The Orioles return from the All-Star break tomorrow with a disappointing .500 record yet only four games behind the division-leading New York Yankees, a team so old and flawed that a drop-off looks inevitable. The American League East appears up for grabs with even the last-place Boston Red Sox not entirely out of the running.

So here is our prediction: Baltimore baseball fans will not despair. If five years of listening to the rock-steady Buck "I like our guys" Showalter has taught us anything, it's to have faith in your talent. This is the same team that was in first place a couple of weeks ago, and they are about a 10-game winning streak from returning to that perch.


Admittedly, there have been some disappointments in the first half. The off-season acquisitions aren't setting the world on fire. Remember Everth Cabrera? Oy. Injuries have been a problem, and the starting pitching has been — and here we offer our most sportswriterly language — "inconsistent." We won't name names, but would the gentleman with the "BN" monogrammed towels please report to the time machine so we can exchange him for his 2014 self and his 15-game-winning ways?

As for the rest of the team, we leave a more thorough analysis to the professionals on The Sun's sports pages. But if the All-Star game-related events taught us anything, it's that: 1. Major League Baseball has some awesome young talent right now, including the Orioles' own Manny Machado, so the team's choice to invest in its farm system has been well-timed; and 2. Fans make a difference.

Catch the All-Star Home Run Derby? The crowed practically willed the Reds' Todd Frazier to victory, and it's a point he gratefully recognized afterward. Admittedly, a home run derby is a home run derby and not the World Series. Yet the power of baseball fans to influence the outcome of contests is not something to take lightly.

Baltimore fans could be forgiven for being a little bit down right now for obvious reasons. The death of Freddie Gray, the protests, the rioting and unrest, have redefined this city for much of the nation. To many, we are not defending American League East champions, we are defending for our lives. We're the city where they had to play a baseball game to an empty stadium. We're a home of police who are either too brutal or too lax, take your pick.

But that's not what we've been experiencing at Camden Yards in recent weeks. Fans are excited. They are vocal, and they are energized. It doesn't require much prodding to get them out of their seats cheering for the next Chris Davis home run or Darren O'Day clutch relief appearance. Average attendance has been more than 29,000 per game, or only 1,500 or so behind last year's pace, a stunning achievement given the rather depressing circumstances of this city since the season's start in April. TV ratings have been even better with the Orioles ranked fifth in the MLB behind only the Royals, Cardinals, Pirates and Tigers.

So here's what Orioles fans should be asking themselves, and it doesn't involve the trading deadline, the corner outfield positions or whether Chris Tillman is back to eating his Wheaties: Can we have faith in ourselves? We could really use a joyous and rocking ballpark right now — the kind where the players feel fan reaction to every pitch, every swing, every catch, the grandstands erupting over every success but unshaken by the occasional setback.

Such an outpouring of faith, of shared belief, of a community united might not only propel the Birds to success but accomplish a great deal more than that. Baseball is just a game, of course. Whether the Orioles return to the playoffs is hardly a life-or-death situation, it's a trifling compared to everything else this city is grappling with. But wouldn't it be nice to spend August and September rooting for a baseball team with your neighbors, city dwellers, suburbanites and everyone else in Orioles Nation united behind this simple goal?

Maybe that's a bit too much to put on a baseball team. Maybe. But if the Red Sox could lift the hearts of Boston after the marathon bombing in 2013 or the Yankees could do the same for New York a dozen years earlier after 9/11, perhaps the question to ask, as the O's so famously did when they went from record losers to contenders in 1989, is, why not?