Pitching will determine Orioles' fate in stretch run
Chen, bullpen roughed up as Baltimore begins crucial three-city road trip
BOSTON -- As Dustin Pedroia's ball bounced into right field and skipped over the wall into the eagerly waiting crowd at Fenway Park, the direction of Tuesday's game went with it.
Pedroia's two-run ground-rule double pushed the Red Sox's lead to four and was a big part of a five-run fourth inning that saw Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen turn in the worst performance of his career in a key August matchup.
The Orioles, fresh off a home series win over the A's, didn't want to start a pivotal three-city road trip with a 13-2 divisional loss. If Baltimore, now 3 1/2 games back of the second American League Wild Card, is going to hang around in playoff contention, it's going to have to get much more than that from its rotation.
"We've got no choice," center fielder Adam Jones said of his team's pitching staff having to bear down in the season's final five weeks. "This is the latter part of the year. This is what's going to separate people in the division. It's going to decide if we're playoff bound or not.
"Nobody's 100 percent at this point in time of the year. We've got to suck it up, [get] ready to play and do the best that you can. It's not easy. We all know that, but we're here for a reason, so let's play the game that we know how to play."
Orioles starters pitched to a 4.42 ERA on the team's 5-4 homestand, and with September callups still a few days away, manager Buck Showalter has been forced to maneuver the bullpen accordingly to keep it fresh. Starter Miguel Gonzalez pitched in relief for the second time in as many games and recorded an out Tuesday after Chen loaded the bases in the fourth inning.
Gonzalez remains on track to start Friday's game against the Yankees, with the O's using five off-days in August to try to slot up their starters in favorable matchups. As Showalter has said repeatedly this year, if his club can pitch well, they'll have some fun this season.
"I just think thank goodness it was one night," Showalter said of watching his pitching staff surrender 13 earned runs Tuesday. "That's what's great about the game. We get to wipe the slate clean tomorrow. And we're looking for a good start from Bud [Norris] tomorrow. It's not some equation that's new to the game. Usually it's who pitches best, and they pitched better than us tonight."
The Orioles, who are 11-11 in August, have a 4.65 ERA among their starters this season -- which ranks them 27th in baseball -- and have had a starter go seven or more innings in just 26 of 130 games. Tuesday was another shortened outing that saw Showalter use four relievers and likely require another roster move before Wednesday's game to help bolster the 'pen.
"I have to apologize to my team," Chen, who went 3 2/3 innings and allowed eight earned runs, said through his interpreter. "I didn't want to hurt my team. I still have to keep my same approach and do my work, same preparation every day. ... Nothing different. I just need to come back strong."
Chen entered the game having allowed more than three earned runs just once in his past 10 outings and three times in 17 games overall, two of which have come in his past three starts. The only pitcher to make at least 20 starts for the Orioles last season, he has been consistent enough that catcher Matt Wieters referred to Tuesday's dismal outing as a "blip," and the O's can only hope that's the case.
Can a team reach the playoffs without a stable rotation? Sure. The Orioles proved that last year, pitching to a 4.42 ERA as a staff en route to a 93-win season that resulted in a Wild Card spot and eventual win. However, Baltimore's bullpen hasn't been quite as effective, and the club's 14-23 record in one-run games has made some of last year's magic go missing.
"We got our butts kicked tonight and there's no doubt about that, but it's over now," said Wieters. "We're [looking] forward and we're ready to go tomorrow. It's just a loss now -- whether we lost 2-1 or like we did tonight. It's one loss and we'll move forward."
They don't have another choice. The Orioles will close the season against a slew of divisional opponents and will head to New York and Cleveland, both postseason hopefuls, when this series is through. They'll also face Boston in the final three-game series of the year, which could determine their entire season.
"The things we do between now and then, I would think in some form or fashion those games are going to matter regardless, whether it's us or them," Showalter said. "We are trying to do some things between now and then to make it be us, too. It's a given that [the Red Sox] are going to be around."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.