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Another lopsided loss might say something about an Orioles team on the margins of the pennant race

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

On Tuesday, the Orioles will return to Miller Park just one game worse in the standings than they arrived Monday, before a seven-run deficit blossomed quickly and turned into another lopsided loss for the visitors.

Distinguishing between a trouncing and a tight loss is something few in the Orioles clubhouse are interested in doing. The eerie quiet in there is the same after either one.

But whether they’ll differentiate them or not, the underlying symptoms of those big losses say more about the club than its win-loss record.

“A close loss is tough, too,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Because we’ve had some challenges with our starting pitching. … We’ve had some good outings here, too, lately. This one puts you in that — I don’t want to say, ‘Here you go again’ — but it’s just kind of, ‘OK, we’ve got to fight our way through it.’ There are some games that we can come back from if we can stay engaged and connected to the game. But when you’ve had the challenges that we’ve had, there’s a certain mental challenge that’s hard to overcome nightly.”

How they dig out of those holes, and how often, depends on how deep it is. But five runs seems generally like the cutoff between a surmountable deficit and one that can’t reasonably be overcome.

Left-hander Wade Miley’s lack of command and the Orioles’ offense’s inability to solve rookie left-hander Brent Suter conspired to make a 15th loss of five runs or more for the Orioles this year. Seven teams have more such losses, and many of them can be classified as rebuilding.

But with the Orioles 40-42 one game past the halfway point of the season, losses like Monday’s show why it might be difficult for them to live up to their lofty expectations entering this year. Big defeats chip away in the wrong direction at a team’s run differential, and at the conclusion of Monday’s game, the Orioles’ minus-75 was fifth-worst in the major leagues.

They have seven wins of five runs or more of their own, though, counteracting some of that, and are 12-8 in one run games, so their 40-42 record is flattering considering their overall margins. The expected record — or Pythagorean record — of a team that has played 82 games and given up 75 more runs than it has scored is 33-49. No other team is seven wins better than its Pythagorean.

By FanGraphs’ BaseRuns metric, which calculates how many runs a team is excepted to score (and allow) by adding up the components of its production and removing luck and sequencing from the equation, the Orioles entered Monday at a majors-worst minus-96.

That would put their expected BaseRuns record at 31-50, not including Monday’s result, which is only liable to drag it down more. In short, Orioles pitching allows the component events that lead to runs — base runners — at a rate that means they’d allow a majors-high 5.69 runs per game if the randomness were stripped from the game.

In reality, the Orioles have a team ERA of 5.03, which places them last in the American League and better than only the Cincinnati Reds. What this all portends depends on perspective. The Orioles have spent half a decade beating such projections and outperforming what any of their underlying performance suggests their win-loss record should be. The problem is they’re already doing that, and all they have to show for it is fourth place in their division and a sub-.500 record.

The other side of that coin would be that an unreasonable number of the runs they have allowed have come in a small set of games — the 15 blowout losses make up 18.2 percent of their total games played but 35.7 percent of their 439 runs allowed. They’ve lost those games by a combined 116 runs.

Is the measure of a team what it does at its worst, or the full balance of a season? Are games when Showalter is forced to manage in a way that only attempts to save his bullpen for the next day worth any more or less than the one loss it represents in the standings? 

Somber as the Orioles clubhouse was after Monday’s romp, it doesn’t seem like they dwell on the margin of defeat.

“Losses are losses, no matter if you lost by 10 or by one,” catcher Welington Castillo said. “Nobody wants to lose a game or lose a couple of games. We’ve just got to stay positive and keep our head up and come tomorrow strong.”

jmeoli@baltsun.com

twitter.com/JonMeoli

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