The Orioles haven’t been eliminated from the playoff race.
It just feels that way.
Beginning a four-game series in the Bronx only 1 1/2 behind the Yankees, the Orioles were swept and bypassed by the Tigers. They have the same 20-26 record as the Mariners. And now they get the Braves for three games to begin their final homestand of the season.
The offense shoulders most of the blame for scoring only three runs in 33 innings. John Means kept them close yesterday, just as Dean Kremer did the previous day. But Gleyber Torres delivered a two-run pinch-hit double off Tanner Scott in the eighth inning to break a 1-1 tie and Aroldis Chapman retired the side in order in the ninth.
“You’re just not going to win games against the New York Yankees scoring one run,” said manager Brandon Hyde, who couldn’t hide his frustration over his team’s inept at-bats in the series.
The Orioles registered a .138 average (16-for-116) in the series. They were 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position. They teased and toppled.
The Yankees weren’t sending bums to the mound. Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, Jordan Montgomery and J.A. Happ can mute an offense, and as Hyde stated on Saturday, you can’t have such a limited output going into the late innings with Zack Britton and Chapman ready in the bullpen.
“We were swinging the bat well, playing well coming into this series,” Hyde said, “and we just didn’t swing the bat these four games against, you know, arms that are here for a reason and postseason-tested.”
And now the Braves come to town, in case anyone thought it might get a lot easier.
“I think that this next series is going to go well,” Means said. “I think that it was kind of a wake-up call, and every team needs that. It kind of lit a fire under us.”
The question is whether it’s too late now for a team that just got burned in the Bronx.
They don’t have a starter for Tuesday and will pull someone out of the bullpen. Jorge López on Monday and Keegan Akin on Wednesday are getting their auditions, which isn’t the norm for teams vying for a playoff berth. But the Orioles have never been in typical contender mode.
The Orioles lost their best player, Trey Mancini, before playing a single game. Anthony Santander won’t return from a strained oblique until next year. Wade LeBlanc wasn’t effective and then sustained a season-ending elbow injury. Means has finally started to resemble the 2019 version, but it took a while to happen. Hyde is doing everything possible to keep José Iglesias in the lineup, but the quadriceps muscle is a daily headache. And no offense to Pat Valaika, who’s been extremely valuable, but he shouldn’t be the best option at first base.
Hunter Harvey didn’t appear in his first game until Aug. 30. Richard Bleier, Tommy Milone, Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro were traded.
If the Orioles are collapsing, and they truly believe they have more fight in them, appreciate how it took until the second week of September. No matter how disappointing it is to get your hopes up and then have the rug pulled out from under you.
That’s my free advice.
OK, here’s more:
Enjoy Ryan Mountcastle, who really does seem to be the real deal. A much better overall player and athlete than I realized. And the Akin/Kremer duo. And Austin Hays after he returns in the next few days, because he’s such a talent and just needs to avoid the freakish injuries. And the version of Cedric Mullins that the Orioles knew existed. And DJ Stewart’s resurgence.
Do your own evaluating of López and decide whether he’s a piece for the rotation or perhaps a nice option as a long reliever. Every team needs a few of those guys.
Watch Dillon Tate try to take over the role that Givens excelled in - powering through the seventh and eighth innings. Which would make the Britton trade look a lot better.
The wins have been a sweet bonus and they might come back. But it’s always been about the big picture.
Taking that into account and factoring in the return on those deadline trades, the 2020 season already is a success.