Next month is crossroads for traveling O's


If Sunday's victory over Boston was the most important game of the year to date for the Orioles, then the next four weeks represent the most pivotal stretch of the season.

Even before the 10-1 win, manager Phil Regan boldly proclaimed the series finale against the division-leading Red Sox as "our most important game of the year." Had the Orioles not won, and dropped 10 games off the pace, it would have been difficult to continue talk about challenging for the division title.

But now the Orioles face an even more formidable challenge. And unless they rearrange their act, they will be dismissed as contenders before the end of next month.

During the next four weeks, the Orioles will play 18 of 25 games on the road, where they have performed like vagabonds. They will play every day except for the three-day All-Star break, July 10-12.

They will play against a mixture of teams -- two contenders (Kansas City and Texas); a pair of pretenders (Toronto and Chicago); and a couple of teams suffering from the small-market syndrome (Milwaukee and Minnesota). Suffice it to say that the Orioles must improve on their track record markedly if they envision any hopes of playing ball in the fall.

After beating the Brewers last night, the Orioles improved to 8-18 (.308) on the road. If they remain even remotely close to that pace in the next four weeks, 1995 is history.

During the next week, the Orioles play two of the three American League teams (Milwaukee and Toronto) with losing records at home. The other is Minnesota, which has played equally bad at home (8-19) as on the road (9-19).

The Brewers (four) and Blue Jays (seven) have combined for 11 straight losses. And with the Blue Jays in Boston for two more games, it is imperative that the Orioles not lose any ground while they're in Milwaukee.

Complicating the scenario is that the Orioles have to catch New York and Detroit before contemplating a run at the Red Sox. Since the Tigers and Yankees are butting bats, there is an opportunity to gain ground on at least one of those teams.

With almost 40 percent of the schedule behind them, the Orioles

will be hard-pressed for opportunities. Each one missed represents lost time, if not games in the standings.

After the four games in Toronto this weekend, the Orioles will play the Blue Jays four more times at Camden Yards, July 31-Aug. 3. It's safe to assume that at least one, and maybe both, will be out of contention by then.

Regan's game plan is to get within "four or five games by the All-Star break." That's a realistic goal -- but one that had been in effect for two weeks, and the only result has been lost time.

Clock these next four weeks closely, especially the 18 games on the road. Breaking even, which is all the Orioles could do with the Red Sox over the weekend, won't cut it any longer.

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