When the Houston Astros beat the Seattle Mariners early Tuesday morning, the Orioles' pursuit of the 2015 playoffs officially ended after weeks of sputtering and hoping.
With that elimination comes the reality that this Orioles club likely will undergo drastic changes in the next few months.
"This is the last six games with our brothers and we are just going to cherish the last six days that we have here," said center fielder Adam Jones, the longest-tenured Oriole. "Because we know free agency looms and we know this team will not be back exactly as it is when we leave on Sunday.
"So we'll just spend as much time with each other and go out there between the lines and play the games as hard as we can and leave it all on the field and leave it for the fans."
After losing three key players last offseason to free agency — outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, and left-handed reliever Andrew Miller — the Orioles have six more significant pieces that could leave this winter: infielders Chris Davis and Steve Pearce, catcher Matt Wieters, outfielder Gerardo Parra and pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Darren O'Day.
All but Parra — who was acquired at the July 31 trade deadline — have been with the organization since at least 2012, when the Orioles ended a 14-season losing skid and made the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
"If you look at it, our window was a three- to four-year window that everyone was talking about. 'OK, if we're going to do it, now is the time,'" closer Zach Britton said. "So, yeah, if we lose every single guy [to free agency], it's going to be a real challenge to have to replace them. You have to do it through the draft, you've got to do it through trades or do it through signing free agents. We've got to do it somehow."
After winning 96 games last year, capturing the American League East title and getting to the AL Championship Series, the Orioles must now win their remaining six games just to secure a fourth consecutive winning season. It's a disappointment for a team that felt throughout the year that they were just one good streak away from returning to the postseason.
Instead, they lost 15 of 18 from Aug. 20 to Sept. 7, basically sinking their chances.
"You can't make the playoffs when you play like that," Pearce said. "We all kind of went in the cellar together. It wasn't just the offense, it wasn't just the defense. It was a little mix of both."
Throughout the clubhouse Tuesday, there were large boxes for the Orioles players to start packing up their things. Jones acted like he was crying when he spotted the box between Davis' locker and his.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, the ever observant one, noticed the boxes, too.
"It's tough. The first time you see those boxes in the locker room, it's not fun," Showalter said. "I haven't seen those in a while, the last couple years."
The conversation inevitably turns to what happens now — what will Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette do to make this club a pennant contender in 2016?
"I'd love to be back. I'd love for everybody to be back," Pearce said. "We have a great group here. But there are a lot of uncertainties in baseball."
Right now, Showalter said he must concentrate on the team's final week; even if the games are virtually meaningless for the Orioles, they mean something to their opponents.
"I'm trying to stay focused on these six games. Obviously, there's the reality of that. It's self-inflicted and we knew it was going to be a tough climb," Showalter said. "We played meaningful games late in September. It's a habit we want to keep, but you want to get to the finish line."
Britton said he would like to see management make it a priority to re-sign all of the club's coaches, who currently do not have contracts for 2016. Then the attention should be turned to re-signing some of their own free agents. Because, Britton admits, it was deflating to see quality players who wanted to return walk away for better offers last year.
"It would have been nice to keep those guys based on where we got to last year, the ALCS. You feel like you are pretty close getting to the World Series if you keep that in place and, if not, add some guys. But it's not my job to keep those guys," Britton said. "But I thought we had a good chance of getting to the postseason as long as everyone did what they needed to do. Obviously, we didn't. And that's on everybody."
Jones, who has already said that he expects to talk to managing partner Peter Angelos this offseason about improving the 2016 club, said he believes most of the Orioles' pending free agents would come back if the right offers are made.
"Guys love it here in Baltimore. It's a great place to play. I know they all like being here," said Jones, who is signed through 2018. "But it's not all about all that. At the end of the day, you have to know that the franchise is going in the right direction, especially if you are going to commit four, five, six years of your life. … So I just want to see how the front office goes about it this offseason and how the players respond to the front office coming at them. Let's see what can be done."
One good thing about having a lot of free agents, Jones added, is that it should free up the club's payroll to spend on the players the organization believes can win a title.
"It's going to be exciting to see what goes on this offseason because I know when you have a lot of free agents that means you have a lot of money to spend," Jones said. "And so, hopefully, I can influence some officials to spend a little bit of that money."