The Orioles will reach the mathematical halfway point of the 2017 season Sunday and executive vice president Dan Duquette made it clear Friday that he isn't even considering a midseason sell-off.
Quite the contrary.
Just a week or so ago, when the Orioles were deep in a lengthy slump, Duquette said it was "premature" to talk about trading off some players to brighten the club's future, but he clearly wasn't ruling it out.
Now that the Orioles have won back-to-back road series against divisional rivals, Duquette is decidedly more bullish on the prospects of the club and looking to add pitching from outside the organization before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
"Yes, we would like to add pitching to our team," Duquette said. "There's no question we could strengthen our team by adding a quality pitcher. So, we'll be focused on that, but probably the biggest contribution we can make to our team is to help our current pitchers to perform at the level they can perform at and to give them the resources they need to perform at that level and have good years."
Both appear to be tall orders at the moment. Duquette concedes that the large number of teams still in playoff contention make it a lopsidedly seller's market when it comes to quality starting pitching. And he also does not deny that — with the exception of Dylan Bundy — all of the Orioles' front-line starters have underperformed badly to this point in the season.
So, why does he think that is going to change during the second half of the season?
There certainly are a number of areas with significant room for improvement, and Duquette chooses to believe that his team — hovering around .500 — is positioned a lot better than it has a right to be considering the serious challenges it faced during the first half.
"We're still in contention and we have a number of players that we know can pitch better and play better, because they've done it for us," he said. "They've done it over a period of time. We always give the veteran pitchers a little more time to get into the rhythm of the season. Our expectation is some of the veteran players that we have will do better the second half of the season than they have to date."
It's not just about pitching, but it is fair to keep in mind that the Orioles opened the season without their No. 1 starter and soon were without the closer who turned in a historic performance last year.
"Any pitching staff is bookended by the No. 1 pitcher and the closer," Duquette said. "To sustain a competitive team, you need to have your good closer on the end and your ace pitcher. We had the unfortunate set of events the first half of the season where we haven't gotten a lot from our first two starting pitchers and our closer wasn't available to us. We also have a veteran starter in [Ubaldo] Jimenez who is a streaky pitcher and he hasn't gone on a hot streak yet. Our expectations are that they will perform better in the second half of the season."
Orioles fans can only hope those expectations are realized, but they have every right to be skeptical after a first half in which the combined ERA of the starting rotation ranks 29th in the majors, ahead of only the last-place Cincinnati Reds.
It's a stretch to believe that Jimenez will start reeling off outings like his near-perfect eight-inning start against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday. It's not a stretch, however, to believe that Kevin Gausman has turned a corner over the past couple of weeks and could be ready to mirror last year's strong second half.
Duquette also has a right to believe that there is more to come from several position players — particularly Manny Machado, who has spent most of the season fighting to keep his batting average above .220.
"Machado and [Chris] Davis … and Mark Trumbo, they've shown that they can perform at a much higher level than they did the first half," Duquette said. "So, all in all, we're still a very competitive team. But if we're going to be a championship team or a playoff-caliber team, we're going to need some of our veteran players to step up and play at the level they have established for themselves over the course of their careers."
Obviously, a lot has to go right that has been going wrong and one uplifting road trip doesn't necessarily point to a dramatic turn of fortune. The best argument in favor of the Orioles turning things around is the way they performed during the first seven weeks of the season, almost all of which were spent either in first place or within a game of it.
They played well despite the struggling rotation, the injuries and the subpar production from several key veteran position players. So, the pending return of Zach Britton and some hopeful signs out of the rotation give license for some guarded optimism that the second half of the season will be better than the first.
We're about to find out.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.