OAKLAND, CALIF. -- Orioles manager Buck Showalter doesn't like to imply that one game is more important than another in a 162-game season, but he knows his team is facing a critical stretch coming out of the All-Star break.
After winning 10 of 13, the Orioles began the second half of the season leading the American League East at the break for the first time since 1997, the last time the club won a division title.
But the Orioles — currently four games up on the second-place Toronto Blue Jays — will lead off the second half by playing 29 consecutive games against teams with a record of .500 or better.
"If we do this we would have definitely earned it," Showalter said. "Our guys know that. We've been through tough stretches before. I don't think it's very wise to put more importance over one stretch of games ... But I think our guys know that we're playing good teams and we're going to have to be on top of our game."
The Orioles played Friday night in Oakland, the first stop of a three-city, 10-game West Coast road trip that will take them through a gantlet of playoff-caliber AL West teams.
After three games vs. the Athletics, who own the best record in baseball (59-36), the Orioles travel to Anaheim to face the Angels (57-37) and then to Seattle for four games against the Mariners (51-44). If the season ended today, all three AL West teams would make the playoffs.
"We're really going to see what we're made of," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "We've had a rough schedule in terms of traveling. We've played the teams in baseball according to, I guess, last year's records. But it's the schedule that's made for us, so we've got to take care of business. We can't overlook any team and we haven't. We just have to take care of our game."
After relying heavily on home runs in the first half — the Orioles are second in the major leagues with 114 homers — Jones said the team must become better at manufacturing runs and doing the little things that help win games.
"This is the second half," Jones said. "We're going to have to tighten up on all of or facets of the game, be better with runners in scoring position, become better at manufacturing runs, become better at holding runners, not letting runners advance. I think every facet of the game we're going to have to improve in the second half because it's do-or-die at some point."
After returning from the West Coast, the teams plays the Angels and Mariners again at Camden Yards.
The Orioles have an 11-6 record against the AL West, and their .647 winning percentage is the highest of any AL team against the division.
"I think that if you want to go to the playoffs, you've got to beat good teams," Orioles outfielder Nelson Cruz said. "This is a good challenge. I think it's the toughest division in the league and I think if we go into it with the mentality we have the past couple weeks, we will be fine."
But first comes the immediate task of surviving this West Coast trip, which is a challenge by itself.
"They always say if you play .500 on the road and you generally play better at home you're OK," Jones said. "I think we've played more like .500 at home and played better on the road. But when you come out to these three cities, all three teams are at least 15 games over .500 so we just need to win series. We'd love to win 10 straight but reality is we would like to win series. If we win all three series, I don't think anybody would be mad at that."
The 29-game stretch also includes games against the Blue Jays and New York Yankees, two teams chasing the Orioles in the AL East standings. The Orioles are 26-18 against teams in their own division and have the highest in-division winning percentage (.591) of any team in baseball.
"I think the biggest thing is that you know you're playing really good teams," Showalter said. "We're not going to back into anything. Our guys know we're going to have to earn it. We've got it here and then again in L.A. and then again in Seattle and then you go back and play them again. The players, they know what they're up against. They've done a great job of putting themselves in a position to play meaningful games."
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