The Orioles, like any team, have had a few tough losses this season. Sometimes the bats go quiet; sometimes the pitching implodes.
What they’ve rarely had, though, is a loss that boils down to a pivotal fielding mistake. Until Sunday’s 7-3 loss to the Red Sox.
The game-deciding error occurred in the sixth, with the bases loaded and two outs, as starter Chris Tillman tried to escape the jam to keep a 3-3 tie intact. Catcher Francisco Pena, making his first start since rejoining the Orioles May 31, impressively corralled a Chris Tillman wild pitch on an 0-2 count.
But when Mitch Moreland broke too far off third base and Pena tried to throw behind him, he sailed the ball down the left-field line. Two runs scored to give the Red Sox a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“I just think I hesitated a little bit,” Pena said. “I just tried to be too quick, tried to put a perfect throw and I messed it up right there. And I just cut the ball a little bit too much, and it went by Manny [Machado].”
The Orioles usually don’t let errors haunt them. Entering the day, the club had surrendered just 12 unearned runs this season, second-fewest in the AL behind the Royals (seven).
They added two to that tally Sunday, and they came at a most inopportune time.
Chris Sale does Chris Sale things
The Orioles knew they had their work cut out for them against Red Sox ace Chris Sale. The five-time All-Star, who has finished in the top six of the AL Cy Young voting five consecutive years, entered the game 6-2 with a 2.77 ERA in 11 starts.
So if you merely looked at the box score for Sunday’s game, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to see another quality start from Sale — six innings, three earned runs.
But how he got there was perhaps his most impressive feat.
Sale had to slog through a laborious, 39-pitch first inning in which everything went wrong for the Red Sox. That included an overturned call in which Joey Rickard, who was seemingly dead meat in trying to steal third, was found to have eluded Pablo Sandoval’s tag.
Later, a routine grounder to third that should’ve been the final out turned into a gift baserunner for the Orioles. Sandoval air-mailed a throw to second baseman Deven Marrero, who was late in covering the bag. On the next pitch, Jonathan Schoop laced an RBI double.
When the inning finally ended, the Orioles had tagged Sale for three runs, the first he’d allowed in the first inning all season.
The Orioles had Sale on the ropes. But, like any great pitcher, he wriggled free.
Sale reverted to his normal dominant self from that point on, mowing through the next five innings while facing just two batters over the minimum. He didn’t put more than one runner on base in any of those five frames, striking out six during that span (and nine in the game). He finished with a pitch count of 110, despite throwing 57 in the first two innings.
“You figure he’s going to get right and pitch,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I think he found his way and got through. You knew when they scored and got ahead he was going to go to another level. He was good, but I thought our guys were good off him.”
Orioles fans may be frustrated that the club couldn’t tack on any runs after the first. The criticism is understandable. But, in this case, the Orioles simply got held in check by one of the game’s best hurlers after a one-inning blip. It happens.
A look at the Orioles at the one-third mark
The Orioles reached the official one-third mark of their 2017 schedule after Saturday’s game, their 54th of the year. So let’s take a look at the club’s projected, full-season stats now that the math is easy. (These projections don’t take Sunday’s results into account.)
At the plate, the Orioles, who have had a 100-RBI hitter every season since 2013, don’t have anyone on pace to reach that mark in 2017. Mark Trumbo would be their leader with 84. Trumbo is also on pace for just 24 homers, nearly half his total from last season (47).
In fact, no Orioles hitter is currently on pace to finish in the top 10 in the AL of any major offensive category — unless you count strikeouts. Chris Davis is projected for 255 whiffs, which would obliterate the major league record of 223, set by Mark Reynolds in 2009. For reference, last year Davis had 219 strikeouts, third-most in MLB history.
On a more positive note, Caleb Joseph is on pace for 30 RBIs, which would top his total from last year by … [checking notes] … 30.
Rookie Trey Mancini is on pace to hit 21 homers and 75 RBIs in 120 games; not too shabby for a player who wasn’t expected to make the roster out of camp. The man he replaced in the regular lineup, Hyun Soo Kim, is on pace to play just 78 games. (One of the strangest stats of the season, in my mind, is the fact that Kim has played seven fewer games with the Orioles than Craig Gentry, who was jettisoned from the roster nearly three weeks ago.)
In all, the Orioles are on pace for 723 runs, down a notch from the 744 they scored in 2016. As the weather heats up, though, expect to see the club score more runs than they did in the early-season, cold-weather conditions.
On the pitching side, Dylan Bundy’s breakout year has him on pace for 36 starts, 230 innings and 18 wins, but don’t etch those stats in stone. It’d be surprising to see him shoulder such a heavy workload in his first full season as a starter.
Meanwhile, Wade Miley is on pace for only six wins in 33 starts despite a 2.82 ERA, while Mychal Givens is on pace to go 15-0 out of the bullpen. (Have I mentioned that pitcher wins are a flawed statistic?)
Orioles’ pitchers gave up 246 runs through the first third of the season, putting them on pace for 738. Last year they allowed 715.
As for the Orioles’ projected record? It’s 87-75, two games worse than last season, when they snuck into a wild card spot.