We all know that in baseball things can turn on the drop of a dime. That certainly has been the case for the Baltimore Orioles this week in the wake of sweeping New York last weekend. After going to Chicago and dropping two-of-three, they opened up their series at Yankee Stadium last night with a 3-2 loss. To add insult to injury, the loss came on the heels of another Jim Johnson blown save. Although Buck Showalter said after the game that he was more concerned with the offense having scuffled all week than he was about Johnson’s struggles, Orioles fans have to wonder what to make of the closer’s struggles this year. Will his saves ever be a sure thing again?
Miguel Gonzalez turned in another quality start for the Orioles last night; Gonzalez’s line: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 4 K. I think that a lot of people were probably concerned at how many pitches Gonzalez was forced to throw in the game. He was in the 90’s in the fifth inning, which is high. However even at a limited strength, that’s how New York rolls. They take a lot of pitches and regardless of who’s in their lineup they seem to have an uncanny ability to foul off pitch-after-pitch-after-pitch. New York starter Ivan Nova on the other hand pitched a complete game and held on for the win. The fact is that the Orioles offense has gone into a bit of a funk this past week, and I suppose Orioles fans are looking for a reason or explanation for that. This isn’t very insightful, but…this type of thing happens. Over 162 games you’re going to have some amazing stretches and some not-so-amazing stretches. This is one of the latter. You just have to ride it out and hope that on any given night things might change.
The Birds took a 2-0 lead in the second when Matt Wieters homered after Chris Davis was hit by a pitch. Offensively that’s one bit of good news for the O’s, as Wieters has struggled at the plate a bit this year. Most Orioles fans seem to give him a pass, however there have been a few calls for “answers” as to Wieters’ struggles. Again, over 162 games you’re going to have some struggles. New York cut the Orioles’ lead in half at 2-1 on a Cruz RBI-single in the fourth, however that score held up for almost the rest of the game. Showalter went to Johnson in the last of the ninth, and following an error by Johnson to help put two runners in scoring position the Orioles intentionally walked Robinson Canoe. In that situation at that time of the game, that was probably the right move by Showalter. However Travis Hafner walked on four consecutive pitches in the immediate aftermath of the IBB, which brought the tying run in from third. Vernon Wells singled to left field on the next at-bat, which scored the winning run for New York.
There’s a lot of psychology in baseball, and one has to wonder if Johnson isn’t feeling the effects of blowing several saves this year. (And let’s not forget that part of that two-run ninth inning was his error, which can also be chalked up to a mental mistake.) Having said that I suspect that the O’s are a bit more concerned about Johnson than they’re letting on, as it was Tommy Hunter that they brought in on Thursday in Chicago (also resulting in a blown save). However one way or the other, the all-star break will be upon us after next weekend and I’m not sure that there’s anyone who’s more in need of that few days off than Johnson. My personal opinion is that he’s still the guy who saved 51 games for the Orioles last season. There have been people clamoring for Tommy Hunter to be the closer; that quieted down real quick after Hunter himself blew a save on Thursday. That’s not to say that Hunter (or Johnson) should or shouldn’t be the team’s closer. However my point is that just like the season overall, you have to ride through guys’ rough patches as opposed to bailing when the going gets tough.
More bad news for the O’s; while they’re struggling against tough competition, Boston doesn’t seem to want to lose against the likes of San Diego out west. As I write this it’s just after midnight on the east coast and Boston’s tied with the Padres at two. Nevertheless, the good news for the Birds is that they can still take this series in the Bronx with wins this afternoon and tomorrow. Today Chris Tillman will need to play the part of stopper for the Orioles, coming off that victory over NY on Sunday Night Baseball last week. Tillman will be opposed by Andy Pettitte; game time is at 1 PM.