The nature of sport, being the great leveler it is, ensures pain and suffering is only a matter of time away for all passionate fans.

For Baltimore Orioles fans of the last 30 years though, these levels of pain and suffering are hard to match, having endured more than their fair share since ’88.

Of course ’88 was probably as bad as it gets, with an 0-21 start to the season and 107 losses in total. However who could forget the 14 consecutive losing seasons between ’98 and ’11? Or the 30-3 hiding at the hands of Texas in ’07? In terms of futility, these events come close.

While there’s been some playoff berths and dreams of a pennant scattered in between, most notably in ’96, ’97, and ’14, these have only ended in heartache, much like ’12 and ’16 did too. It’s been a long, miserable, journey for the fanbase, and one which is again heading down an all-too familiar path.

After an MLB-best 22-10 start to the ’17 season, fans were entitled to expect another playoff run and hopes were once again raised of a pennant flying within OPACY. In the two months since, hope has not only faded for this season, but the fear of a rebuild and return of sub-70 win seasons is growing stronger and stronger by the day.

No team in the major leagues has skidded as abruptly as the Orioles have, producing a 18-34 record since May 10. During this stretch they’ve been outscored by 88 runs and the pitching staff has become one of the worst – if not the worst – of all 30 teams. The offense too has many flaws, with an increasing number of strikeouts and an inability to manufacture runs. We’ve heard this before, right?

This past week I’ve ran a few polls on Twitter to see how the fans are feeling about what’s transpiring, and the results are even uglier than what we’re seeing on field. Of the more than 2,000 fans who viewed the poll, 78% of respondents have lost interest in the season, and despite the team being just four games under .500 three games before the All-star Break, an overwhelming 97% of fans don’t think the team can make the playoffs. For the record, I tend to agree – not with this rotation folks.

The experts and fans know that ’17 is done and dusted – so what comes next?

While being somewhat close enough to surge with some pitching reinforcements, the issue plaguing the Orioles, as it has done for some time now, is the terribly weak farm system, which doesn’t have a whole lot of talent appealing to other teams. This will prevent the Orioles from trading for quality starting pitching, which is what the team so desperately needs. This is why the team must consider selling.

Where do we start? Manny Machado’s name keeps surfacing to the top, largely through fear of him walking as a free agent next year anyway, so we may as well get something in return for him now, right? Zach Britton, now healthy again, is also a name being discussed, and we all know what haul a strong closer can yield from a team dreaming of playoff success. Other names being put forward for discussion are Mark Trumbo and Welington Castillo, while the so-called untouchables are quite rightly, Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Trey Mancini, and Jonathan Schoop.

The untouchables aside, it’s an incredibly scary thought knowing that trading the likes of these star players is being discussed in ’17. The post-’11 revival doesn’t seem like it’s ready to end yet – we still haven’t got that pennant we’ve been expecting. Is the era really over, after just five strong(er) years? The next two or three weeks before the trade deadline arrives could make a huge impact on this ball club for years to come, and if this level of talent is offloaded, one thing that’s become very clear is that the fans have no faith in Dan Duquette overseeing a rebuild, with polls indicating 87% believing he isn’t the right man for the job.

Whether it is Duquette, or his replacement, leading the charge should a rebuild occur, securing a bunch of super-talented prospects certainly doesn’t ensure success awaits. The list of failed prospects coming out of Baltimore this past decade is astounding and one must seriously question whether the organization has the ability to rectify this concerning trend.

Looking at the current pitching crop, Cody Sedlock (22) is struggling with High-A Frederick, Hunter Harvey (22) continues to miss more games through injury than he plays, and Chris Lee (24) still hasn’t proven himself at Triple-A Norfolk. The only two shining lights within the organization’s Top 10 prospects from a pitching perspective are Keegan Akin (22) who is performing well at High-A Frederick and Tanner Scott (22) who is dominating at Double-A Bowie. Even still, these kids are a good few years off making an impact in the major leagues. Pitching aside, the organization has some concerns with what awaits off the mound too, with question marks continuing to linger over the defensive abilities of catcher Chance Sisco (22) and shortstop Ryan Mountcastle (20), despite each raking offensively in the minor leagues.

With a flawed roster, a lack of talent on the farm, and a general manager who’s lost the faith of most fans, the Orioles aren’t in a good spot right now, and worryingly, more pain appears to be on the horizon.

Image: Baltimore Sun