Though it would be difficult for the rebuilding Orioles to be surprised by anything that happens this season, they got a rude awakening when they opened the nonmathematical second half of the season this weekend.

They reached the All-Star break on a relatively high note and hoped to build on that in the four-game home series against the Tampa Bay Rays. Instead, they stumbled through Friday night’s 16-4 blowout loss before trading away winningest pitcher Andrew Cashner between games of a doubleheader that ended with another lopsided loss.


That’s about how long it took to realize this team faces a complex emotional challenge as it heads down the stretch. Manager Brandon Hyde tried to articulate it after Friday’s embarrassing loss featured two awful pitching performances, a couple of ugly errors and a generally flat offensive attack.

It’s not just that the Orioles are an inexperienced team that faces a significant talent deficit against almost every team they play. It’s that this is the point when the contending teams shore up their rosters with midseason trades and begin to ramp up the level of competition to position themselves for the pennant stretch.

“The good teams are going to get better, and that's the way the game goes,’’ Hyde said Friday. “All these playoff teams are going to be loading up, improving. Our job is to improve with the 25 guys that we have here and compete every night and I feel like tonight was not our best night, obviously.”

There could be a lot of nights like that coming up.

The Orioles play three playoff contenders on this homestand. They host the Washington Nationals on Tuesday and Wednesday before the Boston Red Sox visit for three games next weekend. The Rays and Nats entered Saturday holding the first wild-card position in their respective leagues and the Red Sox — who already have beaten the Orioles seven of 10 games this season — were just one game out of the second American League wild-card spot.

Then it’s back out west to play nine games against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres. During their last trip to the other coast, they lost six of seven games to the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners, and gave up an average of nine runs in those losses.

“We have a big challenge ahead of us and there are a lot of really good teams that have a lot of really good players,” Hyde said, “and we're in our situation, so the best thing to do is prepare and coach and try to compete every single night. That's all you can do.”

It isn’t just a matter of trying to compete with much superior teams. The Orioles have been doing that all season. It’s trying to compete with those teams while dealing with a multilayered emotional dynamic that isn’t even fully developed.

They have been more competitive of late, but now face the uncertainty of a trading period that could disrupt that fragile chemistry and send the manager and front office down a new path toward the formation of next year’s team.

Cashner was traded to the Red Sox on Saturday, at a time when Dylan Bundy is on the injured list, which could hasten the moment the front office decides to audition some of the promising minor league prospects the club held back during the first half.

That might add some intrigue at a time when the franchise has to depend on promotions like Saturday night’s Hawaiian shirt giveaway to excite the fan base. But it also would leave the team even more vulnerable when the Orioles face stretches like the 13-game span in early August that features seven games against the New York Yankees and three-game series against the Houston Astros and Red Sox.

The front office has made it clear from the start that winning would not be the organization’s top priority this year. Might want to keep that in mind as it becomes more obvious over the next couple months.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun