There’s two ways to look at this one. The glass half-full version is that Miami is a way better team than advertised and has been conducting a rebuild the right way, sneakily building up depth with huge trade pieces like Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton. Here’s the other way: the Orioles just lost to a team out for nine days with COVID, missing 18 of its regulars, and whose manager had to introduce himself in the dugout to replacement players he was meeting for the first time.
Classic trap game.
Coming into this, it was hard to say what the O’s were facing in Miami, because the Marlins had played all of three games before the outbreak. Plus MLB has made it a policy not to announce the names of players infected with COVID, and Miami didn’t release its lineup until 30 minutes before the game.
Turns out, while the Marlins bullpen was ravaged, the team only lost the bottom third of their usual lineup. So the group that faced Orioles starter John Means—the speedy pair of Jonathan Villar and second baseman Jon Berti, the power-hitting Jesús Aguilar, veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli, and the dependable Corey Dickerson and Brian Anderson—was near-full strength Miami.
It was good, then, that the Means that came out to face them was the good John Means. The fastball is still hovering around 94-95 mph, the changeup is getting lots of swings and misses, and occasionally, a curve will show up, sometimes for a strike.
Through four-and-two-thirds innings, Means gave up all of one infield hit with four strikeouts. (His outfield defense did help him out twice: once in the first, when Anthony Santander covered like 300 ft. of ground (not really) to snare a deep drive, then again in the second, when a sprinting Austin Hays reeled in a ball just short of the warning track.)
Unfortunately, Means saved his worst at-bat for last. Against the veteran Cervelli, Means tried to go in twice and missed, then threw a low changeup. With the count 3-1, Means shook off Severino, then threw a 94-mph fastball right down the pipe. It was a pretty poor choice. I’m not a professional major league hitter, and even I knew that one was coming.
Let’s take the high road and say that, big picture, this was a huge step forward for Means after last week’s mess against the Yankees. That one pitch notwithstanding, it was an impressive outing.
That one pitch was highly unfortunate, though, because, wouldn’t you know it, Marlins starter Pablo López turns out to be no joke. The Orioles kept biting on his annoyingly good changeup, which made a 93-94 mph fastball with movement look faster (it lost some velocity over the game, though, says the mayor of Sour Grapestown). López racked up seven strikeouts in five innings, including a rare Hanser Alberto K two-fer. The Orioles were lucky the Marlins didn’t leave him in longer.
Literally the only hits they had against López were two Austin Hays singles. The first was a ground ball he beat out “by a toenail” (dontcha love Ben McDonald?); the second a proper hit followed by Hays’ second stolen base of the season in the fifth. I was glad, because he was due. Unfortunately, Davis popped out, Severino struck out, and a lost-looking DJ Stewart went down swinging, too.
I know the Orioles bullpen has been taxed, with no starter turning in a quality start yet, and now losing one of their most dependable relievers in Richard Bleier.
But, for crying out loud, this wasn’t great.
Travis Lakins relieved Means and closed out the fifth with no problem. Then—do you get tired of reading this?—things unraveled in the sixth. Jonathan Villar ripped a one-out bullet off the scoreboard in right field. Santander, showing more good glovework, played the ricochet and held Villar to a single. But it didn’t matter because, predictably, the pesky Villar took second, then scored on a Jon Berti single to center. That was it for Travis Lakins.
With two down, Paul Fry came in to … be pretty useless, in fact. He had bad luck, because Corey Dickerson hit a chip shot to no man’s land in left that counted as a double. But then Fry threw six straight balls before drawing a grounder that Orioles DH—sorry, that’d be Orioles third baseman Renato Núñez bobbled to make it 3-0 Marlins. Back to the dugout went Fry.
With the bases loaded, in to save the day came … Tom Eshelman. Yay! Well, he was mostly alright. He got a popout to end the sixth, provided length, and his slider had some bite. There was that one painful flashback-to-2019 moment in the eighth, when Eshelman left a flat 87-mph fastball right where a strong Jesús Aguilar wanted to drive it into the left-field stands. 4-0 Marlins.
Meanwhile, that Marlins bullpen that I expected to be a bunch of nobodies kept the Orioles lamentably quiet. James Hoyt, a new arm picked up from Cleveland, allowed only a two-out double to Santander, the first real sign of life from the Orioles offense. Then the Marlins put in Richard Bleier to face the Orioles in the seventh. It was needlessly cruel. Especially against Dwight Smith, Jr. and Chris Davis. Not fair! A team missing two-thirds of its bullpen shouldn’t get to do LOOGY matchups!
Probably the highlight of the game was a Brian Roberts call-in that featured very spiky hair, some friendly gibes at the slow pace of pitcher Steve Trachsel (“the human rain delay”), and Roberts’ as-always excellent play-by-play. I miss Roberts’ play-by-play!
The Orioles were caught napping this time. But watch out, Miami, tomorrow it won’t be so easy! (Let’s hope.)