I think that the problem that many people have with Zach Britton is that when the stakes are low he seems to be able to produce a decent start (Cleveland in July for example). However last night the stakes were certainly not low, and a five-run third inning cost the Orioles the ballgame. In fairness to Britton, 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position doesn’t help and that has nothing to do with your starting pitcher. However as we’ve said all season part of the magic of 2012 has been that Showalter’s held people accountable for their play, and the fact is that Britton didn’t get the job done last night.
Adam Jones scored in the top of the second on Mark Reynolds’ double after going from first to third on an error. Nate McLouth gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead an inning later with a solo homer. I will say that many times in the past the Orioles would go an entire series in Oakland without homering due to the fact that it’s such a tough place to hit. Not only does the Coliseum have the reputation as one of the worst ballparks in baseball in general, but anyone that’s ever seen a game there (live or on TV) knows that you could plant corn in the outfield and in foul ground. Some ballparks such as the new Yankee Stadium are thought of as “jokes” because pop flies can turn into home runs. Oakland’s park is a “joke” because it’s near impossible to hit a homer without corking your bat. (On a side note, it’s probably no coincidence that the steroids thing seems to have big time Oakland connections; guys had to do something to enhance their performances if they were going to be successful.)
Britton lost his command in the third. He went 3-1 on the first batter (Drew) before he homered to cut the Orioles’ lead to 2-1. Coco Crisp walked, and Johnny Gomes was then hit by a pitch to give Oakland runners at first and second with one gone. A single and a double later, Oakland had a 5-2 lead. Like most teams Oakland built themselves to compete in the ballpark in which they play. So a double will easily score a runner from first base if it’s hit to the right spot, which many of Yoenis Cespedes’ hits are. Britton had to abandon his two-seamer and resort to off speed pitches and curve balls, and Oakland seemed very prepared to handle that. Opponents seem to be just a step ahead of Britton right now in that they know the pitches to which he has to resort when he’s struggling. In other words, he isn’t fooling anyone which can be concerning.
Adam Jones was thrown out trying to score from first on a Chris Davis double in the fourth, which drew the ire of many Orioles fans. Jim Palmer noted on MASN that while third base coach DeMarlo Hale was waving Jones around, Jones wasn’t even looking at the third base coach. In other words he ran on his own. That may not have been the best base running on Jones’ part, however if you lose by three that one run wouldn’t have made that much of a difference (all other things being equal). With the loss, combined with NY’s win yesterday, the Orioles are now in second place in the AL East. They are still in the second wild card spot, naturally with Oakland occupying the first spot. So if the season ended today the Orioles would play an “automatic game seven” at Oakland in the first round. Sounds fun for sure, but keep in mind that if you get into the playoffs all bets are off.
Buck Showalter is tabbing Randy Wolf to make today’s start out of the bullpen. Wolf’s last start was on August 19th – with the Milwaukee Brewers. He’s been solid out of the pen thus far for the Birds, who are in need of a stopper to halt this two-game losing streak. Oakland will counter with Dan Straily, who was recalled from triple-A last week. The Orioles hope to be able to salvage one game in Oakland before moving onto Seattle for three games this coming week.