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MINNEAPOLIS — After wearing the same uniform for the past four seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays [url=http://www.packerscheapstore.com/oren-burks-jersey-cheap]Oren Burks Jersey[/url] , Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi face off Sunday as Cobb’s Baltimore Orioles try to avoid a sweep when they take on Odorizzi and the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.

With the Rays in a full-blown rebuild, both pitchers found new homes this past spring. Odorizzi was traded to Minnesota early in spring training while Cobb was one of the many free agents who waited out an unnerving winter before eventually signing a four-year, $57 million deal with Baltimore late in camp.

Now, only a week away from the All-Star break, neither pitcher — nor his team — is having the kind of season they anticipated Opening Day.

It’s been especially painful for Cobb (2-10, 6.53 ERA), whose deal was the largest offered to an Orioles pitcher. The right-hander was expected to be a stabilizing force in a rotation that had designs on a postseason berth but instead, he slumped out of the gate and went 2-9 with a 7.14 ERA through his first 12 starts in an Orioles’ uniform.

Through that, there have been flashes of the pitcher Baltimore had in mind when it made the deal. He’s held opponents to three earned runs or fewer in eight of his 15 starts overall, including his last time out when he held the Phillies to three while striking out five in 6 2/3 innings.

“Alex is going to be a good pitcher,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He is a good pitcher at times this year. It’s hard. It’s hard. He’s hardened from pitching in the American League. He knows the fine line between success and failure.”

With his team holding baseball’s worst record and buried in the basement of a division dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox, Cobb knows the playoffs aren’t even a pipe dream at this point. But he still has a goal of finishing the season strong and setting the stage for a bounce-back campaign in 2019.

“I don’t want to say take it almost spring training-like [url=http://www.packerscheapstore.com/marquez-valdes-scantling-jersey-cheap]Marquez Valdes-Scantling Jersey[/url] , but we have to do whatever it takes for each and every one of us to get better going forward,” Cobb said. “When you get hung up on results, I think that you let that cloud the process that’s going on to make yourself get better. I don’t want it to be framed to any fans or front office, coaching staff, that we’re not going out there trying to win ballgames. We absolutely are, every single night.

“But we also need to not be so result-oriented and take the small progressions that we’re making and get better. If we want to compete later on this year, next year, we need to get better each and every one of us — individually.”

Cobb is 2-0 with a 2.20 ERA in three starts versus Minnesota.

Things haven’t been much better in the Twin Cities, where Odorizzi (3-6, 4.57 ERA) was expected to be a key addition to a Twins team that was thought to be a contender with Cleveland for the AL Central title after making an unexpected trip to the American League wild-card game a year ago.

He opened the year on a high note, going 3-2 with a 3.17 ERA through his first 10 outings but has struggled with consistency since, posting a 6.81 ERA over his last eight starts.

“It’s upsetting and frustrating … it’s not something I take lightly [url=http://www.officialpenguinsproshop.com/authentic-adidas-bryan-rust-jersey]Womens Bryan Rust Jersey[/url] ,” Odorizzi said of his struggles late last month. “I take a lot of pride in getting guys out. Trust me, I’m more frustrated about this than anybody in this clubhouse. This has been one of the tougher stretches in my short big-league career.”

Odorizzi has shown signs of bouncing back in his last two outings. He held the White Sox scoreless for six innings, allowing three hits while striking out eight, but took a no-decision June 28 in Chicago and followed that with a strong showing in Milwaukee where the Brewers managed only two runs while striking out nine times over five innings.

Odorizzi, who hasn’t won since May 8, is 5-4 with a 4.42 ERA in 19 games (18 starts) versus Baltimore.

The Atlanta Falcons nearly won a Super Bowl a year ago behind the NFL’s most potent offense.

It was that side of the ball that ended their chances to get to the big game again.

Atlanta managed only 10 first-half points, both coming off Philadelphia turnovers, and lost 15-10 to the Eagles on Saturday. While Philadelphia advances to the NFC championship game, the Falcons (11-7) go home.

”I think that’s certainly something that we have to look at and evaluate this offseason,” Matt Ryan said after concluding a somewhat down season for him in the wake of his 2016 league MVP campaign. ”There were too many times that we were a little bit inconsistent.”

That was exemplified against the Eagles (14-3), who like the Falcons sputtered in the red zone. But Philly got three field goals from Jake Elliott and a touchdown run from LeGarrette Blount.

Most damaging for Atlanta was how it came up empty deep in Eagles territory on its final drive. The Falcons had first-and-goal at the 9, and got to the 2 on fourth down before Ryan’s pass to Julio Jones soared over his head in the end zone.

”Certainly in those situations you want to go to your best players [url=http://www.officialpenguinsproshop.com/authentic-adidas-conor-sheary-jersey]Authentic Conor Sheary Jersey[/url] ,” Ryan explained. ”You know, obviously rolled to the right and had an opportunity to Julio. It just didn’t work out and that’s disappointing.”

Atlanta was the NFL’s highest-scoring team last season, but its lowest production was in a 24-15 defeat to the Eagles. The offense wasn’t nearly as productive this season, falling to 15th, from 33.8 points a game to 22.1.

The Falcons didn’t come close to their season’s average, or to the 26 they put on the board in beating the Rams in a wild-card matchup last weekend.

So while the defense was vastly improved, particularly in the pass rush, the Falcons fell flat with the ball far too many times.

”That’s one of the areas we are dialed in from the beginning of the season to where how we make sure those aren’t field goals and they turn into touchdowns,” coach Dan Quinn said. ”Was there plays that knocked us out? Could we have done better in the run game down there?

”Those are certainly topics we are going to look long and deep into.”

Star receiver Jones had a strong game with nine receptions for 101 yards. He was targeted 16 times.

But he couldn’t get free downfield, except for a 20-yard reception on fourth down on the final drive. For the Falcons to be Super Bowl threats down the road, Jones must be nearly unstoppable.

Atlanta’s running game was spotty against the Eagles, too. Several times [url=http://www.officialpenguinsproshop.com/authentic-adidas-derick-brassard-jersey]Derick Brassard Jersey[/url] , Tevin Coleman had open lanes and got nice gains. On other plays, he and Devonta Freeman didn’t have an inch to run when Ryan handed off.

Coleman, usually the backup, had 79 yards on 10 carries, with a long of 23. Freeman had only 7 yards on his 10 carries.

In contrast, the Eagles ran for 96 yards and had several big plays on the ground.

Now, the Falcons must cope with a much earlier and nearly as dramatic defeat as what they sustained last February.

”It’s difficult when you get to the playoffs and you’ve put in all the work throughout the year,” Ryan said. ”You’re in a competitive game like tonight. There’s a lot of back and forth. It’s disappointing to not get the outcome that you want.

”The finality of it sometimes is difficult, so we’re disappointed for sure.”




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