And, on the 21st day, the gods smiled upon the Orioles of Baltimore as the trio of Dylan Bundy, Donnie Hart, and Mychal Givens relinquished a total of three runs against the formerly devilish Rays of Tampa Bay. The streak was over. And while a modern major league record was equalled by the odious pitching of the O’s, they had avoided the inglorious infamy of owning the record outright.
When we last visited upon Orioles-land, Baltimore had just broken a 116-year-old American League record with their 18th consecutive game allowing five or more runs. On Thursday, they added one more to the ledger by allowing Cleveland to score six at their expense in Camden Yards. On Friday, after a quick flight to the Florida Gulf Coast, Ubaldo Jimenez quickly ended the suspense, giving up four runs in the first and another run in the second, putting Baltimore atop the standings with the 1924 Philadelphia Phillies, with 20 successive games of minimal run prevention. Jimenez wasn’t done, pouring more gasoline on the fire with another four runs in the third, and the Rays weren’t done either, putting another six-spot on the board against the Baltimore bullpen, scoring five runs times three in the first encounter.
But, on Saturday, the Birds of Orange finally got a three-week reprieve. They finally got a game where the starter hung tough despite being pushed – Bundy gave up all three runs in the third on back-to-back homers with two outs while recording three of his four walks in the same frame. Bundy went four more innings after that hiccup with only two Rays reaching base. The Orioles also had the bullpen on point. Hart put two runners on in the eighth while picking up two outs, but Givens came in and quickly got the third out of the inning on a comebacker to the mound. And while Givens started the bottom of the ninth by allowing Wilson Ramos to single to center, he quickly induced a double play to erase Ramos – the third twin killing the O’s made on the day. When Tim Beckham struck out to end the game, not only was the streak over, it was over because of an overall team effort – pitching and defense.
Putting It in Perspective
When a team proceeds to break one record that is 116 years old and tie another that is a mere 97 years old, it is safe to say that there was something unusual afoot. But, how unusual is it?
Thus far in 2017, the second-longest streak of relinquishing five or more runs in each game is eight, a mere 40% of the Orioles final total of 20. But eight is not a number only reached by one club. The Chicago Cubs, Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals, and the San Francisco Giants all reached that number this season. Five more teams reached seven successive: The Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, and the Oakland Athletics all went through a seven-game streak, and the Cincinnati Reds hit seven straight twice.
However, while seven or eight games feels like a long time – especially in the midst of such a streak – it is less than two times through the rotation. It is just over a week on the calendar. It is not quite 5% of the MLB calendar of 162 games. 20? Twenty is a massive number in this context. Four full times through the rotation. Three weeks on the calendar. 12.5% of the MLB calendar.
So, how does such a streak happen? We know from our previous look at the O’s that the pitching staff has not been good. However, while they are the only team with an ERA over 5.00, other teams aren’t terribly far behind. Yet, the next two highest team ERAs – the Minnesota Twins and the Detroit Tigers – have not had a streak that even hit seven in a row. Was there anything besides plain dumb luck involved in producing this historic streak?
Given that the streak took up nearly all of the month of June, it is easy enough to look at the Orioles pitching splits for the month of June to see how they compared to the previous two months. And we see that the pitching for the O’s cratered.
While Baltimore’s pitching staff got slightly worse between the months of April (4.19 ERA, .257/.342/.403, 1.445 WHIP, 1.87 K/BB, 27 HR allowed) and May (4.48 ERA, .285/.351/.461, 1.448 WHIP, 2.08 K/BB, 37 HR allowed), it was as if a trap door opened in June and swallowed the pitching staff whole. The O’s ERA increased by more than two runs a game to 7.04. Teams are hitting Baltimore pitching as if they are Matt Adams – to the tune of .308/.383/.551. The team’s WHIP has increased to 1.757, the K/BB dropped to 1.58, and the homers have jumped to 48.
While it is tough to blame the best starter on the club for failing to stop the streak, it is instructive that the three shortest outings of Dylan Bundy’s season all happened during the streak. On June 3, the streak began against Boston as Bundy was only able to go five innings – despite only relinquishing two runs – as he expended 100 pitches. In his next start against the Yankees, he went six innings, but gave up three runs. In both cases, the bullpen completed the mess, allowing three runs in Boston and five runs in the Bronx. But, on June 14 against the Chicago White Sox, Bundy gave up five runs in just five frames (but picked up the win as the offense put ten on the board). Five days later, the Indians scored six in just 4 ⅓ innings against Bundy.
