When the Orioles and Royals began their three-game series this weekend, much was made about how the two teams were the worst of the worst. How they were jockeying for the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft. How they were equally matched opponents in their utter ineptitude.
Let there no longer be any doubt. The O’s have made their statement, firm and clear: there is no team in baseball as atrocious as the Baltimore Orioles.
The club lost its second straight game to Kansas City, this time in particularly brutal fashion on a Whit Merrifield walkoff, two-run homer in the ninth inning. As has been a recurring theme all year, the best efforts of the Orioles weren’t enough to win. In this case, they weren’t enough to win even against the second most terrible team in the majors. The Orioles are now 40-96, a record that does not even seem mathematically possible unless you’ve actually watched them play.
The game unraveled in the bottom of the ninth, when closer Mychal Givens was called upon to protect a 4-3 O’s lead. He set the tone for the inning by walking the first batter, the .202-hitting Brett Phillips, on four pitches. Royals manager Ned Yost did his best to stifle the rally by ordering a sac bunt — Givens’ first pitch would’ve hit the batter if he hadn’t been bunting — but it didn’t matter. With one out, Merrifield bashed an 0-2 pitch over the wall in left-center to send the Royals home happy.
If there’s a way to lose, chances are the Orioles will find it. They’ve done it 96 times, and they’ll do it countless more before this debacle of a season is finally over. But let’s rewind to the beginning, shall we?
Dylan Bundy took the mound tonight looking for vengeance against the Royals, who handed him the worst start of his major league career. Heck, it was the worst start of anyone’s major league career. On May 8, Bundy faced seven Royals batters. All seven reached base. All seven scored. And four of them hit home runs. It was the first time in major league history that a pitcher had coughed up four homers without recording an out.
Although Bundy hasn’t had any outings quite that horrific since, he’s very much riding a down slope of his erratic 2018 season. Since returning from the DL with a left ankle sprain at the beginning of July, Bundy had an 8.87 ERA in nine starts entering tonight. He’d allowed five or more runs in six of those outings.
The Orioles continue to insist that there’s nothing wrong with Bundy physically, which is perhaps even more distressing than if there were. At least then we’d have an excuse for why the Orioles’ former No. 4 overall pick is now pitching like hot garbage. Instead, we can’t help but wonder whether the Birds’ much-maligned development staff has again failed a once-heralded young hurler.
If you were holding out hope for a Bundy bounceback against the lowly Royals, you didn’t really get it tonight, even though he wasn’t exactly facing a prolific lineup. Of the four Royals who hit homers off Bundy in his previous disaster, only one — Alex Gordon — was in the lineup tonight. (Mike Moustakas has since been traded and Jorge Soler and Salvador Perez are injured.) In fact, due to injuries and trades, the Royals’ lineup tonight was almost completely different from the one that faced Bundy in May, with Gordon and Whit Merrifield the only holdovers of the starting nine.
No matter. The lineup of rookies, scrubs, and no-names managed their fair share of hits — five of them in the first three innings alone. Bundy eked through all three innings unscathed, with the Royals going 0-for-4 with men in scoring position. In the fourth, though, Brett Phillips took matters into his own hands with a solo homer, his second of the year, and the league-leading 35th allowed by Bundy.
Let’s check in on the Orioles’ offense, shall we? For the second straight night, they made a rookie righty look like Cy Young. After Brad Keller’s eight superb innings on Friday, somebody named Heath Fillmyer followed suit tonight. “Heath Fillmyer” sounds like the name of a nerdy tech guy who hacks into the computer mainframe to help the buff hero in some cut-rate spy thriller. But no, he’s apparently a major league pitcher, and he kept the O’s in check tonight.
Fillmyer was a bit hittable — giving up nine base knocks — but the Orioles turned just two of those hits into runs. In the second, the O’s loaded the bases with nobody out on three straight singles to start the inning. Fillmyer held them to one run, on a John Andreoli sac fly, before Austin Wynns killed the rally with a double play.
Two innings later, Tim Beckham swatted a solo homer to straightaway center, his 10th, to increase the O’s lead and continue what would be a huge night for him. The Birds put two aboard later in the fourth before Cedric Mullins lined out. Fillmyer didn’t have a clean inning until the seventh, his final one, but finished with a two-run, six-strikeout gem.
Back to Bundy. The Orioles lead held until the sixth, when the right-hander either ran out of gas or simply had Bad Bundy rear his ugly head again. A leadoff walk to Ryan O’Hearn started the rally, and with one out, Brian Goodwin laced a double to center. Any chance of nailing O’Hearn at home was scuttled when Mullins overthrew the cutoff man. Tie game.
Rosell Herrera followed with a single up the middle to plate Goodwin, giving the Royals their first lead at 3-2. An exhausted Bundy stayed in for one more batter, only to botch a routine comebacker to allow another runner to reach. At 101 pitches, that was it for Bundy. He worked 5.1 innings, giving up three runs on eight hits. One bit of good news is that Bundy racked up eight strikeouts, his most since June 23, the game in which he injured his ankle. Still, it was a mostly disappointing outing again.
Miguel Castro provided quality relief work, stranding two runners to escape the sixth-inning jam and then working a perfect seventh. That allowed the Orioles to battle back into the game. In the top of the eighth, the Royals turned to former O’s ace Jason Hammel, now toiling in relief with a 5.93 ERA, to preserve the one-run lead. It did not go well for them.
Nearly every batter Hammel faced scalded the ball against him, starting with Trey Mancini, who crushed a leadoff homer to tie the game at three. Adam Jones followed with a single inside the right-field line, and two batters later, Beckham came up big again. He drove a double into the left-field corner that plated Jones from first, putting the O’s back in front, 4-3. It was Beckham’s fourth hit of the game, a season high.
Paul Fry protected the lead in the eighth, inducing a double play, to hold the Orioles lead into the ninth. How nice it would’ve been to end on that note. Unfortunately, the Royals — and Givens — had other ideas. And that’s how you end up with a 40-96 team.