Do you get the feeling that Alex Cobb really wants to stay a Baltimore Oriole? Two days before the August 31st trade deadline, Cobb, the subject of a lot of trade-related buzz, had a chance to showcase the stuff that’s made him a prize acquisition for contending teams.
Well, give Cobb points for team loyalty, if not for pitch selection. I have no idea how front-office executives process these things, but if I were a GM, tonight’s game would not have me picking up the phone to speed-dial Mike Elias. On the pitching/defense side, there was a lot of sloppiness. On the offensive side, lots of wasted opportunities.
Blech, blech, blech.
Alex Cobb’s last few starts have left me scratching my head. More of that tonight. Cobb’s stuff looks good—a 94-mph fastball, a dipping splitter, and the occasional curveball—but somehow, anytime he made a mistake the Blue Jays made him pay. They seemed to come up with two-out RBIs all game.
In the first, after flummoxing both Cavan Biggio and Randal Grichuk with the splitter, Cobb walked Rowdy Tellez and gave up a single to Teoscar Hernandez. Sadly, facing the dangerous Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Cobb seized the opportunity to make his worst pitch of the inning. You could tell Cobb thought Guerrero, Jr. wouldn’t offer at a first-pitch curveball, but offer the hefty young man did, and he tattooed that sucker out to center field. Like that, two runs were in. Next batter, Cobb went back to the splitter for a quick-and-easy groundout. Too bad. 2-0 Blue Jays.
As the game went on, Cobb’s defense let him down, then picked him up, then let him down again. The Orioles made two errors in the first two innings: a Santander bobble on Hernandez’s single, and a two-base throwing error by Rio Ruiz. Announcer Mike Bordick, who is never hard on the Orioles except when they do stupid things on defense, said, “They are not helping out Cobb one bit.” Those two mistakes ultimately didn’t do much to affect the scoreboard. A gorgeous off-the-wall ricochet play and strong throw by outfielder Anthony Santander in the third probably did affect the scoreboard by snatching a double away from Oriole-killer Randal Grichuk.
Unfortunately, that one play didn’t inspire a streak of brilliant fielding. The Orioles’ defensive lapses turned costly in the fourth, even if they weren’t scored as official errors. Little Vladdie Jr. plopped a ball into center that fell just in front of Cedric Mullins, who, hesitating, got a bad jump on it. Travis Shaw stung a ball right at Hanser Alberto. It was catchable, but it ricocheted off his glove. All of a sudden there were men on first and third with no outs. Cobb badly needed a double play. Outfielder Derek Fisher hit a ball to second that might as well have had “GIDP” stamped all over it. Hanser Alberto turned, fired to José Iglesias, but the former Gold Glove-finalist dropped the ball on the transfer. 3-0 Blue Jays, and there was just one out. After a fly ball that Ryan Mountcastle dutifully ran down (ATTENTION: good Mountcastle defense sighting!), Cavan Biggio fileted a two-run single to left. More bad times with two outs. 5-0 Blue Jays.
After a leadoff walk and a jam shot single in the fifth, Brandon Hyde pulled the plug on Cobb’s night. In came César Valdez, who I can’t, with any honesty, swear I 100% knew was on this team. Well, what do I know. The 35-year-old sinker baller, whom the Orioles signed out of the Mexican Leagues in January (he’s pitched everywhere), tossed three really impressive innings of relief. What a power bat might do to Valdez’s stuff if he saw it several times a game is a frightening thought to contemplate, but out of the bullpen, his loopy, dippy stuff is perplexing and fun to watch. Valdez’s outing in relief was my favorite part of the game.
In other bullpen news, recent call-up Evan Phillips pitched a very competent eighth—he hit Biggio with two outs but he froze Grichuk with a called strike three, 96 mph on the corner.
Meanwhile, the Orioles’ offense—sigh, do we really have to talk about the Orioles offense?
Put it this way: when a team has big, gaping holes in the lineup, it’ll often have problems with runners in scoring position, and tonight was no different.
Toronto’s new starter, Taijuan Walker, showed a peppy fastball, a divebombing slider, and a 12-6 curveball. He went six innings and looked pretty good. But, as Bordick pointed out, it’s not like Walker made no mistakes, either. Unfortunately, for every competitive at-bat from a lately-focused Mullins, the unsinkable Santander, the steady José Iglesias, and Hanser Alberto, still hitting .328 amidst the collapse of the lineup around him, there was weak contact on bad pitches from Pedro Severino (0-for-3 tonight), too many swings through breaking balls from Renato Núñez, and plain-old wild hacks from Rio Ruiz, ice-cold since the shoulder injury. The first three batters—Alberto, Santander, and Iglesias—went a combined 5-for-12. The remaining six hitters went a collective 0-for-20. Hard to win games when you do that.
Toronto and Baltimore are two teams headed in different directions. In their last ten games, the Orioles are a miserable 2-8, while, after a disappointing 7-11 start, the Blue Jays have won 7 of their last 10, and now all of a sudden they’re contenders. Toronto capitalized on pitching mistakes, and Baltimore didn’t. The Orioles need to find a way to jumpstart the bats soon, or they’ll find themselves sinking into the AL East cellar.