If the Orioles fall short of their playoff aspirations come October and are left to look back on all the opportunities they had to change that, Friday night's 5-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics will be one of many that loom large.
The Orioles’ new-look lineup wasted a strong effort from right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez and managed just four runs despite putting 10 men on in the first five innings, a total that wouldn't hold up after the Athletics scored a pair of runs off setup man Brad Brach in the eighth inning.
Brach, who entered leading 4-3 in the eighth, was in trouble almost immediately, as his second pitch was smacked for a double to right field by left fielder Matt Joyce. Joyce went to third base on a single by shortstop Marcus Semien and scored on an automatic double by second baseman Jed Lowrie. Semien scored the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly by right fielder Chad Pinder, who had a high fly ball down the right-field line fall safely in foul territory off the mitt of Orioles first baseman Chris Davis for an error one pitch earlier.
“There's a lot more to the game than that, but I know everyone's focus is there,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Brad has been great for us, but tonight just wasn't his night. A couple balls elevated, and command was a little off, but so was Mychal [Givens] a little bit. But they hit balls at people. We made some really good defensive plays. … Brad has been great for us. We wouldn't have the opportunities we've had without him.”
Though one of the two runs off Brach was unearned, he fell to 3-3 on the season. The Orioles slipped to 57-59, two games out of a wild-card playoff spot.
“Anytime, especially in August, when you see the standings the way they are, you see some teams have lost, and you lose a game like that, it hurts,” Brach said. “Unfortunately, I just couldn’t help the team, and I have to be ready to go next time.”
Jiménez stays rolling
Between the line drive to left fielder Trey Mancini that opened his day and and his 12th out, a ground ball to second baseman Jonathan Schoop, every out Jiménez recorded was a strikeout. With one more in the fifth inning, his 11 strikeouts were his most in his nearly four seasons with the Orioles.
“He starts that fastball to left-handers — you see four or five left-handed hitters — he starts the ball at them, which means they've got to honor it and cheat to it,” Showalter said. “That means the [split-fingered fastball] recognition [is difficult]. He's getting a lot more counts in his favor, and he's finishing off an at-bat instead of getting back to 3-2 a lot. One of the reasons why his pitch count was so high was because he had so many strikeouts.”
But a damaging fourth inning made things tense. Lowrie and Khris Davis doubled consecutively to score a run, and two batters later, a long home run to center field by first baseman Matt Olson put the Orioles behind briefly, 3-2.
“Ubaldo was great,” Showalter said. “He was really good, just made the one mistake they made him pay for — the extension fastball.”
“It's always good to get strikeouts, but on the other hand, it makes you throw a lot of pitches,” Jiménez said. “I think I'd prefer to get deeper in the game than strike so many guys out, but I guess it's good.”
After falling behind, the Orioles offense quickly got him the lead back, and by the time Jiménez left in the sixth inning after a hard, low single hit off his leg, he was in line for his sixth win of the season. He said it was the same spot he was hit last month in Minnesota, and Showalter said he didn’t want to risk any more damage, though he doesn’t expect it to be impacted going forward.
Jiménez lowered his ERA to 6.25 with 5 1/3 innings of three-run, six-hit ball.
It starts at the top
Jiménez spent most of his time on the mound ahead because the top of the Orioles lineup produced in a major way for him.
Center fielder Adam Jones homered for the second consecutive day out of the cleanup spot, doing so in the second inning to open the scoring, and the Orioles' second run came in two innings later when he grounded into a double play with third baseman Manny Machado on third.
In the fifth inning, leadoff hitter Tim Beckham and Machado had back-to-back singles with one out, with both scoring on a double to right-center by Schoop. Schoop now has a career-high 84 RBIs.
“Jon's been solid,” Showalter said. “It's been so much fun to watch a guy like him get better every year and not get caught up in the disease of me. He's a pleasure to watch and to have on your club. You don't have many guys like him, on and off the field, pass your way.”
Factoring in the single by Mancini, who hit fifth, eight of the Orioles' 10 hits came from their first five hitters.
Beckham now has three straight multihit efforts and eight in 11 games since joining the Orioles.
All of the Orioles' runs came before starter Paul Blackburn left, and their final 10 batters were retired by the Oakland bullpen.