A few Orioles are struggling with the bat as the first half closes

As the first half comes to a close today, maybe fans may have some hope to see an improved O's pitching rotation after the All-Star break that, at least initially, will include Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez. Who could have predicted that even as recently as a few weeks ago?

But the Orioles' offense also needs to step it up a notch pretty soon. The Orioles have sure seen a steady diet of good starting pitching in recent weeks, and they were shut out last night for the third time in the last 18 games.

Over their last 21 games - a time when they have gone 8-13 - the Orioles have scored 61 total runs with a team batting average of .200. They have scored three or fewer runs 15 times in that stretch.

A few players can probably use the All-Star break to freshen up. J.J. Hardy has had just two days off all season, and his average has dropped to .226, his OBP .265 and his OPS .649. Last year, those figures were .269/.310/.801 for Hardy.

He is 0-for-15 his last four games, 3-for-36 his last nine games and 9-for-81 (.111) with five RBIs his last 20 games. But, Hardy did hit 17 homers with 47 RBIs in the second half last year.

Hardy is far from alone with struggles on offense. Robert Andino is batting just .177 since May 8, Wilson Betemit is 2-for-22 since his 11-game batting streak ended, Chris Davis recently went through a 1-for-35 stretch and Mark Reynolds just pulled out of an 0-for-20 run.

hardy hit white sidebar.jpgMaybe Nick Markakis will be a big boost for the lineup soon, and Jim Thome has picked up a few hits recently as his bat is showing signs of producing.

Despite all this, if the Orioles win or Cleveland loses today, the Birds will go into the break as the second wild card team in the AL. At worst, they will be tied for the second berth after today.

So the bottom line is this: As the All-Star break arrives, the Orioles are a contending team talking about adding pitching to make a second-half run. After 14 losing seasons, who could have imagined that?

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