How did the Baltimore Orioles lose to Kansas City?
Before I dive into this column, it’s fair to point out that sometimes you just get beaten. That’s what happened to the Baltimore Orioles over the course of the past week against Kansas City in the ALCS. On paper, the O’s were the better team both in my view and in the view of many others. But needless to say they certainly didn’t always look the better team during the games.
I certainly don’t buy into the concept that Kansas City wanted it more so than did the Orioles. To parlay off of Adam Jones’ frequent saying, I also fail to believe that Kansas City was any “hungrier” than the Orioles. Anyone who thinks that a Buck Showalter-led team could possibly not be hungry and/or could have given up at a certain point doesn’t know Buck and doesn’t really know baseball or sports.
So again, how exactly did this happen? The easy answer is that even if the O’s were a better team, that’s why they play the games. But it goes deeper than that. First off, all teams have advance scouts that follow their opponents around prior to games. Thus at each of the three ALDS games against Detroit, a few people in the crowd were actually Kansas City scouts watching the Birds.
I suspect that opposing teams’ spray charts on Oriole hitters must look very poignant given the fact that seemingly everytime an Oriole hitter made contact with a ball it found someone’s glove. Spray charts are only there for teams to make educated guesses as to where their opponents are going to hit the ball. But…seemingly EVERY ball found a Kansas City mitt. Heck, I’m surprised that nobody had an Inspector Gadget-like glove to soak up Adam Jones’ and Ryan Flaherty’s homers.
But ultimately as the great Washington DC sports call host, Ken Beatrice, used to say, …if “if’s and buts were candy and nuts, oh what a party we’d have!” Where as Steve Pearce hit .051 for the series but hit every ball hard (and had a few web gems made against him), Kansas City’s bloopers sailed ever-so-slightly out of the reach of J.J. Hardy and Ryan Flaherty’s gloves. That’s how the ball bounces. But again, some of that goes back to scouting. If in fact other teams’ spray charts are so convincing, it’s a wonder that teams are able to position themselves right where they all but know hitters are going to send the ball.
Many people have also mentioned the umpiring in the series, specifically the strike zone. I’m the first one to tell you that I felt it was incredibly inconsistent, and yes it did seem that more often than not Kansas City was the beneficiary. However for every 2-2 pitch on the black that was called ball three, there was a swinging strike three on the next pitch. And believe me, there are few people who are as critical of umpires or referees as I am. There’s no doubt that Kansas City caught their share of breaks, but when you play in a series of seven games you have your share of opportunities.
Courtesy of Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
I would also remind people that Buck Showalter will most likely be voted the manager of the year in the American League. More often than not, what constitutes a good manager (or coach) in any sport is wins and losses. There’s absolutely no doubt. So while the vote was taken at the conclusion of the regular season and the post season doesn’t figure in, does that mean Ned Yost is a better manager than Showalter?
Let me be the latest to emphatically say NO to that question. Ned Yost has obviously pushed many of the right buttons to get his team to where they are now, however he also made some really head-scratching decisions. We even saw it in this series; he pinch-ran very early in games, among other things. He was crucified by Kansas City fans for removing his starting pitcher when he did in the AL Wild Card game. Some people even wanted him fired. So how could someone like that outdo someone like Buck Showalter?
The answer is that he didn’t undo anything. Showalter managed four very sound games. However let’s not forget that he’s a master tactician. He thinks well ahead in games and makes his decisions based on what the other guy is most likely to do. Those decisions are based on sound reasoning, common sense, and baseball savoir-faire. However that type of deductive reasoning also fails to take into account for the fact that the other guy could do something totally unexpected.
And please don’t suggest that Yost might have thrown a couple of curve balls that Showalter and the O’s couldn’t pick up – because his track record indicates that isn’t the case. But I do think that it’s entirely possible that often times the most cerebral of tacticians can be caught off guard when his opponent makes such egregious blunders. So in effect the mistake comes across as genius because it works. That’s not to say that it’s right.
Ultimately coaches and players are always left asking why after losses. But it’ll never cease to amaze me how the Orioles, who hit balls hard, could lost to a team on broken bat/bloop singles. As a microcosm of the series, Nick Markakis hit a hard groundder up the middle in his first at-bat on Wednesday which somehow found a glove and he was thrown out. Kansas City hit a ball on the same trajectory in the last of the inning – and it was a seeing eye single. That’s just how the ball bounces sometimes.