Orioles Fizzle After Strong Opener Against Brewers

Posted on May 29, 2014 by Paul Folkemer

The Orioles delivered a stunning victory May 26 to open a three-game set in Milwaukee, but couldn't build on the momentum, ultimately dropping two of three to fall 4.5 games back in the American League East.

The first two games of the series were remarkably similar -- except with a different team getting the win. Both had the same final score (7-6) and went 10 innings. During both games, one team was trailing in the ninth inning, down to its final out, before rallying back to tie the score and then win in the 10th. The O's emerged victorious May 26, while the Brewers did so May 27. Milwaukee then took the rubber game May 28, blowing the game open late during an 8-3 victory.

The series brought plenty to talk about, including manager Buck Showalter's decisions during the May 27 loss. Here's a look at some other notable moments during the three-game set.

UNFAMILIAR TERRAIN

The series marked the Orioles' first matchup against the Brewers since June 20-22, 2008, also in Milwaukee. Adam Jones and Nick Markakis are the only Orioles who remain on the team from back then. Current O's shortstop J.J. Hardy also played during that series, as a Brewer.

The Orioles' three starting pitchers for that series were Radhames Liz, Daniel Cabrera and Garrett Olson -- three homegrown pitching prospects who turned into big league busts.

STUMBLING STARTERS

Unfortunately for the Orioles, their starting pitchers during this series did their best impressions of Liz, Cabrera and Olson. During the first two games, Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen combined to allow 11 earned runs in 10.2 innings, with each putting his team in a multi-run deficit. Bud Norris struggled with his command during the series finale May 28, walking three batters and plunking one, though his final line was respectable -- six innings, four runs.

Tillman's rough outing -- six runs, 5.2 innings May 26 -- was his second ugly start in a row. Of his last eight outings, two have been quality starts. Adding to Tillman's rough May, an MLB official scoring review reversed a call from his start in Pittsburgh May 21, changing a Chris Davis error to a double and adding two earned runs to Tillman's ledger. He now has a 4.97 ERA this year and has failed to follow up on his breakout 2013 season.

OFFENSE STORMS BACK

The Orioles' offense didn't back down despite falling behind during the first two games. They saved the best for last May 26, rallying back when they were down by two runs with two outs and nobody on in the ninth. Facing Francisco Rodriguez -- who was a washout with the Birds last year, but has re-established himself as an effective closer in 2014 -- the O's whittled the deficit to one run on Jonathan Schoop's second homer of the game. Schoop showed signs of life at the plate after batting .215 with a .583 OPS coming into the series.

Delmon Young's pinch-hit single extended the game, and a Nick Markakis double to the gap plated the tying run as the Birds saddled Rodriguez with his second blown save out of 19 opportunities. An inning later, catcher Nick Hundley -- making his Orioles debut -- delivered a go-ahead RBI single, after committing a throwing error that nearly cost the Birds the game in the ninth.

The following night, the O's didn't wait as long to make their comeback, but it was no less dramatic. Trailing, 5-0, in the fifth, the Birds whittled their way back against Brewers starter Matt Garza. The capping blow was a three-run pinch-hit homer by Steve Pearce in the seventh, which gave the O's a 6-5 lead. Had the Orioles gone on to win the game, Pearce's blast might have been remembered as one of the biggest hits of the season for the Birds.

CRUZ CRUSHES

The O's got offensive contributions from several players during the series, but one stood above the rest, as he has all season. Nelson Cruz's torrid 2014 season continued apace as he torched the Brewers, the team with which he first broke into the majors in 2005.

After chipping in with an RBI double during the first game, Cruz resumed his homer-hitting ways with a solo shot May 27 and then a pair of blasts off Yovani Gallardo May 28. That gave him 19 home runs for the season, leading the majors. Cruz is averaging one home run every 2.6 games for the Orioles, with 19 during 50 games played. By comparison, Davis had 16 homers through his first 50 games played last year, and went on to hit 53.

All told, Cruz is batting .306 with a 1.039 OPS. And remember, the Orioles are paying him $8 million this season. It's hard to think of a better free-agent bargain in the majors.

BULLPEN PITCHES IN

The Orioles' retooled bullpen continued its recent success during the first two games of the series. On May 26, four relievers combined for 4.1 scoreless innings. Brad Brach worked two shutout frames, keeping the game close and allowing the O's to tie the score in the ninth. Darren O'Day escaped a ninth-inning jam, and Zach Britton worked a scoreless 10th for the save.

The next night, Britton blew a save for the first time, but it was more of a fluke than a meltdown -- the Brewers tied the game on a swinging-bunt slow roller that Jonathan Lucroy beat out for an infield hit. Before the ninth, O's relievers had combined for four scoreless innings.

The Orioles' bullpen has improved since the Birds started jettisoning their most ineffective relievers at the beginning of May. They sent Evan Meek and Josh Stinson to the minors, traded Troy Patton and placed Tommy Hunter on the disabled list. In their place, the O's have added Brach and Preston Guilmet, who have both pitched well (although Brach and Brian Matusz combined to allow four runs May 28).

An exception to the bullpen's success is long man T.J. McFarland, who has a 5.73 ERA. Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of McFarland's rough season than the fact that he gave up a game-winning extra-base hit to a pitcher (Gallardo) May 27.

CHANGING CATCHERS

When the Orioles activated Davis off the paternity list May 27, they optioned catcher Steve Clevenger to Triple-A Norfolk. Most had assumed that the O's would send down one of their three catchers, but most had expected it to be Caleb Joseph, who is 1-for-23 in the majors. Clevenger had been with the O's since Opening Day, getting the bulk of starts at catcher after Matt Wieters went on the disabled list.

In the end, the O's apparently valued Joseph's defense more than Clevenger's bat. Joseph has thrown out four of 10 runners attempting to steal, while Clevenger has cut down three of 20. Joseph, a right-handed bat, also provides a platoon partner with new starting catcher Hundley, who is also right-handed, but has struggled against lefties during his career (.591 OPS).

See Also:

next up:

Did Buck Showalter's Decisions Cost The Orioles May 27?

May 28, 2014

Paul Folkemer questions Buck Showalter's decisions against the Brewers May 27, including having Darren O'Day intentionally walk Scooter Gennett.

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