O’s Battle Back for Final 2 to Split Series in Houston

Series Results: 2-2 Tie

 

THE GOOD

Third baseman Manny Machado was recently dropped down in the lineup from his usual spot in the 2-hole, but returned there on Sunday for the series finale and delivered the big blow of the game, a grand slam in the sixth inning off of former Oriole Scott Feldman. Machado closed the series out with consecutive multi-hit games, and is showing signs of breaking out of his early funk after missing all of April recovering from offseason knee surgery.

It has been a tough season so far for outfielder David Lough, who is hitting under .200. However, the former Kansas City Royal came up big on Sunday, picking up two hits, both of which drove in runs. Early in the game, Lough broke a 0-0 tie with his first home run of the season over the right field wall. Later in the game with the bases loaded Lough hopped a ball over third baseman Matt Dominguez’s head for another RBI. Offensively, Lough is finally beginning to show signs of life.

The entire starting rotation pitched well over the weekend, as Ubaldo Jimenez allowed just one run over six innings, Miguel Gonzalez allowed just two runs through 6 2/3 innings, Chris Tillman allowed just one run over 6 2/3 innings, and Wei-Yin Chen didn’t allow a run over 5 1/3 innings. While the starting rotation has struggled as a whole this season, they were the strength of the team in this series. If the Orioles continue to get quality pitching performances over the rest of the season with more consistency, this will be a playoff team.

 

THE BAD

His being on this list has nothing to do with his performance, as designated hitter/outfielder Nelson Cruz hit his league-leading 20th home run in the series before being drilled in the hand by an errant Scott Feldman pitch in the third inning on Sunday that eventually caused Cruz to leave the game. Luckily, x-rays came back negative later on Sunday, and Cruz is currently day-to-day. Any significant loss of time from Cruz would be disastrous for the lineup however, as Cruz has easily been the team’s MVP so far this season. Manager Buck Showalter was asked about Cruz after the game and said, “If I know Nelson, he’s going to want to play Tuesday.’

Right handed relief pitcher Brad Brach had scuffled lately coming into the series, and in his only appearance in the series on Sunday Brach allowed a run on two hits and a walk over 1 2/3 innings. This is now the third time in his last four appearances where Brach has surrendered at least one run and he has now surrendered seven earned runs in only 13 innings pitched. With the inability of the Orioles’ starters to go deep in games with consistency, it will be critical for the bullpen to produce throughout the entire season.

First baseman Chris Davis’ struggles continue to mount, as 2013’s home run king and Silver Slugger is now hitting just .230 on the season with seven HR and went just 2/17 against Astros pitching. Davis’ current extreme slump has seen him manage just two hits in his last 28 at bats, while he has struck out an unfathomable 15 times over that span, more than half of the time! While Davis is still getting on base at an impressive .348 clip for the year, his inability to make contact, and sharp decline in home runs is hurting the team, and he was moved from the third spot in the lineup to the fifth spot as a result.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Any time you can split a series on the road, it is tough to be too unhappy, but because of the fact that the Astros are one of the worst teams in baseball it is a shame the Orioles couldn’t have won at least one more game. That being said, the Astros were hot coming into the series, and have played very well of late. The Orioles have now won two games in a row, and are currently 4.5 games back of the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East. The move from manager Buck Showalter to juggle the lineup to make use of the hot bats of Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce was smart, as both players have been key cogs in the offense so far this season.

 

LOOKING AHEAD

The Orioles will be off Monday, before heading to play three games in Arlington against the Texas Rangers to finish off their road trip. The Rangers lost two of three games from the Washington Nationals over the weekend, but are always a threat. On Tuesday evening the Orioles will send right handed pitcher Bud Norris to the mound to face another former Orioles pitcher in Joe Saunders. The game will also be the first time former Ranger Nelson Cruz will play against his former team, if he is able to go after his wrist/hand injury. Both the Orioles and Rangers will enter the series one game over the .500 mark and in what looks like it will be a very crowded playoff chase this fall, it is important for the Orioles to win games against other playoff contenders.

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