The Orioles have been operating for the past year under the assumption that if they could only put together an adequate starting rotation, there would be enough offensive punch to keep them competitive against the big, bad beasts of the American League East.
And we’ll find out if that’s true as soon as the hitters show up.
The Orioles were again stifled by the Minnesota Twins pitching staff in Sunday’s 7-0 loss at Oriole Park, the only consolation the fact that they were only in danger of being no-hit by starter José Berríos until the third inning.
They would have to endure only the indignity of Berríos throwing a shutout before a sparse announced crowd of 17,212.
The hitters spent the entire season-opening weekend getting hypnotized by Twins starters Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson and Berríos, who combined to pitch 21 shutout innings and were never in serious danger of a significant rally until the Orioles loaded the bases with one out in the ninth inning Sunday and came up empty.
Apparently. the O’s didn’t learn a whole lot from last year’s September slump, during which they averaged 2.96 runs per game from the first day of that month until they packed up their ice-cold bats Oct. 1.
While the Twins spent Saturday and Sunday pounding on Andrew Cashner and Kevin Gausman, the O’s looked as if they’d never seen a breaking ball before. They managed just 11 hits in three games and were obviously fortunate not to get swept out of their own ballpark while they were trying to make a good first impression on their fragile fan base.
If you want to put those 11 hits into an even more disturbing perspective, the Orioles managed just four more hits than former utility man Ryan Flaherty amassed during his first three games with the Atlanta Braves.
This season was supposed to start with promise after the Orioles spent big money to fill out the starting rotation. Instead, it started with the strange leadoff experiment involving slugger Chris Davis, who is still looking for his first hit of the season and hasn’t given any indication yet why he’s at the top of the lineup.
Manager Buck Showalter said after the game that he isn’t “married” to Davis in the leadoff spot and indicated that he would confer with his coaching staff about the situation on the team’s charter flight to Houston on Sunday night.
The starting lineup Sunday featured only one hitter — Manny Machado — whose batting average didn't start with either a one or a zero.
Showalter was quick to give much of the credit for that to the Twins pitching staff.
“They’re pitching real well,’’ Showalter said. “I’ve got some thoughts about [the offense], but when you have a real quality pitcher and he’s on top of his game, good pitching will make you look, I won’t say flat, but not very sharp offensively. When you see that many guys having trouble, you know it’s the pitching.”
Berríos was particularly efficient, needing just 49 pitches to get through the first five innings, and had plenty of pitch count left entering the ninth. The Orioles hitters were particularly impatient, averaging just 3.45 pitches per at-bat.
The offensive star for the O’s was Chance Sisco, who doubled in the third inning and bunted in the ninth for the team’s first two hits. Machado singled later in the ninth to load the base before Jonathan Schoop popped out and Adam Jones struck out.
Not exactly the way you want to be swinging the bat on the way into Houston to face the defending world champion Astros, but it’s not like the Orioles have a choice.