Perhaps the reason these two games against the Texas Rangers are so disappointing is there have been so few games like this for the Orioles this season. They haven’t lost a series since the beginning of this month, and in the time since then the baseball has been exemplary.
Two games in the grand scheme of 162 are hardly an accurate litmus test for what’s to come. The bulk of Baltimore’s 52 games played have been competitive and encouraging. On Saturday, however, the 5-3 loss to the Rangers was filled with hard-hit balls right at defenders, baserunning errors and a bullpen that allowed Texas to add on.
Coupled with Friday’s 12-2 loss, the Orioles have experienced this losing feeling on consecutive days for the first time in nearly two weeks. The Rangers (34-18) overtook the Orioles (33-19) for the second-best record in Major League Baseball.
“We’ve played better games than the last two, for sure,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “But these things are going to happen. We’re facing a really good club that is a first-place team that’s scoring seven-plus runs a game. They have excellent starting pitching, and Will Smith closed today. He’s done it for a long time. We’ve got to play a little bit better, but it’s a tough team we’re facing.”
Baltimore entered this six-game homestand against Texas and the Cleveland Guardians on the back of a strong road trip that featured five wins in six games. They swept the Toronto Blue Jays and took a series from the New York Yankees.
But the stout pitching and timely offense from those games didn’t carry over to Camden Yards, where right-hander Grayson Rodriguez scuffled and was sent down after allowing eight earned runs in the series opener Friday. And, even with right-hander Dean Kremer’s quality start Saturday, there wasn’t enough offense to support the 6 1/3 innings of three-run ball he produced.
Early this season, against this same opponent, the Orioles found much more success. They roughed up left-hander Andrew Heaney for seven runs in a lopsided win in Texas. But for all the hard contact against Heaney in his second meeting with Baltimore on Saturday, the Orioles had trouble mounting much of a threat during Heaney’s season-high seven innings.
There was Austin Hays’ solo homer in the seventh inning to give a spark of life, but at that point a narrow deficit had inflated to four runs. And, in the ninth, the back-to-back two-out doubles from Ryan Mountcastle and Ramón Urías cut the deficit and led to an intriguing finish. But, on the whole, the Orioles hit nine balls with an exit velocity over 100 mph. They got only four hits from them.
“I felt like we had good at-bats,” Hays said. “We swung at good pitches. Put a lot of balls in play hard, on a line. Just, they were tracking balls down out there. They made some good plays. Just unlucky.”
Kremer worked his second-longest outing of the year. When he departed midway through the seventh, he earned a hearty ovation from the 37,939 fans. He continued what has been a strong May by working into the seventh inning for the second time in 11 starts this season.
Kremer labored through the second inning, throwing 26 pitches while allowing a run, but he found a groove from there. Although a second run crossed in the fourth when Josh Jung doubled and Jonah Heim singled, Kremer worked scoreless innings in the fifth and sixth to give Baltimore’s offense a chance.
“Being strong mentally, for sure, and then getting a feel for my stuff and kind of putting it where I want,” Kremer said when asked the commonality among his strong starts in May. “And then going out there with a plan and sticking to it, and if we adjust, we adjust.”
Once Kremer issued a one-out walk in the seventh, Hyde called for right-hander Bryan Baker out of the bullpen. A Leody Taveras double and a Marcus Semien single brought home two runs to widen the gap.
The lead expanded from there, when a relay throw to left-hander Keegan Akin, covering first base, went awry for a run-scoring error in the eighth.
In two consecutive innings, the Orioles ran into a third out on the bases. Infielder Adam Frazier followed catcher James McCann’s double with a single to right, and third base coach Tony Mansolino sent McCann home. The throw from Adolis Garcia in right beat McCann by a mile.
“I was going to back up home and I remember thinking, ‘I hope they send him,’” Heaney told reporters. “And then they did and ... it’s a laser right at Jonah [Heim] and he’s dead to rights.”
In the third, Jorge Mateo was left standing on third base as Texas doubled him off second — the hit-and-run attempt having failed.
There will be games such as these. There will be series such as these. For the Orioles, the fact that there have been so few is a sign that this year is different.