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Orioles can’t stop losing, even though they’ve often been competitive

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It’s the worst losing streak the team has seen in 30-plus years, but the Orioles haven’t been getting crushed each night. Instead, they’ve been in a lot of the games they’ve dropped.

Minnesota Twins v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

These are some dark times. Like you need me to tell you that.

If you’ve followed the Orioles at all, you know the staggering slide they’ve been on, and remain on. Baltimore lost to Minnesota yesterday, 3-2 in 10 innings, and is now at 14 straight losses. It’s the Orioles’ longest losing streak since the infamous 1988 season, when they started the season 0-21 and ended up losing 107 games.

Think about all the bad seasons we have seen since then. The collapse at the end of 2002. Fourteen straight seasons between 1998 and 2011 with a losing record. The 2-16 start in 2010. The 115-loss season in 2018, followed by the 108 losses in 2019.

Those dreadful seasons didn’t include a 14-game losing streak. This is rough.

And yet, it hasn’t had the look and feel you would expect from an epic skid from the major leagues’ worst team. For all of the losses, for all that has gone wrong in these 14 games, the Orioles have often been right in the thick of things to get the win to stop the slide.

We’ve seen when the Orioles have just been lambs led to slaughter, trotting out pitchers who didn’t belong in the big leagues and lineups of hitters who were Triple-A players at best. And we’ve seen that talent disparity play out on the field, in the form of games that were over before Mike Hargrove or Dave Trembley or Buck Showalter could even get the bullpen warmed up.

That hasn’t been the case here. The Orioles have been bad, for sure. They just haven’t been what you would expect “14 losses in a row bad” to look like.

In the Orioles’ 14 losses, they’ve had the lead, even if just in the first inning, in eight of them. Five of those losses have been tie games in the sixth inning or later. The first and third losses of the streak, to Tampa Bay, were blowouts decided by seven and nine runs, respectively.

In the 11 losses since, the biggest margin of victory has been five runs. Another was decided by four runs. Nine were decided by three runs or fewer, and three were one-run games. The average run differential in these last 11 games has been 2.45 runs.

This isn’t to let the Orioles off the hook and suggest that they’ve been playing well. Something’s wrong if you keep coming up short by a couple of runs.

It does, however, indicate that the Orioles aren’t so much a team that can’t do anything right, and are more a team that has not been able to do enough right for nine innings. If the pitching is good, like in the White Sox series, the bats are quiet. If the offense shows up like it did for the road series against the Nationals, the pitching comes off the rails. And if the lineup does just enough and the starter does just enough to give the Orioles a lead to work with, Tanner Scott is ready with an ill-timed walk or wild pitch, or Cesar Valdez picks that moment to allow three runs in a third of an inning and undo all that work.

The Orioles have scored five or more runs four times in the 14 games. In the games in which they’ve done so, they’ve allowed 13, nine, 12 and six runs. They’ve allowed four or fewer five times. In those games, they’ve scored two, two, one, one and two.

That’s nine times in the 14 games that the Orioles have either pitched well enough or hit well enough to win the game. But they’ve never occurred at the same time, and as a result, Baltimore’s formula for victory has always fallen short.

Just for comparison’s sake, Baltimore has scored 48 runs in the 14 games and won none. Detroit has scored 55 in its last 14 and won eight. The Orioles have allowed 61 runs over their last 11 games and won none. The Blue Jays allowed 56 over their last 11 and won four.

The players are aware of this. They know they haven’t been getting rocked out on the field on a nightly basis.

“It’s been tough the last couple of weeks,” Ryan Mountcastle said after Monday’s loss. “We’ve been in a lot of close games and we’ve just got to try to turn the page and move on to the next one and hopefully win tomorrow.”

Hopefully, this is what the team, be it manager Brandon Hyde or the others in uniform, will be stressing to each other, but there’s no question the frustration mounts, and getting over the hump becomes harder and harder with each failure. Pitchers trying to hold a lead get tight, and batters facing a manageable one-run deficit get desperate, panic and swing for the fences.

It’s a good bet that the Orioles will be in position soon for that win that could snap the streak and take the monkey off everyone’s backs. Whether they’re able to finish the job, however, is the big question.