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Schmuck: Orioles were ripe to be no-hit

Seattle Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma pitched the game of his life Wednesday afternoon, but the Orioles were a no-hitter waiting to happen.

The planets were certainly lined up in that direction after Tuesday night's extra-inning loss gave way to a road trip finale that featured a watered-down Orioles lineup that appeared to be in a hurry to catch the team bus to the airport.

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So, they swung at just about everything and Iwakuma quickly figured out that the last place he needed to throw the ball was in the strike zone. He struck out Adam Jones in one at-bat with four pitches that weren't even close. He turned the Orioles' aggressiveness — or, as I like to call it, their self-defeating lack of plate discipline — against them so masterfully that the no-hitter seemed like a no-brainer by the sixth inning.

Let's not get too excited here. It was only one game and it's not like anybody should be surprised that the Orioles were vulnerable to a medium-velocity spin doctor with a full bag of tricks. But we're getting close to crunch time and the Orioles have squandered a golden opportunity to squeeze the American League East standings by wasting several chances to pick up ground on the suddenly slumping New York Yankees.

The Orioles have not been a good road team this year, but they looked like they were going to get back from the West Coast in pretty good shape before their rotation started throwing back early leads and the homer-centric offense left too many long gaps in the line scores.

It didn't help that the road trip ended with Matt Wieters unavailable with a hamstring injury and J.J. Hardy on the bench after showing signs of fatigue the previous couple of games. The Orioles lineup featured several players with significant hitless streaks and only a couple of hitters willing to wait and see whether Iwakuma was ever going to throw them something in the strike zone.

Maybe none of that mattered. Maybe Iwakuma was just too good. He certainly was in total control, but he wasn't exactly the most obvious candidate to pitch baseball's fourth no-hitter of the 2015 season and only the seventh against the Orioles in their 61-year history. He had never even pitched a complete game in the major leagues before Wednesday.

The Orioles are built to swing from their heels. They've been riding on the shoulders of slugging first baseman Chris Davis for the past few weeks as he brought back memories of his terrific 2013 season with a shower of mammoth home runs and a run-production surge that has boosted him to the top of the major league RBI rankings.

Third baseman Manny Machado also has been very productive out of the leadoff spot and Jones came into Wednesday with homers in his previous two games against the team that traded him to the Orioles. But inconsistent offensive production has been a problem all year.

That shouldn't have been all that difficult to predict after the club lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis to free agency over the winter and tried to replace their offensive production with the likes of Travis Snider and Chris Parmelee.

Baseball operations chief Dan Duquette was named 2014's Major League Executive of the Year after the Orioles reached the American League Championship Series, but his golden touch has not been much in evidence this time around.

He did make a credible trade at the July 31 nonwaiver deadline, acquiring solid all-around corner outfielder Gerardo Parra to add some on-base potential at the top of the lineup and a slick glove in right field. But the decision to trade away veteran reliever Tommy Hunter appears to have weakened one of the best bullpens in the game at just the wrong time.

The Orioles are still in the playoff hunt and they can only hope that they benefit from some home cooking starting Friday night at Oriole Park, but it is fair to question whether they really are dressed for success in October. It would be a fair question even if they hadn't been undressed by Iwakuma on Wednesday.

Right now, they're banged up and their once-steady rotation is hit and miss. They can still put dents in the bleachers with anybody, but the problem is all that dead air in between.

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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