The Orioles set a high bar for themselves to clear in striking out 19 times in Tuesday's 13 inning loss to the Astros. Although they strove valiantly to beat their own record, they just ran out of time Wednesday, just barely missing out with 18 strikeouts - though this was only a nine inning game, so on a rate basis, you could argue they won.
They lost the game, of course. How could you not lose a game when you strike out 18 times in nine innings? Two thirds of their outs in the entire night were strikeouts! As it turns out, this is tied for the franchise record for strikeouts in a regular length game. It was last accomplished on May 10, 2015.
Even with Houston starter Collin McHugh pitching only 5.1 innings into the game, the O's still managed to get 10 strikeouts while he was in the game. He struck out 40% of the Orioles batters he faced. That's ridiculous. How does that even happen?
Keeping it close, somehow
For all that the strikeouts make it seem like the offense was terrible - and it was terrible, make no mistake - the Orioles only lost by one run. The final score was 4-3.
They could have won the game, or at least kept things tied for longer, if Tyler Wilson had not simultaneously been Butterfingers and Stonehands in the middle of what turned into a two run fourth inning for Houston.
Or if Wilson hadn't left a hanger in the middle of the plate for Evan Gattis in that same inning, or a different hanger for .210 hitter Luis Valbuena in the sixth inning. That Valbuena homer, his fourth of the year, broke what was then a 3-3 tie.
Oh, yes! As sloppily as they played, as many times as they whiffed away scoring opportunities - a whopping 2-14 with runners in scoring position in the game, and one of those was only a hit due to the Astros bumbling like their selves of old - the Orioles did not lack for chances. They out-hit the winning Astros, 11-8. That wasn't worth much to them.
At some point or another, basically everyone was horrible except for Hyun Soo Kim. He was the opposite of horrible. The Astros couldn't get him out, in fact. Kim drew a walk in his first plate appearance, then went 3-3 in the rest of the game, with two doubles. Play this man some more!
The game did not start out so poorly. Manny Machado led off with a double and his best buddy Jonathan Schoop, starting at #2 in the order for just the second time in his career, quickly doubled Machado home to give the O's a 1-0 lead. Two groundouts and a strikeout later and the Orioles failed to get any more out of that chance.
You could kind of get the feeling the kind of game that it was going to be in the bottom of the first inning. Although the Astros didn't plate any runs - in fact, Wilson threw only eleven pitches, an outstanding inning - there were nonetheless two bad plays made by Machado, both charged as errors. He booted a grounder entirely and then bobbled the transfer on another routine grounder. Sheesh.
What's cooler than being cool
The heart of the order is ice cold. Adam Jones took an 0-5 in the game. Since raising his average to .267 on May 15, Jones has plummeted with a 3-34 cold streak that's seen the average drop to .227. He struck out three times. So did #5 hitter Mark Trumbo, who had one hit in the game but was 0-2 with RISP.
Of course the Red Sox continued their dark magic-fueled offensive outburst in their game against the Rockies, so the loss means that the Orioles are more than one game out of first place in the division for the first time all season. The way they're hitting right now it seems like they'll fall a good bit farther.
In truth, the Orioles were lucky to come within a run. Two of their three runs scored as a result of some Astros buffoonery. One run crossed the plate on a wild pitch.
Another scored immediately afterwards when Pedro Alvarez hit a crappy little infield grounder where McHugh collided with first baseman Marwin Gonzalez on the way to the bag, lost his glove, and then tried to catch the ball with his bare hands when he wasn't even standing on first base. I have watched a lot of baseball and I don't remember ever seeing that before.
That was the third and last Orioles run of the night and it only scored because the Astros screwed up a play with two outs.
There were some good things to take away from tonight. It would be easier to do that if the team hadn't combined for 37 strikeouts in the past two games.
Kim was one good thing. Wilson, despite a few mistakes, ended up with a quality start (six innings, three earned runs) in which he allowed only six hits and no walks while in the game. Unfortunately, two of the hits were homers. That's life.
Also, Vance Worley pitched the final two innings of the game, so the bullpen was spared after a heavy workload in Tuesday's extra inning affair. So it was a loss, but not one that should have ramifications echoing on through the next stretch of games...
...other than the fact that the Orioles are trying to single-handedly provide renewable wind energy to the state of Maryland. It's awfully hard to get clutch hitting when you are swinging at every dang off-speed pitch that dives towards the dirt.
Pretty please just stop striking out
Stop swinging at junk! Read a scouting report, understand tendencies, have an approach, make adjustments! Right now it seems like none of these things are being done, basic things that should be part of being a professional hitter just inexplicably not happening.
I'm sure they are trying in the best way that they understand right now. It's just not showing as long as they're flailing away against all of this stuff.
Of course baseball is a game of failure. Even the most successful hitters will probably carry an on-base percentage around .400, meaning that they fail in their assigned task 60% of the time.
The successes and failures are not guaranteed to be distributed equally, either. If a guy gets a hit 3/10 of the time, which is very good, it doesn't mean for every stretch of ten at-bats, he'll have three hits. There will always be hot and cold streaks.
Call it bad cluster luck if you want. Maybe that's exactly what it is. But it's not a whole heck of a lot of fun to watch, and it's sure coming at an inopportune moment for preserving their place in the standings.
The Orioles have not yet been swept this season. They will be at risk of having that happen to them on Thursday night in the series finale against these Astros. Kevin Gausman and Lance McCullers are the currently scheduled starters for the 8:10 contest.
A loss in Thursday's game would also make for a season long losing streak for the O's. They haven't yet lost more than three straight games. If they find themselves pushing towards 20 strikeouts again, they will probably not be staving off that sweep. And of course they might come up with some completely different, equally frustrating way of losing a game.