BOSTON — The Orioles' 2015 season all but officially died here this weekend, buried somewhere between the team's frigid bats and the ugly fielding that marred their three-game series against the Boston Red Sox.
The Orioles went into Fenway Park needing to play some of their best baseball over their final 10 games of the regular season. Instead, it was some of their worst. As they were swept in Boston for the first time since 2011, the Orioles had their worst offensive series in the club's 62-year history, ending with a 2-0 loss to the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon before an announced 33,306.
The Orioles (76-79) return home for their final seven games against the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees, both jockeying for positioning in the playoffs, and Toronto eyeing an American League East title. The Orioles are 51/2 games back of the second AL wild-card spot. Their goal this season of improving on last year's remarkable trip to the AL Championship Series is nothing more than a pipe dream.
To record their fourth straight winning season, the Orioles must win six of their final seven games. Regardless of how they close, given the club's expectations, its record will be a letdown.
"You want to be a winning team, but if you're not in the playoffs, what does a winning season mean?" closer Zach Britton said. "Our goal is not to be a winning club. It's to be the club that wins the World Series. Maybe if you're talking to me five years ago, then, yeah, OK, we're happy with .500 or over .500. But not now, not after being in the ALCS last year. … No matter any way you cut it, if we're not in the postseason this year, it's a disappointment."
The Orioles were scoreless over three games in Boston, outscored 17-0 in the series and shut out in three straight games for the first time since July 29-31, 1957. It was the first time in franchise history one opponent shut out the Orioles in three straight games.
They haven't scored since the eighth inning of their 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals on Thursday , a span of 28 innings. Their scoreless streak is just five innings shy of the franchise record, set in 1957.
"It's frustrating," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Our guys are prepared. They work hard to be prepared. They know exactly what the guy's going to do, and they're still able to do it. Everybody's trying so hard to get it back with one swing, and this game doesn't work like that. It's tough to slow down when you're trying to push. That's why I tell my hitters: In basketball and football, you can push. In baseball hitting, sometimes you push too much and it gets worse."
On Sunday, soft-tossing Boston rookie left-hander Henry Owens kept the Orioles scoreless for 72/3 innings, allowing just three hits while striking out five batters. The Orioles had just three singles and a walk against Owens, who has thrown 151/3 scoreless innings against the Orioles in two meetings this season.
Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez allowed two runs on six hits over seven innings, recording his third quality start in his past four outings. But he didn't get any help from his offense — and not much from his defense, either.
The Orioles dropped two fly balls in the outfield, including one lost in the sun by Gold Glove center fielder Adam Jones in his first game back in six days. Neither miscue led to any runs, but they continued the Orioles' uncharacteristically sloppy defense. On Saturday, they committed three errors in an 8-0 loss.
Sunday's story, however, was unchanged from the previous two days' in Boston: the Orioles' lack of offense.
"I don't think anybody's been pressing," Jones said. "We've just been getting our butts kicked. The Red Sox have been playing really good the second half. Once they started going to that youth movement in the outfield, they've been playing really good baseball. So you hit the ball and you drive the ball, but no one's finding any space out there with those guys out there. We've just got to keep swinging the bats and stop crying and stop complaining — that's you guys [in the media] — and keep playing the game."
The Orioles' only hits against Owens (4-3) were singles — one each by Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Jones. They mounted their only threat against Owens in the sixth, when Machado hit a long single off the bottom of the left-field fence, stole second base and went to third on Jones' infield single. But Steve Pearce grounded out to third to end the inning.
The Orioles brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh when Machado hit a two-out double off reliever Noe Ramirez, but left-hander Tommy Layne struck out Davis on four pitches.
After Jimenez (12-10) walked Brock Holt with one out in the first inning, Xander Bogaerts singled to center but was thrown out attempting to go to second. Still, Holt ended up scoring from third — another two-out run against the Orioles — on Jimenez's wild pitch.
Boston's other run against Jimenez came on Blake Swihart's leadoff homer in the third. Swihart sent a 1-1 pitch into the Red Sox bullpen in right-center field.
"They've been tough because everybody's aware that we've been playing to hopefully get a spot in the playoffs," Jimenez said of the Orioles' three games in Boston. "It's really hard when you don't win any of these games, especially these kind of games that you came over here with the mindset that you want to win."
Nolan Reimold dropped a fly ball off the bat of David Ortiz in left field to open the fourth, but Reimold recovered to throw out the plodding Ortiz at second base. After Allen Craig's leadoff single in the fifth, Jones dropped Mookie Betts' fly ball in center field, putting runners at the corners, but Jimenez induced a groundout to second to end the inning.
"Yeah, that's terrible," Jones said of his error. "That's something that hasn't happened to me often. It happened today. Very frustrating. But Ubaldo picked me up. It was first and third, and he came back and picked me up. Ubaldo threw a hell of a game. It's just unfortunate that we didn't score for him."
Britton, who returned from a sore left lat muscle to pitch a scoreless eighth in his first appearance since Sept. 20, put the Orioles' position in perspective.
"It just seemed real uncharacteristic of us these last three games," he said. "Just a bad time for us as a team to not play very well. It's disappointing definitely going home knowing where we are. It's going to be an uphill battle. It already was, so I think everybody in there is pretty frustrated …
"We have seven games left, and if anything, you're playing for pride and you're playing to make it tougher on Toronto and New York. Toronto has clinched a playoff spot, but New York hasn't. We don't want anybody celebrating on our field, and that's the mindset we're taking into this homestand."