Orioles Salvage another Game, Avoid Being Swept Again
Last Tuesday, the Baltimore Orioles (53-49) were coming off an impressive stretch in which they won 5-of-6 in Minnesota and Cleveland; they were heading home in preparation for two very important series against one AL eastern rival, the Tampa Bay Rays, and a Wild Card contender, the red-hot Oakland A’s.
However, their week at Camden Yards did not go as planned and although it could have been worse, it was a rough week for the Birds.
In each series, they dropped the first two games, and salvaged each game three as they played to a disappointing 2-4 mark.
The Birds opened their six-game home stand with a tough series loss against the Rays, dropping to just one game in front of them for second place in the AL East. Tampa won a pitchers’ duel between Jeremy Hellickson (6-6, 3.23 ERA) and Wei-Yin Chen (9-6, 3.65 ERA) on Tuesday night, and then routed the Birds in the second game 10-1.
The Orioles bounced back with a strong outing by Chris Tillman in the final game of the series on Thursday afternoon 6-2, as they regained their one-game lead in the East.
One of the hottest teams in baseball made their second visit to Camden Yards since the All-Star break, the Athletics. In the first series back in April, the Birds dropped the opening game of the set 5-2, and then powered back with an impressive 10-1 victory in the second game; the Birds edged them in the rubber match 5-2.
However, at this point in the season, the A’s had not found themselves yet. They had not run across that perfect lineup until this month. Oakland finished the first half of the season with an even 43-43 record and had not been over the .500 mark since May 9th when they were 16-15.
Since the All-Star break, they have been the best team in the majors as they sport a 12-3 record and are tied with the Los Angeles Angels for first place in the Wild Card race. Remember, the Orioles were leading the Wild Card for much of the season, until the Angels found their way and started playing like the contenders they were expected to be at the beginning of the year.
Baltimore knew this series would be a bitter battle, but at the same time, it is one of the most important series of the year. You might be thinking it’s not even the trade deadline yet (which is tomorrow!), and we’re already talking about the most prolific series of the year.
However, let’s face it, the Yankees (60-41) own a 7.5 game lead over both the Orioles and the Rays, and they most likely are not going anywhere (bearing a huge collapse like the Red Sox last season- however not as monumental since it’s just the end of July).
So, the Birds have to focus on the Wild Card in order for a playoff berth, and that means they have to play all of their potential playoff opponents very tough.
There is not really anyway to describe Friday night’s affair besides a heartbreaker for the Orioles.
The Athletics jumped out to a quick 5-0 start after just an inning and a half. Southpaw Zach Britton (1-0, 5.74 ERA) made just his third start of the year, and after allowing five earned over the first two frames, he settled down and lasted 5.2 innings; he allowed six earned runs on six base hits, three walks, two strikeouts and he served up two home runs.
Although this was not a strong outing by any means, Britton received the no-decision as his team battled back.
On Chris Davis’ 17th home run of the year in the 2nd, and an RBI double by J.J. Hardy in the 3rd, the O’s mounted their comeback. They answered the A’s four-run 1st with a four-run bottom of the 5th as they took the lead 6-5 for the first time in the game.
Hardy added another RBI in that frame with a single and Adam Jones launched his 24th home run of the year, a three-run shot to left field.
However, the A’s responded with a three spot in the top of the 6th on a bases clearing double by Seth Smith as they regained the lead 8-6. It looked like the Orioles were done and had packed up their bags until the bottom of the 8th.
On four base hits and a hit by pitch, the Orioles were able to match the A’s three-run 6th with a three-run 8th of their own and they took a 9-8 lead heading into the 9th.
But, with all this excitement, the game couldn’t just end like that. Unfortunately, for the Orioles, it did not.
As usual, Showalter handed the ball over to closer Jim Johnson (1-1, 3.71 ERA) with a one-run lead in the 9th inning; he had converted 30 of 32 save opportunities this season. However, Friday night was not his night in a big way.
He faced six batters in the frame and allowed five singles, yielding six earned runs. Luis Ayala relieved Johnson and surrendered a two-run double, both of those runs that scored were charged to the Orioles’ closer. This is the highest Johnson’s ERA has been the entire season.
So, the A’s picked up a win in a wild game, 14-9 on Friday night evening the season-series 2-2.
The second game was a bit less offensive, but still a disappointment in the Orioles book. Tommy Hunter (4-6, 5.72 ERA) toed the rubber for the Birds as he was looking for a strong repeat performance after a couple of impressive outings.
