Orioles tie for MLB lead in losses after another uncompetitive series in Cleveland - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Paul Folkemer

Orioles tie for MLB lead in losses after another uncompetitive series in Cleveland

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

Nobody said the Orioles’ 2019 season was going to be pretty. And it didn’t get any prettier in Cleveland over the weekend.

The Orioles lost three of four games, and none of their losses was particularly competitive. The club was outscored 28-8 in those defeats.

The series got off to an inauspicious start with a dreadful Orioles performance on Thursday, lowlighted by a pitching implosion and shoddy defense. The Orioles attracted unwanted national attention with one of the most atrocious fielding plays in recent memory, a complete fundamental breakdown on a routine ground ball that Sports Illustrated said might be “the worst play in MLB history.”

The Orioles regained their composure and took Friday’s contest by a 5-1 score. But they couldn’t sustain any momentum. On Saturday, they managed only one hit — a Trey Mancini home run — in a 4-1 loss. A day later, the offense and pitching both disappeared in a 10-0 shutout. Indians right-hander Shane Bieber threw his first career shutout, racking up 15 strikeouts in a five-hit masterpiece. Meanwhile, the Indians, who hadn’t scored double-digit runs in a game all season entering the series, did so for the second time against the Orioles.

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The Orioles’ lack of pitching depth became painfully clear in Sunday’s finale. Needing a spot starter because of last Wednesday’s doubleheader, the Orioles turned to Yefry Ramirez, who had the best ERA of any starter (1.50) at Triple-A Norfolk before he was promoted to Baltimore on April 29. His outing was a dud. Ramirez didn’t make it through the fourth inning, giving up five runs and six hits. He threw 37 balls to 36 strikes. Ramirez was optioned back to Norfolk after the game.

Orioles starters are carrying a 5.20 ERA, and their rotation includes the struggling Dan Straily (8.51) and David Hess (5.58). But for those wondering why the Orioles don’t give someone else a shot, the simple fact is that they don’t have many good options. Long reliever Gabriel Ynoa has given up 11 runs in his last three outings, including eight to the Indians in this series, and now has a 5.87 ERA. At Norfolk, prospect Keegan Akin is 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA, though he struggled to begin the year before stringing together two strong outings in a row. No other Tides starters look like clear improvements over Straily, Hess or Ramirez.

Sunday’s defeat was the Orioles’ 31st of the season. They’re now tied with the Miami Marlins and Kansas City Royals for the most losses in the majors. The Marlins, who swept the New York Mets at home, are the only team with a worse record than the Orioles. They’ve won 13 games to the Orioles’ 15. The Royals notched their 16th win with a victory over the Los Angeles Angels, pulling a half-game ahead of Baltimore.

Wilkerson and Armstrong shine

It’s not all bad news in Baltimore. Two recent additions to the Orioles’ roster have been pleasant surprises: Stevie Wilkerson and Shawn Armstrong.

Wilkerson has taken over everyday duty in center field, an idea that would’ve seemed unfathomable entering the season — especially when Wilkerson was designated for assignment March 23, removing him from the 40-man roster. The 27-year-old Wilkerson, who’d struggled to a .174 average and .464 OPS in a 16-game major league tryout last season, didn’t appear to be a part of the club’s future plans. And certainly not in center field, a position he’d never played at any professional level.

But if there’s one thing the 2019 Orioles can afford to do, it’s experiment.

With the club in dire straits in center field, where neither Cedric Mullins nor Joey Rickard could hit enough to stay in the lineup, they’ve found an immediate offensive upgrade in Wilkerson. Wilkerson, who hit his fourth home run of the season Friday in the Orioles’ lone win of the series, is batting .282 with an .800 OPS and 10 RBIs. He’s keeping up his hot pace from Norfolk, where he hit .316 with an .806 OPS in 15 games this year.

The real surprise is how solidly Wilkerson has fared defensively despite being thrown into the fire at an unfamiliar position.

Wilkerson got his first taste of center field only days before his call-up, starting two of his last three games with Norfolk at the position before debuting there for the Orioles. Yet he’s impressed with a few flashy plays, including Sunday’s first inning in Cleveland, where he ranged far into the right-center field gap to make a leaping catch on the warning track. His speed has allowed him to make up for poor reads and bad routes, such as an eighth-inning catch Friday, when he got turned around on a deep fly ball but recovered to make a running, over-the-shoulder catch.

