Back in early May, the Orioles capped a six-game win streak with a 12-inning, 5-4 win over the Nationals that brought their record on the season to 22-10, good for first place in the AL East. They dropped a tight one to the Nats the following night, and the final game of the series, set for May 11, was the first of a couple vaguely controversial rainouts at Nationals Park this season.
You will remember, that May 11 date was the subject of sharp-edged old man beef between Orioles manager Buck Showalter and Nats GM Mike Rizzo, featuring Rizzo telling Showalter to “quit whining.” I bring this up only because, weirdly, the midpoint of that series has served as a clear turning point in the Orioles season. Since that extra-innings win in Washington, the Orioles have been in a terrible tailspin—after Friday night’s 9-6 loss to the Twins, the Orioles are 18-36 since May 9, with three separate losing streaks of at least five games.
The obvious problem is pitching: Baltimore has the second-worst team ERA in all of baseball, and the very worst opponent batting average. An embarrassing 12-0 loss on June 19 gave the Orioles a new American League record for most consecutive games allowing at least five runs (16). The streak continued for a further four games, through a 15-5 loss at Tampa Bay, and ultimately broke the MLB record (Correction: they only tied the record) for consecutive games allowing at least five runs.
But the post-rainout Orioles have been comprehensively bad. Their .730 team OPS is 20 points lower than the MLB average, and their strikeouts-to-walks ratio is the worst in all of baseball. Partly as a result, an offense that spent the last few years solidly in baseball’s upper half in total runs has now fallen to 23rd. The O’s now sit six games under .500 and tied for last in the AL East.
The “blow up the Orioles” take is spreading. A couple days ago I overheard a couple garden store workers angrily arguing over the idea of the Orioles trading away Manny Machado—there was broad agreement that he should be traded, but they couldn’t agree on whether he should be traded for pitching prospects, or hitting prospects. Manny Machado! Machado went 4-for-5 with two dingers and four RBI Friday night, in another gotdamn Baltimore loss in which Orioles pitchers gave up nine runs. Machado is staying optimistic:
“This is what we’re going through right now,” Machado said. “It’s just going to make us stronger down the line. The more you get together, the more you keep playing as a team. We’ll just keep going stronger as a team and at the end of the day we’re going to have something better than another team will have. We’ve just got to keep grinding it out, keep playing and things will start turning around. Hits will start falling and things will start going our way sometime. Obviously, we don’t know when that’s going to be, but all we can do and control is going out there and playing and just leaving it on the field like we did today.”
Maybe the Orioles were demoralized by that phantom rainout back in May? Or maybe karma is biting them for their grouchy manager picking a fight. Or maybe they need a couple real starting pitchers and for goddamn Manny Machado to hit better than .224 after the All Star break. Thursday the Sporting News named two Orioles who are not Machado the worst “bang for the buck” players at their respective positions in baseball: shortstop J.J. Hardy, producing a putrid .211/.248/.308 and a -0.7 WAR in 239 plate appearances; and pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, of the dismal 6.64 ERA. Here’s a funny Jimenez stat, from that ranking: When Jimenez allows a fly ball this season, it leaves the park 22.4 percent of the time. Right now, the Orioles are just a depressing mess of underperforming dudes, plus Trey Mancini and Jonathan Schoop. They need a bucket of fried chicken in the worst way.
The O’s will try to avoid extending their current five-game losing streak this afternoon in Minnesota.