Prior to Saturday’s game against the Astros, Orioles GM Dan Duquette faced the music in a Q&A session with season ticket holders. He insisted, perhaps believing it and perhaps not, that the O’s are just better starting pitching away from being contenders. Hours later, the Orioles lost a game to the Astros, 8-4, that revealed how ridiculous of a statement this was to make.
Duquette certainly wasn’t wrong that the Orioles need better starting pitching. Chris Tillman did a good job of showing that in tonight’s game. Where this better pitching is supposed to come from was left a bit vague; are the Orioles going to trade for someone who’s actually better? Are the existing guys going to improve?
Even so, it’s a fatal problem and what’s worse, it’s not their only problem. Although they scored four runs in this game and were leading it 4-1 going into the sixth inning, the game exposed other flaws. Their offense is still boom-or-bust and when it busts, it busts. They had only four hits in the game and did not score any runs except those that scored by home run. You don’t win many games where you get four hits.
You know what else this team really needs? How about bullpen meltdowns that tank the trade value of their potential trade assets with a bit more than a week to go until the trade deadline? Oh, yeah! That’s the good stuff right there. And that’s what they got in Saturday’s game, with Darren O’Day blowing the game in the top of the sixth inning and Brad Brach allowing a couple of insurance runs in the ninth.
It all added up to a second consecutive loss for the Orioles. These two games have given the impression that the previous Rangers series merely revealed that the Rangers are, in fact, that bad right now. The O’s are now five games below .500. They would have to win six of their next seven games in order to have a .500 record at the trade deadline. The question of what to do answers itself.
Did it have to be this way on Saturday night? Well, no, it didn’t. Tillman avoided his usual early inning struggles and almost gave an impression that he might be improving. I write that, but anybody who was watching Tillman saw him occasionally unload completely errant pitches that would only make you cluck your tongue and shake your head grimly.
Still, it took until the fifth inning before the Astros got to Tillman. Houston shortstop Alex Bregman, launched a home run over the fence in left center field. It was his eighth home run of the season and the solo shot broke a scoreless tie.
The O’s offense picked Tillman up, at least for a little while, in the bottom of the fifth. All four of their runs scored in the inning. Seth Smith walked to lead off the inning. He was still on first two batters later when Adam Jones took a pitch for a ride, dramatically giving the O’s a 2-1 lead. The home run was Jones’s 18th of the season.
The fifth inning proved to be the problem for Collin McHugh, perhaps because he ran out of gas in his first MLB-level start of the season. He’s been on the disabled list until now. After the Jones homer, Manny Machado picked up a single and then was brought home on another homer, this one by his buddy Jonathan Schoop. The 21st home run of the year for Schoop put the O’s up, 4-1.
Three of the four Orioles hits in the game came in this fifth inning. They did not get another base hit for the remainder of the game after Schoop’s home run.
Four runs hasn’t been enough for the 2017 edition of Tillman very often this year. Right after the O’s gave him that lead, he set about giving it back. Houston’s Josh Reddick picked up a one out double. He didn’t stay on base for long: Yuli Gurriel homered over the right field out-of-town scoreboard and just like that, the Astros were only down, 4-3.
That sent Tillman packing from the game. His final line saw him give up three runs on six hits in 5.1 innings. Well, he’s been worse than that this season.
O’Day relieved Tillman, though on this occasion he provided the Orioles no relief. The first two batters O’Day faced greeted him with singles. The go-ahead run was on base before he even got an out! Still, O’Day struck out Bregman for the second out of the inning and he only had to get one more out to escape the jam.
Recently called-up Astros infielder Colin Moran, also known as the nephew of longtime Oriole B.J. Surhoff, was who O’Day had to face. Moran swung at the first pitch he saw and fouled a ball off of his own face.
It looked like a bad shot. He was bleeding immediately and after a minute of sitting on the ground, staggered when they tried to stand him up. Moran had to be taken off on the cart after a delay of several minutes. I hope he’s OK.
Unexpectedly, the Astros needed another hitter. They called on Marwin Gonzalez, who had the kind of pesky at-bat that makes you nervous if you’re a fan of the defending team. Gonzalez fouled off five balls and saw seven pitches from O’Day, who just couldn’t put the guy away.
Finally, Gonzalez got the pitch he was looking for and he didn’t miss. A three-run home run was deflating enough, and just to add further insult to the injury, it went onto Eutaw Street. This was the 93rd Eutaw homer in Camden Yards history - the 53rd by an opponent. There have been five Eutaw shots this season, all of which were by opposing teams. Sounds about right for the 2017 Orioles.
After this home run, Gonzalez’s 18th, the Astros were up 6-4. Pitching the ninth to get some work, Brach gave up two runs. There were several cheap hits and one unfortunate error, so it wasn’t all his fault, but also, come on. Of course that happened.
It’s not much of a shock that the Orioles can’t hang with the AL-best Astros. They’ll try to avoid a sweep on Sunday afternoon with the 1:35 series finale. Unless something unexpected happens, the starting pitchers will be Lance McCullers and Dylan Bundy.