Zach Britton did not look like this photo from Oakland, but he may as well have; he sucked today and could be getting sent to the minors soon. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Wednesday afternoon's game between the Orioles and the Yankees was one of those that will rekindle the ongoing debate over the meaning of the Orioles' run differential on the season. They were blown out. It was not pretty at any point in time. The game was agonizing from start to finish and by the time it was over, the O's would lose by nine runs, making their differential -60 runs through 105 games. That means they "should" have won 46 games and lost 59 games up to this point - a .438 winning percentage that would mean about 71 wins in a full season.
Does this mean anything for the rest of the season? That's the big question. While the Orioles have won many games that were close, an astounding 20-6 record in one-run games, that means they perform much less well in games that are not close. You might argue that Buck Showalter knows when to wave the white flag on a baseball game and he saves his resources for the next game, one which the O's might stand a better chance at winning. The personnel that contributed to this loss remain, however.
Zach Britton was awful today. He could not locate anything. When his sinkerball was sinking, it sunk too low to be a strike and too low for a patient major league team like the Yankees to be enticed to swing at it. You had to wonder if he would make it out of the first inning. He did, but he did not make it out of the third inning. He gave up seven hits and three walks in 2.2 IP, surrendering seven earned runs. A miracle comeback was not in the cards for a second straight day. The team folded up the tents and moved on to the next city, which happens to be Tampa Bay.
While we're handing out demerits, Kevin Gregg was summoned to be the garbage time man, and he made it even more garbage. He allowed five hits and a walk in only 1.1 IP, including a grand slam to Robinson Cano in the third inning - this before he had even recorded an out.
Then there was Yankees starter Phil Hughes. He has now made 21 starts this season and this was only the fourth where he did not allow a home run. What he did allow is nine hits and two walks in six innings. That's a lot of baserunners. Unfortunately for the Orioles, they batted a whopping 0-15 with runners in scoring position today. That is a boggling level of failure on its own - add to it that without runners in scoring position the O's were 13-25 today. They batted better than .500 without RISP and they batted .000 with RISP. Meaningless statistical noise, probably - but it's really, really frustrating meaningless statistical noise all the same.
Will Britton find himself sent back to the minors after amassing an 8.35 ERA in four big league starts this year? If so, you might tell yourself that his negative contribution to the run differential doesn't matter - nor should that of, say, Jake Arrieta or Brian Matusz, as they are no longer on the staff. Should Britton remain in the rotation, then this is the possible outcome every five games. Should he be sent to the minors, who would even be brought up next?
Will they decide it's time to try Arrieta or Matusz back in the big leagues? Matusz has a 3.75 ERA after 5 starts - ones where he may have looked worse than the box score would show - and Arrieta has a 3.78 ERA after 3 starts. One can't think that either one of them is likely to have fixed anything after a few AAA innings.
Whether Britton keeps pitching or they call someone else up, there are question marks. With the rest of the starters except Wei-Yin Chen, there are also question marks. There's no help in sight. There are no more cards to play. Either the team that's here will get better or they will start losing more games.
Tomorrow is an off day, and after a drubbing like that, it's well-needed. Friday's 7:10pm game is expected to feature Tommy Hunter starting against Matt Moore. That would be the same Hunter who threw two-thirds of an inning today - it was his side session day and it seems the team decided the best thing would be to do that work in the live game. He threw 14 pitches, walked a guy and let an inherited runner score on a sacrifice fly - Luis Ayala had let that runner on base, ironically - in the course of getting his outs. It's pretty tough to be Five Runs All Earned in a .2 inning relief outing - though I certainly wouldn't have been shocked if he found a way.
Pythagoras or no, the Orioles are 55-50 on August 1 and that is still pretty cool. Maybe they can keep scratching out some lucky wins in Tampa or across the next homestand and continue to capture our hearts - rather than just stomping on them repeatedly like we're used to them doing.