Flat Orioles Fall Further Back With Loss To Rays

Posted on August 20, 2013


Well, we'll start with good news: the Orioles, mathematically, are still in playoff contention.

Realistically, though? They're not making much of a case for it.

The O's absorbed their second straight dismal loss to Tampa Bay, 7-4, to drop 5.5 games back of the Rays, who currently lead the American League wild-card race. The Orioles also trail the Oakland Athletics by 4.5 games (pending the results of Oakland's Aug. 20 game) for the second wild-card spot.

In fact, the Orioles are now closer to falling into fourth place (as the Yankees, who swept a doubleheader Aug. 20, are one game behind the Birds) than they are to claiming a playoff spot.

The O's are on the brink of getting swept during a critically important series against their AL East rival. The Rays outplayed the Orioles in all aspects of the game Aug. 20, as the Birds combined a punchless offense with a mediocre starting pitching performance and a late bullpen slipup.

Let's remember that all hope is not lost. The Birds remain nine games better than .500, and if they can get their act together and run off a hot streak, they can make themselves relevant in the playoff race again. But games like this one don't exactly inspire confidence.

Here's how things went wrong Aug. 20.

OFFENSE STALLS

After the Orioles' frustrating failures to bring home runners Aug. 19 -- when they went 2-for-14 with men in scoring position and stranded 15 runners -- they tried a new approach Aug. 20. They rarely got anyone into scoring position at all.

The O's had three at bats with runners in scoring position, plating a run in the second on a Ryan Flaherty RBI single. Otherwise, Rays starter Alex Cobb, who worked six innings, mostly held them down.

The Birds' best scoring chance came in the seventh, when they chased Cobb by loading the bases with nobody out. But the Birds' poor at bats with RISP continued, as Brian Roberts grounded to third for a 5-4 double play. A run scored, but the Orioles' rally was essentially thwarted.

Matt Wieters homered off reliever Wesley Wright in the ninth, but unfortunately it came just after T.J. McFarland and Jim Johnson had combined to allow four runs and six hits in the top half of the inning. When it mattered, the Orioles' offense couldn't deliver the big hits. It's become a distressing theme.

GONZALEZ LABORS

Starter Miguel Gonzalez was not at his best, throwing 112 pitches and failing to finish the sixth inning. But he did limit the Rays to three runs (two earned) despite struggling with his command.

Gonzalez was his own worst enemy in the second inning, when he walked the leadoff batter (Matt Joyce) and later uncorked a wild pickoff throw, which moved him to second. Joyce scored on Yunel Escobar's single.

Another Gonzalez walk scored in the third during a two-run Rays rally. Gonzalez issued four walks for the night and, when he did get ahead in the count, had trouble putting away hitters.

Manager Buck Showalter had a simple diagnosis for Gonzalez's struggles.

"He really elevated a lot of pitches," Showalter said. "He had a lot of counts in his favor, he just couldn't make any pitches to put a guy away."

Gonzalez agreed with his manager's assessment.

"It was a tough one," Gonzalez said. "I was trying to as much as possible to bring the ball down, but it was just one of those outings. The first inning was great, then I just had to battle the other innings."

IF IT WEREN'T FOR BAD LUCK ...

Gonzalez pitched into his share of bad luck, too. Escobar's RBI single in the second was a broken-bat blooper that fell into no-man's land in center field. Later, in the fifth, a would-be double-play grounder from Wil Myers deflected off Gonzalez's glove for an infield single (though the Rays didn't score that inning).

The Orioles' offense had its share of misfortune, too -- several hard-hit line drives went directly to Rays fielders, including a Nick Markakis shot to first that turned into a double play in the second inning.

"We squared some balls up right at people tonight," Showalter said.

There's another difference between the 2013 Orioles and the 2012 version. Last year, the O's seemed to have magic on their side. Every break and every bit of luck seemed to go their way during their unexpected run to the postseason.

By contrast, this year -- especially during the last few weeks -- nothing seems to be going the Orioles' way. A lot of those struggles are self-created, of course, but the Birds just haven't had that extra bit of magic that helped propel them in 2012.

Showalter, though, seemed optimistic.

"I don't worry about that," he said. "You'd be surprised how quickly this season can slow down and things can turn quickly."

The Orioles need their luck to turn -- and for that matter, they need to start playing better before time runs out on their season. Averting a Rays sweep Aug. 21 would be a good start.

Posted Aug. 20, 2013 by Paul Folkemer

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