In losing the season finale in Tampa by the score of 4-1, the Baltimore Orioles cost themselves a guaranteed home date in the Wild Card game tomorrow. Instead they’ll travel to Texas where they’ll meet the Texas Rangers on Friday night just after 8:30 PM eastern time in what I’ve been describing as an “automatic game seven.” A win would have given the O’s a home date against Texas, however with that said the Orioles are happy just to be in the playoffs after a 14-year absence. Chris Tillman took the loss, and aside from three pitches he didn’t look that bad. Tillman’s line: 5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 5 K. All three of Tillman’s runs were solo homers, two of which came off the bat of Evan Longoria (who added a third one, off of Jake Arrieta).
There were some people who questioned Buck Showalter using Tillman in this situation. The fact was that the O’s still had an outside shot at winning the division, although that evaporated quickly after it became clear that Boston had no urge to put up any sort of fight against New York (I’ll be filing that issue away and it’s something to which I’ll give some ink in the off season). If Showalter believes that Tillman is one of his most consistent starters, I have no issue with him starting last night. However I think it’s also telling that Tillman was pulled after only five innings. Might Showalter be considering the idea of bringing Tillman back perhaps on short rest if the Orioles advance past Friday?
Generally they say that solo home runs aren’t going to kill you, however I suppose that when you give up four in a game that’s going to make it somewhat difficult. Unfortunately three of those four came off the bat of the above-mentioned Evan Longoria (the other was hit by Ryan Roberts). Let me say this; kudos to the Tampa Rays and Joe Maddon for playing the Orioles tough. There are certain other teams in the division that could stand to learn a thing or two from that attitude, one that Showalter and the Orioles know all too well from last year. Having said that, should Orioles fans be worried about the pitching staff as they go into an elimination game homer-happy Texas?
Based on one game, I’d say no. Granted Rangers Ballpark does play to home runs and that’s been one of the Orioles’ vice’s this year, however also keep in mind that the O’s have one of the best bullpens in MLB. Many playoff games will end up seeing teams use their bullpen rather heavily, which is something that the Orioles are used to doing. On the flip side Texas just had a 12-spot dropped on them in Oakland yesterday, and of course Oakland is a pitchers park. In fact, Texas is probably entering the playoffs as one of the coldest teams in the league and they aren’t playing very well. I’ll touch more on that tomorrow, however obviously all it takes is one good game in an automatic game seven and not only have you snapped out of your losing ways but you’ve suddenly advanced to the next round.
The Orioles managed to get the tying run into the on-deck circle in the ninth as J.J. Hardy scored on a sac fly by Adam Jones. Following a Matt Wieters single Jim Thome flied out to end the game, and the regular season. Once everything is finally said and done with, I’ll write a formal season review, however the fact is that the season isn’t over. The regular season may be, but now we’re in the “second season.” The Orioles finished the regular season 93-69, which is the reverse of how they finished last year (69-93). That continues a trend in which Buck Showalter’s teams show massive improvements in his second full year as manager. I’d say that leading the franchise to it’s first playoff appearance in 15 years is a massive improvement!
The Orioles will hold a team workout at Rangers Ballpark this afternoon at 5:30 PM eastern time in preparation for tomorrow’s game which will start at just after 8:30 PM (eastern) and be aired on TBS. MASN will air a one-hour O’s Xtra show before and immediately following the game, along with any subsequent Orioles’ playoff games. Again I’ll touch more on this in tomorrow’s column, however Joe Saunders or Steve Johnson are expected to get the start in the game for the O’s. While many people see this “automatic game seven” as a negative, one advantage is that teams can reset their rosters before each round of the playoffs. So the Orioles will only need to carry perhaps two starting pitchers on the roster for tomorrow (the starter and perhaps a backup just in case) since it’s only one game. This will allow them to carry some extra relievers and perhaps an extra bench player.
My hope is that losing this final game that would have given the O’s a home playoff game doesn’t put a damper on the spirits of Orioles’ fans. Making the playoffs for the first time since 1997 is a heck of an achievement, and the team having to go on the road to play it shouldn’t make that fact be lost to people. Here’s the other thing; if the Orioles can win the game, they’ll come home to play games one and two of the ALDS against New York. So it’s a similar setup to last night; win one game and you get to play at home. Home game or not, 93-69 is by no means a failure of a regular season. Wasn’t this team supposed to approach 100 losses?!