Imagine a casual baseball fan came up to you and asked, “Hey, why are the Orioles so bad this season?”
Just point them to tonight’s game.
This one had everything. Every fatal flaw, every frustrating weakness, every regrettable facet of the 2018 Orioles was on full display in tonight’s 3-2 loss to the Nationals.
Let’s run through the checklist.
Ineffective pitching: CHECK.
Dylan Bundy was on the mound, making his first start since Buck Showalter let him throw 121 pitches in a complete game against the White Sox last week. In totally unrelated news, Bundy got hit hard tonight.
If you want to be technical about it, Bundy threw a quality start today. But make no mistake — his pitches weren’t fooling anyone. Bundy was ripped for 11 hits in his six innings and was very fortunate to escape with only three runs allowed. Two of those runs came on homers, solo shots by Bryce Harper in the first and ex-Oriole Mark Reynolds in the fourth. A third run scored on a Wilmer Difo bloop single in the second after two previous hitters had also singled.
If there’s something to be said for Bundy, it’s that he had a knack for escaping the jams that he himself created. The Nationals put the first two runners on base in the third, but a strikeout and a timely double play quashed the threat. In the third, after Reynolds’ homer, the next two batters singled with none out, but a lineout, grounder, and strikeout got Bundy out of it.
Bundy didn’t have a clean inning, allowing at least one hit in each. He labored for 94 pitches in six innings. And he left the game trailing, of course, because of the...
Horrific offense: CHECK.
The Orioles’ offense entered the night ranked last in the AL in OPS (.682) and in desperate need of a breakout game. Spoiler alert: this was not it. The exception was Manny Machado, of course, because he’s the one legitimate hitter in the Orioles’ lineup. Machado snapped the Birds’ 17-inning scoreless drought with a first-inning solo homer, his 16th, to return serve on Harper’s blast in the top of the first.
That reminds me — in the first game of this series, there was a fan at Camden Yards holding a sign saying “Harper and Machado: future Yankees.” WTF? Did some Yankees fan decide to show up to an Orioles/Nationals game, with no rooting interest in either team, just to be an obnoxious blowhard and troll both teams? It’s almost as if Yankee fans aren’t the classiest.
In any case, Machado’s homer was one of only two runs the O’s scored off the Nationals’ starter. And who was this dominant force of nature toeing the rubber for Washington? Stephen Strasburg? Max Scherzer? Gio Gonzalez, pitching on zero days’ rest after his gem against the O’s on Monday?
Nope. It was Jeremy Hellickson, the 31-year-old veteran who has been a below-average pitcher for four of the last five years. The same Jeremy Hellickson who, after the Orioles traded for him last year, discussed how much he hates Camden Yards: “I never liked coming here. It’s definitely not a pitchers’ park. I definitely agree that a lot of guys don’t like pitching here.” Hellickson was then tattooed for a 6.97 ERA in 10 starts for the Orioles.
That’s the Hellickson who held the Orioles in check tonight, working five innings and allowing two runs on six hits. As we know, the O’s offense is capable of making even the worst pitchers look like Cy Youngs.
What’s next on the checklist?
Questionable coaching/managing: CHECK.
In the bottom of the fifth, a Chance Sisco hit by pitch and Jace Peterson single put two aboard with two outs for Adam Jones. And hey, Jones came through! He laced a base hit into the gap in left-center that scored Sisco easily. Third base coach Bobby Dickerson, though, waved Peterson around to the plate, even though the ball never got to the wall and was already in to the cutoff man as Peterson was rounding third. Predictably, he was thrown out by a country mile.
Obviously, it was a terrible send by Dickerson, especially with Machado on deck. But Dickerson may have been thinking that if he held Peterson, the Nationals would’ve intentionally walked Machado to bring up Chris Davis with two outs. Because, yes, Chris Davis was batting cleanup tonight. I repeat: Chris Davis, he of the .491 OPS entering the game (which dropped to .480 tonight), was batting CLEANUP. I don’t understand anything that’s happening.
It’s hard to pinpoint whose decision was more unfathomable: Dickerson or Buck Showalter.
Total lack of depth: CHECK.
With the Orioles still trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth, they had one more chance to make some noise. Against Nats closer Sean Doolittle, pinch-hitter Trey Mancini was plunked and Joey Rickard reached on an infield single, putting the potential tying and winning runs aboard.
Showalter didn’t want lefty swingers Sisco and Peterson to face the southpaw Doolittle. So he took a deep breath, turned to his bench, and called on...Craig Gentry and Andrew Susac.
Craig Gentry and Andrew Susac. This was the best the O’s could do. Granted, Danny Valencia was unavailable because his wife was in labor (congrats to the Valencias!), and Mancini had already been used. But still...Craig Gentry and Andrew Susac.
I probably don’t need to tell you what happened next. Doolittle blew away both on swinging strikeouts, putting the Orioles’ fourth consecutive loss in the books. They are now 17-38. They are 21 games under .500, and it’s not even June.
Time to clean house? CHECK.