MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

O's making their move in crowded AL East

With division wide open, Baltimore has key pieces -- offense, 'pen -- to take charge

O's making their move in crowded AL East

When the last of those eight home runs had flown over the wall Tuesday, the Baltimore Orioles had delivered a message about themselves: We're back.

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This team started to look a lot like last season's Orioles during a 7-1 homestead that got them to within two games of first place in the American League East.

If it's about scoring runs and having a bullpen that can lock down the late innings, the O's are in business.

Orioles' six-run 1st inning

In terms of clubhouse leadership -- Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, etc. -- and a manager -- Buck Showalter, who is methodically building a Hall of Fame resume and who has a knack for getting everything there is to get from a group -- the Orioles have as much going for them as any club this side of San Francisco.

Rotation?

There's some uncertainty there. In a division in which the top four teams are separated by two games, every team has some issue.

The Rays are the gold standard for pitching, and they are going to get better when Matt Moore returns from the disabled list. If it's about pitching, the Rays win.

However, the Rays have scored two runs or fewer in 27 of 66 games. That they've won eight of those games tells you how good their pitching is.

The Blue Jays are the highest-scoring team in baseball, but 23 teams have a better staff ERA than Toronto's 4.24.

The Yankees are a lot like the Orioles. Terrific offense. Solid bullpen. But their rotation is filled with questions.

So there's your AL East leaderboard.

Who do you have?

These next eight games will reveal more about the Orioles as they begin an eight-game road trip to Philadelphia, Toronto and Boston.

They're 11-18 on the road, but having won eight of nine, they've regained some of their 2014 mojo.

They're averaging 6.2 runs a game in this stretch after Tuesday's 19-3 bashing of the Phillies.

More encouraging was a bullpen that has a 0.89 ERA this season.

If last season's ace, Chris Tillman, gets hot, the Orioles appear to be capable of a run like last season, when they won 50 of 71 between late June and mid-September to lock up a division title.

Tillman's six solid frames

Here's the other thing we know about these Orioles: Their general manager, Dan Duquette, will find a way to upgrade the club.

His acquisition of reliever Andrew Miller for the stretch run last season might have been the most significant acquisition any team made.

In 2012, Duquette made an assortment of acquisitions -- Jim Thome, Joe Saunders and Randy Wolf -- as the Orioles made their first playoff appearance in 15 years.

That year was unique because the Orioles used 52 players, often shuttling them up and down from the Minor Leagues to play a matchup game.

Because they had so few long-term contract commitments, they had the freedom to utilize their entire system.

They had somewhat of a similar plan this season, hoping to have three young pitchers -- Kevin Gausman, Hunter Harvey and Dylan Bundy -- as rotation options in the second half of the season.

Harvey and Bundy are sidelined with injuries, but Gausman, who began the season in the bullpen, remains an option.

Wei-Yin Chen (3-4, 2.89) and Ubaldo Jimenez (4-3, 3.19) have pitched well. If Bud Norris (2-4, 8.29) and Tillman (5-7, 5.58) get on a roll, the Orioles are capable of putting together a run similar to last season's.

"The difference in our club last season was pitching," Showalter said. "Isn't that usually the way it is?"

But having made the playoffs two of the last three seasons, having survived a 23-29 start, the Orioles are again right in the middle of things. Given their recent history, the fun could just be beginning.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.