The Orioles head into this afternoon’s series finale at Yankee Stadium 8½ games back of AL East-leading Boston, the largest deficit they’ve faced all season.
It doesn’t seem that long ago when the Orioles won the first four games after the all-star break – a three-game sweep in Texas included in that stretch – and were 2½ games out of first place in the division.
They haven’t gotten any closer to the Red Sox since. They’ve only won five their past 12 series since then. They’re lost 20 of 34 since winning those first four games after the break.
That’s a recent track record hardly worthy of a legitimate playoff contender. And the Orioles are falling out of the race in a hurry, especially after dropping consecutive series to fellow postseason contenders Boston and New York.
Now they’re in fourth place in the AL East, a half-game behind the Yankees, with 28 games left.
The only good news that came out of Saturday was the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays lost in Oakland, so the Orioles remained four games back of the AL’s second wild-card spot.
When the Orioles left Baltimore for their nine-game road trip to Boston, New York and Cleveland, they did so with a division title still a possibility. They were 5½ games back.
But five games later, the Orioles have lost three games in the chase, and given the way they’re playing, the division looks like a long shot.
Let’s face it. Earning a wild-card spot will be difficult too, especially now that three teams are ahead of them chasing three spots and Cleveland – where the Orioles open a three-game series Monday – is just a ½ game back of Baltimore.
Simply put, the Orioles haven’t been able to score on this road trip. They were held to just three singles Saturday, so they didn’t have many opportunities to score. You couldn’t blame the pitching, not with right-hander Scott Feldman holding the Yankees to one run over seven innings.
Over the first five games of the road trip, the Orioles are just 7-for-31 (.225) with runners in scoring position. That includes three games in which the Orioles did not record a single hit with runners in scoring position.
“You look at it two ways,” Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy said. “When you have opportunities and you don’t score, it’s something to talk about, and when you don’t have any opportunities, and you don’t do anything, it’s another thing. We didn’t put anything together. We didn’t put any runs on the board.”
Yes, the Orioles have faced some strong pitching, but they actually beat Jon Lester on Thursday thanks to Chris Tillman, and beat up on CC Sabathia on Friday, scoring five runs off the Yankees left-hander.
And while the Orioles have said all the right things, they can sense their window of opportunity closing. There have been several quiet, empty Orioles clubhouses after tough losses, but Saturday’s game was different. Few players were available to speak with reporters after the game.
Even after the previous losses, the Orioles knew they still had time and games to make up the difference in the standings. They knew their head-to-head games with fellow contenders could help.
But after losing four of five to Boston and New York so far, the Orioles are suddenly hit with a sobering dose of reality.
“Everybody in there wants to win, so when it doesn’t happen you just come back the next day and try to make it happen,” Feldman said. “There’s really no science to it. It’s a game. And hopefully we can string a few wins together in a row and get hot.”