ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Despite a struggling offense, holes within their starting rotation and losing 13 out of their past 19 games, the Orioles went into this week's all-star break still clinging to the second wild-card spot.
If the season ended today, the Orioles would play the Angels in a one-game, winner-take-all wild-card playoff game.
They'd have to face an Angels team that has thoroughly dominated them this season, taking seven of nine games in the now-completed season series.
Now all of this would be great to hear from Orioles fans given expectations going into the season. Most fans would have been satisfied with a .500 team.
But now, with the Orioles still somehow holding on to second place in the AL East, expectations are different.
"Story yet to be written," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said about the first half. "It's an unfinished story. All-out curiosity will be satisfied. Everybody at this time of the year knows they've done some things good and things we've got to be better at. … We've got some important times ahead of us if we want to stay competitive."
Following the Orioles' one-sided 6-0 loss to the Angels on Sunday – the O's have scored just three runs in their last 32 innings – Showalter was asked by a California reporter about having an above .500 team at the break. The Orioles manager didn't take the ill-timed question easily.
"Winning more games than we lose is not something that those guys in that clubhouse are after, or having one game better than last year," Showalter said. "That's not how they're wound and trust me, that's not the way I'm wound."
Before the season, Showalter was talking about the club's incremental improvements, but now they're in the pennant race. Despite their struggles going into the break, the Orioles are still in the thick of it.
But this weekend's series in Anaheim has to be a wake-up call. The current Orioles don't match up well with the likes of the Angels. The win-loss numbers show it, but the Angels dominated the Orioles in every facet of the game -- hitting, pitching and especially defense.
All-Star right-hander Jered Weaver dominated them. So did journeyman left-hander Brad Mills. The Orioles had no answer for the Angels' savvy base-running or their power hitting. They got a little bit of help against left-hander C.J. Wilson, who apparently developed a blister during Friday's game – the Orioles' only win of the series.
The Angels are universally seen as a model organization, one Showalter says will challenge the Rangers for the AL West.
Now to find out where the Orioles' future lies.
They don't have a predetermined No. 5 starter going into the break. For that matter, outside of right-hander Jason Hammel and left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, their rotation is in flux. Right-handers Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez will likely get at least two more starts after promising 2012 debuts, but the jury is still out.
The bigger problem might be the offense, which has gone through lengthy phases of ineptness. Getting Nick Markakis back next week to stabilize the top of the order will undoubtedly help, but the Orioles' batting order still has too many moving parts.
Upgrades in both areas are definitely necessary. We know executive vice president Dan Duquette is being proactive in exploring options, but how willing is he to make a deal to keep the Orioles in the chase?
We'll find out soon enough.