Wilkerson is likely only a temporary solution in center field. The Orioles’ system features a number of touted outfield prospects, including Austin Hays, who’s rehabbing at Single-A Frederick while working his way back from a sprained left thumb. Mullins, now at Norfolk, is still on the radar as well, and Double-A Bowie’s Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna could arrive in the majors by next year despite slow starts to 2019.

However long he holds on to the job, Wilkerson has done a commendable job of plugging a hole.

Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Armstrong has stabilized the bullpen since the Orioles claimed him on waivers from Seattle on April 28. His 1.29 ERA leads the club, and he’s been scored upon in only one of his six appearances. In seven innings, the right-hander has racked up more strikeouts (eight) than baserunners allowed (six).

Armstrong has already become one of manager Brandon Hyde’s most trusted relievers. Other than his Orioles debut, all of Armstrong’s appearances have come in the seventh inning or later in close games. In three cases, he’s preceded closer Mychal Givens to the mound.

The hard-throwing Armstrong, an 18th-round pick by Cleveland in 2011, was once a promising prospect in the Indians’ system. He compiled a 2.57 ERA and 12.3 strikeout rate in his 302-game minor league career, and marks of 3.65 and 8.2 in 57 games in the majors with the Indians (2015-17) and Mariners (2018-19).

So how did Armstrong become available on the waiver wire for the Orioles? The Mariners jettisoned him to make room in their bullpen for ex-Oriole Mike Wright, Armstrong’s good friend, after they acquired him from Baltimore on April 24. The Mariners designated Wright for assignment Sunday after he coughed up 13 runs (11 earned) and 18 hits in seven games.

The Orioles seem to have emerged as the clear winners of that exchange.

Hyde’s long leash for Bundy

Early in the season, Hyde had a tendency to give his starting pitchers an early hook. He rarely let Oriole pitchers face an opposing lineup a third time through, usually opting to turn to a fresh reliever even if the starter didn’t seem fatigued.

That conservative approach with starters, though, isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Hyde demonstrated that on Friday when he let Dylan Bundy throw 118 pitches, the second most of his career, in the Orioles’ 5-1 victory.

Bundy had already reached the 100-pitch mark when the sixth inning began, and he was facing the Indians’ lineup for a third time. But Hyde stuck with his right-hander, even after a two-out walk increased that pitch count to 108. Bundy had to throw another 10 pitches to Jordan Luplow, who reached on a Jonathan Villar error that finally forced a pitching change.

The April version of Hyde might have pulled Bundy before the start of the sixth, or at least after the walk. Hyde, though, has now had nearly two months to get acclimated with his roster, and he’s seen the toll that short outings by his starters has taken on the Orioles’ overworked middle relief corps. Hyde told reporters after the game that he pushed Bundy as far as he could because the bullpen was short-handed.

In an ideal world, Hyde probably would’ve liked to avoid overextending Bundy in the sixth inning, especially after concerns about the right-hander’s velocity drop in his previous outing. The 100-pitch zone is where pitchers often lose their effectiveness, and a team with the right personnel on its pitching staff would’ve turned to a fresh arm in that situation. But the Orioles’ roster challenges mean the analytically sound approach isn’t always possible to pull off.

31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. Fareastern89

    May 20, 2019 at 7:38 am

    It’ll be interesting to see if the O’s trade Givens and Armstrong before the deadline, in which case this may get worse before it gets better. (Although the Nationals’ bullpen is even worse, and the Nats have provided their own highlight reel of shoddy defensive play.) But the absence of nearly-ready pitching prospects at Norfolk is eloquent testimony to the failings of the previous O’s regime — including the poor performance of Ortiz and Tate thus far this season. Nothing to do but ride it out and wait for the kids to move through the system. Elias never promised us anything other than what we’re seeing.

    • Paul Folkemer

      May 20, 2019 at 10:51 am

      As good as Armstrong has been in a small sample size, I don’t think he has much trade value at this point. He’s not really the kind of established reliever who would attract much interest to contenders at the deadline. Givens, on the other hand, might be the Orioles’ most tradeable asset, so I agree that I’m interested to see what the Elias regime does with him.

