The Orioles downward spiral towards some kind of disaster ending continued uninterrupted on Sunday afternoon as they lost to the Astros, 8-4, their seventh consecutive defeat. It is brutal to watch these games. On top of the current losing streak, the Orioles have also lost 13 of their last 16 games and they are now just two games above .500 for the season.
Nothing more clearly illustrates what a disaster this particular game was than this: After all of the fan excitement about Ubaldo Jimenez getting bounced from the starting rotation in favor of Alec Asher - at least for now - the game still ended up with Jimenez pitching in the third inning. Few are the scenarios where this could be a good thing.
As it ended up, it was Asher’s pitching that tended towards being Ubaldo-esque even more than Ubaldo’s. The Orioles batters had staked Asher to a 3-0 lead after their first two times up to the plate. All three runs were driven in by the day’s #2 hitter, Jonathan Schoop, who delivered a two-run bomb in the first inning and took advantage of a coulda-been error in the second inning to plate another run.
The lead was erased and then some in the bottom of the second inning. The Astros sent a total of ten men to the plate and scored six runs as things abruptly veered out of control. You might look at a pitching line of six runs allowed on six hits in two innings and think, “Wow, he really sucked today,” which is a valid thing to think, but here’s something to keep in mind:
Numbers saying #Orioles OF defense didn't help Alec Asher. Three of 6 hits against him had hit probabilities of below 15%. All three scored.— Eduardo A. Encina (@EddieInTheYard) May 28, 2017
Another way of looking at that is that three hits were recorded that are turned into outs more than 85% of the time. The 15% of the time apparently includes when your outfield consists of Hyun Soo Kim, Joey Rickard, and Seth Smith.
I’m not sure which of the hits is which - we can probably safely say that George Springer’s massive dinger, which gave the Astros a 5-3 lead, was not catchable - but it certainly wasn’t pretty to watch. There were certainly a couple of balls where Kim appeared to be handcuffed by the peculiar configuration in Houston’s left field.
With the current roster configuration, we’re simply never going to know what a competent corner outfield defense could add to the Orioles, or how much the lack of the same is costing them.
Whether it was Asher’s fault or not, the result is that he did not come back out to pitch for the third inning. Jimenez, on regular rest, was summoned to attempt to save the rest of the bullpen from having to be used in such a game. In his first inning pitched, Jimenez was the exact pitcher who needed to be sent to the bullpen, taking 27 pitches to get through just the one inning while giving up two runs.
However, Jimenez settled down after that and ended up pitching for the rest of the game. There are no quality starts out of the bullpen, but Jimenez nonetheless pitched for six innings and gave up only those two runs on five hits. It could have been better, but it was something. Ominously, Jimenez now has a 6.66 ERA for the season.
After getting the three early runs against Houston starter Lance McCullers, the Orioles offense did one of those “fold up the tents” performances. The O’s picked up just five hits against McCullers in six innings, with only one of these coming after the second inning. McCullers struck out eight O’s batters. In all, they struck out 13 times against Astros pitchers on Sunday, with Chris Davis picking up three of those.
In the eighth inning, Mark Trumbo’s seventh home run of the year put the Orioles within “a grand slam would tie the game!” territory. That might have been nice, but since the Orioles didn’t have a runner in scoring position after the sixth inning, it was never a very realistic hope.
The Orioles have not had a losing streak exceed six games since July of 2011, when that year’s dismal Orioles incarnation actually lost nine in a row. That was a bad baseball team and this year’s Orioles are more and more resembling them rather than any of the three good O’s teams we’ve seen over the past five years.
The rotation is a mess. The outfield defense isn’t much better, and outside of Manny Machado, neither is the infield defense, particularly. The bullpen, without the 2016 version of Zach Britton anchoring it, is discombobulated, and after about two months of baseball it’s not totally clear that even one of the revolving door of long reliever/spot starters will be an acceptable MLB-caliber pitcher.
The O’s travel back to Baltimore, where they will next face the AL East-leading Yankees. Those same Yankees were victors on Sunday afternoon, sending the O’s to 4.5 games back in the division. At this point, worrying about that is a far less immediate concern than whether the Orioles will even be able to stay above .500.
That series will kick off on Monday afternoon with a special Memorial Day afternoon game. Dylan Bundy is the scheduled starter for the O’s in the 1:05 contest, with lefty Jordan Montgomery pitching for the Yankees. No team in the AL has scored more runs than the Yankees. Somehow, this O’s pitching staff will have to try to figure that out to stop this losing streak.