Last season, Orioles closer Jim Johnson saved 51 games in 54 chances while serving as the backbone of the team's bullpen. He pitched so well -- 2.49 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 68 2/3 -- that he not only earned his first All-Star Game berth, he also received MVP and Cy Young award votes.
This season, though, things have gone much differently for Johnson. Specifically, this month has gone much differently. On Sunday afternoon, the Baltimore closer allowed four runs while recording two outs against the Blue Jays to turn a 5-2 lead into a 6-5 walk-off loss. Munenori Kawasaki did the honors with a walk-off double into the left-center field gap.
The blown save was more than just Johnson's fourth in 19 save opportunities this season; it was his fourth in his last six appearances. His streak of 35 consecutive saves was snapped two weeks ago by the Padres, and he has since blown saves against the Rays, Yankees and now Blue Jays. Johnson has surrendered 12 runs on 13 hits and three walks in five innings during his last six games.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has insisted Johnson will remain his closer during this rough stretch -- it's worth noting he had two perfect appearances between blown saves last week -- but it remains to be seen how he will react to Sunday's disaster. Setup man Darren O'Day is a viable closer alternative, and guys like Brian Matusz and Pedro Strop could be temporary solutions as well.
It's unclear if Johnson is hiding an injury, struggling with his mechanics or something else entirely, but he's an issue for the Orioles after being so integral to their surprising success a year ago.