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Orioles suffer season-worst sixth straight loss, fall 3-2 to Royals to move back under .500

KANSAS CITY, MO. — As the Orioles' late-August tailspin continued Tuesday night with their losing streak reaching a season-high six games, their four-game series against the Kansas City Royals is beginning to look more like a mismatch than a rematch.

This is the first time the Orioles have met the Royals since last year's American League Championship Series, but these teams are heading in very different directions.

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A 3-2 loss to a Royals team boasting the best record in the AL put the Orioles below .500 for the first time in exactly a month. They still sit just 2½ games out of the second AL wild-card spot, but they're still quickly heading in the wrong direction in the standings.

The Orioles hadn't lost six straight games since Sept. 19-24, 2013, a streak that all but ended their playoff hopes that season.

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Tuesday's defeat was the Orioles' fourth one-run loss during their six-game skid. They have scored three runs or fewer in seven of their past games.

"We've got to figure out a way to score more runs," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "There's a reason [the Royals] are where they are. They don't give up many [runs]. They're taking people out of the rotation that would be in a lot of people's. So it kind of gives you an idea of one of the reasons why they're good. We beat the good ones before, and we'll have another challenge in the next couple of days."

The Orioles (62-63), below .500 for the first time since July 26, had their opportunities offensively, stranding five runners in scoring position on the night.

"It's tough when you get runners on base one or two times in an inning every game that guy up there is creating sawdust in the batter's box trying to get the guy in," said catcher Caleb Joseph, who stranded two in scoring position in the sixth inning. "It's not for a lack of effort. Everybody in this clubhouse is working their tails off trying to make a push here. Come out and get after it tomorrow."

The Orioles' top three run producers -- Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Manny Machado -- were a combined 0-for-13 with seven strikeouts. And perhaps no at-bat showed how much this team is scuffling offensively than Jones' to end the seventh inning.

After right fielder Gerardo Parra hit a two-out double to put the tying run in scoring position, Jones stepped to the plate to face Royals setup man Kelvin Herrera.

Jones swung wildly at a first-pitch 97-mph fastball way inside, then unsuccessfully tried to check his swing on a 98-mph fastball out of the zone before Herrera blew him away with a 100-mph fastball.

"What happens, too, is you get out of the strike zone," Showalter said of Jones' at-bat. "There's two parts to it. It's getting a pitch you can do something with and putting a good swing on it. Everybody's trying to be the guy. That's not always easy to do."

This Orioles team knows all too well how the defending AL champion Royals can shorten a game. They saw it first-hand last October when they were swept by Kansas City in four games.

They had their opportunities to break through earlier in the contest. After scoring two runs in the fourth, the Orioles stranded runners on second and third on a groundout by shortstop Paul Janish, who was playing in his first big league game since September 2013. Joseph flew out to right on a 3-1 pitch to end the sixth, stranding two more runners in scoring position including the tying run on third.

The starting pitching didn't help either. Gonzalez (9-10) lasted just 4 1/3 innings, marking the ninth time in 12 starts since returning from the DL that he failed to pitch more than 5 1/3 innings.

"It's been rough ever since I came back from the disabled list, but sometimes the game's not fair and it's a game of failure," Gonzalez said. "You've just got to stay focused and not think too much when you're out there. I think that's been the main point for me this year, in the second half."

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Since coming off the DL in late June, Gonzalez -- who allowed three runs on six hits, walked three and struck out one -- has a 6.46 ERA. Over his past five starts, Gonzalez has issued 13 walks in 26 1/3 innings.

"He's gotten through some periods before where he's gotten back into sync, but his command is the thing," Showalter said. "He's not a guy that's going to overpower you, but he's a guy when he's got command, he can make it look [easy], as you've seen, and we've seen, but his command of the fastball [is off]. … Command of the fastball is where it starts with every pitcher."

The Royals ran out to a 3-0 lead after three innings against Gonzalez, scoring the game's first run on Kendrys Morales's 14th homer of the season to lead off the second inning.

The Royals put runners at the corners with one out in the third when a walk to Ben Zobrist was followed by a Lorenzo Cain single.

Janish, helping to fill in for injured shortstop J.J. Hardy, fielded Eric Hosmer's grounder to the right of second base and charged Cain between the bases. But Cain held up in the baseline, forcing Janish to throw to first for the sure out. That allowed Zobrist to score from third.

After Morales drew a five-pitch walk, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas took a 2-2 pitch from Gonzalez the other way for a single to left, scoring Cain from second to put the Royals up 3-0.

The Orioles rallied for two runs in the top of the fourth off Danny Duffy (7-6) with a pair of two-out, run-scoring singles by Jonathan Schoop and Joseph, but they stranded two runners in scoring position to end the inning.

"It's takes a little bit of everything," Showalter said. "Everybody wants to throw one big circle around one game. It's a lot of things, a lot of things. You can't rob from Peter to pay Paul in this game. You've got to do it all."

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