ARLINGTON, Texas -- When the Orioles lost to the Rangers here Friday night they were left in an almost impossible situation.
They caught a break when both the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees also lost, but the downside was that two other teams, the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers, went past them in the standings.
With only five weeks left in the season, being 5 1/2 games out of first place is the least of the Orioles' worries. The four teams separating them from the top has them on the verge of extinction from the American League's Eastern Division race.
"I would say that having to overcome four teams is much tougher [than making up 5 1/2 games]," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "And when you put them both together, that's what really makes it difficult."
For the time being, you can hold off the concession speeches, but if the Orioles don't put the Red Sox and Tigers -- who both won yesterday -- behind them in the standings in a hurry, then the final weeks of the season will be rendered meaningless. The Orioles will play the Tigers, Yankees and Blue Jays at home in the past 10 games. Counting the three-game series Sept. 13-15 in Boston, they will play 13 of their last 19 games against teams they currently trail.
If the situation is unchanged, it will be close to impossible for the Orioles to win.
"You have to win every game," said Oates, "because if you lose, you're going to lose ground to two of the teams [ahead in the standings]."
With the Orioles, Tigers and Yankees playing each other at the end of the season, the Red Sox could prosper if they can pick up two or three games the next three weeks. The Red Sox also finish by playing the last 10 games at home -- against the Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins.
For the Orioles to remain a factor in the race they must be no worse than third going into the last 10 days of the season. To do that they'll have to play extremely well on the road for most of the next 3 1/2 weeks.
The Orioles have only six home games (Seattle, Sept. 6-8 and Oakland, Sept. 10-12) between now and the next to last weekend of the season. Considering that they were only 27-37 on the road going into last night's game, the schedule offers little encouragement for the Orioles.
Neither does the way they have been playing of late. They got only four hits in Friday night's loss and a crucial error by reliever John O'Donoghue provided the runs that made the difference in a 5-4 loss to the Rangers.
"It's the kind of lack of execution -- sometimes fundamentally, sometimes physically -- that has bothered us lately," said Oates. "And right now we're not hitting good enough to get away with it.
"If we had scored eight runs, nobody would have noticed, but we've been struggling with the bats. We're 2-and-2 in our last four games [prior to last night], but we very easily could have lost all four."
The situation facing the Orioles is not very appealing. They need the kind of run they had during June and July, when they wiped out a 10 1/2 -game deficit to move into first place. Anything short of that will not be enough.