The Orioles have had trouble with clutch hitting of late. Their bullpen has been just as big a problem.
Thursday night brought no relief to either one of those concerns.
Baltimore couldn’t get the big hit at the plate, couldn’t get the big out from the bullpen, and as a result, the losing streak is at double figures. The Chicago White Sox waited through a rain delay at the start of the night to beat the Orioles 5-1, scoring all but one run from the sixth inning on.
It’s now 10 straight losses for the O’s, and 17 defeats in 19 games. And for this latest unfortunate occurrence, which took place despite a steady start from Bruce Zimmermann, there are a few places to point the finger.
The first is timely hitting. The game ended up out of hand, but it wasn’t that way early on, and in those innings where the game was well within reach the Orioles couldn’t do themselves any favors at the plate. Baltimore went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position. The O’s had the White Sox on the ropes a few times, and couldn’t finish the job.
In the first, Cedric Mullins singled and Trey Mancini was hit by a pitch (more on that later), but Anthony Santander and Maikel Franco popped up, and Freddy Galvis struck out. In the fifth, with the score 1-1, Ryan McKenna walked and stole second with one out, but Mullins popped up and Pat Valaika went down on strikes.
In the top of the sixth with the score still knotted at 1, Santander had a base hit to lead off and Franco followed with a single to right field. Jim Palmer on the MASN broadcast criticized Santander for not making it to third, but it felt like the Orioles were still in business...until Galvis struck out, D.J. Stewart flew out to shallow center, and Stevie Wilkerson fanned to end the inning.
That made the Birds 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. It went to 0-for-10 in the eighth when Santander doubled with one out, only to be stranded when Franco struck out and Galvis grounded out, and to 0-for-12 in the ninth when Chance Sisco whiffed to earn himself the golden sombrero and McKenna fanned with Wilkerson on second.
Those were the offensive woes (well, that and the Orioles striking out 16 times), but the bullpen did its part to become the second area deserving of blame. Zimmermann held up his end of the bargain, going five innings and striking out six while allowing one run on six hits and one walk, and he left with the game tied 1-1. He got some breaks - Jose Abreu missed a three-run homer in the third by only a couple of feet - but for the most part he pitched well, and was at his best when he needed a big pitch.
The bad news started after he left. Dillon Tate was on his way to a smooth, 1-2-3 sixth, but he gave up a single to Andrew Vaughn and a walk to Leury Garcia. Manager Brandon Hyde summoned the hot-and-cold Tanner Scott to get Billy Hamilton and shut down the threat, but after going ahead 0-2, Scott left a fastball in the middle of the plate, and Hamilton knocked it up the middle for a single and a 2-1 lead.
It didn’t end there, as Hyde turned to Cesar Valdez to get through the seventh and the wheels completely came off. Nick Madrigal led off with a double, Yoan Moncada drew a walk two batters later, and Abreu atoned for his oh-so-close flyout with a run-scoring double into the left-center field gap, making it 3-1. That brought up Yermin Mercedes, who had already homered in the second inning, and Palmer made it clear what he thought the approach was with runners on second and third and first base open.
“You don’t pitch to this guy,” Palmer said. “No way.”
Valdez pitched to him, and Mercedes drilled a single to center that scored two and made it 5-1. That ended Valdez’s night, and continued what was a discouraging trend and is now a full-fledged cause for alarm. On May 10, Valdez had a 1.23 ERA. Six appearances later, four of which saw him allow at least a run, he’s at 5.30. The bullpen as a whole is trending down, but he’s right in the middle of it.
The positives? The Zimmermann start was one, and Freddy Galvis gave the Orioles their only run with a fourth-inning homer, a line drive to right field that came off the bat at 99 miles per hour and landed over the fence 354 feet away. Good piece of hitting. He’s the least of their concerns.
And if you want another bit of good news, the Orioles were spared a potentially troubling development when Mancini was hit in the back of his right elbow in the top of the first. He fell to his hands and knees in pain and had to leave the game in the bottom of the first, but reports later on said that he had no fractures and suffered only a contusion.
Phew. The Orioles can’t afford to lose him. We were reminded what the offense looks like without him tonight, and it wasn’t pretty.