The Orioles went the entire Buck Showalter era without ever losing on Opening Day. Good years, mediocre years, and bad ones all began with a win in the first game. The beginning of the Brandon Hyde and Mike Elias era did not have such an auspicious opener, with the O’s falling to the Yankees, 7-2, in a game that heralded some of the tough times soon to come.
If you were looking for a sign from the baseball gods about what kind of season 2019 is going to be for the Orioles, they did not wait long to give it to you. The top of the first inning was all it took for the first, “Oh, so THAT’S how it’s going to be” moment of the season.
After two quick outs, Jonathan Villar delivered a single for the first O’s hit of the year. This brought up the day’s cleanup hitter, Trey Mancini (really), against whom the Yankees shifted heavily to the left side of the infield. Only first baseman Greg Bird was there on the right side to hold Villar on first. Mancini hit a grounder the opposite way, against the shift, towards a wide-open outfield. Before the ball could reach the infield, it struck Villar, who was then out automatically.
This is one of those plays that never happens in baseball. The ball goes past the runner, who either jumps over it or stops as the ball scorches past. Whatever announcer reminds the audience, “The runner would have been out if the ball had hit him!” But the ball never actually hits the runner ... except for in the first inning of the first Orioles game of 2019, when the baseball gods need you to understand what you’re in for. If you don’t know, now you know.
That was the first punch. The second punch started when fill-in Opening Day starter Andrew Cashner squared off against the Yankees lineup. After the O’s managed to hit against the shift and end up making an out, both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton got hits on shift-beating grounders, rocketing 100+ mph batted balls the opposite way. Surprise 2018 performer Luke Voit batted next, worked a 3-1 count, and then blasted a baseball an estimated 428 feet to deep center. The Orioles trailed, 3-0. They would never lead.
Elias joined the MASN broadcast booth for the next inning. He repeated the mantra: “We’re trying to elevate the level of talent in the organization.” It is a good mantra. The Orioles need to do it.
The tough thing to stomach for O’s fans is that kind of talent elevation can’t happen overnight, and it’s going to leave us watching a lot of games like... this. The Orioles, a team without many good baseball players, played the Yankees, a team with a lot of good baseball players, and they lost. It won’t be the last time.
Cashner limped through four innings before getting pulled for walking the first two batters he saw in the fourth. He was relieved by Mike Wright. In spring training, Wright was not bad. It’s the regular season now. Wright walked Stanton to load the bases with none out, then threw a pitch that missed its target by three feet and hit Voit in the elbow to score a run. The only surprise was that when Miguel Andujar hit a fly ball, it was just a run-scoring sacrifice fly rather than a grand slam.
None of that wildness shows up in Wright’s ERA. Though he had a wild inning that also saw a passed ball allowing two runners to advance, the only runners that scored were charged to Cashner. Go figure. With Cashner giving up six hits and four walks in four-plus innings, it’s tough to argue he deserved any better.
When your starter can’t get an out in the fifth inning, you will probably lose. When you give up eight walks, you will probably lose. When you get only one extra-base hit in a game, you will probably lose. These things were all true of the Orioles on Opening Day. Other bad things will be true about them in other games as the season goes along.
Say, did you come out of spring training with any kind of hope that Chris Davis might be able to do something to not look like 2018 Davis during the regular season? I respect your optimism. I’m sorry to be the reality check.
Dumped to seventh in the lineup, Davis went 0-3 on the day with three strikeouts. Though he seemed to be confidently avoiding pitches out of the strike zone, he was unable to put a good swing on anything in the strike zone. Davis moved up from 38th place on the career strikeouts list to tied for 35th all in one game. He sits now with 1,699 strikeouts, tied with Harmon Killebrew, 11 shy of Mickey Mantle in 34th.
During his appearance on MASN, Elias addressed the Davis situation particularly, noting that the Orioles front office would be diving into analytics to see how pitchers were attacking Davis and what they might be able to help him do about it. I’m sure Elias also has a plan for what to do if the Orioles cannot do anything to help Davis.
While everyone waits to see if anything helps, there Davis will be, finally in the lower third of the Orioles lineup, getting lifted for pinch hitters in the ninth inning rather than facing any hard-throwing closer, particularly lefty Aroldis Chapman. That’s where it’s at for Davis. Renato Nunez hit against Chapman instead of Davis.
Not everything that happened in the game was bad to the Orioles. Villar got his season started with a multi-hit game, and Mancini one-upped him with a 3-4 game that included the lone O’s extra-base hit, a double. Mancini drove in one of the Orioles runs and scored the other.
Also a plus, at least for one game, was the defense. While no one should make any bold, sweeping conclusions after just one game, the evidence from one game sits there anyway. The Orioles lineup had three real outfielders: Dwight Smith Jr., Cedric Mullins, Joey Rickard. The left side of the infield was a couple of guys whose bats may be in question but whose gloves are not: Rio Ruiz and Richie Martin. They were all quietly solid in the field on Thursday.
This was the first loss of many for the 2019 Orioles. They will be back at it against these Yankees on Saturday afternoon for a scheduled 1:05 start. Nate Karns will begin the game for the O’s as they try out the opener strategy, with new Yankee James Paxton expected to start for New York.