MINNEAPOLIS — The Orioles orchestrated one of their most productive offensive innings of the past two weeks by scoring three runs in the opening frame of their Saturday afternoon game against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. That gave right-hander Kevin Gausman an early cushion.
But after that first inning, the Orioles hitters reverted to their past selves — the ones we’ve seen throughout most of this season — a lineup full of undisciplined swingers trying to resurrect a lost season one desperate hack at a time.
And now, after their 5-4 loss to the Twins on Saturday, the Orioles must win Sunday’s series finale at Target Field to avoid a winless six-game road trip to Philadelphia and Minnesota.
All in all, the Orioles (24-64) dropped to a remarkably bad 40 games under .500. They’ve lost five in a row, 12 out of 13 and 23 out of 28.
“Yeah, it’s kind of hard to believe that that’s where we’re at right now,” said first baseman Chris Davis, who capped a three-run first with a two-run homer, but also recorded his 1,306th strikeout with the Orioles in the ninth, setting a club record. “We really can’t seem to put anything together. I feel like anytime we start to build any momentum, we either give it right back to the other team or we do something to kind of take ourselves out of the game, but this early on to be in this position, it’s definitely not what any of us thought was going to happen or what any of us wanted.”
Gausman was strong early — allowing just two base runners through four scoreless innings — but unraveled in an ugly three-run fifth inning in which he threw 41 pitches.
And Twins No. 9 hitter Bobby Wilson, who entered the day hitting just .114, drove in three runs, including the go-ahead, two-out, two-run double off right-hander Miguel Castro in the sixth.
The story of Saturday’s loss, however, was the Orioles’ continued inefficiency against off-speed pitches. Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson, who threw six innings of no-hit ball against the Orioles in the second game of the regular season, was happy to oblige.
Gibson challenged the Orioles with his off-speed pitches. He induced just one swinging strike out of the 56 fastballs he threw Saturday, but recorded 22 swings-and-misses combined on his curveball, slider and changeup.
Of the 23 sliders Gibson threw, the Orioles swung and missed at 11.
“We were real patient early,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “And then tried to get too much with one swing and let him take us out of the zone. He throws a lot of breaking balls, he did today, which we see a lot of, regardless of what the pattern’s been in the past. With good pitchers having a good year, once they get their feet on the ground and kind of get in a groove, but you really want to try to add on there. That’s one of the keys. That’s what’s been eluding us.”
The Orioles ultimately put the tying run on second base in the ninth against Twins closer Fernando Rodney with Jace Peterson’s two-out RBI double — a hard-hit ball that caromed high off the right-center-field fence — but Tim Beckham’s groundout to shortstop ended the game.
A day after falling behind 3-0 in the first inning, the Orioles took an early three-run lead in the opening frame, an inning that was capped by Davis’ two-run homer to center field.
Beckham, who was robbed of a leadoff homer in the first Friday by Twins center fielder Jake Cave, opened the game by ripping a double down the right-field line. He scored after a pair of groundouts.
After a walk by Mark Trumbo, Davis squared up a two-seam fastball over the outer part of the plate and hit it an estimated 418 feet to straight-away center field to put the Orioles up 3-0.
The Orioles had opportunities to extend their lead against Gibson early, but they left the bases loaded in the third when Danny Valencia swung through a full-count slider to end that inning, and couldn’t take advantage of a leadoff double by Jonathan Schoop in the fourth when Peterson and Beckham struck out swinging.
“I definitely think after the first time through the lineup, [Gibson] made some adjustments,” Davis said. “I felt like he was really attacking us with his off-speed, picking his spots with the fastball. A guy like that, we’ve seen him a number of times. He’s had a lot of success against us. You know that you have to get him early and you have to keep getting after him. The longer he stays in there, the more he’s going to settle in and that’s what happened earlier today.”
Against a Twins batting order consisting of four lefties and three switch-hitters, Gausman kept the ball on the ground, using a shift on the lerft-handed hitters that led to six groundouts to the right side through his first five innings of work. Over that stretch, Gausman allowed just two base runners, a leadoff single by Joe Mauer in the fourth and Robbie Grossman reaching base on Davis’ fielding error in the third.
The Twins got to Gausman in the fifth. Max Kepler hit a one-out homer, his second long ball of the series, and Gausman then put runners at the corners on a double by Grossman and a single by Cave.
Wilson then hit a grounder through the right side where Schoop would normally positioned at second base, but was shaded toward the bag, enabling Grossman to score. Cave scored the tying run on a wild pitch by Gausman in the dirt that got away from catcher Chance Sisco.
“Obviously, trying not to give up a leadoff homer,” Gausman said. “Was trying to find my breaking ball that at-bat against Kepler and unfortunately kind of put myself in a hole 2-0. I tried to throw a fastball up and in and it kind of leaked middle and 2-0 counts, fastballs in the middle of the plate to a good hitter like Kepler, those are the times you’re not going to get the ball back. But I had to really grind and I thought they did a really good job of just kind of sticking the bat out there and putting the ball in play. They got some hits on some splits that lefties normally don’t really get hits on, so you’ve got to just kind of tip your cap.”
Castro nearly got out of trouble in the sixth after loading the bases with no outs. He allowed a two-run leadoff double to Eduardo Escobar and back-to-back walks to Jorge Polanco and Kepler. But Castro then induced consecutive ground balls to first, where Davis erased the leadoff runner at the plate on force plays.
But Wilson then rapped a full-count pitch from Castro down the left-field line, breaking the tie with a two-run double. Machado’s relay throw home prevented a third run from scoring, but the damage was already done.
Davis’ strikeout in the eighth inning against Trevor Hildenberger was his 1,306th with the Orioles, passing Cal Ripken Jr. for the most in club history.