BALTIMORE — Buck Showalter rarely dwells on the negatives after a loss.
It’s just not his style — at least publicly anyway — as he prefers focusing on the positive after any given contest over a 162-game schedule. But his reaction to Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Houston Astros was a little different.
While recognizing the strong performance of starter Chris Tillman that was spoiled by a few suspect pitches in the seventh inning and the failures of reliever Brian Matusz an inning later, Showalter continued coming back to the same theme that has plagued the Orioles throughout the month of May.
“We obviously haven’t been giving our pitchers much margin for error,” Showalter said, “but [Tillman] gave us a real good chance to win tonight. Probably even a little bit better than that.
“Once again, we can sit here and talk about [other factors] and rightfully so, but until we start getting some things going offensively, it really makes for a tough atmosphere to pitch in.”
The Orioles have scored just seven runs over their last 40 innings.
They’ve produced three or fewer runs in 13 of their 23 games this month and two or fewer in 11 of those.
Tuesday night’s cleanup man (Chris Davis) sports a .208 average and the No. 5 hitter (Steve Pearce) is batting .188. Delmon Young — who’s spent plenty of time in the heart of the order — is slugging a paltry .333 despite a respectable .287 average.
Beyond the white-hot Jimmy Paredes, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Caleb Joseph, the Orioles haven’t gotten nearly enough production from the rest of the lineup. And with Jones struggling recently — he was 0-for-3 Tuesday and has just three hits in his last 25 at-bats — the run shortage has been even more magnified.
“I just think we’ve got to slow the game down,” said Davis, who struck out two more times and hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth for the only Baltimore run on Tuesday. “When you’re not scoring a lot of runs, you’re not swinging the bats like you know you can, the tendency is to press and try to overdo it. I think you’ve seen that in the last few games, just guys getting out of their approach, out of their rhythm and trying to do too much with pitches that aren’t good pitches to hit.”
The Orioles were counting on Davis to look more like the force he was in 2013 — or at least in 2012. Instead, he’s looked just like the frustrated hitter we saw a season ago and has struck out 64 times in 170 plate appearances, registering the highest strikeout rate of his career by a substantial margin.
You keep waiting for veterans like of J.J. Hardy and Alejandro De Aza to start swinging the bat like they have in the past and for Young to start showing a little bit of power. Aside from a couple key home runs in the last week, Pearce hasn’t come close to approaching his 2014 production. Travis Snider hasn’t been the young replacement for the declining Nick Markakis that the Orioles envisioned.
The many clamoring for some change are justified, but Triple-A Norfolk doesn’t have many appealing options to even try at the moment. Former Minnesota Twins first-round pick Chris Parmelee has an .818 on-base plus slugging percentage and Nolan Reimold has begun heating up recently, but that’s about it.
Perhaps a returning Matt Wieters provides a spark as early as next week, but can you realistically expect him to offer much more offense than Joseph after not playing in the majors in more than a year?
The Orioles hope Jonathan Schoop can return sometime next month, but there’s no guarantee how soon that will be.
For now, Showalter has little choice but to ride out the storm — or the drought — by continuing to mix and match in hopes of finding some semblance of consistent production beyond the top three spots in the order. And executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette needs to be exploring what might be out there on the trade market over the next two months.
At 20-23, the Orioles still find themselves in the thick of the American League East and are just one game out in the loss column behind first-place New York. There are 119 games remaining in the 2015 regular season for Baltimore.
But much more is needed from the offense than it’s provided all month if the Orioles want to remain within striking distance.