It was a bad day to go along with a bad mustache for Jake Arrieta, who could barely find the strike zone and took the loss thanks to hitters who kept bailing out an equally-bad day for Red Sox starter Daniel Bard. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
Each ugly loss reminds us of the dark days of the recent past. Today's being among the ugliest of losses in this young season, with about the only thing to distinguish it from recent-vintage ugly Orioles losses being that there were no issues with defensive incompetence through the course of the game.
A command-challenged Jake Arrieta was socked for eight hits, with three walks surrendered, in only 5.2 innings pitched. The key stat of the day going into the game was that the Orioles have a 21-1 record when their starter records a quality start. Jake failing to reach that mark was another problematic sign in a game that already seemed like it just wasn't destined to go the Orioles' way.
Though it's Jake who's credited with the loss, in no way does he shoulder the whole burden for this lost game. Orioles hitters and baserunners also bear responsibility for the way that they managed to continually bail out an equally command-challenged Daniel Bard. The Red Sox pitcher who entered the game with nearly as many walks issued as strikeouts collected lived up to that reputation by giving out four walks against only two strikeouts. Yet Bard only surrendered five hits as Orioles hitters chased his pitches and put them in play, mostly for outs.
They ran themselves into outs - a pair of caught stealings against a pitcher who couldn't find the strike zone, further solidifying the Orioles as the single worst team for stolen bases in all of MLB. This is getting ridiculous. They are the only team in MLB that cannot even succeed 50% of the time - and you're supposed to be able to do it at least 75% of the time if you're going to do it at all. Even the speedy Xavier Avery got himself on base and stole second, then promptly got himself picked off trying to steal third. All of this with two outs and against a pitcher who, again, could barely find the strike zone - 91 pitches thrown, 50 strikes. A later Adam Jones caught stealing sent the Orioles back below the 50% success rate. Stop trying to steal bases, Orioles! You suck at it. You are hurting yourselves and us.
Even worse than the stolen bases were the double plays. For once, the league-leading team in grounded-into-double-plays did not record one in the game, but Nick Markakis twice lined to short and the play resulted in a DP. Was it bad luck? Were the runners caught being overly aggressive? It doesn't matter now. All we know is that they snuffed out rallies ferociously. The Orioles were 0-8 with runners in scoring position on the day, including both of those Markakis at-bats that ended in double plays.
For good measure, the usually-reliable bullpen gave up a pair of home runs, one by Luis Ayala to Kelly Shoppach (!) and one by Darren O'Day to Scott Podsednik (!!). Though Nick Johnson tried his best to be a one-man offense in the DH spot - two home runs on the day, now batting .206/.324/.460 on the year - the bullpen faltering kept the game out of reach and the Orioles slunk off quietly into a much-needed off day.
Not all was terrible on the day. Avery, Adam Jones and Johnson all had two-hit games and Wilson Betemit reached base twice on walks. But nobody could get the big hit when they needed it the most, and sometimes they did not even get opportunities to get the big hit thanks to the baserunning blunders and the bad luck/further blunders by the double plays. And though Avery had the caught stealing, we saw the good side of his speed in the very first inning: he reached base on a swinging bunt on which he beat the throw to first, took third base on a sac fly to left and then scored the first Orioles run on a fly ball to center.
The closest they really came to making something happen was in the bottom of the 8th. With the O's coming into the inning trailing 6-4 (O'Day having just given off the head-scratching homer to Podsednik, who didn't even play at the MLB level in 2011), Markakis led off with a walk and Jones doubled to left. Second and third with nobody out is about as promising a situation as you can get. There's no easy GIDP possibilities for a team prone to hit them like the Orioles. Which is not to say a stupid GIDP is impossible, but just that there's nothing available like a 4-6-3 or a 1-2-3 force play at two bases. The situation is promising except if Chris Davis is the next hitter, because he's going to strike out. He did what we all expected, chasing pitches mostly out of the zone.
Still, one out with men on third is also not bad. Betemit had shown a good eye on the day with his walks. He hit a soft fly ball that looked like it might drop into the Bermuda Triangle between charging 2B, CF and RF and tie up the game. But late-inning pinch-runner/defensive replacement Che-Hsuan Lin showed great speed closing to the spot with his last few strides and laid out, full extension, nabbing the ball with his glove and holding onto it even as he crashed back onto the grass. On this blog we don't really like the phrase "tip your cap" mostly because it was a Dave Trembley-era boilerplate excuse for why the team sucked on a given day. Indeed, many of the Orioles' failings in this particular game were brought on themselves. We do not tip our caps to the entire Red Sox team today. We do not tip our caps to the entire Red Sox team ever. But that play by Lin was impressive and it saved the game for the Sox. That one you can tip your cap. It was the exclamation point on the proclamation that this just wasn't meant to be the Orioles' day.
Perhaps in the end, the key stat is that the Red Sox 8-9 hitters - day-game-after-a-night-game substitute players just as the Orioles are - both had two-hit games and both homered. The 8-9 hitters off the Orioles bench were Ryan Flaherty and Luis Exposito and they each took 0-for the game. The bench on this team is mostly a mess, which is why we can't help but be tantalized by the prospect of a healthy Brian Roberts or Nolan Reimold. The team has to endure without those guys for now, though, and some games are just going to have Flaherty and Exposito batting back-to-back at the bottom of the order and it's going to hurt.
Arrieta's ERA raised to 4.87 after today's outing. Even with their respective homers surrendered, Ayala's is 1.93 (though 7 of 13 inherited runners have scored) and O'Day's is 1.57. Even a great bullpen is not very likely to be this great for an entire season. An optimist might see silver lining in that the O's burned off some bullpen regression on a day that seemed to be destined to go against them anyway.
The Orioles have not had a scheduled off day since May 3 and they could surely use a little rest. On the MASN broadcast, Gary Thorne quoted Buck Showalter as saying J.J. Hardy's shoulder "has been barking" - which is probably why he didn't appear at all today, even as a pinch-hitter - and there are always the accumulated nicks and bruises over a long season.
After tomorrow's off day, Kansas City is coming to town for the weekend series. The first-place team in the AL East should have the advantage over the fourth-place team in the AL Central, but who knows with these guys. One thing we do know is that as of this moment, the scheduled starting pitching matchup for Friday night's 7:05pm game is Jason Hammel vs. old Camden Yards jokester Bruce Chen.