There is no slumping player so woeful, nor offense so horrendous, that they cannot be fixed by facing the Orioles pitching staff. This was proven again on Thursday night as the Orioles played the Indians, a team who entered the game with the second-worst batting average and dead last slugging percentage in the American League. The slumbering Cleveland bats woke up in a big way as the O’s lost, 14-7.
As you might expect for a game where the Orioles gave up so many runs, there was a whole lot of failure and anyone would be hard-pressed to single out what was the absolute worst of the worst. There was pathetic performance by players who are simply outmatched at the MLB level, regrettable miscues from players out of position through no fault of their own, and stunningly bad luck at inconvenient moments.
Here is my pick for the most absurd bit of failure by the Orioles in this game. Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis entered this contest batting .209/.287/.286. He had not hit a home run in 91 at-bats so far in 2019. It took him all of one time at the plate against O’s pitching to get his first home run of the season. In his third at-bat of the game, which, because he was facing the Orioles, happened early in the fourth inning, Kipnis homered again. He raised his slugging percentage by 58 points in this game. Orioles magic, feel it happen!
Later in the game, after the decisive runs had scored already, Kipnis featured in a moment that will contend for the iconic piece of 2019 Orioles failure. In the seventh inning, with the Orioles trailing 8-7, Miguel Castro came into the game with no outs and a man on first. He walked the first batter he saw, then gave up a run-scoring single, because that’s what Orioles pitchers do. After a strikeout, manager Brandon Hyde issued an intentional pass to Francisco Lindor, then changed pitchers to face Kipnis.
Fresh off of his rehab, lefty Richard Bleier came in to face the lefty, Kipnis. Trailing by two runs, the Orioles infield played in to make a possible play at the plate. Kipnis hit a grounder right at second baseman Hanser Alberto. Alberto did not throw home. He chased the runner from first, Lindor, back towards first, then belatedly threw the ball to Chris Davis at first base, where Kipnis beat out the throw.
Davis, napping a bit on the play, was late trying to throw home, where the runner who started the play on second base, Leonys Martin, was running. Martin scored safely, after the runner on third, Jordan Luplow, crossed at the beginning of the play. That is a two RBI fielder’s choice for Kipnis. You really don’t see that every day. The Orioles are just that committed to failing in new ways.
Another player who deserves his failure to be placed under the microscope is starting pitcher Dan Straily. If you have watched Straily pitch this season, you know to expect nothing good from him, and indeed, on Thursday, nothing good happened. After being staked to a 5-1 lead in the third inning, Straily proved unable to finish even four innings, managing to allow four runs on six hits and two walks in just 3.1 innings of work.
There is no choice but to invoke the Matusz Test, my standard for starting pitching failure named after the disastrous 2011 season of Brian Matusz. If a pitcher starts a game with an already-high ERA and ends the game with an even higher ERA, he fails the test. Straily had an 8.23 ERA when the sun rose on Cleveland today, and when all was said and done in this game, Straily had an 8.51 ERA.
The thing about the Matusz Test, and what really made Matusz’s 2011 so remarkable, is that once the ERA gets that high it takes a real commitment to bad pitching to keep it getting higher and higher. Straily has been committed. When will the Orioles brain trust decide that they have seen enough? I do not blame you if you have seen enough of him. I certainly have.
All five Orioles pitchers in this game allowed runs. Straily gave up four, as did Gabriel Ynoa. Paul Fry was charged with a run after he hit a batter with a pitch and Castro allowed him to score. Castro, while pitching just a third of an inning, gave up three runs, and Bleier allowed all three inherited runners from Castro to score plus gave up two of his own. The words that come to mind are not very nice.
The Orioles led this game by both 5-1 and 7-6 scores. Had they even vaguely competent pitching, this would have been a nice win. Trey Mancini hit a three-run home run to retake the team home run lead. He’s now got nine. Rio Ruiz hit a two-run home run to put the Orioles ahead early. The O’s scored seven runs off of Indians starter Trevor Bauer, who had a 3.02 ERA before being blasted tonight.
All of that is good. The pitching staff is not. O’s pitchers walked eight batters and hit another two. They gave up 14 hits and were particularly terrible in RISP situations, allowing the Indians to hit 7-16 with runners in scoring position.
There was also some of the poor defense we’ve come to expect from these out-of-position players, with Alberto colliding with Mancini while chasing a pop-up and also getting handcuffed by a short hop on a hard liner right towards him. More to add to the season lowlights reel, over which can be played the classic Benny Hill theme.
The two home runs allowed put the Orioles at 91 dingers surrendered on the season. That is a pace of 343 homers over a full season, well ahead of the record of 258 allowed by the 2016 Reds.
Though it feels like these must be the losingest collection of losers assembled in Major League Baseball right now, that is not the case. The Orioles are now 14-29, which is indeed horrible, but the idle Marlins are much worse at 10-31. The Royals, at 15-29, are right in this hunt as well. It will not be easy to claim back-to-back #1 picks in the draft.
The Orioles and Indians will be back in action on Friday night at a more standard civilized baseball starting time of 7:10. Dylan Bundy and Jefry Rodriguez are the scheduled starting pitchers.