The Orioles entered game two of the American League Division Series with the Texas Rangers in a must-win situation. After a 101-win regular season, the team fell 1-0 in the series in a hard-fought 3-2 loss. Ultimately, the issue was the lack of timely hitting and some miscommunication in the ninth inning which caused ire and speculation.
In the middle of this, Aaron Hicks caught some criticism for not swinging in a hit-and-run situation with Gunnar Henderson on first base which ended the Orioles final hope of the game. To his credit, Hicks responded with a strong game two which included a two-out two-run single in the bottom of the first which gave the Orioles a short-lived and their only lead thus far in the series. Hicks also hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning in a classic example of too little too late which cut the Rangers lead to 11-8.
Unfortunately, the Orioles enter Texas down 2-0 in the series and needing a miracle to keep their season alive past this Friday. On Tuesday night, Dean Kremer looks to keep the O's season alive as he gets the start against Nathan Eovaldi.
The good news is that the Orioles found their offensive stroke on Sunday with the eight-run performance, and they will need to keep the offense going if they want to pull off a miracle. Here are three takeaways from Sunday's performance as we look towards Tuesday.
Orioles drop game two at home, fall into 2-0 series hole
1. Brandon Hyde can not out-manage Bruce Bochy
I want to make one thing clear: Brandon Hyde is a great manager. He clearly has earned the respect of the clubhouse and the front office which is why he has earned the opportunity to manage this team through a painful rebuild and into the glory of being one of the best teams in baseball.
That being said, this weekend was Hyde's first experience as a manager in the Postseason. On the other side, Bruce Bochy led the Giants to three World Series titles in five years and now hopes to lead the Rangers to their first ever World Series championship.
As a regular season manager, Hyde will likely win AL Manager of the Year with Bochy likely finishing third behind Hyde and Kevin Cash. However, the Postseason is a different beast and Bochy managed his 81st Postseason game Sunday while Hyde managed his second.
This gap in experience was clear through managerial decisions. The Orioles have a clear bullpen advantage over the Rangers, but Bochy utilized his bullpen in such a way that minimized damage and kept their most effective pieces rested for Tuesday. The best example of this was his usage of Cody Bradford.
Before Sunday, most non-Rangers fans have likely never heard of Bradford. He carried a 5.30 ERA in 20 games and 56 innings pitched in the regular season with eight starts under his belt. After Jordan Montgomery had a somewhat ineffective start, Bochy brought in Bradford in the fifth inning of a 10-5 game.
In most scenarios, Bradford may only pitch an inning at most given his ineffectiveness in the regular season and also because he was a southpaw following the lefty starter in Montgomery. Bochy defied conventional wisdom and allowed Bradford to pitch into the eighth inning before a combination of three pitchers completed the final four outs. The length Bradford provided kept the Orioles at arm's length after they rallied to take Montgomery out of the game.
On the Orioles side, Hyde essentially used the entire bullpen on Sunday and the game was practically over before he could utilize his high-leverage relievers like Yennier Cano, Cionel Perez, and Tyler Wells. Instead, he brought Bryan Baker into the game in the third inning where he immediately walked the bases loaded, followed by a Mitch Garver Grand Slam allowed by Jacob Webb. Of course, bullpen usage in the Postseason is different than the regular season, and this was a hard lesson learned by Hyde.
Hyde will not outmanage Bochy for the rest of the series so the best bet for the Orioles is to use their talent to beat the Rangers. As I said, the Orioles bullpen is much better than the Rangers' but with Bochy's master manipulation, the Rangers have taken the first two games.
2. The Offense Needs to Keep Rolling
Over the final week of the regular season and in game one, the offense was collectively slumping. The team only scored 1-0 in a win over the Nationals last Tuesday and won 2-0 over the Red Sox on the night they clinched the American League East.
These concerns carried over into the weekend of meaningless baseball where the offense sleep-walked their way to the finish line. After more than a week without a meaningful game, the offense scored only two runs in the game one loss. The offense did show up in game two but could not outpower the Rangers who have also showed up offensively.
One positive sign is that the team outscored the Rangers 6-2 over the final six innings Sunday. Collectively, the team also out-hit the Rangers 14-11 which included multi-hit games from four players. Unlikely heroes such as Hicks and Jorge Mateo emerged offensively as Hicks had five RBIs and Mateo went 4-for-4 with two doubles.
The Orioles have been at their best this season when the offense is clicking, and they can accrue timely hits up and down the lineup. This was certainly the case Sunday, and the offense is not at all to blame for the loss.
On Tuesday, the Orioles will need a strong start from Dean Kremer, but the offense is more than capable of taking advantage of Eovaldi and the Rangers. The key is that some of the left-handed hitters in the lineup will need to step up.
Hicks, Mateo, and Austin Hays all had strong games against lefties on Sunday but Ryan O'Hearn will likely earn his first start of the series against Eovaldi. Cedric Mullins has also struggled and will have the opportunity to turn things around Tuesday. Anthony Santander had a strong game one but went 0-for-5 Sunday and he will be an X-factor Tuesday.
3. The Season is not over until it is over
Let me make one thing clear: I am not being paid by Fox Sports or MASN or WBAL. I do not profit whether or not people watch the game on Tuesday. If you are reading this, I am profiting off your pageview whether or not you finish the story or watch the rest of the series. I am not saying this for any personal gain, but I genuinely believe that the Orioles are still capable of winning this series.
Is it likely? no. Will it be easy to go into Texas and win two games along with a third on Friday? Of course not. Do the fancy pundits up in the Fangraphs office give us a reasonable chance? When have they ever. The odds have been stacked against this team all season. This team thrives on difficult circumstances. Any Orioles fan who has followed this team all season knows that this team plays its best when their backs are against the wall.
During the regular season, the team admittedly did not face much adversity. However, think of the toughest stretches and moments from the season and think of how the O's responded to each moment. The first stretch that pops out to me is the four-game losing streak in mid-September to the Cardinals and Rays which saw the team momentarily relinquish the division lead to the Rays.
One of the low points of the season was the 7-1 loss on the night that Adam Jones retired as an Oriole in front of a sold-out crowd. With the loss, the Rays retook the division lead and forced Jack Flaherty out of the starting rotation. Of course, the team responded with one of their best four-game stretches of the season immediately after.
The next night, Grayson Rodriguez twirled an absolute gem as the O's beat the Rays 8-0. That Sunday, the Orioles grinded out a 5-4 win in 11 innings thanks to a Cedric Mullins walkoff sacrifice fly. The win essentially clinched a Postseason berth, and the team had a two-game division lead.
After a champagne celebration and flight to Houston, the Orioles had one of their most clutch moments of the season the next night on a 3-run homer from Mullins to beat the Astros 8-7. Other moments of adversity that pop out in my head are when Felix Bautista went down with a UCL injury, the skid in early July which included an injury to Mullins, and the gut-wrenching early season losses in Boston which included the Ryan McKenna dropped flyout. The common denominator in each case is a quick and vigorous comeback from each situation. Who says the team that has defied the odds all season can't win three more games?