BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Orioles bashed their way into first place before the All-Star break, hitting a major league leading 137 homers while averaging more than five runs per game.
Baltimore also played exceptionally well defensively and received ample contributions from the back end of the bullpen, most notably All-Star relievers Brad Brach and Zach Britton.
The team's strengths were as obvious as its most glaring weakness: the starting rotation.
Chris Tillman's 12-2 record was offset by spotty performances from every other starter. Ubaldo Jimenez went 5-9 with a 7.38 ERA, Kevin Gausman was 1-6 and Yovani Gallardo has yet to reach a groove after spending nearly two months on the disabled list. Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson were shuffled back and forth from the minors, doing little to warrant an extended stay in Baltimore.
"I think I can speak on behalf of all of us — we can definitely do better," Gausman said.
If the Orioles are to complete their run to the AL East title and flourish in the postseason, they can either fix the problem or hope to win in spite of it.
"It's worked out so far," said Chris Davis, whose 22 homers ranks second on the team behind Mark Trumbo's major-league best 28. "Obviously at some point you have to start pitching a little bit better out of the starting rotation, but for the most part we've been able to pick them up with our bats."
The Orioles have power and an air-tight infield. Britton has converted every one of his 27 save opportunities. But that one missing element could upend Baltimore's bid to outlast Boston and Toronto in the talent-laden division.
"Obviously, the biggest thing for us going forward is pitching," Britton said. "Very rarely do teams get through the postseason just on hitting. We're going to have to find a way to pitch a little bit better."
Or, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette can hunt down another viable starter before the non-waiver trade deadline.
Two years ago, Duquette shored up the bullpen by getting standout reliever Andrew Miller, proving that if a deal needs to be made he won't hesitate to swap potential big leaguers for immediate help.
"They know what we need and we know what we need. It's just a matter of getting it done," Orioles third baseman Manny Machado said. "I've got faith in the front office. If we need somebody, they're going to go out and get them."
Showalter willing to go with status quo: Manager Buck Showalter is willing to move forward without outside assistance.
"Help is right here this group. We are not coveting other people's players," Showalter insisted. "Every answer we need to have is in here."
Baltimore went 51-36 before the break, so maybe Showalter has a point.
"The bottom line to this whole thing is to score one more run than the other team, even if it's 7-6," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Where you might look at their rotation and see guys who may be struggling a little bit, they're always in a game because of their ability to hit the ball out of the park. And when they do get a lead, they've got a pen that is even deeper than just the two guys on the back end."
The bullpen lacks a proven left-hander, but the relief corps should improve later this month when setup man Darren O'Day gets off the disabled list following a right hamstring strain.
If Trumbo, Davis, Machado and catcher Matt Wieters continue to whack the ball, the efficiency of the pitching staff might not matter.
Not many teams win this way, but the Orioles don't want to hear it.
"Our guys don't dwell on conventionality. We don't always follow a script," Showalter said. "Starters have to go seven innings every night? Who says you do?
Baltimore opens the second half Friday night in Tampa Bay before heading to New York for four games against the Yankees. The Orioles were 33-14 at home and 18-22 on the road before the break.
''It's obvious what's ahead of us," Showalter said. "We have a lot of challenges."