MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

And just like that, the Baltimore Orioles face win or go home this evening when they take on the surging Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas.

Certainly the Orioles, who haven’t been swept in a series in nearly two years, have dropped the first two games of various series this season, and, in fact, have won three games in a row 18 times this season, but not with the end of the season looking them in the eye. So, clearly, the Orioles won’t be taking a win-three approach tonight. All they’re looking at is one game at a time.

It’s called survival, and, frankly, from the moment this best-of-five American League Division Series with the Rangers began on Saturday afternoon, the Orioles have been struggling to survive, first with the bats on Saturday and then with dreadful pitching on Sunday.

This is not a knock on the Orioles, but a short series exposes everything, and the Orioles have been exposed, not because they’ve done anything wrong but because this powerful Texas team has had it on all cylinders.

This Orioles team is one of most enjoyable and likable teams I’ve ever followed because of the way they play, the way they seem to genuinely like and play for each other and the way they never quit, as we saw again on Sunday in the late innings. It truly is one helluva good team — over 162 games. But the pitching is spent, and in a short series against a team that hits the way the Rangers hit, there is nowhere to hide.

The Orioles bats have been quiet over the past two-plus weeks, but bats, even big bats, slumber; even Texas has experienced it this season. However, experienced, solid pitching does not slumber, particularly in a short series.

It starts with starting pitching, of course, everybody knows that, but particularly in a short series it starts with starting pitching. The Rangers’ starting pitching has been good, and because it has been good, the Rangers’ bullpen has been able to fill the same roles it has filled for the majority of the season.

When starting pitching is not good in a short series, such as it was not good for the Orioles on Sunday, everybody else on the staff is on call and is a fish out of water — pitching in the third inning after being accustomed to pitching in the seventh, starters in the bullpen, dogs and cats in love … so, yes, it’s discombobulated and out of whack.

(Nor does it help on the back end when the best closer in baseball is out of commission until 2025.)

Had John Means not experienced elbow soreness following his third regular-season start coming off Tommy John surgery, the Orioles could have gone with Dean Kremer, now tonight’s starting pitcher, out of the bullpen in the third inning yesterday, and maybe that game plays differently.

That the Orioles were relying on a guy like Means who had just returned from Tommy John surgery, though, is another hot-button indicator that there is a severe lack of pitching depth on a team that just won 101 games.

Kremer, if you don’t already know, has Israeli dual citizenship, and he said yesterday while his mind has clearly been on the war in Israel and his family, he insisted to manager Brandon Hyde he still wants the ball tonight, assuring his manager he will be focused.

Prior to the trade deadline, the Orioles traded four of their top 30 prospects, none of whom were ranked in the top 10, for Shintaro Fujinami and Jack Flaherty while claiming Jacob Webb on waivers.

There is no Scott Erickson, no Jimmy Key, no Joe Saunders or no Andrew Miller this year — it’s Shintaro Fujinami, Jack Flaherty and Jacob Webb.

Fujinami didn’t make the ALDS roster. Webb did but surrendered a home run in each of the first two playoff games, the first leading to the winning run in Texas’ 3-2 victory Saturday and the second a grand slam that broke open the Orioles’ 11-8 defeat on Sunday. Flaherty was a bust in the rotation and spent the final two weeks of the regular season in the bullpen, getting just three innings of action in that time.

Former general manager Dan Duquette has been blasted for having given away too much of the farm; if the Orioles are soon eliminated from the postseason, you can expect to hear current general manager Mike Elias being blasted for not giving away enough of it.

It’s understandable you don’t want to mortgage your future for a rest-of-the-year rental, and it’s also a fact guys like Elias and his right-hand man Sig Mejdal are very, very possessive of their highly-touted prospects. Guys like that wouldn’t trade a top-10 prospect for Mickey Mantle in his prime.

The truth is, the Orioles were in first place at the time of the trade deadline, and they stayed in first place through the end of the season. As we said last week, you can’t take for granted that seasons like the Orioles just had are going to come along very often, no matter how stocked your farm system is.

What we do know is, the Orioles will give it their all tonight in Texas. They could have mailed it in during the late innings on Sunday, but they didn’t, and they got the bats going a little bit in the process, which could be helpful the rest of the way, however long the rest of the way may be.

Yet the question remains, even if the Orioles bats do return to normalcy, who will there be to do anything about the Rangers’ bats?

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT