If the Orioles proved anything on Thursday afternoon it’s that 3pm starts are not for them. A day after the offense never got going in an afternoon game in Toronto, the Birds bats were once again quieted in an afternoon loss to the Cubs. Three Chicago solo shots, including two from catcher Willson Contreras, were enough to ground the Orioles in a 3-2 defeat.
Football is often referred to as a game of inches, but many times on Thursday the Orioles seemed to say “move over Ravens, it’s still baseball season” in proving that the national pastime could also be a game of inches. In almost every instance though, it was the Orioles coming up a few inches short instead of a few inches ahead.
It started in the third inning with Cedric Mullins on third after a triple that was the O’s first hit. Immediately afterwards, Adley Rutschman flied a ball into left field that was inches away from going foul, but instead it was caught—ending the inning and stranding Mullins at third.
Then, in perhaps the play that best epitomized the game as a whole, Austin Hays was thrown out at the plate on a failed safety squeeze. With one out, Hays doubled into center and then was moved over to third on a Rougned Odor single. Jorge Mateo then tried to break open the deadlock on a bunt to the left of Chicago starter Adrian Sampson.
Adrian Sampson fields a weak groundball and flips it to home plate to nab Austin Hays at home for the second out in the bottom of the 5th pic.twitter.com/eth2uR6RSo— Cubs Highlights (@Cubs_Highlights) August 18, 2022
Hays was initially called out, but the play went to review. At first glance at the replay, almost all those in Orioles media—from the radio broadcast team to your very own writers at Camden Chat—thought Hays snuck his hand just under the tag of Contreras. Unsurprisingly, Baltimore and New York once again didn’t agree.
You just never know what you're going to get out of replay. Clear evidence that Austin Hays touched home before the glove touched him, but no overturn from New York. Anyway, don't bunt, hit dingers.— Camden Chat (@CamdenChat) August 18, 2022
Another play at the plate didn’t go the Orioles way in the eighth, this time with the O’s looking to tie the game. The Birds got walks from Mullins and Rutschman to lead off the inning, before a single from Ryan Mountcastle plated the O’s first run and a sac fly from Anthony Santander brought the game to 3-2. Then, with Mountcastle at third and the infield in, Ramon Urias hit a hard grounder just to the right of third. Mouncastle was going on contact and the play at the plate wasn’t as close as with Hays. Still, it felt like another representation of the O’s getting close but just not close enough.
Then, to make things that much worse, the game ended on another bang-bang play. With Hays on second and Jorge Mateo at first, Cedric Mullins lined the ball to second baseman Nick Madrigal. The Cubs infielder then flipped it to shortstop Nico Hoerner at second base, ending the game on a double play with Hays just inches off the bag. And all of Birdland sighed. *Sigh*
It was the second game in a row where the hitters seemed to be missing their afternoon naps as they dragged through a lackluster performance. While the comeback attempt was much closer to coming good than Thursday in Toronto, at the end of the day the game ended with the ball at the proverbial one yard line.
Starter Spenser Watkins echoed the work the O’s got from Austin Voth Wednesday in Toronto. He was far from overpowering—he didn’t pick up his first strikeout of the game until the second out of the fifth. It’s hard to argue with the results though, as Watkins gave the 5.2 innings that often seemed effortless from the second-year righty. He started the game with a 1-2-3 inning in the first, and repeated that feat in the third—that time on only eight pitches. He worked around a Franmil Reyes single in the second, an Ian Happ double in the fourth and a leadoff Nelson Velazquez single in the fifth to keep things tied at 0-0.
Things never seemed particularly stressful for the O’s Thursday with Watkins on the mound—that was until Contreras squeaked his HR over the right field fence to break the tie in the sixth. Another soft Reyes single two batters later ended Watkins afternoon, leaving him with a final line of 5 hits allowed, 1 earned run and two strikeouts. Still, it felt like another strong Orioles starting effort ringing a bit hollow, as Watkins left not in a position to get the W.
After taking the loss on Wednesday in the North, Joey Krehbiel didn’t look much better this afternoon back in Baltimore. The flame throwing righty did make it through two innings this time, but gave up the second home run for Contreras and pinch hit home run to Rafael Ortega—who came into the game hitting just .182 in August.
As Melanie Newman said to end the MASN broadcast, the good news about this one is that the O’s can move on from this one-off to their series against Boston. The bad news is that, at the time of writing, the Orioles now sit two games back of a potential Wild Card spot. A good series against the Red Sox can obviously change that, but Thursday showed that the bats will certainly need a shot of espresso before taking on the boys from Beantown.