The Orioles journey to the bottom of the American League East is complete, though it’s clear that they could and probably will still fall farther in the AL overall. After dropping the series finale to the White Sox, 5-2, on Thursday afternoon, the O’s are tied with the Blue Jays at 32-33 for last place in the division. They have lost 23 of their last 33 games.
Unlike some other games where the Orioles have failed continuously throughout an entire game, Thursday’s loss really just rests on one bad inning where questionable risks were taken and did not pay off for a variety of reasons.
Amazingly, starting pitcher Chris Tillman got through five innings with only one run allowed. That’s a near-miracle given Tillman’s career-long struggle in the early innings and 2017-long struggle in every inning. The lone White Sox run up to that point was a solo home run hit by the pesky Matt Davidson, who now has 14 on the season. Four of those came in this series.
Then, the sixth inning happened.
Pop quiz, hotshot
There’s a struggling starting pitcher on the mound who’s taken 91 pitches to get through five innings. The game is tied, 1-1. If he keeps pitching, he’s going to blow up. Your bullpen sucks. If you turn to them, they will blow up. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?
Manager Buck Showalter made the choice to stick with his starting pitcher. Tillman pitched like a guy who was nearing or at the end of the rope for the day and the White Sox hit him the same way. Davidson led off the inning with a double before Tillman walked Yolmer Sanchez, he of the career .627 OPS.
Only here did Showalter start to have a reliever warming in the bullpen. That reliever was Jimmy Yacabonis, who you may recall from his four runs in one inning MLB debut in the final game in New York. It may not be hard to see why Showalter chose to stick with Tillman.
With the game tied, the White Sox decided to play for one run. They asked backup catcher Kevan Smith to drop a sacrifice bunt. Smith did indeed bunt to the third base side. Manny Machado ran towards third base while Tillman did not make much effort to get to the ball from the mound. Instead of a sacrifice bunt and one out with men on second and third, the bases were loaded with nobody out.
Who was supposed to field that ball? It matters and also it doesn’t matter. This is the kind of stuff that bad baseball teams screw up and then lose games. Whether the O’s are ultimately a bad baseball team is still somewhat up in the air, but at least for now they’re playing like one.
Tillman got a strikeout - what could have been the second out - before Melky Cabrera singled up the middle past a drawn-in infield to score two runs. If there were two outs, the infield could have played back and maybe no runs would have scored. That’s life.
Why Showalter left Tillman in
Just in case you haven’t noticed, the Orioles bullpen is in a bad place with Zach Britton and Darren O’Day both on the disabled list. They were even more depleted on Thursday. Mike Wright has a sore shoulder after pitching two innings. Mychal Givens threw 30 pitches yesterday.
When you have to bring a reliever into a game in the sixth inning of a tie game, there are seldom any good choices. That’s even more true for the Orioles. Showalter went with Yacabonis after Tillman melted down.
Yacabonis, well, he melted down, too. Like, “threw 20 pitches and seven of them were strikes” level of meltdown. He walked the first two batters he faced, forcing in the fourth White Sox run, before a Leury Garcia sacrifice fly plated a fifth White Sox run. Yacabonis then walked A THIRD GUY before Showalter had seen enough and brought in Miguel Castro.
The two runs scored while Yacabonis was pitching were charged to Tillman, so despite a relatively decent beginning to the game, he was actually charged with five runs, all earned, on eleven hits and a walk in 5.1 innings pitched. He started the day with an 8.01 ERA and ended it at 8.07.
That is a failure of the Matusz Test for Tillman, and sadly, he’s getting up into the territory where failing the test is particularly impressive and brutal.
Castro went on to pitch the final 2.1 innings of the game without allowing a run. Good job. Should Showalter have brought in Castro instead of Yacabonis? Maybe. But when you’re seriously debating the merits of Jimmy Yacabonis compared to Miguel Castro, you’ve probably already lost.
The offense still has problems
Tillman and Yacabonis were a problem - a big one - but take that away for a minute and focus on the offense. You’re not going to win many games where you only score two runs. That’s really all there is to it.
The Orioles had nine hits in the game, which is OK, but they were only 1-8 with runners in scoring position. It was a Caleb Joseph double in the fifth inning that put them on the board. Other than that, nothing. The second run scored later when Welington Castillo delivered a leadoff home run in the ninth inning to shave the deficit to 5-2.
Joseph singled off David Robertson to get the tying run as far as the on deck circle, but neither of the batters behind him could do anything with the opportunity, and so the Orioles lost another road game. They’re now 11-23 away from Camden Yards for the season. Sources say that sucks.
At least the Orioles are headed back to Baltimore now. Another struggling 2017 starter, Kevin Gausman will be on the mound for the 7:05pm Friday series opener, facing a non-struggling St. Louis starter, Carlos Martinez.
Will the Orioles be able to improve their situation any with a weekend interleague series against the disappointing Cardinals? Dream on. Dream until your dreams come true.