The Orioles' four-game sweep of the American League West-leading Texas Rangers to close the first half of the season might have left the struggling club feeling a little better about itself, but it didn't take it off the pace set by the worst team in modern franchise history.
The 1988 Orioles, who dropped their first 21 games and finished with 107 losses, were 29-59 through 88 games, the same record as the 2010 Orioles.
As the second half begins Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards, the Orioles will be trying to separate themselves from such ignominy and dodge historical futility for the once-proud franchise.
"We're going to try to avoid it," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "I don't want to lose 100 games. I don't want these records for our team."
With their .330 winning percentage, the Orioles are on pace to finish with a 53-109 record, which would be the most losses since the club moved to Baltimore in 1954. The 1988 and 1954 clubs are the only two Orioles teams to hit the 100-loss plateau.
It also would represent the most defeats for any big league club since the 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks dropped 111 games. That team was 31-57 through 88 games, ahead of the Orioles' pace. The last American League team to lose more than 109 games was the 2003 Detroit Tigers, who went 43-119, one fewer loss than the 1962 New York Mets, largely considered the modern-day standard bearer for baseball futility.
"I honestly have never really thought about it, but it [stinks] to have that talk," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "I mean, you see the Nets in basketball, you see the Lions in football. It goes to show you, No. 1, sports isn't easy, and it's no fun to lose. It never has been. It was never acceptable to me. It's frustrating, definitely. But at the same time, no one is going to feel sorry for you. I don't feel sorry for myself. You just have to play the game, hope for the best and hope that we get better."
To a man, the Orioles say they feel things are finally starting to turn around, and they use the four-game sweep of the Rangers as proof. In the series, the Orioles outscored Texas 23-12 and got strong pitching performances from youngsters Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman and offensive contributions from a variety of players.
"We need to keep playing the way we are playing," right fielder Nick Markakis said. "We're now piecing it together, getting good pitching performances from some of the guys we expected to do good and we are starting to swing the bats. Hopefully, we can get some pieces back that we were missing in the first half, build on it and go from there."
In the next couple of weeks, the club could be as close to 100 percent as it has been all season. Two-time All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts, who has played in only four games this season because of a herniated disk in his back, is scheduled to accelerate his rehabilitation assignment at Double-A Bowie next week and is hoping to return by Aug. 1.
Designated hitter Luke Scott is starting his rehab assignment with the Gulf Coast Orioles on Thursday, while reliever Michael Gonzalez could return to the major league bullpen by late next week.
However, with the July 31 trade deadline looming, the Orioles also could lose some veteran contributors. Infielders Ty Wigginton and Miguel Tejada, starting pitchers Jeremy Guthrie and Kevin Millwood, and reliever Will Ohman are among the players who have attracted interest from other clubs.
Additionally, the club is expected to make a managerial hire in the near future, replacing interim manager Juan Samuel, who has led the team to a 14-20 record since taking over for Dave Trembley on June 4.
While stating his desire for the Orioles to avoid a milestone loss total for the franchise, MacPhail said he will remain focused on "what we're trying to build in the future," and, predictably, that he would make a move even if it weakened the current club, assuming that those acquired would help the organization going forward.
But that the Orioles are even in this position and flirting with historic organizational futility is a huge disappointment to MacPhail, who felt the team was poised to improve its win/loss record.
"It's been a trial in as many ways as you can imagine in terms of the wins and losses," MacPhail said. "It gets to be an effort for everybody to come in here and be as positive as they need to be in order to succeed. It's the worst summer that I've ever experienced professionally. The only silver lining is that we're doing what we have to do and there have been some encouraging signs along the pitching front."
MacPhail stated long before the season began that the organization was out of the first and most difficult phase of rebuilding. That was not the case for the 1988 club, a squad that featured too many veterans past their prime and too many youngsters not ready for prime time.