The Orioles are in a pennant race and the offense has a disturbing tendency to slow to a crawl.
No baserunners for eight innings Sunday in St. Petersburg, Fla., none for six innings yesterday in Toronto. Two runs total in the losses.
Cedric Mullins had the first Orioles hit this afternoon with a two-out triple in the third inning, and Cubs starter Adrian Sampson didn’t allow another until Austin Hays doubled with one out in the fifth and was thrown out at the plate.
The pressure on the starters and bullpen intensifies. Austin Voth tossed six scoreless innings yesterday, and Spenser Watkins blanked the Cubs today for 5 1/3 before Willson Contreras homered.
Contreras homered again off Joey Krehbiel in the eighth inning, and the Orioles were on the verge of being shut out for the eighth time this season. They took advantage of two walks in the bottom half to score twice, but the Cubs held on for a 3-2 win before an announced crowd of 19,454 at Camden Yards.
A two-on, one-out rally in the ninth died when Mullins lined into a double play.
"I think both teams struggled offensively early," said Ryan Mountcastle, who poked a run-scoring single into right field in the eighth. "It was tough, super bright backdrop. Guys were having trouble picking up spin and stuff, but once the sun went down a little bit, I think guys were putting together better at-bats, and tried to make a push there toward the end there, but just couldn't make it."
Krehbiel retired the first four batters he faced before pinch-hitter Rafael Ortega led off the eighth by reaching the flag court in right field. Contreras drove a fastball 447 feet to left, with an exit velocity of 110.8 mph, and the Orioles eventually fell to 61-57 with their fourth loss in six games and fifth in eight.
They made a late run but returned to the clubhouse two games back for the last wild card. The Blue Jays play the Yankees tonight.
Another slow start that they couldn't overcome.
"I don't know, it is what it is. I have no club," Mountcastle said.
"We've got a big homestand here against Boston. Hopefully, we can put together better at-bats early in the game and get out to more of a lead."
"We're not stringing enough good at-bats together right now to give ourselves a chance," said manager Brandon Hyde.
Mullins and Adley Rutschman began the eighth with back-to-back walks against Sean Newcomb with the Orioles down 3-0. Rutschman also walked in the first and has 40 in 70 games.
Mountcastle delivered his RBI single, Rutschman advanced to third base when right fielder Nelson Velázquez overran the ball and Mountcastle took second on a passed ball. Anthony Santander flied to right to reduce the lead to 3-2, but Ramón Urías’ ground ball to third baseman Zach McKinstry produced an out at the plate with Mountcastle running on contact.
"Anything on the ground, I was going," Mountcastle said, "and unfortunately the third baseman made a good play and not much you can do there."
Hays led off the ninth by reaching on McKinstry’s throwing error. Rougned Odor popped up a bunt after Tyler Nevin initially was going to pinch-hit for him, but Brandon Hughes gave up an opposite-field single to Jorge Mateo. Mullins sent a soft liner to second baseman Nick Madrigal, who flipped to shortstop Nico Hoerner for the double play, giving Hughes his first major league save.
Watkins was removed after 5 2/3 innings and 80 pitches with Ian Happ on first base. Contreras lined a 90.7 mph fastball over the right field fence for the game’s first run.
"It was a mistake," Watkins said. "I've got to make a better pitch to him, as prolific a hitter as he is. It's just a mistake there and I'd like to have that one back, but we'll move forward and learn from it."
Watkins allowed five hits and didn’t walk a batter, and he lowered his ERA to 4.04 overall and 2.83 ERA in nine games since his return from the injured list.
"You want to go out and give your team the best chance and hand it over to a bullpen that's done a great job all year," he said. "These bats are never out of a game, so you put together a good performance and you know what your team can do. Today is just one of those days. It happens. I'll trust my bullpen over anybody else and I'll trust my bats over anybody else.
"I'll just chalk it up as a fluke."
The Orioles came close to breaking through in the fifth after Hays, in a lengthy slump, doubled into left-center field and Odor reached on an infield hit. Mateo laid down a bunt to the right of the mound, Sampson raced to the ball and flipped it with his glove to Contreras, who tagged Hays.
The out call was upheld on review.
Mullins popped up and jammed his helmet into the dirt near first base.
Mountcastle drew a four-pitch walk with one out in the sixth, Urías singled with two outs to bring a pitching change and Newcomb struck out pinch-hitter Ryan McKenna with the count full. McKenna also struck out to end the eighth.
The fourth inning was a bit dicey for Watkins. Happ doubled with one out, Franmil Reyes pulled a ball foul that missed the chalk by a few inches before he grounded out and Hoerner flied to the edge of the left field warning track.
Velázquez lined a leadoff single into center field in the fifth, stole second base while McKinstry struck out with the count full for the second out and raced to third base when Watkins’ pickoff throw sailed into center.
No. 9 hitter Christopher Morel struck out looking at a 93 mph fastball on the inner half, and Watkins pumped his fist and yelled his approval.
There’s no shortage of energy and emotion. Just runs.
"It's obviously easier to pitch when you have some breathing room, and we're not having a ton of breathing room right now," Hyde said after his rotation lowered its ERA to 2.31 in the last five games. "We've got to get it going offensively.
"You've just got to grind it out. There's nothing you can do. Keep putting the work in and hopefully we get out of it here pretty quick."
"Obviously, we want to get more hits, we want to get on base more, score more runs," Mountcastle said. "But it's a tough game. These pitchers are really good, and hopefully we can figure it out down the stretch here."
Note: Left-hander DL Hall made his first relief appearance today with Triple-A Norfolk and allowed one run and one hit with three walks and four strikeouts in two innings.
Kyle Stowers has 78 RBIs to pass Memphis’ Alec Burleson for first in the International League.