A lot has changed since last year’s July meeting. Instead of posturing for position, they are two teams trying to dig themselves out of their deep first-half holes.
The Orioles’ fate has long been determined, but Thursday night’s series-opening 5-2 loss to the Twins at Target Field – their 10th defeat in their past 11 games — offered some positives, but also more reasons for frustration.
“You’re always trying to give the other pitcher and other team credit, but we just didn’t mount much,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, mired in a season-long slump, hit a pair of loud solo homers, but those blasts accounted for the entire Orioles offense as they scored three or fewer runs for the 33rd time in their past 44 games.
Andrew Cashner recorded another gritty start, holding the Twins to three runs over six innings for his sixth quality start in his past eight outings. But the Orioles (24-62), on pace for one of the worst seasons in baseball history, have won just one of those starts, and are 4-13 in games Cashner’s started even though nine of his 17 starts have been quality.
More often than not this year, the Orioles offense has been clearly trying to do too much with each swing, often flailing at pitches out of the zone or turning over on a ball early in the count.
That much was clear in Thursday night’s series opener in Minnesota against Twins right-hander Aaron Slegers, who needed just 72 pitches to record six innings of one-run ball, ending in his first major league win.
Slegers was recalled from Triple-A to make his fourth career major league start, but owned a 5.66 ERA in five previous outings.
He allowed just three Orioles hits, recording eight groundouts. Not known for missing bats, Slegers recorded nine swinging strikes, including four on his sinker, for a 12.5 percent swinging strike rate, a considerable spike from his 8.9 percent rate entering Thursday’s game.
“A lot of two-seamers in that were balls,” Showalter said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges when you’re going through what we’re going through, is that guys are wanting to get it back and how they equate getting it back is hits and swinging the bat, and sometimes it’s a walk. … It’s just got to be a process and trying to stay true to it and it’s hard because guys want to swing, they want to it. One of our biggest challenges, the difference from last year, is our chases out of the zone, especially on the breaking ball.”
The Twins (36-48) were coming off a road trip in which they lost eight of nine.
Cashner, whose has been given the worst run support among all the Orioles’ starters, failed to catch a toss from first baseman Chris Davis while covering first base on No. 9 hitter Bobby Wilson’s grounder to Davis in the third inning.
Davis’ throw hit off Cashner’s glove while the pitcher was in mid-stride and sailed into foul ground, allowing Jake Cave, who hit a leadoff double to open the inning, to score and put Wilson at second. Two batters later, Wilson scored on Eddie Rosario’s RBI single to give the Twins a 2-0 lead.
“When it first happened, I thought the ball, Schoopy was going for it and then CD kept going, so I was just trying to hurry and get over there,” Cashner said. “I don’t know, it was kind of weird. I just lost the ball for a second and when I did it hit off my glove.”
The only other run off Cashner came on Logan Morrison’s leadoff homer in the fourth.
Schoop recorded his first multi-homer game since Game 1 of a May 12 doubleheader, taking Slegers into the second deck in left field to open the fifth inning and hitting another out to left-center on a full-count slider from Twins reliever Addison Reed in the seventh.
“It felt good,” Schoop said. “It felt good, like I put my work in and it starts showing out there. It felt good. I’m looking forward to keeping it up like that and looking forward to us winning too.”
The Twins made several fine defensive plays. Max Kepler made a lunging catch on Caleb Joseph’s sinking line drive to right that would have put two on with no out in the third. Kepler also made a leaping grab against the high right-field wall to take away a hit from Trey Mancini in the seventh after Schoop’s second homer.
Cave took extra bases away from Davis on a ball that appeared destined to hit off the scoreboard in right-center with a leaping off-the-wall catch.
Cashner saved his quality start by stranding the bases loaded in the sixth after a run was taken off the board when Kepler’s double became a ground-rule double after video replay review, bringing Jorge Polanco back to third. After intentionally walking Cave, Cashner induced a groundout to escape.
Orioles reliever Brad Brach allowed a pair of two-out run-scoring hits in the eighth to give the Twins a 5-2 cushion. Brach yielded an RBI single to Kepler on a 1-2 count and allowed a double into left-center to Cave.
Davis’ ninth-inning strikeout was his 1,305th with the Orioles, tying him with Cal Ripken Jr. for the most in Orioles franchise history. Ripken played 21 seasons with the Orioles, while Davis matched him in his eighth with the team.