The Orioles are a team capable of marvelous feats of strength and excellence at the plate. When they are hitting, they will leave you shaking your head in wonder. When they aren't hitting, they will also leave you shaking your head in wonder. On Wednesday night in Toronto, it was the futile kind of head-shaking, as they mustered one lone hit against the immortal Drew Hutchison in a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays.
It was an even more futile thing than it sounds, because not only did they manage only one hit, they had only one walk. Their lone baserunner in the entire game prior to the ninth inning never even stayed on base: Chris Davis crushed an impressive opposite field blast in the second inning for his 19th home run of the year. If he could swing like that every time, he'd be back on the way to 50+ home runs.
The rest of the team spent the night stinking up the joint. There's not much better of a way to put it. After the Davis home run, Hutchison retired the next 22 batters he faced, all the way through until there were two outs in the ninth inning and he walked Nick Markakis. With Hutchison at a season-high 115 pitches thrown, Jays manager John Gibbons opted for caution over the complete game, bringing on Casey Janssen for the game's final out.
Hutchison entered the night with a 7.71 ERA in his home starts, a 4.62 ERA on the year in total. He was averaging fewer than six innings per start for the year, giving up three walks per nine innings. He had only turned in seven quality starts out of 22 games started. Unfortunately, three of those starts have come against the Orioles, and in throwing a near-complete game against them Wednesday, he added a fourth. It was a sad and pathetic effort as they sought to win their fourth straight game.
They needed some offense. Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen did not have a good night on the carpet. The Rogers Centre carpet was part of the reason why, as a series of fast grounders just out of the reach of Orioles fielders led to four hits and two runs in the bottom of the first inning. The O's were down 2-0 just like that, although at least Chen managed to strike out the pesky Munenori Kawasaki with the bases loaded to hold the damage there.
That first inning was bad BABIP luck in a place that's designed for such. The second inning, well, there wasn't much bad luck about Jose Bautista launching a two-run home run halfway up into the second deck in left field. He must have gotten the right signal from the man in white for that pitch. No, not really. Well, maybe. Who knows with that shady cast of characters. Either way, it was Bautista's 22nd home run of the season. He finished off the night a triple short of the cycle.
Chen ended up with a five and dive, giving up four runs on eight hits and two walks in his five innings. He struck out six, which will never win you many awards, but there are nights where it can be good enough for the team to win. Either of the last two games, it would have been good enough, in fact. Chen had the misfortune to start on the night when the Orioles hitters folded up the tents after their outburst the last two games. Chen took the loss to fall to 12-4 on the season, with Hutchison's win raising his record to 8-9.
The Jays hit 5-11 with runners in scoring position for the game. That's a good way to scratch out five runs. The Orioles never had an at-bat with a runner in scoring position all night, and did not have an at-bat with a man on base until the game's final batter.
If they were facing a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, this would make sense. But Hutchison? What is this team's deal? A 0.98 ERA in four starts! He has a 5.30 ERA against the whole rest of baseball. The Orioles might be single-handedly saving Hutchison from banishment to the minor leagues.
Not much to be done except show up and try to do better tomorrow. Maybe they'll hit better, maybe they'll pitch better. Maybe they'll do both. Their lead has shrunk to four games in the AL East after this loss to their closest competitor.
In Thursday's rubber game, the Orioles will send Miguel Gonzalez onto the carpet against Toronto's J.A. Happ. A win will bring them back up to a five game lead. A loss in the game and series would see the division lead shrink back down to three games. Better up by three than down by three, but even better up by five.