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Buck: O's have 'lost a sense of who we were'

MLB.com @MikeLupica

Buck Showalter and his Orioles came into Tuesday night's game with 28 losses, sitting at the bottom of the American League East. The Yankees and Red Sox, sitting at the top of the division, came into Tuesday night's game with 28 victories apiece. The Orioles finally started to hit, like crazy, last weekend. But they already had those 28 losses. The Yankees and Red Sox aren't going anywhere. Unfortunately, neither are the 2018 Orioles, unless you count their star, Manny Machado, who may be on his way somewhere else before this baseball summer is over.

"Lot of unknowns in our clubhouse," Showalter said on Tuesday morning.

Buck Showalter and his Orioles came into Tuesday night's game with 28 losses, sitting at the bottom of the American League East. The Yankees and Red Sox, sitting at the top of the division, came into Tuesday night's game with 28 victories apiece. The Orioles finally started to hit, like crazy, last weekend. But they already had those 28 losses. The Yankees and Red Sox aren't going anywhere. Unfortunately, neither are the 2018 Orioles, unless you count their star, Manny Machado, who may be on his way somewhere else before this baseball summer is over.

"Lot of unknowns in our clubhouse," Showalter said on Tuesday morning.

Then Buck said, "I always think we're a week away. But that means we're a week away in a division where the Yankees and Red Sox have only lost on the same day once all season."

Showalter, who came to Baltimore and changed the baseball culture there, managed the Orioles across five years when they won more games than anybody in the AL East, including the big boys in Boston and New York. But they never made the World Series. When they looked as if they might, in 2014, they ran into the Royals. It turned out to be more Kansas City's time than Buck's. His Orioles got swept in the American League Championship Series, and now here they are, in a tough place, caught between the recent past and an uncertain future.

They may deal Machado, one of the best baseball players in this world, before he becomes a free agent this winter. If they do, it becomes as important a transaction as the Orioles have made since they traded Milt Pappas a thousand years ago for Frank Robinson. They are waiting for Zach Britton, as good a closer as there is when healthy, to finally pitch again in June. But what they might be doing with Britton is getting him ready to go play somewhere else.

Jonathan Schoop has been hurt this season. Mark Trumbo has been hurt. Chris Davis, on whom they lavished a $161 million contract, is hitting .170. Adam Jones, one of their stars for a long time, also eligible for free agency, is still a very good player, just not the player he was. Chris Tillman used to be their best starter. Tillman now has an ERA above 10.00 and is on the DL with a back ailment.

There are still 120 games left to play. But for now, the Orioles are nowhere.

"Sometimes it's like we've lost a sense of who we are," Buck said. "And who we were."

Nick Markakis is long gone. Matt Wieters is gone. J.J. Hardy, a winner when the Orioles were winning, is gone. Machado is going, Britton is probably going. When they made their big financial play, for Davis before the 2016 season, they gave him the biggest contract in the history of the franchise, and now Showalter has no choice but to sometimes sit him against left-handers, the way he did last weekend against Blake Snell of the Rays. Trumbo, who went from 47 home runs in 2016 to 23 home runs last season, is finally back in the lineup, and at least hitting the ball hard again.

The starting pitching has actually looked better lately. But even when the Orioles get a little daylight, they look at the top of the standings in their division, where they used to be, and see the Red Sox and the Yankees, and the Blue Jays behind them.

"It is tough sledding in this division," Buck said, "and that's putting it mildly."

I asked him how he can keep his team fighting, and at least it showed some fight against the Rays last weekend, seeing what is ahead of it, in all ways: The teams ahead of the Orioles -- the unknowns with Machado -- all that.

"It's hard," he said. "The guys who've gone down, or who were already down before the season started, the way Britton was, you lose them, and you lose a little bit more of your identity. You do lose a little more of who we were. I honestly feel as if we've gotten a little bit of our swagger back recently. I honestly feel like the pitching is coming around …"

His voice trailed off and then he said, "It's always tough sledding in this division. But then you dig yourself this kind of hole ..."

Buck's voice trailed off again.

He talked then about what a sweetheart schedule he thought the Orioles had last season, and what a nightmare April was this season, in all ways -- the teams the Orioles faced, the weather, everything. And they were immediately in a deep hole. The Yankees started 9-9, and then went 17-2. The Red Sox started out 17-2 and then went 9-9. By the middle of April, the Orioles were already 16 games behind in the loss column. And by the way? The unknowns in the Orioles' future also include the manager, and the general manager, Dan Duquette, whose contracts are both up at the end of this season.

There are so many good stories being written, all over baseball, across the first quarter of the season. The Orioles have been the opposite of that. We see who they are this season. It gets harder and harder to remember who they were. This is what the Orioles were like when Buck got there.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.

Baltimore Orioles