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The Orioles are on a dangerous and slippery path right now. A dubious distinction of the first portion of the season -- the ugly start that got Sam Perlozzo fired --  was that the Orioles actually held the lead in umpteen games they eventually lost.

In this three-game losing streak, even the 27-run drubbing two nights ago, Baltimore has had the lead all three times and has gone on to essentially be out of it by its final at-bat.

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Last night, the O's were clinging to a one-run lead through the seventh inning before a combination of bad luck, a little shaky pitching and some fielding problems had them behind the eight-ball again. And it's not as if the bullpen is horrible, the way it was in the first couple of months. It's really the flip side of what good teams do -- which is get a hit at just the right moment or make a play when it's absolutely needed. The Orioles are doing the opposite. Last night, it was an ill-timed walk and a wild pitch by starter Steve Trachsel, who otherwise was having a good outing, and a bases-loaded, two-out boot by shortstop Miguel Tejada that led to a 5-2 loss to Minnesota.

When the Orioles were getting it together after the All Star break, there was a feeling locally that this team might be a free agent or two away from contending for a playoff spot next year. The belief is that a genuine power hitter could add enough wins to put the team in contention. That may be true, but the O's also have to show that they can consistently do the things that good teams do to win games rather than fall victim to the circumstances that lead bad teams to lose them.

*  Case in point: Yesterday, Cleveland was facing a dominating performance by Detroit starter Nate Roberston, who threw 8 2/3 innings of scoreless ball. But their own starter, Jake Westbrook, answered with eight innings of no-run ball himself. The Indians came up with three runs in the top of the 10th -- including a two-run hit from former Oriole Chris Gomez -- to win, 3-1, on the road. The Indians, who were struggling just a week ago, now have a 2 1/2-game lead over the Tigers in the AL Central. From late July to just about a week ago, Cleveland appeared to be in free-fall, going 5-11. But now they've won five of seven, including three over Detroit.

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