As the Orioles approached the mathematical midway point of the season Sunday afternoon, manager Buck Showalter has often said the key to turning this season around in the second half will be getting deeper and more consistent outings from his starting rotation.
And as they reached the 81-game mark after a 7-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in their final game at Camden Yards before the All-Star break, the Orioles offered a glimpse of how dominating they can be when backed by a strong starting pitching performance.
As Showalter has said many times, tempo is everything.
Right-hander Kevin Gausman, who spent most of the season struggling to find his form of last year's strong second half, had his best start of the season, throwing seven shutout innings and allowing just four base runners (two singles, two walks) while striking out a season-high nine batters.
Feeding off Gausman's tempo, the Orioles offense was opportunistic against Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb, taking a four-run lead by putting base runners on early, moving them over and driving them in with home runs.
And even though the Orioles (40-41) sit one game under .500 at the halfway point — they left Baltimore after Sunday's game to play their final seven games before the All-Star break on the road in Milwaukee and Minnesota — it left players with a positive reminder of this team's promise.
"I think today was a good indication of what it looks like when guys are playing to their potential and contributing to the ballclub," designated hitter Mark Trumbo said.
Third baseman Manny Machado hit a three-run homer that inning, and Trumbo's solo blast in the fourth was his second in his past three games, a sign the Orioles can provide an offensive surge that this team has been on the wrong side of too many times this season in some lopsided losses.
"When we get good performances from the starting pitcher, timely hitting and our bullpen comes in and shuts it down, it's usually a 'W' for the Birds," catcher Caleb Joseph said.
But Gausman was the plug for the Orioles offense, working ahead and putting the Rays away quickly to get the Orioles hitters back into the dugout. Taking advantage of Tampa Bay's aggressiveness, Gausman induced lots of weak contact, inducing seven groundouts while missing bats with a splitter that drew 10 swing-and-misses.
'It felt good to play behind Gausy today and the job he did today on the mound," Machado said. "He went out there and pounded the zone today and threw strikes and kept us in the game. It allowed us to have the opportunity to go out there to do what we did. … It helps. They're giving us every opportunity to get back in the dugout and do something, do some damage as a team. We have a powerful team, we have some guys who can get on base and then guys that with one swing can break something loose. So they're giving us all the opportunity that they can."
The Orioles have been ravaged by injuries in the first half of the season. They've been without closer Zach Britton, starting pitcher Chris Tillman, shortstop J.J. Hardy and first baseman Chris Davis at some point in the first half, but Showalter makes sure that isn't used as an excuse for the team's inconsistent play. Instead, he points to the rotation, which held its own by posting a respectable 4.06 ERA in the first 32 games as the Orioles ran out to a 22-10 start. Since then, Orioles starters have a 6.75 ERA.
"It's something we've talked to the pitchers about," Showalter said. "You can only have great tempo if you're pitching well. There are some exceptions. But I think some of the crispness of the defense is directly related to it. We're on and off the field in three hitters."
The Orioles then left Baltimore for the final time before the All-Star break hoping to build on the formula that led to success Sunday.