If the Orioles are going to play in October for the second consecutive season, the formula is simple: They need a rotation to consistently pitch into the sixth and seventh innings. If that happens, the Orioles have plenty of offense, defense and a good enough bullpen to win the American League East.
But as the season resumes Friday in Texas, the Orioles rotation ranks 13th in the AL with a 4.79 ERA, while their bullpen has pitched 306 innings, fourth-most in the league. And the Orioles can’t continue to count on the offense that was a presence in the All-Star Game.
The big question in the rotation is Jason Hammel. He pitched all right in April, but hasn’t been anything close since.
Chris Davis takes aim at 60 home runs and Manny Machado has 39 doubles with a chance to be the first player since 1936 to have 60 doubles in a season. Machado might make a run at the single-season record of 67, by Earl Webb of Boston in 1931.
By the way, Davis tied Oakland’s Reggie Jackson for the most AL home runs before the break, with 37. Jackson finished with 47 for the A’s that season.
Here’s how the Orioles’ division and wild card competition stacks up as the season resume:
* The Rays were in last place in the AL East on June 23, but they have been the best team in baseball since late May, thanks to a strong rotation and bullpen, an improving defense and an offense led by former Oriole Luke Scott. ... The Rays have 15 quality starts going into the second half and their rotation is starting to hit its peak: David Price has been lights-out since coming back from an injury and Jeremy Hellickson is pitching better than he did early in the season. Chris Archer and Matt Moore are solid, and Alex Cobb, hit in the head with a line drive, should be coming of the disabled list after the break. ... The Rays’ biggest improvement is their offense, and it’s a surprise that they are the fifth-best run-producing team in the AL. ... The Rays have been beating up on the Twins, Astros and White Sox, but a test comes right after the break with a 10-game trip to Toronto, Boston and New York.
* The Yankees haven’t been in this position at the break since 1995, when they were 30-36 and eight games behind the Red Sox. The Yankees went 49-29 in the second half and won the wild card race by a game. Coming back this year is going to be more of a challenge because of age and injury, which will be an issue during the final two months. ... Andy Pettitte is pitching like the 41-year-old that he is, CC Sabathia doesn’t have the same dominance and Phil Hughes is either good or bad. ... If the Yankees don’t make the playoffs, All-Star MVP Mariano Rivera will close his career in Houston’s Minute Maid Park, a stadium in which he’s never pitched.
* The first-place Red Sox lead the AL East, as well as the league, in runs scored, but they are still in the market for a third baseman, starting pitching and bullpen help. If the Phillies fall out of the race, the Red Sox could wind up with third baseman Michael Young, who has had resurgence in Philadelphia. ... There don’t appear to be many losing streaks with a rotation led by Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey. Lackey’s dominance has been one of the best stories in the AL. ... How improved are the Red Sox? They’ve won 19 series so far this season, one less than they won all of last season.
* Tigers manager Jim Leyland says the team has done well in the first half battling “unrealistic expectations.’’ ... The Tigers, who had six All-Stars, have the best rotation in the AL with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello, but the back of the bullpen is still a question. ... The Tigers offense is the second-best in the AL behind Boston. Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez came on strong in July. Jhonny Peralta is an All-Star, and how do opponents hold down Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder? ... Verlander says the team knows how to prepare for good baseball in August and September, so he expects the Tigers to roll when the season resumes. “That’s what experience is good for,’’ Verlander says.
* The Indians are a surprise contender, but we have seen this show before. The Indians have had strong first-half teams in each of the last two seasons and then faded after the break. This year, the Indians aren’t consistent, but they know resiliency. They can’t beat the Tigers head-to-head, but they finished the first half 5-1 and are 1 1/2 games behind Detroit in the AL Central. ... The Indians are a good blend of young (Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis) and experience (Jason Giambi, Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher). ... Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, who has figured out his mechanics, are solid at the top of the rotation. Zack McAllister comes back from injury after the break, but the key will be how well Cory Kluber and Scott Kazmir continue their surprise seasons. Kazmir is throwing as well as he did in 2008 when he helped Tampa Bay win the AL pennant.
* The Athletics ended the first half with six consecutive series wins, meaning they went into the break with a winning record for the first time since 2008. ... The young rotation looked overmatched in the first two months, but overall, they went into the break with the lowest ERA in the AL. How good is the A’s pitching? They scored three or fewer runs in their previous six games and won four of them. ... The Athletics could use help at second base, and the Phillies’ Chase Utley might be a candidate to move west. ... Their closer, All-Star Grant Balfour, is the only closer in baseball without a blown save.
* The Rangers have done an amazing job staying in contention despite having six starters on the disabled list: Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, Yu Darvish, Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch. ... Closer Joe Nathan, 38, has saved 30 of 31 games and has a 1.36 ERA. He has 328 saves all-time, even though he didn’t start closing with Minnesota until he was 29. ... The Rangers need a right-handed bat when the season resumes and Manny Ramirez is in their minor-league system. Manny doesn’t want to end his career with the PED suspension in Tampa Bay. That motivation could be a plus for the Rangers.