There have been many frustrating Orioles losses over the course of this season where the game felt like it hinged on one or two blown chances against a mediocre starter. The O's fell to the Royals, 5-3, on Thursday afternoon, but this was not one of those games. Despite a late rally, they never really had a chance.
At first glance, maybe it looks like a game where the Orioles should have had a chance. After all, the Royals starting pitcher was Yordano Ventura, who came into the contest sporting a 4.64 ERA. That's not so good. It's not as easy as that, though, and in the top of the first inning, right after Ventura fired off 98-99 to get the game started, MASN's Gary Thorne read off a stat that was a poor omen for the Orioles hitters.
Simply put, in games where Ventura's fastball has averaged 96 or less, he has a 6+ ERA, with a much lower mid-3s ERA in games where he has been throwing faster than 96. So you could kind of get the feeling of what kind of game that this was going to be just based on the fact that he spent the inning blowing 100mph heat past Chris Davis and Matt Wieters. There was the slight hopeful sign that Ventura threw 27 pitches in the inning, and both Manny Machado and Adam Jones drew walks, but really they had no chance against him.
Little wonder, then, with an arsenal like the one he showed today, that Ventura was able to rack up a career-high 11 strikeouts over the six innings he pitched in the games. Ventura would have left the game with a no-hitter intact if not for a couple of singles poked into the outfield by Paul Janish, who was not even in the Orioles starting lineup.
The loss sends the Orioles back below .500, and, for the moment, 2.5 games back of the second wild card spot. What may prove to be more significant for the fortunes of the season is the reason why Janish was in the game at all - namely, Jones had to exit very early on.
An early exit after Adam Jones has a run-in with a chicken wire fence
In the bottom of the first inning, Ben Zobrist hit an automatic double that bounced over the fence in left center field. Jones, racing over from center, reached out to get this ball and nearly made it there. It was just a little too far for him, though, and his momentum ended up carrying him into a collision with an unpadded chicken wire part of the outfield fence. Jones stayed down for a minute as the trainer came out to check on him.
Jones remained in the game here, and in the bottom of the second inning as well, but he was pulled from the game for pinch hitter Janish before his lineup spot came up again in the third inning. After the game, manager Buck Showalter indicated that the issue with Jones was whiplash and they had some initial concussion concerns as well. That's a good reason to get a guy out of a game. Right now they don't believe it is a concussion. Hopefully they're right.
As to whether Jones will miss any more time, we'll have to wait and see for tomorrow.
Back to today's game, with the way Ventura looked early, when Chris Tillman ran into problems in the fourth inning, you kind of had a feeling it was effectively over. After allowing one hit apiece in each of the first three innings, Tillman gave up a leadoff double to Mike Moustakas and did not stop there. Salvador Perez hit a Kansas City special broken bat blooper to score Moustakas, but other Royals hitters went on to hit the ball much harder, including Alex Rios (whose slugging percentage is sub-Markakian) and Paulo Orlando.
The result of all of this was a 2-0 lead for the Royals. They would get two more off of Tillman before he left the game. One more run crossed in the fifth. Starting with one out, Ben Zobrist hit a single, followed by a Tillman walk and a Moustakas single that scored Zobrist. You're going to give up a run most of the time you give up three baserunners in an inning. In the sixth inning, Orlando added a solo home run.
For Tillman on the afternoon, he gave up four runs on nine hits and one walk in six innings, only striking out one batter. Ventura was also out after six innings, but he allowed only two hits, both to Janish, while issuing four walks and striking out his career-high 11.
Some runs finally score, but it's too little, too late
The very first at-bat against a non-Ventura pitcher turned into a Ryan Flaherty home run. Why couldn't the KC bullpen have been in the habit of giving up homers last October, huh? This put the O's on the board at last, the score 4-1. Unfortunately, Kansas City answered with another run in the bottom of the seventh against O's reliever Jorge Rondon, who ate two innings and will probably find himself getting optioned tomorrow because that's the way the Duquette turns.
A 5-1 Orioles deficit carried into the ninth inning. The Royals brought in closer Greg Holland for the non-save situation, as Holland had an ailing neck recently and needed some work. He probably still needs some more work. The Orioles had some well-struck balls against Holland, and they ended up turning two doubles and a single into two runs. It took until there were two outs to really get the rally going, and with two outs a four-run deficit was just too much to overcome.
It was Machado who hit the two-out single to pull the Orioles within 5-3, meaning the tying run would at least be at the plate. However, this was the first hit of the game by any of the Orioles' starting 1-6 hitters. They only had six hits all game - two of which by the emergency sub, Janish. The simple fact is you're not going to win many games like that, no matter how well your starter does, and Tillman was far from his best today to begin with.
If there's any good news to be had with the end of this game, it's that they can leave this Kansas City den of horrors. A trip to Texas awaits next, where the O's will have a chance to take some games out of one of their direct wild card competitors. Not that this motivation has gotten them very far in any of the Twins games this year, but hey, it's something.
In Friday's opening game of the series, Kevin Gausman and Cole Hamels are the scheduled starters for the 8:05 game.