ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Orioles will close out the 2017 season with 19 losses in their last 23 games. They won’t avoid finishing in last place. They must regroup before they can reload.
They could have used a reset button.
Kevin Gausman is able to leave on a high note, holding the Rays to one run today over seven innings, but the offensive deficiencies played out again in a 6-0 loss before an announced crowd of 16,018 at Tropicana Field.
Left-hander Blake Snell limited the Orioles to two hits in seven scoreless innings. He didn’t walk a batter and accounted for 13 of the Orioles’ franchise-tying 18 strikeouts.
Swept on their five-game road trip, the Orioles finish 75-87 overall and 29-52 away from home. They were shut out for the 12th time and the fifth this month. They totaled seven runs in their last five games.
This is the worst 23-game finish for the Orioles since they went 3-20 in 2002.
“Obviously, Snell’s a good pitcher,” said manager Buck Showalter. “You can see why he’s so highly thought of. But we haven’t been swinging the bats for a while. I’m not going to take anything away from them, but we scored, what, three runs in 27 innings? It’s been a challenge for us here lately, for sure.”
Brad Brach was charged with five runs in the eighth, the last two after Mike Wright replaced him with the bases loaded and one out. Brach and Wright each walked a batter to force in a run and the Rays sent 11 men to the plate.
Seemed like an appropriate way for the Orioles to sign off.
“Out of every season you learn from everything and you just try to continue to get better,” said third baseman Manny Machado. “We know what we lacked out of this year, and hopefully we can fix those things and come back better next year.”
Curt Casali led off the fifth inning by homering on a 94 mph fastball from Gausman, who lowered his ERA to 4.68 in 186 2/3 innings. Gausman had hoped to get the ball again after giving up six runs to the Pirates in four innings Tuesday night, and he was smart to trust his instincts.
“That’s why I wanted to pitch today,” Gausman said, “because like I told you all yesterday, I wanted to get my innings up and got close to 190 innings. Obviously, this season didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but good game to end on a good one.”
Gausman allowed six hits, walked none and struck out nine. He retired the last seven batters he faced, with five strikeouts.
“That was the highlight of the day,” Showalter said. “Kevin was really good. One mistake, got behind in the count, but that was really good to see. That tells you a lot about Kevin. I know he didn’t want to end on that note and made a little adjustment, and he was pitching on regular rest, too.
“He’s gotten stronger as the year’s gone on. That’s something he can really build on. Kind of settles in your mind as you go forward in your career that he’s tied for the league lead in starts and he’s been there for us. He’s gotten better as the year’s gone on.”
Six consecutive batters reached against Brach with one out in the eighth. Evan Longoria had an RBI double and Logan Morrison followed with a run-scoring single. Trevor Plouffe and Casali walked with the bases loaded and Mallex Smith had a sacrifice fly.
“Just got away from him,” Showalter said. “Brad’s had another solid year for us and I hate to have one of our better pitchers end on that note. If I know Brad, he’ll figure out a way to make it a positive and drive him in the offseason. He’ll be there for us next year.”
Trey Mancini broke up Snell’s no-hit bid with a leadoff single in the fifth inning. His 159 hits place him second on the club’s all-time list for rookies.
Mancini reached on a wild pitch after striking out with two outs in the seventh, and Mark Trumbo followed with an infield hit, but Chris Davis grounded out. Davis also struck out twice to raise his season total to 195 in 128 games.
Players showered and dressed after the final out, on Mancini’s strikeout, and grabbed flights or rides home. Pending free agents Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jiménez hugged teammates and officials in what could be their last goodbyes.
This isn’t how they wanted to go out.
The Orioles were 22-10 on May 9 and finished 12 games below .500. They posted only two winning months and went 7-21 in September.
“We played top-notch teams and they just played better than us,” Machado said.
“One thing about us is we never stopped battling, we never stopped fighting. Not just myself, everyone. I was proud of how we overcame a lot of things and obviously we’re not proud of where we end the year, but at the end of the day it’s all about fighting, and until that last out is made we’re battling, trying to get that W and put us in a situation to do so.”
Not enough Ws. Too many Ls and Ks. Too many disappointments for a team that fancied itself as a contender.
“Obviously, we didn’t finish the season very well and it’s unfortunate, but we put ourselves in the situation to kind of be within striking distance going into the last month, and we just didn’t play good baseball down the stretch,” Gausman said.
“Kind of in all aspects of the game, too. It was frustrating, but we have a lot of guys coming back and I think we have everything we need. We just need to be a little more consistent.”