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The sense is yes. Executive vice president Dan Duquette has established a reputation for making moves. Small moves, medium moves, and even a couple big ones this offseason in the signings of prominent free agents Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez. Duquette's never going to show his hand. But he's in the market for pitching, whether it's to strengthen a strength with another power arm for the bullpen or to deepen the rotation, preferably with a second left-hander. It won't be easy to add a top starter; those potentially on the market will be highly coveted and likely would cost two of the organization's four best pitching prospects: Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Hunter Harvey and Eduardo Rodriguez. The Tampa Bay Rays' David Price probably isn't an option due to the divisional rivalry, plus I'm not convinced he'll be dealt until this offseason. To pry Chris Sale away from the Chicago White Sox will take an incredible haul. Sale is owed just under $30 million through the next three-plus seasons with affordable options through 2019. A 25-year-old star left-hander with that kind of club control is among the rarest of commodities. The Philadelphia Phillies' Cliff Lee is always discussed this time of year, but he has been hurt and is owed $25 million in 2015 with a $27.5 million option for 2016 that could vest. That's why the Orioles are seemingly looking a notch below for starting help. They have scouted Colorado Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa, a free agent at year's end. And they probably will continue to kick the tires on every potentially available starter, including the San Diego Padres' Ian Kennedy and the Minnesota Twins' Kevin Correia, among others. Frankly, what the Orioles have in-house may be better than the affordable trade targets, and so Duquette may focus more on adding a reliever, especially one with minor league options. Unfortunately for Duquette, he thought he already had his midseason pitching addition locked up in February when he signed former Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana to a minor league deal. But Santana, who was making progress rehabbing from shoulder surgery, tore his Achilles tendon in June and is out for the year. The Orioles could attempt to bolster their offense, but the only starting spots in question are catcher and second base. Duquette made his move behind the plate in May, dealing for Nick Hundley to help replace starter Matt Wieters (elbow surgery). Duquette said he's happy with the catching combination of Hundley and rookie Caleb Joseph. Upgrading at second base is tricky because rookie Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty both have played well defensively, especially in turning the double play. And Showalter doesn't want to weaken his defense for an offensive upgrade. So they'd have to find someone who can do both; very few available second basemen fit that profile.
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Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun
The Orioles' offense is seventh in the AL in runs scored (405) and second in home runs (114), just two behind the Blue Jays. The Orioles are third in the league in batting average (.265), ninth in on-base percentage (.318) and fourth in slugging percentage (.420). They've survived with last year's offensive linchpin, first baseman Chris Davis, hitting .199 in 281 at-bats in the first half. Davis is third on the team with 15 homers and 48 RBIs in 78 games while missing roughly two weeks with an oblique strain. Last year at the break, Davis had 37 home runs and 93 RBIs in 95 games on his way to a majors' best 53 home runs and 138 RBIs. No one expected him to duplicate those power numbers in 2014, but equally unexpected was such a dramatic drop in batting average and on-base percentage (87 points and 61 points, respectively, below his final 2013 marks). He wasn't selected for this year's All-Star Game -- and Showalter was pleased about that. "I think it's good that he kind of gets away, whether it's [to be with] family back home," Showalter said. "It's always good for guys that have these high expectations and are not there yet to kind of get around things that [make them] go, 'OK, here's what's really important. Let's make sure we keep that in mind as we go forward.'" The belief is that Davis needs the mental break. And the respite also should help him physically if, indeed, there are some lingering effects of the oblique injury. No question a hot-hitting Davis makes the Orioles a much better club.
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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