In last night’s 8-3 loss in Milwaukee, we started to see the net effect of starters not going deep into games. Having said that, let’s be fair about it; there are some things that are out of the realm of control for the Baltimore Orioles’ starting pitchers. As is par for the course, Bud Norris had quite a few pitches fouled off last night. That led to some nine and ten pitch at-bats, which added to his pitch count big time.
However Norris also struggled with his fastball command, and he had trouble finding the strike
zone. Norris’ line: 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 1 K. Norris seemed to be making a concentrated effort to get Milwaukee hitters out with his back door slider. However he wasn’t able to get it close enough to the plate for the hitters to offer. Norris did seem to settle down as the game went on, and he ended up going six innings.
After recording an out in the first inning Norris walked two batters and Carlos Gomez‘s RBI-single gave Milwaukee a 1-0 lead. Nelson Cruz‘s 18th homer of the season would tie the game at one, however Ryan Braun‘s third inning two-RBI double would put Milwaukee ahead once again by the score of 3-1. That sequence was again started by a walk; and nothing good happens after a walk. Carlos Gomez would be hit by a pitch in the last of the third, and he would score on Gennett’s sac fly-RBI (after stealing second base) to put the Baltimore Orioles in a 4-1 hole.
So in theory, if you remove those two walks and the hit batsman Milwaukee was ahead 2-1 (with all things being the same). One might argue that the Orioles are currently in a sequence where they can’t seem to get out of their own way in the sense that every mistake such as a walk or a hit batsman is being taken advantage of by their opponents. This also goes back to fastball command in the sense that the Birds are relying on hitters putting balls in play; when pitchers aren’t able to command the strike zone, those balls are falling in as hits as opposed to inducing double-plays.
Nelson Cruz followed up his 18th homer of the season with his 19th in the sixth inning, and the Orioles were able to cut the lead to 4-2. Manny Machado‘s RBI-single to center in the seventh inning brought the O’s to within 4-3, however the last of the eighth sealed it for Milwaukee. Again when the bullpen is taxed at some point someone’s going to give up a big inning. Brian Matusz allowed two inherited runners to score on a Weeks RBI-single and a Kris Davis two-run homer.
Manny Machado grounded into a double play with two runners on in the ninth, and Adam Jones struck out with a runner on third to end the game. One has to wonder if not for that eighth inning if the O’s might have put a bit more pressure on Milwaukee in the ninth inning. Nevertheless, the other aspect of this entire series is that Milwaukee is one of these teams like Tampa who seems incredibly skilled at putting the ball wherever the defenders aren’t standing. Hitting them where they ain’t, in a sense. On Ryan Braun’s aforementioned two-RBI double he pulled that ball tightly down the right field line. The Orioles had been playing Braun straight-away; had Chris Davis guarded the line he would have probably snagged that ball. But then Braun probably would have hit it through the hole between first and second…that’s the kind of series it was for the O’s.
However more than anything else, Oriole pitchers need to get command of the strike zone. Orioles fans are noticing a lot of pitches that are nibbling on the strike zone, and if last night’s game was any indication it seemed that any pitches that were borderline were going the other way. I’ve said this before, but umpires seem to give the benefit of the doubt to hitters when a pitcher is consistently trying to nibble on the corners. If you command the zone, you might get some of those calls.
Speaking of the umpires, there was a situation in the fourth inning which shouldn’t sit well with the O’s. Jean Segura grounded into a double-play, although it was a bang-bang play at first. Replays seemed to show that Segura was in fact out by a hair, however Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke appeared poised to challenge the call. As we found out later, apparently the video feeds in both clubhouses went down. However Roenicke conferred with all four umpires for the better part of a few minutes and appeared to talk them into going to the headsets to see if they could review the play in NY. Milwaukee never formally challenged the play, although it was reviewed in NY and decided that the runner was indeed out.
This didn’t affect the outcome of the game at all, however if I were Buck Showalter I would have raised heck and then some. Nowhere in the rules does it state that this type of thing is allowed; from the Orioles’ standpoint, Milwaukee got a free challenge. In effect, the umpires calling to NY took the place of Milwaukee’s video guy telling them whether or not they should challenge the play. I suspect that if they would have overturned it, we would have seen Showalter argue that point, however needless to say Milwaukee got a freebie they should’t have. As I tweeted during the game, that’s the type of thing that causes a team to play under protest.