Orioles making dangerous habit of leaving games until late against lockdown bullpens

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
The Orioles have lived dangerously with late deficits, but have the AL's best late-inning offense.

Once the Orioles shook off the cobwebs from a three-city, three-time zone road trip and got settled back in the comforts of home, they began a stretch that even by their own prolific standards seems a little unprecedented.

Monday’s 4-1 win was their fifth of the come-from-behind variety in six games, and their league-high 19th comeback of 2016, against three teams that have compiled some of the best bullpen talent in baseball — the Kansas City Royals, the Boston Red Sox, and the New York Yankees.

"They’ve been facing some of the best relievers in baseball," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s been impressive to do. It’s not easy."

He believes, however, that it’s not a habit they want to get too used to.

"Over the course of the season, if you’re not getting runs off of those guys, you are not going to like the results," Showalter said. "So, we’ve been fortunate. It’s not something you like to depend on, getting runs off those guys."

As with everything to do with the Orioles offense, there’s a common thread — home runs. Mark Trumbo, Matt Wieters, and Manny Machado all homered after the seventh inning began Monday.

The Orioles are tied for the league lead with 31 home runs from the seventh inning on. They rank third in baseball with a .784 OPS after the seventh inning begins and only the St. Louis Cardinals have more than the Orioles’ 101 runs from the seventh on. They’re tops in the American League in both categories. 

This hasn’t always been the case this season, but it’s been on full display during this homestand.

After the Orioles overcame an early deficit for a 13-9 win over the Red Sox Wednesday, they used seven home runs to erase a 5-4, sixth inning disadvantage and win 12-7 Thursday. That game turned on a three-run home run by Machado in the seventh inning off reliever Junichi Tazawa, who has been one of the best relievers in baseball since 2012. Pedro Alvarez, Francisco Pena, and Adam Jones all homered after Machado to extend the lead.

On Friday, the Yankees brought a 5-3 lead into the sixth inning. Catcher Matt Wieters and second baseman Jonathan Schoop leveled the game in bottom of that inning, then Machado put them ahead on a run-scoring groundout in the seventh against Dellin Betances, a two-time All-Star.

Even the only game in this stretch the Orioles didn’t win — an 8-6 loss to the Yankees on Saturday — saw them cut a seven-run deficit to just one with home runs by Trumbo, Alvarez, and Jones in the seventh inning.

All three of their runs came in the eighth inning on a Wieters single in Sunday’s 3-1 win over New York, with runs charged to Betances and flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman. They trailed 1-0 entering the seventh before Trumbo and Wieters homered Monday.

Machado’s game-sealing home run came off Kelvin Herrera, who was also an All-Star last season.

The All-Star shortstop says the late wins are part of the Orioles finding their identity, and announcing themselves to the rest of the league.

"It's gotten to a point we've got to play as a team and we've been doing that the last couple days," Machado said. "It's gotten to a point where we have to separate ourselves and put ourselves on the map that we've got one goal, and it's to be the last team standing. We're going to have to do all types of game play.

"Our pitching staff was keeping us in games, our bullpen's coming in shutting it down and our offense is giving us opportunities to hit the ball out of the ballpark or get runners on base and get them in however we can. We've got to bring out every type of game play if we want to be who we want to be."

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