For the second consecutive game, an Orioles starting pitcher out-pitched his Cy Young-winning Astros counterpart on Wednesday afternoon. For the fifth consecutive game, the Orioles found a way to lose as they dropped a 3-2 contest to get themselves swept out of Houston, where they have not won a game since 2015. That’s not a joke. Don’t worry, the Orioles only have to go on to New York to play the Yankees for four games.
The crisis is not yet upon this team, but it won’t be very long before they’re right up against it if they keep finding stupid reasons to lose games that they could have won.
The Orioles had no shortage of chances in this contest, combining to leave nine men on base with 0-8 batting with a runner in scoring position. A boneheaded fielding play cost them a lead. One of the relievers they are counting on to be good coughed up a run. Two late-inning pinch hitters were deployed who are, on the young season, batting .048 and .071, respectively. Of such things are five game losing streaks made. They do not happen by accident.
After getting an extra day of rest thanks to the surprisingly-good Mike Wright Jr. start, Dylan Bundy had another strong outing in this series finale. You can’t expect perfection against the Astros, but giving up only five hits and two walks in six innings, while notching eight strikeouts, is as good as you can really hope for. It is not an exaggeration to call Bundy the lone bright spot on the 2018 O’s through two series.
At one point the game even started off well. Chris Davis was banished from the leadoff spot and onto the bench for the day against a tough lefty in Dallas Keuchel. This may have been connected to his performance in the first five games, the ice seen on his elbow last night, or both. Whatever the reason, Tim Beckham was in the leadoff spot instead. He led off with a single. It can be done.
The Orioles even capitalized on this leadoff hit thanks to a gift from the Astros defense. After a Manny Machado lineout, Jonathan Schoop hit a single that allowed Beckham to go from first to third. Adam Jones hit a high pop-up that should have been an easy out, but the Astros defense let the ball fall in. Beckham scored as Schoop was forced out at second base. An Orioles lead! They are still allowed.
Trey Mancini hit a swinging bunt with two outs to keep the rally going, but Danny Valencia struck out to keep the Orioles from making the Astros pay any more for the mistake.
This early lead did not survive the second inning. Bundy gave up a single and a double to start the inning off with men on second and third and nobody out. As Bundy is actually good, he righted the ship as much as he could, striking out Max Stassi. A ground ball to third base netted the second out.
Beckham did not attempt to throw home on the grounder, allowing Josh Reddick to score. This is one of those “What if Manny Machado was still playing third base?” plays that will periodically pop up this year. It appeared that a Machado-level third baseman would have had time to throw home and cut off the run. Beckham took the safe out. Maybe that was the right choice for Beckham right there. It still feels like another version of this O’s team could have stopped that run from scoring.
More Astros gifts to the bottom of the O’s lineup gave the O’s the lead again in the fourth inning. Valencia led off with a walk and found himself at second base with one out after a Caleb Joseph single. Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez threw away a possible double-play grounder hit by Craig Gentry, getting just one out and allowing Valencia to score the temporary go-ahead run. However, after a two out walk by Beckham, Machado popped out and that was that.
The O’s came to regret not scoring more runs when the sixth inning rolled around. They would regret a lot on the day, including a defensive play in that same inning. A pair of Astros batters singled with one out to get a rally going.
Worse for the O’s was that after the second one of these singles, right fielder Anthony Santander was lackadaisical in returning the ball to the infield and Machado was lackadaisical in catching it near second base. The ball kicked off the heel of Machado’s glove, allowing the lead runner, Jose Altuve, to get to third base. The scorer recorded the error to Santander. Both O’s fielders could have done better.
The result was that the tying run was at third base with just one out. Gonzalez dropped a suicide squeeze bunt that hung in the air just tantalizingly long enough to make you think Bundy might be able to field it and double off the runner. No such luck for the O’s today or perhaps ever again. Altuve scored. The game was tied.
Could be worse, right? After all, the Orioles didn’t use the good relievers in Tuesday’s game while Rule 5 picks Pedro Araujo and Nestor Cortes Jr. were blowing that game. That meant Miguel Castro, Darren O’Day, and Brad Brach would all be available today.
Sounds good, but then, the Astros are also good. Castro pitched the seventh. A one out walk to Derek Fisher turned into a two out stolen base by Fisher, putting him in scoring position for Alex Bregman to single him home to plate the third, and ultimately decisive, Astros run. Even the good relievers are blowing games early this season. Nothing is going right - except for Bundy, so far.
Over the last three innings of the game, Orioles batters only reached base twice against Astros reliever Brad Peacock. A three-inning reliever? Crazy. It worked out just fine for Houston. Though Schoop doubled - his third hit of the game - with one out in the seventh, he went nowhere. Machado’s single in the ninth with two outs was the only other runner Peacock allowed. He carved up the rest of the Orioles lineup.
The Orioles, meanwhile, continue to carve themselves a place at the bottom of the division. They are some Opening Day luck away from being winless. They are, like the Rays, 1-5, now four games behind the division-leading Red Sox. The O’s and Rays have the worst record in baseball. The O’s, with a -20 run differential, are the worst in this category in MLB.
Is it going to get any prettier in the four-game set against the Yankees that starts on Thursday at 6:35? O’s fans can only hope that it will. Andrew Cashner and Masahiro Tanaka are the currently scheduled starters. The game temperature could be in the low-to-mid 40s, so if cold was why Cashner was bad in his first start, well, it’s going to be cold again, not unlike the hopes of Orioles fans after this sweep.