Starting pitching spiral a main culprit for Orioles' rough road trip

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Camden Yards has always been a haven for the Orioles, though since they left there just over a week ago, the quality starting pitching that helped them to a league-leading start has been somewhere else entirely.

On Thursday, in a 6-5 loss to the host Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park that clinched a 1-6 three-city road trip, it was an uncharacteristic six-inning, six-run performance by Dylan Bundy that meant yet another Orioles starter would factor into a losing result.

It was a trip full of frustrating starts, all but one of which turned into one-run losses, leaving the Orioles uncertain of just what they'll get most nights from their starting pitchers.

"The first month of the season, pitching kind of offset some of the challenges we had offensively," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "And now we seem to be finding our step a little bit there and pitching's been a little less on this trip."

Bundy's day, which ended his impressive run of eight straight quality starts, made for a turn through the rotation in which the five Orioles starters combined to allow 23 runs in 23 2/3 innings (8.75 ERA). Stretch it out over the entire seven-game road trip, and it was 27 runs allowed in 35 2/3 innings (6.81 ERA).

The consequence, at least in the short term, is a swoon that dropped the streaky Orioles from 22-10 to 23-16. It was a seven-game span that required them to add pitching before three games with seven pitching transactions overall, and was an emotionally taxing week when an already taxed bullpen grew even wearier in the absence of closer Zach Britton.

The three days in Detroit personified a lot of what has been different between the Orioles' start to the season and their recent spell.

Wade Miley seldom pitched deep into games over the season's first six weeks, but always left the Orioles in a good place on the scoreboard.

He allowed a season-high four runs in five innings after being staked to a 7-1 lead Tuesday, a game that could have been concluded in principle early but instead lasted 13 brutal innings.

On Wednesday, Ubaldo Jiménez turned in five innings of five-run ball, but the Orioles lost for just the second time in his seven starts. No matter how anyone else pitched, though, Bundy had been independently reliable. And even he paid for his mistakes Thursday against the Tigers.

"Nobody wants to give up runs as much as we are," Bundy said. "But it happens, it's baseball and it's part of it. That's why we play 162 and not 42 or wherever we are at."

The team's offense finally seemed to be hitting its stride, with 5.9 runs per game on the trip and two home runs per game. But an improvement from an offense that ranked 20th in runs scored during April, given the Orioles' lineup, was inevitable. It's the top-heavy starting rotation that was supposed to be worrisome, and in the past week it has become so.

"I wish we could lock it all up and everything's clicking — defense, offense, pitching," Showalter said. "But that's part of a long season.

"And when you get in those stretches where everything clicks, you put together a really good streak. Which we really did for the most part in April, [and] which tells you how important the pitching part is of it."

The pitchers will return home to Camden Yards, where things typically go better for both them and the team, carrying a bit of resentment about how things have gone. The team could, too, considering each of the losing results on the seven-game trip were one-run decisions.

"I think that we would have obviously wanted a better outcome, but one-run losses, when you're playing one-run games, it means you're playing good baseball," center fielder Adam Jones said. "You're playing tight baseball."

But in the preceding 32 games, they were 8-1 in one-run contests, and 15-3 in games decided by two-runs or fewer. Those things even out in all but the most extraordinary circumstances. The Orioles are now 8-7 in one-run games, and 16-9 in games decided by two runs or fewer.

It all goes to show the margin of error is small for a team with a streaky offense, without its closer and with a rotation prone to weeks like this.

"All in all, the guys have handled the challenge pretty good, but we had a tough spell here on this trip," Showalter said.

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