The Orioles play closer games than anyone else. It could mean closer losses.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has often joked after his team’s narrow wins that it’s okay for Baltimore to, on occasion, blow up another team.
The 2023 edition, despite its good start to the season, has generally refused to oblige. Tuesday’s 6-5 loss to the New York Yankees was the Orioles’ 48th game. Only four of them were decided by more than four races; the most recent of those, an 8-3 victory Sunday to complete a Toronto Blue Jays sweep, went 11 innings.
On Tuesday, the Orioles built a four-run advantage in the opening innings, lost it in the middle frames, took a one-run lead and held it until the ninth, when Félix Bautista allowed a hit home run tying star slugging Aaron Judge before New York won it in the 10th.
“We play so many tight games, we have to lose one every once in a while that’s tight like that,” Hyde said.
To Baltimore’s credit, “every once in a while” is appropriate. The Los Angeles Angels are the only other team to enter Tuesday after playing more than 40 games decided by four runs or less, and the Orioles’ .636 winning percentage in such contests is tied for best in the game. baseball with the Tampa Bay Rays, the only team with a better overall record. Their performance under those circumstances is reflected somewhat in a Pythagorean record, which estimates a team’s record based on point differential, suggesting the Orioles entered Tuesday with four more wins than expected.
They are closer to the middle of the league when it comes to the number of games where the margin is no more than three, two or one. But a swing can wipe out a four-point difference, often making it a tricky balancing act, especially for a manager trying to work in a taxed bullpen.
Before Bautista’s failed save, Yennier Cano pitched two scoreless innings in his 20th appearance of the season. Six of Hyde’s relievers have appeared in at least 20 games; no other team arrived Tuesday with more than five pitchers having reached that landmark. Despite this workload, the unit entered this series in New York with the third-best relief ERA in baseball.
Hyde was particularly delicate in his use of Cano and Bautista, perhaps two of baseball’s best breakout stories of the past two seasons. Although Cano has often been asked to register more than three outs, Hyde has been exceptionally wary of when he will work again after this type of outing. Bautista has only gone more than twice in 23 outings after 18 of his 65 appearances in 2022 have lasted at least four outs, despite only being in the closest role for the final two months of this season.
“Obviously as the closer you know you’re going to be in tough situations and tight games,” Bautista said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “I just have to try to do my best every time I go out there and live with the results, good or bad.”
There are potential solutions. Starting pitcher Kyle Bradish, who received a four-run lead but wasn’t able to hold it until the fifth inning, said the quality of the Orioles’ defense and offense accounted for their propensity to close matches, but the same traits could allow them to bury their opponents. In the sixth inning on Tuesday, they had the bases loaded with one out and again with two but managed just one run, with a right drive from Cedric Mullins offering hope of a grand slam before dying on Track.
Continued improvement from Bradish and the rest of the rotation could also help. The group have seven quality starts in the last 17 games after posting six in the first 31 games of the season. But Hyde often turned to his bullpen during or before that sixth inning, leaving nearly half the game for his bullpen.
This relief corps could continue to grow stronger. Mychal Givens worked a clear sixth in his second outing on the injured list, and the Orioles are nearing a decision point on Dillon Tate, whose 30-day rehab stint is coming to an end. Once the Orioles determine he’s ready for action — either on Thursday or after continuing to work in the minors — they would add one of Hyde’s most reliable relievers in recent seasons. to a group that has also largely established itself as reliable.
This includes Cano, who after throwing 30 pitches for six outs Tuesday likely won’t be available Wednesday, leaving Hyde without one of his key relievers in Game 2 of the series. Based on this season’s record, it appears to be close.