Could this all end any other way?
Like David Hess on Friday and Dylan Bundy earlier Saturday, Yefry Ramírez took the mound as one of the Orioles' last starters standing and turned in an outing that in normal circumstances could be worthy of a win.
Instead, Ramírez's longest major league start, and the first quality start of his career, ended up the same way as the ones that preceded it: an Orioles loss, 5-2 to the Houston Astros to complete a doubleheader sweep.
That sends the Orioles (46-115) into their season finale trying to avoid their 22nd series sweep.
That each of these three losses to the American League West champions came as the Orioles got a quality start is fitting, considering how their season has gone. They've had 64 starts in which their pitchers have gone at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer. Saturday's pair of defeats makes 37 losses in such games, second most in the majors.
“We’re just not doing much offensively against some good pitching,” manager Buck Showalter said. “How many runs did we score in 18 innings? Not many, obviously. So it’s magnified. but it’s good to see him and Dylan and David all end with some competitive outings. We just didn’t do much offensively, and didn’t support them real well defensively, but they did their part to give us a chance to win. That’s what I’ll take out of these first three games for them.”
Like most facets of their team, the starting pitching has been inconsistent. But there have been plenty of runs like this where things went well, and the wins didn't follow.
Perhaps that happened in Saturday's nightcap because Ramírez put them down early, allowing a first-inning home run to left fielder Myles Straw, who had all of three homers in his three-year minor league career. The Orioles leveled it on a single by catcher Austin Wynns in the second inning, but were behind again when Ramírez walked Jake Marisnick with the bases loaded in the fourth, and went down 3-1 on a home run by Brian McCann.
The bottom of the Orioles’ order loaded the bases in the seventh, and Renato Núñez scored on a wild pitch that was all they managed. Houston extended its lead to 5-2 with a home run by Marisnick off Mike Wright Jr. in the eighth.
In a season of little consolation, that the Orioles had three of their young starters end the campaign well will at least buoy some outlooks entering the offseason. Hess, Bundy and Ramírez became their only available starters after injuries to Andrew Cashner (knee), Alex Cobb (finger) and Luis Ortiz (hamstring), with Josh Rogers shut down because of his innings count.
Hess has been their best pitcher down the stretch, with a 3.88 ERA in 10 starts since he returned to the rotation in early August and a 4.88 ERA on the season. Bundy's quality start was just his fifth since the All-Star break, but his third in his final four starts. Ramírez has been between roles and bounced back nicely from allowing six runs in 3 2/3 innings his previous outing, Sep. 21 against the New York Yankees.
He said Saturday he’s learned plenty in his first major league season.
“It’s a learning experience, for sure,” Ramírez said through interpreter Ramón Alarcón. “I think the most important is to learn from this experience, to try to avoid the same mistakes. I made some mistakes tonight, I also made some mistakes against the Yankees. I’m going to try to learn and try to avoid those mistakes again.”
Bundy's season was a disappointment, especially considering how well he started the year as the team's Opening Day starter and because of the at-times dominance of his slider. But that Hess made 19 starts and Ramírez chipped in 12 as the team's top depth options and have at least painted a clear picture of what they are at this level for future planning purposes bodes well for whatever comes next for that pair.
The next step for the rest of the Orioles will be to avoid nights at the plate like Saturday’s second game. They had six hits and stranded six, collecting just one hit with a runner in scoring position.
Right fielder Adam Jones, who had two of those hits, said it has just as much to do with the opposing pitcher.
“Yefry and Bundy threw well today,” he said. “Who did we go against? Two of the three last Cy Youngs [Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel]. I told Bundy this earlier this year, I said, ‘You’re going to be a [No. 1] or a [No. 2] , almost all of your starts, you’re going to face [No. 1s] or [No. 2s]. When you face one or twos, you’ve got to be perfect. … As aces, you’ve got to go out there and shove. You can’t give up two or three runs because the other ace is not giving that up. I tip my cap to our pitchers though. Bundy threw a hell of a game in the first game, and Yefry threw a hell of a game int he second game. You give up three runs to a team like that, you give up three runs in general in the big leagues, you expect to win. When you’re running against Verlander, Keuchel, [Gerrit] Cole, they keep you under those. And they have a tremendous defense that’s incredibly athletic. They’re a good team for a reason. They don’t have 103 wins just by the grace of God.”