Of­fense is off its game again

Won­der­ing where fans have gone for biggest home games Ori­oles av­er­age just 3 runs in los­ing 2 of 3 to Blue Jays

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Peter Schmuck By Ed­uardo A. Encina

The Ori­oles drew an an­nounced 15,532 fans to Cam­den Yards on Mon­day night for the opener of a crit­i­cal show­down se­ries against the Toronto Blue Jays, a mea­ger fig­ure by any mea­sure for a home team that has spent most of the 2016 sea­son in first place.

If you want to know just how mea­ger, con­sider that the woeful Philadel­phia Phillies, who en­tered Wed­nes­day 17 games out of first place in the Na­tional League East, drew 16,056 to Cit­i­zens Bank Ball­park on the same night with com­pa­ra­ble weather.

Wel­come to one of the great mys­ter­ies of the 2016 sea­son: why a con­tend­ing team with a loyal and

O’s add depth to out­field

The Ori­oles claimed Drew Stubbs on waivers from Rangers and traded for the Di­a­mond­backs’ Michael Bourn

The Ori­oles’ three-game se­ries against the fron­trun­ning Toronto Blue Jays this week at Cam­den Yards served as a way to mea­sure what dis­tances the Amer­i­can League East di­vi­sion lead­ers from the O’s.

But with fewer than 30 games left in the reg­u­lar sea­son, and the Ori­oles cling­ing to a tie for the sec­ond AL wild-card spot, it’s still a mys­tery what this team truly is. And the Ori­oles’ 5-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays onWed­nes­daynight — mark­ing their fifth straight se­ries loss against a di­vi­sion op­po­nent — was an in­di­ca­tor of the in­con­sis­tency they’ve dis­played all sea­son.

Ori­oles right-han­der Yo­vani Gal­lardo ap­peared to be on his way to pitch­ing his way out of the team’s shaky start­ing ro­ta­tion after stum­bling into a

re­cently re­ju­ve­nated fan fol­low­ing is ranked 20th in the ma­jor leagues in av­er­age home at­ten­dance (26,791) through 66 games at Cam­den Yards.

The Ori­oles had fallen three games be­hind the Blue Jays in the Amer­i­can League East race over the week­end, but they en­tered the Toronto se­ries at Ori­ole Park still nes­tled in one of the two AL wild-card slots. They also are on pace to chal­lenge the all-time sin­gle-sea­son home run record and they play in one of base­ball’s most at­trac­tive and com­fort­able ball­parks.

Yet they drew a to­tal of 31,615 to the first two games of this se­ries, which is al­most 10,000 fewer than the Blue Jays av­er­age for one home game in Toronto. They fol­lowed by draw­ing just 16,161 on Wed­nes­day.

So, what is it? The un­pre­dictable weather that has all but turned the in­field tarp into an ev­ery­day player? The in­con­sis­tent per­for­mance of the ex­plo­sive of­fense, which can just as eas­ily score one run as a dozen on any given night? A post-Fred­die Gray tourism hang­over?

What makes the sit­u­a­tion even more in­ex­pli­ca­ble is the fact that the Ori­oles went into Wed­nes­day with the ma­jors’ third-best home record and came back from New York on Sun­day with the AL’s sec­ond-high­est av­er­age road at­ten­dance (31,628). Go fig­ure.

There’s no one an­swer. The sum­mer weather has been abom­inable, with games marred by rain, heat and thun­der­storms to se­ri­ously dent the walk-up num­bers.

The team has been weirdly in­con­sis­tent, reel­ing off three seven-game win­ning streaks and an 8-1 run dur­ing the first half of the sea­son that ac­count for about 40 per­cent of its vic­to­ries be­fore sag­ging to los­ing records in July and Au­gust.

And, yes, Baltimore has got­ten bad pub­lic­ity the past 16 months, but if that’s the rea­son, how­doy­ouex­plainthe­largenum­ber of Blue Jays fans who showed up Mon­day to out­shout their or­ange-clad coun­ter­parts?

None of that, how­ever, should have any­thing to do with the num­ber of fans the Ori­oles drew for the first two games of a Blue Jays se­ries that had the po­ten­tial to de­ter­mine whether the O’s would con­tinue to com­pete for the AL East ti­tle or fall by the way­side in the wild-card race.

It would be im­pos­si­ble to mea­sure fan con­fi­dence in the team, but it ap­pears that the Ori­oles have de­vel­oped some­thing of a cred­i­bil­ity prob­lem even though they re­main one of the top teams in the AL.

Maybe it’s the pa­per-thin or­ga­ni­za­tional pitch­ing depth. Maybe the on-again, offa­gain na­ture of the of­fense and the in­sta­bil­ity of the pitch­ing staff have sim­ply cre­ated a creep­ing fa­tal­ism that has in­creased with the re­cent in­juries to three of the club’s most im­por­tant play­ers.

There cer­tainly seem to be more grouchy fans on Twit­ter com­plain­ing about the Ori­oles’ sub-.500 sec­ond-half per­for­mance.

This is a touchy sub­ject in the Ori­oles club­house, where the play­ers also won­der where ev­ery­body went. But they know bet­ter than to com­plain about the fans when there is still a very faith­ful core that show­sup reg­u­larly and — if Tues­day night was any in­di­ca­tion — cheers a lot louder than their num­bers would lead any­one to ex­pect.

“All I can say is, when they’re here, it’s a lot of fun to play in front of them,” said vet­eran short­stop J.J. Hardy, whose name is chanted by the crowd each night dur­ing the an­nounce­ment of the start­ing line­ups.

There might be some fan dis­con­tent be­cause the Ori­oles didn’t make any dy­namic mid­sea­son ac­qui­si­tions, or be­cause base­ball op­er­a­tions chief Dan Du­quette didn’t ap­pear to have the mi­nor league depth to pull off some­thing big by the July 31 non­waiver trade deadline. But the Ori­oles spend more mon­ey­on­free agents dur­ing the off­sea­son than just about any­body.

They opened the sea­son with seven straight vic­to­ries and have been in first place for 111 of the 151 days of the sea­son so far. They have never been more than four games off the AL East lead.

This is a city that spent 14 straight years long­ing for a win­ning team and has now gone nearly five sea­sons with­out a los­ing one. Could a big chunk of the Ori­oles fan base be­come jaded that quickly?

It’s a mys­tery.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BALTIMORE SUN

Mark Trumbo breaks his bat in pop­ping out to sec­ond base in the fourth in­ning. The Ori­oles al­lowed three runs in the first and scored just one run un­til the ninth in los­ing to Toronto and fall­ing four games be­hind the Blue Jays in the AL East and into a tie with Detroit for the sec­ond wild card.

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