OAKLAND, CALIF. — Look no further than the sixth inning of Friday's 6-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics to see why the Orioles, at 8-24, are tied for the worst record in baseball with one-fifth of the season behind them.
Their once-prolific offense erased a three-run deficit in the top of the inning on five singles — the first a bunt by center fielder Adam Jones, who was moved to the No. 2 spot to shake up the sleeping offense. With each single, the responsible batter looked to the dugout almost in disbelief as he ran to first. It was that notable a rally.
Only they trailed entering that frame because after Jones homered in the visitors' half of the first for one of his team-high three hits, the Athletics homered twice on towering blasts and hung four runs on Andrew Cashner in another backhoe of a first inning for the Orioles.
And they trailed after the sixth because an error on a routine ground ball to shortstop Manny Machado made beleaguered reliever Brad Brach need to get four outs in the inning, and Jed Lowrie singled home the eventual winning run before he could. Just as quickly as they put something together to maybe provide the spark that eludes them on a daily basis, it was gone.
"Our guys aren't into signs of encouragement right now," manager Buck Showalter said. "It's about trying to have more runs than them after nine innings, or 10, or 11 or 12. And that's really what they're looking at and we all are. You can always find something encouraging in games and we try to stay there, but our guys know what we've got to get better at. The same issues are getting us in trouble every night."
So they lost, as they've done in each of their past 10 road games, and 10 of their past 12 games overall. It's been 162 games since their formula of timely hitting, lockdown relief and just enough starting pitching led the same core of this Orioles team to a 22-10 record to start the 2017 season. They are 61-101 over what amounts to a full season's worth of baseball since.
Plenty changed over the slow march to fifth place last summer, and still more did over this offseason. Injuries aside, the mold has been cast for how these Orioles go about their business. They played many of the hits Friday before an announced 12,723 fans at Oakland Coliseum. The early deficit. The three errors. Just the one productive inning.
"We have to get back to playing 27 outs," Jones said. "We have not done that all year. The second that we give up an extra out to the other team, they hurt us."
Jones staked the Orioles to a 1-0 lead with his fifth home run of the season, but Cashner didn't do much to make it hold up. He walked the leadoff batter — the ninth time in 32 games that an Orioles starter has done that — then a possible double-play ball to shortstop resulted in an error when Machado's flip to second baseman Jace Peterson was to his arm side as opposed to his glove side, and Peterson's barehand attempt failed.
Khris Davis and Matt Olson homered to make it 4-1 quickly. Cashner threw 37 pitches in the inning.
Cashner settled in, but so did Athletics starter Daniel Mengden, who held the Orioles to three hits before he was replaced by Yusmeiro Petit for the sixth inning.
That inning, Jones singled, as did Machado, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and Danny Valencia. Despite drawing even at 4, they managed to leave runs on the bases, thanks to an inning-ending double play from Peterson, and their good feelings were short-lived.
Machado threw a changeup just off Davis' glove at first base on a ground ball by right fielder Stephen Piscotty for his fifth error of the season. Piscotty went to third on Jonathan Lucroy's double, and while it looked like Peterson bailed him out by retiring Piscotty on a fielder's choice at home for the second out, Lowrie's ground ball to the right side somehow made it past the dives of Davis and Peterson to put Oakland ahead, 5-4.
Showalter, who before the game acknowledged he's managing with a softer touch as the team struggles, wouldn't point fingers on the team's defensive lapses.
"I'm not certainly getting into critiquing players who are trying and sometimes they're in a position where they can do some things, but they're working at it," Showalter said. "They're doing as good as they can. It's just, we're not able to put all three phases of the game together on a consistent basis."
The Orioles got another chance, with Caleb Joseph doubling to open the seventh. He went to third on a grounder to shortstop by Jones, who was only retired on the play when Olson made a flailing swipe tag and held on when his glove brushed Jones' leg a half-step before first base. But Joseph was stranded on third when Davis flied out to the left-field wall with two on and two out to end it. The Athletics (16-16) added an insurance run in the eighth to make things more comfortable.
"You look at the ball that CD hit, you look at the play at first with Jonesy — the ball doesn't pop out of his glove, it stays in," Cashner said. "All the little things just aren't going our way. We've got to change that, and I've got to pitch better."