State of the Orioles in Canada

The Orioles are 77-69 and 11 games out of first place in their division.

The Nationals are 77-69 and 11 games out of first place in their division.

Did anyone see this coming a few weeks ago?

The Nats are in second place. The Orioles have dropped to fourth, but they're only 2 1/2 games back in the wild card chase.

I write "only" in comparison to the Nats. Make no mistake, the Orioles are losing ground and running out of time.

They're also running out of healthy pitchers.

Bud Norris has a sore elbow and is being skipped in the rotation. Darren O'Day has soreness and tingling in his index and middle fingers on his right hand, and he didn't fly to Toronto last night. Manager Buck Showalter has hinted at another reliever who's dealing with a physical issue.

Closer Jim Johnson has nine blown saves, and his eight losses are tied with Jason Hammel for the team lead among pitchers who have been with the Orioles all season. Norris is 10-11 overall, 4-2 with the Orioles.

Michael Morse, acquired from the Mariners at the Aug. 31 deadline to be the big run producer for the middle of the lineup, is 3-for-21 with no extra-base hits or RBIs, and he's platooning.

Hammel will make his first start tonight since July 28. In four career starts in Toronto, he's allowed 14 earned runs in 22 2/3 innings for a 5.56 ERA. His only win came on Sept. 30, 2007 for the Devil Rays.

Yes, the old nickname.

Showalter raised the possibility of using Norris out of the bullpen. Norris has made two career relief appearances - in his major league debut with the Astros in 2009 and on Aug. 14 in Arizona.

Norris took the loss that day for the Orioles. Apparently, his elbow starting barking, too.

Otherwise, things are just peachy in Charm City.

Showalter keeps saying there are plenty of games remaining. Sixteen may not qualify as "plenty," but it seems that way inside the clubhouse when the gap in the wild card race is 2 1/2.

Even so, there's most definitely a sense of urgency among the players to string together some wins, to go on a run. It needs to begin in Toronto.

If the Orioles miss the playoffs, most of us will look back on the Aug. 12-14 series in Arizona. The Orioles had won four of five games in San Diego and San Francisco, but the Diamondbacks swept them, with Johnson blowing back-to-back saves - his eighth and ninth.

The Orioles have gone 12-17 since that last win in San Francisco. In some ways, it's amazing that they haven't disappeared from the playoff hunt, invisible to search parties.

I'm not sure whether Danny Valencia is only going to rake against left-handers and David Robertson, but he may as well stay in the lineup. Who's pushing him for playing time?

Keep in mind that Henry Urrutia won't be in Toronto, in case he was your choice.

Valencia is batting .548 (23-for-48) since Aug. 4. Ride him until the wheels fall off, or something like that.

The Orioles need a spark. Valencia is on fire.

Can this team overcome the loss of O'Day, an extremely important part of their bullpen? Can Hammel pitch like he did in the first half of 2012? Can Morse do more?

Can a winning streak, the kind that saves a season, begin in Canada?

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