If there’s one good thing that can be said about the Orioles’ series in Minnesota over the weekend, it’s that it was only three games instead of four.
Beyond that, it’s hard to find any sliver of positive news from the Orioles’ nightmarish excursion to Target Field.
The Orioles got swept by the Twins for the second time in as many weeks. They were outscored 19-4 in the three games.
None of their three starting pitchers delivered a quality start. Their offense went 3-for-21 with runners in scoring position. And their defense was uncharacteristically sloppy, committing an error each game that led to two unearned runs in the series.
Oh, and the Orioles hobbled away with their best hitter nursing a bruised finger and their presumed No. 1 starter back on the injured list.
So, yeah, things have been better. Let’s break down a few notable Orioles developments.
Another forgettable April for Cobb
In each of his first two years as an Oriole, Alex Cobb hasn’t exactly gotten off to a sensational start.
Last year, Cobb — who didn’t sign with the Orioles until eight days before the regular season began — wasn’t able to pitch in Grapefruit League play with the club, instead attempting to work into game shape in simulated outings at extended spring training. When he made his Orioles debut April 14, Cobb hadn’t faced live opponents since the previous September, and his rustiness showed. Cobb was torched for a 13.11 ERA in his first three starts, all losses, and it took months for him to totally find his footing.
This year was supposed to have a happier beginning. Cobb had a full, healthy spring training with the Orioles, and manager Brandon Hyde named him as the club’s Opening Day starter in New York.
Since then, it’s been one hiccup after another for the 31-year-old right-hander.
Cobb strained his groin in his final spring training start, forcing him onto the 10-day injured list to open the season and costing him the Opening Day assignment. He returned on April 4 to pitch the home opener, giving up two runs in 5 2/3 solid innings, but landed back on the IL with a lumbar strain five days later.
Activated again on April 20, Cobb started two games — both against the Twins — and couldn’t make it past the fourth inning in either. The Twins blistered him for 13 earned runs and 16 hits, including seven homers. In his latest outing Friday night, Cobb coughed up three straight home runs in the first inning. Sunday, the Orioles placed him on the IL yet again.
The frustrations continue to mount for Cobb, who has as many appearances on the IL as starts this year. Cobb, whose nine home runs allowed is tied for second most in the AL, recently questioned the liveliness of the baseballs MLB is using this season.
Cobb might have a point about the baseballs; home run rates in the majors are at record highs this season. Still, the bigger problem is that Cobb seems to have rushed back from the lumbar injury much too soon, torpedoing his performance on the mound.
For the sake of both Cobb and the Orioles, the veteran needs to take his time and wait until he’s completely healthy before his next return. The Orioles aren’t in contention for anything this year; there’s no reason for Cobb to overexert himself or try to pitch through discomfort.
Executive vice president Mike Elias inherited Cobb and his contract — which has three years and $43 million remaining — from the previous Orioles administration. The rebuilding Orioles could look to deal Cobb, but with his recent injuries, ineffectiveness and sizeable salary, he doesn’t figure to hold much trade value at the moment.
Cobb’s rocky start in Baltimore has prompted comparisons from some fans to Ubaldo Jimenez, the high-priced right-hander who flopped during his four years in Baltimore, going 32-42 with a 5.22 ERA from 2014-17. It’s probably premature, though, to mention the two pitchers in the same breath. Cobb has a track record as a more consistent pitcher than the erratic Jimenez, and he still has plenty of opportunity to help the Orioles on the field.
First, though, he needs to focus on getting healthy.
The home run onslaught continues
Juiced baseballs or not, the Orioles are making all the wrong kinds of history with their startling propensity for giving up homers.
After surrendering 12 more home runs to the Twins this series — and 23 in six games vs. Minnesota this year — the Orioles have allowed 71 long balls in just 29 games. That’s the most home runs allowed in the majors by a wide margin; the St. Louis Cardinals rank second with 51. (The Cincinnati Reds, with 20, have allowed the fewest.)
How times have changed. In the Orioles’ inaugural season of 1954, a much more pitcher-friendly era, the club gave up only 78 home runs the entire season. The 2019 Orioles are on pace to surpass that total by this Wednesday.
The Orioles have already shattered the MLB record for the most home runs allowed before May, which had been 50 by the 1996 Detroit Tigers. The Orioles have sailed 21 homers past that mark and still have two games remaining in April. They’ve also set a new record for home runs allowed in a single month; the previous high was 57 by the Kansas City Athletics in May 1964.
The major league record for a full season is 258 homers allowed by the 2016 Reds. The Orioles, at their current rate, would eclipse that mark by the end of July. They’re projected to give up 397 home runs this year.
That pace, presumably, won’t continue all season. But if Baltimore pitchers can’t figure out how to keep the ball in the park, they seem likely to at least threaten the 2016 Reds’ mark, as well as the Orioles’ franchise record for home runs allowed (242, by the 2017 club).
Orioles survive a scare with Mancini
Among the many things that went wrong during the series was Trey Mancini’s injury scare on Saturday. Mancini had to leave the game after taking a Jose Berrios fastball off the hand in his first at-bat.
Fortunately, x-rays revealed no fracture in Mancini’s hand, and he’s listed as day to day. The Orioles hope to have him back in the lineup during their next series in Chicago. A Mancini-less Orioles lineup managed only four hits and one run — a Chris Davis homer — in Sunday’s finale.
Mancini has been far and away the club’s most valuable player, leading the offense in average (.355), OBP (.405), SLG (.618) and OPS (1.023) and tying with Renato Nunez for the club lead in home runs (six). Mancini’s 39 hits this year are the most in the American League.
It’s been a bounceback 2019 season so far for Mancini, who’s hitting the ball with more authority after slumping to a .242 average and .715 OPS last year. An extended absence for Mancini would have dealt a severe blow to the Orioles’ lineup.
It appears, though, that the club won’t have to face that possibility.
Twins continue recent dominance over Orioles
For the third straight year, the Twins-Orioles season series was lopsided in favor of Minnesota. Since 2017, the Twins have won 17 of the 20 games between the clubs, including the last 12 in a row. They’ve outscored the Orioles, 127-69, in those games.
During that stretch, the Orioles are 2-9 against the Twins at Target Field and 1-8 at Camden Yards. Their only home win came on Opening Day 2018, when Adam Jones hit a walkoff homer against Fernando Rodney.
The Orioles don’t have to face the Twins again this year. In an unusual scheduling quirk, they’re already finished with the season series before the end of April.
You likely won’t hear any complaints from the Orioles about that.