Orioles beat writer Jon Meoli recaps the 13-8 loss Thursday to the Tigers. (Jon Meoli / Baltimore Sun video)
An Orioles team refreshed by Monday's impromptu day off spent most of this week in Detroit with its sights set on finding the good in its lousy start.
The team left Thursday after a 13-8 loss to the Tigers sealed a three-game sweep and its worst road trip since 2010 with a much firmer grasp on its reality.
"We really need to be better," center fielder Adam Jones said. "That's everybody — top to bottom. And I think everybody feels the same way."
The Orioles' roster remains stocked with nine former All-Stars, a handful of home-run kings, one of the game's brightest stars returning to form in Manny Machado, and a rotation that manager Buck Showalter assured here daily will be a good one when things come together. They've referred to it all week as the talent that we have, or some variation thereof.
Having tasted its potential reality this week in Detroit, a team that wouldn't allow itself to think about the turnaround it has insisted is coming now has to consider the consequences if it doesn't.
"Who knows when it is?" Jones said. "It could be tomorrow. It could be May 3. And if it's May 3, that's going to be some trouble. But you never know with this game. Tomorrow, we could come out and we have a 10-game homestand. We could win all 10 games and put ourselves in a different scenario."
He then referred to that hope as the "cliche, one-game-at-a-time crap." They've been a day away for many days now.
Thursday's daytime loss to the Tigers flipped the script on how they'd been losing lately. Instead of losing despite a quality start, which they did with Andrew Cashner on Tuesday and Kevin Gausman on Wednesday, Alex Cobb allowed ten hits and seven runs for the second time in two Orioles starts, only for the offense to tie a season-high with eight runs. Jones had three doubles and drove in a pair of runs. Machado had his second two-homer game, the only Oriole who can say he's done that all year. They still lost.
"It seems like when a small thing goes wrong, it manipulates itself into being a bigger thing now," Jones said.
Said Cobb: "We're missing on certain aspects of the game right now. When the offense is showing up, we're struggling pitching. We're pitching then struggling offensively. We need to get all on the same page and hit that stride together."
Showalter hoped badly that would happen Thursday. He wanted the bats to heat up with the weather — it was a sunny 45 degrees at first pitch — and wanted Cobb to erase the bad feelings of his Orioles debut. He wanted his team to return home from this six-game road trip with something, anything, to feel good about.
Instead, they're set to face a talented Cleveland Indians team four times having just clinched their first winless road trip of at least six games since getting swept in Toronto and New York from May 28 to June 3, 2010.
Struggling Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph, who entered Thursday with three hits this season, sat Thursday and could face a spell on the bench to get things back on track with the Orioles facing four right-handers this weekend.
"You don't have a choice," Showalter said. "It goes on, and it's relentless. You're playing good teams, and we were hoping. Nobody can use the schedule for an excuse this time of year, where we are. Everybody's giving you their best shot. We're getting ready to play as good of a team as there is in baseball. Going home is one thing, but I'd hate to sit on this road trip for a week like a football team has to. I know we've got another opportunity tomorrow to get some things moving in our direction."
Showalter always tries to protect against what he calls the "woe-is-me" mentality with his players, and it's clear that even in acknowledging how bad things have gone this month, there's little of that.
They all know it's been cold everywhere. There's little mention that the bullpen is without Zach Britton, or that reigning team Most Valuable Player Jonathan Schoop is dealing with a tricky oblique injury, or that Cleveland's visit will mean their first 23 games will feature 17 against last year's playoff teams in the American League. They are mostly looking inward, and beating themselves up over what they see.
"We're obviously down," Machado said. "We've lost some tough games but we've just got to stay positive. I think with the cold and everything else going on, it's been kind of tough. We've just got to stay positive. ... There's just no excuse on anything. We've been playing bad. We've just got to clean it up a little bit and things will turn around."
It's not without acknowledging the worst-case possibility — that seasons can indeed be lost in April — that they fall back on the hope that a baseball calendar can provide. They are always a day away from something better.
The newcomer Cobb said: "I know that seasons can get away from you early, but we realize it's still April, and there's a lot of ball to be played. I'm very impressed with how the guys know — they're so confident and not panicking because they know how good they are, and they know that one stretch, one game, can really get everything going."