BALTIMORE — An array of injuries, poor pitching and lopsided defeats left the Baltimore Orioles with a losing record at the All-Star break.
Fortunately, they're still within striking distance of a playoff spot. So, operating on the theory that things can't possibly get any worse, the Orioles fully expect to bounce back in the second half.
"The way the American League is right now, it seems like everyone's in it," said reliever Brad Brach, who temporarily took over the closer's role for injured Zach Britton. "If we get hot like we were in April, we've got as good a shot as anybody. You've got to forget about the last six weeks, and go from here and roll."
The Orioles opened 22-10 before going into a 20-36 funk that including losing streaks of five, six and seven games. But Baltimore (42-46) is only four games removed from the final wild-card slot, so all is not lost.
"I'm hoping we can put it together, have more consistent pitching, more consistent contributions from some of our veteran players and find the pieces we need to contend," said Dan Duquette, the team's executive vice president of baseball operations.
At this point, Duquette has no intention of dumping talent before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The thinking is, if Manny Machado (.220) and Mark Trumbo (14 HRs) can return to form, and if first baseman Chris Davis (oblique) and shortstop J.J. Hardy come off the disabled list soon, the Orioles can make a run at postseason play.
"Manny hasn't had the kind of year he's used to having and Chris Davis has missed significant time," Duquette noted. "We're going to have to get a contribution from our veteran players to accomplish a turnaround."
Pitching key: Really though, it all comes down to pitching. The starting rotation of Ubaldo Jimenez (4-4, 6.67 ERA), Dylan Bundy (8-8, 4.33), Kevin Gausman (5-7, 5.85), Wade Miley (4-7. 4.97) and Chris Tillman (1-5, 7.90) have been a collective disappointment and helps explain why Baltimore has given up at least 10 runs in nine games and absorbed a dozen defeats by five runs or more.
"It's all going to be about if we can be more consistent getting deeper into games with our starting pitching," manager Buck Showalter said. "That's what we've done in the past when we've been competitive and that's what we're going to have to do now. The potential is there. We saw it in April."
Showalter has done a masterful job keeping the Orioles in the playoff hunt. He was operating for much of the first half without his best starter (Tillman) and shutdown reliever (Britton), and also had to adjust after injuries to Hardy, Davis, reliever Darren O'Day and catcher Welington Castillo, who made two trips to the disabled list.
Britton has appeared in only 11 games after going 47 for 47 in save opportunities last year. His injured forearm now appears to be fully functional, and his presence could be pivotal if Baltimore is to be relevant in August and September.
"Having the bullpen depth makes our whole pitching staff better," Duquette said. "If we can get Tillman and Gausman pitching at the front of the rotation, I think the rest of the pieces should fall into place."
Not everyone underperformed in the first half. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop deservedly made the All-Star team, rookie Trey Mancini is batting .312 with 14 homers and 44 RBIs and Brach notched 15 saves during Britton's absence.
"In spite of some disappointments we've had some real positives," Duquette said.
The Orioles ultimately will be judged on their second half, which begins Friday night with a 10-game homestand. Baltimore is 25-16 at home and 17-30 on the road.
"We know we're a better team than this," Machado said.