  2. Camden Brooks

    May 20, 2019 at 7:55 am

    What do we say to the god of runs? Not today.

  3. Ekim

    May 20, 2019 at 8:42 am

    There’s that name, Mullins, again. As I predicted when he was sent down to Norfolk, he’s a “streaky hitter” and after a decent start he’s on a tear in the other direction… 8 for 45 or .178 in his last 10 games. Only one homer and two RBI’s… and that’s in triple A. In the twenty games there (including his “hot” start) he’ only hitting .213 in 20 games. I questioned why he was brought up in the first place and he’s done nothing to change my mind on him since. The cupboard is bare!

  4. Boog Robinson Robinson

    May 20, 2019 at 9:06 am

    This team is a stinkin’ joke. But I know, I know, patience is a virtue. Nobody said this season would be pretty. This is the way to rebuild in the 21st century, gotta tear it down to build it back up … yadda, yadda, yadda.

    It’s almost laughable. So, for all of you that a month ago were so ‘excited’ about seeing ‘the youngsters’, what do you think now? Still think this team is ‘better last last years’? Still buying those tickets and tuning in to watch 3+ hours of the Keystone Cops simply because they hustle and have great attitudes?

    I understand the losing. I understand the rebuild. What I don’t understand is why Mr. Elias is forcing us to watch a bunch of stiffs that have no hope of being on this team in 3 years. Let’s see what the boys down on the farm have.

    I don’t think I’ve ever been embarrassed to be an Oriole fan, but I’m getting closer every day. This team is a bad joke.

    • Paul Folkemer

      May 20, 2019 at 10:57 am

      I don’t see this team as more embarrassing than last season. Last year, the Orioles were TRYING to be good and instead lost 115 games. This year, everyone knew going in that they weren’t going to be competitive in the near future. But at least now they have a long-term plan for the organization and a new regime with a track record for pulling off a rebuild successfully.

      I know, that doesn’t make it any easier to watch on a daily basis. But if all goes well, things won’t be this bad for long.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        May 20, 2019 at 11:48 am

        I understand what you’re saying Pau., but what I think is embarrassing is that you don’t care, or worse yet, are deliberately losing. (management, not the players). Put the best product you can on the table. The fans derserve no less.

        • Paul Folkemer

          May 20, 2019 at 2:31 pm

          I wouldn’t say the Orioles management doesn’t care. But they took over a team that was a charred tire fire, lagging way behind most other teams in talent all across the organization, and there was only so much they could do. Right now they’re investing more in infrastructure (such as establishing an international scouting presence, setting up new cameras/equipment in the minor league ballparks, etc.) than in the major league roster, which I think is the correct approach in the long term.

  5. deqalt

    May 20, 2019 at 9:16 am

    This is job well done. We want the #1 pick. If we are going to “put up” with this rebuilding getting that pick is what we should want, not getting the #3 or #4 pick. Chances of any of these players even being on a winning Orioles team in 3-4 years are low. Keep losing and let’s focus on the minor league players.
    Don’t bring up the younger players just and start service time when we are years away

    • Fareastern89

      May 20, 2019 at 9:33 am

      Well said. And don’t bring them up until you’ve sharpened their skills as much as possible in lower pressure situations.

    • Paul Folkemer

      May 20, 2019 at 11:01 am

      I don’t think service time should be a big issue, unless it’s a player who might be a future star (i.e., Mountcastle). I feel like this is the time to give a shot to some of the less heralded prospects who could contribute immediately, like DJ Stewart.

      • Stephen in Shanghai

        May 20, 2019 at 5:34 pm

        I agree with you, Paul. Promoting Mountcastle or Diaz before next May doesn’t make good sense strategically. I agree that DJ Stewart should be playing for the O’s and hoped he’d make the Opening Day roster so that he’d have a chance to show his stuff before the next wave of OFs came up. That being said, since he played one month last season, I think they should wait another couple weeks so that it buys another year of control.

  6. Le Merlu

    May 20, 2019 at 10:18 am

    The 100-pitch zone is where pitchers often lose their effectiveness
    —-
    For O’s of today this zone stands at around 20 pitches. In case of Strailly it’s 2.

