Jim Palmer said at one point Thursday night what we all were thinking watching the Orioles swing and miss their way to a three-game sweep in Houston in which they struck out a major-league record 52 times.
“It’s almost like they’ve never seen a breaking ball.”
The Orioles struck out more in a three-game series than the late Tony Gwynn ever did in an entire season during his Hall of Fame career.
Chris Davis struck out eight times. Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo both went down on strikes seven times. Pedro Alvarez collected six strikeouts and didn’t even start in the series finale. Jonathan Schoop and Matt Wieters struck out five times each.
What a nightmare.
To be clear, the Astros didn’t do anything that wasn’t already known about the Baltimore lineup. Throwing fewer fastballs and more breaking balls has always been the blueprint against these power hitters, but Houston pitchers executed well and the Orioles appeared more eager than usual to cooperate.
But let’s take a deep breath about a club entering the weekend still seven games above .500 and just two games behind Boston in the AL East despite a four-game losing streak and losing seven of 10. Don’t forget that the Orioles entered the Houston series below the league average in strikeouts and still ranked just sixth in the AL in that category entering Friday.
Whether you like it or not, strikeouts are a bigger part of baseball than ever.
It isn’t just the Orioles.
A few horrendous games — and, boy, were they horrendous — cannot trump a quarter of a season in which the Orioles struck out at an acceptable level relative to other teams. As I wrote earlier in the week, you have to take the bad with the good for a team that depends so heavily on the home run. That certainly isn’t an excuse to whiff at a historic rate in a three-game series, but every team is going to go through some rough patches over 162 games.
The key now will be to make the adjustments as Cleveland and other upcoming opponents will take notice of what the Astros were able to do with a steadier-than-normal diet of curves and sliders. It’s up to the Orioles to get back to where they were over the first six weeks of the season when strikeouts were rarely part of the conversation in their wins or losses.
They’ll remain under the strikeout microscope until then and rightly so after setting such a dubious record.
Buck Showalter likes to say you’re never as bad as it looks at your worst or as good as it appears at your best. That’s an appropriate message for both his players and Orioles fans prematurely pressing the panic button. Even after completing the three-game sweep, the 20-28 Astros would still trade places in a heartbeat.
After a miserable series in which he went 1-for-14, Adam Jones probably said it best after Thursday’s finale.
“Let’s get the hell out of Houston.”
But hopefully the Orioles leave the absurd strikeout totals behind.