5 Keys to the Baltimore Orioles Staying in the Race Through the All-Star Break

Alex SnyderContributor IIJune 12, 2012

5 Keys to the Baltimore Orioles Staying in the Race Through the All-Star Break

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    At the time of this writing, the Baltimore Orioles are just one game out of first place in the AL East, behind the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. And so far this season, the Orioles aren't very used to being anywhere but first in their division.

    If the Orioles want to maintain their high standing, multiple things, of course, need to go right for them, just as they would need to for any team.

    Earlier in the season, certain things were being executed upon that helped them dominate. But over the last few weeks, their level of play has fallen off, and it's a wonder that they're still eight games over the .500 mark.

    Should the Orioles make sure they better themselves in even just a few of the following areas, this team could end up being for real instead of fading off as the season progresses.

Timely Hitting

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    If you haven't noticed lately, the Orioles offense has been quite terrible during their recent run of iffy play.

    Not that their offense has been all that great this year to begin with. They hit a lot of dingers, score a respectable amount of runs, but don't get on base much, don't hit with runners on much, and don't really go through their lineup as a team.

    With the way the pitching on this team is, they're going to need some runs to continue winning ballgames. The offense figures to come around at some point, as it appears that practically the whole team is slumping at the same time.

    They'd be better off fixing that team slump sooner, rather than later.

Avoid the DL

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    The O's haven't been a lucky team in terms of health issues thus far this season.

    They lost starting pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada for the season, before the season even started. Second baseman Brian Roberts is only now looking at his return to the big leagues. Right fielder Nick Markakis (pictured) is gone for the next few weeks after needing surgery on his wrist. Center fielder Adam Jones has yet to hit the DL (knock on wood) but hasn't been as effective at the plate because of a sore wrist.

    Now, we all know injuries are unavoidable. And good teams find ways to win, even with devastating injuries to key members of their team.

    However, a huge boost to this Baltimore Orioles team would be the healthy and successful return of guys like Roberts, Markakis and starting pitcher Zach Britton.

    Being lucky with the DL for the rest of the year would be fantastic for the O's, because frankly, they just simply don't have the quality depth needed to continue competing should key guys continue dropping.

Starting Pitching Growth

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    The lack of growth among the young starting pitchers that the Orioles have is pretty disturbing.

    Jake Arrieta (pictured) was supposed to be the ace of the staff and is now in the bullpen with the team trying to figure out if he'll need to go down to the minors. Tommy Hunter hasn't been particularly great. Brian Matusz had five strong outings before he went just two innings in his last start.

    The only real solids have been rookie Wei-Yin Chen and newcomer Jason Hammel. And although Chen has been fantastic, Hammel is starting to come back down to earth now.

    Growth among these guys, as well as Zach Britton when he returns to the bigs, is imperative to the team's success.

    The signs don't seem to be pointing in the right direction right now, but any pitcher could figure it all out at any given time, so you never know.

    Still, it wouldn't hurt for the team to continue stocking up on pitching depth.

Saving the Bullpen

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    The biggest strength to this Orioles team has been its bullpen.

    Guys like Luis Ayala (pictured), Darren O'Day, Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson have been holding and preserving leads like nobody's business. Manager Buck Showalter couldn't have asked for a better bullpen.

    The only concern with it right now is the fact that it's been used quite a lot since the season started because of what was highlighted on the previous slide—a distinct lack of starter effectiveness.

    If the bullpen gets burned out before the season ends, that could pretty much ruin any chances of the Orioles making a playoff run, assuming they're still in it at that point.

    Of course, the outcome of the concern in this slide is directly related to how the starters do. For the bullpen to survive, the starters need to flourish. It's that simple.

Believing

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    Mentality can take you a long way in sports, and especially in baseball. That's not to say that it can carry a bad team to a championship, but a good team can beat a better team as long as players believe they can.

    Keeping yourself from being defeated in the head is half the battle, and as long as the Birds continue to have a positive outlook on what they're doing, they should continue to be in this thing.

    The O's will still need a good team to stay in the hunt late into the season, but if they have a good team with a bad mentality, they'll drop like a rock in the standings.

    Just keep believin', O's, and you never know. You might do great things.