Before Friday's 7-3 defeat to the Detroit Tigers to open the second half in a similar manner that they closed the first, the Orioles discussed during a pregame meeting their recent struggles with runners in scoring position.
Despite those failings, Orioles manager Buck Showalter and his staff stressed that the offense had done well in those situations previously this season – a .290 mark, which was fourth in the majors and second in the American League – and that they would again.
The problem, Showalter concluded, was that the Orioles were 29th in the majors in at-bats with runners in scoring position, and that needed to change.
Well, before an announced crowd of 36,378 at Comerica Park, the Orioles had 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position, and had just one hit, an RBI single by Jonathan Schoop in the second inning. As a team, the Orioles left an unacceptable 11 runners on base.
And their losing slide continued. The Orioles (44-45) have now lost 11 of their past 14 and are under .500 for the first time since June 11.
“The sky is not falling,” Showalter said. “We got good times ahead and we are going to compete the rest of the way. I've got a lot of confidence. It just wasn't there for us tonight.”
Again, neither was the clutch hit. The Orioles now have two hits in their past 55 at-bats (.036) with runners in scoring position and have eight hits in their past 95 at-bats (.084) in those situations.
“This game, I think, when you think about stuff, a lot of times you make it worse,” shortstop J.J. Hardy said. “And when it is brought to our attention when we're struggling, and we notice that we're struggling, you just add a little bit more pressure. And that ain't good. That ain't good when you add pressure; it's already tough enough.”
These teams hadn't played each other since last Oct. 5, when the Orioles came to Comerica and beat ace David Price to sweep the American League Division Series in three games. Now, these clubs are playing for their own survival; the Tigers (45-44) have at least gotten back over .500.
Meanwhile, the Orioles' lack of clutch offense was made worse by the roughest pitching performance of the season by Ubaldo Jimenez (7-5). The right-hander, who is in the middle of a resurgent season, was tagged for a season-high seven runs in just 4 2/3 innings.
He served up a season-worst three homers, matching the number he had allowed in his previous seven starts combined. Seemingly struggling with his grip on a muggy, humid night in Detroit, he had no command of his breaking pitches and occasionally elevated his fastball.
“As a pitcher, you want to go out there and compete and give your team a chance to win,” Jimenez said. “Especially when you finish off the first half losing. But it doesn't matter how much you want it, sometimes it goes like that. You have to keep moving forward.”
Victor Martinez clubbed a two-run shot to right-center in the first, his sixth of the season. The Tigers scored again in the second on an automatic RBI double by Anthony Gose, and in the fourth, Jose Iglesias blew things open with a three-run homer to left. It was just the second of the season for the All-Star shortstop.
Jimenez, who didn't walk a batter and struck out five, was chased with two outs in the fifth when J.D. Martinez hit a solo blast to left to give Detroit a 7-2 lead. Jimenez's season ERA rose from 2.81 to 3.29 in one outing.
Detroit provided plenty of run support for Anibal Sanchez (9-7), who has won six straight decisions. He wasn't particularly crisp, giving up eight hits and walking two in six innings, his shortest outing since May 24.
But it hardly mattered against the current Orioles offense.
The Orioles had plenty of chances, but again didn't cash in. They loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth and got only one run on a groundout by Chris Parmelee that was nearly an inning-ending double play. They picked up their third run in the seventh on a groundout by Chris Davis.
Davis should have had his 20th homer of the season, but right fielder Martinez jumped at the wall in the third to bring the ball back in – at least the third time that has happened to Davis this month.
“The two in Chicago were pretty tough. One would have tied the game and the other I felt like I hit it well enough to hit it out,” Davis said. “Tonight, the ball I felt like it got in on me a little bit. It just kept carrying and J.D. made a great play. … I know that Buck says they all even out, but sometimes it doesn't feel that way.”
Things won't get any easier for the Orioles, losers of six of their past seven, on Saturday evening. Price takes the mound with a 2.38 ERA – one of the best marks in the AL. But Showalter is not ready to give up on his offense.
“We know how hard it is,” Showalter said. “You go up there and hit a line drive at somebody or a ball that a guy has to go over the fence to catch. Does that mean you've failed? I try to stay in reality, whereas people kind of lose some sense of it.”