It's hard to sweep a four game series, even against a bad team like the Twins. There are many ways that one given game can have just a few things go wrong for the better team on paper - in this case, the Orioles - and it only takes one game to spoil a sweep. Monday's day game was the sweep spoiler for the Orioles. It was a winnable game, there for the taking, but a few poor plays and poor pitches doomed them to a 6-4 loss instead.
For whatever reason, the Orioles struggle during the day. After a full season of seeing it happen, there's probably no accident here. They are 22 games over .500 following Monday's loss, but they are seven games below .500 in day games - a 19-26 record. Whether it has to do with lineup construction, poor preparation, or what, who knows, but there is something there. On Monday, it wasn't even a "day game after a night game" thing because they played a day game on Sunday.
Let's start casting around the blame, because this failure has many fathers. To do this, we fast forward through the first few innings of the game, where basically nothing interesting happened. Both teams seemed to be in a hurry to get the game over with. Some men got on base here and there, but nothing too threatening, nothing anyone did anything with.
There was a play in the bottom of the fifth where Jimmy Paredes went head first into first base on a grounder. Paredes was called out, replay showed he was out, and the Orioles video guy nonetheless signaled for manager Buck Showalter to challenge the play. Even the video guy was mailing it in.
The top of the sixth inning is where the failure really got underway in earnest. With one out, Danny Santana hit a sharp grounder right through Paredes' legs at third base. Yes, Manny Machado probably makes the play. O's starter Kevin Gausman gave up another single, then quickly ruined hopes of a double play by spiking a fastball for a wild pitch. Then he made another terrible pitch to Joe Mauer that was hit for a triple. Wait, what?
In answer to that question, Delmon Young in left field. Of course Young isn't going to be able to range to get a fly ball some distance from where he started. Maybe a real outfielder would, like David Lough, but he's a black hole of suck at the plate, so what can you do? The ball took the worst possible bounce off the fence, skittering away from Young. Both runners probably would have scored even if they were on first and second and even if it was only a double. Maybe Lough would have caught it, whatever.
A Kennys Vargas sacrifice fly brought in a third run, giving the Twins a 3-0 lead after the inning.
Only in the seventh inning did the Orioles finally get their answer onto the board. Chris Davis got a rally started with an opposite field single with one out. The Twins then gave the Orioles a gift of their own, as a routine grounder to third baseman Trevor Plouffe that should have been a 5-4-3 double play was thrown into right field, setting up a first and third with one out situation. Next up was Paredes, who hit a little roller to first. Davis, running on contact, was out easily. The Orioles were lucky that Vargas didn't have the presence of mind to step on first before throwing home.
How would they screw that one up? You had to wonder. Actually, Nick Hundley hit a three-run home run to tie the game at 3-3. For a moment, things were awesome.
Unfortunately, terrible defense giveth, but terrible defense also taketh away. The tie game did not last for long. With his pitch count escalating but not yet into triple digits, Gausman started off the eighth inning by walking number nine hitter Jordan Schafer (the 3-2 walk pitch was actually a strike, but Kerwin Danley wasn't calling the inside pitch against lefties; so it goes). Ah, but he got himself a ground ball that was easy fodder for a 5-4-3 double play! Paredes completely muffed the ball, though, and it ended up skipping into left field for a two base error. Oh no.
Gausman struck out Brian Dozier and was then lifted after a career high 7.1 innings. Showalter summoned Andrew Miller from the bullpen to try to hold the line. He uh... he didn't. Mauer served the first pitch he saw into left field for a two run single - he drove in four of the Twins six runs. Vargas drove in another run on the first pitch, giving the Twins a 6-3 lead.
In all for Gausman, it was five runs, four earned, on five hits and two walks. He struck out seven. He wasn't perfect by any stretch, but he deserved better than that. The left side of his field let him down.
While all of this was going on, the Orioles were getting stuffed by Twins starter Phil Hughes. Phil freaking Hughes, for crying out loud! If not for the Plouffe error they might have gotten hit with a complete game shutout. Hughes gave up only five hits in eight innings, no walks, no earned runs, five strikeouts. How embarrassing for the Orioles hitters. Sometimes they make you wonder if they've ever consulted a scouting report in their entire lives, or at least in their entire Orioles careers.
Nelson Cruz blasted an FUHR off Twins closer Glen Perkins in the ninth inning to set up the 6-4 final score. The home run was Cruz's major league-leading 36th of the year, but it wasn't enough to thwart Perkins getting his 33rd save of the year. Gausman took the loss to fall to 7-7, while Hughes raised his record to 15-9.
Hardy left the game after the seventh inning with what was announced as a lower back spasm. Here's hoping it's not serious.
One good thing about a nine game lead is it can absorb a lot of blows. Well, it absorbed one such blow today and now it's an 8.5 game lead. The Yankees were off on Monday. The O's magic number remains at 19.
Next up for the O's is the Cincinnati Reds, who will be in town for a three game series that starts on Tuesday with a 7:05 scheduled start. Mat Latos starts the opener for the Reds, with Bud Norris on the mound for the Orioles.