Chris Tillman struggles again against Toronto

Chris Tillman has been incredibly consistent as the number-one starter for the Baltimore Orioles the past three seasons. Since joining the Orioles’ rotation full-time in the second half of the 2012 season, Tillman has compiled a 40-21 record and pitched to a 3.63 ERA. Even in the tough American League East division, Tillman has put the Orioles in a position to win nearly every time he takes the ball.

Except against one team that is. The Toronto Blue Jays have eaten Tillman’s lunch his entire career. For Tillman’s career, he is 4-9 with a 5.23 ERA in 17 starts against the Jays. Those are by far his worst numbers against any team. He has allowed 20 home runs (over the 103.1 innings he has pitched against Toronto, that comes out to a 1.75 HR/9) and a .273/.328/.490 slash line, by far the worst numbers he has allowed to a team faced more than a handful of starts.

The Major League Baseball scheduling gods have not been kind to Chris Tillman this season, as he has already pitched against the Blue Jays three times. To be blunt, the results have left much to be desired. Tillman has taken the loss in each of those starts, and has allowed 19 earned runs in 13.2 innings — that’s a 12.51 ERA for those keeping score at home. Four home runs and nine walks have added to Tillman’s misery against the Blue Jays.

Tillman had a chance to shake off the Blue Jays blues last night in Baltimore. It looked good for a while before everything came crashing down in the seventh inning. The Orioles and Blue Jays were tied at two, and Tillman had allowed only six hits with his only real mistake being Edwin Encarnacion‘s home run in the sixth inning.

In the seventh, Tillman allowed a leadoff single to Ryan Goins. That’s when the train got off the tracks. Justin Smoak grounded to Chris Davis at first base who threw to Manny Machado covering at second. Machado’s return throw was wild and skipped off Tillman’s glove at first. It was Machado’s sixth throwing error already this season. Tillman struck out Ezequiel Carrera, but Josh Donaldson followed with a two-out RBI single, Jose Bautista clubbed a ground rule double to left, and that was all she wrote.

It’s easy to look back on this game in hindsight and say that Buck Showalter should have taken Tillman out before things got hairy in the seventh. On Wall Street, such a move would be called locking in profits. Tillman was humming right along into the seventh, and had his defense backed him up, we very well could have been discussing an Orioles victory today. That did not happen, however, and Tillman was not able to wiggle off the hook, leaving Orioles fans wondering if Tillman really is capable of being the ace of the staff. If Machado makes that throw, or Tillman gets Donaldson out, the narrative from last night’s game is completely different.

That being said, do I think Chris Tillman is a true staff ace? No, I do not. He does not have one pitch that wows you, but he wins games. Take away Tillman’s 4-9 record against the Blue Jays, and he is 36-12 the past three plus seasons. That’s a .750 winning percentage. Can’t complain about that.

The Blue Jays are just not a team that Chris Tillman matches up well against. They are a fly ball hitting lineup, and Tillman is a fly ball pitcher to the extreme. His ground ball to fly ball ratio is well below the league average, and his home run to fly ball ratio is slightly above the league average. Tillman does not have an exceptional ability to keep the ball in the park, and against a team like the Blue Jays that hits a lot of fly balls, some of those are bound to turn into doubles and home runs. The fact that Tillman struggles with his command every April does not help matters.

It is far too early for Chris Tillman to be written off this season. The schedule will begin to even out, and he will not be facing the Blue Jays this much the rest of the season. Tillman has pitched effectively in his other starts this season — as evidenced by his 2.92 ERA against the Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees. His fly ball pitching just does not match up well against the mashers from Toronto. Baseball is a crazy game, and sometimes things like this just cannot be avoided.

Chris Tillman’s next scheduled start will likely come against Seattle on May 19th. Look for him to rebound as he gets through his Blue Jays induced demise. Until then, take a deep breath Orioles fans because better things are coming from Chris Tillman.

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