Remember just a couple of weeks ago when we thought the Orioles had a shot at the playoffs? Now I’m just hoping they can salvage a winning season.
The O’s need six victories in their final 15 games to reach the 82-win mark, but playing their absolute worst baseball since April isn’t going to help their case. Constantly losing games to the Detroit Tigers, the lowest-scoring team in the majors and owners of the fourth-worst record in baseball, doesn’t inspire confidence that the Orioles will get their acts together against the tougher teams that they face in the final weeks.
The Birds dropped their second game of the series, and ninth in a row to the Tigers overall, with a lamentable 3-2 loss at Camden Yards tonight. Once again the defeat was characterized by the Orioles’ complete inability to produce runs, Gunnar Henderson aside.
Perhaps you thought that the Orioles’ offense, chastened by their futile performance against 5+ ERA Tyler Alexander the night before, would show a more disciplined approach against fellow lefty Joey Wentz tonight. Oh, you adorable, innocent soul, they absolutely did not. The Birds’ bats were equally if not more inept against the 24-year-old rookie, making just his fifth major league start.
Wentz mowed down the first eight batters he faced, and his perfect game bid would’ve reached three full innings if not for shortstop Willi Castro booting a routine grounder by Jorge Mateo in the third. One batter later, Castro also failed to corral a grounder up the middle by Gunnar Henderson, giving the O’s their first hit, at which point Wentz decided to keep the ball away from his shortstop and just struck out Ryan Mountcastle. At that point, noted MASN broadcaster Kevin Brown, the Orioles were 1-for-23 with runners in scoring position against the Tigers this year.
It only got worse. Wentz stranded a runner apiece in the fourth and fifth innings, following Alexander’s lead with a scoreless, two-hit performance. Unlike Alexander, Wentz couldn’t quite make it through six innings, getting chased after a two-out infield single during that frame. Reliever Alex Lange came in and couldn’t find the strike zone at first, uncorking a wild pitch and then walking Jesus Aguilar to put two men aboard. Runners in scoring position, though, are the Orioles’ Kryptonite, and like clockwork, Lange struck out Ramón Urías to strand them both.
Poor Austin Voth gave a capable effort for the Orioles, but it’s hard to win games when, you know, your team scores zero runs. Voth made only one mistake in his five innings, a fat fastball that Akil Baddoo crushed into the right-field bleachers for a two-run homer in the second. It was just the second home run of the year for Baddoo, and the 94th of the year for the Tigers, the only team in baseball yet to reach triple digits. Did I mention the Tigers are the worst hitting team in the majors? It seems like they’ve passed that torch to the Orioles, spiritually if not statistically.
Voth’s final line: five innings, two runs, six hits. Not bad at all. But he exited the game trailing by two, putting at risk the Orioles’ perfect 8-0 record in Voth’s starts at Camden Yards. Joey Krehbiel worked the next two innings, coughing up a Kerry Carpenter solo bomb in the seventh. The Tigers have six homers in five games against the Orioles this year, averaging 1.2 per game. They’re averaging 0.6 per game against all other teams.
The Tigers could have done even more damage if not for some stellar Orioles defense tonight. In the fifth, with Jeimer Candelario at first, Baddoo ripped a double into the right-field corner. Candelario motored all the way around the bases and dug for home, but Anthony Santander corralled the ball and delivered a strong relay to Urías, who fired a one-hop throw to the plate. Adley Rutschman made a brilliant pick and slapped the tag on Candelario in one motion.
Later in the inning, Rutschman collided with third baseman Gunnar Henderson on a foul pop, causing the ball to pop out of his glove, but showed catlike instincts to readjust and snare it before it touched the ground, tumbling on his back in the process.
That bit of fun aside, the Orioles didn’t make the game interesting until the seventh, when Henderson smacked a massive two-run homer onto the flag court, his first dinger since his major league debut and his first ever at Camden Yards. For a brief, fleeting moment, it seemed like the O’s offense might have found a spark.
It didn’t last. Mountcastle and Santander reached base after Gunnar’s bomb, only for Rutschman — batting right-handed, his weak side, against lefty and handlebar mustache enthusiast Andrew Chafin — struck out looking. The Orioles were 0-for-4 with men in scoring position tonight, now 1-for-26 in such situations against the Tigers this season.
More brilliant O’s defense kept in a one-run game in the ninth, as Mateo — who really should be the AL Gold Glove frontrunner at shortstop — made two sparkling plays. First, he ranged deep into the hole and made a long, 10-hop throw to retire Ryan Kreidler, then backpedaled way into the outfield for a leaping, sprawling snare of a Baddoo pop-up that looked sure to be a two-run single. A beautiful play, and one that we’d be talking about for a long time if the O’s had come back to win.
They did not come back to win. The Orioles meekly went down 1-2-3 in the ninth against closer Gregory Soto, and that was that. Five losses in as many games to the atrocious Detroit Tigers this year. Nine in a row overall. And the Orioles’ hopes of a winning season, which not long ago seemed like an absolute lock, are getting quite a bit shakier.