Orioles midterm report
Bullpen emerges as bright spot in Baltimore's strong first half
BALTIMORE -- Against all odds and most expectations following the offseason trades of Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada, the Orioles can speak of possibly finishing their season with a winning record for the first time since 1997. It's a modest goal, but one that has eluded them long enough that none of their players has experienced a winning season in Baltimore.
What stands in their way? Namely, the length of the schedule and the difficulty of finishing strong when the odds of making the playoffs grow longer. Baltimore has struggled down the stretch for several consecutive years, and it will be hard-pressed to sustain its success through September. But the current team is ready to accept the challenge.
And as the Orioles prepare to start the second half, it's time to review what went right in an eventful first half.
Club MVP: Closer George Sherrill has taken over the ninth inning in Baltimore, and he's on pace to shatter the franchise record in saves (45), and his consistent late-inning work has had a carryover effect on the rest of the relievers.
Call him "Ace": You may not be able to tell from his record, but Jeremy Guthrie has consistently worked deep in games and limited the opposition to two or three runs in the vast majority of his outings.
Greatest strength: Believe it or not, the bullpen -- which has been a glaring weakness in Baltimore for several seasons -- has somehow become the team's calling card during its surprising resurgence.
Biggest problem: Shortstop has been an offensive sinkhole for the Orioles all season. Baltimore has already been through three starters and is openly sifting through big league rosters to try to find a fourth.
Biggest surprise: Jim Johnson didn't even make the Opening Day roster, but he's come from nowhere to provide lock-down relief work in the eighth inning. Johnson, a former starter, is likely a reliever for good.
Team needs: Shortstop shapes up as the biggest target, but the Orioles would also like to get younger at the infield corners and to add depth to both their starting rotation and their bullpen.
LHP Adam Loewen -- Much like last season, elbow woes have robbed the former first-round pick of a large portion of the season. Loewen remains one of Baltimore's most talented players, but also one of the most star-crossed.
SS Alex Cintron -- Cintron was just about to assume command of the troublesome shortstop position when he went down with a strained left hamstring. There's no word on when he'll be back or whether the job will still be his to take.
RHP Matt Albers -- Albers pitched well out of the bullpen before coming down with a slight labrum tear in his right shoulder. The right-hander is attempting to rehab the injury, but he could miss most or all of next season if he requires surgery.
RHP Randor Bierd -- Baltimore's Rule 5 Draft pick seemed to be on his way toward establishing himself in the Major Leagues when he came down with a minor shoulder ailment in May. Bierd is expected back shortly after the All-Star break.
He said it: "What we set out to do is establish an identity and improve the attitude and to play with a sense of pride -- and to earn respect. And I think we've accomplished that, but we have a long way to go." -- Baltimore manager Dave Trembley, on his short-term goals and improving the state of the franchise
Mark your calendar: July 28-30 at New York Yankees; Aug. 18-20 vs. Red Sox; Aug. 22-24 vs. Yankees; Sept. 22-24 vs. Tampa Bay; Sept. 26-28 vs. Toronto.
Fearless second-half prediction: The Orioles have 32 games against American League East rivals after the All-Star break -- including 13 straight to end the season -- and they will likely stumble down the stretch and finish just shy of a winning record.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.