Say it with me one time, “That’s so Orioles.”
The Baltimore Orioles took one on the chin yesterday, losing 5-4 to the Los Angeles Angels on a walk-off single by David Murphy in the bottom of the 11th inning. The loss dropped them 3.0 games back of the Angels in the chase for the American League’s second Wild Card spot. It was a heart-breaking loss, and one that serves perfectly as a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong for the Orioles this season.
The game got off to a good enough start. Manny Machado singled to lead off. Chris Davis reached base on an HBP. Then Matt Wieters and Jonathan Schoop plated them with consecutive two-out base hits. Those four have been carrying the Oriole offense of late.
Miguel Gonzalez, who has a 5.35 ERA in his past seven starts and has not delivered a quality start since July 25, promptly gave a run back in the bottom of the first. Kole Calhoun took Gonzalez deep. It was the 19th home run allowed by the soft-tossing right-hander this season.
Gonzalez labored along into the third inning after putting three runners on base in the second. He allowed a leadoff double to Johnny Giavotella who advanced to third on a wild pitch. Calhoun walked. At this point, it was obvious that Gonzalez did not have even a hint of command. With Mike Trout and Albert Pujols coming to the plate, it looked as if things were about to get out of hand. Both struck out swinging. Go figure.
About to wiggle off the hook, lead intact, Gonzalez began to work on Murphy. He got ahead 0-2. Bird Land rejoiced. Alas, Gonzalez uncorked an 0-2, belt-high meatball that Murphy launched to right center. Lead gone.
The Orioles’ offense followed that inning up with three weak strikeouts against Jerad Weaver. David Lough, who inexplicably continues to receive semi-regular playing time despite a .206 batting average would contribute three “K’s” to the scorebook on the day. The Orioles would eventually knot the game. As expected, the runs came via the home run. Leading off the sixth inning, Gerardo Parra hit his first since arriving at the deadline. Davis followed two batters later with his 29th of the year, and tenth since the All-Star break.
The score stayed knotted heading into the 11th. Neither team really threatened after the Orioles tied it in the sixth. Despite the fact that closer Zach Britton had been warming in the bullpen, Buck Showalter elected to go with Chaz Roe, the 28-year-old reclamation project. Roe was great to start the year, but has a 4.70 ERA in eight games since the break. As luck would have it, the backup catcher Carlos Perez would lead off. Roe threw a high sinker, and Perez hit it to left for a double. Three weak bunt attempts by Giavotella gift-wrapped a strikeout for Roe.
At that point, with a man on second and one out, Showalter called on Brian Matusz, again passing on his closer and best reliever, Britton. Matusz struck Calhoun out. Showalter then decided to give Trout and Pujols the Barry Bonds treatment, walking both to load the bases for David Murphy. It was a good move in theory, but overlooked the fact that Matusz has struggled throwing strikes all year. Loading the bases also rendered the left-hander’s best pitch, his slider, useless thanks to the risk of throwing a wild pitch. Matusz ran the count to 3-1 before Murphy took a strike to make it full. With no real choice but to keep throwing fastballs across the middle of the plate, Matusz did his best, but Murphy lofted a lazy fly ball to left. It landed shy of the warning track, but with the outfield drawn in, the ball landed for the winning single.
Say it with me again, “That’s so Orioles.”
This was the type of game the Orioles would have found a way to win in 2012, when it seemed as if they won every single one-run or extra inning ballgame. This year has been a different story. A team cannot continue beating the odds, and winning every close game.
The 2015 season will likely end without the Baltimore Orioles participating in the playoffs. For a myriad of reasons, most of them on display yesterday, this team has not been able to gain traction all year. Miguel Gonzalez has finally seen the doom-and-gloom predictions of the statheads come true. Every year they pounded the table and pointed to his high FIP, and even higher HR rate. Chalk that one up to the nerds, at least this year. Left field has continued to be a problem for the Orioles, and it continued yesterday, with Lough turning in a stellar 0-4 with three strikeouts and a weak tapper to the pitcher. Where the Orioles were turning to a 29-year-old retread in the crucial 11th inning, the Angels handed the ball to a 22-year-old flamethrower in Trevor Gott. Nothing against Chaz Roe, but there is a reason he is a 29-year-old journeyman. Roe and Gonzalez are the type of pitcher the Orioles have gotten by with the past four seasons. For the most part, it has worked out in their favor, but at some point, it was going to catch up to them.
Finally, there is the final at-bat to discuss. For all of the positives that Buck Showalter has brought to the Orioles, there have been some real head scratchers in the decision making department this year. Besides failing to commit to a left-fielder, Showalter’s grasp on his bullpen has seemed shaky at times this year. Perhaps that’s more attributable to the fact that he has been left in scramble mode far too often by his starting pitching, as was the case yesterday. Regardless, Showalter should have known better than to put Matusz in a situation where a walk ended the game. Facing a bases loaded situation prevented Matusz from going to the breaking pitches that do make him a very effective pitcher against left-handed hitters.
Much has gone wrong for the 2015 Orioles. It would take a 40-12 finish to equal last year’s 96-66 performance. That’s not going to happen. A playoff berth is still not out of the question. However, as was prominently on display yesterday, the Orioles are a flawed team in many ways. To date, they have not been able to overcome those flaws on a consistent basis. Will they be able to finally breakthrough over the final 52 games of the season?