Everyone knows that the 2022 Orioles are a resilient bunch. They’ve been proving that for the past four months.
Now comes the real test.
They’ll have to recover in a hurry from Monday’s doubleheader sweep if they want to turn this year’s terrific turnaround into a magical September playoff run. They’ll need to “flush” everything the Toronto Blue Jays did to them and everything they did to themselves in what had to be the most emotionally draining day of the season.
When you have a chance to take a giant leap in the wild-card race and instead stumble two more steps backward, it has to be hard not to wonder just what it will take to make a dent in the standings after being held at bay by the other playoff contenders during an impressive string of series victories. The O’s lost more ground on Monday than they had gained on any of the teams ahead of them during the 12-6 run they carried into the loss Sunday that kept them from sweeping the struggling Oakland A’s.
Maybe they can write the whole thing off to the fact that they arrived at what figured to be one of the most significant days of the season with only one healthy starting pitcher available, and it was a rookie – Mike Baumann — who had never started a game at the major league level. Maybe they can just curse the fates because veteran Jordan Lyles woke up feeling unwell and had to be scratched from what would have been his most important start as an Oriole.
Or maybe these young guys are just so happy to be in a playoff race they’ll shake Monday off and embark on another long winning streak like they did the last time they lost three games in a row.
Things had been going so well and long-suffering fans were finally starting to taste the fruits of a five-year rebuilding project that has started to bloom one year early. The continuing maturation of several young stars and the arrival of big-time prospects Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson has turned the Orioles into a very attractive and exciting team that has been dancing on the edge of the wild-card race for the past two months.
Nothing has really changed — other than the ever-increasing focus on the stretch run now that there are three wild-card berths instead of two — but the task at hand just got a little more difficult.
Just about everything that could go wrong on Monday did. Henderson, whose terrific first week at the major league level only ramped up expectations for an exciting September, fumbled two opportunities to turn inning-ending double plays in Monday’s first game, each time allowing the Jays to score a run that would help them establish a precarious lead that held up only because of a rare bullpen breakdown.
Henderson had been a revelation up to that point, looking like a Gold Glover wherever manager Brandon Hyde put him in the infield during his first five major league games while hitting safely in all but one of them, but his inexperience at second base revealed itself at just the wrong time.
Still, Baumann pitched an acceptable five innings and it was a one-run game going into the eighth before right-hander Bryan Baker threw an 89 mile-per-hour cutter that Jays outfielder Teoscar Hernández launched into the stratosphere for his 20th homer of the season. Baker, whose fastball clocks at 100 miles per hour, jumped ahead 1-2 in the count then threw Hernández off-speed ptches until he found one he liked. If that makes sense to anyone, please write.
The second game was a soggy mess that featured a three-homer performance by Jays shortstop Bo Bichette and left the Orioles 4½ games behind the Jays for the third wild-card slot. That isn’t exactly a great place to be, but there are 27 regular-season games left to play and eight of them will come against Toronto.
While it’s OK to dismiss what happened on Monday as a series of unfortunate events that belong in the rear-view mirror, it’s fairly obvious that the Orioles will need more than their upbeat team chemistry to overtake any of the current wild-card leaders. Solid pitching and defense are critical, but they still must show better team-wide plate discipline – especially with runners in scoring position.
Oh, and resilience, of course.