MILWAUKEE — Combine the Orioles' recent struggles on the road with the fact that they remain on the periphery of the American League playoff race with the season more than halfway done, and the four-game set beginning Thursday night at the Minnesota Twins is looking more and more important.
Another series loss would put the Orioles (40-44) in a particularly dire spot entering the All-Star break that follows, and once that comes and goes, decision time for all of baseball's front offices looms. The All-Star break quickly gives way to the nonwaiver trade deadline July 31, when executive vice president Dan Duquette has to determine whether to add to the club for a playoff push.
It all could approach quickly, especially for an Orioles team that seems like it's having trouble stabilizing of late.
"That's the first I've really thought of it, to be honest with you," center fielder Adam Jones said. "Obviously, we all know the midsummer classic is coming up soon. I think a lot of our fans can't wait for that, also so we can get a couple days away from the field, away from the game and come back fresh.
"But we've got four games in Minnesota. I think these four games are really important going into the break, so we need to concentrate and figure it out — get the heck out of Milwaukee, go to Minnesota, catch up on some Prince and get back after it. Because we're not out of it by a long shot. There's a lot of games left. The guys in here haven't quit. It's just right now we're going through a bad stretch."
That the Twins pulled off a rare three-game sweep at Camden Yards to set off the Orioles' recent spiral makes things a bit more complicated, but there would be problems no matter the opponent.
The Orioles offense has scored three or fewer runs in seven of its past nine games, and the starting rotation remains uneven in terms of its reliability. The bullpen could be stabilized by the return of Zach Britton, but even while out on his rehab assignments for the past few weeks, he's been able to tell what kind of situation the team finds itself in.
"It's getting frustrating," Britton said after an eventful but scoreless inning in his return. "I haven't been here the whole time, but I've been watching and keeping up with the guys. We're a better team. This is pretty much the team we had last year. When you think about where we were last year, we've added some pieces that we thought were going to benefit us, so this is a tough stretch. Teams in our division are getting hot right now, so we're going to Minnesota and you turn the page on this series. That's all we can do. Hopefully, we win that series and go home and get ready to roll after the All-Star break."