If you want some good news about the Orioles, it’s this: they cannot get mathematically eliminated from the playoff race in June.
If you want some more good news about the Orioles … sorry. I’m fresh out.
The Orioles’ return to Camden Yards after a 1-7 road trip wasn’t quite the momentum-changer they were looking for. Their 11-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals was ugly in nearly every facet of the game.
The Orioles’ offense holds part of the blame. The bats managed just two runs and five hits against Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez and two relievers, marking the seventh time in their last nine games the Orioles have scored three or fewer runs.
Once again, though, the biggest culprit in the Orioles’ demise was their starting pitching. Kevin Gausman showed no signs of turning around his brutal 2017 season, coughing up five runs in 5 2/3 innings. His outing included nine hits, two walks — including a bases-loaded free pass in the third — and all-around shaky command.
“Just not very good,” Gausman said. “I felt like I threw a lot of good pitches today, but I ended up walking some guys and got in way too many hitter’s counts, and they did a really good job of battling and putting the ball in play. And it seemed like anywhere they hit it, they hit it right where our guys weren’t. … It kind of seems that’s how it’s going for us right now.”
Gausman raised his season ERA to 6.60 and his WHIP to 1.92, both the worst marks in the AL of any qualified pitcher.
“When he does get behind in the count … he’s having trouble getting the count back in his favor, and they’re able to box out some pitches on him unless he can get a breaking ball over behind in the count,” manager Buck Showalter said. “One quality of pitchers when they’re pitching well is they can locate a fastball down and away to get back in the count, and that’s been a little bit of a challenge for him.”
Gausman is far from the only struggling Orioles starting pitcher. The entire rotation, save Dylan Bundy, has been an unmitigated disaster of late. During the Orioles’ 3-10 stretch, they’ve had only two quality starts. And both of those (Chris Tillman on June 4 and Bundy on June 9) hit only the bare minimum requirement — six innings, three earned runs.
Orioles’ starting pitchers have a 9.72 ERA in their last 13 games, and an 11.95 mark in their last 10. Things have gotten so bleak that Ubaldo Jimenez — who was banished to the bullpen with a 7.17 ERA on May 22 — has been re-inserted into the rotation in place of Alec Asher. Jimenez will start Sunday against the Cardinals, with Asher going back to a bullpen role.
Will Jimenez’s return help? Or is it just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?
“This will pass, especially us starters, it’s going to turn around at some point,” Gausman said. “Obviously I wanted to be the one to kind of right the ship today, and it just didn’t work out that way.”
One thing’s for certain — if Orioles’ starting pitchers don’t step up their game, the club will find itself hopelessly out of contention sooner rather than later. The Orioles have already dropped to last place in the AL East, and right now, they’re threatening to have an extended stay in the cellar.
The Norfolk shuttle comes derailed
When the Orioles were winning games early in the season, they were able to dip into their pitching stockpile at Triple-A Norfolk with mostly favorable results. The Orioles wrung some quality relief performances from the likes of Alec Asher, Logan Verrett and Gabriel Ynoa, shuffling players back and forth from the Tides to assure they always had a fresh arm in the bullpen.
Lately, though, the Orioles’ shuttle has met with diminishing returns, as a parade of overmatched relievers have come up from the minors and struggled in the bigs. Stefan Crichton has an 8.49 ERA in seven games among several stints. Jimmy Yacabonis walked six batters in 3 1/3 innings and was banished back to Norfolk after two outings, while the Orioles jettisoned veteran Edwin Jackson after he was scored upon in all three appearances.
The latest blowup came from Ynoa, who was recalled from Norfolk before Friday’s game. His only previous appearance with the Orioles was a stalwart relief outing of six shutout innings May 5. Ynoa, though, has struggled at Norfolk all season — going 1-5 with a 6.93 ERA in nine starts — and he flatlined Friday against the Cardinals, coughing up three home runs. By the time he left the mound, he had transformed a 4-1 Orioles deficit into a 10-1 rout.
“Fastball was up,” Showalter said. “Just a lot of center-cut fastballs. It’s been some of the challenges he’s had in Norfolk, and it carried over here some. He had one good outing for us. They had a predominantly right-handed lineup. We were hoping he could duplicate that, but he didn’t.”
Considering the struggles of the Orioles’ starters, the lack of quality pitching options at Norfolk is a glaring issue. The club, at this point, doesn’t have many decent in-house alternatives for its struggling staff.
Cardinals return under different circumstances
This series marks the Orioles’ first matchup against the Cardinals since Aug. 8-10, 2014, which was one of the more memorable weekends in the club’s recent history.
During the first game of that series, the Orioles held an on-field ceremony celebrating the franchise’s 60 years in Baltimore, complete with a lavish post-game fireworks and laser show that included memorable highlights from the team’s storied history. More than 20 members of the Orioles’ Hall of Fame were on hand for the festivities, including Cal Ripken, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray and Jim Palmer.
The Orioles’ on-field performance was pretty impressive, too. They took two of three games from the Cardinals in that series — including blowout wins of 12-2 and 10-3 — and extended their division lead to five games en route to winning the AL East pennant that season.
This time around, the atmosphere surrounding the club is entirely different as the club continues its slide. The Cardinals’ return to Baltimore did little to help the Orioles recapture their 2014 magic.