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Healthier Orioles hope second half is better than first

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Healthier Orioles hope second half is better than first

Perhaps it’s fitting that the Orioles are 44-44 as they pause for the All-Star break. That’s because the first half of the season lacked definition. They weren’t good, except for a three week stretch where they won 18 of 23, and they weren’t bad, not even over the last two weeks when they lost 10 of 13.

They’re in third place in the AL East, four games behind the New York Yankees and 3 ½ games out of the second wild card.

There’s plenty of time for them, but isn’t that what we thought in 2013?

It was two years ago, the season that’s been forgotten, that the Orioles headed into the All-Star break at 53-43 and won their first four games afterward, and then floundered.

They ended the season 85-77, a good season, to be sure, but not up to 2012 or 2014.

Could 2015 be similar?

Take away the 18-5, and the Orioles are 26-39. Surely one good stretch isn’t going to win this team the American League East, even if the division looks substandard.

They need at least two substantial runs in the second half to play beyond Oct. 4.

The first half was marred by injuries and remembered because of the disruption caused by the riots.

On Sunday, manager Buck Showalter referred to some of those who were on the disabled list, Kevin Gausman, J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop and Matt Wieters were all out for significant time.

“I try to keep in mind we had four or five guys who were missing that we have back now. Whether It be Jonathan or Matt or J.J., Adam [Jones] was down for a while, Gausman has been out for a while. I try to stay on the positive side of that, that knock on wood they're going to be there for us where we didn't have them. We had some good people come in and keep us engaged in the competition and we're there,” Showalter said.

The team is healthy now. Only Jason Garcia, a little-used Rule 5 draft pick and Wesley Wright, who the team has room for, are currently on the DL.

A decision on Wright could be coming shortly, but there seems to be little chance that he’ll be a second half contributor. After more than three months on the disabled list, Wright has horrifying numbers in Norfolk, and the Orioles have several others they’d rather have in their bullpen.

There were a few surprise contributors to the team: Jimmy Paredes and Chaz Roe have helped enormously, but several who were counted on for big roles have disappointed.

Besides Wright, who the team signed for $1.7 million, Everth Cabrera, Alejandro De Aza and Delmon Young are all gone. The Orioles will end up paying $4 million of De Aza’s $5 million contract, and combined with Cabrera ($2.4 million) and Young ($2.25 million), the team will pay more than $10 million for little production.

That’s approaching 10 percent of the team’s Opening Day payroll.

Because of that dead money, it’s questionable how much they’ll be able to spend to add players before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

While there’s publicly no worry about the key players who’ll likely depart due to free agency, the team can’t trade away some of its best younger prospects because some of them are going to be needed as replacements next year.

There’s little or no likelihood Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Davis or Matt Wieters return next year, but they can’t be traded for prospects because the team is in the race, and they’re playing key roles.

At the break, there are eight teams 10 or more games out of first place, and just two in the American League. Most of the other 22 teams think they have a chance to contend. That’s a lot of competition for players who could be traded.

Showalter was being realistic when he referred to the second half on Sunday.

“I look at all the answers we're going to need are in our locker room and in our organization. I'm very confident in the people we have,” Showalter said.

Many of these players have been through three races, and shown they can perform well under adverse circumstances. With Hardy, Jones, Schoop and Wieters healthy, they’ll look for better things.

“It’s time to focus, time to put that head down and ride it out and get into July, August and ride into September,” Jones said.

They’ll take these four days off and start again on Friday.

“I want these guys to get as far away from it as they can, take some pride in the way they've competed and knowing that it's still there for them,” Showalter said. “A lot of baseball left and we're engaged in the competition and will continue to be.”

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Showalter fired as Orioles manager after 115-loss season

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Showalter fired as Orioles manager after 115-loss season

Buck Showalter has been fired as manager of the Orioles, who made three playoff appearances under his guidance but this year staggered through the worst season since the team moved to Baltimore in 1954.

Showalter confirmed the dismissal Wednesday in a text message to The Associated Press.

A three-time AL Manager of the Year, Showalter ranks second on the Orioles' career list with 669 victories, trailing Earl Weaver. He took over in August 2010 and orchestrated the resurgence of a team that suffered through 14 straight losing seasons.

Once hailed for making baseball in Baltimore relevant again, the 62-year-old Showalter is out of a job after a season in which the Orioles finished 47-115, 61 games behind Boston in the AL East. His contract expired at the end of October, and the Orioles opted against a renewal as they continue a major rebuild that began in late July, when they traded stars Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman for minor league prospects.

Those deals were made by Dan Duquette, the executive vice president of baseball operations, whose future with the organization is up in the air.

Showalter earned AL Manager of the Year honors in 2014 after taking the Orioles to the AL East title and a berth in the Championship Series. He was also named Manager of Year with the Yankees in 1994 and Texas in 2004. His career record is 1,551-1,517, including 669-684 with Baltimore.

