24 August 2015

O's Swept By Twins; So, Now What?

The Orioles lost again to the Twins yesterday, dropping Baltimore to one game above .500 and 6.5 games out of first place in the American League East. Right now, they're only two games back of the second wild card spot (Rangers), but two teams (Angels and Twins) are only 1.5 games out. The Rays are 2.5 games out. So the O's have their work cut out for them -- especially with a remaining schedule that looks like this:

4 at Kansas City Royals
3 at Texas Rangers
3 vs. Tampa Bay Rays
3 at Toronto Blue Jays
3 at New York Yankees
3 vs. Kansas City Royals
3 vs. Boston Red Sox
4 at Tampa Bay Rays
3 at Washington Nationals
3 at Boston Red Sox
4 vs. Toronto Blue Jays
3 at New York Yankees

That's really difficult! The only silver lining is that the Orioles are chasing many of those teams, so if they get hot, they can make up ground in a hurry.

Well, maybe there's another advantage: The Orioles are done playing the Twins. Minnesota won all seven of its games against the Orioles this season, and the recent four-game series sweep in Camden Yards was probably the O's most frustrating series since they lost all four games to the Royals in the American League Championship Series. In that infuriating series, the O's lost those games by a total of six runs.

In the Twins' series, the Orioles were outscored by 16 runs, but the majority of those came in the first-game blowout loss (15-2). Blowouts happen; the O's moved on. But they simply could not break through. That aggravating, unrelenting feeling -- winning being so close, yet so far away -- resurfaced, and it was just as awful as last October. Sure, the stakes weren't nearly as high, but losing such winnable games, particularly when a team needs them most, is agonizing.

Really, the O's have no one but themselves to blame. In the last three games, the Twins demonstrated a similar characteristic that worked so well for the Royals last postseason. They worked counts and fouled off pitches. They got on base, with a seemingly endless assault of bloops, broken-bat singles, and infield hits. They used their speed and forced the O's into errors. And they took advantage of every mistake. Maybe no example is better than in yesterday's 12-inning loss, when the Twins took advantage of two errors on relatively routine grounders to shortstop (by Manny Machado, filling in for an injured J.J. Hardy) and third base (by Jimmy Paredes) to score the go-ahead and eventual winning run. Eduardo Escobar not only reached with one out on Machado's error, but he took the extra base and ended up on second by not hesitating.

On the other hand, the Orioles didn't hit well and squandered opportunities. They didn't tack on insurance runs. In consecutive games, Darren O'Day blew a 3-1 lead; Brad Brach allowed an inherited, go-ahead runner to score (after intentionally walking Escobar for some ridiculous reason); and Zach Britton blew a save with two outs. By making a couple of extra plays, the Orioles could have taken three of four. But they didn't.

If you want to count the Orioles out, you'd be justified in doing so. They frequently look like a team that's a player or two short: one that wins a few games, then loses a few; one that gets effective starting pitching for a stretch but doesn't hit well enough, and then will struggle to get pitchers past the fifth inning but will score a bunch of runs. Inconsistency is the mark of a decent but not great team.

But the Orioles also seem to thrive at times like these. They were mocked after Hisashi Iwakuma's no-hitter. They won their next four games against the A's. Unfortunately, they also don't have a whole lot of games remaining against teams like the A's.

If the road weren't rough enough, the Orioles also have to play for an extended stretch without Hardy, who's headed to the disabled list after injuring his groin. Hardy hasn't looked right for most of the season, and he's also been bothered by an assortment of injuries (shoulder, oblique, etc.). His defense will be missed, but his offense (52 wRC+, worst among 27 shortstops with more than 300 plate appearances) won't. Jonathan Schoop was ridiculed for his 65 wRC+ last season. Hardy's 2015 has been disastrous and is worth being talked about alongside the failure of so many of the team's corner outfielders. If you want to deride Dan Duquette for going with a slew of platoon outfielders, that's fine. He has clearly made mistakes. But you can't blame him for everything, and Hardy's underperformance has been critical.

It's fitting that the Orioles are headed to Kansas City after being swept in close, maddening fashion. They have 39 games left to play, and things could go south in a hurry if they let it happen. So they might as well face what agitates them most and go right after the team that ended their 2014 hopes.


tony2302 said...

