It turns out that four days off in mid-July wasn’t the panacea for the Orioles rotation that so many hoped for and that the team required if it was going to play meaningful baseball deep into the season’s second half.
The Orioles starters have a 6.02 ERA after right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez allowed six runs by the fourth inning in Sunday’s 8-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs, who earned a series sweep. Every poor start drops the 42-49 Orioles further out of playoff contention, and there’s no bottom in sight.
“It’s been a challenge for us,” Buck Showalter said of his starting pitchers. “We’ve got to figure it out, and games are dwindling.”
Jiménez, who failed to pitch out of the fourth inning for the fifth time this season, said the group is well-aware of what it’s going through, especially now that the idea of a fresh start to open the second half of the season is gone.
“It is disappointing,” Jiménez said. “There’s no question about it, it’s disappointing. But this is baseball. We need to figure it out. … I think everyone wants to do their job, and I don’t think you’re going to get more pressure. Every five days, you want to go out there and be there for the team. We all know how things are going right now, but I don’t think we more pressure than we already have.”
In a series in which none of the Orioles starters made it past the fifth inning, and in a season during which the club has just 32 quality starts, Showalter has had plenty of occasion to analyze the carryover of a string of bad starts.
On Saturday, he spoke of the pressure a pitcher can put on himself to be the guy who stops such a tide. There’s been plenty of occasion for that, especially this series.
Kevin Gausman got shelled for four home runs and eight runs in three innings Friday night, only to spit the hook on the loss when the team erased its eight-run deficit before falling in the ninth inning. Wade Miley allowed seven runs without completing five innings Saturday night to continue his free fall from the league’s ERA leaderboard in May, and went so far after the start as to say he wasn’t even good when his numbers looked it.
Then there’s Jiménez, who was booed off the mound by the partisan home fans Sunday after yielding six runs on 11 hits without completing four innings.
Taken in total, the rotation allowed 21 runs in 11 1/3 innings, and only Friday’s improbable comeback (and the required 24 2/3 innings of impressive relief pitching) kept the series from looking even worse.
The homestand has seven games remaining, four against the Texas Rangers and three against the Houston Astros, both clubs whose offenses could make for more pitching headaches. The Orioles’ streaky offense has been at fault for some of the team’s recent struggles, but Showalter still turns to the fact that these pitchers have pitched better before as a reason to believe things will turn around for the club.
“We’ve got some starting pitching that’s got a better track record than they’ve had. It’s been very sporadic, them pitching well. … It’s hard to keep [a bullpen] in order with the short starts we’re having. It takes a lot of imagination to get through a game.”
That imagination extends to before games, too. Showalter said before the game that the team even has considered starting with the relief pitchers and essentially pitching the game backward, even if there are plenty of reasons it wouldn’t work out.
“Believe me,” he said. “We’ve thought of what a lot of people would consider some unorthodox stuff. … It’s a challenge.”
The rotation’s 6.02 ERA is over a full run worse than any other in the American League, and would be the highest for a major league team’s rotation since the Rangers posted a 6.24 ERA in 2003 under Showalter. Just three major league
teams finished a season with an ERA of 6.00 or higher this century, the others being the 2001 Rangers and the 2005 Kansas City Royals.
Showalter doesn’t really know what he’ll get tonight from Chris Tillman in his first start since June 30, as the right-hander missed a start for the birth of his daughter. After him, right-hander Dylan Bundy will resume what’s been an up-and-down season, albeit one that has him leading all Orioles starters with a 4.41 ERA.
While it’s been difficult to stick with this group, Showalter said, “It’s kind of, ‘As opposed to what?’ ” The alternatives are thin. There’s a lot of money invested in the current pitchers. But the short starts are draining any promise out of the season.
“It’s tough,” first baseman Chris Davis said. “I mean, none of these guys in here want to go out and perform poorly. Everybody in here holds themselves accountable and holds themselves to a high standard. You can see it on their faces. You can see it in their body language, the frustration. But at the same time, you’ve got to start making adjustments.”