So that was fun last night.
The Orioles went out and pummeled a team that had been pummeling the rest of the sport. The Braves were one of the best offensive teams in baseball going into this series, and Baltimore walloped them 14-1. The O’s bashed four home runs, and had a nine-run inning in the third. Good times.
But such a game, coming on the heels of a crippling sweep at the hands of the Yankees, exemplifies why this has been a fun, yet frustrating, season for the Birds.
The offense is what has made this season better than expected. And it’s also responsible for why it will most likely end with the last regular season game on Sept. 27.
The Orioles have been more productive at the plate this year than anyone could have imagined. Look at the lineup, and eye-opening stats pop out from everywhere. Whether it’s Jose Iglesias sporting a .370 average, or Anthony Santander posting an MVP-caliber first half with 25 extra-base hits in 37 games, or Ryan Mountcastle showing he’s the real deal with a .364 average and 1.036 OPS since his call-up, or Pedro Severino flirting with a .300 average, you see the makings of a Baltimore lineup that has worn out some pitching staffs.
The Orioles rank eighth in all of Major League Baseball with a .260 average. They rank 11th, above league average, with a .764 OPS. They’re eighth with 703 total bases. They’ve reached double-digit runs five times, which is as often as the AL West-leading Athletics and East-leading Rays and more than the Central-leading Indians. That offense is the reason why, or at least a big reason why, the Orioles have made a run for a playoff spot even their fans didn’t see coming.
It’s also why that pursuit will likely come up short.
The Orioles can get sizzling hot at the plate, as they proved Monday night, but they can also go ice cold, as they showed over the weekend. And these cold snaps have come at bad times. And they’ve lingered.
The Orioles, now 21-26, have lost 16 games while scoring three runs or fewer, 13 games when scoring two or fewer, and nine games when scoring one run or being shut out. That’s a decent amount; for comparison’s sake, the Astros, who sit at 23-24, have lost 13, 11 and four, respectively. The Yankees, who led the Orioles by only a half-game going into their disastrous weekend series, have lost 15, nine and six.
In other words, teams that have been in the Orioles’ competitive neighborhood haven’t left the bats at home as often as Baltimore has.
Seattle, which has a better record than Baltimore at 22-26, has had more offensive no-shows in losses, dropping 19 games with three runs or fewer, 16 with two, and eight with one. But there’s no real letdown factor there; the Mariners rank 22nd in baseball in team batting average, and 25th in OPS. Their offense hasn’t shown up in defeats because, well, it hasn’t shown up all season.
That’s not the case in Baltimore. Houston ranks 18th in both average and OPS, but it’s had fewer bad days at the plate than an Orioles team that ranks above it in both categories. Baltimore has a lineup that this year has shown both that it can hit with anyone, but unfortunately, has also shown it can be completely stifled by anyone as well.
And when the Orioles go cold, they don’t always bounce back. Baltimore had a strong start out of the gate completely negated by a disappointing sweep against the Marlins, one in which they lost by scores of 4-0, 1-0 and 2-1, never finding their bats until the finale and letting winnable games slip away as a result.
In August, the O’s got to 12-8 before losing six in a row, the last three coming in games in which they scored two runs, one run and then no runs through six innings before finally finding a rhythm in the second game of a four-game set after the Red Sox had taken an 8-0 lead.
And then, the latest example, when Baltimore faced a reeling Yankees team this past weekend and lost 6-0, then 10-1, then 2-1, and finally 3-1, putting their playoff odds on life support. It came after the Orioles had injected life into their bid to make the expanded postseason field with three out of four against the Yankees, and then an emphatic 11-2 win over the Mets.
Every team has bad games at the plate, but it gets particularly frustrating when a bad game lingers into a bad few games. And when it comes as the team is building momentum. And when the games were winnable to begin with. The Orioles have lost seven games when allowing four runs or fewer, and four when allowing three or fewer.
Imagine if they had gone 4-3 in those seven losses. They’re 25-22, and they’re a game behind or possibly in front of the Yankees. They’re holding on to a spot in the playoffs.
And this fun season gets even more interesting.
Instead, running hot and cold at the plate has made the Orioles at times entertaining, and at times frustrating. And if the team does fall short of that playoff berth, nights where the offense never showed up will be easy sources of regret.