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BAL@TEX: Lee launches a two-run dinger to center

ARLINGTON -- A night removed from newly promoted Mitch Atkins' stunning six innings of one-run baseball, the Orioles had a chance Wednesday to do what has been nearly impossible the last month, post consecutive quality starts and start to shift what has been an abysmal stretch of pitching.

But all that hope went by the wayside before de facto staff ace Jeremy Guthrie could even record the second out. Guthrie surrendered four runs in a 38-pitch first inning, tasking an already struggling offense with an uphill battle against the Rangers' best arm in righty Alexi Ogando.

The result was a gruesome 13-5 loss and a series sweep in front of a crowd of 31,953 at Rangers Ballpark -- a result that has become more and more familiar for a backsliding Baltimore club that has lost 17 of its last 23 games.

"We got what we deserved," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, whose club was outscored 30-11 in the three-game set and now sits a season-high 12 games under .500. "We didn't do a lot of things well this series. ... We got to correct it and pretty quick."

The Orioles are now 1-8 in their last nine games, with their lone victory Sunday's sweep-avoiding win in Atlanta, which was the start of a brutal three-city road trip that has them off to Boston for their final four first-half games. While Atkins had a quality start last night, the Orioles haven't had consecutive quality outings -- six innings or more and three runs or fewer -- since posting three in a row June 8, 10 and 11. Orioles starters have completed seven innings just once since June 12, pitching to a 6.85 ERA over that stretch, while the offense has hit .175 (35-for-200) with runners in scoring position since June 11.

"We just haven't done what it takes to win," said Guthrie, who has an American League-leading 11 losses. "Some nights we have done things well and other things not as well. Baseball is pretty complicated, you have to do a lot of things to win the game and unfortunately we are short in a lot of areas.

Chief among them is starting pitching. The elder statesman of the staff, Guthrie struggled with his location from the onset, allowing a leadoff double before issuing a pair of walks to a lethal Rangers lineup. Adrian Beltre's sacrifice fly started the scoring, and Michael Young followed with an RBI double as Texas raced to a lead it would never relinquish.

"Obviously [their offense] is at a high level," Showalter said of a first-place Rangers squad. "But it is more about us, not them. It's about us not executing things that I wasn't happy about. And we are going to have to do better. ... We need to pitch better we need to play better, period."

Unable to stop the bleeding, Guthrie allowed another pair of runs in the fifth, negating a two-run second-inning homer from Derrek Lee, and for the third time in his last five starts was unable to give the Orioles at least six innings.

"We almost made him throw 50 in that first inning," said Rangers manager Ron Washington, who didn't downplay the importance of jumping on a scuffling Orioles squad early. "It was huge because of who we were facing. We knew [Guthrie] wasn't going to give in."

Lately, that hasn't entirely been the case. In his last four starts, Guthrie is 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA, allowing 18 earned runs on 31 hits and 13 walks over a 24-inning stretch. While he is hardly alone in his struggles, the 32-year-old veteran has been unable to give a depleting starting staff some reprieve, allowing five or more runs in five of his 19 starts this season.

Meanwhile, the Orioles' offense -- which continues to hit home runs -- has been unable to do much else. Nine of the team's 11 runs in the three-game sweep came via the long ball, with the O's hitting seven homers, all but two of which were the solo variety.

"It's certainly frustrating," Showalter said. "There's no secret we need to do a lot better job."

Lee gave the Orioles their first hit with runners in scoring position of the series, with a two-run shot in the second off Ogando, and struggling cleanup hitter Vladimir Guerrero connected for his first homer since June 12 with a solo shot in the seventh.

With the game still well within reach, the Orioles -- who hit .167 with runners in scoring position this series -- put runners on first and second with no outs in the sixth. But Nick Markakis grounded out and Ogando got Adam Jones to hit into a double play, a series of events that has become all too common for an Orioles' club sputtering in every facet of the game.

And that includes the bullpen. Following Guthrie's exit, the O's relief corps -- in Michael Gonzalez and Brad Bergesen -- let the game get out of hand. Gonzalez was charged two runs in the sixth, and Bergesen surrendered a four-run seventh, including a three-run homer to Mike Napoli.

"We've got to do better," Showalter said. "In different situations. And believe me it is something I and we are aware of."

"We'll try and lick our wounds and forget about this series," Guthrie added, "and have a better one up in Boston."

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