Did pitching or lack of hitting fail the O’s last night?
Most people are pointing to Zach Britton falling apart in the sixth inning as the reason why the Baltimore Orioles fell to Cleveland 5-2 last night. Don’t get me wrong, that didn’t help. Through five innings, Britton was pretty solid. However he seemed to lose it in the top of the sixth as Cleveland erased the Orioles’ 2-0 lead by putting three runs across and taking control of the game. Britton’s final line: 5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 5 K. Keep in mind that’s not a horrible stat line; it’s not great either, but it’s certainly not horrible. The thing that has most fans – and Buck Showalter – scratching their heads is how quickly Britton fell apart. We’ve heard it a million times…you have to have starters that go deeper than five innings to consistently win games.
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However I wouldn’t pin this loss totally on Britton. I think he did more good than ill in this game to be honest, although the sudden collapse is certainly something that stands out. (Lasting images are what most people ultimately remember. Nevertheless, when Britton departed the Orioles only trailed by one with lots of baseball still to play. The Orioles were also 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position, and incidentally they didn’t score on that one hit because they held Matt Wieters up at third base since he doesn’t run well. This brings me back to what was being said over the weekend in that when you face a knuckleballer (as the Orioles did on Friday) it can often take up to a week to get your swing back.
Hopefully for the Orioles’ sake, their bats are able to wake up a bit starting tonight. They did get out to an early 1-0 lead on Nick Markakis‘ first inning solo homer, which stood up for quite some time. Matt Wieters broke out of an 0-for-13 with one of his own in the fourth to run the score to 2-0. However longtime Oriole-killer Nick Swisher‘s RBI-single in the sixth cut the lead to 2-1. Following an intentional walk, Michael Brantley‘s RBI-single up the middle scored two runs and gave Cleveland a 3-2 lead. That brought Buck Showalter out of the dugout, and Tommy Hunter out of the bullpen in relief of Britton. To his credit, Hunter cleaned everything up and probably gave the O’s a great chance to win the game from that point on. When he came into the game there were no outs, and Hunter promptly retired the three batters that he faced in order. Hunter and Brian Matusz are very similar in that they may not have been the most effective starters, but they’ve really found their niches in the bullpen.
J.J. Hardy led off the last of the sixth with a single, and after a Wieters flyout Cleveland manager Terry Francona lifted starter Ubaldo Jimenez in favor of former Oriole Rich Hill. Showalter countered by sending Danny Valencia up to bat as a pinch hitter for Travis Ishikawa. On a two-strike count Valencia flinched the bat off his shoulders, and was called out on a swinging strike three. Valencia protested at the plate, while Showalter barked at home plate umpire Scott Barry from the dugout. Replays were pretty conclusive to the point that he didn’t swing, but obviously the call stood. With Darren O’Day on the mound in the eighth, Michael Brantley torched the Orioles again with a two-run homer to run Cleveland’s lead to 5-2. (For the record, Brantley kept his mouth shut and didn’t engaged O’Day in conversation as he rounded the bases.)
The other concern is that the Orioles used several relievers in this game, as did Cleveland for the record. One concern right now is that there are some tired arms out in that pen. Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz have been lights out of late for the Birds (as was the case last night), but if they’re overused that will cease to be the case. Before yesterday’s game the O’s designated Freddy Garcia for assignment, and he has three days to decide whether to opt out of his contract or accept a minor league assignment. They recalled Kevin Gausman from triple-A Norfolk, and put him in the bullpen as insurance. Gausman is in line to start Friday’s game against New York IF he doesn’t see action in relief before then. At this rate they might have to use him given the way they went through relief pitchers last night and over the weekend. Showalter definitely wanted to stay away from T.J. McFarland last night, and he even indicated he’d rather not use him in tonight’s game as well. Hopefully Showalter’s able to keep Gausman out of a game between now and Friday, otherwise the rotation will get thrown into flux.
Here’s the good news; the O’s will get three more shots at Cleveland this week, starting tonight. Chris Tillman, who’s been quite a stopper for the Orioles thus far, will get the starting assignment tonight. He’ll be opposed by Justin Masterson of Cleveland, in what should be a good pitching matchup.