Folks, I don't want to alarm you, but I'm starting to think the Orioles aren't a very good team.
For anyone who thought Zach Britton was going to walk through that door and save the Orioles from their death spiral...well, I got news for you, friend. There's no saving the Orioles. Britton, in his 2012 debut, became just the latest O's starting pitcher to self-destruct into a smoldering pile of ash, dragging down an already overtaxed bullpen that continued its second-half struggles, while the O's offense again squandered scoring opportunities at every turn and the always-unsightly Birds defense couldn't make any plays, at any time, ever.
Other than that, though, it was a heck of a game!
All eyes were on Britton tonight as he returned to the majors for the first time since 2011, hoping to give the flagging O's rotation a shot in the arm. Tragically, Zach misinterpreted the meaning of that phrase. "Shot in the arm" isn't supposed to mean a bullet wound, Zach.
Britton's night got off to an inauspicious start when the first four pitches he threw were all out of the strike zone-- three of them badly missing-- for a leadoff walk. However, he recovered to induce a double-play grounder, and after a Joe Mauer double, he retired Josh Willingham to end the first inning. I suppose that already gives him a leg up on Chris Tillman.
The second inning was a slog for Britton, who allowed a pair of singles but made it out of there unscored upon. Britton looked maddeningly inconsistent-- occasionally, his heavy sinker had great movement, but on the very next pitch he would uncork a way-high offering that catcher Matt Wieters practically needed to jump for. Britton allowed two more baserunners in the third, again managing not to give up a run. He was getting by on smoke and mirrors.
He wasn't the only one. Twins right-hander Sam Deduno, making just his second career start, was all over the place. Nick Markakis led off the game with a single, and then Deduno-- trying to pick him off-- sailed a throw into foul territory past first, advancing Markakis to third. Deduno then brought him home by uncorking a wild pitch. So far, Deduno had failed at throwing the ball in the strike zone, the first baseman's glove, or the catcher's mitt.
Deduno issued two walks in the first, but the Orioles stranded the two runners, because that's how they roll. The O's wasted a walk in the second. They put their first two runners aboard in the third, but again didn't score. Agh! Deduno was pitching terribly, but the O's let him off the hook at every turn. Actually, the same could be said of Britton and the Twins. If these two teams had decent offenses, it would've been something like a 6-5 score instead of 1-0 through three.
Britton's luck ran out in the fourth, with a hand from the Orioles' shabby defense. After a walk, Ryan Doumit hit a grounder to short that could've been a double play. J.J. Hardy fed Ryan Flaherty for the first out, but Flaherty's relay to first was off line. That kept the inning alive for Jamey Carroll, who ripped a game-tying RBI double down the left-field line.
The top of the fifth was the only inning in which the O's resembled a competent team. Deduno walked two more batters-- his fourth and fith-- and Adam Jones delivered a much-needed big hit, smacking an opposite-field three-run homer deep to right. The Birds took a 4-1 lead. Finally!
I'll give you three guesses how long that lead lasted. If you said, "Not even an inning," you are correct, and are clearly a seasoned Orioles fan. OK, next question: If you were a pitcher, and your team had just given you a three-run lead, what's the first thing you do? If you answered, "Walk the bases loaded," congratulations, you clearly pitch for the Orioles!
Britton was an absolute travesty in the fifth. Just needing to grind out one more inning, he instead threw 9 of his first 10 pitches out of the strike zone en route to walking Mauer, Willingham, and Justin Morneau. A clearly seething Buck Showalter would put up with no more of these shenanigans and yanked Britton off the mound right then and there. Unfortunately, he replaced him with Luis Ayala, who is the king of letting inherited runners score. Not exactly who you want to see in a bases-loaded, no-out situation. But it's not like Buck had a ton of options.
Sure enough, all three runners ultimately came home under Ayala's watch, thanks to a Ryan Doumit two-run single and a Brian Dozier game-tying hit. All were charged to Britton, whose final line in his debut was four innings (plus three batters), four runs, six hits, and six walks. WHY IS EVERY SINGLE YOUNG PITCHER ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE FOR THE ORIOLES?!? I don't even...I mean...how can one team be so consistently horrible at developing pitchers? Time and time again, these guys come to the majors and are completely unprepared and overmatched.
The game had clearly slipped away from the Birds, and it was only a matter of time until the Twins made it official. That happened in the seventh, when Ayala put two runners on base (a possible inning-ending groundout was botched on a bad throw by Hardy) and Pedro Strop surrendered back-to-back RBI singles to Ben Revere and Mauer, giving the Twins a 6-4 lead.
The demoralized, hapless, helpless, lifeless, useless Orioles limped to the inevitable conclusion. They failed to score after Jones's homerun, with five Twins relievers joining forces to pitch 4 ⅔ scoreless innings. There you have it. The O's have just lost two games in a row to the worst team in the AL-- a title that might apply to the Birds themselves before too long.