Sunday’s dramatic win over the Washington Nationals looked like the perfect tonic to snap the Orioles out of the offensive funk that plagued them over a nine-game stretch following a sweep of Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
Four days later, it appears more like a temporary diversion as the Orioles have now lost seven of their last nine games and have looked even worse in dropping three straight this week.
The offensive struggles have become all too familiar as the Orioles have scored three or fewer runs in 11 of their last 12 games. They’ve gone 6-for-63 (.095) with runners in scoring position in their last 11 games.
The pitching has followed suit in a two-game sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Angels and Thursday’s 7-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians. In those three games, Baltimore pitching has given up 42 hits, 25 earned runs, and nine home runs.
Even more deflating is the fact that Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen — the club’s most dependable starters — pitched poorly on consecutive nights, with their turns in the rotation typically circled as great opportunities to win.
And the defense? Well, it’s been as brutal as it’s been throughout the 2012 season.
It’s far too reactionary to say the annual swoon has begun or that the Orioles are finished — they’re still seven games above .500 — but a three-game losing streak in which they’ve been outscored 27-6 is enough to take the wind out of even the most optimistic fan’s sail.
Lately, the Orioles have looked like, well, the Orioles, meaning the club we’ve come to know for a very long time.
“We’ve had good stretches offensively, we’ve had some real good stretches pitching,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We’ve just got to get back to putting it together again.”
The Baltimore skipper is right. While their flaws are apparent in what’s been an unexpected run of good baseball over the season’s first three months, the Orioles have strung together multiple stretches in which they’ve pitched well and scored more than enough to win.
In fairness to the lineup, the Orioles have faced a daunting run of starting pitching, ranging from R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana to the Nationals’ outstanding rotation to C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver. Their break was supposed to begin on Thursday night with the recently-recalled Zach McAllister on the mound for Cleveland, but the Orioles weren’t able to capitalize aside from a J.J. Hardy home run in the fifth inning.
“We definitely haven’t been hitting with runners in scoring position lately, but we’ve got to keep grinding,” Hardy said. “It’s one of those things where, the more you think about it, the more you try harder and harder. That’s not what you need to do. It will turn around eventually.”
The Orioles will have three more cracks at Cleveland’s mediocre pitching that features a bullpen ranked last in the American League in earned run average. The problem is they will counter with the unpredictable trio of Jake Arrieta, Dana Eveland, and Brian Matusz after Hammel and Chen faltered the last two nights.
They need to quickly find that combination of solid pitching and timely hitting to take advantage of the next six games against Cleveland and Seattle, because the road gets more difficult after that.
Good teams take three out of four games from the Indians when playing at home and then follow it up with a series win in Seattle against one of the worst teams in baseball. The Orioles need to stack some wins before traveling to Anaheim for a four-game set with the Angels, who just finished beating their brains in for two nights at Camden Yards.
It doesn’t get easier after the All-Star break as the club will welcome Detroit to town for three games before leaving on another eight-game road trip taking them into late July.
By that point, we’ll have a good picture of whether or not the Orioles should be serious buyers at the trade deadline.
Every time you think the Orioles have been on the verge of collapsing this year, they suddenly snap out of it in a way that’s been both improbable and entertaining to watch.
Their win against the Nationals on Sunday looked like it was going to be the latest catalyst in propelling them to another winning stretch.
Instead, it now looks like a temporary regaining of their footing as they navigate down a slippery slope.
And if they’re not able to turn things around quickly, the slide could get much uglier in a hurry.
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear more from Buck Showalter, J.J. Hardy, and Mark Reynolds following Thursday’s 7-2 loss right here.