I’m going to use the words “2016 AL Wild Card Game” and “Zach Britton” in the same blog post, but have no fear – the two are not related.
We are two games into the Orioles’ 2017 season. It’s not time to panic about anything. The team could have lost both games 20-0, and there would still be no reason to panic.
Note: I would actually love to see a fan base’s reaction to two, consecutive 20-0 losses to start a season – the comments section of the local blogs would be insane.
But, as we do every year, we fans are pouring over the first two games to draw as many conclusions as we can. It’s a short sample size, but we’re hungry for baseball, so we’ll sample away. What we can do, reasonably, is take notes as the first few games pass, and see if anything develops as a trend. At this point we watch the games saying “I hope this keeps up” or “oh no, please don’t let that continue.”
Here are two items worth watching, as the 2017 season continues:
Zach Britton is Mortal, After All.
Zach Britton has escaped both his appearances by the skin of his teeth. On Opening Day, his 9th inning featured back-to-back singles, and the 10th featured a walk followed by a single. On Wednesday, his save included back-to-back singles separated from a walk, by a strikeout of Troy Tulowitzki.
Zach Britton established himself as an elite reliever in this game, but hasn’t resembled that guy in 2017. Sure – he hasn’t had a full Spring Training. An oblique issue interrupted his preparation (and for all we know, may be lingering). The season has just started. There are plenty of excuses to make, and plenty of compelling reasons to think Britton will settle into his familiar, dominating form.
But in in the two short appearances we’ve seen so far, Zach Britton has been hittable. His command has not been impressive. He has not resembled that dominant reliever, and the results have matched.
I’m not assuming a Chicken Little posture here, but you have to admit – it’s uncomfortable, and it’s alarming. We’re used to a feeling of confidence when AC/DC introduces Zach Britton. We start gathering our things, and planning our exit. The game is usually all over but the shouting.
We’ve watched effective closers unravel before our eyes (Cue the Pretender). We should watch Britton as the season unfolds, to ensure we’re not being treated to a repeat performance.
The Offense Goes Quiet
In many ways, this is the same team the Orioles fielded in 2016. Sure, some of the names have changed, but the identity and core competencies remain. This is an offense capable of bashing other teams into submission. It’s also one that has, at times, been prone to cold spells.
In the 2016 AL Wild Card Game, the Orioles jumped out to a 2-1 lead on a Mark Trumbo home run. Then the lineup packed up their bats and prepared for the offseason. The pitching staff did its best to hold a potent Toronto lineup at bay for seven innings… and came up short.
In both games we’ve seen this season, the script has been similar (the ending, admittedly, has been much improved). Opening day saw the Orioles score two runs in the third inning, and shut down again until the 11th. Wednesday’s game featured a four-inning drought after the Orioles score in the 4th.
This could mean absolutely nothing. Or it could point to a flawed offense that struggles to pass the baton, and string together rallies because of its dependence on the long ball. Am I saying this is a trend likely to continue, just because I cherry picked the characteristics of three games? No.
I’m saying it’s worth observing, and seeing if the coincidence becomes anything more.
Not All Doom and Gloom
There’s been plenty to be stoked about. On Wednesday Dylan Bundy was everything we hoped he would be when he was drafted. Cap10 America has continued his heroics from the World Baseball Classic. Manny Machado’s fielding continues to be worth the price of admission. Oh, and judging by the standings, your first place Baltimore Orioles are on a pace to go 162-0.
So there are trends to watch for in the other direction. But don’t allow the results to mask the real story. Let’s watch these games to see what patterns develop. After all, this is why they don’t just play these games on paper, right?