It would be easy to write off the putrid baseball the Orioles played in Houston – pitching aside – as just a bad series. And I sincerely hope it ends up being an extreme anomaly and one of the low points of the season.
But if you think it’s a total fluke you are kidding yourself. It’s been brewing for a while.
Maybe the bad lighting at Minute Maid Park compounded the issues and this is certainly a streaky team prone to feast or famine at the plate. But what happened against the Astros wasn’t all that different from what we’ve seen since the O’s closed out that stirring four-game series with the Tigers. If anything, this was a steady downward continuation of the Seattle and Anaheim series, where the Orioles were stumped and befuddled by junk balls and slow curves. And in a game of perpetual adjustments, the next step clearly must be made by Orioles hitters. Because the book on them only keeps growing.
My biggest gripe with this entire ballclub remains situational hitting and productive at bats – all of the money and resources are in this lineup so I will be holding them to a considerable standard – and we are now approaching double-digit games on the season where they have wasted a good enough effort from their makeshift rotation. That horror show in Houston with the record strikeouts for a three-game series is clearly not going to be the norm; the problem is the two series that preceded it weren’t all that different.
The Seattle series began with them being lulled to sleep by weak-armed Wade Miley, and as I watched the finale of that series from 14 rows behind home plate with my kids – an equally lethargic effort against Nathan Karns, my concerns started to mount. Here was a kid who can hit an easy 97 m.p.h., going to all these 3-2 counts, and then repeatedly getting O’s hitters to chase curves all over the batters box. I was shocked to see curve after curve – both early and late in counts – from a promising youngster with such a live arm, but as the weeks have gone on I’ve come to appreciate the genius in the Mariners’ approach and now everyone wants to duplicate it.
The O’s won the Angels series, but really were brutal at the plate in all but the opening game, winning game two on a Matt Wieters three-run bomb after showing no life all game, and then following that walk-off with a four-game slump since. They could muster nothing against the likes of Matt Shoemaker and Jered Weaver, two struggling pitchers whose spots in the rotation (and the Majors) were in grave jeopardy. They got totally shutdown in So Cal and followed that with an inept series in Houston, losing all three one-run games, alternating at bats between looking clueless and looking disinterred, scoring just seven total runs against what had been one of the worst teams and worst staffs in the American League.
It’s great to hit home runs, and chicks dig the longball and everyone wants to be the hero. Nut it was borderline selfish the approach many of the club’s top hitters continued to adopt in critical situations.
Failing to take pitches. Hacking all over the place. Jumping at balls after the pitcher had just shown an inability to throw strikes. Bad lighting or not, this was shameful and it’s the kind of series that can come back to bite you in October. Everyone can’t close his eyes and swing from his heels all the time. Fighting to simply make contact and put the ball in play when two runners are on and no out, or the bases loaded and less than two outs, is imperative. I don’t care how many homers you hit and how many Ks are in your DNA. The Astros were a team looking for reasons to roll over, and the O’s provided none.
Going back to the start of the Seattle series – when the O’s looked to be a club about to really take off coming so close to a four-game sweep of the Tigers – they are 3-6, scoring just 28 runs (16 of them coming off homers). Here are the numbers:
Opponent (SP) H/AB Ks RISP
Seattle (Miley) 2/30 3 0-2
Seattle (Walker) 5/31 4 2-9
Seattle (Karns) 6/32 10 0-4
LA (Santiago) 14/40 7 3-8
LA (Shoemaker) 5/33 13 1-2
LA (Weaver) 5/31 8 0-2
HOU (Fister) 8/47 19 2-9
HOU (McHugh) 11/38 18 2-14
HOU (McCullers) 5/33 15 0-5
TOTALS 61/315 (.193) 97 10/55(.182)
So they are hitting below .200 for that stretch – with almost every regular available on a daily basis sans JJ Hardy) and are managing to hit even worse with runners in scoring position. They are striking out 10.7 times per game. And this is during a stretch when they didn’t face any of those team’s best starter (King Felix, Dallas Kuechel, Garrett Richards). I know you can’t win them all, but this team has to be better than this. Miley already got slapped around his next time out, and I have a feeling Shoemaker, Weaver, Fister and the rest are going to continue to get crushed by the AL as well following their blip of success at Baltimore’s expense.
Wasted opportunities are a part of the game. No one stays hot forever and streaks come and go. But the kind of bad habits that manifested themselves in Houston were showing up plenty in the previous two series as well, and with the Indians having a legit staff and Boston outhitting everyone in the league, well, these batters better snap out of their funk and at least attempt to do the little things required to manufacture runs.
The O’s have scored three runs or less in seven of the last nine games and it’s already happened to them 21 times through 45 games. And their biggest challenges are yet to come. And you have to wonder if the starting pitching will be this solid come, oh, August and September.
They can’t possibly as bad as what we’ve seen for the past two weeks all that much longer … but a funk this severe is certain cause for a team-wide reboot at the plate, and they’re going to have be much better very soon with better opponents ahead.