TORONTO — Much bigger goals lie ahead for the Orioles, and their final regular-season series here is less about winning games than about fine-tuning for the postseason.
Still, the Orioles don't want to trudge to the postseason. Following their 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre on Saturday, the Orioles have lost three consecutive games for the first time since being swept at Wrigley Field five weeks ago, and for just the second time since the All-Star break.
The loss also ensured that the Orioles will finish the regular season with just their third road series loss since the break.
“We’ve got some things accomplished,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We’d still like to get a ‘W.’”
With their spot in the American League Division Series solidified, the Orioles have rested starters while auditioning players ahead of some tough playoff roster decisions. They’ve also committed seven errors in the last three games — including three on Saturday — which is uncharacteristic for Showalter’s defensive-minded club.
“I don't care if they are from Norfolk, Bowie, Frederick, the first thing I look at in our minor league reports is the error column,” Showalter said. “It would be easy to say, who’s doing it? J.J. [Hardy’s] not throwing them around, Adam [Jones is] not throwing them around, but as long as they’re wearing our uniform, we’re making [errors].
The Orioles (95-66) have committed three errors three times in their last nine games.
Saturday’s lineup looked much more like the one that will take the field in Game 1 of the American League Division Series than the lineup in Friday’s series opener did, but Showalter made it clear that his starters wouldn’t play all three games this weekend on Toronto’s unforgiving artificial turf.
The club brought up a familiar face, veteran utility man Alexi Casilla, to start at third for the final two regular season games, but after making an outstanding diving play on a ball down the third base line in the fifth inning, Casilla’s throw went wild. That was the sixth error committed by an Orioles third baseman in nine days.
With Toronto leading 2-1, Casilla made a diving back-handed stop on Jose Reyes’ hit down the line — seemingly preventing a double — but Reyes ended up on second anyway after Casilla’s errant throw.
After Reyes moved to third on a ground out, shortstop J.J. Hardy fielded a grounder that deflected off starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen’s glove, but rookie first baseman Christian Walker couldn’t come up with the throw cleanly, the second error of the inning. That play allowed Reyes to score the eventual winning run from third.
“Some people might not be comfortable at some other positions,” right fielder Steve Pearce said, “But I think we have that luxury where we've earned, where we can take time off and stay healthy for the postseason. We are known for our defense. We have been playing sloppy defense, but it happens. We would rather get it out of the way now than in the postseason."
Chen, making his final regular season start before his likely start in Game 2 of the ALDS, allowed three runs — two of them earned — on five hits over six innings. He struck out three and walked one before being pulled from the game after 79 pitches.
"This is only my second time pitching here so I wasn't all that familiar with the stadium,” Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. “I tried to do my best. During the game there [were] some troubles out there, but I tried to hold up my own, and fortunately I was able to do that."
The Orioles (95-66) had just four hits and Toronto left-hander J.A. Happ held the Orioles to two runs over 6 1/3 innings. Still, the Orioles kept the game close.
Jones hit his 29th home run of the season in the sixth inning, a solo shot off the façade of the second deck in left field that pulled the Orioles within one run, 3-2. It was Jones' 16th homer against the Blue Jays since the beginning of the 2012 season, second-most of any player in that span.
The Orioles put runners on first and second with one out in the seventh, but catcher Caleb Joseph hit into an inning-ending, 4-6-3 double play. Joseph is hitless in his last 30 at bats.
In the bottom half of the inning, Blue Jays left fielder Kevin Pillar dropped a bunt that reliever Brad Brach fielded but threw away for the Orioles’ third error of the game.
Jones nearly got the Orioles out of the inning when he made a pinpoint throw to the plate following Reyes’ fly out. Pillar was initially called out and the entire Orioles team ran off the field, but Toronto manager John Gibbons challenged the call. After a lengthy three minute, 17 second delay, the review crew in New York ruled Pillar beat Joseph’s tag and the call was overturned, giving the Jays a 4-2 lead.
“We’re kind of waiting to see because we never had a definitive angle to have it overturned,” Showalter said. “[We] had a good one that probably touched him on the elbow, too. If I was the home-plate umpire, I’d have some questions. It does change the complexion of the game. I’m hoping we see a real definitive angle from their part because we definitely didn’t have one here.”
Since clinching the American League East title on Sept. 16, the Orioles are just 4-6, and now have one last opportunity – in Sunday’s regular-season finale – to go into the playoffs with momentum.
“I think we’re looking at the end game. It stinks that we’re playing this bad but we’ve got to stay healthy and I feel like right now that’s the most important thing,” Pearce said. “It would be nice to get some momentum going into the postseason. But we know what we can do, we aren't pressing right now.”