Cleveland — An unmistakable sense of pitching envy has washed over the Orioles this weekend in Cleveland as the two teams heading in distinctly different directions — the Indians streaking to 17 straight wins and the visitors falling back to .500 after a 13-day flirtation with winning baseball.
There's no bigger separator between the two teams — one of which is streaking toward one of the five American League playoff spots and the other trying to just claw its way to earning one — than their starting pitching.
On two straight days, after their 5-0 and 4-2 losses, Orioles manager Buck Showalter has been so complimentary of the pitching that Cleveland has been able to run out that it's difficult not to compare it to some of the challenges he often refers to with his own staff.
"They're leading the [American League] in starting pitching and relief pitching, so you know runs are going to be at a premium," Showalter said Friday night.
"They're filling up the lower part of the zone, down and away. If you can do that, the whole world opens up to you," Showalter added Saturday.
The manager said the Orioles are capable of pitching like that, too, and their better stretches this season have proven so. But the difference this weekend has been stark.
Cleveland entered Sunday with a rotation ERA of 3.74, which is tops in the AL and nearly two full runs above the Orioles' 5.63. The Orioles bullpen has been good in the second half, but the Indians' major league-best relief ERA of 2.86 entering Sunday shined in comparison to the Orioles' 3.71.
"They've got good arms and we're up there competing," shortstop Tim Beckham said. "Their bullpen's one of the best bullpens in the league, and their starters are some of the best starters in the league."
Over these two games in Cleveland so far, Orioles starters Wade Miley and Gabriel Ynoa combined for 10 1/3 innings and seven runs allowed, ostensibly enough to keep their offense in games. But the Indians starters have allowed two runs on seven hits in 11 innings.
Showalter isn't alone in looking out at the mound somewhat longingly, though the players are outwardly frustrated by their lack of success against the Indians. Speaking about how his teammates' bats were silenced Friday night, Miley said, " They've got a good thing going on over there right now. If you've got the confidence that they have, it just works in their favor."
Catcher Caleb Joseph doesn't make any excuses for the team's lack of offense lately, but said good pitching seems to be ubiquitous these days.
"This is the big leagues," Joseph said. "They're all really tough. We know coming into it, their staff is really good. Each team we face has got two or three guys that are All-Star caliber pitchers."
And yet in this crucial three-game series, the Orioles juggled their rotation to give Triple-A call-up Ynoa a start Saturday while moving struggling right-hander Chris Tillman back to the bullpen. On Monday, when they go to Toronto, it's Ubaldo Jiménez who has been summoned back from another bullpen sentence to start because he has back-to-back scoreless starts at Rogers Centre in his past two tries.
Cleveland, by comparison, had the luxury of shifting starter Danny Salazar and his 4.66 ERA to the bullpen because of one shaky start post-injury.
At least during these two losses, the Orioles bats have been complicit, ceding the lower outside corner to Cleveland's pitcher and leaving themselves at the mercy of the umpire. But even Showalter, who maintains that good pitching beats good hitting regularly, concedes there might only be one part of that equation present this weekend in Cleveland.