Of course Bundy was not the only starter to struggle. Wade Miley was unable to finish the third inning twice during his four starts throughout the streak and his best start was either his June 17 start against the Cardinals where he gave up six runs in 5 ⅔ innings, or his next start on the 22nd where he allowed only four runs in five frames. You choose. Kevin Gausman was better than Miley, but not by much, during his four starts in June. While 19 runs allowed in a mere 21 ⅓ innings is nothing less than awful, he pitched into the sixth inning three times.
Then there is Chris Tillman. Since coming off the DL with five scoreless innings on May 7, Tillman has trended downward to the abyss of abysmal. In each of his four starts during the streak, he allowed five runs and put on ten baserunners while finishing the sixth inning only once. His worst outing of the season was against the Bronx Bombers on June 10, relinquishing nine runs while picking up only four outs. Additionally, after not allowing a roundtripper in his four four starts of the season, he allowed nine in the next five.
Ubaldo Jimenez returned to the starting rotation from his four-game bullpen banishment on June 18, and gave the Orioles reason for hope with a seven-inning, two-run performance in an 8-5 victory. Five days later, he put the Orioles atop the history pile with his nine-run, 2 ⅓ inning performance.
Obviously, the streak can not be solely owned by the starting staff; however, there can be no doubt that they were objectively horrible in these 20 games as well. Can the winds of fortune change for the better with this staff, or will Dan Duquette need to bring in a cavalry of reinforcements?
Bundy, despite his bumps this month, has been a good to very good pitcher this year. With 12 of his 16 starts earning a quality start distinction, and a 116 ERA+ (and a 3.73 ERA), Baltimore will continue to throw Dylan on the bump every fifth day with great confidence a win can be had. Miley is an average pitcher (career ERA+ of 96) pitching, well, averagely (2017 ERA+ of 97). While his starts in June were bad, Baltimore certainly has to believe were an aberration and not the start of a massive decline. Worrisome point for Orioles fans: a 5.0 BB/9 which is twice as much as last season.
Tillman is the real major concern for the Orioles. After four consecutive seasons of 172 or more innings and double-digit wins, everything in Chris’s profile has worsened. An 8.39 ERA, a 6.52 FIP, a 2.168 WHIP, 14.5 H/9! He’s either injured or suddenly cooked – but neither is helpful to the Orioles.
Gausman also shows signs of being overworked in 2016. Kevin pitched 179 ⅔ innings in 30 starts for the O’s last season, 67 more innings than he had pitched in 2015. In his 16 starts this season, he leads the league with 58 earned runs – only 14 fewer than he had last season. His H/9 is up to over 12.5, his walks have increased by 2 per 9 over last season and his K/9 has dropped to 7.0. Has the league caught up with Gausman or is he holding back an injury?
Jimenez has been trending slowly downward since signing his $50 million contract with Baltimore in 2014. In fact, much of his profile mirrors what he did last season with the Birds: H/9, BB/9, and K/9 are all just about the same. However, his ERA has jumped nearly two runs because the ball is being rocketed over the walls at an alarming pace. Ubaldo has already matched the 16 homers he gave up last year, and is within nine of his career high of 25 that he relinquished in 2012 with Cleveland. He has already been moved to the pen once in deference to Alec Asher – but Asher surrendered five or more runs in three of the four starts he stood in Ubaldo’s stead.
Unfortunately for Baltimore, there does not appear to be anyone in AAA Norfolk that can make an immediate impact for the better. The best starter for the Tides, Mike Wright, has an ERA of 4.19 and a WHIP of 1.416. Tyler Wilson, Gabriel Ynoa, Chris Lee, and Jayson Aquino – the rest of the starting rotation – each have higher ERAs and WHIPs.
Whether Dan Duquette (and his front office) and Buck Showalter (and his field staff) can fix the pitching problems remains to be seen. What has been seen, however, is a historic streak of pitching futility which is almost certainly not to be seen again for a long time.
PS: With Baltimore’s streak ended, the longest streak of games with five or more runs given up is San Francisco with five.