It was the easiest test of the year and the Orioles still flunked it.
I'm talking about the eight-game homestand that ended Tuesday night at Oriole Park, and I'm not talking about the easiest test so far. I'm talking about the easiest span of the entire 2010 season, if you base that judgment on the performance and standing of the Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals when they arrived in Baltimore.
Things only get more difficult from here. The Orioles head to Texas to face the first-place Rangers, then to Washington to face the surprising Nationals, a team they never expected to be looking up at in this, supposedly a turn-the-corner season in the Andy MacPhail rebuilding program.
Nobody needs to tell you what happens soon after that. The next round of games awaits against the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and another surprise team — the Toronto Blue Jays — that came into the season considered to be in worse shape than the Orioles.
That's why it was so important for the Orioles to rise up when the Mariners arrived in a terrific slump, and they did manage to win two of three and achieve an inspiring victory in the rubber game of the series Thursday. That's why things really seemed to be looking up when they won their third straight game Friday night against the struggling Indians and took a two-run lead into the ninth inning against them Saturday night.
It was in that ninth inning that the homestand took an emotional swing from which the Orioles and manager Dave Trembley might not recover. The eight-run bullpen meltdown turned this eight-game litmus test into another chemistry experiment gone bad, and the club had to rally Tuesday night just to split the homestand.
The Royals, you might recall, recently fired manager Trey Hillman, which only made the hot seat even hotter for Trembley, whose job security has been an issue since the final months of the 2009 season.
This homestand certainly didn't help, though MacPhail has so far been adamant about not scapegoating Trembley or the coaching staff for a collapse that can be attributed to equal parts bad luck with injuries and offensive underachievement.
MacPhail famously called out the struggling hitters a couple of weeks ago, saying his patience was not endless and "this is not a suicide pact," so it's certainly fair to wonder when that mind-set might be applied elsewhere in the clubhouse.
I suppose if you really wanted to put on rose-colored glasses, you could make the case that the Orioles have pretty much played .500 baseball since the season-opening 2-16 tailspin, but it's almost impossible to sugarcoat the worst record in the major leagues and an offense that has to consider four runs in a game a breakout performance.
There's always the temptation to believe that the pendulum has to start swinging in the Orioles' direction at some point, but it seems like every time they experience a positive shift in momentum, some new misfortune quickly crashes down on them.
They have had more than their share of bad luck during the early weeks of the season, but what has happened goes way beyond that. When you start the season by going 1-for-40 with runners in scoring position and two outs, or when you score two runs or fewer in 18 of your first 38 games, it's pretty hard to curse the fates with a straight face.
It's also tempting to believe Adam Jones and Nick Markakis will start making up for lost time and Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold will return in a few weeks and "The Plan" will find its way back on track. That's possible, of course, but the Orioles have not even gotten around to the first thing you have to do to get out of a hole.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) on Fridays and Saturdays at noon and with Brett Hollander on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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