After a series of early-season skirmishes with underachieving losers like the Yankees and Red Sox, the Orioles got a taste of what it’s like to play a first place team when they tangled with the Rays on Tuesday night. The O’s lost, 4-2, in a game where they did not have a baserunner after the fourth inning. That is a tough way to win.
There is little consolation in the fact that the Orioles lost when they were supposed to lose this game. They went up against a Rays starting pitcher, Tyler Glasnow, who over his first three starts had allowed a grand total of one run. By scoring two off of him, they tripled his total runs given up this season. That’s nice. They still lost.
Glasnow was as good as advertised. As the season plays out, perhaps it will come to seem that his early success was built on facing teams whose offenses, in retrospect, aren’t high quality. The O’s lineup is... you know. And he’s also faced less prolific offenses like the White Sox and Giants early on. Still, giving up two runs while scattering seven hits, no walks, and three strikeouts is impressive against any MLB team, even a tanking one.
In a better world where Orioles starter Dylan Bundy is not the most homer-prone pitcher who ever dared to chuck a baseball at his catcher, perhaps it would have even been enough to win. They struck in the first inning, stringing together three singles to get themselves on the board when Rio Ruiz hit the third single to drive in Trey Mancini, who hit the first one.
A second O’s run crossed in the third inning. Early season standout Dwight Smith Jr. barely legged out an infield single, with video replay needed to overturn the umpire initially calling Smith out. He stole second, allowing him to score easily as Renato Núñez delivered a one-out double.
The 2-0 lead lasted all of an inning. Bundy faced ten Rays and retired nine of them over the first three innings, allowing just one single walk. In contrast to the usual starting pitcher expectation of trouble going through the lineup a third time, Bundy once again started to get rocked the second time around.
Bundy’s first baserunner allowed was Rays #2 hitter Tommy Pham, who drew a walk. Pham’s excelled at that this year so far. This was his 13th walk in 17 games. The end of the no-hitter quickly followed, as Bundy proved unable to execute his changeup against weak-hitting first baseman Ji-Man Choi, who doubled.
This kind of pitch seems to be the Dylan Bundy specialty - the pitch where the plan is to have it drop off the table so the hitter swings and looks like an idiot, and instead Bundy can’t make the changeup change or the slider slide and it floats in to the batter like a beach ball. That’s what happened later in the inning, when Bundy tried to get ahead of Avisail Garcia with a first pitch slider that instead hung out over the plate and was crushed to deep center field.
That’s the seventh home run Bundy has allowed so far this year in just four starts, continuing the trend where he gave up 41 home runs last year. That sucks. Yet Bundy was not without some positives to take from the outing. He pitched five innings, allowed just three hits and two walks, and struck out five Rays batters.
It was not a Cy Young-caliber start. It also wasn’t a disaster, which Bundy’s first three starts unquestionably were, so it’s something to hopefully build off of for next time. Or so Orioles fans can hope.
Once Glasnow settled down, that was that. The Rays have three different relievers who have pitched a bunch and still have unblemished 2019 ERAs. If the starter goes seven innings, as Glasnow did, and the Rays can start using their elite back-end guys, it’s pretty much over. Jose Alvarado needed a mere eight pitches to mow down the O’s in the eighth inning, while Diego Castillo tossed 17 in a perfect ninth to pick up his second save of the year.
The lack of offense meant that it didn’t really matter when Miguel Castro gave up a run when pitching in the bottom of the eighth. A reliever giving up two hits and a walk in one inning is seldom good news. Castro has been so poor to start the season that even allowing a run in an inning lowered his ERA from 9.35 to 9.31. I don’t know if we can call it progress.
For anyone who takes it as a given that the 2019 Orioles are not and will not be a good baseball team, a loss like this is the kind of thing that will still manage to separate this year from last.
Tuesday night, the Orioles just... lost. They were not an embarrassment. They did not manage to strike out 15 times while facing a series of scrub pitchers. They did not suffer a sequence of their own crummy pitchers allowing the other team to march around the bases like the Gashouse Gorillas. There was not a seemingly endless stream of ground balls and line drives perpetually two steps out of reach of players who both moved and fielded like they were made of stone.
The Rays were just better than the Orioles, which everyone already knew before this game was played. They will still be better than the O’s are tomorrow and the next day too, although not so much better that there’s no hope for the O’s of winning either game. Something weird could happen. It almost happened here. Bundy was two bad pitches away from triumphing over Glasnow in this contest.
David Hess takes the mound for the Orioles as the series continues on Wednesday evening at 7:10, looking to continue a solid beginning of his season. The Rays have not yet announced a starter for the game.