The Orioles at 85 games: A look back and a look ahead

The Orioles are 45-40 at the All-Star break. They are in second place in the American League East and are in second in the AL wild card race right now.

Time to take a look back at the first half and ahead to what we may see over the second half of the season.

What went right: The Orioles’ tremendous bullpen performance coupled with their ability to win close games served them well during the first half. They are an amazing 29-13 in games decided by one and two runs. That .690 win percentage is easily the best in the AL in close games. Plus, they went 9-2 in extra-inning games in the first half. Also, they are 33-0 when they lead after seven innings. They pulled out games with late runs and didn’t blow late leads when they had them.

Jones Mobbed At Home wide.jpgJason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen exceeded expectations in the first half and anchored a shaky rotation. Hammel has twice taken no-hitters deep into the game and his stuff is impressive.

Jim Johnson went 26-for-27 in saves with a WHIP of 0.75. Just an amazing performance and there was little drama when the O’s took the lead to the ninth.

Adam Jones got off to a fast start and continued to establish himself as the team leader. He got a new contract and those fans that said he’d never stay in Baltimore were proven wrong.

What went wrong: The rotation, after the top two spots, was a problem most of the first half. Three starters were sent to Triple-A in the final days of the first half. Now it’s next man up here as Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman pitched well when they got their shots and will begin the second half in the starting five. How those No. 3, 4 and 5 starters pitch will have a lot to say about how the Orioles do the rest of this season.

The Orioles’ corner defense was atrocious. It has gotten so bad for Mark Reynolds that Wilson Betemit gets some starts at third, but Reynolds doesn’t. The O’s have had their issues with defense in left field, as well. They are solid up the middle, but catcher Matt Wieters has made an uncharacteristic eight errors while Betemit and Robert Andino have combined for 25. For a long time, the Orioles won despite the problems in the field but as the season wore on, defensive miscues led directly to losses.

The Orioles offense lacks variety and speed. They can score some runs when the homers are there, but when they are not, it’s a station-to-station team that can look real bad when they are not getting clutch hits, which happened a lot in the last few weeks.

The Orioles have scored just 61 runs over the last 21 games. That trend cannot continue.

What lies ahead: The Zach Greinke rumors got a lot of people excited. But I still think his acquisition for the Orioles is an extreme longshot. The club seems more likely to have the capability of landing a mid-level pitcher and may well get at least one to bolster the rotation.

Dan Duquette figures to be active in trade talks and the Orioles may lead the league in trade rumors over the next few weeks. When I interviewed Duquette on Friday he said:

“The future is always now, when you are trying to win. Your future is really the opportunity and the risk is in not going for it. What do you think the fans want to see? They want to see and hear about all these prospects, or do they want to see a competitive major league team going for the pennant?”

Since taking this job in Baltimore, Duquette has already traded Greg Miclat, Randy Henry, Jarret Martin, Tyler Henson, Gabriel Lino and Kyle Simon.

There are some in the industry that think “Dealer Dan” will move more prospects over the next several weeks. No one expects Dylan Bundy or Manny Machado to be available via trade, but anyone else could go. I get the sense he would also consider moving the young starters that have struggled, like Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz, in the right deal.

Can the O’s make the playoffs?: Sure they can. With all that ails them, they still ended the first half as a playoff team and they begin the second half as a playoff contender. That is far more than any of us had a right to expect.

But the club went just 6-13 heading into the All-Star break and now Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez - two players that weren’t here for most of this season - are being counted on in key roles.

So far, amazingly, the Orioles are a contending team despite a shaky rotation and defense, and slumping offense. They have managed to win 45 games and have a better record than Boston, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Toronto, to name just four teams.

It seems many fans have the feeling that the other shoe has begun to drop and the club’s hold on a wild card spot is temporary.

As the second half begins, we’ll see if the Orioles can turn around their recent slide and keep this season as exciting as it has been. Will the Orioles be playing games with a lot riding on them in September?

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