Before September started, the feeling around Birdland was that the Orioles were good enough to overtake to Blue Jays in the wild card race. The O’s continued to prove that feeling wrong Saturday, losing for the fifth time in six September games against Toronto.
The storyline that’s haunted Baltimore throughout the last month is the way their bats have gone quiet at the worst possible times. The scoreline may not have reflected it, but the bats were hardly quiet on Saturday.
In the first inning alone, the O’s put good wood on the baseball three times. Leading off the game, Cedric Mullins hit a ball to left field that looked like it might leave, before Raimel Tapia snagged it against the fence. Adley Rutschman followed by rocketing a ball through the infield for a single, only for Anthony Santander to hit sharply into a double play.
That was the story of the day offensively for the Orioles: plenty of good contact, spraying the ball all over the field, but often ending the inning with nothing to show for it. In each of the first five innings, Baltimore had a runner on with one or fewer outs. In only one of those innings did the Orioles score.
In fact, in both the second and third, the Birds had exactly the same scoring threat: runners on second and third, only one out. In the second, the bats completely fell flat. Rougned Odor popped out to second before Kyle Stowers struck out to end the inning.
In the third, two of the newest Orioles showed Birdland this team is still capable of timely hitting. After Jesus Aguilar reached on catcher’s interference, rookie sensation GUNNAR HENDERSON hit a laser through the right side of the infield—scoring two, leaving the O’s with first and third, and only down 3-2. Fellow rookie Terrin Vavra then lifted a ball to center field, but it wasn’t deep enough for Aguilar to score from third.
On the day, the rookie bats certainly outshined the veterans by a wide margin. After HENDERSON opened the scoring in the third, Vavra pushed across the only other Orioles run (scoring HENDERSON) with a single in the eighth. Rutschman, HENDERSON and Vavra each registered two hits, the latter two both collecting a double. Outfielder Kyle Stowers was the only rookie in the lineup that didn’t register a hit.
In stark contrast, the six veteran bats the Orioles sent to the plate Saturday combined to go 3-19 (.158) with only one extra-base hit. This showing from the vets also came with noted Blue Jays masher Ryan Mountcastle leaving the game in the third after being hit by a pitch in the elbow.
Knowing that the offense is usually slow to get going, most Oriole fans hoped that starter Kyle Bradish could keep this Blue Jays offense at bay early on. That is not what happened. The rookie right-hander gave up singles to the Jays’ first two batters, and George Springer came around to score on a Teoscar Hernandez single in the first. Things did not get better for Bradish in the second. After giving up two singles, Springer launched a chest-high fastball 393 feet, barely missing a three-run HR and instead settling for a two-run double.
Bradish would settle down in the third and fourth, getting through the Blue Jays lineup 1-2-3 in both frames. Despite the rough start, the rookie looked to truly be turning the afternoon around—until Brandon Hyde gave him a questionable early hook.
In the fifth, Bradish would have put up his third consecutive 1-2-3 inning, except for a Ramon Urias error that allowed Vlad Guerrero Jr. to reach base. Instead, with two outs, Bradish walked Matt Chapman to put runners at first and second with Teoscar Hernandez coming to the plate. Instead of leaving him to face Hernandez, Hyder pulled his starter and brought in sidewinder Jake Reed from the bullpen. Reed would go on to walk the bases loaded, before giving up a bases-clearing double to Tapia, leaving the O’s down 6-2.
It’s hard not to wonder if the game might have stayed close if Bradish stayed in to face Hernandez. He had only thrown 80 pitches to that point, struck Hernandez out in his first AB and seemingly deserved the benefit of the doubt given his recent performances. Instead, Bradish got stuck with a loss, and a scoreline—4.2 innings pitches, 5 runs (three earned)—that doesn’t speak to the true impact Bradish made on Saturday.
In keeping with the trend of rookies outshining veteran players, DL Hall gave the Orioles a strong relief appearance in the sixth inning. The flame-throwing lefty worked a clean inning, striking out one and showing strong command of his breaking pitches. HENDERSON also turned an excellent double-play in seventh on a ball hit sharply up the middle.
While the Labor Day Letdown in Baltimore put the O’s playoff chances on life support, losses in these first two games in Toronto are probably the losses that pull the plug. Still, when your rookie class shines as brightly as Rutschman, HENDERSON, Vavra and Bradish did Saturday—even in a loss—it’s enough to keep Birdland hopeful amidst this disappointment.
The O’s probably won’t be playing deep into October this year. And yet, with the foundation they’ve already established in 2022, this time next year should bring a very different story.