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Five questions Orioles need to answer in the second half

Five questions Orioles need to answer in the second half

On Friday, the Orioles resume play at Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field, and with 75 games left, there are many concerns. Let’s look at five of them.

1. Will the Orioles’ starting pitching improve? 

Everyone knows that the Orioles’ starters, except for Chris Tillman, have to get better in the season’s second half.

Tillman is the first Orioles pitcher to be 10 games over .500 at the All-Star break since Mike Cuellar in 1971. 

His 12-2 mark is outstanding, but he’s barely averaging six innings a start. Tyler Wilson is the only other starter to average six innings a start, and he’s technically not even with the team right now. 

In order for the Orioles to hold on to their lead, their starters are going to have to get more outs. 

Only five times in the first 87 games has a starter gotten an out in the eighth inning, and it would be shocking if they continued to lead without longer starts.

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2. Can they get some starting pitching elsewhere?

Other than better starts from the current starters, the only in-house solution seems to be Dylan Bundy, and he wouldn’t be providing deep starts. 

Bundy has done a superb job of setting himself up as a starter, for 2017, by pitching well in multiple inning relief outings with multiple days of rest. 

While he could start a few times in the final three months, the Orioles insist they want to get him through this season healthy. 

With 18 days until the trading deadline, there will be countless rumors, but unlike the past three years, the Orioles don’t seem to have many minor league pitchers who will be attractive to teams looking to unload veterans. 

Eleven teams are trailing division leaders by 12 or more games, so there should be a number of potential sellers. 

Names that have been tossed around include Philadelphia’s Jeremy Hellickson, Oakland’s Rich Hill, San Diego’s Drew Pomeranz, and most intriguing, some from the Tampa Bay Rays. 

The Orioles are quite familiar with Mike Moore and Jake Odorizzi, but would the Rays trade them, and what really do the Orioles have to offer?

3. Can the relief pitching be this good? 

Brad Brach and Zach Britton were worthy All-Star choices, and their subpar outings in the first half were rare.

Showalter doesn’t want to overtax them in the second half, and it’s amazing that they’ve done this well with Darren O’Day sidelined.

O’Day has been out since June 3, and barring some wondrous recovery during the All-Star break, is probably a couple of weeks from returning. 

After all this time away, O’Day will probably name several minor league rehab appearances, and his right hamstring injury has been prevented them. 

Mychal Givens needs to get better against left-handers. They’re batting .404 against him. A year ago in his first go-around, they hit just .206. 

That’s preventing manager Buck Showalter from using him in longer outings, putting more pressure on others in the bullpen. 

With the Orioles adding left-handed specialist Donnie Hart, that may help. 

Showalter is also hoping that Chaz Roe, who is out of options, will be effective—at least until O’Day returns. 

4. Can the offense continue to make up for the starter’s shortcomings?

The offense has actually been as good as advertised. They’ve hit 137 home runs, and are on pace for 255. 

Five batters: Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop, have at least 14.

Shockingly, they’re not among the league leaders in strikeouts, and their on-base percentage, which was just .307 this year, has risen markedly to .333, ranking them third in the American League. 

The addition of Trumbo, Hyun Soo Kim and Joey Rickard have markedly helped. 

They’re averaging more than five runs a game and haven’t been shut out in 50 games. In fact, they have scored at least two runs in each game since their last shutout, and have won the last two times they’ve scored just one run. 

5. Can they get through the worst of their schedule?

The Orioles have won the most home games of any team in baseball, 33 and their 14 losses are tied for the fewest. 

Unfortunately, their road record hasn’t been terribly strong (18-22), and that’s got to improve. 

They’re in the midst of a stretch where 30 of 42 games are away from home, and beginning on Friday, play 30 games in 31 days including a one-day trip to Minnesota, three games in Toronto, and a 10-gamer to Chicago, Oakland and San Francisco. 

If they can get through that with a lead, they should be fine. 

Each of their last 45 games is in the Eastern time zone, and 31 of them are against the AL East. They’re 22-13 against the East.

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Rainout delays Orioles RHP Cobb's reunion with Rays

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USA TODAY Sports

Rainout delays Orioles RHP Cobb's reunion with Rays

BALTIMORE -- The Tampa Bay Rays have to wait at least one more day before taking their swings against former teammate Alex Cobb.

Cobb, now with the Baltimore Orioles, was scheduled to face his old team on Tuesday night before the game was postponed by rain.

Thus, Cobb will start Wednesday in the delayed start of this series between the only two AL East teams with losing records.

The rainout will be made up as part of single-admission doubleheader on May 12.

It was the 27th major league game to be postponed this season, the most related to weather through April since the commissioner's office started keeping records in 1986. Detroit's game at Pittsburgh was washed out later Tuesday, raising the total to 28.

Cobb, 30, spent his entire career with the Rays before signing with Baltimore as a free agent on March 21. Over six years with Tampa Bay, the right-hander was 48-35 and one of the leaders of the staff.

"He was a crucial part to this organization's success," Rays starter Chris Archer said. "He's a big-game pitcher and somebody who's very consistent, very routine oriented. The competitive nature rubbed off on me and rubbed off on the other guys in this clubhouse as well."

