The Orioles reached the mathematical halfway point of the 2023 season this afternoon in frustrating fashion. They got a strong pitching performance from starter Kyle Bradish, but for the second day in a row, their offense was shut down.
Minnesota improved to 42-42, blanking the Orioles 1-0 in front of a crowd of 40,012 at Oriole Park that came to get O’s Hawaiian shirts and hoped to see the home team win. They had to settle for 1-for-2 today at the Yard.
The Orioles are 48-33 at the midpoint of the year. That’s a 96-win pace that would likely lead to a playoff berth. But in the short term, they now have their first four-game losing streak of this year.
The Orioles were held to three singles today, going 3-for-30. They were shutout 1-0 for the first time since Sept. 11, 2022 versus Boston.
They are now 4-6-1 in their past 11 series since May 26, going 15-16 in that span.
Center fielder Cedric Mullins expects his team to shake off the current doldrums.
“I think this team is really capable of doing a lot of great things," Mullins said. "We’ve kind of shown that this year already. So, four-game losing streak? I don’t think it worries us too much. Come back and compete the next day."
With the crowd roaring, the O's came up short and left the tying run on base in the last of the ninth. Closer Jhoan Duran allowed Adley Rutschman's infield single with one out and Jorge Mateo pinch-ran. Mateo was called out on a steal attempt but was ruled safe upon replay review. But right fielder Max Kepler made a sliding catch in foul territory to get Anthony Santander, and Ryan O'Hearn grounded out to end it.
The early part of today’s game featured three scoreless innings, but with Twins starting right-hander Bailey Ober needing just 28 pitches to get nine outs while Bradish was at 53 pitches through three.
Bradish had much more traffic to deal with early on, stranding a runner in the first and two each in the second and third innings. He got big help from a spectacular diving catch from left fielder Austin Hays in the Twins third. With a man on first and one out, Byron Buxton lined a ball toward the left-field corner with 106.4 mph exit velocity. Hays charged toward the ball and made an all-out diving catch to rob Buxton and probably saved a run. The ball had a .770 expected batting average. Bradish had to work to strand five in the first three.
Ober rolled through the first five innings, getting three 1-2-3 innings, on 58 pitches, as the Orioles went just 1-for-16 in those innings. Gunnar Henderson’s solid single to right with two outs in the second was the only hit. Ober added a 1-2-3 sixth inning, and to that point the O’s average exit velocity for the game was just 83.2 mph. The nine hardest balls hit in the game came off the Twins' bats.
The Twins had broken the 0-0 tie in the top of the fourth on Joey Gallo’s solo homer, his second in two nights in this series and his 15th for the year. He hit a high slider out to right-center on a 3-2 pitch by Bradish. Gallo’s fourth homer in seven games had an exit velocity of 105 and went 439 feet for the game's only run.
Bradish had a strong outing, marred only by that big fly and helped by the fly ball that Hays ran down.
He went six innings, allowing the one run on seven hits with one walk, and got seven strikeouts. But he falls to 4-4 with a 3.58 ERA. He threw 94 pitches, 60 for strikes, getting 11 whiffs on 44 swings.
“I think he has really, really improved," manager Brandon Hyde said of Bradish, who has an ERA of 2.16 his past four games and 2.89 his last seven. "The command is so much better. Walked one today. He’s got a really great fastball he can go to both sides with, and a sinker and cutter. Curveball is continuing to improve. His changeup is hard, but he’s keeping it down in the zone. He’s done a great job.”
Bradish said he didn't feel like a hard-luck loser, as one questioner charactized it.
“I thought my stuff was good today, apart from the slider," he said. "Had good shape to it. Just wasn’t throwing it in the zone and when it was, they were on it. But luckily found the curveball, and some really good defensive plays right there, especially Haysy.
“Ober threw the ball really good and they have a lockdown bullpen. I gave up that solo shot to Gallo and that was the difference in the game. I think we’re a really good team. Hard luck? No. Just part of it."
The right-hander is confident the Baltimore bats will heat up soon.
“Full confidence. Come out tomorrow, win a ballgame and take it to New York," he said. "These guys have been swinging it all year. It’s baseball. It’s going to happen. We’re not going to put up 10 runs every game."
Ober was solid throughout for the Twins, allowing just two singles over seven scoreless innings. He walked no one and fanned eight. He is now 5-4 with a 2.70 ERA after his 85-pitch gem. This was his eighth quality start, and the Twins are now 8-5 in his outings.
The Orioles were shut out for the sixth time this year and have scored no more than two runs in five of their last nine games.
"Over 162 games, bound to have some stretches like that," Mullins said. "So attribute that to baseball. I feel like we are coming up there with a plan and approach, just not getting the results we want right now.”
Added Hyde: “Thought it was a really well pitched game. Both ends. But Ober was a little bit better. Seven scoreless innings against us, really good changeup, great command. No walks. Punched out eight of us. Just a tough time. Didn’t have many hard-hit balls.
“We just didn’t have enough offense today, and they had a solo homer.
Baltimore has been outscored 23-9 during the four-game losing streak. The Orioles are 5-16 versus Minnesota since 2019 and 8-27 since the 2017 season. They need to win Sunday or will be swept three straight for the first time in the 2023 season.
The great crowd roared often today and was cheering all out for a run or more in the last of the ninth, but it would not come, and the O's will try to salvage a game in this series at 12:05 p.m. Sunday.