Orioles Fizzle In First-Place Matchup, Suffer Three-Game Sweep To Tigers

Posted on May 14, 2014 by Paul Folkemer

So much for a clash of the titans.

The Baltimore Orioles' three-game series with the Tigers May 12-14 -- a battle between two first-place teams in the American League -- turned into a one-sided affair, as Detroit saddled the Birds with their first sweep of the year.

Buck Showalter

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

While the sweep didn't knock the Birds out of first place in the AL East -- thanks in part to the struggles of other teams in the division -- the series ran the Orioles' losing streak to four games and shined a spotlight on a number of concerns about the team.

A LATE-ARRIVING OFFENSE

When the Orioles were struggling offensively in April, some fans chalked it up to the unusually cold temperatures in Baltimore, with the idea that the Birds' bats would heat up when the weather did.

Well, the temperatures have warmed -- the first two games of the series were played in 74- and 79-degree weather at Camden Yards -- but the Orioles' offense remained missing in action during those games, plating one run apiece.

The Orioles' lineup is riddled with slumping hitters. Nick Markakis, who entered the series with an 18-game hitting streak, went 0-for-13 from the leadoff spot. Manny Machado, batting behind Markakis, wasn't much better, combining to go 2-for-12 during the series. Machado doesn't appear to be hitting the ball with much authority, showing noticeable rust from his late start to the season.

Speaking of rust, cleanup hitter Chris Davis went 1-for-11 during his first full series back from his oblique strain. And J.J. Hardy, who missed several games early in 2014 with back spasms, continued his woeful offensive season, going 2-for-12. Hardy is batting .254/.273/.307/.580 and has yet to hit a home run this year. If Machado, Davis and Hardy are playing at less than 100 percent health, it seems to be having an adverse effect on their hitting.

On a more positive note, No. 3 hitter Adam Jones collected six hits during the series, and Nelson Cruz continued his sizzling debut season with the Birds by smashing his 11th home run, giving him six more than any other Oriole. The Orioles' offense showed signs of life by rallying for a five-run fifth inning against Justin Verlander May 14, but even then, the Birds failed to score in any other inning during an eventual 7-5 loss.

Of the 27 innings played during the series, the O's were held scoreless in 24 of them. That's not going to get it done against a terrific Tigers team -- or any team, really.

TOMMY GOES BOOM

Orioles closer Tommy Hunter used to have a Twitter account under the name "@TommyGoesBoom," but before the 2014 season, he changed it to the more innocuous "@tHunter29." Perhaps he was trying to distance himself from any reference to giving up home runs.

That may work on Twitter, but it hasn't worked on the baseball field. Hunter "went boom" at a most inopportune time May 13, coughing up a Miguel Cabrera three-run homer with two outs in the ninth that erased a 1-0 O's lead in front of a shell-shocked Camden Yards crowd. Adding to his misery, Hunter then allowed a Victor Martinez blast to Eutaw Street on his next pitch, and was booed off the mound en route to a 4-1 O's loss.

Hunter has converted 11 saves -- still tied for first in the AL as of May 13 -- but his conversion to closer has been a rocky experience so far. During 17 games, Hunter has allowed 11 runs in 15 innings (6.60 ERA) and allowed 29 base runners, nearly two per inning. He has managed to finagle some heart-stopping escapes during many of his save opportunities, but playing with fire was bound to get him burned. Hunter has blown his two most recent save chances.

The question is, will manager Buck Showalter make a change at the closer's role? Last year, Showalter remained loyal to closer Jim Johnson all year despite a league-worst nine blown saves. Johnson, though, was coming off a 2012 season during which he had gone 51-for-54 in save opportunities, which earned him a longer leash. Hunter, by contrast, has no such track record -- this is his first season as a closer, and right now, he's having trouble getting anyone out.

GAUSMAN RUNS OUT OF GAS

When the O's made the announcement that Kevin Gausman was coming up to start May 14, I thought it was a questionable decision. And after Gausman's performance May 14, there was nothing to make me reconsider my skepticism.

Gausman got off to a good start, retiring the first seven batters he faced, including two strikeouts. But it didn't take long for the Tigers to figure him out. Gausman struggled to command his off-speed pitches, and as such, he didn't throw many; 65 of his 87 pitches were fastballs, and Tigers hitters were able to square him up.

Gausman's final line was four innings, five runs, six hits and a 54-to-33 strike-to-ball ratio, and his secondary pitches seemed unpolished. He looks like a pitcher who still has more to learn in the minor leagues. Will the Orioles send him back to Triple-A Norfolk for more seasoning, or will they try to refine his repertoire at the big league level? 

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