It is the time of the year every Baltimore Orioles fan inevitably waits for, no not the All-Star break, but instead the slide that ultimately marks the end of Baltimore’s ability to challenge for a playoff spot in the American League. Different than most years though, there is one major facet of the game they can fix to right the ship, keeping the ball in the yard.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards is not exactly a cavernous baseball stadium, but at the same time it is possible to prevent other teams from constantly hitting home runs. While considered a hitters park, the slight nuances of the park make it possible for pitchers to give up lazy fly balls and not worry about them floating out. If the O’s want to get the train back on the tracks they have got to get their pitchers back to giving up fly balls and not big flys.
In the last three games the team has give up eight home runs, including three last night in the team’s 7-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians. Home runs are fun for fans, unless your team is giving them up, but they are killers for pitching staffs. While a home run obviously automatically puts runs on the boards, what really hurts is that it doesn’t leave runners on base. Sure, a double hurts, but at the end of the day you still have a man at second you can get out on a tag-out or force-out. In the last few games, Angels and Indians have not been leaving a lot of options for outs, with so many guys trotting the base paths.
With just over a week left before the break, Baltimore has to look at figuring out how to keep the ball in the park. The team has a decent infield and a solid outfield defensively and the pitchers have to figure out how to use it to their advantage. Stopping a homer is all about throwing quality pitches in hitter friendly counts, not always looking for the strikeout and trusting the guys behind you will make the plays. O’s pitchers can’t be hanging pitches on 2-0, 3-0 or 3-1 counts or they are going to continue to get clobbered.
This slide is fixable, keep the ball in the yard last night and there is a good chance the O’s are in the game after J.J. Hardy’s homer in the fifth inning. It is one of the perils of being a big slugging team like they are this year, you live by the homer but can die buy it too. When, as a team, you primarily rely on the long ball to score, it is hard to put the opposing team’s offense on its heels. If Baltimore could tack on any early runs yesterday, it would have been a different game.
With the team’s offense just not there yet, in terms of scoring on singles and doubles, it is up to the pitchers to buy the offense as much time as it needs to smack one where no one can get it. It all comes back to quality pitches. Throw solid pitches in hitter friendly counts and the staff will start to see their numbers improve and the O’s breakout of their losing streak. If they can’t do it though, this could in fact be the slide every Baltimore fan waits for.