The Orioles begin a two-game series with the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night, and they’re looking for things to start improving again. After winning five straight series, the Orioles’ playoff chances weren’t bad at all, around 40 percent, according to BaseballReference.com. As of Monday, they were 12.6 percent.
Losers of six of their last eight games, the Orioles have gotten cold at the wrong time, and with 22 games remaining, there simply isn’t much time left.
After the Orioles took two of three games in Houston late last month, Astros manager Dusty Baker said of the pennant races: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and in a marathon, you’re not sprinting at the end, you’re limping.”
The Orioles, who have been limping lately, will begin Tuesday trailing Seattle and Toronto by six games and Tampa Bay, the third wild-card team, by 5 1/2, but it’s the Jays they must concentrate on.
They don’t have any games left with Rays or Mariners and would have to finish a game ahead of them to secure a wild-card spot. If they finished tied with Tampa Bay or Seattle, the Orioles would lose because the Rays and Mariners beat the Orioles in the season series and have the tiebreaker.
Even after losing three of four to Toronto last week, the Orioles still lead the season series with the Blue Jays 7-6, and if the Orioles somehow finish tied with Toronto, the winner of the season series will be the wild-card team.
After the two games with the Nationals, the Orioles go to Rogers Centre for three games next weekend and play their three final games against the Jays at home, October 3rd-5th.
Besides Washington and Toronto, the Orioles have seven games at home next week, three with Detroit and four with Houston, and then have a weeklong road trip, playing four games at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox and three games at Yankee Stadium against the New York Yankees before those final three with Toronto.
In addition to playing the Orioles, the Blue Jays have eight more with the Rays, including a day-night doubleheader on Tuesday, two at Philadelphia and three each with the Yankees and Red Sox.
Before Sunday’s game, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde reflected on Saturday’s 17-4 loss to Boston and acknowledged how many difficult games his team had played recently.
“I just think we’ve played a really good Toronto team, and yesterday wasn’t good,” he said. “I think besides that, before the Toronto series, those Cleveland games were intense, the Houston games were close and intense.
“I think that we’ve handled that extremely well. I think at this time of the year, you do need to find rest for these guys, maybe have them show up later in the day. These guys have been going since the middle of February, and we’re now September 11th.”
For many of Hyde’s players, the intensity of September is new. Catcher Adley Rutschman, infielder Gunnar Henderson, outfielder Kyle Stowers and pitchers Kyle Bradish, DL Hall and closer Félix Bautista, tough division games in the final weeks of the season is new.
“Especially those guys that haven’t played full years in the major leagues, that lost month is way different,” Hyde said. “And as we go forward, hopefully to play one more month after that. That’s something to condition yourself for, and I’m glad these guys are going through that. It’s going to be great for the future.”
Rutschman has continued to play consistently well over the last three months. In July, he hit .274 with an .859 OPS. In August, it was .261 with an .842 OPS, and so far, Rutschman’s hitting .278 with an .894 OPS.
In Henderson’s 12 games, he’s hit .293 with a .795 OPS.
On Sunday, Hyde sat, Henderson, Rutschman and centerfielder Cedric Mullins against the tough left-hander Rich Hill, and while he got Henderson in the game once Hill left, Red Sox manager Alex Cora countered with left-hander Matt Strahm just when Hyde would have pinch hit Mullins and Rutschman, who as a switch-hitter is much stronger against right-handers.
In their only at-bats in the ninth inning against right-hander Matt Barnes, both Mullins and Rutschman made outs.
Hyde started his three most experienced players, backup catcher Robinson Chirinos, second baseman Rougned Odor and Jesús Aguilar at DH. None have been hitting well.
Chirinos is batting just .181 and since June 15th, has a home run and five RBIs.
Odor, who left Sunday’s game with a bruised right hand, delivered some big hits early in the season, but is hitting only .194 with two home runs and nine RBIs in the second half of the season.
Aguilar, who was signed after his release from Miami to be a backup first baseman and DH, is just 1-for-18 (.056) since he arrived on September 1st.
The Orioles managed just three hits on Sunday. They’ve had three or fewer hits just six times this season, and three of those games have come in the last 13 games.
“We ran into this early in the season, also when guys tried to do too much at the plate,” Hyde said. “Our rallies have come in the last couple of weeks from getting walks…It means we’re taking walks… keeping the line moving. These handful of days we’ve just not kept the line moving very well. We’ve got to get better.”
Note: The Orioles say that their top pitching prospect, Grayson Rodriguez, has completed his rehab assignment and he’s being transferred back to Triple-A Norfolk, and they expect him to pitch by the end of the week. Rodriguez had a lat strain.
Call for questions: I’ll be answering Orioles questions later this week. Please email yours to: [email protected]