A team that wants to hang around in the postseason picture should not go around losing games where the big damage is dealt to them by Troy Scribner and C.J. Cron. The Orioles did not get this memo in time for Wednesday afternoon's game and accordingly they turned in a poor performance in the series finale against the Angels, losing the game, 5-1.
This was a game where scoring opportunities for the Orioles were essentially nonexistent. They picked up only four hits in the game, never drew a walk, and did not have a single at-bat for the entire game where they had a runner in scoring position. You're just never going to win very many games where that happens.
Why did the Orioles offense almost completely fail to show up in a game started by the 25-year-old Scribner, a rookie making his second ever MLB start? Perhaps the answer is as simple as a boom-or-bust Orioles offense that sometimes, too often, just goes bust. Their struggles against pitchers they haven't seen before have been noted.
With almost no offense to speak of, there was no room for error anywhere in the game, especially not for Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. There are times where perfection is just too much to expect. Everybody makes a mistake eventually.
It was actually the Orioles who scored first in the game. Catcher Welington Castillo cleared the high fence in right center field in the third inning for his 12th home run of the season. This solo shot gave the O's an early 1-0 lead. As is often the case, it did not survive the next half inning.
Staked to that modest lead, Gausman responded by giving up a leadoff single to Kaleb Cowart, the Angels #8 hitter. After retiring the #9 hitter, Gausman then issued a walk to Ben Revere. Don't walk Ben Revere! He's batting .258/.287/.329 this season. This put two men on for Mike Trout. No, it's not the ideal circumstance.
Gausman got a 1-2 count on Trout before getting him to bloop a ball to short right field with an inside-out swing. However, at second base, Jonathan Schoop got a poor read and a poor break on the ball. He came a step short of catching the blooper. This dropped in for a single, but it was a catchable ball all the way. Cowart scored on the play and the Angels had tied it up at 1-1.
They got to Gausman again the next inning. Cron, the .672 OPSing first baseman, led off the inning with a ground rule double. After an out, Gausman faced left fielder Cesar Puello, noteworthy because this game was his MLB debut at age 26. Puello delivered a single to center field, scoring Cron and giving the Angels a lead they would not relinquish. For good measure, Puello stole second and third, though he did not score.
The only thing that passed for a scoring chance for the Orioles came in their half of the sixth inning. Leading off the inning, Joey Rickard was hit in the head by a pitch that got away from Scribner. Rickard left the game immediately as a precaution, replaced by pinch runner Craig Gentry.
Scribner seemed to be rattled after the pitch. He was lifted also, though he'd thrown only 67 pitches. Over five innings, he held the Orioles to just two hits.
Leadoff man on for the top of the lineup? Sounds nice, except Gentry never advanced. Adam Jones fouled out, Manny Machado struck out, and just like that, two outs. Schoop delivered a single on a pitch where Gentry was running.
Gentry rounded second and sped towards third on this completely routine and mundane single to center field. I mention this because, for no reason discernible to any other human being, third base coach Bobby Dickerson waved Gentry home on this ball. Trout relayed the ball in and Gentry was tossed out by a mile to end the inning.
On replay, it appeared that second baseman Luis Valbuena ran into the basepath and caused Gentry to have to swing wide around second. Would Gentry have scored without this screen? Probably not. The Orioles offered no challenge: They'd used theirs already on an earlier play on a questionable attempt to have a Trout infield single turned into an out.
Was Dickerson influenced in some way by the fact that the batter coming up to the plate was Chris Davis, batting just .185 since the All-Star break? MASN's Jim Palmer offered this as a possible explanation. Davis did, indeed, look lost at the plate again on Wednesday afternoon, but Gentry was out by so much that it's not an acceptable reason - and even if it was, why the heck is Davis the cleanup hitter right now?
That was the big wind out of the sails play for the O's. They fell further behind immediately afterward, not that the extra runs ended up mattering much.
Gausman came out to start the sixth inning despite already being over the 100 pitch mark just getting through five. Kole Calhoun led off with a single and then Cron ambushed the first pitch he saw from Gausman for his seventh home run of the season, putting the Orioles in a 4-1 hole. This was the dagger.
The final line on Gausman was four runs allowed on eight hits and two walks in 5.1 innings, with six strikeouts. After four straight quality starts, Gausman turned in an outing more in line with what he was doing early in the season, when he was among the MLB leaders in WHIP.
In relief of Gausman was Miguel Castro, who tossed a pair of scoreless innings before he also ran into Calhoun and Cron. After a pair of singles, manager Buck Showalter lifted Castro for closer Zach Britton, who had last pitched on August 5. If Britton was rusty, it showed. He walked two men to force in Calhoun, though the run was charged to Castro.
The run didn't matter all that much anyway. The Orioles did not get another base hit in the game after Schoop's sixth inning single, the one that ended with Gentry being thrown out at the plate.
The loss means that the Orioles will fall behind the Angels in the wild card standings again. They could lose ground to the Twins, who were tied with them starting the day, depending on a result later on Wednesday. If any of the Rays, Royals, and Mariners win, the O's will be 2.5 games back of the second wild card spot with as many as five teams to pass.
The O's and their "two games below .500 yet still somehow in the playoff race" act will next head to Oakland. The series gets underway on Thursday night, with Wade Miley pitching against Oakland's Chris Smith.