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Anyone catch Wednesday's O's game? It's been two brutal weeks for B-more

There's something not quite right with the Baltimore Orioles' half of this line score. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

If you’re a Baltimore Orioles fan, chances are you didn’t watch Wednesday afternoon’s series finale against the Mariners. Not in real time anyway. After all, it was a 3:30 getaway special in Seattle. Not to mention, after Tuesday night’s red-eye extra-inning gut punch, maybe you needed a little time to cool down. Instead of opening up a phantom Word doc at the office so that your boss wouldn’t catch you following the game online, you simply DVR'ed it and planned on checking it out later in the evening after work.

But at some point during the day, you couldn’t resist. You whipped out your i(mpossible to ignore)Phone, checked the score, and saw that the Birds were down 2-0 early. No shocker there, you thought. Day game after a night game. O’s offense can go dormant from time to time. Still plenty of baseball left to play. You were fully prepared to put the phone away and be done with it until DVR time -- until you made the mistake of actually looking at the box score. Because, you know, you’re a glutton for punishment.

Once you noticed the string of zeros under the “H” column, you became oddly intrigued. Much like back in elementary school, when you became oddly intrigued if a classmate forgot to turn in their super-duper most important grade-of-the-year book report. Schadenfreude, or so it’s called. Try as you might, you just couldn’t look away. You checked the phone a couple more times. Fifth inning, no hits. Sixth inning, no hits. After you clocked out and got into your car, you clicked on the radio and tuned into the broadcast. You know, just so you could torture yourself a little more. It was staticky because you were still in the parking garage, but you could vaguely make out the voice of Fred Manfra saying something that sounded like “no hits.” Or maybe it was “shrimp and grits.” Either way, the subtext was the same: The O’s were in trouble. Deep, deep trouble.

By the time you got home, the deed was already done. The Orioles had been no-hit by Hisashi Iwakuma, the first American League no-hitter in three years. You stomped into your house, grabbed the remote, and clicked on the TV. You calmly navigated to your recording queue, scrolled down to “Orioles @ Mariners”, and unceremoniously clicked the red delete button.

You never even watched the game.

In the space of just two short weeks, this is how bad things have gotten in Baltimore. As recently as 12 days ago, there was hope for O’s fans. Plenty of it. Sure, the Orioles were just a week and a half removed from being swept in the Bronx by the Yankees. Yes, they were five games out in the AL East. But things had changed. The rotation was coming around. Chris Davis was starting to mash. Matt Wieters and Jonathan Schoop were back from the DL. Most importantly, the team was winning. From July 25 to Aug. 1, the Orioles took seven of eight. The glass was so half-full that even the lone loss during that string -- a 9-8 heart-breaker to Detroit in which the Birds stormed back from a 7-0 deficit -- had fans in Charm City excited. Better yet, reinforcements were coming.

In the days leading up the to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, much of the talk on Baltimore sports radio centered on whether the Orioles should buy or sell. Following a July 24 loss in Tampa that sank the O’s to three games under .500 and seven games back in the division, the consensus was to sell. The Birds had lost four straight and the Yankees were playing out of their heads. Rather than hold on to hot commodities such as Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, Darren O'Day and Wieters -- all set to become free agents after the 2015 season -- the prevailing logic was that Baltimore should trade them to contenders in exchange for a bumper crop of prospects to help replenish a barren farm system that, back in March, was ranked 29th out of 30 teams by Baseball America. But then the O’s proceeded to go out and rip off five straight wins. It was arguably the worst thing that could have happened.

With each victory the "sell" sentiment dissipated, giving way to "buy" banter. Despite hovering around .500, GM Dan Duquette repeatedly insisted that his club was in it to win it, citing the team’s overall run differential (plus-48 through July) as proof that the Birds had the goods to compete. There was talk of a slugger like Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes coming to Baltimore to spackle the gaping hole in left field. Maybe a starting pitcher or a legitimate leadoff hitter, too. But with little to offer in the way of minor league currency, and a steadfast unwillingness to part with the young studs that liquidators were drooling over (Manny Machado, Schoop, Kevin Gausman), the blockbuster talk was just that -- talk.

Instead, on July 31, Duquette raided the sale rack, acquiring outfielder Gerardo Parra from the Brewers in exchange for minor league pitcher Zach Davies. The trade was lauded locally, as deals often are, for being an under-the-radar steal. In Parra, the Orioles were getting a proven top-of-the-order guy and two-time Gold Glove winner who, at the magical age of 28, was just now hitting his prime and would be a huge upgrade over the four-headed left field monster known as "Steveis Loughmold." At least that was the spin. In reality, believe it or not, Parra has been even less productive than his predecessors. Through July 31, Orioles left fielders had an anemic .609 OPS, the third-worst mark in baseball at that position. Since coming to Baltimore, Parra -- who’s played both left field and right field for the O’s but has essentially been Loughmold’s replacement in the lineup -- has a .564 OPS.

There’s no doubt that Parra, who carries a career OPS of .735, is a better hitter than he’s shown so far in Baltimore. Or that he’s got a certifiable cannon attached to his left shoulder that makes opposing runners think thrice about taking an extra bag. That said, it’s pretty obvious that in getting the seven-year vet -- who at the time of the trade was fourth in the NL in batting and had just come off a July in which he hit .435 -- the Orioles were buying high when, in retrospect, maybe they shouldn’t have been buying at all.

