Jake Arrieta

Jake Arrieta (Getty photo / May 29, 2012)

No, tonight's game against the Toronto Blue Jays isn't a must-win situation for the Orioles, but it's something of a must-find-himself game for Jake Arrieta, who has been either really good or pretty bad through the first two months of the season. Seldom in between.

His last time out, he was coming off one of the three starts this year when he has been truly overpowering, so it was tempting to think he had turned some kind of corner after giving up 13 earned runs over 10 innings in his previous two starts.

No such luck. He allowed 11 base runners over 5 2/3 innings and struck out just two batters as he continues to struggle intermittantly with his command. He's slotted as the No. 1 starter in the rotation, which has put him in a Jeremy Guthrie situation. He's now 2-5 and just one loss away from the major league lead.

This is a product of his inconsistency combined with a place in the rotation that often pits him against the best starting pitcher on the opposing team. Tonight will be no exception when he takes the mound opposite Ricky Romero, who is 5-1 and a vastly superior pitcher to the guy -- Drew Hutchison -- who made the O's offense look silly Monday night at Rogers Centre.

So, assuming that the Orioles don't rise to the occasion and score eight runs off Romero, it's going to be up to Arrieta to step up and keep the Blue Jays off the scoreboard.

Here's why that's got a decent chance of happening. Arrieta has been a different pitcher on the road. He is 2-1 with a 2.77 ERA on the road and 0-4 with a 6.43 ERA at home. The Orioles, meanwhile, are 3-1 behind him on the road and just 1-5 behind him at home.

Here's why it really, really needs to happen. The Orioles have lost six of their past eight games and have dropped three straight, including the final two games of a series against the Royals that featured three very good crowds at Camden Yards. The fans are starting to come back and the last thing the Orioles need to do right now is to come totally unraveled on this trip and give them no reason to keep coming out in June.

Somehow, they've held onto a share of first place throughout this disappointing stretch, but the standings -- top to bottom -- have tightened up considerably, with the Yankees now looming just a couple games behind the O's and Rays and just 4 1/2 games separating first from last in the AL East.