Extra! Extra! Read all about it! The 2019 Orioles, ladies and gentlemen, are not a good defensive team.
I know—the 2019 Orioles are not a good team, period. But at least they’ve had their moments in some aspects of the game, such as the occasional offensive eruption or a quality pitching effort (usually from John Means).
But the defense? Oh, the defense. On a team littered with problems, perhaps none has been more consistently awful than the defense. The O’s entered the night ranked last in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved (-88), which won’t come as a shock to anyone who’s watched them all year. From constantly playing guys out of position, to entrusting a glove to players who aren’t major league caliber defenders, the Orioles have made a fine mess of things in the field all year long. Most O’s fans, off the top of their heads, can probably name a handful of dreadful defensive plays they’ve witnessed from the club this season.
That list got a lot longer in this travesty of a game.
Presented below are the Birds’ four worst defensive debacles from tonight’s 7-5 loss in Kansas City:
1. In the bottom of the fourth, after the Royals loaded the bases against Dylan Bundy on two singles and a walk, Brett Phillips lifted a routine fly ball to center field that miscast center fielder Stevie Wilkerson flat-out dropped. Just dropped it! The runner from third would’ve scored anyway, but Wilkerson’s miscue turned the would-be sac fly into an extra baserunner, reloading the bases.
A dropped fly ball is bad, but at least you can sort of understand an instantaneous, physical blunder. What’s more perplexing is a complete defensive meltdown in which multiple players not only make poor decisions but also execute them poorly. Which is exactly what happened on the next play...
2. Nicky Lopez followed with a bouncer to Hanser Alberto at second base. Instead of immediately throwing to second to start what likely would’ve been a 4-6-3 double play, or firing home for a potential force out, Alberto seemed to get distracted by Phillips pausing in the baseline toward second, and took two steps toward him before throwing to first for an out. Chris Davis then tried to get Phillips in a rundown, but threw too high to Jonathan Villar at second, allowing Phillips to sneak around him and dive safely into the bag. That is...not how you draw it up.
Seriously, what on earth? The O’s could’ve had a double play in two different ways, or could have cut down the run at the plate. Instead, they let a run score while getting only one out. The whole sequence was reminiscent of this nationally mocked embarrassment of a defensive play from May, if not quite as disastrous. Anyway, Whit Merrifield followed with a sacrifice fly on what should’ve been — if not for Wilkerson’s, Alberto’s, and Davis’s shenanigans — the final out of the inning. Bundy that inning was charged with three runs, two earned, but I’d argue that only one should’ve actually scored.
Ah, but at least these two horrific mistakes occurred relatively early in the game, not, say, in a tie game in the late innings. Which brings us to...
3. The bottom of the eighth inning — a.k.a., Chance Sisco’s personal hell. With the score deadlocked at five, the first three Royals batters of the inning all bunted. (Why yes, Ned Yost is still managing the Royals, why do you ask?) I’ll let you guess how many of those bunters the O’s successfully retired. Here’s a hint: it’s zero, mostly due to Sisco’s floundering behind the plate.
Meibrys Viloria went first and bunted one softly down the third-base line. By the time Sisco got to the ball, he had no chance to throw out the runner, but he picked it up anyway instead of letting it roll and seeing if it would go foul. I can’t say for sure that was a misplay, but it wasn’t great. The next play, though, left no doubt about who was at fault. Phillips bunted in front of the plate; Sisco pounced on the ball and tried to get the force at second, but made a weak, one-hop throw that Villar couldn’t handle. Everyone was safe, and the rally was officially underway.
4. Oh, but there’s one more defensive nightmare to seal the deal. The next hitter, Merrifield, laid down a bunt of his own, and it wasn’t a particularly good one, dying right in front of Sisco. Of course, having seen Sisco’s inning so far, maybe that’s exactly what Merrifield wanted. Sure enough, Sisco, despite plenty of time to get the force at third, had the throw tail on him. In fairness to Chance, Rio Ruiz probably still should’ve caught it, but the ball popped out of his glove. For a third straight play, the O’s had managed to retire nobody on a bunt in front of the plate.
It was simply a horrific series of events, but sadly, not one that’s unfamiliar to the Orioles this year. Rebuilding, y’all. It hurts sometimes.
In any case, the Royals took advantage of all the free baserunners, plating the go-ahead runs on a sac fly and an RBI grounder, and that was that. They took a 7-5 lead that ended up as the final.
It’s a shame, because there were actually some bright spots for the Orioles on this night — namely Anthony Santander, who crushed two home runs, including a three-run blast in the fifth inning that gave the O’s their first lead of the game. Sisco also dingered, so his night wasn’t a total loss. Bundy gutted through a quality start despite surrendering a ton of baserunners and getting no help from his defense.
In the end, though, the Orioles’ failure to make routine plays was their undoing. So what else is new?