First, the good news for the Orioles: They won't have to play the Rangers again until August, and if their series then is still meaningful, the Orioles can consider that a small victory.
More good news: The Orioles head into their weekend series with Tampa Bay tied for first place in the AL East with the Rays at 20-12.
OK, now for reality. If things go wrong for the Orioles this weekend – and they don’t figure out their suddenly struggling pitching staff – they could conceivably end the weekend in fourth place in the division. Toronto (18-14), which is 17-9 against teams other than Baltimore, is just two games back heading into a weekend series against Minnesota, and the Yankees are just 2½ back going into a three-game tilt against Seattle.
“We’re 40 games in, it’s not a big deal,” the Orioles' Mark Reynolds said. “We’re going out every night and playing.
“There’s a long way to go,” Reynolds added. “I know you hear it all the time, but we’ve got a lot of games to play. You win some, you lose some, that’s the way it goes. But we’ve just got to get more consistent at getting key hits and making the key plays. We didn’t do it this series, but I’m sure if you ask anyone here, I’m sure it’s behind them. We’ll move on."
Reynolds is right. It's way early. The Orioles have played so well early on that even despite this week's swoon, they're still eight games over .500. But we've all seen those May/June slides that quickly shift the Orioles from contender to pretender.
If the Rangers did anything in taking three of four from the Orioles this week at Camden Yards, it was cast some doubt into the Orioles' sustainability. Texas scored 36 runs in four games here, and – outside of the Orioles' home run binge in Game 1 of Thursday’s doubleheader – the Rangers outplayed the Orioles in every facet of the game.
Granted, the Orioles have had success against the Rays. They were 9-9 against them last year, and Tampa Bay is just 7-9 on the road t his season, compared with 13-3 at Tropicana Field. And the Rays come to Camden Yards equally lukewarm as the Orioles, losers of four of their past five.
But if the Orioles are going to right their ship, it’s going to be because they’ve righted their pitching. Baltimore has brought up left-hander Dana Eveland, a contact pitcher who will give up his share of hits, to pitch tonight’s series opener. Left-hander Brian Matusz (5.91 ERA, two quality starts in six outings) and right-hander Jake Arrieta, who has allowed four or more runs in three of his past four starts, follow on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
That will be the key. After getting 10 quality starts in a span of 12 games, the Orioles have received just one in their past five.
And if not, the Orioles could quickly be back in a familiar place, looking up from the bottom part of the AL East standings.