In his last two starts, he allowed an earned run against the Twins over 7.1 and just three earned over 7.0 against the Indians. And, he only allowed a home run in each of those outings. This season, he has served up 24 long balls, and that has really been one of the major downfalls on the mound.
However, that was not the case.
Hunter tossed 5.1 innings, surrendered five earned runs on seven base hits, including two home runs, one walk and seven strikeouts. Again, he was victimized by the home run ball as he allowed two two-run home runs.
The Athletics countered with veteran 39-year-old Bartolo Colon (7-8, 3.78), who is putting together a respectful season with his new team. He tossed 5.2 strong scoreless innings, scattered seven base hits, walked one and struck out five for his seventh win of the year.
Nick Markakis provided the only offense for the Orioles as he smashed his ninth home run of the year, a solo shot, in the bottom of the 9th inning to deny the Athletics a shutout; it was his first home run since returning from the DL.
In similar fashion to the middle game of the three-game set, this time the Orioles upended the A’s for the third time this year, 6-1. He tossed one of the best games this season and a provided a much-needed win for the struggling Birds.
Chen struck out a career-high 12 opponents, and he set a record-high for strikeouts in a single game by a Taiwanese-born pitcher. What’s also impressive is that he only lasted 5.2 innings due to an elevated pitch count of 103 and his struggles in the 6th inning.
Regardless, Chen allowed just one run, and it was unearned, while issuing four walks. That was another reason why his pitch count mounted very quickly on Sunday afternoon.
The Baltimore southpaw had everything working in his repertoire and he was mixing and matching perfectly. He struck out the side two times (in the first and the fourth innings), and he broke a Taiwanese record for pitcher set by Chien-Ming Wang in 2007 (10 strikeouts).
In two outings this season against the A’s, Chen is 2-0 with a 0.71 ERA.
Offensively, Matt Wieters finally broke out of his 1-for-33 slump after he smashed his first long ball since July 5 th; he launched his three-run shot to left in the 3rd inning after capping off the four-run inning.
The crafty infielder broke out for three base hits in four at-bats, including a solo home run, a double and a bunt single. Not to mention, he provides the ability to be a utility infielder once Andino returns to the lineup.
What Happened this Week?
The Birds’ offense was outscored 36 runs to just 24 for the home team. However, they scored an average of four runs per game, and there offense really was not the entire problem.
The main problem for the Orioles over this home stretch was their pitching; mostly their starting staff is at fault.
Over just 32.1 innings pitched, which is equivalent to about 5.1 innings per outing, the Oriole starter averaged 6.44 runs per game as they allowed 23 earned runs over just six games.
Rookie Miguel Gonzalez was rocked by the Indians in his last outing when he lasted just 2.2 innings, the shortest of his young career, and he allowed seven earned runs. Britton allowed six earned runs, and Hunter joined the mix with five earned to his credit.
The bullpen was not much better. They tossed a collective 21.2 innings and surrendered 13 earned runs, yielding a 5.52 ERA. Johnson was lit up for six earned runs, his roughest outing of the year.
So, although the Birds lost two of three games in each series, at least they were able to salvage the final game. In three of the six games, the Oriole starter tossed a quality outing; however, in one of those games, three run was too many against that great-young pitching from those Rays.
The good news for the Birds is that they are heading out on the road; this season, they have posted a better mark on the road as opposed to their home park. They are actually under .500 at home (25-26), while they are five games over .500 at 28-23 away from Oriole Park.
The bad news is that the black and orange are traveling to New York and Tampa Bay, two of their toughest AL eastern rivals.
Tonight, the Birds send the young-up-and-coming hurler Gonzalez, who is coming off his toughest outing at the major league level. The Bronx Bombers will counter with veteran journeyman Freddy Garcia (4-4, 5.16 ERA), who has endured a rough season so far.
In his five outings since his return to the rotation, he sports a 3.90 ERA. In his last outing against the Mariner, he tossed 7.1 innings and allowed just three earned runs. The Orioles are looking to spoil a second consecutive strong outing by the right-handed pitcher.
Against the Orioles in his career, he has been somewhat dominant; over 108.0 innings pitched, he’s earned a 6-7 record with a respectable 4.33 ERA.
Gonzalez has never faced the Yankees in his young career.
This season, the Orioles sport a 3-5 record against the Yankees. After being swept at Camden Yards in the first series of the year, the Birds won the second set in New York and split a shot two-game series at home.
By: Alex Van Rees
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