HOUSTON — There will be a lot of Tuesday morning quarterbacking today after last night's 5-2 Orioles loss at Minute Maid Park.
With the Orioles leading 2-1, manager Buck Showalter pulled Ubaldo Jimenez after a leadoff single in the seventh inning. Jimenez had thrown just 91 pitches when Chris Carter opened the inning with a single, just the fourth hit against Jimenez.
Did Jimenez deserve to try to get out of his own jam instead of helplessly watching right-hander reliever Brad Brach create his own? Probably, but on most nights, Brach would have done the job, and Jimenez would have welcomed him to the dugout with a high-five because he preserved his win.
Brach entered Monday having allowed just one earned run over his past seven appearances. He had allowed just four hits over 10 innings and struck out 12 with just two walks.
And Brach's success dated back further. Since posting a 9.64 ERA over his first four outings, Brach pitched to a 1.80 ERA in his past 14 games. Opponents hit just .136 against him and he had allowed just four runs over 20 relief innings.
On the season, Brach retired 14 of 18 first batters faced, but entered Monday's game and immediately walked Luis Valbuena, who homered of Jimenez earlier in the game, but was just 2-for-29 entering Monday.
Brach began warming up in the beginning of the inning, so it looked like he was going to be Jimenez's successor whether it was at 91 pitches or 101 pitches or 111 pitches. But just two pitches into the inning, Brach entered the game.
He walked Valbuena on six pitches, then allowed a first-pitch base hit to pinch hitter Hank Conger. He struck out No. 9 hitter Marwin Gonzalez, then fell behind George Springer, 3-0, before Springer laced a single up the middle to score the tying run. Brach then fell behind Jose Altuve, 3-1, before Altuve hit a sacrifice fly to plate the winning run.
"Seemed like he couldn't get himself back in sync," Showalter said. "Got in a little rut there and couldn't make adjustments. Something we thought he had gotten over."
Two batters later, Tommy Hunter entered and allowed a two-run single that made the score 5-2. Had Delmon Young not thrown out his second baserunner of the night, the inning would have kept going.
Showalter didn't give a ringing endorsement of his bullpen after the game.
"We're having some inconsistencies with the people in our bullpen with the people who have been real good," Showalter said. "And that's been back and forth, not sure what we are going to get each time out. The tack-on runs were big with Tommy. That goes unnoticed. We played a really good defensive game, otherwise they would have scored a lot more runs."
The bullpen might wear this loss, but the Orioles were just 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. And every mistake gets magnified when the bats aren't doing their job.
Everth Cabrera failed to drop a bunt twice. David Lough was picked off first. Both players might not be playing if Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy weren't held out because of injuries (Jones was the DH), but those role players need to perform when called upon.
The margin for error isn't a big one for this team, and the Orioles have struggled to get out from this under-.500 funk. A loss Tuesday would put them a season-high five games under .500. It's still early, but this team can't continue to waddle in mediocrity. Eventually something is going to give, and eventually one of these American League East teams is going to decide it wants the division.