Baltimore Orioles: Did Buck Showalter mismanage the bullpen?
The scoreboard says that the Baltimore Orioles fell 10-6 to Houston last night. However the facts say that the Birds were neck-in-neck with the defending champions last night. Oriole bats came alive, and the O’s got good starting pitching out of Mike Wright. It just wasn’t enough. Wright’s line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 6 K.
The Birds had a lead almost right away, as Jonathan Schoop smacked a first inning solo shot to left. However if Houston doesn’t get you one way, they’ll get you another – there are times I wonder if teams like Houston don’t sit up at night trying to figure out new ways to score runs. Correa’s deep fly ball in the last of the first bounced and rolled around the outfield so much that it became a two-run inside-the-park home run, giving Houston a 2-1 lead. Correa would add a sac fly-RBI in the third to run it to 3-1.
The O’s almost got the lead back in the fourth, and in a big way. Trey Mancini was robbed of a three-run homer by Reddick. Again, if they don’t get you one way they’ll get you another. The O’s had to settle for a sac fly-RBI from Mancini, inching closer at 3-2. However the top of the sixth brought the O’s the lead they had coveted, as Adam Jones smacked the ball over the railroad tracks in left field, giving the Birds a 4-3 lead.
Buck Showalter at that point opted to pull Mike Wright – after 81 pitches. He opted to go to the bullpen, and I’m sure that he had his reasons. Personally I thought that Wright had at least one more inning left in him, and he had pitched well enough to get that nod. While I’d always defer to a manager like Buck Showalter in that situation, it was curious to say the least.
And in fairness, hindsight is 20/20. But sure enough, Reddick smacked a two-run homer almost immediately (in the last of the sixth). The O’s would tie it back up one inning later on Jones’ RBI-single, however unfortunately for them Reddick would get to come back up in the seventh with the bases loaded. And he took Nestor Cortes out of the ballpark with a grand slam. While a Sisco RBI-single brought the Birds back to within four in the eighth, it just wasn’t enough.
There were two curious aspects in terms of the bullpen. First off, could Mike Wright not have gone further into the game? Secondly, Why use a Rule 5 pick (Cortes) in that situation? I’ll address the latter point first; using a guy like O’Day or Brach would be a tough sell in that scenario, as those guys serve very specific roles in terms of setting up and closing – when the team has the lead. Castro could have been an option also, but he pitched the night before.
However the bigger issue in my mind was Mike Wright. We know that Showalter is loyal to his players to a T. And that’s a good thing. I suspect that the O’s had the lead, and Showalter wanted to get Wright the win. And ultimately it boils down to a difference in team cultures. In the AL East you try your best to bludgeon your opponent. Now while a one-run lead certainly isn’t a bludgeoning, normally there’s a point in games where a team takes a lead – both literally and emotionally.
That’s kind of how one could have viewed the Jones two-run homer. It felt like the Orioles had turned a corner and had control of the game. And ultimately Showalter wanted to get his starter the win…because his starter had pitched well enough to get the win, and deserved it. But Houston doesn’t quit. While in the AL East the opponent would still be trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark (and the Orioles’ bullpen could have pitched to the opponent’s aggression), Houston plays small ball. One stage at a time…
…and before you know it, the bases are loaded. And before you know it after that, someone hits a grand slam. And your little moment of taking the lead both literally and emotionally is then null and void.
Again, my personal opinion is that Showalter made a mistake in lifting Mike Wright when he did. But hindsight is 20/20. If given the same scenario again would he send Wright back out there? Probably. Houston’s also a tough team to predict, because they find so many creative ways to beat you. You know that the Orioles are trying to hammer you to kingdom come. With Houston, each guy is literally just looking to get on base. And somehow that small-minded mentality works in their favor.