Well Played Orioles Victory Averts Rays SweepPosted on August 22, 2013
The Orioles certainly have the right idea: if you're going to win only one game of a series, make sure it's the last one. It leaves a better taste in fans' mouths.
The Orioles averted a sweep with a 4-2 victory against the Rays during the Aug. 21 finale, which was close to a must-win game following discouraging losses Aug. 19 and 20. The first two losses hurt the Orioles' standing in the postseason race, but the Birds brought themselves back from the precipice and now remain within shouting distance of Tampa Bay (4.5 games behind).
What's more, the Orioles gained a game on the losing Oakland Athletics Aug. 21, putting the O's three games behind for the second wild-card spot. And the Orioles just so happen to be starting a three-game series with the Athletics Aug. 23. If the Birds can pull off a sweep, they'll be back in prime position in the postseason picture.
Let's review the Orioles' roller-coaster ride of a series with the Rays.
CHEN STEPS UP
The Orioles had their three best starting pitchers on the hill for the series, but only one shined. Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez labored through their Aug. 19 and 20 outings, respectively. Tillman worked six innings, but gave up four runs during the opener, while Gonzalez threw 112 pitches without getting out of the sixth Aug. 20, allowing 12 base runners.
Wei-Yin Chen looked every bit the stalwart starter with his effort during the finale. Though he had only one perfect inning, Chen did an excellent job of working out of jams and stranding base runners. He allowed a pair of home runs, but both were solo shots. Chen also fielded his position well, turning a couple of Sam Fuld comebackers into rally-killing double plays in the fourth and seventh innings.
Give credit also to manager Buck Showalter for recognizing Chen's limits and making sure he didn't push him too far. I wrote previously about Showalter's propensity for hanging Chen out to dry when he struggles at the 100-pitch mark. This time, though, Showalter had the bullpen ready in the seventh when Chen was approaching the century mark in pitches. On his 98th pitch, Chen retired the left-handed No. 9 hitter Fuld to end the seventh; if he hadn't, Showalter was ready to bring in Darren O'Day to face the top of the lineup. Chen got through seven innings -- allowing two runs -- and Showalter started fresh with O'Day in the eighth instead of pressing his luck with Chen.
AS THE BULLPEN TURNS
Perhaps the most interesting development of the finale was that the Orioles carried a save situation into the ninth ... and Jim Johnson didn't come in.
With a two-run lead, Showalter stayed away from Johnson, the embattled Orioles closer with nine blown saves this year. Showalter said after the game that he just wanted to give Johnson a night off after he threw 19 pitches the previous night (allowing three hits), but one can't help but wonder whether this will be a more permanent change. Even Showalter might have tired of Johnson's blown saves, and started looking for a better solution for the ninth inning.
His approach for the ninth inning Aug. 21 was to carefully match up righties and lefties to play the percentages, as if it were the seventh or eighth inning, instead of handing the ball to a closer to get three outs, regardless of matchups.
With the right-handed Wil Myers leading off the ninth, Showalter stuck with O'Day, who had worked a clean eighth. After Myers singled and left-handed pinch-hitter James Loney came up, Showalter turned to southpaw Brian Matusz. Though that matchup didn't work -- Loney worked Matusz for an 11-pitch walk -- it was the right move, in my opinion.
Then, with another batch of right-handers due up, Showalter turned to Tommy Hunter. Rays manager Joe Maddon countered with a couple of left-handed pinch-hitters, but Hunter got the job done, nailing down the final three outs (with help from catcher Matt Wieters, who ended the game by throwing out a runner at second).
Showalter has been criticized recently for his bullpen management, but I think he worked it well in this case. I wish managers would do this more often -- let the situation dictate which pitcher throws the ninth, rather than sticking blindly with a set closer -- but that's just not how the game is played these days.
WHERE ARE THE BIG HITS?
The Orioles' offense was certainly an enigma during the series. The Birds put tons of runners on base against two of the Rays' fine starting pitchers -- David Price Aug. 19 and Jeremy Hellickson Aug. 21 -- but had trouble capitalizing on their opportunities. Price emerged with a win despite allowing 12 base runners in five innings, while Hellickson -- even though he gave up four runs and departed in the fifth -- limited the damage in dangerous situations.
The O's had a miserable series hitting with runners in scoring position, going 3-for-24 (a .125 average). Even during their win Aug. 21, the O's were 0-for-7 in such situations. The Birds stranded 30 runners on base during the three games.
Overall, the Orioles have been above average this season at hitting with runners in scoring position, but that wasn't the case during this series. They'll need to return to cashing in runs in clutch situations if they intend to fight back into the playoff race.
Posted Aug. 22, 2013 by Paul Folkemer
Dave Norton, who stepped down after 30 years as Mount St. Joseph's baseball coach to become principal, reconnected with many former players Aug. 17.