Since the Orioles stopped playing the brand of baseball that propelled them to owning the major leagues’ best record in mid-May, their most basic consolation was that no matter how far they fell, it was never too far out of the playoff race.
This weekend's three-game sweep, which dropped them back to 71-72 and a losing record for the first time since Aug. 26, might put that to the test.
Sitting three games out of the second wild-card playoff spot and with three teams between them and the Minnesota Twins, who hold that spot, the Orioles might find the 19 games remaining too few to make a difference.
“Not good," Sunday night's starter, Jeremy Hellickson, said after the Orioles were on the wrong side of the Cleveland Indians' 18th straight win, 3-2. "We're still not out of it, but it's not a good time to come in here and play these guys, that's for sure. We're probably going to have to run off a few in a row and get back in it."
Said first baseman Chris Davis: "At this point, we need to win every game. There's a lot stacked against us. We know that. But we're still in the fight, and like I said, we have to win every game."
While Davis allowed that there were more positives to take from Sunday's loss than the preceding few, there are too many factors against the Orioles in the coming weeks to garner much optimism.
They arrived in Cleveland with a 7.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs, and that had already dropped to 4.4 percent before Sunday's loss. It'll be slimmer by the time they wake in Toronto on Monday.
Chief among the reasons for concern is the schedule, with 12 of the last 19 games coming on the road, where the Orioles have a .391 winning percentage at 27-42. No team chasing a playoff spot is worse away from home, and the Orioles have seven games in Toronto and New York looming before they return to Baltimore. After seven games there, it's two in Pittsburgh and three in Tampa Bay to close the regular season.
The other thing going against the Orioles is their sputtering offense. In August, they led the majors in nearly every significant offensive category, but through nine games this month, they're hitting .220 with a .636 OPS as a ballclub.
That one-third of those games came against Cleveland, with the best pitching staff in the American League, makes that difficult to evaluate.
"You can't really control what they other team is doing," Davis said. "You just have to game-plan as best as you can and prepare the way that you know how to prepare, and for us, we have plenty of things to go off of, plenty of things that we do well, and I think that's really where our focus needs to be."
Said manager Buck Showalter: "Of course it is [frustrating] when you know guys are trying so hard and pushing so much and not getting a return for it. I see what goes on from 12 o’clock till game time, the work they put in. They’re just not getting a return for it right now. There’s not that much time left, but turn the page. The last three games, I’m going to give a lot of credit to their pitching. That’s why they’re leading the league in pitching."
The pending end of the season seems to be starting to dawn on the Orioles, who even while acknowledging the caliber of the ballclub they just faced in their current plight, now know what the true class of the league will look like come October.
For them to make it there, the equation remains the same simple one they've echoed all year.
"It’s all about winning baseball games," Showalter said. "We’ve got to win games for it to matter and we didn’t do it here, so we’ve got to win tomorrow’s game and keep plugging away and grinding games and see if we can put something together for an extended period of time and see where it takes us."