"I just think ever since he came here, the franchise just gained a little more accountability, gained an edge for some time," Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said before the final game of the season. "It's the end of an era. A great manager, a great tenure. I don't know if he's going to coach or manage again, but he's got grandchildren. Go golf. Relax and go sit on the golf course."

With his future in doubt, Showalter appeared undaunted during the final series of the regular season.

"You know how good they've been to me? I'm not ever going to forget that, regardless of what happens," he said.

Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin was asked before his team's playoff game against the Yankees on Wednesday night whether Showalter was victimized by the trend toward analytics.

"I don't think Buck was a guy that ignored analytics," Melvin said. "I think it was probably a combination of how they did this year and maybe some relationships."

After the Orioles brought Showalter out of retirement, he offered renewed hope by fashioning a 34-23 finish in 2010 for a team that was 32-73 upon his arrival.

Baltimore ended a 14-year playoff drought in 2012, advancing to the AL Division Series following a victory over Texas in the wild-card game. Playoff appearances in 2014 and 2016 followed.

Last year, however, the Orioles fell to 75-87 after losing 19 of their final 23 games. Baltimore hoped the addition of starters Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner would enable the team to be a contender this year, but a horrid start quickly dispelled that notion.

The Orioles' deficit in the AL East reached double digits by April 18 and they were 8-27 on May 8. By the end of July, Baltimore fully entered rebuilding mode, leaving Showalter with the dubious distinction of overseeing a team that finished with the poorest record in the majors and one that surpassed the 1939 St. Louis Browns for most losses in franchise history.

Showalter never offered an excuse. He just grinded forward, working to prepare the team for 2019 even though he knew he might not be around to follow through.

At the outset of a season-ending series against Houston, Showalter was asked if he was thinking these might be his final days in the Baltimore dugout.

"We all have some private thoughts and emotions about that, but I don't think it serves the organization well for me to be worried about that right now," he said. "We've got some things to do these last four games that need to get done."

Showalter has a reputation as a no-nonsense manager, but his players appreciated his baseball knowledge and skill at handling a team. He made a point of talking to each of them on a regular basis, almost always offering encouragement.

"He gave me a chance," said catcher Caleb Joseph, who played six-plus years in the minors before arriving in Baltimore. "He believed in me in 2014, ran me out there and gave me a chance to be part of a championship team. He's really vouched for me ever since. I owe a lot to Buck and his loyalty. He's been a main figure here for a long time."

Sensing the end was near for the only big league manager he had ever played for, first baseman Trey Mancini said: "It's been an absolute honor to play for Buck. He's been incredible."

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Red Sox beat Orioles 6-2 to clinch home field through Series

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Red Sox beat Orioles 6-2 to clinch home field through Series

The Boston Red Sox broke a 106-year-old franchise record with their 106th victory on Monday night, clinching home-field advantage through the postseason by beating the Baltimore Orioles 6-2 thanks to a pair of hits from major league batting leader Mookie Betts.

Nathan Eovaldi struck out 10 hapless Orioles batters to assure the Red Sox of the best record in baseball this season and home-field advantage through the World Series, if they make it that far. For now, they know they will open the Division Series at Fenway Park on Oct. 5 against the winner of the AL wild-card game between the New York Yankees and mostly likely Oakland.

The 1912 Red Sox won 105 games in their first season at Fenway Park.

The Orioles (45-111) became the sixth AL team and the first since the 2003 Tigers to lose 111 games, falling 60 games behind Boston (106-51) in the division. It's the first time since 1939 that teams separated by 60 wins in the standings have played each other.

Boston scored four in the second inning, getting back-to-back doubles from Steve Pearce and Brock Holt, an RBI single from Christian Vazquez and Betts' two-run homer over the Green Monster. It was the 32nd homer of the season for Betts, a new career high.

Betts also singled and scored in Boston's two-run fourth, moving him into the major-league lead with 125 runs scored. In his last three games, he is 10 for 16 with three homers and four doubles, and he leads teammate J.D. Martinez (.328) in the AL batting race.

Renato Nunez had three hits for the Orioles, who fell to 2-15 against Boston and 18-61 on the road this season.

FOR STARTERS

Six days after throwing six scoreless innings against the Yankees, Eovaldi (6-7) allowed one run on four hits in five innings, walking none but uncorking a pair of wild pitches.

Baltimore starter Dylan Bundy (8-16) gave up four runs on five hits and three walks in three innings, striking out five.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Orioles: RHP Yefrey Ramirez is scheduled to start on Wednesday, but manager Buck Showalter said he wanted to give him an extra day or two. "I think Yefrey will pitch again, I just don't know when," Showalter said.

Red Sox: SS Xander Bogaerts was back in the lineup after feeling soreness in his left shoulder during a swing and leaving Sunday night's game. ... INF Eduardo Nunez ran on Sunday to test his hamstring and was scheduled to run again on Monday with the goal of having him back in the lineup by Wednesday or Friday.

UP NEXT

LHP David Price (15-7) tries to bounce back from a rough start in Yankee Stadium in the second game of the series in what could be his last start of the regular season.