In 2013, the Orioles posted a 46-35 record in Baltimore. So far in 2014, Camden Yards hasn't provided the same home-field advantage.
The Birds have lost both home series they've played, most recently dropping two out of three games to the Blue Jays April 11-13. The series provided some excitement with a 12-inning, 2-1 Orioles walkoff victory April 12, but that was sandwiched between two sloppy defeats, an error-filled 2-0 loss April 11 and an 11-3 Blue Jays romp April 13.
During their six home games, the Orioles' offense has been limited to 12 runs, averaging two per game. The Birds' bats went silent during the Blue Jays series, scoring five runs in 30 innings of baseball.
The offense, which had seemed to break out during the Orioles' final two games in New York April 8 and 9, took a step back. When the O's were able to get runners on base, they were rarely able to cash them in. The Birds stranded 23 runners and went 3-for-20 with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-8 during the finale.
Things won't get any easier for the Birds' offense as the pitching-heavy Rays come to Baltimore for a three-game series April 14-16, with both David Price and Chris Archer slated to start.
JIMENEZ STRUGGLES AGAIN
Fresh off signing a four-year, $50 million free-agent contract -- the largest the Orioles have ever awarded to a pitcher -- Ubaldo Jimenez has yet to provide a return on the investment.
Jimenez has allowed four runs or more during each of his first three starts as an Oriole, and has not pitched past the sixth inning during any of them. Jimenez's latest rough outing, against the Jays April 13 -- during which he allowed five runs and 10 hits in 5.1 innings -- inflated his season ERA to 7.31 (13 earned runs in 16 innings).
Jimenez is historically a slow starter -- entering his April 13 start, he held a career ERA of 5.10 in March and April, higher than any other month -- so Orioles fans shouldn't panic yet. In 2013 for Cleveland, Jimenez gave up 19 runs in his first 17 innings pitched (10.06 ERA), but then rebounded to finish the season with a 3.30 ERA during 32 starts. There's a lot of season left, and Jimenez has plenty of time to find his footing, as he did last year.
Jimenez's track record as a successful starter -- and his sizable contract -- will likely buy him a long leash in the Orioles' rotation. But if Jimenez continues to struggle for several weeks, what then? The Orioles could be faced with an unpleasant predicament.
Other than Jimenez, the Birds' rotation was strong during the series, as Chris Tillman (April 11) and Bud Norris (April 12) combined to work 15 innings without allowing an earned run, though neither one earned a victory for his efforts.
GET WELL SOON, MANNY MACHADO
The Orioles felt the absence of injured Platinum Glove-winning third baseman Manny Machado April 11, as a pair of throwing errors by third baseman Jonathan Schoop led to two unearned runs -- providing the entire scoring during the Blue Jays' 2-0 win.
Tillman, who worked eight innings, basically got seven outs in the fourth inning. Schoop threw away an out with his wild throw on a Jose Bautista grounder, then squandered two possible outs by firing wildly to second on what should have been a double play. Tillman induced another should-have-been double play from Dioner Navarro, but then shortstop Ryan Flaherty made a poor relay throw to first and extended the inning. It wasn't the Orioles infield's finest moment.
AS THE BULLPEN TURNS
Out in the bullpen, Zach Britton continues to shine. He worked 2.1 scoreless, hitless innings of relief during the series -- picking up the victory April 12 -- and has pitched 8.1 shutout innings this season, allowing two hits. It looks as if Britton is adapting well to his new role as a reliever.
Newcomer Evan Meek, too, has been a valuable addition to the bullpen thus far, working 5.1 scoreless innings during five appearances, including a scoreless eighth inning April 12. Meek, it appears, has usurped Darren O'Day's role as the Orioles' primary setup man. Four of Meek's appearances have come in high-leverage situations, with no more than two runs separating the Orioles and their opponent. As for O'Day, three of his four appearances have come in low-leverage or blowout situations, with a margin of difference of four runs or more.
Meek, a former All-Star, has pitched well and rewarded manager Buck Showalter's faith in him. Still, I can't help but wonder why O'Day has seemingly fallen out of favor after being one of the Birds' most reliable relievers the last two years.
REPLAY DEBUTS AT CAMDEN YARDS
The new instant replay system made its debut April 12 at Camden Yards, as Blue Jays manager John Gibbons challenged a fourth-inning call in which Steve Lombardozzi was ruled safe at first. After review, umpires upheld the call.
As much as I'm in favor of instant replay in baseball, this particular review took a little longer than I thought it should have -- a two-minute, 38-second delay. With a team of people reviewing the call from the New York Replay Command Center, ideally, a review should take half that long -- or less.
That 2:38 mark also doesn't include the time it took for Gibbons to slowly stroll out to the field and stall for time while he waited for Blue Jays personnel to watch the TV replay and let him know whether to officially challenge the call. The replay system will need to be streamlined during the coming years to become more efficient. MLB officials may want to tweak the challenge rules to prevent managers from blatantly stalling while they decide what they want to do.