It’s probably unfair of Baltimore Orioles fans to stack Brach Brach up against the likes of Zach Britton. When healthy, Britton’s the best closer in the game. I know that as a writer I wouldn’t want to be put up against the likes of Tony Kornheiser or the late Shirley Povich. But I digress – the point is that Brach isn’t Britton; and furthermore pitching the ninth inning is vastly different than pitching the eighth.
Wade Miley gave the Orioles a gritty outing in Washington last night, and while it wasn’t perfect he left in line to be the winner. Miley’s line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 5 K. Not only did Miley find a way out of numerous jams, but he even managed to add to a rally that was starting by laying down a bunt for a base hit at one point. In a National League game that’s when you know your offense is firing on all cylinders – when your pitcher is participating.
The Birds got on the board in the top of the second when Caleb Joseph smacked an RBI-single. Seth Smith would add a sac-fly RBI later in the inning, and to top it off Adam Jones would tap an RBI-single to center. The O’s had seemingly picked up right where they left off on Tuesday, and they led 3-0.
Washington would get one back on a Taylor RBI-single in the fourth, but the Orioles kept the pressure on. Mark Trumbo‘s two-run homer one inning later ran the score to 5-1, although Miley found himself in a bases-loaded jam with nobody out in the last of the fifth. Washington would get one on an RBI-groundout by Murphy, but that was it. Miley did a masterful job of in essence trusting his stuff, despite his tank being on empty after well over 100 pitches. He got the Orioles out of the inning and as I said was in line for the win.
The Birds tacked on what appeared to be an insurance run in the seventh when Manny Machado joined Trumbo in the homer parade and sent a solo shot to left field. The O’s led 6-2, and appeared to be in the driver’s seat. But even the best bullpens in baseball, of which the Orioles are one, have off nights. It’s unfair to blame Brach in entirety for a loss, although he’s the guy who gets most of the heat. But any game is a team effort – the Washington comeback started in the eighth with a two-run homer by Taylor, leaving the score at 6-4.
That’s important because unless the Birds put more runs on the board (which they didn’t), the game no longer was a save situation. That meant that Showalter in effect didn’t have the ability to “let the bullpen coast” a bit, perhaps by letting the likes of Hart or Nuno close out the game. Instead, he had to use Brach in the ninth inning.
The inning was led off by Werth, who smacked a ball that barely cleared the wall in right center. The Orioles’ lead was down to one, and Brach was already on the ropes after one hitter. That homer also came after 11 pitches to Werth, in which Brach made quite a few quality pitches that were fouled off – as Brach discussed after the game (quote courtesy of Roch Kubatko, MASNsports):
Looking back at it, I threw some really good pitches. He got the upper hand there toward the end and just was able to drive one out to right-center field.
That’s what pitchers are reduced to after 11-pitch at-bats; saying that they made good pitches over the course of the time. Washington would load the bases as the inning wore on, but with one out all Brach needed was a ground ball double-play to end the game. But of course, the situation called for none other than Matt Wieters to come to the plate for Washington…
…and his two-RBI single ended the game in a 7-6 loss for his former team. Do the Orioles view this as Wieters should have never been allowed to walk? Or if someone had to beat them are they glad it was in essence “one of their own?” It’s tough to say, but the fact is that you never want to lose.
The epic Werth at-bat set the tone for the entire inning, and in fact it seemed to make Brach nervous in a sense. But again before you criticize him too much or criticize Showalter’s handling of the bullpen, keep in mind that if not for the two-run homer by Taylor in the eighth this wouldn’t have even been a save situation. The Orioles had a four-run lead, and the bullpen would have been used differently.
While they were struggling coming into this series, also keep in mind that Washington has a good team. The likes of Werth, Harper, Zimmerman, et al, are professional hitters that can do a lot of damage. The unfortunate victims last night were Brad Brach and the Orioles. Some other day it’ll be someone else.
The series in Washington and the Battle of the Beltways overall concludes tonight at Nationals Park. Dylan Bundy gets the start for the Orioles, and he’ll be opposed by Washington’s A.J. Cole. Game time is set for just after 7 PM.