BALTIMORE -- Five times over the past six games, the Orioles have jumped out to an early lead, and in doing so, they continued a bizarre trend. In the first inning this season, they are one of the American League’s best teams, scoring more runs than all but the Rangers their first turn at the plate. In every other frame, they are one of -- if not the -- worst.
It’s a pattern that’s been particularly plain to see during the Orioles' recent slide, Wednesday’s 10-5 loss to the Padres at Camden Yards marking their third straight loss. It’s intrinsically tied to their pitching depth, the O's scrambling daily to plug two shaky spots in their rotation and constantly churning through the roster in search of relievers they can trust. As a result, their offense -- limited in its own ways -- routinely finds itself facing insurmountable deficits after games unravel in the middle innings.
The whole cycle leaves them “just trying to get through the game competitively” some nights, Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde admits. On others, it requires their three dependable starters to be nearly perfect. When anyone has an off day, as Dylan Bundy did Wednesday, it leaves particularly little margin for error.
“Recently, we’re giving up way too many runs and it’s really hard to come back,” Hyde said. “You score first and you’re looking for a shutdown inning, and there is a three-spot on the other half, that’s tough to come back from on a nightly basis. Our pitchers aren’t trying to do that, they’re not trying to give up homers. They’re busting their butt. It’s just not happening.”
Again, Baltimore's starter promptly gave it back, Bundy allowing home runs to Greg Garcia and Franmil Reyes in the second and third. Again, when the offense inched closer -- on Jonathan Villar and Pedro Severino homers -- the bullpen bent, Shawn Armstrong and Tanner Scott coughing up homers to Reyes, Eric Hosmer and Hunter Renfroe to put the game out of reach.
The loss dropped to the O's to 15-22 when scoring first, including 1-13 over the past two weeks. They’ve allowed double-digit runs six times in that stretch, and they have now surrendered five homers in a game an MLB-record 10 times this season.
“This has been the worst two-week stretch that we had, not just because of the losses but the play has been rough,” general manager and executive vice president Mike Elias said. “The pitching is barely making it through games and we’ve had more lapses than we had at the early part of the year.”
All of which underscores the importance of pitchers like Bundy, who had enjoyed a resurgent stretch before laboring Wednesday afternoon. The lack of depth behind he, Andrew Cashner and Andrew Means now puts the Orioles in a tricky spot. For an organization squarely focused on the future, the potential trade value of all three is plain to see. But so is their current value on a team with so few options behind them, both on the depth chart and in the ‘pen. Baltimore’s 6.33 bullpen ERA ranks last in the Majors.
“Were we to lose one of those guys, how we backfill them right now is not very obvious. We’ll take that as it comes and we’ll do what’s right for the organization. But they are carrying us,” Elias said. “We’re in a difficult spot in terms of roster depth and talent. I do see these guys continuing to grind and play hard, pour their heart and soul into every game every night. That’s important. We knew this was going to be a tough season, but it’s still tough to go through it on a day-to-day basis.”