The first cut was the deepest, even if it was the only one of the three games the Orioles would play in the American League Division Series that was even competitive.
The last game was almost a foregone conclusion.
The Orioles were dominated by Texas Rangers pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and they were knocked out of the game in the second inning on the way to the 7-1 defeat that sent them home very early and propelled the streaking Rangers into the American League Championship Series against the winner of the ALDS between the rival Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins.
No one saw that coming – at least the part about them suffering a series sweep for the first time in 17 months – but there were all sorts of reasons why the Orioles stumbled through their first full playoff series since 2014 after emerging from their amazing 101-win regular-season performance.
The five-day layoff: When the Orioles won the AL East title, they “won” the right to skip the wild-card round and step right into the Division Series, which obviously was a mixed blessing.
It would seem totally intuitive to think it’s advantageous for the two winningest division champions to sit back and watch the other four playoff teams in their league fight it out in a best-of-three series, because – of course – it’s easy to lose a very short series regardless of your regular-season record.
The trouble with the alternative is that it’s apparently easy to lose your mojo going nearly a week without a game after playing almost every day for the past six months. Just ask the Dodgers and the Braves, both of whom struggled through their first two games after the layoff.
Experience really does count: The Orioles didn’t win all those regular-season games by accident, but their youth and inexperience was definitely a factor in the ALDS. Postseason newbies Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer never got comfortable on the big stage, and the O’s were on their heels from the start in Games 2 and 3.
Manager Brandon Hyde was hoping that the number of pressure starts those two made down the stretch would prepare them for the high anxiety of the playoffs, but the postseason is just different and all of the young starters were also in uncharted territory with the number of innings they pitched this season.
Losing “The Mountain” and Means: The Orioles did a good job of weathering the loss of shutdown closer Félix Bautista in August, but the elbow injury that led him to have Tommy John surgery did have an impact on the chemistry of the team heading into the playoffs. The announcement before the start of the ALDS that left-hander John Means had come up sore again and would not be on the roster for the first playoff round also was a major gut punch.
The lack of offensive momentum: Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference if the Orioles had gone right from the final regular-season game into their first playoff series, because they were already struggling at the plate when the season ended. They averaged just 2.6 runs over the last eight games and both Cedric Mullins and Ryan O’Hearn were in deep slumps, but it didn’t seem like a glaring problem because they pitched well enough to win six of those games.
When they scored just two runs in the ALDS opener before facing the two top pitchers in the Rangers’ starting rotation, well, what did you think was likely to happen?
The season ending this way is a massive disappointment, but this postseason will eventually be remembered as another stepping stone in the development of a young team that grew into a division champion and still has more elite minor league talent on the way.
Nothing to be ashamed of.