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Schmuck: Not quite time for Baltimore fans to turn attention from Orioles to Ravens

With O's under .500 days away from Ravens training camp, it's understandable to feel some negative nostalgia.

This is the kind of nostalgia that isn't going to give anybody who bleeds orange and black a warm and fuzzy feeling.

There was a time not so long ago that this week represented the annual passing of the baton from the beleaguered Orioles to the always-competitive Ravens for Baltimore sports fans. For the decade or so before the O's re-emerged as a contending team in 2012, the opening of Ravens training camp was a welcome escape from baseball oblivion.

Of course, nobody wants to go back to those not-so-halcyon days, but it's starting to look like the Orioles are going to be left behind in the American League East, which they won so easily with a late-season rush last year.

A successful title defense is still mathematically possible. The Orioles aren't so far behind the surprising New York Yankees that they can't recover, and they're still well within range of one of the wild-card playoff berths. But there is nothing about what has happened over the past four weeks that engenders confidence that their lengthy slump is a short-term aberration.

Meanwhile, the Ravens have been getting a lot of love from the national media. They've retooled the banged-up secondary that probably kept them out of last year's AFC title game and added some important weapons on the offensive side of the ball. They appear once again to be a strong playoff contender and soon should provide an upbeat alternative to the discouraging tailspin that has dropped the Orioles into fourth place.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter continues to express confidence in the ability of his players to regain their footing. But the club has reached an uncomfortable point in July when the deadline for making trades without waivers is just a few days away and it's not really clear whether baseball operations chief Dan Duquette should be acquiring help or dumping potential free agents.

There is a rising chorus among the frustrated fan base to pull the plug and use all those expiring contracts to retool for the future. The Orioles presumably could acquire a boatload of decent prospects for Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Wei-Yin Chen and some of the other guys who probably won't be back next year. But it's too early for that and fans need to recognize the full impact of a fire sale.

It wouldn't be giving up just on this season. The Orioles minor league system is almost devoid of quality position depth, so the decision to restock it with a series of big trades and another solid draft would pretty much write off 2016 and 2017 unless the club suddenly becomes a real player in the upcoming free-agent market.

Duquette has not shown the inclination to move aggressively in November, but that's what it would take to maintain a representative team next year while the organization develops a new wave of young talent.

The other option is to keep grinding and try to make a couple of meaningful deals before next Friday's deadline. The Orioles, like just about everyone else, could use another quality starting pitcher and they badly need someone to add continuity and pop to a frustratingly inconsistent (and currently unproductive) lineup.

It's easy to say now that the Orioles should have done more last winter to shore up the outfield and improve the club's on-base percentage. That wasn't so apparent during their red-hot June, but it's glaring now and the fans will get a reminder on Monday when Nick Markakis (.288 average, .372 OBP entering Saturday) arrives in town with the Atlanta Braves.

Though Duquette has said repeatedly that he has the wherewithal to make a couple of trades, the acquisition of a helpful pitcher and a truly impactful corner outfielder would put another big hole in a player development pipeline that badly needs an infusion of talent instead of the opposite.

No doubt, this all will become clearer by the end of next week. Either the Orioles will get something figured out by the trade deadline or they won't, and then it will be up to you to decide if you're ready for some football.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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