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Pitching staff implodes, wastes huge early lead as Orioles’ freefall continues

The O’s put five runs on the Nationals in the first inning, only to end up losing, 12-9. It’s not getting better, you guys.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Can we agree on something, friends? Now, maybe I’m no baseball expert, but wouldn’t you say that when you score five runs in the top of the first inning, that’s a game you generally should win?

I don’t think that’s asking too much. But perhaps it is for an unwatchable mess of a team that has now lost nine of its last 10, 12 of its last 14, and is 11 games under .500 with more than a week left in May.

When it comes to losing, the Orioles have this thing down to a science.

On the rare occasions when the O’s pitch well, they can’t hit. On the rare occasions that they score some runs, their pitching implodes. Toss in some thoroughly sloppy defense, and voila — you’ve got a recipe for a horrific team, one that has the third-worst record in MLB and is quickly closing that gap.

After a game like this afternoon’s debacle, you can’t help but wonder: When and how will the Orioles ever win again? When and how will they ever look competitive again? If jumping out to a 5-0 lead with a first-inning grand slam can’t even get the job done, what chance do the Orioles really have?

Alas, Ryan Mountcastle’s first-inning salami off Jon Lester — the first of his career, a majestic two-out blast that saved the O’s from wasting a bases-loaded rally — became nothing more than a footnote. It took a mere three innings for the Orioles to squander that entire lead and then some.

Bruce Zimmermann’s first start since his outstanding long-relief performance against the Yankees was an unmitigated disaster, the kind that makes you think he should just stick to bullpen work. Handed a huge lead, he began frittering it away slowly in the second inning, then much more quickly in the third, with a 39-pitch debacle of a frame that included three singles, a walk, and Josh Harrison’s back-breaking grand slam.

Can we just not have nice things anymore? The Orioles can’t even hit a grand slam in a game without giving up one of their own? Again I say, is that too much to ask?

It didn’t even matter that the O’s knocked around Lester, who used to dominate them for years with the Red Sox, for six runs in four innings. It didn’t matter because there’s almost nobody out there who can out-disappoint the Orioles’ pitching staff.

Even the bullpen, once a strength of the Birds, has been a dumpster fire of late, and wow was that true today. Adam Plutko relieved Zimmermann (who threw 82 pitches in three innings) and his first four batters went thusly: Single. RBI double. Single. Three-run homer. The Orioles, who once led 5-0, now trailed 9-6. It was the fourth inning. And it marked the second time this week the Orioles had blown a five-run lead and turned it into an eventual loss.

You can only laugh to keep from crying.

Plutko, incidentally, has been torched for 10 runs in his last three outings. His ERA has risen from 1.27 to 4.74 in the span of a week. The once-reliable anchor of the bullpen is now showing why Cleveland didn’t have any problem losing him on waivers a couple months ago.

From there, the teams traded a few runs back and forth, but it rarely felt like the Orioles were actually in the game. Every morsel of positive news — Anthony Santander’s three-hit day and home run, Pat Valaika’s two-run double — was outweighed by the continuing futility of every other aspect of the team. Tanner Scott labored through a three-run sixth inning that included three hits, a wild pitch, and an ugly Maikel Franco error that plated an unearned run.

After a three-hour, 41-minute slog, the Orioles ultimately limped to their inevitable conclusion: yet another loss. They’ve now been soundly thumped by a last-place Nationals team on back-to-back nights, putting the Birds on the brink of being swept for the second time in a row. They’ve clinched their fifth consecutive series loss.

It’s not a good scene right now, you guys. And if this loss is any indication, the Orioles have a long way to go to get out of this quagmire.