Everything is awesome until, with lightning quickness, everything is terrible again. The Orioles were bungling their way towards managing to win another game while completely and totally failing with runners in scoring position. Then what had been a solid starting pitching effort evaporated almost in an instant and they found themselves trailing. They had no business winning the game, and indeed, they did not win the game, falling to the Nationals, 7-4, on Saturday night.
How can we explain the failure with RISP at this point? There is an explanation, of course, and it involves using terms like cluster luck and regression to the mean, terms that are, in the aggregate, probably accurate and true, but none of which feel very satisfying when viewed through the lens of a single baseball game.
Cluster luck didn't make Chris Parmelee inexplicably decide to lay down a bunt in the seventh inning when the previous two batters reached by a walk. Regression to the mean did not step to the plate with a bat and hit a harmless grounder to first base, as did Adam Jones in that crucial inning. The Orioles had their share of opportunities to make something happen in this game. They blew every one. They still almost managed to pull it off, somehow.
It was a sudden meltdown by Miguel Gonzalez that put the Orioles behind in the game. Gonzalez entered the sixth inning of the game holding a 4-2 lead, having thrown less than 80 pitches. There wasn't any apparent reason for him to suddenly fall apart, but fall apart he did. Bryce Harper, thus far contained in the series, unleashed on Gonzalez for his 26th home run of the season. Relatively cheap back-to-back singles by Clint Robinson and Wilson Ramos put two men on for Danny Espinosa, who also walloped a home run.
The Orioles were losing just like that, abruptly. Gonzalez had cruised up to that point, retiring ten straight Nationals before giving up four runs on four hits. It sucked. They sucked. They lost.
All the ways to fail with RISP
Very nearly it was the Nationals who got on the board in the first inning of the game. Yunel Escobar grabbed a one out single and, with two out, Robinson drove a ball off the wall in right field. Right fielder for the day Steve Pearce got over there quick enough and hit the cutoff man, despite which the Nationals third base coach decided to send Escobar, who was nailed at the plate with a one-hop relay throw. Thanks for the free out!
In the bottom of the inning, the first two Orioles had base hits. Manny Machado led off the game with a single, one of three times he reached base in the game. Parmelee added a double, putting men on second and third with no one out. Hey, three chances with RISP right off the bat! First Jones weakly popped to shortstop, then Jimmy Paredes hit a routine groundout that scored the run from third. Travis Snider struck out to keep the failure going, although the Orioles did come out of it with a 1-0 lead.
That lead didn't last for long. The top of the second saw the Nationals load the bases before Gonzalez got anybody out. The tying run crossed when Gonzalez induced an Ian Desmond double play grounder, but he kept on giving up hits to the likes of Matt den Dekker and Michael Taylor, and the Orioles came out of that inning trailing 2-1.
One trick to getting around failing with runners in scoring position is to make sure you never get a runner past first base. This isn't actually a trick, though it is how the Orioles managed to take the lead once again in the bottom of the second. J.J. Hardy reached with a one-out single and advanced no farther, so when he scored on a Caleb Joseph home run (kid's gotta eat!) it was never a RISP chance.
Joseph's sixth home run of the season came off of Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann, who got the win after a five and dive kind of outing in which he gave up four runs on nine hits.
The Orioles got their fourth run in the fourth inning, a solo shot by Steve Pearce that snuck in fair territory down the left field line. This was Pearce's sixth home run of the year. A solo home run, of course, is another way to get in a run while failing with RISP. At that, the O's were 0-8 in the game. Max Scherzer awaits tomorrow. Have fun with that.
Please stop bunting
Of all of the things that happened in the game, the Parmelee bunt is the one that feels the most frustrating. In the original lineup he wouldn't have even been batting in that spot, but Chris Davis was scratched late due to gastroenteritis, which is a fancy way of saying what you'd probably call the stomach flu. Did he bunt on his own? Did Buck Showalter somehow call for this bunt?
A better plan - other than NOT BUNTING IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE MEDIOCRE RELIEVER ISSUED TWO WALKS IN A ROW - might well have had the Orioles pinch-hit right-handed Nolan Reimold in this spot. The Nats, unless I'm mistaken, did not have a right-handed reliever warming at that time. By the bottom of the eighth, when Reimold pinch hit for Travis Snider, they did, so Casey Janssen enjoyed the platoon advantage against Reimold that Blake Treinen, in the seventh, would not have.
Parmelee's bunt wasn't even successful at advancing the runners. Catcher Ramos made a nice play to retire the lead runner at first base, leaving the Orioles exactly where things were before, only with a slower trail runner.
That was not, as it turned out, the last time the Orioles had a chance with runners in scoring position. In fact, after Matt Wieters delivered a pinch hit single with one out in the bottom of the ninth and Machado grabbed his second walk of the game, the O's brought the tying run to the plate against Nats closer Drew Storen. Neither Parmelee nor Jones could do anything with the chance and the game was over.
Jones was 0-3 with RISP in the game. An OPS that peaked at .869 on June 11 now sits at .794 on July 11. Jones missed a lot of games in there with a banged up shoulder and that's probably not any coincidence. Jones may have tweaked the shoulder once again in this game, after he slid awkwardly into first base while unsuccessfully trying to avoid a tag on a wild throw to first. He may have tweaked his shoulder a bit on the slide and he stayed down for a few seconds before getting up. Jones remained in the game, though.
Elsewhere in the division, the Red Sox beat the Yankees, while the Rays and Blue Jays both won their games, The Orioles stay in second place, three games back, but the Jays and Rays are both just a half game behind and the Sox lurk only 2.5 games back of the O's.
The Orioles draw the unenviable task of trying to avoid falling to .500 at the All-Star Break while facing Max Scherzer in Sunday's game. First pitch is scheduled for 1:35. Wei-Yin Chen, no slouch himself, will be starting for the O's, but he's not any $210 million man like Scherzer. Well, good luck, O's. You'll need it.