Orioles must decide 6 is enough.
By Steve Katz
Nick Markakis scores in the 7th inning last night and is congratulated by Adam Jones. Photo: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
Even if these may not yet be times that try men’s souls, isn’t this getting a little ridiculous? Six losses in a row, all at home? Three blown saves in a row?
Judging by the postgame interviews last night, and most nights, the Baltimore Orioles take it in stride, support each other as they should, and look at it as a long season, as it is. No panic in that clubhouse. Maybe if the same were happening in September, but not now.
Has the league figured out Jim Johnson, and his blown saves are just the beginning of a more serious downturn? Baseball is a game of adjustments, and this is the first time since last season that Johnson has been forced to adjust in response to the league adjusting to him. There’s … well, cooler heads can always say there’s no panic, but three games at home against the first-place team is the wrong time for a losing streak.
Manny Machado has been in the big leagues a total of not quite four months and is going through his first mini-slump, featuring several impatient at-bats. Even though sometimes swinging at the first pitch gets good results. It certainly seems as though most bad results have been happening to the Orioles lately. In his case, it should have been expected.
Nick Markakis, of all people, has also been guilty of some of that during the losing streak, although his gutty at-bat plated the tie run with an opposite-field double in the 7th inning last night, right after C.C. Sabathia threw inside on him. Markakis then scored the go-ahead run when JJ Hardy followed by slapping a double down the right field line.
The Orioles got to Sabathia for 11 hits in his 6 1/3 innings of work, but were frustrated with men on base right up until the breakthrough inning. You cash in on more scoring chances early, you don’t need to pray as much with a 1-run lead later on. But C.C. is C.C. because he can end rallies as often as they get started.
The collapse of the Orioles’ bullpen in the past week – not just Johnson – has stemmed, as we knew it would, from the failure of the starters to go more than five or six innings. The sight of Johnson has temporarily gone from meaning, “Game’s over” to meaning, “Uh-oh.” Before the first of his three straight blown saves, the team had won 109 in a row when leading after seven innings. The pendulum had to swing back at some point. A nice, big lead would factor Johnson – as well as Strop, who surrendered the Yankees’ go-ahead runs in the 10th – out of the equation just once.
Tonight we’ll see Miguel Gonzalez try to stop the bleeding. He’ll take the ball again after (let’s assume) recovering from the blister on his thumb. His opponent is Phil Hughes.
Nate McLouth, who will lead off and start in left field, is 9-for-11 with five doubles and a home run against Hughes.
Markakis is 14-for-43 (.326) with three doubles, two homers and seven RBIs against Hughes.
Markakis is 9-for-24 with three doubles during his five-game hitting streak and has hit safely in nine of his last 10 games, batting .386 (17-for-44) with six doubles and seven RBIs. He’s picked his average up to .293. Being sandwich by these two should figure to give Machado better pitches to hit.
But a little thing called pitching will be the big thing again tonight.
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