Long before anyone knew this Orioles season was going to develop into the mess that it did, the one thing that was clear was that the beginning of it was going to be very hard.
With 17 of their first 23 games scheduled against the five American League playoff teams from 2017, the first four weeks of the season proved to be as difficult a test as the team could have been handed.
That they went 6-17 over that stretch, which was further dragged down by a sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers and a home series loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, was as big an indication of where things would go the rest of the way as anything.
They had a .260 winning percentage then, and have a .283 winning percentage now. The ensuing few months of baseball hasn’t changed much with a break in the schedule, and now it will end with a similarly brutal schedule.
The Orioles have 19 games left this season, and four of their six opponents — the Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros — occupy AL playoff spots. That accounts for 13 of their remaining games, including all of the last 10.
In a season full of them, the Orioles’ last few weeks will be a series of benchmarks to carry into the first offseason of their rebuild.
Oakland comes to Baltimore on Tuesday at 87-57 with a team that has been built rather piecemeal in the way some of the local contenders of years past were: waiver claims, shrewd bullpen trades and some homegrown talent. They’ve also, somewhat notably, overcome a slew of pitching injuries to young starters in their system, but come out of it with a playoff team anyway.
The Yankees and Red Sox need no introduction — they’ve used their financial might to supplement around dynamic young cores acquired through trades and the draft, and are liable to be 100-game winners by the time the Orioles pay them each visits.
And when the Houston Astros visit for four games on the final weekend of September, they’ll bring a young core built through years of tanking to earn high draft picks and added to in trades from a deep farm system. All they have to show for it is a World Series title last year, and they’ll be tipped for another with a strong end to the season.
In between, the Orioles will get visits from two teams in transition — the Blue Jays and the Chicago White Sox. Toronto will basically be running a parallel transition to the Orioles’ and Chicago is proof that not all rebuilds happen quickly.
But as the Orioles built their recent winning teams, they did so trying to figure out how they could stack up to the powerhouses of the league. For a few years, they did. And the end of this season will be a reminder of just what they look like.