The Orioles came into Saturday's game riding a three-game winning streak, looking to win a fourth while going up against a pitcher who had been the worst starter by ERA in the entirety of baseball. You know the script here. Instead of feasting on the weak, the bats were somnolent, mustering only five hits in seven innings against Kevin Correia. Combined with a five-and-dive kind of effort from Wei-Yin Chen and some bad stuff from the bullpen, the Orioles instead looked pathetic as they fell to the Twins, 6-1.
There's no good explanation for the phenomenon. I'm sure the Orioles don't sit down ahead of time and decide they aren't going to try today. Sometimes they just look bad against a pitcher like Correia. Early in the game, it looked like they were trying to strike out on everything, with three in two innings. Correia had only struck out 12 in 27 innings heading into the game. They stopped striking out, which was something; instead, they started hitting everything to center fielder Sam Fuld, who was everywhere.
Whatever the reason, it feels like sometimes they just rest on their laurels. "Well, we just won three in a row, so one loss isn't a big deal." And indeed, winning three out of four games is good. But later on there will be times where they're playing better teams and they won't win two out of three or three out of four; they'll split them, or lose them all, and wish they had beaten the soft part of their schedule. They failed today. They might fail again tomorrow.
The Twins got on the scoreboard in the first inning, with Joe Mauer poking a single into left field against the shift. He kicked in the afterburners to score on a perfectly-placed double by Trevor Plouffe, just between Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. Jones cut the ball off before it could roll onto the warning track, but he had little chance to get Mauer as he raced to the plate.
Chen ended up pitching five innings plus one batter, allowing six hits, one walk, and three runs (two earned) while striking out five. He was let down on a couple of occasions by his defense, with both J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado committing throwing errors, and Steve Pearce looking like a guy who's the backup first baseman. There were some bad throws, but there were some balls he should have caught. The unearned run scored on a single to shallow left where an outfielder with a good arm would have had the runner at the plate. David Lough was playing left field today, so, you know.
When you end up with the starter throwing 108 pitches and getting no outs in the sixth inning, you know that it wasn't a great day. He was behind everyone, one more of those times where you have to wonder if anyone on the Orioles has ever consulted a scouting report. The Twins have been a patient team so far this year, so maybe throw strikes. Well, he might have been trying to throw strikes and just missing. In any case, it wasn't a terrible start for Chen, but he didn't deserve any better than his results, either.
These things would have been frustrating if it was a close game, but it wasn't, because the Orioles hitters slept through the game, and also because Brad Brach did not have a successful Oriole debut. He relieved Chen with a man on first in the sixth and retired the side.
However, he had something of a Jake Arrieta Memorial Inning for the seventh. Brach allowed a couple of cheap bloopers, including one to former Oriole Pedro Florimon, who was later picked off first base, only the umpire called him safe and manager Buck Showalter did not ask for a review despite what looked to me like a conclusive angle showing that Pearce tagged out Florimon. He would go on to steal second base on another play where he was possibly out.
Mauer followed up the pair of bloops with a three-run blast, his second home run of the year, giving the Twins a 6-1 lead. At that point, it was just piling on. The Orioles never had a chance today. That is the true frustrating thing. They should have been looking to keep up in first place in the division and they slumbered. With a Yankees win, the O's are back down into second place, only a half-game behind, but still. First place is way more fun, and if they hang around in the pennant chase for a while, this is one of those games they'll wish they had back.
The O's lone run came in the second inning, and even that was something of a fluke. Jones reached base on a dropped third strike. The pitch was so far out in front of the plate that it bounced and went through Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki's legs, kicking off of his foot and back towards the visitors dugout. Jones still swung at it because he's Adam Jones. He raced to first, so at least we can give him that.
Jones then stole second, putting him in scoring position when, one batter later, Hardy singled to center. The play at the plate was close, but Jones scored the O's lone run. The score was then 1-1. Things escalated later. Maybe they will suck less tomorrow.
As he came on to explain the loss at the outset of the MASN post-game show, even the usually-sunny Rick Dempsey could find little good to say about the game. "They were flat," he said, and that's exactly what they were.
The O's will be back on Sunday afternoon to try to take the rubber game of the three-game set. Miguel Gonzalez starts for the Orioles, with certified home run manufacturer Phil Hughes starting for the Twins. So help me, the Orioles had better not look awful against him.