For much of this season, the Orioles met reasonable expectations by treading water around the .500 mark and sometimes playing very good baseball against some of the league's best teams. But they have been slowly sinking in the standings in June, and they reached a new low Thursday night against the Cardinals.

The Orioles got smacked around again, losing, 9-6, as the Cardinals left Baltimore with a three-game sweep. The Orioles are now a season-high eight games below .500, and they trail the Yankees by a dozen games in the AL East. At least we now know that the Orioles are definitely going to be sellers at the trade deadline.

To make matters worse, Brian Matusz, thought to be the team’s best pitcher entering the season and one of the young cornerstones of the Orioles’ latest rebuilding job, was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk after he allowed eight runs on nine hits Thursday night before exiting the game in the fourth inning. After giving up 14 earned runs in his past two outings combined, Matusz has watched his season ERA skyrocket to 8.77.

With Matusz going down to the minors, the Orioles have only two of the five starters from their Opening Day rotation still taking the mound every five days. Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen were also optioned to Norfolk -- Bergesen is back, but in the bullpen -- and Zach Britton joined the Orioles after Matusz was put on the disabled list during the first series of the season. No wonder the bullpen has been so busy; that's 60 percent of the rotation.

Can things get any worse for the Orioles, who have gotten minimal contributions from veterans Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee and whose All-Star second baseman, Brian Roberts, is out indefinitely with a concussion? Recent history suggests they probably haven’t yet, and their upcoming schedule is unforgiving.

The Orioles begin a rough road trip Friday that starts in Atlanta, veers west to Texas and wraps up in Boston before the All-Star break. Those teams have a combined .562 winning percentage.

This trip is pivotal for the Orioles, who risk falling out of contention completely. More importantly, they face irrelevancy despite being aided by the NFL lockout. If the Orioles keep struggling -- and the Ravens get back to work -- they will be forgotten by August.

But with Buck Showalter still steering the ship, and the Orioles offense heating up, there is still hope that the Orioles can turn things around and make a second-half push for .500 -- something we will all watch with great interest. For that to happen, the Orioles need to hit rock bottom soon so they can start swimming upward.

Your turn: Have the floundering Orioles reached their rock bottom?