The Baltimore Orioles were right in the middle of the AL playoff race until plummeting into an inexplicable nosedive that negated everything they accomplished over the first 4½ months of the season.
Baltimore was 62-57 and a trailed Los Angeles by a half-game for the second wild-card spot on Aug. 19. Since that time, the defending AL East champions have dropped 12 of 14 to fall behind five teams in the hunt of the league’s final playoff spot.
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”You go through stretches like that in baseball,” center fielder Adam Jones said. ”It’s just not good to get into them in August leading into September.”
The last time the Orioles played this poorly was in 2011, when they were closing out a run of 14 straight losing seasons.
Manager Buck Showalter subsequently lifted the franchise out of that dark era and brought about a baseball revival in Baltimore. After reaching the AL Championship Series in 2014, the Orioles appeared headed for their third postseason appearance in four years before this unfathomable skid.
There have been close losses, routs, blown leads and embarrassingly early insurmountable deficits.
”It’s tough when the pitching and offense don’t show up at the same time,” catcher Matt Wieters said. ”Some of those games we pitched pretty well and just didn’t score any runs. And then the games we did put some runs across, we weren’t able to hold the other team.”
The downturn started with a 15-2 home loss to Minnesota. Three straight one-run losses to the Twins followed, launching the Orioles into a free-fall that increased their deficit in the division from five games to 12.
In most cases, the blame lies on an offense that has suddenly gone dormant. The Orioles are 9-53 when scoring fewer than four runs; not surprisingly, they tallied three runs or fewer in each of those 12 losses. They also struck out 135 times over the 14-game stretch.
In an 11-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday, the Rays scored four runs in both the fourth and fifth innings. Baltimore’s only salvo was a meaningless homer by Chris Davis in the ninth.
In pressing to win, the Orioles achieved the opposite result.
”There’s a difference between losing ballgames and beating yourself,” Davis said. ”There have been times when we’ve really beat ourselves, making mistakes we don’t normally make.”
Although there have been four one-run defeats during this frustrating slide, the Orioles have been outscored 84-42.
”How do you get of it? That’s the beauty of this game,” Jones said. ”The way you do it is you collectively come together and go out there and beat the crap out of somebody else instead of getting your tails handed to you.”
Davis homered in the 11th inning Wednesday night to give the Orioles to a 7-6 win over Tampa Bay, but there’s no telling if that stopped the slide or merely interrupted it.
The Orioles insist they won’t quit on a season that had so much promise just two weeks ago.
”I haven’t seen anybody giving in or the lack of effort. That’s important,” right-hander Chris Tillman said. ”It is a test. It really is. You’ve got to get through it and get back to playing the baseball we know we can. We know what we’re capable of. We’ve got to get back to it.”
To do so, the Orioles must grind through a nine-game stretch against three of the best teams in the AL. Following an off-day Thursday, Baltimore goes to Toronto and Yankee Stadium before hosting the Kansas City Royals.
”We feel like we’re still in this,” Wieters insisted. ”If we can get hot and make a run, all you’ve got to do is get in the playoffs and it’s a shot in the dark to win it all.”