Orioles optimistic about critical Game 3 in Kansas City
KANSAS CITY -- Following the Orioles' 6-4 loss in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night, the team's mood was somber yet hopeful. Numerous players pointed out how Baltimore hadn't played particularly badly, and has been resilient all season.
But regardless of the optimism, and well-warranted frustration over some of the Royals' lucky breaks and bounces, Tuesday's Game 3 is critical for an O's team down 2-0 in the American League Championship Series.
"I'll just tell you this, man. If we win Game 3, it's going to be hard for them to look themselves in the mirror and say, 'We can win the next four,'" said Kansas City's Jarrod Dyson, who has been incredibly vocal with his confidence in his club.
"[The Royals] came in as an underdog… I just don't think they expected us to come in there [to Camden Yards] and win two. I just really don't. I could tell the way Buck [Showalter] was making his moves, he wanted to win bad. He was taking his starters out in the fourth, both starters, and it was just matchup after matchup after that. That's how you play the game. You're trying to get that win at home. At least one. And if you don't get that win, it's pretty frustrating."
So, how do the Orioles counter the bold talk and, more importantly, take back the series? How does a team that went 96-66 save its season? By staying true to what got them here and adapting as necessary.
"He doesn't speak for this clubhouse," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said of Dyson's remarks. "I could say a lot of things about that. It's not the time nor place. Hey, we've got a deficit to overcome. Obviously they're up 2-0. They should have all the confidence in the world. That's just how that process is going to take care of itself."
For the O's to take care of business in Kansas City, and bring the series back to Baltimore, a few things need to happen.
Take back the late innings:
The Orioles bullpen has been unable to keep pace with the Royals' relievers, coughing up both games in a combination of bad breaks and control issues. But what if the O's find a way to counter a Kansas City team that puts the ball in play more often than any other club in baseball? It could be worth some thought.
"It's tough. I pitch to contact, I want to get ground balls. But to [Eric] Hosmer and [Billy] Butler, I realized maybe I need to go for a strikeout," said Orioles closer Zach Britton, who allowed two runs -- one charged to Darren O'Day -- in the ninth inning of Saturday's loss. "You kind of change your mindset especially with [how] the balls are bouncing their way. You want to miss some more bats. And that's kind of the adjustment I made at the end, but unfortunately they already had two runs across the board."
A lot of the Royals' hits on Saturday were broken-bat singles and bloopers, with Omar Infante's dribbler off O'Day to start the ninth resulting in the decisive run when pinch-runner Terrance Gore came around to score two batters later. Pitchers know they can't control what happens with the ball once it leaves their hand, but the O's could try to expand the zone a bit more and try to get some whiffs.
Conversely, the Orioles offense needs to cut back on strikeouts, a rally-killing out on full display with Jones' seventh-inning at-bat.
"Their guys out of the 'pen, they've got strikeout stuff," said Jones, who went down on three pitches against Kelvin Herrera. "They are getting the breaks right now. The beauty of the game, you put the ball in play you give yourself an opportunity. We got to get a little better at that later in the games."
Get more out of the starting staff:
Neither club has had a dominant pitching performance out of the rotation so far. There's something to be said for what a seven- or eight-inning outing can do for your club.
Lefty Wei-Yin Chen has pitched well at Kauffman Stadium and a few 1-2-3 innings -- the Royals went 17 straight with at least one runner on to start the series -- could go a long way toward giving Baltimore its first ALCS lead. The bottom line is that the Orioles, who have thrived under first-year pitching coach Dave Wallace, must find a way for the rotation to click, much in the same way it did from late June on.
"We came out of the All-Star break, we made some adjustments with the roster, some send downs. We thought was important for us coming out of the break to really put our best foot forward," Showalter said.
"I think you've seen, obviously, you watched a lot of games, how razor thin the margin of error is. You stay true to that and realize that it's such a momentum game… When somebody says it's not about the pitching, it's the pitching.
"They've done a good job. We've done some good things, too, to keep us engaged. So I don't think either starting pitcher, none of the four starting pitchers, have been out there in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning, makes you realize what a grind it is. Every out is a grind."
Beat the Royals at their own game:
Kansas City has been fearless since the start of October, embracing the underdog role and beating the Athletics in the Wild Card Game before sweeping the Angels. But no one expected the Orioles to be here at the end of the year, and the O's are now in a spot in which they seem to thrive: counted out.
Let's not forget this is an Oriole team that has already weathered season-ending injuries to All-Stars Matt Wieters and Manny Machado, a 25-game suspension for Chris Davis and a disappointing year for their prized free-agent signing, pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez.
"Obviously we're bummed that we didn't take any in this home series," said infielder Steve Pearce. "I think we're back to being the underdog and we're good at fighting back and they've got to win four.
"We've been backed into corners all year. This isn't new for us. We'll have that scratch-and-claw feeling we've had all year and find a way to get it done."
The Orioles, who were 6 1/2 games out at one point during the regular season, played exceptionally well away from Camden Yards and didn't have a losing road trip until August. They'll need to channel that to rewrite postseason history. According to Elias Sports Bureau, no team has dropped the first two games at home and won a best-of-seven League Championship Series, though it has been done in the World Series.
"I believe that we'll come back," said playoff veteran Nelson Cruz. "What's important is what we believe in here. It doesn't matter what people think outside from this door."