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A wild card spot is there for the Orioles to take, as soon as they play better

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The Orioles have had three losing months in a row, yet they’re still just 2.5 games out of a wild card spot. All they have to do to take it is play better.

Baltimore Orioles v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Orioles haven’t had a record better than .500 since June 11. Although this doesn’t sound like a circumstance that would leave them contending for anything except for the best October vacation plans, they remain only 2.5 games back of the second wild card spot in the American League.

Whatever the Orioles are going to do the rest of the way, they have 44 games left to do it. The good news for them is that’s still a lot of games to be played. They have time to make a move in the standings if they can go on a hot streak. The bad news for the O’s is that if they don’t get that hot streak, they won’t get any closer and they’ll probably only fade back out of the race.

For the last several weeks, winning streaks of six games or more have propelled teams like the Angels and Royals into the top spot, but still, no one has broken away from the pack. The Orioles needed a five game streak a couple of weeks ago in order to drag themselves back into the wild card conversation. It’s going to take another one like that, or a longer one, to get even farther up there.

The question that’s going to be on everybody’s minds in Birdland is a simple one. Are the Orioles good enough to do this thing? For a lot of this season, the answer has been no. When you have three consecutive losing months, that really speaks for itself. The O’s have changed that so far in August, with a 7-6 record for the month, although let’s be honest: That’s probably not going to be good enough either.

The other challenge for the Orioles is that from here on, they’re going to be playing almost nothing but playoff contenders. Seven games remain against the Yankees and Rays, with six more still to come against the Red Sox and Mariners, and another three against the Angels and Indians. That’s going to be 32 of their remaining 44 games.

To date, the Orioles are a combined 20-24 against those teams. They’re actually 7-6 against the Red Sox and 6-6 against the Rays, with a 5-7 record so far against the Yankees. Once again, that’s not going to cut it.

It’s going into Captain Obvious territory to say that the problem with the Orioles is that they need to play better, but that’s really what it comes down to. If they want to go somewhere good over the rest of the way, they have to spend the last seven weeks playing better than they have been.

If you want to be optimistic about it, there’s room for improvement. It’s not like this is a team that’s been achieving its ceiling in order to get where they’ve gotten.

The starting rotation has improved since the All-Star break, lining up somewhat with Chris Tillman getting bounced to the bullpen and the rest of the bunch starting to pitch better. Or at least, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman have pitched well since the break, and Ubaldo Jimenez has pitched less badly. It’s made a difference, at least so far.

It’s helped to have improvement from some hitters since the break, too. Manny Machado came into Sunday’s game in Oakland with an .845 OPS in the second half. The arrival of Tim Beckham has provided the O’s with a spark from the shortstop position that I didn’t even believe was possible to wring out of the organization - all for the cost of a short-season pitcher.

You can add to that performances like Seth Smith, who entered Sunday with an OPS of 1.001 in the second half, and Jonathan Schoop, improving on an already-great first half with a .912 OPS since the break. Let’s not forget about Adam Jones and his .863 second half OPS, either. In that list of Orioles are the top four hitters in their lineup, plus Trey Mancini in the fifth spot, who’s taking aim at the franchise’s rookie home run record.

There’s a lot that’s been at times quite depressing about the Orioles this season. Some of that has even been in evidence since the break, like the four games that were blown by the bullpen. Brad Brach’s Friday night mishap was not an isolated incident.

The continuing below-expected performance of Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, until very recently the heart of the O’s order, has not helped, either. In fact, those two guys have only been worse after the All-Star Game.

What’s helped the O’s still have hope, along with the general weakness of all of the second wild card competitors, is that they really do have some good players who have been playing well all along or are starting to play more like we all might have hoped back before the season started.

With all that in mind, can they do this thing? If I had the ability to see into the future to know that, I would be using my talents for purposes other than blogging, let me tell you.

They’re not going to be able to do it if they keep blowing games that prominently feature losing at the hands of players like C.J. Cron, Luis Valbuena, and Kendall Graveman, all of whom have dealt them blows just in the first seven games of this road trip.

The O’s probably need, at a minimum, to win another 26 games. That would get them to 84 wins. Putting it like that, the whole thing sounds ridiculous, and it may be that they need more than that if someone above them goes on a sustained hot streak.

There is very little room for error with what’s remaining to the O’s, and that will be doubly true if they don’t close out their west coast road trip without at least two wins against the Mariners.

Unless they pull off an improbable sweep in Seattle, the Orioles will be coming back to Baltimore in mid-August with a below-.500 record. Again, competing for a postseason spot in those circumstances sounds ridiculous - and yet, here they are, 2.5 games back with 44 games to play. The door is hardly shut on them yet, if they only play better.