The Orioles were outplayed by the New York Yankees in every facet of the game this weekend in the Bronx, outscored by 30 runs in their three-game series at Yankee Stadium.
But if there was any lesson taken from being swept at the hands of the American League East leaders after another lopsided loss, it's that this Orioles club must now concentrate less on who it is chasing in the division standings and more on solving its problems.
There's little doubt that the Yankees — a group of baby bombers who seem to be collectively coming of age — are for real, at least they were this weekend. The more perplexing question is where these Orioles are headed.
For now, that's fourth place in the division for the first time this season. On May 20, the Orioles led the division by a half-game, but after Sunday's 14-3 loss, they fell behind the third-place Tampa Bay Rays.
The Orioles have lost five of six games at Yankee Stadium this season, part of a plummeting road record that reached 10-20 on Sunday. The pitching staff has allowed 11 runs a game in its six games at Yankee Stadium this season, and the Yankees hit 12 homers during these three weekend games.
"Obviously, the scoreboard doesn't look pretty, standing out there ain't pretty, it ain't fun, but we all believe in each other," center fielder Adam Jones said. "I know the three days up here, the last four actually, have been frustrating, but let's get the hell out of New York, let's go to Chicago and redeem ourselves and just flip the script. ... Let's just get out of New York, everybody get a good dinner and come back tomorrow with that grinding attitude that we normally come and play with, and let's just turn this stretch around."
The most pressing, but clearly not the only, problem with the spiraling Orioles (31-30), who have lost four straight overall, including a Thursday setback in Washington, is their starting pitching.
Right-hander Kevin Gausman lasted just 3 1/3 innings, the latest in a run of substandard starts on the latest turn through the team's rotation. He allowed 14 base runners — eight hits and a career-high six walks — and had no strikeouts.
"It was just unacceptable on my part," Gausman said. "To walk [six] guys, that's not me. That's the one thing I'm the most frustrated about. I know we really needed some length out of me today to get us rolling and get us off to a good start, and that first inning, it just got away from me. I tried to make some pitches to minimize. Just bad."
Gausman's 6.49 season ERA is the second worst in the major leagues among all qualified starting pitchers, trailing only Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka's 6.55 mark. And no qualified starter has allowed more hits per nine innings as Gausman (12.72).
"Just wasn't very good," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Obviously, the combination of us not pitching well, he's not throwing well, and them swinging the bats well — they've been doing that for most of the season — it's a bad combination, but Kevin … really tough on the offense. We dig a hole there for us. It's hard to get any flow to your offense when we're constantly playing catch up like that."
Over the past five games, the Orioles rotation has an unsightly 14.54 ERA and a WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) of 3.00. Of the five Orioles starters, only Dylan Bundy was able to record a start beyond four innings — a six-inning, three-run performance in Friday night's series opener.
The rotation's strong start was anchored the Orioles' early-season surge to the top of the division — they were 22-10 on May 9 — but the starting pitchers' inability to get deep into games is splintering the club in many ways.
"I think the biggest thing is pounding the strike zone," Gausman said. "We've been walking way too many guys. And as a starter, when you get into a situation where you've had multiple guys who have gone short outings, you just try to be the one to stop the bleeding. We're putting a lot of pressure on those guys out in the bullpen and in effect because of that, we're having guys have to go up and down and having to make a lot of moves. So we're making it tough on those guys down there. That's one thing that as a starter, all of us need to kind of pick our stuff up definitely."
One day after right-hander Chris Tillman lasted just 1 1/3 innings — with six of the career-high nine runs scored against him coming in the first inning — Gausman struggled in the opening inning in much the same way.
"I think they swung at the first four pitches I threw, so obviously, they're all feeling pretty high right now, feeling comfortable," Gausman said. "That's one thing I wanted to do, make them feel uncomfortable. I just got into so many situations where I felt like I had to make a pitch, I had a guy 3-2. Just getting behind every hitter, it's going to come back and bite you. … Obviously, they're swinging well, but anytime you walk [six] guys in 3 1/3, that's not going to play at any level. I threw some real good pitches, but I was all over the place today. Pretty frustrating."
A day after taking a nine-run lead after two innings, the Yankees went up on Gausman 5-0 after one inning, sending everything into chaos, forcing an already unsteady offense to press and placing more stress on a mix-and-match bullpen that's had to account for much more innings than normal because of all the short starts.
"We're professionals, so you have to take it all in stride, with a grain of salt," Jones said. "You understand that you're down, but you have to understand not to give anything away. It's easy just to go up there frustrated and just give an at-bat away. The hardest thing to do is to go in there and stick your nose in there and have a good at-bat."
Five of the first six batters Gausman faced reached base as the Yankees were looking to swing early — four of their five hits were on the first two pitches of the at-bat — a rally that was fueled by Starlin Castro's two-run single and Gary Sanchez's two-run homer that immediately followed.
Gausman loaded the bases with three straight walks in the second and put two on in the third, both times with one out, but dodged damage with an inning-ending double-play ball each time.
In the fourth he didn't escape, putting two on with one out again on a walk to Aaron Hicks and a single by Aaron Judge before Matt Holliday's two-run single put the Yankees up 7-0 and chased Gausman from the game.
Two pre-game call-ups — right-hander Logan Verrett and rookie right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis — were forced into the game because of Gausman's early exit, and they combined to allow seven runs — six earned — including three homers, over 3 2/3 innings of relief.
As they prepared to leave New York on their way to Chicago, where four games and an opportunity to get back to winning awaited them, the Orioles were left to ponder whether their lopsided losses had more to do with how the streaking Yankees are playing or their own struggles.
"When you execute, the saying is good pitching beats good hitting," Jones said. "Right now they're swinging the bats. They're getting themselves in good hitter's counts and not missing the fastball. I mean, I've got the best vantage point and what I see is they're not missing. … We just need to execute a little bit better offensively, pitching, defensively, because you can't just blame one facet of the game. That's just not how it operates. It's a team game.
"Right now we're not playing good as a team, so like I said, just get out of New York. This place hasn't been too fun the last year or so. Let's get to Chicago and get on a winning streak and win an inning. That's the thing we need to start doing. Just worry about winning an inning instead of overall the game. Let's just win an inning."