Back in July, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters and Zach Britton came down with a nasty illness at the All-Star Game. They kicked it, but a week later, fellow All-Star Manny Machado came down with the bug.
The only two Orioles All-Stars who were immune at the time paid a far worse price: for reliever Brad Brach and outfielder Mark Trumbo, the entire second half has been spent under the weather.
Brach, who earned his All-Star bid with a 0.91 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings in the first half of the season, saw his nightmare second half continue Friday with an eighth-inning home run to Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez that led to a 4-3 Orioles loss at Comerica Park.
"Can't make mistakes like that," Brach said. "Been saying for a while now, it's about execution and I'm just not executing my pitches when I need to, especially in big spots against some of the better hitters. Just not a very good pitch right there."
Starter Kevin Gausman said Brach is his own worst critic, and the reliever was indeed hard on himself. He has now allowed nine earned runs in 20 1/3 innings since the break for a 3.98 ERA, and entered with either a lead or tie score only to leave trailing or having blown a lead three times in those 21 appearances.
"It's beyond frustrating," Brach said. "Yeah, it's just difficult. I'm my harshest critic. To lose games like these especially against these guys with the wild-card race is difficult. So, try not to think about it as much. But he's right. I just think about it way too much and put too much pressure on myself at times."
That's come at a bad time for the Orioles, who are now a month into their second stint without veteran Darren O'Day in the bullpen as he deals with a right rotator cuff strain. Even so, the problems are relative. Brach still has a 1.81 ERA, and is far and away the team's second-most effective reliever behind Britton.
But his second half is a hard regression back to the level that made his run to the All-Star Game so intriguing in the first half. Brach is a worthy part of any team, and his career 2.93 ERA in the majors is proof of that. Veterans have their levels, though, and over the course of a season most players end up around where their career numbers tell you they will.
Such is the case for Trumbo, who carried an astronomical (for him) batting average of .288 into the break on top of his 28 home runs. The second half has played out to the point where he is now batting .253, way closer to his .251 career mark.
This isn't to downplay what Trumbo and Brach have done overall — especially considering the former is still the major league home run leader with 41. The crux of it is that the Orioles had two of the best feel-good stories at the All-Star Game, players who played so far above their levels in the first half that such a regression is still striking, even if it was inevitable.