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Tillman struggles in debut, Orioles offense still missing in 6-1 loss to Astros

The story is quickly becoming familiar for the 2018 Orioles: The starting pitcher is very bad and the offense is nowhere to be found. Chris Tillman was one culprit in Monday’s loss in Houston.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Houston Astros
Chris Tillman is still pitching like it’s 2017.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Four games into the 2018 season, the Orioles have yet to score a run against an opposing starting pitcher. There are a lot of ugly things you can pick to say about their first handful of games of the season. To me, that is the most striking. You’re going to have a hard time winning if you’re not scoring off of any starter - and indeed, the Orioles lost once again, this time on the road to the Astros, 6-1.

The other thing that’s going to make it difficult for the Orioles to win games is if their starting pitchers continue to pitch like it’s 2017 again. Chris Tillman took his first turn of the 2018 season on Monday night. He looked a lot like you remember him from last year, with bad velocity and an inability to locate any pitch consistently, allowing hard contact frequently, even on his outs.

Tillman had the Orioles in an early hole before he had even recorded an out in the 2018 season. George Springer and Alex Bregman greeted Tillman with back-to-back doubles. A wild pitch by Tillman moved Bregman up to third base. Only a baserunning blunder by Bregman finally got an out for Tillman - and according to the commenters in our game thread, the umpires blew the call and the Astros didn’t challenge for some reason, so it should have been worse.

Somehow, Tillman made it through three innings without allowing any more runs. His smoke and mirrors act fell apart after that as he surrendered three fourth inning runs. When the Astros finally got to him, they didn’t leave any doubts about it.

Things were bad enough for Tillman that normally-sunny O’s broadcaster Jim Hunter was openly speculating about how long the Orioles would want to stick with Tillman in the rotation. This, during Tillman’s first start of the year! It was a bad one, bad like last year was bad: Four runs on seven hits and four walks in four-plus innings, not a single strikeout in sight.

If this is the version of Tillman who’s still here, Hunter isn’t wrong that the O’s need to recognize that and move on from him quickly. Hunter and radio broadcast partner were, by this point, transferring their excitement to reliever Miguel Castro, who came in after Tillman and allowed a run on two hits and a walk over two innings, with three strikeouts.

The team is in the middle of a stretch of twelve straight games without an off day. If the starting rotation can’t get it together, they’re going to have to scramble to cover the innings in the bullpen. By the way, Mike Wright Jr. is pitching tomorrow.

Not that it really matters who is pitching while the offense looks like this. The no runs off a starting pitcher thing is really something. Oh, and you know who else is pitching tomorrow? Justin Verlander.

Anyway, they’re also failing against relievers. With six hits and two walks in this whole game, the Orioles once again picked up fewer baserunners than there are innings in a game. That’s also a hard way to win. The lone run scored in the ninth inning, when Trey Mancini drove a pitch from Collin McHugh over the wall in center field.

The Astros starter who kept them in check tonight was Charlie Morton. While Morton was in the game, the O’s only had three hits and two walks. Their only thing that passed as a scoring opportunity came in the second inning, when Adam Jones led off with a single and a Colby Rasmus hit by pitch ultimately gave the O’s a first-and-second with one out chance.

From there, Tim Beckham struck out, Pedro Alvarez walked to load the bases, and Caleb Joseph hit a liner towards the opposite field that, bad luck for the Orioles, went right where Astros first baseman Marwin Gonzalez was standing. It probably wasn’t luck at all, though. The Astros are one of baseball’s smart teams. Gonzalez was surely standing right there for a reason, and it paid off.

After that, the Orioles did not have multiple baserunners in the same inning until the ninth, when Mancini led off with his homer and Rasmus picked up a double. The next three batters went down in order and the game was over. The Orioles were in the loss column once again, exactly where they looked like they belonged.

The Orioles are not this bad. Even the person who is most down about their chances knows that they will not continue to have a lineup where eight players are below the Mendoza line. Some problems will resolve themselves in time. Others may only be solved by removing the problem from the roster. The front office will have to figure out which player belongs in which category if this struggle continues.

Chris Davis finally got a hit out of the leadoff spot. He also drew a walk in the game. Jones was the only Oriole with a multi-hit game, going 2-4. This raises his season OPS to a sizzling .610. He is one of those who will surely get better.

Whether “better” from Jones and Jonathan Schoop and Beckham and all the rest of those guys is good enough for this team to get anywhere, well, we’re going to find out in a hurry as this stretch of games against 2017 playoff teams continues.

The O’s and Astros will be back in action on Tuesday night at 8:10 Eastern, with Wright and Verlander scheduled as the starting pitchers for the game. According to the reverse lock theory, that looks like the perfect matchup for the Orioles. With all other theories, it seems that a 1-4 record for the 2018 O’s is only a matter of time.