In a season that has been marked by failure to hit in the clutch and protect leads, one aspect of the Orioles' struggles has largely been minimized, simply because it hasn't been as easy to quantify.
Watch the Orioles long enough, however, and it's evident that an inability to make key defensive plays has been as crucial as any other ingredient in creating this mess at Camden Yards.
Thursday's 8-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics -- which dropped the Orioles to 24-54 on the season and 3-21-2 in series -- served as the perfect example of the Orioles' season-long defensive ineptitude.
While the A's, who had committed two more errors than the Orioles' 48 heading into Thursday, made several impressive defensive stops, the Orioles' fielders couldn't seem to get out of their own way.
There was the obvious: Left fielder Corey Patterson misjudged a fly ball in the second, turning it into a two-run double that gave the A's a 3-1 lead they never relinquished.
There was the subtle: two double plays that weren't and a double-clutched throw that, if released immediately, might have quelled a rally.
And there were the rapid back-to-back miscues: First baseman Ty Wigginton couldn't catch a pickoff attempt by starter Jake Arrieta in the fifth, which allowed runner Adam Rosales to move to second base.
Kevin Kouzmanoff then hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Josh Bell, who was making his major league debut and was starting at third partially to rest Miguel Tejada, who has been struggling in the field recently and was used as the designated hitter Thursday.
Bell threw wildly to Wigginton, who had to come off the bag to make sure the ball didn't end up in the seats. Rosales scored two batters later to give the A's a 4-1 lead.
Those were the only two official Orioles errors of the game, giving them 50 on the season, which is middle-of-the-pack in the American League. Heading into Thursday, the Orioles were ninth of 14 teams in the league in fielding percentage (.983) and 10th in defensive efficiency (.683), which measures the percentage of balls put into play that have been converted into outs.
What the stats don't show, however, are the plays that should have been made and weren't -- game after game throughout the season.
"There's no doubt that we do have to pick it up defensively," interim manager Juan Samuel said. "We have been able to overcome those mistakes the last few days, but most of the time, it's not going to happen. Anytime you give the opposing club four or five outs, those kinds of things are going to happen. We do need to play all-around solid baseball if we're going to continue to make progress."
On Thursday, the Orioles had a chance to turn two double plays that ended up in single outs because of slow exchanges between fielders.
Twice they turned double plays started by Bell, but each time second baseman Scott Moore was dangerously upended in a slow-to-develop play. The first, in the third inning, led to a collision between Moore and Daric Barton that eventually forced the A's first baseman out of the game with a right knee bruise.
In front of an uninterested crowd of an announced 15,712, the A's put the game out of reach with a four-run seventh against reliever Frank Mata, who retired just one batter. The A's were aided by a couple of shaky plays courtesy of center fielder Adam Jones.
With one out, Ryan Sweeney hit a RBI single to center, and Kouzmanoff attempted to go from first to third on the hit. With a good throw, Jones likely would have had Kouzmanoff, but he double-clutched and then threw wildly to third.
The next batter, former Oriole Jack Cust, hit a double that sailed over Jones' head.
"Pitching and defense wins games," Patterson said. "Especially if we are not scoring runs, which you tend to focus on. ... Bats kind of come and go, unfortunately. But defense and base running is something you do every day."
The porous defensive effort certainly didn't help Orioles rookie Arrieta, who allowed seven hits, four walks and four runs (three earned) in six innings. Arrieta (2-2) has lost two straight and struggled in his past three starts after winning his first two big league outings.
"You really can't worry about that. These [fielders] are good enough to where if they keep putting the ball in play, more times than not they are going to make the play. Some things didn't go our way defensively, but that's how it goes. You just got to continue to work and pitch out of jams as much as you can, and I think there were a few times in the game when I did a good job of that."
The Orioles' offense couldn't solve A's starter Trevor Cahill (8-2), who allowed his lone run in seven innings in the first, when Patterson hit a leadoff double and scored on Nick Markakis' sacrifice fly.
Cahill gave up only three more hits, all singles, including one to Bell in the seventh that was the 23-year-old's first major league hit.
Cahill struck out four and walked just one for his seventh straight win.
The Orioles lost for the second straight time and dropped to 5-4 on the homestand, thanks to an unsteady pitching performance, a quiet offense and a defense that continually failed to make plays when needed.