Are the 2015 Baltimore Orioles a horrible team? Nope. Not at all. But they’re not a great team, either. What they are, at least for this season, is a perfectly average major league baseball club. At least that’s what the numbers say. Through 113 games, which, in the sample-size business is commonly referred to as “enough,” they’re exactly one game above .500. Before Wednesday's no-hitter, they’d spent the previous 10 games alternating wins and losses. So why does it hurt so much to be an Orioles fan right now? Why, at this very moment, is the pain of bleeding black and orange so intensely acute?

Because the Orioles were close. Like really close. After winning 96 games in 2014 and making it to the ALCS without Machado and Wieters (injuries) and Davis (suspension), it was practically a foregone conclusion that with those three back on the field in 2015, the Birds -- who subjected their fans to 14 straight losing seasons from 1998 to 2011 -- would go deep into October again. But it hasn’t worked out that way.

While Machado has been the team’s most consistent hitter and Davis has almost singlehandedly carried the offense since the All-Star break, Wieters was slow to recover from Tommy John surgery and hasn’t been terribly productive since returning. The departures of free agents Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz, combined with Loughmold’s ineffectiveness, not only crippled the offense but also left a giant void in the clubhouse. The lack of a true leadoff hitter and regression to the mean by a rotation that seems to have overperformed last season haven’t helped, either. Still, diehards in Baltimore -- a storied baseball town that’s as provincial as they come and still believes in “Orioles magic” three decades after the fact -- held out hope. Until this week, that is.

On Sunday in Anaheim, the Orioles fell in 11 innings to the Angels after lefty specialist Brian Matusz intentionally walked Mike Trout and Albert Pujols to load the bases with two outs, then allowed a walk-off single to left-handed hitting David Murphy. Besides blowing a chance to gain ground in the American League wild-card race -- instead of moving to within one game of the Angels, Baltimore slipped to three games back -- it was the kind of gut-wrenching defeat O’s fans have become all too familiar with this season. The kind of heartbreaking history that just seems to keep repeating itself. Like it did Tuesday in Seattle.

Just two days after the Angels heartbreaker, O’s fans stayed up until the wee hours of the morning back east, enduring a three-and-a-half-hour nail-biter, only to watch their team fall 6-5 to the Mariners in extra innings. Between the déjà vu sensation, the close-but-no-cigar comeback (Baltimore trailed 5-2 until back-to-back homers by Adam Jones and Davis tied it up), and the unimpressive opponent (the M’s entered Tuesday with the AL’s third-worst record), not to mention another missed opportunity (both the Angels and Yankees lost), folks back in Maryland could almost hear the camel’s vertebrae fracturing under the weight of the giant plastic straw.

Then, just 14 hours later, the Orioles went out and got no-hit by a 34-year-old who’d never even thrown a complete game before. On the same day, the Toronto Blue Jays clobbered the Oakland A's for their gajillionth straight win, a game in which the Jays tallied 10 runs on nine hits -- or infinitely as many hits as the Orioles managed all day -- in the first two innings alone.

Check please.

Make no mistake -- what’s happening north of the border is only adding to the pain of Baltimoreans. While the Orioles were pretending to be buyers, the Blue Jays were actually being buyers. Like, for real. While the O’s were busy adding Parra and Junior Lake (because, you know, you can never have enough marginal corner outfielders with questionable plate discipline), all Toronto GM Alex Anthopolous did was reel in former Cy Young winner David Price and five-time All-Star Troy Tulowitzki. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.

Since nabbing Tulowitzki, Toronto has won 14 of 15, including their last 11.

As for Price, he has wins in his first two starts, striking out 18 and allowing just six hits in 15 innings. Clearly, the Blue Jays have bought themselves right back into the hunt: On Aug. 1, Toronto was in third place in the AL East, a game behind the Orioles and two games off the second wild-card spot. Just 12 days later, the Jays are atop the East, five games up on the O’s. That’s a six-game swing in less than two weeks. Even though Baltimore sits just two games out of that second wild-card slot, it doesn’t feel like it. Given the way they’re playing lately -- even Tampa Bay is now ahead of them in the standings as of Thursday morning -- it feels more like 20 to Orioles fans.

Even if Baltimore somehow manages to right the ship and secure a wild-card berth -- because let’s be honest, at this point the odds of someone other than Toronto or New York winning the division are roughly equivalent to the odds of Geno Smith inviting IK Enemkpali over for Christmas dinner -- their chances of advancing much, if at all, past even the one-game wild-card showdown would be slim (who takes the mound?). In the meantime, the window of opportunity to get max return on Davis or O’Day has expired, and O’s fans are worried about the long-term fallout of the club’s myopic deadline dealings. Duquette has made a point of noting that the Orioles would get compensatory draft picks for each free agent that rejects the team’s qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, and he’s right. But a draft pick is a far cry from an already emerging minor league prospect -- especially for a club like Baltimore, whose farm system is the way it is thanks largely to its prolific draft woes over the last 15 years. But that’s a story for another day. A day when Orioles fans aren’t in quite as much pain.