Orioles’ lack of signature pitching additions exposed in ALDS Game 2 loss to Rangers

The Orioles entered the postseason as the best team in the American League. The same was true at the trade deadline. Both could prove disappointing for Baltimore.

Dropping the first two games of the AL Division Series at home to the Texas Rangers, the Orioles find themselves on the brink of elimination. The players haven’t performed. Manager Brandon Hyde has made choices worth debating. But these losses trace back to the moves Baltimore’s front office did — and didn’t — make to fortify the club’s pitching staff.

From mid-July to mid-August, the Orioles made three additions to their pitching staff, trading four prospects Baseball America ranked among their top 30 — but all outside the top 10 — for Shintaro Fujinami and Jack Flaherty while claiming Jacob Webb on waivers.

Fujinami didn’t make Baltimore’s ALDS roster. Webb did but surrendered a home run in each of the first two playoff games, the first leading to the winning run in Texas’ 3-2 victory Saturday and the second a grand slam that broke open the Orioles’ 11-8 defeat Sunday. Brought in to boost the rotation, Flaherty dragged it down, spending the final two weeks of the regular season in the bullpen and getting only three innings of action in that time.

He got two more Sunday, entering with the Orioles trailing 9-4 in the fifth. With John Means’ elbow soreness putting both Dean Kremer and Kyle Gibson into the rotation, Flaherty is the closest option Hyde has to a long reliever among the 12 pitchers on his roster, but his lack of recent usage limited him to six outs. He remained in the bullpen for the third inning, during which Bryan Baker — chosen over Fujinami to take Means’ place on the roster — walked the bases loaded before Webb allowed a grand slam.

Including the run he gave up in two innings Sunday, Flaherty has a 6.63 ERA for the Orioles. Fujinami battled inconsistency not only outing to outing but pitch to pitch. Webb didn’t give up a run in his first nine outings with Baltimore, as the Orioles seemingly struck gold on a post-deadline acquisition, but he’s allowed 10 over 15 1/3 innings since.

The Orioles’ approach to adding arms at the deadline was questionable at the time, but their lack of dependable additions has been reinforced by not only Means’ elbow problem, but also the one that ended All-Star closer Félix Bautista’s season. The bullpen managed well without Bautista, as the unit posted an ERA a hair below its figure with him, but peripherals hinted at potential troubles, and they popped up Sunday.

Baltimore couldn’t have foretold Bautista’s ulnar collateral ligament would tear, but it could have done more to prepare for that doomsday scenario than add three pitchers who combined for 36 major league innings in 2022.

A better starting pitcher acquisition than Flaherty might have pushed rookie Grayson Rodriguez to Game 3, though a healthy Means might have done the same. Regardless, Rodriguez — a deserved No. 2 starter after trailing only teammate Kyle Bradish and AL Cy Young Award favorite and New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole in second-half ERA — sputtered, allowing five runs while recording five outs.

Danny Coulombe got the final out of the second, seemingly setting up Hyde to go to Flaherty in long relief. Instead, he called on Baker, who made the playoff roster despite making just one major league appearance after the end of July. If the Orioles had acquired a reliever better than Fujinami, Baker likely wouldn’t be on the roster, injuries aside. If they had brought in a starter more reliable than Flaherty, they could have had the rotation depth to bring in a pitcher capable of bridging the game as Baltimore’s bats finally came to life. If the Orioles’ best midseason pitching addition hadn’t been a right-hander who was designated for assignment by a Los Angeles Angels team that missed the playoffs, Webb might not have been asked to come in either spot in which he allowed a home run.

Hyde said he “pretty much used everybody available” out of the bullpen Sunday. The Orioles opted to carry one fewer pitcher than they could have in the series, and Hyde blitzed through most of them over the course of two games, with the only ones who haven’t pitched being Kremer and Gibson. The latter warmed in the bullpen in the ninth inning, with Hyde saying Gibson would have pitched the 11th inning if the Orioles rallied to bring the game to that point.

Gibson said the team hasn’t informed him of its plans for him; either he or Kremer will start opposite Rangers right-hander Nathan Eovaldi in Tuesday’s Game 3 at Globe Life Field. Whomever doesn’t could start Game 4, which would require an Orioles victory.

“We need to win the next game,” Hyde said. “Pretty much everybody is going to be available two days from now.”

Two months ago, the front office could have improved who that group is. Only three straight wins can prevent thoughts of what if.


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