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Schmuck: With toughest part of Orioles' early schedule past, their troubles are far from over

Everyone knew that the first four weeks of this season would be a major challenge for the Orioles, and that certainly turned out to be the case.

The Orioles were scheduled to play 18 of their first 24 games against the five American League teams that reached the playoffs last season, which created the opportunity to store up a bunch of big wins for the summer or dig themselves a hole they might not be able to climb out of.

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They would have settled for somewhere in between those extremes, but they're still digging. They ended the series against the Cleveland Indians — the last of those five playoff teams — still searching for some semblance of the offense that used to pile up runs and bail out their struggling starting rotation.

Now, the rotation is the only component of the team that isn't in a funk and the Orioles already have wasted seven strong performances from their starting pitchers.

On Monday night, Kevin Gausman pitched one of the most impressive games of his career, but one mistake pitch was all it took to undo that. He allowed a two-run home run to Yonder Alonso in the second inning and that was a mountain too high for the Orioles lineup.

Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco allowed just one run over 7 1/3 innings and the Orioles lost for the ninth time in 10 games.

So, what happens now? The Tampa Bay Rays are up next and then the Detroit Tigers, which would seem to be a welcome diversion for the Orioles after managing to go 5-12 (with a rainout) against the top teams on their schedule. But what makes anyone think the Orioles will suddenly rise up and start winning, regardless of the competition?

Remember, in the six games against teams that weren't in the playoffs last year, the Orioles were 1-5, so the strength of schedule excuse doesn't really wash, and according to first baseman Chris Davis, it shouldn't.

"If we consider ourselves a playoff team, then we've got to compete with those teams, whether it's early in the season, late in the season, whenever," Davis said. "We've got to find a way to push a runner across. I hate to try to take anything positive away from a loss, but we're in these games all the way to the end. We've just got to find a way to scratch [out] a few more runs."

That's something of an understatement, of course. The Orioles have scored three runs or fewer in 16 of their 23 games. They can attribute part of that to a decimated lineup that is waiting for the returns of three key hitters, but the offense was sputtering before Jonathan Schoop went out with an oblique strain and long before Trey Mancini banged up his knee Friday night.

It might only be April, but the Orioles had better start hitting before that hole gets much deeper. Davis said they aren't at that point yet.

"I don't think so," he said. "Obviously, we can't keep going the direction we're headed right now, but there's still a lot of baseball left to play. But like I said, as an offense we've got to find a way to start scratching out some runs early in the game. Our starters have done more than their job keeping us in games and going deep in ballgames, and as an offense we've got to take a little bit of pressure off those guys and get them some runs."

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