It is hard to call any game a “must win” when you’re only 2.5 games out of the Wild Card and there are still 40 games left to play. Yet, Wednesday night felt like a game you really should win. The Orioles failed to do just that in a disappointing effort against the White Sox.
One night after winning 5-3 against the South Siders, the Orioles suffered defeat by the same scoreline. The bats fell quiet once again, more quality starting pitching went to waste, and the pitching staff as a whole suffered from death by a thousand singles in the loss. Of the White Sox’s 12 hits Wednesday, none went for extra bases—and yet the lack of power never seemed all that detrimental.
The story for the White Sox all night long was the effort they got from starter Lucas Giolito. The former All-Star came into Wednesday largely struggling through 2022—his ERA, WHIP and BAA all ballooning well above the numbers that saw him receive Cy Young votes in ‘19, ‘20 and ‘21. That mattered little against the O’s, as he consistently kept the Birds off balance all night.
A big key to Giolitos success was his ability to maintain a good feel for his changeup. Giolito’s offspeed offering has not only been his worst pitch all season but one of the worst changeups in all of baseball. Yet, the Orioles hitters failed time and time again to time up the change. Giolito used it to generate five swings and misses and allowed no hard-hit balls off the changeup.
Giolito also surprisingly excelled against righties on the night. Coming into Wednesday, right-handed hitters were hitting .336 off Giolito, more than 100 points higher than lefties. And yet, it took until the seventh inning Wednesday for an Orioles’ righty to register a hit and, overall, righties were 1-11 with two walks against the seven-year veteran. Before the Ryan Mountcastle single in the seventh, on Cedric Mullins (single, double) and Adley Rutshcman (double) had hits off Giolito.
Maryland native Gavin Sheets was the offensive star for Chicago, bringing home the first runs on an RBI single in the first, and driving home another on an infield hit in the seventh. Overall, Sheets finished the night 3-5 with those 3 RBIs and is 5-8 so far in the series. Not bad for a guy who color commentator Dave Johnson, when reflecting upon seeing Sheets take BP as a 12-year-old, did not think would find up being a major leaguer.
This game also suffered from a feeling that things would never quite break the right way for the O’s. It started when Cedric Mullins singled to lead off the bottom of the first, only for Adley Rutschman to softly line into a double play with Mullins running. Later, in the fifth, Anthony Santander stepped to the plate with two outs, Mullins at third and the Orioles down 2-1. The Orioles’ RBI leader didn’t even come close to driving in Mullins, popping the ball up to shortstop.
However, the real backbreaker came in the seventh. Down 3-1, the Birds drew two straight walks to load the bases for Jorge Mateo. The same Jorge Mateo who is hitting .317 with a .929 OPS since the All-Star break. It seemed like the perfect moment to turn a meager offensive night around.
The shortstop attacked the first pitch and, for a split second, it looked identical to his bases-clearing double in Williamsport. Instead, White Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada speared it right as it hopped over the bag—stepping on third and firing across the diamond to double up Mateo and end the inning.
Austin Hays did hit a two-run home run in the ninth inning to get back the runs Louis Head gave up in the 8th (and lift spirits at least a little bit). At that point though, it felt very much like what it was: a consolation instead, not the start of one of those patented Orioles comebacks.
Orioles’ starter Spenser Watkins was again hard done by a lack of offense. Watkins came into this start off a solid showing against the Cubs—throwing 5.2 innings and only allowing 1 run. He ended up taking the loss in that game and suffered a similar fate Wednesday.
Yes, he gave up three singles a walk and two runs in the top of the first, surrendering an early 2-0 lead. After that Watkins truly settled in and gave the Orioles every chance to get back into the game. The second-year righty particularly found a groove when he began to mix up his slider and cutter. Early on the cutter was a boom or bust pitch for Watkins. He gave up four singles in the first two innings off the cutter, but also collected two early Ks.
However, from the fourth inning on though, Watkins began to compliment that cutter more with his slider, finding plenty of success. Twenty-five of the 39 pitches Watkins threw from the fourth through sixth innings were cutters or sliders—a stretch where he allowed no hits and only two base runners. Watkins truly earned his quality start—if only bats had backed him up with equal quality.
The loss means that the Orioles slip another game behind Toronto in the Wild Card race after the Blue Jays extra-inning win in Boston. The O’s also failed to capitalize on a surprising Mariners loss to the Nationals, leaving them still floating in Wild Card purgatory. The silver lining of course is that there are still 39 games left to play, with plenty against teams also fighting for a Wild Card spot. Still, Wednesday night felt like a game that Birdland might look back at in October and “if only that one had gone differently.”