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Quiet bats and an unreliable bullpen ruin a John Means start as the Birds fall to Texas, 7-4

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John Means threw five solid if unspectacular, innings. But the Birds wasted chances against the Rangers’ Dane Dunning and the bullpen surrendered four runs.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Baltimore Orioles
Sunday afternoon blues.
Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in September, two crappy teams did battle at Camden Yards. The Rangers were trying to stave off their 100th loss, a threshold they haven’t crossed since 1973. The Orioles are playing for the future, with ace John Means trying to lock down a strong finish to his season and young faces like Kélvin Gutiérrez, Richie Martin and Ryan McKenna auditioning for larger roles.

Well, good news for the Rangers, who live to avoid 100 another day. For Means and the Orioles auditioners, the results were mixed.

John Means pitched well today—not his best, but OK. His fastball command wasn’t pinpoint, and the changeup hung up a few too many times. It took him 108 pitches to get through five innings, and he allowed three runs on seven hits. But I don’t think anything Means did today will worry the front office. There was plenty of good stuff today: an easy eight strikeouts in five innings, for one thing, not to mention zero walks.

Sometimes it takes Means a while to get his feel for his changeup and curveball, but not today. He struck out the side in the second inning with the aid of a solid offspeed arsenal: the first Ranger went down on what MASN’s Ben McDonald calls a “hurt your feelings” changeup. The second, lefty Willie Calhoun, bit on a slider. And lefty-masher Charlie Culberson saw a curveball drop in for strike one before he whiffed on a fastball.

It felt like the Rangers couldn’t touch Means—until they could. In the fourth inning, Means had just whiffed Adolis García when he allowed a single. Unfortunately, he followed that with a sitting duck of a changeup, and the Rangers’ Andy Ibáñez drove it into the left field stands. It was his only real mistake of the game, but the Rangers made him pay for it. That made it Texas 2, Orioles 0 through four.

Which means, once again, that this Orioles offense gave John Means very little run support. One hit through 4.2 innings against a not-exactly-dominant Dane Dunning is not going to make the Tampa Bay Rays shake in their boots. At least they made it count: Austin Hays walked on five pitches in the fourth inning. Then Anthony Santander got all of a sinker and like that, the game was tied.

But that made a highly undeserved third run against John Means sting all the more. With a man on and one out in the fifth, a tailor-made double play ball rolled to Pat Valaika at second. Valaika fielded and tossed the ball to second, but Richie Martin had forgotten to cover the base! Replay footage made it look like Martin was somehow blinded by the sun. If so, I apologize, Richie. But it wasn’t a good look: a frozen shortstop took two easy outs and made them zero.

It proved costly as a roller past Gutiérrez ended up pushing across the Rangers’ third run. It also meant Means had to throw an extra 20 or so pitches to get out of the inning, and this meant a short outing for him and an early appearance by the bullpen.

Which usually spells bad news, and today was one of those days. Eric Hanhold pitched the six inning without incident. But in the seventh, Leody Taveras singled, stole second, and scored on a single by Isiah Kiner-Falefa.

The not-so-effectively-wild Conner Greene got Hanhold out of his mess in the seventh, but he left Fernando Abad a mess of his own in the eighth—two on, no outs—to clean up in the eighth.

Spoiler: He couldn’t. Abad got robbed of a called third strike and then Willie Calhoun stung the next ball into the right-center gap. Anthony Santander badly misjudged the ball, and had to hobble back to the wall as it rolled past him, scoring two more that go on Greene’s line. A double plated a seventh run before Abad fielded a come-backer and fired to third for (incredibly) the Orioles’ first out in the inning. A double play ended the inning. Looks so easy when your relief pitchers don’t stink.

Down by two, the Birds had tried to rally in the seventh, but Ryan McKenna whiffed on a curveball to leave the tying runs on base. In the ninth, down 7-2, a Trey Mancini single plus a Severino long ball closed the gap to 7-4. It’s always great to see the Orioles refuse to go down quietly, but it didn’t do much to change the outcome.

You know and I know that today’s result doesn’t matter. What does is a bunch of extended auditions for 2022. From this point of view, you’d have to say Sunday’s verdict was mostly bad. There are two exceptions: Ryan McKenna reached three times on two walks and a HBP, and Kélvin Gutiérrez went 1-for-4 with a decent day in the field, albeit not as brilliant as usual. Pedro Severino may not be an Oriole next year, but he knocked in two runs and walked twice.

But Sunday was not a good day for Pat Valaika (0-for-3, 3 Ks), Richie Martin (0-for-1, BB, two mental mistakes in the field, pinch-hit for in the seventh), Anthony Santander (1-for-3, 2-run HR, but also horrible defense amid continued injury problems), or Ryan Mountcastle, whose spot is not in doubt but also might want to not hit into two double plays a game.

And that bullpen. What can you keep saying about this bullpen? Eric Hanhold allowed a run in 1.1 innings today and couldn’t finish the seventh. Conner Greene has a nice fastball but he is a hot mess. Fernando Abad was ineffective, too. Thomas Eshelman was, frankly, the Orioles’ best reliever today, and that’s saying something.

I can’t wait for it to be 2022 already.