For Orioles to stay afloat, pitching is essential
BALTIMORE (AP) â€” During the first 2Â½ months of the Baltimore Orioles' surprisingly successful season, sports writers from around the country descended upon Camden Yards to find out why a perennial loser was suddenly a contender in the AL East.
The answer, manager Buck Showalter insisted, was not profound. He summed it up with one word: "Pitching."
Baltimore led the division as late as June 7 and still stands in second place with a 45-40 record, mainly because of a rotation that features newcomers Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen, along with a bullpen anchored by All-Star closer Jim Johnson. With 26 saves in 27 opportunities, a 1-0 record and a 1.21 ERA, Johnson was arguably the team MVP in the first half.
Despite a 6-13 run leading into the All-Star break, the Orioles are still in position to secure a playoff spot. That might be a stretch for a team that went 69-93 last year, but at worst Baltimore has a decent shot of ending its pathetic run of 14 straight losing seasons.
Asked what the Orioles must do to make that happen, Johnson said, "Pitch. That's where it starts, pitching. It's all on our shoulders. If we make the pitches, we know our offense can score us some runs."
Baltimore stumbled into the break on the losing end of two straight shutouts, but right fielder Nick Markakis will return to the lineup Friday after missing five weeks with a wrist injury. All-Stars Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are two big reasons why the Orioles rank third in the AL in home runs, and the recent addition of slugger Jim Thome proves first-year vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette intends to be proactive in keeping the team in the thick of the playoff hunt.
The defense, however, has been suspect. Mark Reynolds and Wilson Betemit are liabilities at third base, and Baltimore has made more errors than any team in the majors.
"We've got to get back to playing the game of baseball, giving a team only 27 outs," Jones said. "That's how you win."
The Orioles have played most of the season without injured leadoff hitter Brian Roberts, who's back on the disabled list with a torn muscle in his right hip after missing 13 months with a concussion. His original replacement at the top of the order, Nolan Reimold, is out for the year after undergoing surgery for a herniated disk in his neck.
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