Five questions facing the Orioles in the second half

It has been 17 years since the Orioles were atop the American League East at the All-Star break. The 1997 wire-to-wire Orioles won 65 percent (55-30) of the time in the first half, were up seven games on the New York Yankees and were at least 14 ahead of everyone else in the division. These Orioles don't have a similar cushion. Heading into Friday's second-half opener at the Oakland Athletics, the Orioles are 52-42, four games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays and five in front of the Yankees. There is room for improvement, especially on the mound. The Orioles' 3.83 ERA is currently fifth in the AL, but well behind Oakland's league-best 3.09 mark. The starters have relied too heavily on a stout bullpen that is being forced to throw continually. "We're gonna have to pitch. If you look at where we are statistically with the rest of the league, it makes you realize what ... a moving target [pitching is]," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It is so hard to do. That would allow us to be consistent [as a team]." The Orioles need to decide soon -- likely by July 31's nonwaiver trade deadline -- whether rotation reinforcements are needed. That's not the only concern, though. Here are five looming questions as the second half kicks off with heightened expectations. -- Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun
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