One step forward, two steps back. The unofficial motto of the 2022 Baltimore Orioles.
It was only three days ago that fans were feeling pretty good about the state of the O’s, coming off an 8-4 run and an impressive series win on the road in St. Louis.
Nothing like getting swept by the worst team in the American League, while losing several key players to injury, to deflate that optimism. The Tigers completed a three-game dismantling of the banged-up Orioles in a 5-1 decision Sunday afternoon, a game in which the O’s were never competitive.
It may feel painful to get swept by a bad team, but don’t forget this key point: the Orioles are also a bad team. (I’ll pause while you write that down.) If the O’s were favored in this series, it wasn’t by much. And in the end, everything went against them.
It didn’t take long for things to turn south on today’s starter, Tyler Wells. Miguel Cabrera, who had only two home runs all season before this series, led off the second inning with his second home run against the Birds this weekend. It was the 505th of his career, surpassing Eddie Murray for 27th on the all-time list. That’s quite an achievement for Cabrera, though I’m a little grumpy that it was the Orioles who let him surpass an O’s legend. A Harold Castro RBI single later in the second extended the Tigers lead to 2-0.
Wells gave up another run in the third with help from some spotty O’s defense. After a one-out Javier Baez double, Willi Castro trickled a grounder to the left side of the infield. Third baseman Tyler Nevin, instead of charging the ball, broke to third base to cover the bag, not realizing that shortstop Jorge Mateo was shaded far too close to second base to have any chance of fielding it. It went as an infield single for Castro as Baez advanced to third, from which he scored on a Cabrera sac fly.
I don’t know what was in the water at Comerica today, but in the span of roughly 10 minutes, three different players suffered injuries that caused them to leave the game. Tigers right fielder Austin Meadows, who’d missed the first two games of the series with an ear infection, returned to the lineup today but lasted just one inning before departing. Minutes later, Detroit center fielder Victor Reyes pulled up lame at second base after hitting a ball into the corner; he was replaced by a pinch-runner.
And in between those two incidents, in the top of the second, the Orioles’ Mateo crashed into Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson down the first base line while trying to beat out a bunt attempt that went foul. Mateo stayed in the game for the time being, long enough to take two hapless hacks and strike out, but was pulled in the fourth inning with what the O’s can only hope isn’t a serious injury. The walking-wounded Orioles — who already have Ryan Mountcastle on the injured list, Austin Hays sidelined, and a less-than-100-percent Ramon Urias in the lineup — can hardly afford to lose Mateo as well, especially with a lack of infield depth at Triple-A to replace him. Things are getting ugly in Birdland, folks.
Speaking of ugly...back to this game. An overmatched, undermanned O’s offense had absolutely no chance against Tigers left-hander Tarik Skubal, who was already having a very good season even before facing this Triple-A caliber lineup. What do you do when your lineup includes Nevin (.162/.295/,243 slash line), Urias (.213/.248/.298), Ryan McKenna (.227/.333/.318), and Robinson Chirinos (.134/.266/.179), and then loses Mateo and subs in Chris Owings (.147/.310/.176)? Apparently you strike out a lot, that’s what you do. Skubal had his way with the O’s offense, racking up a career-high-tying 11 strikeouts during his six innings of scoreless ball.
The Orioles basically were never in this game, which became painfully obvious when Skubal struck out five of the first six batters he faced. The O’s didn’t get a runner into scoring position until the fourth inning, when they were already down by three, and as has been par for the course this series, they squandered the scoring chance. Skubal struck out both Anthony Santander and Owings to strand Urias at second.
The only other real threat against Skubal came in the sixth when the perhaps tiring lefty, as he climbed over 90 pitches, issued back-to-back walks to Urias and Trey Mancini. But Skubal found another gear in blowing away Santander on strikes and inducing a feeble first-pitch popout from Owings. Rally snuffed. Outing complete. Excellent job by Skubal, not that the Orioles put up much of a fight.
The Birds’ fortunes didn’t improve against the Tigers’ bullpen, which followed up its 7.2 scoreless innings on Saturday with another three strong frames this afternoon. Jacob Barnes racked up two strikeouts in a perfect seventh. Rony Garcia did exactly the same in the eighth. Meanwhile, the Tigers padded their lead with a run apiece against O’s relievers Logan Allen and Bryan Baker.
Finally in the ninth, Mancini snapped the Orioles’ 18-inning scoreless streak with a home run off Garcia, assuring the O’s wouldn’t get shut out for a second straight game.
It was little consolation. The next three hitters went down quietly — ending, of course, with a strikeout, the Orioles’ 16th of the day — and the O’s trudged out of Detroit with a whimper. Any sense of positive momentum has vanished, just as the Orioles begin a four-game series against the best team in baseball, the Yankees.
Good luck with that.