The dog days of August are upon the Orioles. Not even John Means could save them. The O’s erstwhile ace was tattooed by the Tigers in Thursday afternoon’s series finale, giving up three home runs that plated five runs on the way to a 6-4 Orioles loss. The team dropped its eighth straight game and is now just 1-9 for the month. It’s not pretty and it feels like there is nothing to come along between now and season’s end to change that.
If you are looking to find some silver lining from this latest Orioles loss, the box score does offer some. Cedric Mullins had a three-hit game to increase his season total to an AL-leading 138 hits. There’s a lot of baseball to come in the season, but it’s fun that it’s mid-August and the O’s, even in this dismal year, have a chance to have the team’s first league leader in hits since Cal Ripken Jr. accomplished the feat with 211 hits in 1983.
In getting these hits, Mullins also extended his MLB-leading active hitting streak to 19 games. Joe DiMaggio’s ghost probably isn’t taking notice yet. It’s still an impressive feat for the O’s All-Star, whose OPS is now more than 150 points higher than the next-best Oriole. Need some more Mullins accolades? He also stole home in this game, his 22nd steal of the season. A season with 30 home runs and 30 steals still feels in play.
There is still more silver lining. Four different relievers combined to pitch 4.2 scoreless innings to finish off the game. That included Tanner Scott and Tyler Wells, each pitching for the first time since a return from the injured list. It also included the newest Orioles pitcher, Marcos Diplán, who’s now logged 5.1 hitless innings across his first three outings.
Are you looking for Orioles dingers? This game had dingers. DJ Stewart homered twice in the game, pushing his total up to 10 on the season. One of Stewart’s home runs was stopped from landing on Eutaw Street because it smacked off one of the brick pillars at the back of the right-center field seats on the way down.
Then there was everything else. A whole lot of that was bad. Means had a good three innings and first time through the Tigers order. His offense staked him to an early 1-0 lead thanks to some nifty, or lucky, baserunning by the Orioles in the bottom of the first.
The O’s started out with men on first and second thanks to back-to-back singles by Mullins and Austin Hays. They were on the cusp of blowing this opportunity entirety, as a one-out ground ball was initially called a double play on the field. However, the field umpire obviously blew the call and for the first time in forever that clear video evidence was actually enough for the replay umpires to overturn the call.
This gave the Orioles one more chance. That’s where the running came in. Anthony Santander, who hit the near-double play ball, took off from first to second before Tigers starter Matt Manning was even in his pitching motion. Manning stepped off and threw over, starting a rundown. Santander was able to prolong the rundown for long enough that Mullins could start from third to home and bait a throw home. Mullins beat the throw and the Tigers catcher dropped the ball anyway. A nice double steal there, with a 1-0 lead.
Things stayed that way until the fourth inning. Then, Means’s command seemed to abandon him. He walked former Oriole Jonathan Schoop to lead off the inning. Detroit’s Jeimer Candelario tied the game with a double.
If that was the worst of it, that might not have been so bad. It got worse, though. Another former Oriole, Renato Núñez, ambushed the first pitch he saw from Means for a two-run home run that put Detroit on top for good. While Means was reeling, the Tigers kept going. The next batter singled before center fielder Victor Reyes added another two-run dinger to the tally. This was only Reyes’s third home run in 125 at-bats this season. He is not the guy to let give up a home run. He hit one anyway. That’s the 2021 Orioles in a nutshell, baby.
Just for fun, Means gave up another home run to lead off the fifth. That one was hit by Detroit’s right fielder, Robbie Grossman. It’s less embarrassing to give up a guy’s 18th home run but it still doesn’t feel great.
Means was bounced from the game after recording one out in the fifth inning. His final tally was six runs on eight hits, with a walk, three strikeouts, and the three home runs allowed. In five starts since returning from the injured list, Means has allowed 4+ runs three times. His ERA in this time has escalated from 2.28 to 3.21. He has done nothing to quiet the crowd who suspects he was a prime sticky stuff culprit; MLB’s nascent ban on foreign substances came into effect while Means was on the injured list.
In spite of Means’s struggle, the Orioles never let the game completely out of hand, keeping it within grand slam range - no more than a four run deficit - for the whole game. Stewart’s first home run of the game made it a 5-2 score. In the sixth inning, his second home run made it 6-3. The O’s snagged their fourth run when they had runners on first and third and one out and Hays beat out a double play ball to get an RBI on the fielder’s choice.
As much as this game felt like a miserable one that the O’s had no chance of winning from the moment Means melted down, that was not the case. Their bottom of the lineup hitters, pinch hitter Ryan McKenna and shortstop Richie Martin, picked up one-out singles in the ninth inning to put the tying run on base and the go-ahead run at the plate. Mullins and Hays hit into consecutive forceouts at second base and that was that.
Other than Means, the Orioles blowing their scoring opportunities was the big story in this game. They had nine at-bats with a man in scoring position and got hits in zero of those at-bats. This has been a plague in this series. They were 0-8 with RISP in both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s losses.
This marks the third time this season that the Orioles have had a losing streak reach at least eight games. Their longest winning streak is three games. This team, it is bad. They next face the Red Sox for a three-game weekend set in Boston. It would be fun to think the O’s can play spoilers and send Boston farther from the division lead, but these jabronis collectively aren’t pitching or hitting well enough to spoil anything except the hopes of Orioles fans for a better near future.
Friday’s series opener is scheduled to get under way at 7:10, with Spenser Watkins starting for the Orioles and Nick Pivetta pitching for the Red Sox. The Orioles are currently on pace to finish with a 54-108 record this season. That continues to not be enough for the #1 pick in the 2022 draft.