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What was the turning point for the 2015 Orioles?

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What was the turning point for the 2015 Orioles?

The Orioles looked like they were in good shape. It was August 19, and Henry Urrutia had just hit the Orioles’ third game-ending home run of the last six games.

Urrutia had never hit a home run, but he did to begin the ninth inning, and the Orioles beat the New York Mets 5-4.

It was the Orioles’ fifth win in their first six games on their season-long 10 game homestand.

The Orioles were five games out of first place in the AL East, and they were just a half-game behind the Angels for the second wild card.

With four games against Minnesota, and the season at its three-quarter mark, things were looking positive for the Orioles.

Instead, the season turned sour. The Orioles lost six straight and 12 of 15.

RELATED: For starters, what derailed the Orioles in 2015?

By then, the Orioles were tied for last place in the AL East and stuck behind seven other teams for the second wild card.

While the Orioles finished creditably, winning 16 of their final 25 games, it wasn’t enough. They finished five games behind Houston for the second wild card, and three other teams: the Angels, Twins and Indians were ahead of them.

The Minnesota series began horribly with a 15-2 loss. After a 2 ½ hour rain delay, Miguel Gonzalez allowed seven runs.

A rare loss by Darren O’Day followed as the Orioles dropped three more games to Minnesota by a run. In each of those losses, the Orioles led after the sixth inning.

In the final game, the Orioles led in the ninth, but Zach Britton allowed a run, and in the 12th, manager Buck Showalter was forced to use Manny Machado at shortstop for the first time in his major league career and Jimmy Paredes at third.

J.J. Hardy had aggravated a strained groin. He couldn’t play, and Paredes had pinch run for him in the 11th.

In the 12th both Machado and Paredes made errors on the first balls hit to them, and the Orioles season went south.

The ensuing seven game road trip was a disaster. They lost three of four in Kansas City and three to the suddenly hot Texas Rangers.

The first game was a dizzying 8-3 loss where the Orioles actually held a 3-1 lead after 5 ½. Seven Kansas City runs scored, seemingly in a matter of moments, and the Orioles had dropped back down to .500.

By trip’s end, the Orioles were angry. Manny Machado seethed after the second loss in Texas. He was unjustly called out on a check swing, he thought, and the Orioles had lost another one-run game.

Even though the Orioles had a 25-26 record in one-run games doesn’t look awful, they won eight of their last 10, and by then, their season was over.

After the final loss to the Rangers, a mostly empty clubhouse awaited. Adam Jones was there. In what had become a familiar scene, Jones was speaking for the team. There were no jokes, no smart remarks—only sense.

“My biggest thing about sports is when somebody doubts an effort or another player or something like that. That’s basically calling him a coward. You know what I mean? Whenever someone says, ‘Oh you don’t give an effort. You’re not playing (with) effort. That’s kind of calling someone a coward,” Jones said.

“We go out there and play our tails off. Some days it looks pretty, some days it doesn’t but the effort is always there. For some people to say that our effort level isn’t there just because we struck out 11 times. We could strike out 20 times. But to say our effort level wasn’t there, that’s a slap in the face and I want to slap somebody in the face who says that.”

Thirty-two games remained. The Orioles were 11 games out of the AL East lead, but some drama and history remained.

On Sept. 23, Jonathan Papelbon threw a ball over Machado’s head before hitting him in the shoulder. Papelbon was a “coward,” Machado said, and the Nationals imploded.

That weekend, the Orioles failed to score a run in Fenway Park, the first time in 58 years they’d been shut out in three straight games.

Those three losses were the final three of 54 road losses the Orioles suffered, leaving Showalter at a loss for an explanation.

MORE ORIOLES: Who should Orioles fans root for in the playoffs? A handy guide

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Orioles' Manny Machado leading all American League shortstops in All-Star Game votes

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USA TODAY Sports

Orioles' Manny Machado leading all American League shortstops in All-Star Game votes

The Orioles' Manny Machado is the early leader among American League shortstops in the first results of All-Star voting released by Major League Baseball Tuesday.

Machado holds a lead of 110,131 votes over the Cleveland Indians' Francisco Lindor. 

No other Orioles' player is on the list, and Adam Jones isn't listed among the top-15 of outfielders. 

The Astros' Carlos Correa was last year’s starting shortstop for the American League, but is in fourth place with 206,707 votes, trailing the Yankees' Didi Gregorius who has 208,583.

The next AL voting update will be announced June 19.

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Zach Britton rejoins Orioles after stint on disabled list

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Zach Britton rejoins Orioles after stint on disabled list

BALTIMORE -- Baltimore Orioles left-hander Zach Britton has been activated from the disabled list, six months after undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Assuming he's finally healthy enough to resume his role as one of the best closers in the big leagues, the question now is: How long will Britton be with the Orioles?

Britton's contract expires after this season, and Baltimore entered play Monday with the worst record in the major leagues (19-45).

So, as he stood in front of his locker and spoke excitedly about his return to the Orioles, Britton conceded that his stay in Baltimore may not extend beyond the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

"I want to pitch well and help the team, regardless of our standing or trade discussions," he said.

Asked if the next few weeks might serve as an audition for other teams, Britton replied, "I guess so, but I'm not going to think of it like that."

Britton made the 2016 AL All-Star team during a season in which he converted all 47 of his save opportunities and compiled a 0.54 ERA in 69 appearances.

He fought forearm and knee injuries last season and had only 15 saves. Then, during the winter, he tore his right Achilles tendon during a workout.

"When I injured myself in December, I was just looking forward to walking again and running again and then to be able to pitch back in the big leagues," Britton said. "There were a lot of hurdles that I overcame."

Surgery and an intense rehab program under Orioles trainer Brian Ebel enabled the 30-year-old to return sooner than many anticipated.

"The thought that he's a pitcher for us on June 11, that's remarkable," manager Buck Showalter said. "He's checked every box to get ready. I don't know what else you could possibly do."

Although Britton will be pitching for a team that's struggled mightily this season, that won't influence the intensity he will bring to the mound.

"I had some injuries the last few years, so I'm looking forward to turning the page on that and just getting back to pitching well," he said. "Everyone in this clubhouse wants to do well at this level, and that's my focus."

To adjust the roster for Britton's return, the Orioles placed right-hander Pedro Araujo on the 10-day disabled list with a right elbow strain and moved outfielder Colby Rasmus to the 60-day DL.