The six-game winning streak was always going to end soon enough, however the fashion in which it did last night has caused reason for concern.
Leading the Nationals 6-2 after seven innings, the Orioles looked certain to extend the winning streak to seven, however another bullpen implosion left the team wondering what could’ve been, as their geographical rivals fought back to win 7-6.
Donnie Hart and Alec Asher each gave up a run in the 8th inning, however it was Brad Brach’s poor outing which saw a 6-4 lead in the 9th evaporate into what eventually became a nail-biting and miserable loss. Brach, who recorded just one out, gave up four hits, a walk, and three runs, as the Nationals took the third game of the series courtesy of Matt Wieters’ walk-off single. While the loss itself is unlikely to count for all that much in the big scheme of things, it was yet again caused by a faltering bullpen which is becoming more and more overworked as the weeks pass by.
Through 33 games, the Orioles bullpen has combined for 120 1/3 innings of work – the fourth most in the American League and not far behind the Blue Jays (126 2/3), Angels (124 2/3), and Mariners (122 1/3). While it’s always hard to predict what awaits, at this rate Orioles relievers are on pace to work through almost 600 innings this season – far greater than the 546 in 2016, 507 2/3 in 2014, and 545 1/3 in 2012 – the Orioles’ last three postseason runs. The extensive workload is already taking its toll too, with the bullpen posting its worst combined ERA since the team’s 2012 revival.
Even more crucially, the leaking runs are coming in save situations and costing the Orioles tallies in the win column. Throughout the entire 2016 season, Orioles acheterdufrance.com relievers recorded just 14 blown saves, five of which coming from Brach. In 2015 that figure was 15, with Darren O’Day leading the way, also with five. In 2017 though, they’ve blown six already and are on pace to nudge 30 if they maintain this rate. That too is the most since the team returned to its winning ways.
There’s no doubt that a series of peculiar circumstances in the past week have seen additional toll placed on the tiring bullpen – notably Kevin Gausman’s ejection against the Red Sox and Wade Miley’s injury against the White Sox – however the Orioles rotation has, in general, performed well this season, offering the bullpen more protection than what many experts and fans predicted in March. The Orioles rank fifth in the American League in quality starts, with 17. Should this high caliber starting pitching not be sustained though, and the rotation not progress as deep into games as it has been through the first six weeks of the season, then the bullpen’s workload will only increase further. Compounding the issue is Zach Britton’s situation, where MLB’s best closer will miss the better part of two months with a forearm injury. All things considered, while things appear somewhat concerning now, there’s quite possibly even more pain ahead.
While the Orioles are sitting comfortably at 22-11, they have proven to be very successful in close games and those going extra innings. In a highly competitive American League East division, more close games await, and to win these, it typically requires a fresh bullpen firing on all cylinders. A fatigued one simply won’t produce the results required.