July 26, 2017 - The Orioles lose to the Rays, 5-1. (Denise Sanders, Baltimore Sun video)
After the Orioles continued to tread water in a muddled playoff race by losing their series at the Tampa Bay Rays, manager Buck Showalter refused to place added importance on the team's upcoming series in Texas — the club's final three games before the nonwaiver trade deadline.
On the surface, he wants his players to play with blinders on, to keep their focus on the field and not on the potential of going into sell mode before Monday's 4 p.m. deadline.
"They're all important, regardless of what some false deadline [creates what] some people perceive it as," Showalter said. "No, they're all important because we're trying to get into the playoffs and be the last team standing. So, to say some are more important than others is a really poor reflection on you as a competitor."
After a 5-1 loss to the Rays on Wednesday, the Orioles left Tropicana Field having lost two straight within an 18-hour span, and the frustration was evident in the visiting clubhouse as they contemplated what they must do to get back on track.
"[We have to] win," center fielder Adam Jones said. "Score more runs than them. That's the name of the game, score more runs than the other team. It's no rocket science. It's just we have to score more runs than the other guys. Right now, we're not."
The two wild-card spots create a murky race, giving teams hovering above and below .500 legitimate hope for the postseason. But since winning two of three in Toronto from June 27-29 — the last time they were .500 — the Orioles (48-53) have lost 14 of 23 games. They've gone 6-7 since the All-Star break, still struggling with mediocrity as decisions loom regarding the path of the franchise.
"Pretty crucial, just like most of them are," Orioles designated hitter Mark Trumbo said of the Rays series. "We did the best we could."
What made Wednesday's quick-turnaround loss even more frustrating is that the Orioles wasted a solid start from Ubaldo Jiménez. The right-hander held the Rays scoreless through five innings before yielding a two-run homer to Evan Longoria in the sixth.
"Yeah, but it's a part of the game," Jiménez said. "I felt good that I was able to compete and give the team a chance to be close on the scoreboard. But it's part of the game. You have to give credit to the other side. They played a good game. They played a good game. That guy pitched a really good game against a really good lineup."
The Orioles managed just one run off right-hander Alex Cobb, who pitched to contact and induced nine groundouts, allowing just four hits over seven innings.
"Certainly [disappointing] statistically," Showalter said. "The guy I know is in the top 10 probably, nine or eight now in ERA in the American League. That's hard to do, in the American League especially. That's a convenient excuse, but that's the type of game you'd like to figure out a way to scratch out a couple more."
Said Jones of Cobb: "We hit the balls hard. We had good at-bats off him. It's not like he went out there and he had 12 strikeouts. He threw strikes. We put the ball in play, just right at guys. It happens."
Now the Orioles hope to salvage their road trip in Texas. The Orioles swept a four-game series from the Rangers from July 17-20 at Camden Yards, which marked just the first time the Orioles have won at least three consecutive games since June 27.
If the Orioles front office is convinced the franchise's best move would be to sell off parts — closer Zach Britton still seems the most likely to be dealt because the late-inning lockdown reliever might net the team a haul that could help in the immediate and long-term future — the Orioles could look different when they return home Monday.
The Orioles hope to do everything they can in Texas to avoid that.