This season's woeful Orioles start was mostly attributed to the team's uneven roster, with too many passengers who weren't pulling their weight and too many hitters playing not just out of position, but playing positions at all.
Things have improved some of late. But they lost Tuesday night, 3-2 to the Chicago White Sox, the only team worse than them so far, because that same lack of depth forced them to take risks that backfired spectacularly in a loss that ranks as low as any this year.
Mark Trumbo, playing right field to get the bat that produced four of their seven hits and one of their two runs into the lineup, ran a long way out there on a towering fly ball into the corner to lead off the eighth inning and saw it bang off the heel of his glove for a triple that sparked a three-run rally to reverse the Orioles' 2-0 lead.
“It's part of the game, man,” Trumbo said. “Ideally, we could get out of that a lot cleaner.”
Baltimore Sun Orioles reporter Jon Meoli talks about the Orioles 3-2 loss to the White Sox. (Jon Meoli, Baltimore Sun video)
The pitchers who oversaw it? Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier, the club's two best relievers by a mile this season, who a night earlier combined for three shutout innings. They were pitching because Showalter likes to keep the next-best reliever, Miguel Castro, for longer outings and Brad Brach for saves. He doesn’t appear interested in using Pedro Araujo, Mike Wright Jr. or Tanner Scott in games like this at all. So, after 6 1/3 strong innings from Kevin Gausman, who tied a career high with 10 strikeouts, Showalter again went to the well on those two to preserve what was shaping up to be a second straight win.
“Compared to who?” Showalter said, a refrain he goes to seemingly as frequently as he has Bleier this season. “That's where we are. We don't have Darren, we don't have Zach, and those are our best options right now. And they've done a good job for us.”
Trumbo's clunker in right field changed all that. According to MLB’s Statcast data, similar batted balls have a 7 percent chance of being a hit.
“I gave it what I had,” Trumbo said. “That's everything I've got. It sure would have been nice to catch it, but that was the best effort I can give.”
He added it’s a “tough play for anybody,” then allowed: “There's probably some faster guys that might have made it a little easier.”
Showalter said: “It's a tough play. It's one Mark is capable of making. It's a tough play.”
With Daniel Palka on third base because of it, former Orioles catcher Welington Castillo scored him with a broken-bat single that Showalter said frustrated Givens and his team. José Rondon singled to put runners on first and third with one out, and after two botched bunt attempts by No. 9 hitter Adam Engel, who entered the day batting .189 and was 0-for-3 before the eighth inning Tuesday, Givens walked him to give way to Bleier with the bases loaded.
Givens threw 28 pitches in two scoreless innings Monday, but how often have the Orioles had a chance to use him to protect leads on conseutive nights?
“We haven't had a whole lot of sitautions to use him,” Showalter said. “He only threw eight pitches the previous innings, and he had good stuff. He just lost his command a little bit.”
A sacrifice fly by Yoan Moncada tied the game, and a single by Yolmer Sánchez put the Orioles behind. They were the only two batters Bleier, who started the season tremendously to the tune of a 0.40 ERA in 17 appearances without allowing an inherited runner to score. In five outings since, he's allowed three runs of his own and five of the seven he's inherited. His reputation as the owner of a rubber arm seems to be backfiring on him, compounding a taxing 24 hours for his pal Givens in the process.
It might not have mattered had the Orioles offense done more than collect two runs, both coming in the second inning, before letting White Sox starter James Shields off the hook. Shields needed 48 pitches to finish two innings, with the second featuring an RBI double by Trumbo and a run-scoring groundout by third baseman Jace Peterson.
Shields finished with 106 pitches in seven innings, a low number made lower by the fact that the Orioles put two runners on with no outs in the fifth inning and, thanks to a base-running gaffe by catcher Chance Sisco, were retired in six pitches during the inning.
“I'm going to give him credit,” Showalter said of Shields, who entered with a 4.88 ERA. “He's been pitching well. He had a good outing last time out, but we've been sitting here a lot saying that after games. … We had a couple situations we didn't take [advantage of]. Other than Mark tonight, we just didn't do a lot offensively.”
And there’s the rub. Because of the strugglers at the bottom of the lineup, like Peterson at third base and the rookie Sisco behind the plate, the Orioles can't afford to go defense over offense in places like right field. So Trumbo played there, extending his hitting streak to five games and bringing his average to .333 in the process, and even remained there when the Orioles had the opportunity for a defensive replacement in the eighth.
Showalter opted to put Craig Gentry in left field for Trey Mancini, noticing Trumbo would hit again in the ninth. And he did, collecting his fourth hit of the night, a single, to put two on with one out as the Orioles tried to erase their slim deficit.
“He gave us a chance there in the end,” Showalter said.