Throughout the many obstacles of a long baseball season, the Orioles clubhouse is usually flowing with optimism, even during the toughest moments.
But following a deflating 2-0 loss to the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon, there was a sense inside a tension-filled visiting clubhouse that opportunity might be starting to slip away as the calendar turns to September.
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A jarring sense of realism hit the Orioles (71-63) as they dropped to fourth place in the American League East standings for the first time since June 8, surpassed by the Yankees (72-63), who won their sixth straight home game thanks to a complete-game effort by right-hander Ivan Nova.
The Orioles managed just three hits — all singles — in Saturday’s loss. In the first five games of their nine-game road trip, the Orioles have scored just 13 runs, their lowest offensive production of any five-game stretch this season.
And after losing four of their past five and dropping each of the first two series of the road trip against the Boston Red Sox and Yankees — two division rivals that are fighting for postseason berths — the Orioles’ playoff hopes are dwindling.
With 28 games remaining in the regular season, the Orioles enter Sunday no better than four games out of the second AL wild-card spot.
“We need to play good,” Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy said. “We don’t have long. We don’t have a whole lot left. The back’s kind of up against the wall. We need to start playing good baseball.”
The Orioles have also lost seven of their past 12 series. They’ve now lost all three series this season at Yankee Stadium after winning all three in New York last season. They are just eight games over .500 for the first time since July 10. Baltimore is also 18-20 since the All-Star break, hardly the late-season performance of a playoff-worthy team.
“We still have the opportunity,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “We’re still playing the same teams that are fighting for the playoffs like we are. We know we need to start playing better and we need to win games. There’s a little bit of urgency to where we just need to get going. We know we’re still in it. It’s just a matter of putting together a good run at the end of the year.”
Despite one of right-hander Scott Feldman’s best performances since coming to the Orioles — he held the Yankees to one run and six hits over seven innings — Baltimore was unable to take advantage of Feldman’s fourth straight start of allowing two or fewer earned runs. Feldman has a 1.88 ERA over that span.
Three batters into the game, the Yankees took a 1-0 lead on Robinson Cano’s one-out RBI double to right field. But Feldman allowed just four hits after that. Feldman worked his cutter and sinker to induce several critical groundouts, including a pair of rally-killing double plays from Derek Jeter to end both the fifth and seventh innings.
“After the first inning, he got his feet on the ground,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Feldman. “He's got a lot of weapons. He was going to throw a cutter, he's got some fastball. He's very athletic, very competitive. He knows what works and what doesn't.”
Everything was working for Nova, who has back-to-back complete-game wins against the Orioles and is 2-0 with a 1.52 ERA in three starts against Baltimore this season. In his last start against the Orioles, he earned a complete-game win in a 3-2 victory on July 5.
The Orioles mounted just one true threat against Nova (8-4), putting the first two hitters on base in the second inning after Adam Jones was hit by a pitch and Matt Wieters hit a single. But Nick Markakis hit into a 4-6-3 double play.
“I think he had the best sinker I’ve seen him have in the many times we’ve faced him,” Wieters said of Nova. “He was down, he was able to use his sinker to get a lot of ground balls. His curveball is his pitch that I think has come on lately but his sinker what was able to get him some early outs and that was able to get him deep in the game.”
The Orioles didn’t get another hit until Manny Machado’s two-out single in the sixth and had just four baserunners after Wieters’ second-inning single. Hardy drew a full-count walk to open the eighth, but Wilson Betemit hit a ball into the hole at short that Jeter made a back-handed play on and turned into a 6-4-3 double play.
“We had a shot there at first and second early in the game and he got a double play ball, and he seemed to be able to dial up whatever he needed,” Showalter said. “Wilson hit a ball right on the button and they turned a big double play. We had him on the ropes a couple times and he got out of it with ground balls.”
Leadoff hitter Nate McLouth reached on an infield single in the ninth inning on a ball that hit off Nova’s glove, but Chris Davis hit a fly ball to the warning track in right field and Adam Jones ended the game with a lineout to Jeter at shortstop.
Now the Orioles must regroup to avoid a sweep and build some momentum heading into another important series in Cleveland against the Indians.
“We’re just not putting anything together,” Hardy said. “Pitchers are tough. … You just got to figure it out and make something happen. That’s what we need to do [Sunday].”