Brian Roberts reacts after a late-inning strikeout Sunday. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
TORONTO — Orioles manager Buck Showalter readily admits that his team has gone through bad streaks with runners in scoring position. And he said he's guilty of not harping on their struggles when they happen, fearing it could make the situation worse.
"One thing I hate being around this group of guys it being Captain Obvious," Showalter said. "They get it. If anything it created more anxiety. They know. Our guys have so much 'want to' to change it that it can create that.
"It's got to get better," Showalter added. "I know that."
For the season, the Orioles have the fifth-best batting average in the majors with runners in scoring position. Their .268 clip entering Friday was tied with the Oakland Athletics and ahead of the fellow American League wild-card contenders like the Tampa Bay Rays (.265), New York Yankees (.261) and Cleveland Indians (.260).
But the Orioles have struggled with runners in scoring position down the stretch, which has been a factor as they've been unable to capitalize on a wide-open playoff race.
Over the previous 20 games entering Friday, the Orioles were hitting just .226 (35-for-155) with runners in scoring position, second worst among teams competing to for the AL wild-card spots. The only wild-card contender they've been better than is the Tampa Bay Rays, who were batting just .194 (33-for-170) with runners in scoring position over their past 20 games and had lost 13 of 18.
By comparison, the A's are hitting .363 (69-for-190) with runners in scoring position in the past 20 games, and the surging Kansas City Royals, who were tied with the Orioles 2 ½ games back of the second wild-card spot entering Friday, hit .337 (60-for-178) in that situation over the past 20 games.
"That just doesn't hold up over the season," Orioles left fielder Nate McLouth said. "They're doing it at the right time. You see it every year, those teams that get on fire. Every single year there are a couple of teams that do it. That's what you're seeing right there."
The Yankees are hitting .299, the Indians .239 and the Texas Rangers .240 with runners in scoring position in that same span. The AL East-leading Boston Red Sox are batting .304 with runners in scoring position over the past 20 games.
"There are so many different facets that go into it, and our guys have done a good job about it at times," Showalter said. "What happens is when you're really bearing down on something like that [is] you're losing sight of what's good about it, which is that you're putting guys out there [on base] or being close enough in the game that it matters."
For the Orioles, success — or lack thereof — with runners in scoring position hasn't necessarily correlated with wins. They were 3-for-37 in their four-game series against the Chicago White Sox last weekend but took three of four games in the series. They were 10-for-23 (a .435 average) in this week's four-game series against the Yankees but lost three of four.
However, in series losses at Boston, New York and Cleveland on their nine-game road trip earlier this month, the Orioles hit just .214 (14-for-65) with runners in scoring position.
"I think it's one of those things that only becomes more difficult when you make it," McLouth said. "Honestly, I know it hasn't been good the past three weeks, but I think it's just a part of the long process that is the season because you could take any two week period during the season and say, 'Oh they hit .400 here or hit .100 here.' You could cherry pick any two weeks."
But Showalter said breaking out of a slump with runners in scoring position isn't easy, especially at the end of the season when there are more close games and expanded rosters allow teams to set up more favorable matchups with their relievers. Above all, hitting with runners in scoring position is an uncoachable statistic, Showalter said.
"If this is spring training this year and it's one of your points of emphasis, how do you tell somebody to do it, other than note that we're not doing it?" Showalter said. "That's the problem. There hasn't been anybody in the history of the game who can coach it. You try like hell."