" If you want to deride Dan Duquette for going with a slew of platoon outfielders, that's fine. He has clearly made mistakes. But you can't blame him for everything, and Hardy's underperformance has been critical."
that little snippet says VOLUMES. don't care what the club says. in my opinion this season was doomed before it started and as much as Douquette deserves blame good old Pete deserves more by refusing to let Douquette go. he obviously didn't want to be in Baltimore or he would have respectfully turned Toronto down. so instead this club did NOTHING to significantly improve themselves. addition by distraction didn't work. too many opportunities in the off season went by the wayside. counting on Machado,Wieters and Davis to have bounce back years was one thing but who gets the ball every fifth day that you can TRULY depend on? no Palmer,no Musinna, hell none of the starters strike fear in the league. don't get me wrong this is a nice group of starters just one without a true ace. could they have gotten one in the off season or before the trade deadline? probably not. makes you wonder why tho doesn't it? always has me womdering why almost NO front line free agents or prospective trade options don't want to come to Baltimore?

Phil said...

There are only a few markets for the big-time free agents and it has been that way for a long time. So be it, smaller market teams win and compete every year. "Parity" is at a ridiculous high. The O's have been perennial contenders.

The issue is the farm system. You can get top-line and expensive talent in a "win now" mode with decent prospect depth. The O's don't have that. The drafting and even worse, the pitcher development, has been atrocious. That is what deserves a long, hard look. How have so many pitching talents either been busts, are in danger of being busts, or have gone on to other clubs to achieve far more success? Why is almost every aspect of the farm system seemingly so mediocre right now?

How this isn't storyline #1 is baffling to me. It is the single biggest area where I think this team's current situation pickle hurts most. Blaming Angelos is easy, but the O's spend like the mid-market team they are. Blaming Duquette for one offseason is easy... but it is the cumulative offseasons and development holes that have created this.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

If missing out on a playoff spot in late August by a couple of games is doomed, then I'm sure a lot of fans would sign up for that. I'm not sure quite what your point is. Is it why don't the Orioles spend more money? I don't know; that's on ownership. Is it why didn't the Orioles do more this offseason, especially spending wise? Probably because the budget is tight and there wasn't a whole lot of room to do anything major. They could have done something different with the corner outfielders, and they didn't handle some of their arbitration players right. And selling a draft pick was extremely frustrating.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Phil, great points. Injuries happen, but the Orioles would be in a much better situation with one or two more young, talented players. There are only so many players around like Machado, but the goal is to add more guys like Schoop and Gausman to the equation. They have not been able to do that.

philip said...

Why isn't this season mostly Dan's fault?
He was aware of our problems last offseason, and fixed none of them. None. In getting Travis Snider-a reasonable move- he would only have been, in a best case scenario, replacing Markakis, for a net gain of zero. he didn't do anything else positive. no trades, several of which he could have made, including a few excellent trades that were suggested here.
He gave Matusz and Hunter too much money for too little production, and then signed Wesley Wright, presumably to replace Matusz, but hed' already tendered a contract to Matusz, so Wright was superflous(and ended up being useless)
Dan brought in scrub players with positive pasts in hopes they'd produce, he duplicated skill sets, he wasted Gausman in favor of Norris(sure, sign Norris, but then trade him for whatever he can bring, and put Gausman in the rotation.)
Dan kept one-dimensional players without options, so that any roster move required a DFA, and he didn't address a single one of the orioles' glaring problems. not one.
if money is an issue, why did Dan spend so much on mediocrities, hoping they'd produce? why tender limited, easily replaceable pitchers? why give De Aza, who was successful only in a very SSS, 5 million dollars, especially when there was already a plethora of OF guys, none of whom had options? why give Cabrera two+ million dollars when we already had competent SS replacements?
Gausman is cheap. Hunter/Matusz can be replaced easily with another Brad Brach.
There was a lot of foolishly wasted money.
No high-OBP players except Snider, who at best would only have replaced Markakis, no guys with good eyes who can draw a walk. No speedy guys except Lough, who somehow couldnt run.
Some of Dan's moves were reasonable, such as getting Wright and Snider, but the vast majority of his moves were bad even at the time, and his non-moves were inexplicable.
I don't advocate signing big free agents, but there were other options.
Buck has to use the guys he has, but Dan is responsible for getting those players, and when the 25-man is completely inflexible, Buck can't do much. Hardy and Wieters being injured is less significant than what Dan has done or not done.
I'm no expert, but it sure seems clear that most of the failures of this season are because of probems that were ignored or made worse, and an inflexbile roster full of limited players.
thanks for letting me express myself. I'm not trying to be rude, and I do think that everything I have said is valid.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I have no problem with Duquette criticism. He deserves some, or a lot. Whatever. But when fans rail against Duquette, I think a lot of what they're saying is that it's unfortunate the O's didn't get as much production out of low-tier signings as they had in the past. They were pretty fortunate in that category for a few years. That luck mostly ran out, so far at least, this year.

