Bats cool off as O's swept, but pitching the bigger concern

June 23rd, 2024

HOUSTON -- The offense has cooled considerably. The rotation is beginning to show cracks. But the Orioles must keep grinding through a relentless June schedule, one that continued with a disappointing weekend in Houston.

The O’s got swept during a three-game series against the Astros, who completed the feat by handing Baltimore an 8-1 loss on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. It marked the second time the Orioles have been on the wrong end of a sweep this season, as they dropped three in St. Louis from May 20-22, when their historic sweepless streak ended at 106 multi-game series.

For the second day in a row, the O’s only offense was a Jordan Westburg solo home run, which extended their franchise-record streak of consecutive games with a homer to 22. It was a significant drop-off after scoring 11 in Friday’s high-scoring opener loss and 17 in a series-clinching win at Yankee Stadium on Thursday.

“This was not our best,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “The first night was a weird one, and then we just got beat the last two by two starters that were throwing the ball really good.”

Baltimore couldn’t solve the top two pitchers in Houston’s rotation -- right-hander Ronel Blanco and lefty Framber Valdez, who each tossed seven innings of one-run ball and yielded nothing more than a Westburg solo homer.

Valdez retired seven of the final nine batters he faced in a 104-pitch outing.

“I think you just tip your cap to them. They had a great series, and it was just tough to get stuff going,” first baseman Ryan Mountcastle said. “They’ve got a good staff. They pitched really well. Valdez today was on, and when he’s on, he’s just tough to hit.”

There’s a high likelihood that the Orioles’ deep, talented lineup will heat up again quite soon. This could have just been an instance of running into a pair of strong starters at a time when Baltimore was unlikely to keep putting up double-digit run totals every day.

“That’s baseball,” Mountcastle said. “Hitting is not easy, and some days, you’re just not going to have it.”

The bigger concern for the O’s is their beleaguered pitching staff, which almost certainly needs reinforcements before the Trade Deadline on July 30.

From May 31 to June 30, the Orioles are playing 30 games in 31 days. Yet, they either won or split each of their first six series during that stretch. But they continue to lose pitchers to injury, as Kyle Bradish underwent Tommy John surgery on Wednesday and joined John Means (Tommy John) and Tyler Wells (UCL repair) as starters on the injured list who are out for the season.

Since the news of Bradish’s surgery was announced, Baltimore’s starters have recorded a 7.52 ERA (22 earned runs in 26 1/3 innings) in a full turn through the rotation.

had a tough showing in his previous start vs. the Yankees on Tuesday (three runs allowed in 3 2/3 innings), and he struggled more on Sunday. The 34-year-old, who was a successful surprise story early in the year, allowed a career-high-tying five runs on a career-high 10 hits and three walks in five innings against the Astros.

Houston pounced on Suárez, as Jose Altuve homered off the first pitch from the right-hander as part of a four-run first that featured six knocks (three with an exit velocity of 101-plus mph, per Statcast). The Astros swung at 15 of Suárez’s 22 pitches in the first, recording zero whiffs.

“The plan was attacking the zone. This team is aggressive, and they were swinging,” Suárez said. “That first inning, they just took advantage of that.”

The Orioles’ rotation is awaiting the return of righty Dean Kremer (triceps strain), but he threw only 39 pitches (25 strikes) over two-thirds of an inning in his second rehab start for Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday night, which Hyde called “not ideal.” So the 28-year-old may need one more outing before returning to Baltimore.

In the long term, the O’s will likely need to make at least one trade for a pitcher, and potentially more. But the market is still developing, which may not allow for a deal to be completed until closer to the Deadline.

For now, the Orioles remain in a good spot. They’re still only 1 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the American League East, and they’re primed to contend for a postseason spot.

But the next week won’t be any easier for Baltimore, which opens a seven-game homestand Monday night against AL Central-leading Cleveland, which will be followed to town by defending World Series champion Texas.

“We’ve just got to flush this one. Not a whole lot went right,” Hyde said. “We’ve got a real good Cleveland team coming into town, so we need to let this one go and go get after them tomorrow.”