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Orioles lose ninth straight as López triumphs over fifth, but not sixth, inning

Jorge López pitched a scoreless fifth inning, then gave up a three-run dinger in the sixth and the Orioles lost to the Twins, 3-2.

Baltimore Orioles v Minnesota Twins Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Orioles will presumably win another baseball game some day and will not finish the season with a 17-145 record. Wednesday afternoon against a fellow cellar-dweller team was not their day to do it.. The O’s offense picked up just five hits all game. Only two hits came after the first inning. When all was said and done, the O’s dropped a 3-2 final to the Twins, their ninth straight loss.

It did not have to be this way. It never does.

The game began in a promising enough fashion as leadoff man Cedric Mullins snuck a single through the infield. Rather than build on this, Mullins was erased in a strikeout-throwout double play as he tried and failed to steal second base. This was Mullins’s fourth time being thrown out on a steal in ten attempts this year. When your success rate is 60%, it’s time to stop trying to steal.

The runner being erased proved to be significant on the very next batter. MLB’s RBI co-leader, Trey Mancini, walloped an 0-2 pitch to left field for his 11th home run and 42nd RBI of the season. Yes, yes, we can’t assume that the slightly alternate universe where Mullins was still standing in first base would have followed with Mancini still hitting a homer. But also it’s dumb to get thrown out when a guy with double-digit home runs before the end of May is coming to the plate.

After Mancini’s homer gave the O’s a 1-0 lead, Anthony Santander hit a double. Santander has now improved his season OPS from the .551 mark it was at when he landed on the injured list to .723. He has pulled off this improvement in the span of six games. That is not bad.

This was the last hit an Orioles batter picked up until the ninth inning. From the second to the eighth, they got three walks and that was that. Twins starter Michael Pineda struck out eight Orioles over a six inning outing. This was his first start after coming off the injured list. Pineda now has a 2.62 ERA in eight starts, so this wasn’t a case of the O’s getting stymied by some jabroni, but that doesn’t make the loss feel any better. A loss that has a “good reason” for it is still a loss.

With the offense failing in the way it did, the burden was laid on the shoulders of Jorge López to be nearly perfect. If you have followed the 2020 or 2021 Orioles, you understand already that this is a tall order. López entered this start having allowed 26 earned runs in 39 innings. What is remarkable about that is how those runs have been split: 13 earned runs in the 1st-4th innings, 13 earned runs in the fifth inning. He had only pitched into the sixth one time.

López did what López does through four innings. He cruised. He had not thrown very many pitches. There was no reason to have anyone warming just in case for the fifth. López rewarded this faith in him with what is, for him, an almost unbelievable outcome - an inning where he faced the minimum. A leadoff single was erased by a double play.

The third out of the fifth inning was Twins #9 hitter Andrelton Simmons. This meant that the sixth, if the O’s pushed López there, would involve facing the top of the Twins lineup a third time. The times through the order penalty is also a bugaboo for López, as it is for many pitchers, if not quite as much as it is for López. Entering today, López held hitters to a .443 OPS the first time through. They socked him for a 1.018 OPS the second time through, and wrecked him for a 1.667 OPS the third time around.

All of this is to say that pushing López into the sixth inning, heading for the third time through the order, was clearly a risk. It is a risk that the Orioles had to chance because May 10 is the last time an O’s starter not named John Means has pitched more than five innings in a game. That’s 16 days ago. A bullpen that has to cover a minimum of four innings in 80% of a team’s games will have problems, as the O’s bullpen has had and will have.

To the surprise of no one, López stopped cruising the third time around. Twins leadoff man Max Kepler reached on a single to start the inning. López got a possible double play ball that was bobbled by Maikel Franco at third base, leading to just one out being recorded at first base. López did not help his own cause by walking Nelson Cruz. The two runners advanced on a groundout to first base.

This set up López against Miguel Sanó. All he had to do was retire Sanó. Did he retire Sanó? Let’s look at the pitch map.

A lot of the time when you see a blue pitch (that means in play) in that location, the result is not going to be pretty for the pitcher. And indeed, it wasn’t. When Gameday says “in play, run(s)” you want your favorite baseball team to be the hitting team. Now, to be sure, the home plate umpire hosed López, demonstrably, in calling the third pitch in this sequence a ball rather than the strike it actually was.

Would López have thrown a different, better pitch in a 1-2 count? Like Mancini’s home run from the first inning, we’ll never know. All we know is what did happen. Miguel Sanó hit a three-run home run on a hanging 2-1 pitch. This home run led to the Orioles losing the game. I am not too upset with either López or manager Brandon Hyde over this outcome. The Orioles actually out-hit the Twins in the game, 5-4. They managed to have men on base when their slugger ran into a hanger. The Orioles did not.

Heading into the ninth needing two runs, the O’s got one back and the tying run to scoring position with two outs. That was as close as they got. Franco drove home Mancini, who broke the team’s in-game 0-for with a leadoff ninth inning double. Stevie Wilkerson grounded out and that was that.

The O’s lost a ninth straight game, equaling their worst losing streak from the 2018 season. There is no rest for the weary. The O’s head to Chicago for a four-game set against the first place White Sox, with no off day between series. Bruce Zimmermann and Dylan Cease are the scheduled starting pitchers for the 8:10 Thursday opener.