So much for playing spoiler.
The Orioles, who have been all but eliminated from postseason contention, aren’t exactly making life difficult for their playoff-bound opponents.
This September, the Orioles have played 12 games against teams that are likely headed to the dance: the New York Yankees (seven), Boston Red Sox (two) and Cleveland Indians (three).
The Orioles’ record in those games? 2-10.
The latest loss came to the Red Sox on Tuesday, a second consecutive 11-inning defeat, with the game’s lone run scoring on a Brad Brach wild pitch.
By being a punching bag for contenders, the Orioles have inadvertently played a role in the postseason race. The club lost three out of four games in New York over the weekend to help the Yankees climb closer to the Red Sox in the AL East race. Then the Orioles immediately returned the favor – losing two to Boston and allowing the Red Sox to maintain their first-place cushion.
Hey, at least the Orioles are equal-opportunity offenders.
The club also were swept by Cleveland — in fairness, so were a lot of teams — amidst the Indians’ historic 22-game winning streak, which vaulted them ahead of the Houston Astros for the AL’s best record.
The Orioles are now 5-13 in September, and they’ve lost 11 of their last 13. They’ll have to win eight of their final 10 games to avoid a losing season.
Manager Buck Showalter acknowledged the club is disappointed. But he has no doubt that the effort is still there.
“Of course,” Showalter said. “That’s never a question for me or for each other. They hold each other to a high standard. They’re very frustrated right now, as you can imagine. I feel for them, because I know how much that means to them.”
The Orioles’ collapse this September is out of character. In seven previous years under Showalter, they’ve never had a losing record in the month, as I noted last week.
Even in seasons in which the Orioles didn’t make the playoffs, they relished the role of spoiler. Most famously, of course, they ruined Boston’s postseason hopes in 2011, going 5-2 against the Red Sox in September — including a dramatic, walkoff win on the final night of the season — to help the Tampa Bay Rays overtake the Sox for the wild card berth.
This year, though, the Orioles are simply serving as patsies for October-bound teams. The Orioles are having an impact on the postseason race — for the wrong reasons.
Gausman on the upswing
What do the Orioles have in Kevin Gausman?
The 2017 season is almost over, and frankly, the Orioles still don’t know the answer to that question.
Gausman has zigzagged through his most puzzling season yet. In the first half, he failed to build on his solid finish to 2016, scuffling to a 5-7 record and 5.85 ERA in 19 starts. Only five were quality starts.
The first-half struggles of Gausman, who was the Orioles’ expected ace after Chris Tillman suffered a shoulder injury, was one of the main cracks in the rotation’s collapse.
For the second straight year, though, Gausman has stepped up his game since the All-Star Break. Including Tuesday’s outing, he’s 6-3 with a 3.09 ERA in the second half and has struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings. Nine of his 13 outings have been quality starts. That includes five scoreless starts, something he accomplished just twice before the break.
“I think I’m not trying as hard,” Gausman said of his second-half success. “I think early on I was kind of pressing, trying to have a good year straight out the gate, and I think I was just trying to do too much. So now I’ve kind of simplified my delivery, and I’m feeling good with all my pitches.”
Still, Gausman has turned in his share of clunkers during his second-half surge. Twice in his last six starts, Gausman has surrendered five earned runs without making it past the fourth inning. And that’s the kind of maddening inconsistency that has kept the Orioles guessing about which version of Gausman will show up on any given day.
On Tuesday, the brilliant Gausman showed up. He rolled through eight shutout innings — his second longest outing of the season — without breaking a sweat, holding the Red Sox to three hits, all singles. They had only one at-bat with a runner in scoring position against him. Gausman, in fact, carried a perfect game into the fifth inning before Rafael Devers broke it up with a two-out single. His pitches had tremendous movement, keeping Sox hitters off balance.
“[I had] fastball command,” Gausman said. “I had a really good feel for my four-seam and my sinker. Caleb [Joseph] did a great job back there sequencing guys, and setting up some other guys. My defense played great. I was just throwing a lot of strikes.”
“He was outstanding,” Showalter said. “That’s about as good as it gets against a team operating on all cylinders giving you their best shot. Kevin was every bit as good. We’d like to get a W out of that, obviously. It was a good outing.”
It was the kind of outing that makes Orioles fans salivate about what Gausman, the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, could still become. Remember, he’s only 26. And it’s not the first time Gausman has flashed that kind of dominance.
But 104 starts into his major league career, Gausman hasn’t yet strung together success over a full season, and it’s fair to wonder if he will.
As one of two starting pitchers who is under contract with the Orioles for next season — Dylan Bundy being the other — Gausman figures to play a crucial role for the 2018 club.
How will it play out for him? At this point, it’s anybody’s guess.
Designated hitter not hitting
The Orioles’ offense couldn’t scratch out a run in 11 innings Tuesday. And right in the middle of that struggling lineup was a designated hitter who isn’t living up to his title: Mark Trumbo.
Trumbo went 0-for-3 in the game, striking out with two runners aboard to end the sixth inning. He’s now hitting .237 with a .697 OPS this season. In 140 games, he has 23 home runs, fewer than half his MLB-leading total of 47 last season.
When the Orioles re-signed Trumbo as a free agent last offseason, they probably expected that he might take a step back after his career year. Most teams didn’t seem sold on his 2016 success; Trumbo ended up signing a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the Orioles.
Still, Trumbo’s dropoff in 2017 has been more dramatic than anticipated. If the season ended today, Trumbo’s .404 slugging percentage would be the worst of his big league career.
What’s worse, Trumbo has particularly struggled in the DH role. In 106 games as a DH entering Tuesday, he was batting just .210 with a .648 OPS and 18 homers. Compare that to his 32 games as a right fielder, where he’s hitting .331 with an .876 OPS and five homers.
It seems that Trumbo is a much better hitter when he’s on the field. But it’s tough to give him more starts in the outfield, considering that he’s a liability with the glove.
The Orioles are in a tough situation with Trumbo. He hasn’t lived up to his contract this season, and he has two more years on his deal. The club could make him available on the trade market this winter, but it’s tough to see another team taking a chance on Trumbo unless the Orioles eat a chunk of his salary or take on a bad contract in exchange.
The club might have no choice but to keep Trumbo around and hope for a rebound in 2018.