When Orioles manager Buck Showalter approached the media after Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, the first question he was asked started with a statement about the obvious focus being placed on the club’s lackluster offense.
Showalter quickly interrupted, “By who?”
The obvious, and unstated, answer: By anyone who has watched this team squander continual opportunities and its playoff chances in a September in which they’ve stumbled to a 10-11 record.
Sunday’s anemic showing – the Orioles managed just three hits and one run, including a lone single against Rays starter Enny Romero in his major league debut – put an exclamation point on their recent offensive malaise. The Orioles are hitting .163 on their nine-game road trip and have scored four runs or fewer in 15 of their last 19 contests. From the eighth of Friday’s 18-inning affair until Sunday’s ninth, a span of 29 innings, the Orioles scored two runs on 10 hits.
“We are facing good pitching, but you know me, that’s no excuse. We are just not getting it done,” said center fielder Adam Jones. “Everybody here, it’s not lack of effort. Sometimes it’s just how the game unfolds. And, on our side, it’s the wrong time for it to unfold.”
The Orioles (81-74) have now lost four straight and on Monday will attempt to avoid being swept in four games by the Rays.
But, after losing 15 of their last 26 games, the Orioles have much bigger concerns than a series sweep.
With seven games remaining in the regular season, the Orioles have fallen five games behind the Wild-Card-leading Rays (86-69) and 4 1/2 behind the Cleveland Indians, holders of the critical second Wild Card spot.
More daunting, there are now three other clubs – the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals – that are between the Orioles and the Indians. What began as an uphill climb on Friday when they trailed the Rays by two games is now a full-fledged mountain-scaling.
“Obviously, we are up against the wall at this point. All we can do is try and grind out our last seven games and see what happens,” said second baseman Brian Roberts, a 13-season veteran who has never played in a playoff game. “We’ve had a decent chance to control our own destiny a little bit and we haven’t done what we needed to do yet. At this point, we certainly don’t have a lot of options left except to win every game we have left.”
The Orioles can’t win, however, if they don’t score runs. The team has plated just two in their past two games. The lone score on Saturday was set-up by the Rays’ failure to catch a fly ball; on Sunday, the Orioles only run scored in the ninth inning when catcher Matt Wieters hit a two-out fly that struck the B-ring catwalk in domed Tropicana Field and bounced into fair territory.
By stadium rules, the catwalk is in play so Wieters was awarded a double and an RBI when Danny Valencia scored. Valencia’s two-out base hit was the Orioles’ first since Manny Machado singled to lead off the game.
The 22-year-old Romero, who lasted 4 2/3 innings in his first major league game and second outing above Double-A, and five Rays relievers combined to throw a three-hitter.
“We see guys all the time we’ve never faced. So that wasn’t the problem. We’re just having trouble coming up with hits,” Roberts said. “You tip your hat (to Romero), he did a fine job. But I certainly don’t think that was our biggest problem.”
The lack of offensive production wasted another solid start by right-hander Scott Feldman, who gave up three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out seven in 6 1/3 innings.
Feldman, who is 12-11 overall this season and 5-5 with the Orioles since he was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Cubs on July 2, allowed a home run to the first batter he faced – David Dejesus – in a 10-pitch at-bat.
“We threw him every pitch I had and he fouled off some of my better pitches and put together a good at-bat,” Feldman said. “And then I left one over the middle and he hit it.”
The Rays scored twice more against Feldman in the sixth on an RBI single and a sacrifice fly. It was the eighth straight game in which Feldman allowed three runs or fewer. He is 3-2 in that span; the Orioles have scored 12 total runs in Feldman’s past five starts.
“No pitcher is every going to take our offense for granted,” Feldman said. “I think pitchers and the league recognizes what a good offense this is.”
The Orioles’ powerful bats have carried this team for much of the season, but not this month. As a unit, the offense is hitting .228 and averaging 3.71 runs a game in September compared to a .263 average and 4.72 runs per game in the season’s first five months.
“One of the things people miss about the American League East is how good the starting pitching is. Obviously, nobody's been more consistent than Tampa,” Showalter said. “We've had some good offensive games against good starters and so have they. It's just we're in a period when you compound those two things, good pitching and not being on top of your game at the level that our guys have spoiled us with this year. That's why it's probably so attention-getting, because of how good our guys have shown they're capable of being.”
It’s also so attention-getting because there’s a week remaining in the season. And, short of a collapse by five other teams, the Orioles’ year will soon be over.
“I don’t think we can call around, call different teams and ask them to lose their games. We just got to control what we can control,” Jones said. “It’s like the saying Jim Thome used to use. ‘Sometimes you are the bug, sometimes you are the windshield.’ Past couple days we’ve been the bug. So we need to get back to being that windshield.”