The Orioles have a chance to win the four-game series at Yankee Stadium with a victory Sunday, and for the life of me, I don’t know how they’ve won two of the first three games and were still in possible sweep mode until the sixth inning Saturday.
They were being shut out on three hits through six innings by Masahiro Tanaka on Thursday before a five-run outburst in the seventh — the only inning in which they scored.
They were shut out on three hits over a span of nine innings — from the fifth through the 13th — during their dramatic 14-inning victory Friday night, and had just one hit in 10 opportunities with runners in scoring position.
They are a combined 4-for-22 (.182) with runners in scoring position over the first three games of the series and two for their last 19 (.105).
Meanwhile, Orioles pitchers have allowed the leadoff batter to reach base 14 times in the 31 innings in the series so far. Eight of those leadoff batters walked.
In Saturday’s eventually lopsided loss, the game was tied before Chris Tillman, Jimmy Yacabonis and Nestor Cortes Jr. walked the leadoff hitter in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Only Cortes kept that runner from scoring, but by that time it didn’t make any difference.
So, are things looking up for the Orioles after their dismal 1-5 start against the Minnesota Twins and the Houston Astros, or did the baseball gods just throw them a couple of bones Thursday and Friday before the New York Yankees give them a weekend reality check?
We’ll find out Sunday, but there is one big positive to be derived from the two victories in the series so far. The Orioles have played — and pitched — the Yankees tough for all but a handful of innings at Yankee Stadium, which is a dramatic turnabout from last season.
Even with the eight runs the Yankees scored with their late-inning surge Saturday, the Orioles have outscored them 15-13 through three games. No one needs a calculator to figure out that the Orioles pitching staff has managed to limit the power-laden Yankees lineup to just over four runs per game, and 3.8 runs per nine innings if you include the five extra innings Friday night.
If you recall, the second iteration of “The House That Ruth Built” became a torture chamber for the struggling Orioles pitching staff in 2017. The Yankees averaged 10.2 runs in the 10 games the teams played in the Bronx and they spread all those runs out pretty evenly, scoring at least 30 runs in each of the three series.
Of course, those were the days when the Orioles were working with one consistent pitcher in the rotation. They made two significant acquisitions this spring to address that situation and there are hopeful signs that the rotation will be improved, though there were a couple of big hiccups during the first week of the season.
Right-hander Andrew Cashner gave up three home runs in his Orioles debut against the Twins, but he bounced back to deliver a terrific performance Thursday night in his first-ever start at Yankee Stadium.
Kevin Gausman also struggled in his first start of the season, then held the Yankees to two runs over five innings Friday night.
Even Tillman, who still needs to overcome some command problems, hung tough into the sixth inning and threw the most pitches he has thrown in a start since the end of the 2016 season. His line didn’t look good when he left, but he showed progress against a difficult Yankees lineup.
The bullpen also has settled down after a rocky start and the Orioles might have discovered another good young reliever in Rule 5 draftee Pedro Araujo, who earned his first major league victory in a stressful extra-inning outing Friday.
What does all this mean at a point when the Orioles have won just three of their first nine games and the first-place Boston Red Sox are already on a big roll?
It could mean a lot if they can hold on until free-agent arrival Alex Cobb is ready join the rotation and the lineup kicks it into a higher gear. Getting a third win at Yankee Stadium this weekend and winning their first series against an American League East rival would be a big step in the right direction.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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