Cobb signed a $57 million, four-year deal with the Orioles, who will be counting on him to deliver the same kind of pitching and leadership in Baltimore.

Thus far, it hasn't gone well. Cobb got off to a late start because he missed most of spring training, and since his return he's gone 0-2 with a 15.43 ERA.

"Abbreviation has affected that," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He's going to get going here. Hopefully he can wait one more start before he does."

Brad Miller was down to bat cleanup for the Rays on Tuesday night before the game was called. Miller knew better than to chat with his old friend beforehand.

"Definitely wouldn't talk to him on his start days," Miller said. "Thought about maybe texting him just to rattle him a little bit, but ... ."

Miller won't know what to think when he sees Cobb wearing the orange and black of the Orioles.

"It's definitely going to be weird seeing him on the mound," Miller said. "I miss Cobb a lot. He was the ultimate competitor."

And that, Miller contends, is what sets Cobb apart from most pitchers.

"He's a bulldog. Really intense, kind of an old-school throwback starting pitcher," Miller said. "He's going to go out there and do anything he can for his team. So that, for me, is obviously his biggest trait."

The rainout came at an opportune time for the Orioles, who are hampered by injuries and have lost nine of 10 games to fall 11 games under .500 (6-17).

Baltimore's projected starting lineup did not include infielder Tim Beckham, who's been bothered by a groin injury and is expected to land on the 10-day disabled list.

With Beckham out and Trey Mancini playing with a tender right knee, manager Buck Showalter would have been operating with a short bench.

Help is on the way: Baltimore claimed utility infielder Jace Peterson on waivers from the New York Yankees. He's expected to arrive Wednesday.

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Indians' 14-hit victory hands Orioles 8th loss in 9 games

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USA TODAY Sports

Indians' 14-hit victory hands Orioles 8th loss in 9 games

BALTIMORE — The Cleveland Indians figured it would only be a matter of time before their struggling offense provided some support to a solid starting rotation.

Jose Ramirez and the rest of the batting order finally got into a groove Sunday, and the result was a 14-hit attack that carried Corey Kluber and the Indians past the Baltimore Orioles 7-3.

Cleveland came into the game with a .211 team batting average and ranked second-to-last in the AL in runs scored. On this day, however, Ramirez hit a solo shot in the fourth inning and a two-run drive in the ninth, and Yan Gomes had three hits to lift his batting average 41 points to .261.

"When things are not going my way, I stay positive and work it," Ramirez said through a translator. "I know eventually I'm going to break out."

Ramirez has three homers in two games and a team-leading seven for the season.

"I try not to do too much," Ramirez said. "I just look for a good pitch and then I hit it somewhere."

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Kluber yielded two home runs to Manny Machado, but the Indians twice came from behind before tacking on three runs in the ninth.

"I thought we did a pretty good job," manager Terry Francona said. "When they came back, we came back at them. We kept pushing and took some better swings."

Kluber (3-1) allowed three runs and six hits over seven-plus innings. The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner walked none and struck out four to move past Charles Nagy into sixth place on the Indians' career strikeout list with 1,238.

"It doesn't matter if you feel you pitched well or didn't pitch well. The goal is to end the game with more runs they do," Kluber said. "That's what we did."

Machado's third multihomer game of the season wasn't enough to prevent the Orioles from losing for the ninth time in 10 games, a skid that has dropped them 10 games under .500 (6-16).

"You know what? There's no excuse for what's happening," Machado said. "We need to play better overall. Nobody is in here pointing fingers. We are in here together, and we are going to ride or die together."

Andrew Cashner (1-3) gave up four runs and eight hits in six innings, walking two and striking out seven. He's 0-3 with 7.41 ERA in three lifetime appearances against the Indians.

After Machado connected in the first inning, Cleveland went up 2-1 in the fourth when Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso hit successive doubles following a leadoff homer by Ramirez.

Baltimore regained the lead in the bottom half. After Machado homered, Adam Jones doubled and scored on a single by Chris Davis.

A pair of walks and run-scoring singles by Francisco Lindor and Michael Brantley put the Indians up 4-3 in the fifth.

"Once you get the lead, you can't give it up," Cashner lamented.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Indians: CF Bradley Zimmer was a late scratch with a mild right ankle sprain. He was replaced by Rajai Davis.

Orioles: LF Trey Mancini missed a second straight game with a swollen right knee. ... DH Mark Trumbo (strained right quad) will begin a three-game stint with Double-A Bowie on Monday, then play three games with Triple-A Norfolk later in the week, manager Buck Showalter said. He won't be rushed to return. "It's important we get it right the first time," Showalter said.

WELL RESTED

Indians right-hander Josh Tomlin threw a side session Saturday and is expected to start Tuesday against the Cubs. Francona opted to skip Tomlin's last scheduled start Wednesday to reset the rotation after Cleveland had two straight games postponed last weekend.

UP NEXT

Indians: Carlos Carrasco (3-0, 3.48 ERA) starts the series finale Monday night. The right-hander is 9-0 with a 1.75 ERA over his past 11 starts since Aug. 27.

Orioles: RHP Kevin Gausman (1-1, 5.57) makes his fifth start of the season after allowing 27 hits -- including six homers -- over 21 innings.

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