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Mental mistakes becoming all too routine for Orioles

Poor decisions and routine blunders have plagued the Orioles in recent losses.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Minnesota Twins Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The plan is for this to take a while.

It’s by design that it will be a few seasons until the Orioles’ rebuilt core of talent arrives at the major league level. And until then, the O’s and their fans will have to make due with the spare parts and Four-A players that are available.

That excuses why the Orioles strike out a lot. And give up a lot of home runs a lot. And allow many runs each game while scoring very few for themselves. And lose games and series.

It doesn’t, however, excuse the mental mistakes that, lately, have been dogging this team. The Orioles weren’t expected to be able to compete physically with most of their opponents this year, but in recent games, they’ve been falling short with their heads as well.

Mental decisions pretty much cost Baltimore a win Monday night. With the Orioles ahead 7-6 in the ninth, Brett Gardner led off the top of the ninth with a single. Cameron Maybin followed with a single to right, which right fielder Joey Rickard had to charge in to field. Gardner was flying to third and had made the turn by the time Rickard fielded the ball, so the play was to second to hold Maybin to a single.

Rickard foolishly tried to throw him out. The throw wasn’t close, and instead of conceding third and keeping the go-ahead run out of scoring position and a double play alive, Rickard’s decision put the Yankees in position to take the lead with a hit. Mental mistake No. 1.

After a groundout, Aaron Hicks flew to deep left field. There wasn’t a chance to throw out Gardner, so left fielder Dwight Smith Jr. should have thrown to third to keep Maybin at second. Instead, Smith tried for home, the throw wasn’t close, and the go-ahead run in Maybin moved a base closer. Mental mistake No. 2.

Finally, Mychal Givens got Luke Voit to pop foul, only for catcher Pedro Severino to miss the ball entirely. This is a physical error, but there’s a mental component to it as well. Severino never called for help, and played the ball like he was unfamiliar with the tendency of a ball hit that way to drift back toward the field. He was too far from the ball to even make an attempt at a grab.

A ball that a major leaguer must catch fell foul for mental mistake No. 3, and the Orioles fell behind on Gary Sanchez’s home run one batter later.

Those were just in one inning, but there have been other moments in which the Orioles have frozen or otherwise not thought their way through a play. The obvious example of this was the debacle from Thursday, when the Orioles, trailing Cleveland 9-7 and trying to escape a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, got exactly what they needed, a routine double play grounder to Hanser Alberto.

Just to refresh everyone’s memory: a play a high school team could execute was botched when Alberto went for the tag instead of the throw to second. Runner Francisco Lindor evaded the tag long enough for batter Jason Kipnis to reach first, Alberto gave up on tagging Lindor and still threw too late to get Kipnis, and Chris Davis was so zeroed in on trying to tag Lindor that he completely forgot about Leonys Martin coming around third. Two outs, no runs suddenly became two runs, no outs. And in spectacular fashion.

Even in moments too insignificant to make a highlight - or, lowlight - reel, the Orioles have made their mistakes. On Sunday against Cleveland, Baltimore was trailing 6-0 and faced a runner on second with one out when Lindor grounded back to pitcher Gabriel Ynoa. Ynoa could have thrown to first for the easy out, conceding third to runner Oscar Mercado, but he instead threw to third baseman Rio Ruiz, who wasn’t even at the bag yet.

The throw sailed wildly into foul territory, allowing a run to score. Two walks and a strikeout that should have ended the inning followed, and with the extra out, Cleveland drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 8-0. True, the game wasn’t close, but two runs stemmed entirely from a bad decision, and an out-of-hand score is no good reason to disengage on the field.

In fact, there are never any good reasons to do that. It’s a code preached by coaches all the way down to the youth levels, but it’s true. There are no excuses for mental errors. The Orioles can’t be expected to find .300 hitters or 40-home run power sitting in the free agent market, or for another team’s discarded pitchers to come to Camden Yards and start posting 2.00 ERAs.

But they should be able to find professional players who can think like major leaguers on the field. These are Little League brain cramps, and if Brandon Hyde is the manager the Orioles need, these are driving him crazy. Hyde’s job isn’t to win, per se, but it is to build a winning culture. It’s to ensure that the players the Orioles do send out there in these lean times - particularly young players with bright futures - are playing sound enough baseball that it’ll pay off once the wins do start to come.

These mistakes are also devastating to whatever chances the Orioles have of winning on a game-by-game basis. If Baltimore is going to win some games, it’s going to be because of fundamentals, not despite them.

So far, though, a bad trend has developed. There are no quick fixes to most of what ails the Orioles, but there is one to this. Hopefully Hyde, his coaching staff and the players themselves recognize a need to put an end to it sooner rather than later.