Five weeks ago, I sat in Buck Showalter’s pregame press conference as the Orioles welcomed the Tampa Bay Rays to town to conclude a nine-game homestand.
Fresh off a sweep of Oakland, the Orioles were again creeping toward the .500 mark with a 29-31 record and were trying to build momentum before embarking on a nine-game road trip. I casually asked Showalter the importance of seizing the opportunity to reach the .500 mark — after doing it two weeks earlier and then dropping five in a row immediately thereafter — for a young club trying to learn how to win.
“We understand the math of common denominators of teams that have a good season,” Showalter said at the time. “At some point, we’ve got to get to and pass that threshold as an organization.”
The Orioles won that night to move within one game of .500 as Jake Arrieta recorded his eighth win of the season. But instead of reaching and moving beyond the threshold as Showalter suggested, the club sprinted in the opposite direction to begin a five-week nightmare that’s shattered what once looked like a promising season on which to build.
Baltimore’s five-game winning streak came to an end the next evening, and the club has managed to win two consecutive games just once since then. Twenty-three losses in their last 29 games have the Orioles on pace to lose 97 games — one more than they did a season ago.
Brian Matusz and Zach Britton have since been sent to the minors.
Starting pitchers have completed seven innings just once since June 11.
The Orioles have batted .197 with runners in scoring position over the stretch.
Fast-forward to Friday night and watching Arrieta — the lone member of the so-called “cavalry” remaining in the rotation — once again struggle with his command as he allowed five earned runs in five innings in a 6-5 loss to the Indians almost felt surreal. His earned run average has risen to 5.10 after the nine-game winner was considered to be making modest progress in the first half of the season.
“Each time I go out, I’m trying to win a game for the team, and not being able to do that in my last (three) starts, it’s not a good feeling,” Arrieta said. “Pile that on top of the way that things have been going as a team, it doesn’t feel great. But we try not to really let that bother us. Just continue to work and try to get back in the win column.
“It’s going to come sooner or later, we know that. We’ve got too much talent in this clubhouse to let things continue to go the way they are going.”
Everyone shares the sentiment: the manager, players, media, and fans alike. They can’t continue to play this poorly.
Nine straight losses, 14 defeats in 15 tries, and a 2-15 record since Andy MacPhail casually quipped to season-ticket holders on June 25 that the Orioles could lose their next 33 games and still be ahead of last year’s team at the same time. Even with an awful 36-54 record after Friday’s loss, this year’s club is still seven games ahead of the 2010 Orioles, an astonishing indictment of just how poor that group was through the first 90 games.
But like watching a slow-motion version of a multi-car pileup on the freeway, it keeps getting worse and there’s nothing to be done to stop it other than to wait for the smoke to clear.
Impossible to turn away, but very difficult to watch.
And, as Arrieta said, it’s not a good feeling at all.
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Jake Arrieta, Buck Showalter, and Adam Jones following the Orioles’ 6-5 loss on Friday night.