The Orioles and Blue Jays played a baseball game this afternoon. For the first time this year, the game meant literally nothing to the Orioles, after the Angels clinched the best record in the American League last night. And with the Blue Jays eliminated from Wild Card contention last week, this was a game with nothing at stake on either end, which led to silliness like Alexi Casilla getting a start at third base (since someone has to play there and he just replaced Preston Guilmet on the 40-man roster) and Nick Markakis getting another day off.
Wei-Yin Chen got the day's start, as nothing more than a tuneup for the AL Division Series, and he acquitted himself well enough. Even with the Jays deploying a lineup full of right-handed hitters to counter him, Chen put up a Chen-esque line of 6 IP, 3 R (2 earned), 3 K, 1 BB. The day included plenty of flyball outs, but if the Orioles had had Manny Machado at third base, Chen may have only allowed a single earned run. This, of course, is a matter of continued concern for the Orioles in the playoffs, since they won't have Machado.
The Orioles started off the day's scoring after both teams went 1-2-3 quickly and quietly in the first inning. Nelson Cruz hit a sharp second-inning triple (yes, that's right) and got driven in by a Delmon Young single (the Orioles also deployed their lefty-mashing lineup against Jays starter J.A. Happ).
But the Jays answered in the third inning with a quick series of hits that led to two runs. Kevin Pillar hit a one-out single, and Steve Tolleson and Jose Reyes hit back-to-back doubles to plate two runs in short order. Both doubles went down the third-base line, and not all that sharply, leading Orioles fans to undoubtedly wonder whether those were the sorts of plays that Manny Machado would have made.
Third base remained a point of concern in the fifth inning, with Reyes getting on base via an infield single, and advancing to second on a terrible throw by Casilla. Reyes would go on to score following a groundout that advanced him to third, and a goofy hit from Edwin Encarnacion that went off Chen's glove and didn't leave enough time for Hardy to throw out the runner at first.
The Orioles pulled the game back to 3-2 with a mammoth Adam Jones home run (#29) in the top of the sixth that was smacked off the second-deck facade in left field. But the Jays tacked on another run after another Orioles defensive failure, where Pillar reached and advanced to second on a throwing error following a bunt, then advanced on a sacrifice, and then scored on a sacrifice fly to center. The play was initially called an out after a solid throw from Jones, but the call on the field was overturned following a lengthy replay, with Pillar getting ruled as safe on a bang-bang tag (and not for Caleb Joseph blocking the plate under MLB's new rules).
Ultimately, the extra run, controversial though it was, did not matter, with the Jays securing a 4-2 victory after shutdown innings from Aaron Sanchez and Casey Janssen. What matters far more for Orioles fans is the defensive situation at third base. With Manny Machado out for the season and Chris Davis out for most of the playoffs on a suspension, the Orioles have rotated through a series of unsatisfactory defensive options (Kelly Johnson, Jimmy Paredes, Ryan Flaherty), one that continued tonight even with the new call-up of Alexi Casilla.
Fans can paper over the other aspects of recent losses, but the defense has been a cornerstone of the team's winning season, and third base looks like an unsolved part of that as the team heads into the playoffs. Today didn't matter, but some of the things it said about the current state of the team just might.