Oakland, Calif. — After each mounting loss in the record beside their team's name, Orioles players and coaches alike say it's simply a matter of them putting it together. Those elusive three phases coalescing will turn things around, they say.
But what happens instead is they continue to completely, and fully, fall apart.
Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics was their sixth straight and 12th overall on the road. It's their second straight six-game road trip without a win, this one taking them through Anaheim and Oakland and dropping them to 8-26, the worst record in the major leagues. Which aspect do they need to put together first to start clawing their way back to respectability?
"I understand it seems like everyone wants to figure out one thing to hang it around and it's more than that," manager Buck Showalter said. "Defensively we're not playing as well as we need to and obviously, some guys with track records are going to catch up and make somebody pay at some point. I just hope it happens soon, for their sake as much as ours."
The urgency is not only to save what's left of a season that's only one-fifth finished, but to save the players who sat and showered in another quiet losing clubhouse Sunday. They're losers of 12 of 14 overall, and 20 of their past 24 games. The reasons are lost on no one.
Said catcher Caleb Joseph: "We're not good on defense. We haven't been very good offensively. Our base-running has stunk at times. Just every phase, absolutely every phase. Starting pitching, relieving, closing, defense, outfield, infield — you name it. We can improve on everything. That's what it takes to win a major league game in the big leagues, and we're not consistent. One night, one aspect may show up. The next night, it's another one. You're grasping at straws when you can't put a game together, and we just can't put a game together right now.
"We've got to get better, period. Getting your brains beat in every night stinks. We've got to get better. Just do the fundamentals correctly, clean it up, all aspects."
This loss wasn't distinct from any of the rest. Pedro Álvarez homered off Andrew Triggs, the young-right-hander whom the Orioles released to sign the slugger for the first time back in spring training in 2016, to put the visitors ahead 1-0.
That's what he's there for: to hit. But because of injuries all over their roster, he has had to dust off his glove this year and played third base Sunday. That backfired in the fourth inning when he dropped a throw trying to cut down the lead runner on a chopper back to pitcher Alex Cobb, then threw the ball back toward second base into right field.
"I kind of just rushed myself after I dropped it, and didn't have a good grip on the ball and it just slipped out of my hand," Alvarez said.
It was a two-run inning, with the first of two Orioles errors ultimately proving to be the difference in the game. They have 26 errors this season, second most in the American League. Alvarez's error was costly.
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That's because an offense that produced all of five runs in the series and was shut out in 12 innings Saturday night didn't have a hit from the fourth inning, when Jace Peterson singled, until pinch-hitter Trey Mancini hit a 5-foot single to open the ninth. Mancini was on third base, 90 feet from tying the game, when Chris Davis flied out to right to end the game.
The Orioles return home for a nine-game homestand with a .220 team batting average, the lowest in the majors. The Miami Marlins are the only team with a lower collective OPS than their .650 mark. They're averaging 3.34 runs per game.
"Everybody has to do a better job — defensively, offensively, key situations," Álvarez said. "We just have to take it one task at a time. As simple as it sounds or as daunting as it sounds, however you want to view it. But we all know what we need to do, and there's only so much that saying that it will all click [does]. You try to act on it, but the reality is you just have to come in every day and put in the work and put our best foot forward and just continue to try to get better."
All that playing out Sunday meant the Orioles wasted a second straight quality start from Cobb, who allowed one earned run on five hits in six innings. They got three quality starts — two from Cobb and one from Kevin Gausman — on the trip, and lost all three.
"Tough times here," Joseph said. "But nobody is going to feel sorry for you. There's blood in the water right now, and there's a bunch of sharks coming after us. We've got to man up, grow up, start playing better. Period. No ands, ifs or buts about it. We've just got to play better. We're just not good enough right now."