On Tuesday at Camden Yards, Tillman got torched by the Yankees, allowing five runs and seven hits in 2⅔ innings during an 8-3 loss to first-place New York. Included in the damage was a leadoff homer by Brett Gardner and a pair of jacks by Matt Holliday. The rough start continues a disturbing trend for Tillman.
Since returning from the disabled list on May 7 (shoulder), Tillman, Baltimore's 29-year-old nominal ace, has only one quality start in five tries. In that span, his 1.87 WHIP is the worst in the American League and his .323 opponents' batting average is the third-highest in the AL. Just how bad have things gotten for him? On Tuesday, the average exit velocity he allowed to the Yankees, 91.8 mile per hour, was greater than his average fastball velocity of 90.4.
Tillman's struggles mirror those of his team. Over the first five weeks of the season, the Orioles were one of the biggest surprises in baseball, jumping out to a 22-10 record that had them atop the AL East. Included in that start was a 6-1 record in one-run games that suggested the Birds were capitalizing on their colors and using some sort of black magic. But lately, it's their orange that has been bleeding through, making Buck Showalter's early-season Cinderella squad look more like a pumpkin.
Over their past 18 games, the O's have gone just 4-14 and have plummeted from a half-game up in the division to 4½ games back. At the heart of that free fall is a starting five that has been worse than advertised, if that's at all possible. Since May 10, Baltimore's rotation, which has long been the team's weak link and was expected to be once again this season, has worked to a 6.10 ERA and a 1.82 WHIP, both of which are worst in the American League by a pretty good margin. Kevin Gausman, the former first-rounder who spent the second half of last season looking like he was ready to make the leap, has been maddeningly inconsistent. Lefty Wade Miley, whose 13.1 percent walk rate is the worst among AL starters, has been maddeningly wild. Veteran Ubaldo Jimenez, who was recently bounced from the rotation, has been maddeningly ... Ubaldo. Even though Dylan Bundy has been the unquestioned ace of the staff, there are concerns over his declining K rate (6.2 per nine innings, down from 8.5 last year).
Things haven't been much better on the offensive side either. All-Everything third baseman Manny Machado, mired in one of the worst slumps in his career, fanned four times Tuesday, just the second time he has ever done that as a big leaguer. The last of those K's, a swinging whiff against Yanks reliever Adam Warren to end the seventh inning, caused much of the sparse Camden Yards crowd to bolt for the exits. Slugger Chris Davis (79 K's in 175 at-bats) is on pace to shatter the record for most strikeouts in a season. Free-agent acquisition Seth Smith, the team's leadoff hitter by default and an early catalyst, has come back to earth. Add it all up, and the supposedly potent O's attack is averaging 4.4 runs per game, 12th in the AL and just ahead of the Oakland A's. Combine that with the pitching problems, and it's easy to see why the Orioles, who are perilously close to falling into fourth place for the first time since the 2015 season, suddenly find themselves closer to the cellar than the ceiling in the AL East.
Granted, there's still plenty of baseball left to be played, just like there are plenty of reasons to believe the Orioles can turn things around. Five-time All-Star Adam Jones, out the past four games with ankle and hip issues, is close to returning. The schedule, which has Baltimore in the midst of nine straight games against first-place clubs (Minnesota, Houston, New York), will eventually soften up. Machado isn't going to hit .210 forever; Davis isn't going to finish with the 58 RBIs, for which he's currently on pace; and closer Zach Britton, out for much of the season with a forearm injury, will be back at some point.
And, of course, there's the rotation, which can't possibly continue to pitch this poorly. The law of averages says that eventually, Tillman & Co. will start fooling people again.
But by that time, it might be too late.