After finishing in last place in 2011 with an under .500 record of 69-93, the Orioles had a productive offseason and have seemed to be hitting on all cylinders so far in the first half of 2012.
They have a 45-40 record, seven games back of the first place New York Yankees.
Even though they have not looked very strong as of late, Baltimore still finds themselves in the playoff hunt for the first time in over a decade. They have shown that they can dig down and win games with grit and determination. They have shown they can also blow a weaker opponent away.
The team of black and orange gets a nice and much-needed break during the All-Star week. Outfielder Nick Markakis is healthy again, and the Orioles can stop their landslide before it gets out of control.
It is also a time for the Birds to think about some keys they must achieve in order to have a successful second half of the season and an appearance in the 2012 postseason.
First and foremost, the Orioles need team chemistry. Injuries and Buck Schowalter's constant sending up and down of players have caused major changes to the lineup—they seem to have a different one every night.
Baseball is a team sport and, in order for the team to be successful, they must get a feel for how each other plays and where they will be on the field. This creates fluidity and, once a team gels, their confidence will grow.
So will the number of games in the win column.
In order for the Orioles to see their number of wins increase, they must maintain a consistent lineup and allow the players to grow together.
The Baltimore Orioles must also have stronger outings from their starting pitchers. The starting rotation has a collective ERA of 4.79 and opponents are batting .269 against them. These kind of numbers do not win games.
Outside of Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen, who have records of 8-4 and 7-4, respectively, the other starters have been below average. Lucky for the Birds, the rest of the bullpen has been their saving grace and kept them in games. All-Star closer Jim Johnson has 24 saves this season. The Orioles' starters must relieve their relievers if they want a deep run in the fall.
Another way to help out the starters is for the Orioles to play better defense. They currently have the most number of errors in league with 75, and they also have the worst fielding percentage at .977.
Yet, somehow, they still hold a decent record. The costly mistakes in the field are also caused by the lack of a consistency in the lineup.
The players are not used to playing with one another and appear to be playing more individually than as a team. They are throwing the ball where they would expect someone to be and not where they know someone will be.
It is these bonehead plays that could easily cost the Orioles their chance at the postseason. They must cut down on the unforced errors if they expect to hang with the top teams until the end.
Finally, the Birds need more production in terms of run support from their big bats. The team's batting average is .240, which is 26th in the league, and they are scraping by.
Two of these disappointing bats are Nick Johnson and Mark Reynolds. Not only have their on-field numbers been dreadful, but their at-bat numbers are worse. Each player is batting below the team average and barely over .200. Both have struck out too many times and are struggling to find the seam between the opposing defense.
If these two players, along with the rest of the team, can get their bats going, the Orioles will be in great shape for a high-flying second half.
Baltimore has done a pretty good job in the first half of the season. If they can improve their play in a few aspects, they will certainly be guaranteed to have an even better second half of the season and find themselves right in thick of the playoff conversation.