The Baltimore Orioles used a six-run third inning off Boston starter Clay Buchholz to gain an insurmountable lead in a 7-6 victory over the Red Sox on Patriot Day. Apart from a Steve Clevenger double, the rest of the damage was done on a string of singles by a host of Orioles batters.
The win for the Baltimore Orioles salvaged a split in the four-game series, though really the Birds should be flying to Toronto with three victories. After blowing a 5-0 lead yesterday, the Orioles came within 90 feet today of losing a 6-0 advantage. Two consecutive losses of that sort would have been terribly damaging and difficult for the Orioles to absorb.
But the Red Sox proved once again that they don’t die easily, especially the diminutive Dustin Pedoria who is about the size of a seventh grader. I don’t know how he does it, but he can flat-out hit. Over the series he was 7-for-15 with four doubles. And Brock Holt – called up from AAA to take the place of Ryan Roberts just before the Orioles came to town– was 6-for-14 over the four games. David Ortiz was 5-for-12 (missing the first game) with a homer and three walks.
Over the past two games, after getting leads that should not be lost, the Red Sox picked away and crawled back into each – nearly winning again this afternoon. So why is this happening with the Orioles, and is it a concern moving forward? Here are some reasons …
The Transitional Inning – Yesterday the Orioles lost a game largely because of all the controversy surrounding the “transitional play.” But really hurting the Orioles right now is what I’ll call the “transitional inning” from the starter to the first reliever.
It does not take much in the way of insightful baseball analysis to know that the regular inability of the Baltimore Orioles starters to go deep into games has a cumulative negative effect on outcomes. This was the primary concern coming into the season, and the first 18 games have validated that worry as having substance. And where it is being most profoundly felt at the moment is not so much with the bullpen wearing out and giving up runs, but with the starter particularly faltering in his last inning of work (the “transitional inning”).
In the Boston series, 10 of the 20 runs scored by the Red Sox were given up by the starters in their final inning or portion of an inning before being replaced. Buck Showalter has to let them attempt to go deeper; he can’t be taking them out in the 5th inning or beginning of the 6th frame night after night.
It is clear to even the casual observer that when the Orioles’ starters begin to tire, they lose placement quickly. They are unable to hit corners. The hitter is able to work counts favorably for either a base on balls or to get a pitch over the center of the plate. Boom! Runs! Lead gone or diminished.
So how can this be fixed? That is the million-dollar question, or, in one case, the $50 million dollar question. Either these starters have to find ways to pitch to contact successfully and develop more put-away pitches, or they are going to be eventually replaced by upcoming arms who will be able to do that.
These are the Red Sox – As much as I truly hate to admit it, these guys are really good. They are ugly and annoying with their incessant strike-zone complaints, but they are really good baseball players. After a rough start on the season, they have been coming from behind in the past week.
It is a great skill to flick off pitches and wait for the one mistake that can be squared up. Here is an unusual stat … today the Orioles pitchers threw 167 pitches compared to the Sox tossing 127. Yesterday it was 171-141. This is about as sustainable as running up the national debt.
This is Fenway Park – The ballpark is famous for these scenarios … always has been and always will be. The green monster will facilitate comebacks. Other parks will not present the same opportunity.
The Defense is not Helping – With J.J. Hardy dealing with a couple of early season injuries and with Manny Machado still a few weeks away from a return, the defense is simply not clicking at a level the Baltimore Orioles have been accustomed to seeing. This extends innings, runs up the pitch counts, and allows for more runs to score. Even on some plays that are not going into the books as errors, there are plays not being made – an example being a grounder to Steve Lombardozzi today that likely should have been an out but was played into an infield single.
As a final thought, great teams having a great season need to win close games as a pattern of life. That is what the Baltimore Orioles did in 2012, and they will need to do it again if they want to be playing baseball in October.