Baltimore • Chris Davis and the Baltimore Orioles were a huge hit before the All-Star break.
Davis mashed a major-league leading 37 homers, and the Orioles sent the ball over the fence 132 times 17 more than any other team.
Thanks heavily to an offense that ranked third in the majors in scoring, the Orioles hit the break with a 53-43 record and very much in contention to reach the postseason for a second straight year.
"Obviously our power has been a huge aspect of our success," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "Hopefully that continues, but you can't always count on three-run homers."
Good hitting has gotten the Orioles this far. Strong pitching, especially from the starting rotation, will likely determine their fate over the final 66 games.
"Last year we got deeper in games with our starting pitching," manager Buck Showalter said. "If we do that, we'll have fun the rest of the way. If we don't, it will be a challenge. A lot of things feed off that."
The longer the starters go, the shorter the relievers pitch. It's that simple.
"I don't care how good you are offensively or defensively," Showalter said. "If you're constantly pitching a lot of innings out of your bullpen, you're not going to like the results."
The Orioles played much of the first half without injured left-hander Wei-Yin Chen and never really had a fifth starter after Jake Arrieta proved incapable of handling the assignment from the outset. Baltimore employed 13 starters before the All-Star break, including Freddy Garcia, Jair Jurrjens, Josh Stinson and Rule 5 draftee T.J. McFarland.
Chen has returned from the disabled list, Scott Feldman was added to the mix via trade earlier this month, and now the Orioles hope to have a solid rotation in Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, All-Star right-hander Chris Tillman, Jason Hammel and Feldman.
"I'd like to see our rotation with the current pitchers healthy pitching their regular turn," vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. "Let's see where that takes us. If they can pitch consistent innings, I know our bullpen can do a good job."
Actually, the bullpen has been spotty thus far. Pedro Strop, who shined last year as a setup man, went 0-3 with a 7.25 ERA before being sent to the Cubs with Arrieta in the trade for Feldman. Jim Johnson, who converted 51 of 54 save opportunities last year, has already blown six chances.
A year ago, Baltimore went 29-9 in one-run games and won 16 straight in extra innings a feat that can be attributed to a steady bullpen. This season, the Orioles are 13-14 in one-run games and 5-3 in extra innings.