  7. Orial

    May 20, 2019 at 10:28 am

    Smith Jr is fading,Mancini is heading for that .260-.270 range we all expected,Ynoa epitomized the O’s pitchers(get us encouraged then bomb out),Alberto is this year’s Beckham(clueless on the field),Villar makes ya shake your head, Nunez–my God. Yes this team is as bad as last years. All could change on 6/3– make a good pick then July– attack that International Market. Then we’ll talk.

  8. willmiranda

    May 20, 2019 at 10:36 am

    Pretty? As in my favorite oxymoron, pretty ugly.

  9. ButchBird59

    May 20, 2019 at 11:11 am

    To be an Oriole fan in 2019, you pretty much have to pick your frustration. For today, I’ll say it’s that so many players in the system don’t have positions. That’s probably the biggest key in improving the defense.

    • Paul Folkemer

      May 20, 2019 at 2:32 pm

      They have positions. Some of them — like Mountcastle — just happen to play positions that are currently blocked at the major league level. The O’s will need to find a way to ease the logjam.

  10. Puyerunner

    May 20, 2019 at 11:19 am

    Unfortunately, the Os have paraded the best Norfolk has to offer in pitchers as judged by WHIP. Ynoa, Ramirez, Phillips, Wotherspoon, & Gilmartin. Villar is batting .314 in day & .198 at night. Also .183 vs. righties. The night and left handed batting numbers are career lows. Does he need glasses? How many inside, off the plate, and low curveballs can Davis swing at and miss? Apparently as many as you can throw. He should know better. I still root for him to turn this all around. Wilkerson has been a pleasant surprise. He is learning to play the outfield in the bigs. He needs to learn that when a left handed hitter hits a line drive left of center the ball will slice toward left field. Vice verse for right. He turned the wrong way on a long fly and could not correct. An experienced outfielder might have made the catch. Hey, they’re hustling, okay, & inexperienced. Still more fun to watch than the 2018 version.

  11. Jbigle1

    May 20, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    I don’t know what it’ll take to see DJ Stewart over Renato Nunez or Alberto. I’m sick of seeing Nunez’s bat and especially sick of Alberto in the field. We don’t need a singles hitter who can’t field. Wilkerson can fill in when we need a day off in the infield if they’re stuck on Nunez. It just doesn’t make any sense to not give DJ his chance. I don’t see why he’s any less equipped to play a game or two in CF than anyone else. It’s not as if we’ve seen a lot of GG CF play this year.

    • Paul Folkemer

      May 20, 2019 at 2:35 pm

      I have to think Stewart will get a chance soon, Jbigle. I don’t know if it’s fair to compare him to Alberto, since they serve very different roles.

      • Jbigle1

        May 20, 2019 at 5:25 pm

        Not comping. Neither fulfill their role particularly well. Alberto is a poor defending utility man and Nunez is essentially a DH with one tool. DJS at the least has patience at the plate and the ability to competently play a corner OF slot. Wilkerson can fill in in the infield if they decide it’s Alberto who must go first. I don’t really care who it is but it needs to be one of them soon.

  12. BirdsCaps

    May 20, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    This team was bordering on fun to watch for the first few weeks of the season. They were bad, but they at least tried. After that, the team has been plain painful to watch. As noted, the defense has been awful. This is on the coaching staff. I don’t expect much out of Hyde and co., but if the team cant field at the very least, then he is not doing his job (babysitting the monstrosity of a team until they are good and having them play fundamental baseball). If the team doesn’t start playing better (not competitive, just better) I would consider getting rid of Hyde and finding a better babysitter. Also, as others have noted, the lack of any pitchers in AA or AAA is inexcusable and a dereliction of duty for a team that hasn’t been good since 2016. I understand that is on the previous regime, but with the sell off last season and the last few losing years, a normal team would have the start of something in the minors. I knew the year would be tough, but the fun first few weeks raised my expectations and the drop off is depressing.

