Who could have predicted that after a 13-2 loss on opening night the Orioles would take the next two games at Boston? Or that they would sweep the Tampa Bay Rays, who won 96 games last year? Or they would be swept by the Miami Marlins, who had to retool their roster so drastically?
Or that what happened last night would happen.
Coming off four losses to Miami, the last three by a single run - including a game Thursday in which the Orioles looked terrible - they played their best and most complete game of the year.
It was impressive.
They crushed the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals 11-0. They recorded their first shutout since July 21, 2019. They produced 19 hits. They played solid defense. For one night, they put it all together.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Orioles lost three games to the Marlins, scoring one run over the two days. They went a combined 10-for-77 (.130) with just three extra-base hits, all doubles. Then last night they went 19-for-46 (.413) with seven doubles and a three-run homer. Renato Núñez produced the “Earl,” a three-run homer. He blasted a ball 413 feet, hitting his third home run in two games and fifth in the last seven.
The O’s strong run of starting pitching - one that got greatly derailed Thursday night - continued Friday at Nats Park. Lefty Tommy Milone, facing the club that drafted him in round 10 in 2008 out of the University of Southern California, threw scoreless ball. He allowed just three hits over six innings and didn’t walk anyone for the second straight start. He improved to 1-1 with a 3.21 ERA.
Milone has allowed five runs in three starts, and four of them came in one very poor inning at Boston. His last two starts - versus the Rays and Nats - he’s allowing one run with no walks and 11 strikeouts over 11 innings.
“I think the biggest key with that lineup is to be unpredictable,” he said after his 90-pitch outing. “That is easier said than done. Because obviously you have to hit your spots and got to throw strikes, and you have to throw it out of the zone when you need to, when you’re ahead. It was just a mix of everything tonight that kind of helped. Just being unpredictable and staying away from the middle of the plate, for the most part. Not walking guys, getting guys on base and letting them have that big hit, that big inning.”
Milone became the first O’s starter to go six innings this season. He threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of 18 batters the first two times through the order. And he did all that with a great changeup that played well off a fastball at 86 mph. Yep, 86.
O’s starting pitchers have allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven of the last eight games. In those seven games, the starter ERA is 2.06.
Milone last night produced his first scoreless start since Sept. 2, 2015, when he went seven innings on 91 pitches for Minnesota against the Chicago White Sox.
About 24 hours after the Orioles played their worst defensive game of the year, they cleaned it up nicely against Washington. The left side of the infield got a lot of action with a soft-tossing lefty on the mound, one of three southpaws in the Baltimore rotation. Solid defense by Rio Ruiz at third and José Iglesias at short was big last night and could be big many times this season.
“Yeah, two of our left-handers are kind of crafty,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “They turn the ball over (with off-speed pitches) to right-handers and pitch away from left-handers a lot of the time, and you’re going to see a lot of action on the left side of the field. Huge. Huge for us to catch the ball. I’m a pitching-and-defense guy. I’m a firm believer that to be able to compete in this league and to play in the postseason, you have to have a good defensive club. And I think that we are starting to scratch the surface on that.
“I think Rio has really improved defensively from last year in a huge way. Adding Iglesias is a big deal for us. A guy that has done it before, done it very, very well for a long time and knows the game. So, we’re on the right track there defensively. We still have some work to do. But to limit teams to 27 outs and not allow extra baserunners in this division and these ballparks is key to be able to have some success.”
The Orioles produced season highs in hits (19) and runs (11). The top four in the order - Hanser Alberto, Anthony Santander, Iglesias and Nunez - went 10-for-18 with four doubles, a homer, seven runs scored and eight RBIs. Iglesias is now batting .455.
I wrote this entry after the game last night about some aggressive early-count swinging that got the O’s offense going.
For one night the 2020 Orioles put it all together and the end result was something to watch.
By the way, the Marlins beat the Mets 4-3 and they are now 7-1.
The @Orioles, who lost 108 games last season, blanked the defending champion Nationals 11-0 tonight.-- Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) August 8, 2020
That’s the largest shutout win by a team off a 100-loss season against a defending World Series champion in MLB history.#Birdland