The Orioles begin the next phase of the 2013 season and it's down to only five games.
For the first time, they will arrive at the ballpark today knowing they won't return to the playoffs. They've been mathematically eliminated. It went from improbable after leaving Florida to impossible after the 10th inning.
Five more games and they will clean out their lockers and scatter across the country.
Five more games, and manager Buck Showalter may be in more of a reflective mood.
Without question, the No. 1 issue became the offense. Where have all the runs gone?
The Orioles have scored five runs or fewer in 21 straight games, their longest streak since 1992, according to STATS. And the amount of close games is staggering. Nineteen of their last 21 have been decided by two runs or fewer.
The Orioles were 29-9 in one-run games last season. They're 17-31 this year. You can point to that stat as a big reason why the Orioles will be watching the playoffs on television.
The deal for Michael Morse didn't pan out. He was immediately put in a platoon role and he never hit. Considering the importance placed on finding a middle-of-the-order bat before Sept. 1, this goes down as quite a whiff.
Chris Tillman gave up one run last night and got a no-decision. He should have 20 wins this season, but he's stuck on 16. Who knows if he'll get a chance at No. 17?
Tillman is scheduled to start the final game Sunday, but he's exceeded 200 innings and Showalter could shut him down and give the ball to someone else. He mentioned the possibility over the weekend.
Are other changes in store?
This could be the time to give Jonathan Schoop a few starts at third base in Manny Machado's absence, or at second base if he's a serious candidate for the job next season.
Do the Orioles finally call up Tsuyoshi Wada, no longer concerned about shielding him from the pressures of a pennant race? Then again, no matter how much he's been throwing down in Sarasota, he's got to be rusty. It may not be fair to him, but I'm sure he'd jump at the chance.
The Japanese reporters would do cartwheels. They've been assigned to this guy for two years and he hasn't thrown a single pitch for the Orioles.
On one hand, the Orioles don't necessarily have to worry about fielding their best lineups to maintain the integrity of the race, since the Blue Jays are in last place and the Red Sox already clinched. But they're still playing to win, and they still need one more if they're going to finish above .500.
This season will go down as a disappointment to many, but a disaster to none. And only because expectations have been raised, which is a good thing. This isn't Spoiler City anymore.
And let's be clear: No one quit and no one needs to be fired.
The Orioles contended until the final days. As Showalter says, you probably would have signed up for that in blood back when they were posting losing records for 14 consecutive summers.
They need to figure out what to do about second base, left field and designated hitter. They need to find a durable starting pitcher who's more of a No. 2 than a No. 4 or No. 5. They need to decide whether to tender Jim Johnson a contract when they already doled out $6.5 million this year for a closer who's in line for another healthy raise.
The Orioles still have five games left. Five more chances to post their second consecutive winning record.
With the postseason no longer in the (wild) cards, you play the hand that's dealt to you.