There’s no reason to sugarcoat this – after an electrifying home opener, the Orioles delivered two consecutive clunkers against the Minnesota Twins that brought the primary flaws of 2017 back to the forefront as the Orioles embark on a brutal, two-city road trip to Houston and New York.
The hitters crawled into a collective funk against solid but not world-dominant pitchers and the rotation dug an early hole for which the crawling offense had no shot to scale.
OK, before we hit all the negatives, it is prudent to note the Orioles did not get swept by a Twins club that made the playoffs in 2017 and have improved its roster this year.
And it was Game 3 of 162 – there’s an eternity left here in the season.
That’s really all I’ve got, silver-lining wise.
Let’s start with an offense that managed 11 hits and five runs in 28 innings (plus one batter). The Orioles could only muster five hits in 21 innings against Minnesota’s trio of starters: Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson and Jose Berrios. Those guys are good pitchers; they’re not making hitters tremble in their cleats, however.
The punchless offense was particularly glaring Sunday, when the Orioles had one hit through eight innings, a double against the left field wall that Minnesota’s Eddie Rosario could have caught. Otherwise, Berrios would have taken a perfect game into the ninth.
On Saturday, Gibson – Kyle, not Bob – carried a no-hitter into the eighth. Odorizzi threw six innings of two-hit ball on Thursday.
We all know the Orioles can score runs in bunches; we also know they go ice cold in painstakingly long stretches with their free-swinging approach. They fanned 30 times in the three-game series (though they did draw 13 walks; baby steps).
Currently, only two Orioles – Sisco and Manny Machado — have more than one hit in these three games.
Jones has one hit in 12 at-bats and Tim Beckham has one hit in 11. Both are homers. Jonathan Schoop has one hit in 13 at-bats, and it is a single.
Then there’s Chris Davis. He is hitless in 12 at-bats with two walks, but only one strikeout – more baby steps.
Through three games, this unorthodox Davis leadoff hitter experiment hasn’t worked. You have to assume the plug will be pulled soon, and it should be.
“I’m not married to it, but we certainly are looking for something to try and get him going a little bit early in the season. It hasn’t been the case so far. But like I said when we first started talking about it, we’ll look at it, step back and see cause and effect or whatever you want to call it. We’re always looking for ways to get better,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “But Chris is not the only one right now three games into the season with 159 left that’s not doing exactly what we know they’re going to do.”
Davis said he is fine with whichever way the manager decides to go.
“I think it’s just important for me to be in there every day, whether it’s in the one-hole, three-hole, four-hole, wherever it is. I know what my job is. It doesn’t really change where I am in the order,” Davis said. “We talked about it before the season started, kind of the fact that he wasn’t married to the idea.”
Then there is the Orioles’ starting pitching. It was supposed to be much improved this year, if only because it’s darn near unfathomable that it could get worse.
And Dylan Bundy provided hope Thursday with seven shutout innings.
But the rotation unraveled from there. Andrew Cashner allowed five runs (four earned) in five innings Saturday. Kevin Gausman surrendered six runs, all earned, in four innings Sunday. Both gave up three homers.
The Orioles were down 4-0 by the fourth Saturday; down 4-0 after the first inning Sunday.
From watching last season, it’s obvious how demoralizing that can be – to be in a deep hole before the game is half over.
“Because of some of the challenges we had last year, I’m sure it’s something (to be concerned about) … But I’m sure our guys are mature enough to know those things have a way of changing real quickly,” Showalter said. “We know Chris (Tillman) is capable of better. We hope that starts tomorrow. We’re going to hold onto the thought that these guys are not going to have a situation like that as often as we had last year. Last couple of days it’s been like that, though.”
A pass can be given to Cashner, who was making his first start as an Oriole.
But it’s hard not to have some concern about Gausman, whose velocity was down substantially Sunday, especially early on when he was barely touching the low-90s with his fastball. It ultimately crept to 94 as the afternoon progressed.
Afterward, Gausman said he was fine physically. He just wasn’t locating the fastball well.
“For whatever reason, it kind of wasn’t there today. I felt like I got better as the game went on, really with everything. But I will say early on I just didn’t really feel as locked in as I have been in spring,” Gausman said. “I don’t know if maybe having a couple extra days off had something to do with that, but my overall feel for my pitches wasn’t what it has been.”
The other concern is that Gausman, for whatever reason, has struggled in the first half and thrived in the second half for most of his career. He was hoping to get out to a fast start this year, but he surrendered a home run on his first pitch of 2018.
That’s obviously far from ideal, though Showalter stresses that one rocky start doesn’t mean Gausman is going to have a rough first half.
“It’s one game. Let’s see what the next one brings and the next one brings and the next one brings,” Showalter said. “It’s one game against a really good team and I know how people think the past is always going to repeat. It doesn’t. Kevin’s a good pitcher. He showed that last year and the year before. He’ll have some good outings ahead of him in the first half.”
It’s one series. Not even a blip in the season. We all should remember that.
But the unsettling part here is that the struggles that torpedoed the last part of 2017 greeted the Orioles almost immediately when the games began to count in 2018.