The time for optimism is gone.
The Orioles, having finished 4-5 in California and Washington state, now sit in fourth place in the AL East, five games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the division and two games behind the second Wild Card spot. There were signs of progression during the arduous nine-game West Coast circuit, but yet again, the inconsistent nature of an average team bursted what could've been a game-changing bubble.
The O's kicked off the oh-so important road trip with a decisive 9-2 win over a not-very-good Athletics team. Spot starter Tyler Wilson dazzled in his first major league win as a starting pitcher, going 7.2 innings allowing only two runs with three strikeouts. The Oriole lineup collected 14 hits, notched an early lead, and didn't look back. It was the kind of win fans could only wish for to begin what is an annual anxiety-filled stretch. But, as is typical for the Orioles, a no-name starter some refer to as Chris Bassitt carved up the Baltimore lineup the next night, as the O's fell 5-0. "Orioles Magic" ensued in the rubber game in Oakland, thanks to a 10th inning Chris Davis grand slam, who capped a comeback of six unanswered runs in the 7-3 win.
In a sector of the United States where it's more important to win series than dream of three-consecutive sweeps, the Orioles did alright by taking two of three from a team they very much were better than. However, the 2015 version of the Orioles showed their true colors in Anaheim and Seattle.
Leading 3-1 after 3.5 innings in the opener of the Angels' series, starting pitcher Kevin Gausman was tagged for two runs immediately after Jonathan Schoop staked him to a two-run lead, and in the 6th, the young fireballing righty failed to win a precious high-leverage battle with the .184 batting Chris Iannetta, who sent a two-out, two-strike double to left field, giving the Halos a 5-4 lead. The O's would lose 8-4.
Ubaldo Jimenez brought back the optimism in a 5-0 win the next night, stifling the Angels for 8.0 innings. The O's found the gaps with four doubles and sent two souvenirs into the stands, courtesy of Manny Machado and Caleb Joseph. It was the kind of game that reminded Birdland what Buck Showalter's brand of Orioles' baseball looked like.
Though, as has been with this brand of baseball all year, the fun was short-lived.
The rubber match in Anaheim saw the O's down 4-2 in the 6th inning, but a pair of solo home runs from Gerardo Parra and Davis quickly brought Birdland out of the doldrums. It wasn't meant to be, however. A walk-off single from David Murphy with two outs, bases loaded and in a 3-2 count continued the Orioles trend of "not quite enough".
The Mariners series was more of the same.
The O's won the opener with solid starting pitching, the long ball and Zach Britton shutting a slightly open door to win 3-2. Showalter's squad rallied late in the second game, despite a very poor showing from Chris Tillman, squaring things up 5-5 in the 8th, as Adam Jones and the big fella combined for two home runs and three RBIs in the 8th inning, tying the game at 5-5. Again, and as it seems to be this season, the stars were not in alignment. TJ McFarland saw a bloop double and Baltimore chop result in 1st and 3rd with no outs in the bottom of the 10th, with Austin Jackson roping a single to right field that narrowly dropped on the foul line, giving the O's the 6-5 loss.
The peak of the Orioles demise was on full display yesterday afternoon, as Hishasi Iwakuma constantly forced the O's into quick 0-2 counts, changed speeds, hit his spots and disallowed the Baltimore bats to find the sweet spot, cruising not only to his first ML complete game, but to his first career no-hitter.
The mantra of "not quite enough" has marred what could have been yet the continuation of a string of overly successful seasons since 2012. That year, the O's rode a statistic-defying wave of magic, reminding fans what kind of town Baltimore is and how badly the city was dying for a winner. Last year, the Orioles were simply better than everyone else, and were kept out of Royals team whose unprecedented surge was probably the only anomaly that could have been the Orioles' downfall.by a
Now, the Orioles are average, and are playing as such.
Perhaps asking Bud Norris and Steve Pearce to repeat career-years was too much. The likelihood of Travis Snider, Alejandro De Aza and Delmon Young replicating the losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis wasn't farfetched, but sometimes experiments fail. Maybe, just maybe, stashing a 22 year-old relief pitcher in the bullpen who pitches as often as Chris Davis wasn't the best idea in a season filled with expectations.
Average players producing average results, such as David Lough, Ryan Flaherty, Nolan Reimold, and Jimmy Paredes, shouldn't be much of a surprise, but the Orioles are now dealing with the 7-2 hand they dealt themselves, and only the 25 men that wear the orange and black can find a way to turn it around.
And unfortunately, that time is now.
The Blue Jays look they're never going to lose again, and the Yankees, though slumping, have been one of the more consistent teams in baseball all year. With 49 games left, the Orioles are in an unenviable position, but one that has been overcome before.
Can the platoon of Lough, Reimold and Junior Lake do just enough on offense? Are the starters poised to go just deep enough into games to give a bullpen that has done more than enough a little time off? Will someone other than Davis and Manny Machado decide to take enough of the offensive load and spread the production?
Because enough is enough, as the Orioles are slowly fading into a frustrating winter.
It's make or break time.