In recent years, the Orioles’ focus on playing strong defense helped them overcome some other weaknesses, like not having power arms or a consistent batting order. But as the Orioles have bottomed out this season, owning baseball’s worst record, the team’s biggest decline might be on defense.
The Orioles committed three errors in their 8-5 loss to the New York Yankees on Saturday, and not only did all three of those errors come in the same inning but came on a string of three consecutive plays in the sixth that allowed the visitors to score two costly runs.
Combine that with other plays that could have been made on defense that the Orioles didn’t convert and it might have been the team’s worst collective defensive performance in a season of struggles in that department. The Orioles (17-41) entered the day ranked last in the majors with minus-51 defensive runs saved, 11 runs behind the next worst team – the Philadelphia Phillies.
“There’s a lot of things that happened in that game, but those are some things that we know have been a challenge,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Especially against a good team, you can’t do those things. I’ve said many times, you look out at the error column at the end of a game, it usually tells you who won the game. The players are so good at this level, giving them extra outs just seems to always, it may not bite you that inning, but it makes you do a lot of different things. And we had some other things that didn’t show up in the error column, too.”
Center fielder Adam Jones, who was charged with two errors — one fielding and one throwing — in the sixth inning, said there are good defenders on this Orioles team, but collectively this year’s club has given up way more outs on defense than its predecessors.
“Efficiency,” Jones said. “I was telling [pitcher Andrew] Cashner on the bench, individually we’ve got a really good team. Collectively, we haven’t played well together. I think it’s the efficiency. Balls put in play, we usually make the outs. Playing for 27 outs was a main part of our team. Right now, it seems like we’re playing 30-33 outs sometimes, and in the major leagues you can’t allow that. You have to play 27 outs. … We thrived on playing 27 outs, and when you don’t – when any [team] doesn’t in the big leagues – they suffer the consequences of the other teams.”
The Orioles entered Saturday’s sixth inning – which was played through steady rain – trailing 4-2 as Kevin Gausman allowed a pair of early two-run homers.
After Giancarlo Stanton opened the inning with a single, Gary Sánchez hit a ball to shortstop that was a tailor-made double play. Manny Machado made an underhand feed to Jonathan Schoop for the force out at second, but Schoop’s throw sailed high and past Chris Davis at first, allowing Sánchez to reach and move up to second base.
It only got worse from there. Didi Gregorius hit a sinking line drive to center that Jones attempted to field a short-hop, but the ball skipped past him allowing Sánchez to score from second. Gregorius advanced to second on the error to get into scoring position.
Aaron Hicks then hit a bloop single to center that Jones fielded on one hop, but he made a wild throw home that was out of the reach of both Machado and third baseman Danny Valencia to cut off, allowing Hicks to take second while Gregorius scored to give New York a 6-2 lead. That chased a frustrated Gausman.
The throwing error charged to Jones gave Orioles outfielders seven throwing errors this season, which is fourth most in the majors. Orioles outfielders entered Saturday with a majors-worst minus-21 defensive runs saved.
Then there are the plays that weren’t errors that likely could have been made but weren’t and hurt the Orioles.
In the eighth inning, Gregorius hit a slow-rolling ball to the right side that went past Davis, who was playing off the line and just in front of the outfield grass, and into right field. Gregorius’ hit had a hit probability of just 5 percent, the lowest of any base hit on the day and the third lowest of any ball put in play in the game. After the game, Showalter said that Davis didn’t see the ball off the bat.
Gregorius’ hit opened the gates for a two-run inning off reliever Mychal Givens. Gregorius stole second base and scored on Hicks’ single. Miguel Andújar then doubled to score Hicks to give the Yankees an 8-4 lead.
Then Greg Bird doubled to start the ninth, when for the second straight night, Joey Rickard took a bad route on a line drive into right-center field and it sailed over his glove past him.
“It’s tough on pitchers,” Showalter said. “I think I’m more concerned with the plays that don’t show up as errors. Physical errors and stuff like that. … That’s why you get fooled so much with analytics by stuff that doesn’t show up in an error column.”