This holiday weekend brings the Orioles to the light air of Denver's Coors Field for a three-game set with the Colorado Rockies, combining an environment where home runs happen regularly with a team that's giving them up at a record-shattering rate through 50 games.
They've been flying out of Camden Yards — and really everywhere the Orioles play — with such frequency that it begs the question: Why does this keep happening? Are the Orioles just supremely vulnerable to modern hitters intending to lift and drive everything they can? Is a staff of inexperienced pitchers at this level learning what big league hitters do to mistakes without the ability to stop making them?
"In our case, a lot of times it's just mislocated pitches that are not executed well," Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. "But pitchers are going to make mistakes. We just make way too many of them — breaking balls in the middle, a mislocated heater that runs back in the middle part of the plate. So, I think that there's both scenarios where sometimes a hitter beats you, but there's also times where you don't execute."
The raw numbers have not lost their heft as the season progresses. Through 50 games, they've allowed a major league-high 107 home runs, having already set the record for most allowed before May 1 and fastest to allow 100 in a season. They entered Friday with 39 more games before the All-Star break, ample time to get to the 154 home runs allowed by the 2016 Cincinnati Reds before the All-Star break. The 2016 Reds set the major league record for homers allowed with 258.
For every one the Orioles are able to acknowledge as a good piece of hitting — Gleyber Torres' second Wednesday on a fastball off the outer half is an example — there are far more that Hyde sees as the type of pitches a hitter from any era would crush.
That assessment could be particularly troubling for a team that can't consistently run out experienced pitchers who can locate and trust their pitches to do what they want. It could be especially problematic this weekend, as Coors Field is just as notable for pitchers’ struggles with their off-speed pitches in its altitude as for the way the ball can carry.
No one is looking too far outward as the Orioles try to combat this problem, which has exacerbated the worst stretch of their season.
"Guys are trying to hit, not necessarily home runs but do damage with each pitch," said right-hander David Hess, who has allowed a major league-high 17 home runs. "I think with that, when you leave a ball over the middle of the plate and essentially don't do your job, that's a hittable pitch, they're doing their job and capitalizing on that mistake.
“Pitching is the art of disrupting a hitter's timing. In turn, when you don't disrupt that hitter's timing, you're not doing your job. Hitters are trying put up runs and get on base. It's not necessarily one is doing something and one is not. Sometimes they hit good pitches. Sometimes they miss good and bad. That goes both ways."
Since the so-called launch-angle revolution in which hitters tried to add more loft to their swings to generate power on hard contact, pitchers have tried to combat it by elevating in the zone and trying to keep the ball off the heart of the plate. Just four current Orioles pitchers have over three seasons of major league service time — Andrew Cashner, Dan Straily, Dylan Bundy and Mychal Givens.
The rest are learning how mistakes are magnified at the highest level.
"Hitters are looking at mistakes, and hitters at this level are really good obviously at finding those mistakes, so when they get them, they don't miss them," reliever Branden Kline said. "When you give a big league hitter not only just a hitter's count and also a pitch they're looking for and they get it over the middle of the plate, that ball can go a long, long, long, long, long way."
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Notes: The Orioles officially added outfielder Keon Broxton to their 25-man roster Friday. … Orioles pitching coach Doug Brocail was away from the team through Friday night's game and bullpen coach John Wasdin will be away for the weekend series. Both will be attending graduation ceremonies for their children. Minor league pitching coordinator Chris Holt served as pitching coach Friday, and will serve as bullpen coach Saturday and Sunday. Florida and Latin America pitching coordinator Dave Schmidt served as bullpen coach for Friday night's game.