'He's the real deal': Burnes closes 1st half with another ace showing

July 11th, 2024

BALTIMORE -- In the first half of his first season in Baltimore, delivered exactly what the Orioles expected he would when they acquired the right-handed ace in a Feb. 1 trade with the Brewers. Even his “off” nights resulted in quality outings.

That’s why Burnes could be the first pitcher to take the mound at the 2024 All-Star Game on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

Burnes polished off his case to be the American League’s starting pitcher with a performance that exemplified his first 3 1/2 months with the O’s. The four-time All-Star allowed three runs over six innings for his 15th quality start in 19 first-half outings, although the 29-year-old was on the wrong end of a pitching duel in the Orioles’ 4-0 loss to the Cubs at Camden Yards.

Baltimore lost to Chicago for the second straight night, as its offense was blanked by left-hander Shota Imanaga and three relievers.

But Burnes kept the O’s in the game, as he has done every time he’s taken the mound since his 11-strikeout Opening Day gem against the Angels on March 28.

“I mean, he’s the real deal, right?” catcher James McCann said. “He’s a Cy Young winner. He’s shown us why he is labeled as the guy that he is. Every time he takes the mound, we know that we have a shot to win. It’s frustrating on nights like tonight where we can’t come through offensively to back him up.”

Burnes has completed at least five innings in each of his 19 starts -- 18 of which have featured three or fewer earned runs allowed. The lone exception was his June 22 outing at Houston, where he gave up four earned runs and still managed to complete a season-high-tying seven innings (which he’s done six times).

Heading into All-Star week, Burnes has a 2.43 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and 110 strikeouts over 118 2/3 innings. He will be only the 14th pitcher in Orioles history (since 1954) to have an ERA that low, with a minimum of 90 innings pitched, at the All-Star break.

That feat was completed only once by a Baltimore hurler from 1979-2023, when Hall of Famer Mike Mussina had a 2.40 first-half ERA in ‘92, his first full big league season.

Burnes’ first-half ERA is his second best among his four-year streak of All-Star appearances. His only better performance came in 2022, when he recorded a 2.14 ERA over 18 pre-break starts for Milwaukee.

“I’m proud of how I’ve stuck to my routine and kind of brought me back to everything that I’ve done. And for the most part, we’ve thrown the ball really well,” Burnes said of his 2024 performance thus far. “Can’t really complain about anything. Would have liked to have gotten a win tonight, but that’s how it goes.”

The Cubs recorded nine hits off Burnes; four of them had an exit velocity of 84.2 mph or less, per Statcast. Christopher Morel hit a 412-foot, 104.2 mph solo homer during a two-run second, but much of Chicago’s offense came via softer contact.

In the fifth, a break went the Cubs’ way when a Michael Busch ground ball up the middle deflected off the bag at second base and resulted in a double. He later came around to score on a Seiya Suzuki single.

“They had a pretty good approach up there of just doing their best to put it in play, and a lot of things happened for them,” Burnes said. “Balls found holes, hit bases, pretty much anything that could have gone on tonight happened.”

Even if Burnes hadn’t allowed any runs, it wouldn’t have changed the result, as the Orioles couldn’t cash in against Imanaga, an All-Star rookie with a 2.97 ERA in 17 starts.

Baltimore scattered nine hits, including a sixth-inning double by Jordan Westburg that would have been a home run in 29 of 30 MLB ballparks, per Statcast. If the game wasn’t being played at Camden Yards, the 103 mph laser would have been a two-run homer that cut the O’s deficit to 3-2.

The O’s (57-35) went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base while getting shut out for the third time this season. They have scored only two runs over two games vs. Chicago, which will have a chance to become the third team to sweep Baltimore this season in Thursday night’s finale.

“I just think, at times, we’re getting a little too big and trying to get the big hit,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I think it’s going to turn around for us. We’ve just got to relax a little bit.”