This fall, if/when the Baltimore Orioles' 2015 life flashes before their collective eyes -- you know, just before the final fade-out -- you have to think that Tuesday’s 6-5 extra-inning loss at Seattle would be one of the primary images. For most of the night, after falling into a 4-2 deficit in the first inning, it looked like Baltimore wasn’t going to put up much of a fight. And if you’re an O’s fan, you’d almost rather they didn’t.
You wish that Brian Matusz didn’t fan the side on 13 pitches in the fourth inning and look about as good as he’s ever looked since moving to the bullpen three years ago. You wish that O’s relievers didn’t toss up bagel after bagel following yet another premature evacuation of an Orioles starter. You wish that Adam Jones and Chris Davis hadn’t gone back-to-back in the eighth to tie it up.
Because if none of those things happened, there’s no earthly way you would’ve stayed up until 1:30 in the morning. But you did. And now, thanks to the tease that is the 2015 Baltimore Orioles, you’ll never get those three hours and 29 minutes of your life back. Much like the Birds won’t get back the golden opportunity to gain a game on the Yankees and Angels, both of whom lost Tuesday night. (Forget about the Blue Jays, who are well on the way to setting a major league record with 57 straight wins.)
If you’re angry and looking for someone or something to blame, both for Tuesday night’s loss and for the O’s recent mediocrity, look no further than the starting pitching. Two weeks ago, right before the trade deadline, it looked like the rotation was finally beginning to come around, just as it did around the same time last year.
During a six-game stretch from July 24 through July 29, Birds starters pitched at least seven innings five times. Kevin Gausman was finally blossoming into the stud the Orioles envisioned when they drafted him. The pod people had finally decided to put the real Chris Tillman back into fake Chris Tillman’s body. Ubaldo Jimenez, who’s recently been linked to "Lego Movie 2" rumors (he’ll reportedly voice a new character called Good Pitcher/Bad Pitcher), was showing signs of something called “consistency.” Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen were their typical solid if unspectacular selves. As you might expect, the run coincided with the O’s reeling off five wins in a row, their second longest winning streak of the season. It was just enough to make O’s fans -- and apparently the front office -- think that the team didn’t need any starting pitching help.
Since July 30, Orioles starters have pitched to a 6.02 ERA (13th in the AL) and a 1.59 WHIP (14th), and have failed to make it past the fifth inning five times in 12 games. In that same span, they’ve pitched into the seventh inning just four times and have averaged 5.4 innings per start, the second worst mark in the American League. Tuesday night’s early exit by Tillman was especially disconcerting.
Tillman, who was drafted by Seattle before being dealt to Baltimore in 2008, had pretty much owned his former team, posting a 6-0 record with an 0.84 WHIP in eight career starts. Until Tuesday. Before spraining his ankle in his previous outing on July 29, he was throwing as well as anybody in baseball (4:1 K/BB ratio, 0.90 WHIP in five July starts). After 12 days off, the hope was that Tillman was once again whole. But he sure didn’t look it.
When Tillman’s been good this year, he’s been able to command his off-speed stuff. Tuesday night, that wasn’t the case. As a result, 51 of the 72 pitches Tillman threw were fastballs (70.8 percent), his fifth-highest heater usage this year. Not surprisingly, it looked like Seattle’s hitters knew what was coming. The Mariners’ OPS against Tillman’s cheese Tuesday night was a whopping 1.714, by far the most hittable that Tilman’s fastball has been in any of his 21 starts this season.
Maybe it was the long layoff. Maybe it was the ankle. Maybe it was the screaming line drive that Robinson Cano rocketed off the back of Tillman’s right arm in the first inning. Then again, by that point, Tillman had already given up a 411-foot bomb to Nelson Cruz.
Cano's liner was the kind of laser that makes a pitcher’s life flash before his eyes. Much like Tuesday night’s game will flash before the eyes of Orioles fans at some point in the next six weeks. That is, unless the rotation can turn things around.