SCHMUCK: Reeling Orioles are close to the abyss
The Orioles weren't quite ready to admit it after another heart-wrenching loss, but they are not far from the abyss.
It's possible that the fans who endured 41/2 hours of pennant-chase angst on Sunday will be the last to view this Orioles team as a legitimate title contender.
If that sounds like a harsh assessment with more than a month left of the regular season, consider the unhappy circumstances that face this team as it heads out on the road to play seven games against two of the hottest teams in the American League.
The Orioles finished a long homestand that began with much promise with five losses in their past six games and a four-game sweep by the Minnesota Twins that was deflating on so many levels it might not be possible to list them all here.
Consider that the O's came into the Twins series with the fourth-best home record in the American League and head to Kansas City with a .410 road winning percentage that is in the bottom third of the league.
Consider that going into Friday night they had a 51-1 record in games in which they led after seven innings and a 54-0 record in games in which they led after eight innings. Twice in the past three games they lost a lead after seven and Sunday they lost after taking a lead into the ninth. There's no way to calculate the odds against all that happening in the same weekend — and the fateful circumstances that contributed to each loss — but they would probably make for a valuable lottery ticket.
Consider that the Orioles swept four games against the struggling Oakland Athletics to open the homestand and ended taking a net 11/2-game loss in the division standings. They're now 61/2 games out of first place and looking up at three teams in the race for the second wild-card berth as they look ahead to a schedule packed with contending clubs.
And while you're considering all that, J.J. Hardy is headed to the disabled list, which will poke a big hole in the best defense in the major leagues.
Adam Jones certainly wasn't sugar-coating anything after the latest galling late-inning turnaround.
"This is a gut check,'' Jones said. "We've got to go on the road and we've got to win and we've got to prove we are a playoff-bound team. Simple as that. No excuses."
If the Orioles didn't have bad luck the past four days, they wouldn't have any luck at all, but the sadder fact of the matter is that the Orioles are not playing pennant chase-caliber baseball right now. They can curse the fates and point to some of the soft hits that undid Darren O'Day and Zach Britton in a string of unlucky performances, but they still have to deal with the stark reality of the situation they created for themselves.
They have played the Twins seven times this season and never once scored more than three runs on the way to a seven-game sweep against a team that came to Baltimore ranked 24th in the major leagues in team ERA.
The Twins are a wild-card contender, though they didn't look like one when they arrived. They were two games under .500 and 31/2 games behind the Orioles in the race for the second extra American League playoff berth before they shattered the myth of the Orioles' .600-plus home winning percentage. Now, they are looking back at the Orioles and probably feeling pretty good about themselves going forward.
In the home clubhouse, Jones said he was willing to face the fact that the club's playoff future suddenly is teetering on the brink.
"These last 40 games, they're going to be a reality check,'' he said. "If we want to be in the playoffs, it'll show. If we don't, it'll show also. I think we can climb the mountain. It's just a matter of doing it. Me saying it doesn't mean nothing. We have to go on the field, between the lines, 25-man strong and do it."
So, now the Orioles have to forget what a great home team they used to be and figure out a way to forget how poorly they've played on the road this season. They aren't just going on the road for a week. They are going on the road to play four games against a Kansas City Royals team that has — by far — the best record in the American League and then head on to Texas to play the streaking Rangers.
The series that starts Monday night at Kauffman Stadium pits the two teams that played each other in the American League Championship Series last year, but — at the moment — only one of those teams bears any real resemblance to last year's model.