Carroll County Times

Orioles lookahead: 'We need to pitch better'

BALTIMORE - The Baltimore Orioles have the offensive tools to be a playoff team. And they play defense like a championship team.
But when it comes to pitching, that's been the one facet they haven't gotten completely down entering tonight's game against the Texas Rangers as they come out of the All-Star break.
Baltimore leads the majors with 132 homers, 17 more than any other team. Its fielding percentage of .992 also is a major league high.
However, the Orioles' team ERA of 4.39 is the third-highest in the majors. They've given up a major league-high 123 home runs and their starters have a 4.79 ERA, fourth-worst in the majors.
"We need to pitch better. We know that," Baltimore closer Jim Johnson said. "That's where it all starts and that's what makes a winning team. As pitchers we have one of the best offenses and one of the best defenses out there. So we need to control what we do on the mound and put ourselves in better position."
If the Orioles are able to do that, they have a fair chance of making the playoffs for a second straight season and possibly going deeper than they did last year.
Baltimore had 13 different starters prior to the All-Star break, as it struggled to field a solid fifth starter and dealt with injuries to Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen.
But now, both of them have returned to the Orioles. Baltimore also acquired Scott Feldman from the Chicago Cubs.
And for perhaps the first time this season, the Orioles appear to have a solid, set starting rotation.
"I like our five guys," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. "They're going to compete and give us a chance."
Although in limited time, Gonzalez and Chen have succeeded at doing that. Gonzalez is 7-3 with a 3.48 ERA and Chen is 4-3 with a 2.82 ERA.
Also, All-Star Chris Tillman is 11-3 with a 3.95 ERA.
But last year's ace, Jason Hammel, has struggled considerably, going 7-6 with a 5.24 ERA. He said after his last start before the All-Star break he knows he has to do better if the Orioles hope to get deep into the playoffs.
Even though Baltimore starters have struggled getting deep into games, and the numbers show how inefficient they have been, the Orioles still expressed confidence in their current group of starters.
"We've got five guys in that rotation that we feel like they're going to go out there every fifth day and give us a chance to win," Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters said. "They're a good group of guys to play behind."
In addition to the rotation, another weakness for the Orioles in the first half was at second base. However, they hope Brian Roberts can continue to contribute.
The longest-tenured Oriole has never played in the playoffs, but said he feels pitching and defense will have to be strong to keep competing in the AL East.
"Don't give them extra outs, don't walk guys, that sort of stuff, I think you'll always be in a position to win," Roberts said. "You can't always count on three-run homers, so you've got to do the little things and give yourself a chance to score."
Throughout the first half, Baltimore relied on those three-run blasts from a potent lineup. But the Orioles realize they may not be able to do so in the second half.
"I don't care how good you are offensively or defensively, if you're constantly pitching a lot of innings out of your bullpen, you're not going to like the results," Showalter said.
That bullpen hasn't been as stellar as it was last season, either. Johnson has blown six saves and owns a 2-7 record, despite leading the majors with 33 saves.
Regardless, it will be the starters' success or failure that plays a large role in how far Baltimore goes.
"The starting pitchers have shown glimpses," Wieters said. "I think for the second half, they're really going to take on the challenge to improve themselves."
Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said he feels the team is in a spot where it will once again be playing meaningful games in September.
"You hang around and give yourself a good chance to roll the dice in September and see where you stand," Jones said. "We're right in the middle of it. It's not going to be easy, but as long as we stay around and play well within our division, we're OK."