CHICAGO -- The Orioles reached the midway point of the season on a down note yesterday, but manager Johnny Oates said he wasn't discouraged by either the 3-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox or his club's 43-38 record.
"We just didn't hit very well," he said. "It's only one game -- I'm not discouraged."
Neither is he dismayed by the Orioles' fourth-place standing, 4 1/2 games behind the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays. "You'd always rather be [4 1/2 ] games ahead than behind," said Oates. "You're never satisfied -- there's room for improvement. But I'd rather be [4 1/2 ] games behind than 10 1/2 back [as the Orioles were on May 30]."
Considering that the Orioles were nine games under .500 (21-30) as recently as June 2, there is plenty of room for "what ifs" in any assessment of their season to date. But Oates refused to look back.
"It's behind us, and we can't do anything about it," he said. "We have to look ahead and look for ways to continue to improve."
Before the season, Oates listed several factors as keys to the Orioles' being a contender this year -- such as Glenn Davis making a contribution, Cal Ripken bouncing back from an off year and Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux having a similar output as last season.
"I said that some of those things -- not all of them -- had to take place. And I said we'd have to stay healthy, because that's the first thing any manager says.
"We haven't been completely healthy, but I don't think we had any more injuries than most of the others.
"Cal is on a 20-80 [home run-RBI] pace, which is not far off his normal production, Devo was hurt and Brady would be about where he was if he hadn't gotten the chickenpox."
Still, the Orioles generally were below expectations in most areas until the past month. Improved hitting has helped them win 22 of the past 30 games, but that also coincided with better performances from the starting pitchers -- despite Mike Mussina's recent slump.
"Our bullpen has been outstanding all year," said Oates. "The defense has improved as the season has gone along, and our starters have done well at times. But we've been outscored quite a bit in the first three innings [140-76], which is why we were struggling earlier."
Oates won't make any judgments at the midpoint of the season, preferring to wait until all the statistics have been compiled. He won't even concede that Mark McLemore, who is hitting .287 in 72 games and playing solid defense in right field, has been the biggest surprise to date.
"He's been a pleasure to watch, but I wouldn't say he's been a surprise, because I wouldn't put him out there if I didn't think he could do it," said Oates. "The only surprise would be that he's been able to play right field on an everyday basis. He's done a good job."
If there is reason for Oates, and the Orioles, to be encouraged, it would be because McLemore is the only player who could be considered as having played above his expectations. And there still is plenty of room for improvement.
With the season at the halfway point, a look at the projected season totals for several Orioles if their second halves match their first halves:
Mark McLemore: 88 runs,76 RBI, 30 SBs
Chris Hoiles: 28 HRs, 72 RBI
Cal Ripken: 20 HRs, 80 RBI
Gregg Olson: 72 G, 46 saves
Mike Mussina: 18-8, 218 IP,156 K's
, Rick Sutcliffe: 16-6, 214 IP
HEADING TO THE BREAK
The schedule for the AL East's top four teams heading into next week's All-Star break:
Toronto: (7 home) July 5-7 Chicago; July 8-11 Texas.
New York: (7 away) July 5-7 at Seattle; July 8-11 at California.
Detroit: (7 away) July 5-7 at Minnesota; July 8-11 at Kansas City.
Orioles: (3 away, 4 home) July 5-7 at Kansas City; July 8-11 Chicago.