Orioles fans haven’t watched a playoff game featuring our team in seven years. Immediately, this game felt uncanny and different in all sorts of ways. First thought: Man, I have never heard this place so loud. This is a SEA of orange. Second thought: Oh, cool. Bradish’s fastball is hitting 96 today. This should be fun. Third thought: Gosh, we really should be hitting up this Andrew Heaney guy more than we are.
Look, Texas manager Bruce Bochy had a good game plan, Kyle Bradish looked a tiny bit off today, and middle reliever Jacob Webb might be turning into a pumpkin at the wrong time. But the Orioles’ real problem in a frustrating 3-2 loss wasn’t that: it was the offense wasting opportunities with bad swing decisions. All in all, the Orioles made an average pitching staff look better than they were.
Trap games are a thing, certainly, but trap matchups? There was a lot of weight on the 27-year-old shoulders of Kyle Bradish in having to slow down the American League’s best offense, which was fresh off a two-game stampede in the Wild Card series. But with Andrew Heaney, a last-minute decision for Texas with not-good career numbers against the Orioles, opposing Bradish on the mound, this felt like a lopsided starter matchup where the Orioles were heavily advantaged.
Working with the clearly superior stuff between the two starters, Bradish took a bold fastball-heavy approach to the Rangers, and for three innings it worked beautifully. Bradish struck out five in the first two innings. That included walking the leadoff man in the second, then striking out the side—swinging. It was poetry on the baseball field.
But then Texas put together a fourth inning that made you say “Orioled.” With one out, Texas scored two runs off five straight hits off Bradish. They’d add a sixth hit, too, by the No. 9 hitter Leody Taveras, and it was only respect for the Austin Hays cannon that kept Texas from sending home a third runner. With two outs, and Jacob Webb and Danny Coulombe warming in the ‘pen, Marcus Semien had a chance to break this one wide open. Well, he didn’t. He struck out on a timely Bradish curveball and left the bases loaded.
Problem was, Orioles hitters had nothing going against Andrew Heaney over the first three innings. Lots of contact, no runs. Santander reached twice against the Texas starter, and Ryan Mountcastle had two good at-bats, too, but all told, there were way too many first-pitch groundouts or popups. It’s a bad feeling when Orioles hitters make a pitcher look better than he is.
Baseball analytics makes much of how much better hitters get the second time through the order, and in this case the answer is “Yes.” Come the Orioles half of the fourth inning, Santander worked a walk off Heaney, and Ryan Mountcastle, who’d mashed the lefty in his career, doubled down the line to chop the lead to 2-1. Analytics! Matchups! Runs! Here’s the big swing:
But with that, Texas manager Bruce Bochy suddenly pulled Heaney for the much more reliable Dane Dunning, and, like a horror movie bad-guy reveal, it was like, “Ohhh, you weren’t planning to use Heaney as a traditional starter at all, were you, Bruce Bochy. This whole time, you were just playing to Mt. Walltimore and stacking swingmen to hide your bullpen.”
I don’t know if manager Brandon Hyde could have had an answer for this strategy, but it felt like the Orioles had been snookered by this lefty-righty one-two punch. Against the right hander Dunning, pinch hitter Adam Frazier did not come up clutch.
Despite his struggles, Bradish managed to get two more outs in the fifth inning after the leadoff man, Corey Seager, reached on an infield roller. With the lefty Evan Carter at the plate, Danny Coulombe was brought on. Coulombe frustratingly walked the lefty. But switch-hitting catcher Jonah Heim did Baltimore a solid by grounding out to end the inning.
Brandon Hyde’s short hooks continued. Three different Orioles pitchers saw action in the sixth inning. One pitch, one tapout for Danny Coulombe, who gave way to Jacob Webb to face a right hander. The matchup didn’t work: Webb surrendered a quick home run to rookie Josh Jung, and this was a 3-1 game. With two outs, the youngster DL Hall came out and allowed a walk to Corey Seager. But he closed out the inning with a swinging strikeout and a big yell.
Dane Dunning had the sixth and seventh innings. The Orioles were stifled in the former, but Anthony Santander, now batting from the left, drilled one into the stands. Now this game was 3-2. You want to play games with starter matchups, Bruce Bochy? Well, Tony would rather hit taters from the left side, too.
That left one run to scratch back against one of the worst bullpens in the game.
Sad to say, you know how that turned out. It was a story of missed opportunities, especially against command-challenged relievers who let the leadoff man reach. Three in a row, in fact.
The seventh inning saw Texas right hander Josh Sborz (6-7 with a 5.50 ERA this season) throw seven straight balls to Aaron Hicks and Adam Frazier. But Frazier flew out, Cedric Mullins struck out, and pinch hitter Ryan O’Hearn got a few curveballs, then stared as a 99-mph fastball sailed by.
In the eighth, Austin Hays and Adley Rutschman led off with back-to-back walks, too. But Santander hit into a momentum-crushing double play, and Ryan Mountcastle struck out on 101 upstairs.
Then, in the ninth, the Orioles got another leadoff hitter on board, Gunnar stinging a low pitch over the infield for a single. But—rally killer of rally killers—he was thrown out trying to steal. Why? Jonah Heim has a great arm. I’m pretty sure I saw Hyde mouthing “What the f…” on the broadcast. Had Henderson just gone rogue?
The offensive futility unfortunately clouded what was otherwise brilliant late-innings relief for the Orioles. DL Hall looked nasty (1.2 IP, 3 K), boosted by sure hands from Mountcastle and yet another Superman impression from Stone Cold Austin Hays. Tyler Wells looked, if possible, even better, hitting 96 on the radar gun with two strikeouts in three batters faced. Late relief looks good on you, big guy! Cionel Pérez came in with one out in the ninth, and walked one but struck out two with—of course—a huge fist pump.
Lessons, lessons, lessons. The Orioles largely managed to contain the Texas offense today. It was just that their own was ice cold against a not-so-impressive slate of opposing pitchers. Particularly glaring was the “Kids Comparison”: Texas rookies Evan Carter and Josh Jung, who reached four times and drove in two runs, versus Baltimore’s Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, a combined 1-for-7 with 3 strikeouts and that absurd out in the ninth. It’s hard to get this Orioles offense firing without that pair. We’ll need more firepower tomorrow.