Is Smoltz a possibility?