I don’t mean to throw water all over the Orioles’ 5-2 homestand.
It got them to one-game under .500 for the season. The sweep of the Kansas City Royals sure helped them gain ground in the American League Wild Card race. And rebounding from two losses against the Detroit Tigers to even that series showed something.
“You have a good series against Kansas City then Detroit pops you a couple times. It’s a challenge to come back. It was a big win for us (Saturday) night,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes I’m right, but I felt good coming into (Sunday’s) game. To get back and finish 5-2. But we’ve got a tough road.”
Road – that’s the key here.
The Orioles are supposed to win at home – they are now 35-23 at Camden Yards (a .603 winning percentage) — especially against a club like the Tigers that are clearly targeting the future.
So, this week was a test, like most in the baseball season.
But it wasn’t a crucial test, a potentially season-defining exam. That starts Monday night in Anaheim, Calif.
I’ve written a bunch of times in the last couple years that you have to take the baseball season as a marathon and not a sprint.
But these next 10 days are the climb up a mountainous hill with a few more miles to go.
Ten consecutive games against American League West teams on the road. Two of those teams, the Los Angeles Angels and the Seattle Mariners, are elbowing the Orioles on the fringes of the Wild Card race.
“It’s gonna be big. I mean, it’s always a challenge to go to the West Coast. Because of the difference of the time and stuff like that,” Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez said. “You have to get adjusted. But we have to find a way to get some wins.”
In September, the Orioles get a heavy dose of the AL East: 24 of their final 29 games are within the division.
From now until then, though, it’s all about the AL West: 19 of the Orioles next 22 are against the Angels, Mariners and Oakland A’s, all at or below .500, like the Orioles.
This should be the time that they truly decide whether they are contenders or pretenders.
Although, Showalter, as he is wont to do, downplayed the road trip’s significance.
“So, is the season over if we don’t do well on the West Coast? No,” Showalter said. “Our guys know what’s at stake the rest of the season and that road trip includes that.”
I understand that sentiment, but also understand this: The Orioles don’t have recent history on their side out west.
In the previous six seasons under Showalter, the Orioles are 30-39 on the West Coast. They were 3-8 last year, which included a four-game sweep by the Mariners.
Add in that the Orioles have no off days on this trip — they go to three cities in 10 days before a travel day at the end on Aug. 17 — and it’s a real gauntlet.
What makes matters worse is that the Orioles are an awful 20-33 (.377 winning percentage) away from Camden Yards in 2017. Only the A’s have won fewer on the road this season in the American League.
The Orioles must come to play in the next 10 days.
“It’s important to us because we’re going to play really good teams,” second baseman Jonathan Schoop said. “You want to go out there and play to win, play hard, leave it out there, win as many games as we can to push our way to the playoffs. Because that’s our goal, win the playoffs and win the World Series.”
Yes, a 5-2 homestand is solid. Creeping back almost to .500 by winning seven of their last nine is encouraging. Outscoring the opponent 39-20 in seven games looks good for both the offense and pitching staff.
But we’ve seen good spurts before ruined by ugly ones. We’ve seen opportunities come and go during this head-scratcher of a year.
The Orioles are running out of games. They are running out of ways to win outside the brutal division. They need to get themselves closer to the second Wild Card in 10 days, not further away, or even status quo. They need to get in front of some of the teams in their way like the Angels and Mariners.
This 10-day trip is the biggest test of the season so far.
Frankly, this 10-game trip may end up determining this season for the Orioles.