One up, one down. If there can be such a thing as a trend after two games, it is that the Baltimore Orioles are getting enough runs to win, but they are getting too few runs early and not cashing in enough opportunities to stay ahead. It worked in the opener, since they rallied and put some daylight between them and the Rays. But on day two at the Trop, even though the bats never gave up, the normally airtight bullpen broke down.
But a bullpen breakdown doesn’t happen without the starting pitcher breaking down first, and Wei-Yin Chen was cruising for five, shutout innings last night at Tropicana Field until running out of gas, which is the part I question. Hitting the wall in the sixth inning, in a dome, in your first start of the season, is a bit puzzling. More so was Pedro Strop‘s 3-run, 4-hit collapse in the 7th after allowing the Rays one run in 10 appearances last season. A Strop wild pitch let in the tie run. Tommy Hunter‘s gopher ball finished it off after the Orioles could not finish off the suddenly human Fernando Rodney in the top of the 9th.
If last season taught us anything, it was not to evaluate anything before the All Star Break, much less the second game of the season, too critically. But it also taught us the better you can do in April, the better shape you will be in later on in the season, and negative trends should be reversed no matter how early it seems.
Chris Davis is offering one early season trend worth sitting up and noticing, a 4-for-4 night last night including his second, 3-run home run in two games. He’s on the proverbial 162-homer pace and is the first player in franchise history to have three or more RBI in each of the season’s first two games. Adam Jones has hit almost everything hard and gotten something to show for it.
Defensively there are reasons to smile, too.
The new-wave shift worked to perfection in Tuesday’s opening day win, although the play at first was a tiny bit too close for comfort. The win featured one other sparkling but somewhat scary defensive play, in which Nolan Reimold made a speeding, one-handed grab a couple of strides from the left field wall and had to cushion himself against it, but came away with ball in glove and no apparent injury.
The shift had its origins in an exhibition game a few weeks ago, when the Orioles deployed JJ Hardy almost behind second base and Brian Roberts pretty much in his normal, second-base spot, but moved Manny Machado into medium right field against a lefthanded pull hitter, to take maximum advantage of his arm, the best arm among the infielders. The best arm is the mother of putting a twist on a normal idea, when it is usually the second baseman who plays short right field in a shift. This time it retired Kelly Johnson.
Three double plays in three straight innings were a good sign last night with Chen on the mound, until the roof caved in in the 6th. In the 7th, Johnson singled against the shift during the Rays’ rally, using the Orioles’ alignment against them.
All of this leads to the rubber match today and the Orioles’ exodus from the state of Florida, after what could be called an extended Spring Training. The pomp and ceremony of Opening Day highlight Friday at Camden Yards against the Twins, who are in town for just a 3-game series. Then the Orioles go to Boston for the Red Sox home opener Monday. If you think you’ve heard some concern about tomorrow’s weather at Camden Yards, think of how many layers of clothing Fenway Park will require Monday.
Gloves and hats. Don’t leave home without them.