It's two days later and the Orioles’ excruciating loss in Seattle to conclude their all-important West Coast road trip still lingers like an oblique strain. While the team is still just three games out of a wild card berth, it seems that Wednesday’s defeat was a blow the Birds might not be able to overcome.
Not only did the 7-6 loss give the Mariners the 2-1 series win, it resulted in a 4-6 Orioles’ record for the road trip. One, which many thought they needed to win six or seven games to realistically stay in the playoff hunt. A 5-5 split wouldn’t have been great, but it would have been acceptable.
All that disappeared with a whimper, as the muscular Chris Davis couldn’t lift his bat off his shoulder to swing at a fat pitch delivered by Mark Rzepczynski. It was yet another called third strike taken by the mighty slugger. He's now whiffed 158 times, third most in the AL.
And this one may be sting for while.
What may be even more disturbing is why Davis was batting in the first place. The Orioles were presented with a golden opportunity to steal the game from the Mariners who did their very best to give it away. Seattle quickly watched their three-run, ninth-inning lead shrink to just one, as closer Edwin Diaz was wilder than Ricky Vaughn.
After starting the inning by walking three batters, he was rescued by Leonys Martin’s running backhand catch of a Manny Machado sac fly to right-centerfield. That could have tied the game there. After striking out Jonathan Schoop, Diaz lost his command again and hit the next two batters making the score 7-6. And everywhere you looked, there was an Oriole.
The Mariners called for the lefty Rzepczynski with Davis due up.
During the commercial, I thought there is no way I let Davis hit. Not with a .693 OPS against left-handers and the game – and the perhaps the season – on the line. And if that wasn’t enough, Buck Showalter not only had Welington Castillo on the bench, Adam Jones was also available because he got the day off.
Unfortunately, Showalter took that literally and let Jones continue to rest. Castillo too. It came as no surprise as Buck consistently relies on his veterans and regulars. Sometimes to a fault, but it’s hard to argue with the positive results he has garnered over his great career.
Maybe he saw that Davis had begun to hit a little better the last few games or that he had three singles off of Rzepczynski in 10 career at-bats.
But given the magnitude of this game, it seemed like Jones would have been the obvious choice to hit in this situation. Davis’ strength is his power, but the Orioles didn’t need a home run – just a single or at least a ball in play to give the team a chance to tie the score. But three pitches later, the game was over.
According to Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan, when Davis watched that fateful 94-MPH fastball zip across the plate, it was the eighth time this year that he has taken strike three, when the pitch was straight down the middle of the plate.
Sullivan cites using Baseball Savant’s middle-middle area of its strike-zone box. No one else in the majors has struck out in such a uniquely disappointing way, and Davis' feat ties the major-league record since this data started being collected in 2008.
That year former Oriole Jack Cust took eight called strike-threes right down Broadway while playing for the Athletics.
The Fangraphs article gives a deep analysis of Davis’ issues with striking out, but among the most telling is that for the second straight year he has swung less frequently at two-strike pitches in the strike zone than anyone else in the majors.
His league-low 71.9 percent rate in 2016 has dropped to 69.1 percent this year. The next lowest belongs to Cardinals' Tommy Pham at 75.9 percent, which puts Davis in a lonely place at the bottom.
All the more reason for Jones to pinch-hit in Wednesday’s loss.