Questions — and answers — about the reasons for the Orioles' dismal start

Sunday was another silent clubhouse for the Orioles after they were swept out of Oakland and returned home with a second straight 0-6 road trip to their name.

There was no breaking down of the game, as there was Friday when they felt they could have had a different result, nor was there the disbelief present after they lost Saturday when Kevin Gausman pitched nine scoreless innings.


There was just resigned silence. They have all the same questions as everyone else, though they also know they hold the answers in their play and if we're being truthful, probably know the answers as it is.

But here are the five questions facing the Orioles as another miserable road trip ends and they return home for three games against the lowly Kansas City Royals, four against the Tampa Bay Rays, and two against the Philadelphia Phillies.

1. Who is responsible for this?

It's the question everyone wants to know, and one that simply answering "Everyone" doesn't exactly satisfy. But that's really the case.

Clamoring for someone from management, whether field or front office, to be made an example of is simple, but how responsible are they for players playing badly? It's true that their messages don't exactly resonate anymore, especially in this veteran clubhouse, but if the players are as above instruction and criticism as they make themselves out to be, shouldn't they be playing at a higher level to prove it?

Instead, it's the worst offense in the American League and a pitching staff that doesn't do middle-of-the-road. They either have good or bad starts. And defensively, they're as bad as anyone around. The coaching staff has done the "more with less" thing for a while, but after years of maximizing the talent there, it's clear that's not possible with this group. The splatter of shooting blame will touch everyone.

2. What are they even playing for?

With 128 games remaining, the Orioles have to answer a simple but daunting question starting this week — what are they even playing for? The concept of professional pride has begun to crop up more often in the clubhouse, but it's not as if no one had it as they slinked to an 8-26 start.

To put the Orioles' start to this season in perspective, we took a look back at 1988, when they set an MLB record by beginning the season 0-21. After 34 games, the team was 5-29 then. The Orioles are 8-26 this season.

But for better or worse, it might end up being one of the motivating factors for the rest of the year without any tangible team goals. Pending free agents need to perform for their next contract. Young players need to accumulate stats for their arbitration cases. And the veterans signed to long contracts, especially the pitchers, can't let their performance dip so badly that the fan base turns on them, a la Chris Davis.

That none of those motivations include winning games isn't an accident. But maybe the individual players realizing what's at stake for them will mean the Orioles happen into some wins as a group.


3. Just how big a problem was not having Jonathan Schoop?

Of all the injured Orioles in the first month of the season — Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Tim Beckham, Colby Rasmus and Zach Britton — it's the All-Star second baseman who has proved irreplaceable. Beckham's absence has been tough to take, as third base isn't exactly a position of strength for the Orioles, but middle-infield depth is a black hole in the organization and none of the minor league free agents or waiver acquisitions they've tried to fill his place with have been up the task.

Many organizations use the Latin American market to inject middle-of-the-field athleticism into their farm system. The Orioles' strategies of largely eschewing that market means the only infielder who is highly rated on their prospect lists is Ryan Mountcastle, who played his way off shortstop last year and is on a circuitous path around the diamond toward his left field or first base profile. He will join a long list of Orioles minor leaguers who profile there defensively.

So without Schoop, who is a strong defender because of his arm even as his range has lessened in recent years, the likes of Luis Sardiñas, Jace Peterson and Engelb Vielma haven't been up to the task. They've also missed his bat, even if it wasn't at its best in the first few weeks of the season. Whether he can turn this team around himself is unlikely, but another qualified major leaguer will make these Orioles look a lot better.

4. What happens next time they need to tap into their depth?

To that note, the team's overall depth has to come into question. They've had to use three minor league starters on the 40-man roster to serve as long-relief cover but not pitch, but the problems are more on the other parts of the roster. Their cadre of infield acquisitions have proved unqualified. They are playing DH-only types at third base every day. Rule 5 outfielder Anthony Santander has had to play almost every day with Rasmus out.

An offseason spent trying to figure out the pitching staff — which really didn't come together until spring training — meant that a lot of the contingencies set were either neglected or botched. They had better be hoping they don't need to tap into it at this scale again.

5. What do you do with Chris Tillman?

This is a more here-and-now problem, but also one the Orioles have been dealing with for a full year at this point and might be reaching a head.


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Tillman is being skipped in the Kansas City series, but the Orioles have a doubleheader Saturday and that complicates things. On the one hand, a starting pitcher who is on the roster can't not pitch. It's also impossible to think that on a day where they need 18 innings of pitching that they would count on Tillman not to have another short start.

He's been trying to figure it out. No one denies that. But the Orioles have been married to figuring it out along with him for a long time and nothing has held. How they handle him in the context of this lost season could come to a conclusion this week.