The brick wall that the Orioles' offense has hit over the past eight games can be somewhat attributed to the quality of pitching it has faced. But as the missed opportunities — and goose eggs on the Camden Yards scoreboard — continue to mount, frustration is creeping in.
Playing in front of their fifth home sellout crowd of the season Saturday, the Orioles bats went quiet again, their offense able to scrap only a solitary run in a 3-1 loss to the interleague rival Washington Nationals in front of an announced 46,298.
The Orioles have scored just 15 runs in their past eight games. They've scored three or fewer runs in seven of their last eight.
Over their last six games, the Orioles are an anemic 1-for-27 with runners in scoring position — they were 0-for-3 in that situation Saturday – and they've gone without a hit with runners in scoring position in five of their last seven games.
"I have a lot of confidence that we'll get back on track with that starting tomorrow," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "That's the way I look at that. I understand its part of the game, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating for our players because we know that we're capable of better."
Asked if the players are beginning to press, Showalter said: "I'm sure they are to some extent. Sometimes the want-to can get in the way. [They've been] a little over-anxious, but also [faced] some really quality pitches when [the opposition] had to make them."
With the loss, the Orioles (40-31) fell 2 ½ games back of the Yankees in the American League East, but they stayed ½ game ahead of the third-place Rays.
Nationals starter Edwin Jackson — an Orioles offseason target who eventually signed a one-year, $11-million deal with Washington — retired the first 12 batters he faced, improving to 4-0 with a 1.02 ERA in his last six starts against the Orioles.
In the past week, the Orioles have faced some talented National League arms — the Mets' R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana, Atlanta's Brandon Beachy and Washington's Jordan Zimmermann among them — and Jackson followed in line, keeping the Orioles at bay by keeping his slider down in the strike zone.
"You're not going to throw up a lot of runs every night," Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds said. "But New York had some great pitching against us, and these guys, that's why they're in first place. They've got good arms. We didn't take advantage of some opportunities we had tonight, but that's the way baseball is.
"It's a long season," Reynolds added. "A lot of games and a lot of ups and downs. We're in a funk right now, but we'll bounce back. We're a good offensive club."
Orioles center fielder Adam Jones opened the seventh with a laser shot off Jackson that hit the left-field foul pole for his 19th homer of the season — his 19th homer last year came on August 5 — but that was the only offense the Orioles could muster.
After Jones' homer, Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds hit back-to-back one-out singles to chase Jackson from the game. Former Orioles reliever Michael Gonzalez entered to a chorus of boos, but he silenced the crowd by getting pinch hitter Ronny Paulino to line to shortstop Ian Desmond, who beat Betemit back to second base for an inning-ending double play.
Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen chipped his left index fingernail on a comebacker in fourth inning, which eventually led to an early exit after the finger started bleeding after the fifth inning. Chen was already at 90 pitches, and Showalter pulled him as a precaution.
It was Chen's shortest start since May 20 — also against the Nationals. In two career starts against Washington, Chen is 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA. He's 7-1 with a 2.84 ERA against the rest of baseball.
Chen didn't pitch poorly — his one major mistake was a home run ball to Adam LaRoche in the fourth — but he was beleaguered by some poor fielding that led to two runs in the second.
With runners at second and third with two outs in the inning, Xavier Nady hit a ball into the hole between second an third. Betemit gloved the ball, spun and threw to first, but Reynolds couldn't come up with the short hop, allowing two runs to come in. The play was scored an infield single, and Betemit was charged with a throwing error.
"He should have given up, what, one run? " Showalter said of Chen. "He pitched well enough to win. We just couldn't do much with Jackson. He had another good outing, in my mind."
The Orioles loaded the bases in the fifth against Jackson, but No. 9 hitter Steve Pearce popped up the second pitch he saw to the short to end the inning. The O's brought the tying run to the plate in the eighth against left-hander Sean Burnett, but J.J. Hardy grounded into an inning-ending double play.
"A lot of things are frustrating in baseball," Jones said. "We give ourselves the best opportunity going out there swinging the bats. We're not being passive, and we're just swinging the bats, and right now the hits aren't coming, but it's [part of] the game."