OAKLAND, Calif. - The starting pitcher allows one earned run today in six innings, the bullpen offers up two scoreless innings and the potential tying run reaches third base with one out in the ninth. And the Orioles board their charter for the flight home also riding a six-game losing streak.
No wins on the road trip and multiple reasons why they’re stuck on only eight for the season.
Does the club need the offense or defense to snap out of its funk? Which area must improve immediately?
“All of them,” said catcher Caleb Joseph following today’s 2-1 loss to the Athletics at Oakland Coliseum.
“We’re not good on defense. We haven’t been very good offensively. Our baserunning has stunk at times. Just every phase, absolutely every phase. Starting pitching, relieving, closing, defense, outfield, infield, you name it. We can improve on everything. That’s what it takes to win a major league game in the big leagues, and we’re not consistent.
“One night, one aspect may show up. The next night, it’s another one. You’re grasping at straws when you can’t put a game together and we just can’t put a game together right now. We’ve done it in the past and the guys in this room have done it collectively as a team before. Tough times here. But nobody is going to feel sorry for you. There’s blood in the water right now and there’s a bunch of sharks coming after us. We’ve got to man up, grow up, start playing better. Period. No ands, ifs or buts about it. We’ve just got to play better. We’re just not good enough right now.”
The words and tone rang loudest at this point in a season where players are fighting a daily battle to remain optimistic.
It would be easier if only one phase of the game was eluding the Orioles, but they didn’t hit again today - with Andrew Triggs the latest unheralded starter to tie them up in knots - and two more errors increased the total to 26. Pedro Álvarez’s errant throw on a rundown in the fourth inning fueled a two-run rally that proved decisive.
One mistake on this team tends to go a long way.
How daunting a task to correct flaws spread across the board.
“I think it could come just as quickly as it left,” said Joseph, who threw out two runners trying to steal but is batting .148. “We won, what, three out of four in the Bronx? We played some pretty solid games down there against a pretty tough team. It’s a ton of guys with nice track records here. It’s not like we’re running out 15 rookies. We’ve got guys that can do it.
“It’s just a matter of everybody’s kind of in the dumps at the same time, so everything’s completely magnified, minus (Manny) Machado and (Trey) Mancini. They’re having nice years. But we’ve got to get better. Period. Getting your brains beat in every night stinks. We’ve got to get better. Just do the fundamentals correctly, clean it up, all aspects.”
Manager Buck Showalter agreed that it’s not a question of whether the offense or defense needs to be elevated.
“Well, obviously, all of it,” he said, after his club lost for the 20th time in 24 games. “I understand it seems like everyone wants to figure out one thing to hang it around and it’s more than that. Defensively we’re not playing as well as we need to and obviously some guys with track records are going to catch up and make somebody pay at some point and I just hope it happens soon for their sake as much as ours.”
Forced again into a start at third base, Álvarez dropped a throw on a rundown created by Mark Canha’s bouncer to Alex Cobb and fired the ball into right field to put two runners in scoring position in the fourth inning. They both crossed the plate.
“I kind of just rushed myself after I dropped it and didn’t have a good grip on the ball and it just slipped out of my hand,” he said.
Showalter made the assumption, but wasn’t going to check in the dugout.
“It’s not somewhere where you walk up and say, ‘Did you lose the handle?’” he said. “I mean, he knows that that’s ... He made a good tag earlier. Alex made a good play on that play. That’s a play we work on a lot in spring training and we just didn’t make the throw.”
Cobb allowed two runs, only one earned, over six innings and absorbed the loss. He’s getting a better feel for his changeup and more ground balls. He just needs the defense to cooperate.
“I thought he did pretty well,” Joseph said. “He was able to really kind of find the changeup, the split. It was a nice pitch for him. I thought he threw quite a few down-and-away fastballs. That was really key. It looked like he was really in control. He really only kind of gave up one run. You look at the second run they had, it was just on a blunder we made. Who knows what could have happened?
“He was getting some ground balls. I thought it was an outing for him to build on. It was a nice outing. They’ve been swinging it pretty well. That was big for him to get that split-changeup going. I think he had a really nice one going today.”
The Orioles knew it was coming. The late signing provided a big obstacle.
“It’s not an I-told-you-so,” Showalter said. “It’s hard. The other team doesn’t care how long your spring training’s been. He’s had another good outing. You could tell he felt better about his balance, his tempo. You could just see it in his whole body language. It wasn’t something challenging him about whether he had the mechanical part of it down. You could tell he had a lot of confidence.
“He deserved, obviously, a better fate. He pitched well and that’s Alex. Today I thought he had the full package, so that’s the type of pitcher I think he’s going to be for us over the long haul.
“He’s making a lot of quality pitches with his fastball. Obviously, we were working with a big strike zone today and he ... Alex was outstanding. That’s him. I know he’ll talk about the ground ball that he should have caught. When I took him out that’s the only thing he wanted to talk about. He’s a perfectionist.”
Even so, he was pleased with the results beyond the final score.
“I think that’s very safe to say that was just the best rhythm I’ve been in,” he said. “Less thinking, more getting the ball in your hand, visualizing what pitch you want to throw and executing it. That just comes with repetition and getting a better feel out there. So, hopefully it gets better and better and just continues to improve with each outing.
“I think it’s fair to say I’m feeling a lot more comfortable out there. It’s hard to explain what it’s like when you’re out there in the middle of that field and you really have no idea what pitches you’re going to be able to execute or how to execute them or how to make adjustments. Once you start getting at least a few weapons here and there that you can go to and work on, then you start to feel more comfortable. You have better mound presence, better aggressiveness in the zone, and that’s what I’m starting to feel.”
Cobb struck out a season-high five batters.
“It’s coming,” he said. “I didn’t have any pitches to do it with. There were no swing-and-miss pitches. The changeup is coming. You can only go to the curveball so many times before they start picking up on it and put it in play. It’s coming now. I think just repetition and throwing, getting off to that late start was kind of tough to get the sharpness of the pitches.”
Cobb wanted to minimize the importance of Álvarez’s miscue, but the tying run scored on a ground ball and Matt Olson followed with an RBI double.
“I really take it as an opportunity to really gain some momentum as a club,” he said. “Whenever somebody falters behind you, you have an opportunity as a pitcher to pick them up and I don’t think most fans realize or outside eyes realize when you do something like that for a teammates, it energizes the group. You know that it’s almost a way that pitchers can show that we have your back. You’re allowed to make mistakes and when you do, we’ll cover those up. That allows them to play more freely.
“I was really mad at myself when that play happened in the fourth and I saw it as an opportunity to really pick us up, and I didn’t. That was a lost moment for me.”
Followed by another game lost.
“Everybody has to do a better job of, defensively, offensively, key situations,” Álvarez said. “We just have to take it one task at a time. As simple as it sounds or as daunting as it sounds, however you want to view it, we all know what we need to do. There’s only so much that saying that it will all click (does). You try to act on it, but the reality is you just have to come in every day and put in the work and put our best foot forward and just continue to try to get better.
“Obviously, we want to help our pitchers out as much as possible, especially when Cobb goes out there and throws as well as he does today. Try to take a little pressure off of the pitchers. Yeah, it’s frustrating when you can’t put some good innings together and score some runs for them. But we’ve just got to try to keep on battling and try to put our best foot forward.”