How many times have we discussed the whole concept of a pitcher having ten good starts, ten poor, and ten in-between? Chris Tillman had what I would classify as an in-between start last night in Cleveland; Tillman’s line: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 5 BB, 3 K. The first time through the order Tillman was pretty deadly. My personal opinion was that his breaking pitches were really working well for him, and he froze a lot of Cleveland hitters – over the first three innings. There was also a slight autumn chill in the air over Lake Erie last night, which indicated that runs might be a bit hard to come by. In fairness, Oriole bats didn’t give Tillman much room for error.
However once Cleveland starting going through the order a second time is when Tillman started to struggle. He issued walks to Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana to start the fourth inning, and they were both sacrificed into scoring position by Jeff Brantley. Interesting note about that play; Brantley bunted them over, and it was a pretty lousy bunt at that (popped it up, but it landed far enough away from Tillman to where he didn’t have a force play at second or third). We see a lot of poor bunts in situations like that sometimes, and I often wonder if there isn’t an idiot savant mentality so to speak. Is it not possible that the pitcher/catcher is so surprised at the fact that the hitter got down such a poor bunt that they’re momentarily frozen and thus everyone ends up being safe? (This is something we’ll discuss further in the off season.)
With one out and two runners in scoring position, Astrubal Cabrera sacrificed Kipnis home and the Orioles trailed 1-0. However to Tillman’s credit that was the only run that scored in that inning, so he limited the damage. Cleveland would open the game up in the last of the sixth when Brantley doubled himself and Santana into scoring position following a Santana walk. Cabrera followed with another sac fly, and Cleveland had a 2-0 lead over the O’s. However this time Tillman was unable to limit the damage to one run, and he was ultimately lifted from the game when Yan Gomes hit a two-RBI double to give Cleveland a 4-0 lead.
On the pitching side T.J. McFarland and Josh Stinson were bright spots for the Orioles. McFarland has been solid out of the bullpen all year, despite his 4.59 ERA. Keep in mind that McFarland was a Rule 5 pick (from Cleveland), so he had to remain on the Orioles’ 25-man roster all season otherwise he’d be sent back to Cleveland’s system. Like with Ryan Flaherty last year, the O’s have done a great job of keeping him on the roster and using him to eat up innings in situations such as last night. I suspect that Buck Showalter told him coming out of spring training that there would be times when he’d have to “take one for the team,” hence his higher ERA. Stinson’s gotten a bit of a bum rap from Orioles fans over time given that he had one start back in May and was hammered pretty hard against Toronto. However on the occasion that he’s been up with the big league club and come out of the ‘pen he’s been very solid, which is what we saw last night.
The Birds did make a go of getting back into this game in the top of the ninth, when Nate McLouth homered to right field following back-to-back singles from Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy. However it was too little too late so to speak, and the Orioles went down in order following McLouth’s homer. The O’s can win the series with a victory tonight, and they’ll send southpaw Zach Britton to the mound for the first time since July 9th in Texas. The Orioles’ rotation is starting to get a bit opaque in a sense now, as the roster is much larger and the match-ups are much bigger with the team fighting for a playoff spot. After seeing that Cleveland stacked their lineup with lefty hitters the past two games, Buck Showalter is throwing a southpaw out there tonight. I would expect Britton to be on a fairly short leash given his prior inconsistencies, as well as with the Orioles having a deep bullpen due to rosters being larger. Britton will be opposed by Zach McAllister.