5 key questions facing the Orioles (revisited)
Last season, the Orioles played their best baseball in the second half as they surged to their first postseason berth in 15 years. As the team heads into this season's unofficial second-half -- the official midway mark is long past since the Orioles have already played 96 games so far -- they have built a better foundation for success.
They also have a better record. The Orioles will open the second half Friday in Texas 10 games over .500 with a 53-43 record. At last year's break, they were just 45-40, and after 96 games, they weren't much better (51-45, seven games out of first place).
"I've always said it and I believe it, it's not how you start, it's how you finish, especially with baseball in 162 games," Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis said. "The second half is what matters. … Every game matters, but especially in the second half. Every game from here on out is big. We don't want to give away games because it can come back and bite you in the long run."
We all know what happened last season. The defense dramatically improved, Markakis provided a spark coming off the DL, August additions like Nate McLouth and Manny Machado solidified the lineup, the bullpen was stellar and manager Buck Showalter made the right moves from the dugout.
This year, Chris Davis and Machado have become superstars. The Orioles lead the majors in home runs but are near the bottom (28th out of 30) in team ERA. But on some nights, superb pitching performances were wasted because the O's bats couldn't manufacture a run.
"You can say we need more consistency at the plate or we need more consistency pitching, but I think we need to be more consistent as a team," Markakis said. "We've been pretty good at it and there have been times when games have gotten away from us. … We're all in it for the same reason."
Before Opening Day, we looked at the top five questions facing the Orioles entering the 2013 season. So as we begin the second half, we revisit those five questions with a lot of baseball behind us, with a fine-toothed comb and with a little honesty, realizing some of them might sound slightly silly now, like "What can we expect from Manny Machado?"
-- Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun
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1. Will the starting rotation keep moving forward?( Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun / July 10, 2013 )
The starting rotation left a lot to be desired in the first half, but all signs point to an improved second half.
The Orioles used 13 starting pitchers, partially because of injuries, but also due to inconsistency.
They were without workhorse left-hander Wei-Yin Chen for seven weeks with an oblique strain. Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez also went on a short DL stint with a right thumb blister.
The biggest disappointment, however, was right-hander Jake Arrieta, who pitched himself out of the organization when the club traded him and Pedro Strop to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for right-hander Scott Feldman.
Arrieta pitched brilliantly in the spring, earning a rotation position, but he was sent to Triple-A Norfolk after four starts with a 6.63 ERA.
That left a hole that had to be filled by spot starters -- Jair Jurrjens one day, Josh Stinson another. That, more than anything, can explain the rotation's 4.79 combined ERA.
All in all, that should improve. Getting back Chen -- who has seven quality starts in nine outings this year -- will help stabilize the front end of the rotation. Any concerns about Gonzalez's durability have been quelled. He's thrown seven straight quality starts and has won five of his last six decisions.
Chris Tillman is 11-3 and his success has been more impressive by the fact that he¿s battled high pitch counts early to get deeper into game. Feldman will be an upgrade. He recorded his first quality start on Sunday, confidently using his breaking balls to get hitters out.
The biggest question mark is Opening Day starter Jason Hammel (7-6, 5.24), who has seemingly lost his mojo in going winless over his last eight starts. The good thing is that Hammel's been there before and has been able to bring himself out of a funk in the past. The bad thing is not knowing how long that might take. There's little patience in a pennant race.
The Orioles rotation doesn't have that anchor that most contenders possess. That could hurt them down the stretch and in the playoffs (if they get there). But that's the way this rotation is constructed -- like Showalter always says, "Our ace is the guy pitching that day."
But the bottom line is that as a whole, the starters need to get deeper into games so the bullpen doesn't get overworked. There were some positive signs before the break -- the Orioles recorded four quality starts in their past five games -- and that needs to continue.