After 23 games, the Baltimore Orioles are 13th in the American League in runs, tied for 12th in home runs and eighth in pitching.

"Shades of last year," grumbled their manager, Earl Weaver, after an 11-1 loss to the Royals Sunday in Kansas City.

Not quite. Last season, the Orioles were losing games by 8-7 and 7-6. They were having one of the greatest home run seasons ever -- 214.

This year, with 15 so far, they're on a chilling 105-homer pace. Only the Milwaukee Brewers have hit fewer (11).

Not that the style is important. The season is only a month old, but for the Orioles, the time to worry might be now, not because are four games out of first -- which isn't much -- but because the pitching problems of 1985 still appear to be problems in 1986.

The good news is that no other AL East team has been much better. The New York Yankees' pitching is starting to seek its own level, which doesn't appear to be very high, and their hitting has yet to come around (they also had 15 homers before last night's game).

Good news also is that Cleveland is in first place and Boston is the AL East's most impressive team. No one expects the Red Sox and Indians to win the division, but few expect the Orioles to win, either, because:

*A pitching staff that started out with the most balance in the big leagues -- two left-handers in the starting rotation (Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor) and two more in the bullpen (Tippy Martinez and Brad Havens) is down to no effective left-handers.

*Mike Young and Floyd Rayford, who combined for 46 homers last year, have no homers.

Flanagan (1-3) and McGregor (2-3) have looked good in stretches, but as in 1985, horrible in just as many stretches. Martinez is disabled with a dizziness problem, and if doctors aren't yet worried about not having found a cause, the Orioles are. As the only left-hander in the bullpen, Havens hasn't been able to throw his curve for a strike.

Flanagan explained his two-inning, four-walk, three-run performance at Kansas City Saturday by saying he had changed his delivery to make his breaking ball better. Not only did it not make the breaking pitch better, he couldn't even throw his fastball for a strike.

"That has never happened to me before," he said. "When Earl came to the mound, I told him, 'I don't have any idea where it's going.' "

Of all the Orioles' pitchers, McGregor's problems are the most troubling because he doesn't have the laser-beam fastball to turn bad pitches into good ones. His bad pitches land six rows into the $3 seats, five times already this season.

The club should get Mike Boddicker off the disabled list Saturday, and if Ken Dixon, Storm Davis and Boddicker all continue to pitch well 75 percent of the time, the Orioles can stay in the race.

Those three are nine for 12 in quality starts. A pitcher is credited with a quality start when he finishes at least six innings and allows two or fewer runs. McGregor and Flanagan are four for 11.

"I just hope three or four of our starters start pitching good, consistent baseball," Weaver said. "If they do, those will be the guys pitching."

The pitching would be an even bigger problem if the hitting also hadn't gone south.

Saturday night at Royals Stadium, several Orioles were joking with third baseman Rayford about attending chapel to pray for a hit or two. He led the team with a .306 average last year, but in his first 10 games back from the disabled list, he's batting a puny .184.

"I don't know how much longer he's going to be playing," Weaver said. If not Rayford, who?

Jackie Gutierrez, a proven, experienced non-hitter? Juan Bonilla, whose average has dropped steadily? Someone from the farm system?

"I don't know," Weaver said. "But you can't play someone not hitting at all."

No less worrisome for the Orioles has been the lack of the long ball in Young's .294 average. He has 18 hits, but no homers. This from the guy who hit 28 last year.

"I'm not happy about it," Young said.

Weaver added, "I just hope the opposition hasn't figured out a way to get them out. Remember Danny Graham? He came up for a half year, hit 11 homers, and was the hottest thing in baseball. All of a sudden, teams went over their books and found he chased curveballs . . . Low curveballs chased him right out of the big leagues."

So, Weaver waits.

"You have to wait to play 50 games before you can draw conclusions," Weaver said. "I still believe the players are here. If I didn't think that, they wouldn't be here."