The Orioles aren't yet mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. But for all intents and purposes, they've played themselves out of any realistic hope to return to the playoffs in 2013.
The Orioles followed up their grueling 18-inning loss to Tampa Bay Sept. 20 with a lethargic 5-1 defeat Sept. 21, falling four games behind the Rays and three games behind the Indians, who currently hold the second wild-card spot (pending the outcome of Cleveland's Sept. 21 game). Additionally, the O's are 2.5 games back of Texas and a half-game worse than Kansas City, pending the result of the Rangers-Royals game Sept. 21. To make matters worse, the O's have dropped back into fourth place in the American League East, a half game behind the Yankees.
To sum up, the Birds are now lagging behind five other teams in a battle for two playoff spots, and are 2.5 games away from a postseason berth with eight games remaining on the regular-season schedule. There are not many ways to make those facts work in the Birds' favor.
The Birds' offense, in particular, has been the main culprit for the club's demise in St. Petersburg, Fla. During the 18-inning, nearly seven-hour marathon Sept. 20, while the Birds' relievers pitched their heart out -- allowing two runs in 12.1 innings -- the Orioles' offense crashed and burned. The O's didn't score after the seventh and put five runners on base in the final 11 innings, not more than one per inning. As the interminable game dragged on into the wee hours of the morning, the Orioles' hitters appeared lifeless and exhausted.
The O's didn't seem to recover, as they took the field for their Sept. 21 game less than 12 hours after the end of the previous one. The Birds' lineup included six of the same starters as the night before, so it's understandable if they were gassed. That group of six combined to go 3-for-21 Sept. 21, as Rays starter Alex Cobb pitched into the ninth inning and racked up 12 strikeouts.
The Birds were held scoreless for the first eight innings Sept. 21, extending their scoreless-innings streak to 19. The O's tallied their lone run in the ninth on an Adam Jones RBI single, but it was essentially a meaningless run because the O's had been trailing by five.
On the pitching side, Miguel Gonzalez's job was to eat up innings after the O's used nine relievers the night before. Gonzalez worked six innings, but sabotaged himself by issuing five walks, two of which preceded Desmond Jennings' go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth.
The four-game set in Tampa Bay was a make-or-break series for the Orioles ... and it appears to have broken them. To pass the Rays in the standings, the O's needed to win at least three of the four games, but they've already dropped the first two. At this point, the Orioles will get a wild-card berth only if they put together a winning streak and the other teams in the hunt collapse.
Posted Sept. 21, 2013 by Paul Folkemer