Jon Shepherd said...

Process argument would make more sense if club was 20 games out. Lots of little things disrupt a season.

That said I disagree with the current process even though it has performed excellently.

tony2302 said...

i made a comment a month or so ago about how bad the farm system is and how it seems like so many pitching prospects end up with bad arms is it the way they are being taught? is it bad scouting? a combination of both or more? isn't Douquette responsible for all baseball operations or just at the major league level? if not then these guys need to have a stern talking to.

Director, Minor League Operations
Kent Qualls
Director, Player Development
Brian Graham
Director, Dominican Republic Baseball Operations
Nelson Norman
Director, Pitching Development
Rick Peterson

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I agree that something in the O's player development process needs to change.

Jon Shepherd said...

Developmental staff appears to be doing better with the players this regime drafted as opposed to the ones the former regime acquired. They want pitchers to fall within a certain range and will force some to comply. Dylan Bundy is a great example of the team probably hurting a pitcher as well as making him less effective, but that is some conjecture combined with scouting gossip.

Adam Smith said...

It's not the talent.

With a few exceptions, the O's players are just taking turns choking on a nightly basis. They're waiting for the next bad break instead of playing through them and they have no confidence.

This situation is almost always a direct reflection of the manager. Buck looks totally lost and his players are following suit.

He's a good baseball man and can make a franchise competitive but that's all. The regression to mediocrity was inevitable. It's time for a new voice...A new GM wouldn't hurt either.

tony2302 said...

if they want pitchers to fall within a certain range and the ones they draft aren't within that range from the start it seems like a waste of a draft pick imo. similar to and forgive the comparison the Washington Redskins trying to make a pocket passer out of Robert Griffin III. taking away a skill set the pitcher already has and trying to have them re learn a new set.

Jon Shepherd said...

The franchise has a lot of pitchers from the previous regime. Quite a bit of overlap.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Buck looks lost... how? What example do you have? That the O's are losing now?

I actually think he's tried just about everything; lots of player combinations, being open and creative with platoon options, everything. He was a good manager the last couple of years, but now it's his fault? Ridiculous.

Adam Smith said...

The Orioles are clearly less than the sum of their parts. We're not getting the most out of the talent we have and that's the manager's job.

Yes, he's tried all kinds of combinations and nothing has produced consistent results which strengthens my point that it's not the talent. We've cut bait with almost everyone who's failed to produce since the beginning of the season. They're not going to DFA JJ Hardy, so it's time to start looking elsewhere to address this issue.

Unless there are a plethora of injuries up and down the roster, inconsistent play down the stretch that costs a post-season birth is a recipe for fired manager.

The Yankees and Diamondbacks fired Buck and they'd both say their better for it. If anything, the O's probably waited too long. He's a very good manager, but maybe the message is falling on def ears.

Adam Smith said...

He doesn't deserve all of the blame. When Paul Janish is the best call-up option to patch a whole at Shortstop. It's definitely time to take a hard look at the player development and the GM.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

That the Orioles have cut bait with so many fringe-type players actually supports the argument that the Orioles are trying to make due with less talented players at a few positions. I'm not sure how this team is proving to be that much less than the sum of its parts when O's teams have been exceeding projections and expectations basically since the moment Buck Showalter arrived.

If you want to only say that, hey, Showalter has previously shown that he can't get a team over that final bump to the World Series, that's fine. But look at this team's starting rotation. Look at the leads the team's best relievers have blown lately in close games. That isn't Showalter's fault. There isn't much room for error here.

Arguing that Showalter should be run out of town is laughable, regardless of what past teams have done after he left.

Adam Smith said...

It's not his fault, but it's definitely his problem.

I may be an overreactive fan, but it's Buck's job to prove me wrong and so far he hasn't done that.

Buck says it himself on those MASN commercials that have become unbearable to watch.

***Side note: Is anyone else tormented by the commercial of AJ10 laughing non-stop? It's not funny anymore.

Anyway, in the other commercial, Buck says: "There are no Cinderella's in baseball, who you are and what you are will show itself eventually..."

If that's true, then maybe it applies to him also and we've seen the best of what Buck can bring to the club. It's not like he has a ring to prove me wrong, so I can only go by what I see. I watch every game hoping he'll prove me wrong, but I haven't seen it yet.

I doubt if tonight's game will buck the trend.

Jon Shepherd said...

Buck's job is to won, not show you wrong. He has a won a lot here. Baseball is a peculiar thing to go Ricky Bobby on.