It was absolutely, positively the worst thing that could have happened to the Orioles in their first game back from the All-Star Break.
And then, suddenly, it wasn’t.
And then, well, it was again.
The Orioles’ 9-8 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Friday night was 2017 Orioles baseball in a snapshot.
The starting pitching was awful. The offense sputtered and then started crushing the ball. The bullpen was steady and then leaked just a little bit.
Ultimately, the Orioles (42-47) suffered another loss, their 47th of the season and first of the supposed-clean-slate second half.
Yes, they had a stirring comeback, down 8-0 in the third, the Orioles battled all the way back and tied it on a Mark Trumbo homer.
And maybe that gives them the boost they need to jumpstart the second half; Trumbo hopes so.
“We need to play good baseball, obviously win, but show some of the signs of life that we did tonight,” he said.
I won’t dismiss that entirely, but what sunk this team in the first half is what they had to deal with Friday night, a disastrous performance from a starting pitcher.
And it stings even more that it was Kevin Gausman, again, who gave his teammates virtually no chance by allowing eight runs in three innings. He gave up four runs – on two homers – in the first inning. He allowed a two-run homer in the second and another two-run bomb in the third, his last frame.
Four homers – a career worst – and eight runs allowed – tying a career worst – in three innings.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating. Obviously, I wanted to come out here and hit the ground running going into this second half,” Gausman said. “It was just bad. I kind of became a two-pitch pitcher out there. When you’re a starter trying to do that, some days you can get away with it. Most days you can’t. It was just bad execution.”
It probably is too much to put a team’s chances on one guy’s shoulders, especially a 26-year-old. But Gausman was supposed to take the next step this year, and he’s gone completely backward.
He showed some improvement in two of his past three starts, and then he delivers Friday’s nightmare on six-days’ rest.
“It’s frustrating. We’re trying to find the answers and you get them for a period of time. His first three or four innings his last outing, it looked like we were going to get a continuation of it, and then today he gets basically a week off and just didn’t have command of anything,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “His stuff, velocity (is there), but there’s a lot more to it. People turn around a bullet at this level. … He’s trying to go in and he’s center-center, and you’re trying to go away. And these guys up here, they don’t miss balls in the center of the plate.”
Gausman’s ERA is back to 6.39. He’s had one quality start – a two-hit gem against Tampa Bay – in his last nine outings.
If his name weren’t Gausman, if he hadn’t had success in the past and if the Orioles had anyone to replace him from the minors, he’d probably already have been sent to Triple-A Norfolk. He has a minor-league option remaining.
But the Orioles keep hoping. Really, because they know Gausman has talent. And because they have no one else better – or at least with Gausman’s upside to be better.
“I understand the way it may look, but the guys at this level, you have to keep grinding, especially when you have talent like Gausman,” Showalter said. “So, I think he’s going to look at the next outing as an opportunity … They can put you on your heels a little bit. I don’t care how good you are, especially at this level, they really test you mentally.”
Friday was supposed to signal a fresh start. Chris Davis was back. The team is rested. The Orioles are at home for 10 games, where they play well.
Instead, Friday was another example of the message this team has delivered most of the season. The rest of the club simply can’t make up for the rotation’s deficiencies.