The Orioles on Wednesday afternoon continued their exploration of the many different ways to lose a baseball game, unearthing a third, wholly distinct method for losing a game to the Minnesota Twins. Another one run loss, 4-3, sealed an Orioles sweep at the hands of those same Twins.
Monday’s loss was a fine offensive performance combined with a starting pitching meltdown. Tuesday’s loss was a fine starting pitching outing combined with nonexistent offense.
Wednesday saw the Orioles unite the worst qualities of each of these - poor starting pitching, poor hitting - for a game that they nonetheless almost homered their way to victory. Almost doesn’t count for much in baseball. A loss is a loss, all the worse when it exposes some of the many Orioles problems.
Reality catches up to Chris Tillman
For those who weren’t stuck at work and were actually able to watch or listen to this mess, starting pitcher Chris Tillman set the tone of the kind of day it was going to be from the very beginning. Six of the first seven Twins hitters reached base, with Tillman working behind nearly every batter. By the time the day was said and done, he faced 26 batters and threw first pitch strikes to just ten.
A complete lack of command combined with hittable stuff is a good way to get an elevated pitch count and an inflated ERA. Tillman got both. He was in so much trouble in that first inning that, with just one out, the Orioles had to get Jayson Aquino warming in the bullpen. Kennys Vargas drove in two runs and Eduardo Escobar added a third with a single almost before the O’s could even blink.
Tillman managed to escape further damage, that inning at least, by retiring the bottom of the Twins lineup, but it was a wreck of an inning, beyond even the usual Tillman first inning struggles.
It took Tillman 36 pitches in the inning, the kind of thing that almost guaranteed the need of one of the long relievers being used later, which will reverberate by limiting the choices of who can possibly start in Ubaldo Jimenez’s place on Sunday. That’s how it seems to go for the Orioles lately - each loss is always about more than just that one day’s loss.
The refrain has been “It’s still like spring training” for Tillman - and maybe it is, but it’s not spring training for the rest of the Orioles and if Tillman is working through something, that’s more slack for the rest of the team to pick up. Some days they aren’t up to it.
Another run crossed the plate in the second inning. Twins leadoff man Brian Dozier opened up the inning with a double. A couple of groundouts ended up with Dozier being tagged out on a play at the plate, but Tillman still let a run cross the plate when Max Kepler doubled home Miguel Sano for the fourth Twins run. This was all they would need in the game, and it was also all they would get.
Still, the elevated pitch count got to Tillman. He only finished five innings in which he gave up four runs on nine hits and two walks. That’s not often going to be “good enough to win.”
With Tillman only going five innings, the O’s needed to use Alec Asher to pitch the sixth and seventh innings. Asher held the line, giving up just one hit and no runs, keeping the Orioles in the game. However, his being needed in this game probably takes him out of the running to start on Sunday.
The home run or bust offense
I have written this before and unfortunately must write it again about the Orioles today: It’s hard to win a baseball game when your team only gets six hits. That was the Orioles on Wednesday afternoon.
That’s the way it goes sometimes. Twins starter Jose Berrios was once one of the hyped young pitching prospects in baseball. His 2016 experience didn’t go so well, but he has looked like the best version of himself in 2017. Berrios faced 25 O’s batters and only six reached base against him. Orioles pitchers should try that some time. Orioles hitters should not keep getting on base just nine times all game.
The only thing that kept the Orioles appearing to be something close to within reach is the fact that three of the four hits Berrios gave up were home runs - all solo, of course. They hardly even had any chances. There were just three at-bats with a runner in scoring position all game. Still they nearly homered their way out of it... nearly.
J.J. Hardy, of all people, got the party started, with a third inning solo shot that cut the deficit to 4-1. This was Hardy’s third homer of the year.
The Orioles would not score or even get a hit again until the seventh inning rolled around. Chris Davis led off the inning by muscling a ball that barely cleared the fence at the flag court above right field - his tenth homer of the year. After Berrios retired Trey Mancini, Jonathan Schoop broke his month-long home run drought with a solo shot to left field.
Schoop’s sixth dinger of the season brought the Orioles to within one run. They got no closer than that, leaving the Orioles with an 8-8 record in such games on the year.
Swing the bat, Chris Davis
Pinch hitter Joey Rickard led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a single, putting the tying run on base. He was still standing on first base two outs later when Mark Trumbo grounded into what should have been an inning-ending fielder’s choice, that, thanks to an error, resulted in no outs being recorded on the play.
Up to the plate came Davis, who watched three straight balls out of the strike zone. A 3-0 count with the tying and go-ahead runs on base, definitely time to figure out where to swing the bat, right? Yeah, about that... Davis watched three straight pitches sail through the zone without ever swinging his bat. Sometimes it’s really hard to know what he’s thinking up there.
The O’s once again got the tying run on base to lead off the inning in the ninth - a Trey Mancini single. He was quickly erased by a Jonathan Schoop double play ball before Hardy struck out to end the game and seal the sweep.
Things don’t get any easier for the Orioles as their next six games continue to be against first place teams. They will have an off day to regroup on Thursday before beginning a three game series against Houston on Friday at 8:15. Kevin Gausman and Joe Musgrove are the scheduled starters for the opener.