    • willmiranda

      May 20, 2019 at 1:34 pm

      As for the fielding, there is no stability in the lineup. Players are shuffled among multiple positions. A lot of fielding is reaction that is honed by repetition; it has to be automatic to be performed at major league speed. Different positions are challenged by different types of batted balls and what to do with the ball varies considerably. Need I mention teamwork and combining with the same players at the other positions? And then there’s the shifting….. I really don’t think the “new” model of eight interchangeable utility players is going to outperform eight specialists in the field. Putting some people in the lineup may be justified for offensive reasons, but don’t expect professional fielding.

      • BirdsCaps

        May 20, 2019 at 2:19 pm

        I concur with you that shifts do affect the players fielding ability, especially with range. Also, there has been a lot of shuffling in the lineup. With all of that considered, the team is just plain sloppy. There have been many errant throws (not simply fielding) and its not like shifts are brand new. Even if the players are younger, they had all of Spring Training to work things out. The team has lost its fundamentals and any bit of mojo they had earlier in the year. This is why I am deeply critical of Hyde. I understand Hyde is essentially an interim (e.g.Bo Porter 2013-14 for the Astros), but if the slide continues, it may be a very short stay in Baltimore for Hyde.

    • Paul Folkemer

      May 20, 2019 at 2:40 pm

      The dropoff in defense since the first couple of weeks has been frustrating, BirdsCaps. But I wouldn’t put it all on Hyde. The team just doesn’t have the level of talent that winning clubs do, and that applies to the defense, too. Not to mention that there are still guys playing out of position, including Mancini, who ideally would be a 1B.

  13. TxBirdFan

    May 20, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    This “tank and rebuild” brand of baseball is one reason why MLB attendance is dropping. When I was a kid rooting for the O’s I wanted them to win EVERY year. If they competed but wound up losing I stuck with them through thick and thin. So what do you say to the youngster who loses interest because the home town team fails to put a competitive team on the field every year and doesn’t have any favorite players to rally around? It’s much easier for that youngster to go find another favorite sport or team. Shoot – it’s hard enough for us old timers to stay on as wO’s fans.

    • Stephen in Shanghai

      May 20, 2019 at 5:47 pm

      Would you prefer they try their best every year and finish in 4th place like the Birds of the 2000s? The successful O’s teams of the past (’66-’71, ’79-’83, ’12-’16) had strong cores. Elias was given a bad situation and is now working to put together the core of the next successful team.

    • Bmoreravens3

      May 22, 2019 at 10:27 am

      Let’s not forget the fact that we endured 14 losing seasons all to have 5 competitive seasons fall short of a pennant because we wouldn’t spend any money on quality starting pitching. If we’re going to legitimately rebuild we need to do better next time around when we have a chance to win the pennant. Ravens offseason hype gets me by more than the last two seasons of the O’s season play.

    • ClayDal

      May 22, 2019 at 10:45 am

      Ubaldo got a 4 year 50 million dollar contract. Gallardo got 2 years 22 million. Bud Norris was making over 8 million his last year of arbitration. Tillman got 10 million in 2017. Alex Cobb-4 years 57 million. Cashner 2 yrs 19 million. They’ve spent money on pitching just not effectively. Their best investment was Chen-4yrs 14 million. Of course once he signed an 80 million contract with the Marlins his arm broke down.

  14. mcgooding

    May 20, 2019 at 6:38 pm

    Who cares? Most of the O’s arms are a few years away. Same with the position players particularly in the outfield. The natives are getting restless. What did you expect? The Orioles aren’t a cash flush team, and with the MASN suit favoring Washington, the Orioles aren’t going to make any big time splashed in the free agent market. I hate the pain of losing as much as the next fan, but we’re two months into the season, and now it’s all gloom and doom. Our minor league system has some diamonds in the ruff. Damn, give the process a chance. We’ve got the number one draft pick this year, and possibly next year as well. Rome wasn’t built in a day O’s fans!

  15. ClayDal

    May 21, 2019 at 2:05 pm

    Good afternoon Paul
    I have a question. There is a lot of talk on this site and others about Ryan Mountcastle. There is much concern about his defense as he is learning a new position. However, one thing I remember from last year was Buck was concerned with his plate discipline. Looking at his number in 39 games he has only 7 walks and 38 k’s. .325 is still.325, but is there any concern on how this will play out against MLB pitching ?

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