Anthony Castrovince

O's mull trade questions while playoff chase heats up

Castrovince: O's mull trade questions while playoff chase heats up

O's mull trade questions while playoff chase heats up
The Baltimore Orioles have sustained themselves largely on one- or two-run wins, which, if we follow the reason of run differentials, appears to be the equivalent of sustaining yourself on candy bars and ice cream.

Sure, it's sweet now. But you'll pay for it later.

That seems to be the prevailing thought process of just about anybody not associated with the Orioles, a team, quite surprisingly, still very much in the thick of the AL Wild Card congestion as we near the Trade Deadline.

The O's entered Tuesday's homestand opener against the Rays having won five of six, giving them a 51-45 record, seven games back of the Yankees in the AL East. And they've accomplished this mostly on the might of a 34-15 record in games decided by one or two runs. Thanks to their bullish bullpen, they've fended off late rallies in games too close for comfort. They've gone 10-2 in extra innings.

To see the Orioles playing relevant ball after the break is certainly a sight for sore eyes, but how long can this reasonably continue?

After all, in recent weeks, the O's have had to reinvent a rotation that has the fifth-worst ERA in the league. For the season, they've been outscored by 46 runs -- the third-worst run differential in the league. And before this six-game stretch, the O's had dropped 16 of their previous 23 games.

Ultimately, it's up to Dan Duquette to determine where to draw the line with this club. Is it worth parting with prospects to augment a team that has survived on slight edges? All public answers from Duquette have come in the affirmative, and he's already brought veteran slugger Jim Thome aboard. The O's have also reportedly been aggressive in the search for help in the starting rotation.

It's altogether possible that the O's will get a deal done and try to make the most of this push they've concocted in 2012. Meanwhile, in the clubhouse, they keep, in manager Buck Showalter's words, "a grip on reality."

"You're never as good as things seem in this game, and you're never as bad," Showalter said. "Somewhere in between is where your curiosity gets satisfied. We're getting close to the 100 games mark, so ..."

So it's time to take what the O's have accomplished quite seriously. Now, how do they keep it going?

The biggest key, of course, is getting more quality innings from the starting staff to ease the stress on an overworked bullpen that has logged the third-most innings (318 1/3) in the league.

The last few days have been especially encouraging in that regard. The O's have gotten quality starts in six straight games, including outings from recently promoted rookie Miguel Gonzalez and the newly returned Chris Tillman and Zach Britton.

One turn does not a rotation make, naturally, but this turn was especially important, given that it came on the heels of losing Jason Hammel to knee surgery. In the soap opera that is the Orioles' starting season, Wei-Yin Chen is the only member of the Opening Day rotation who hasn't exited at any point due to injury or demotion.

And until or unless Duquette lands a stabilizing veteran presence in the trade market, the O's will have to hope this makeshift unit can come through.

"If you're constantly waiting for a guy on a white horse or a black horse to come riding in and solve all your problems, [you're in trouble]," Showalter said. "Everybody's got problems. Most people are glad you've got 'em."

The O's are in a supremely better position than in years past. It's been 15 years since playoff baseball was a reality in Baltimore, so if the "problem" is figuring which direction to go with a team six games over .500, it's a good problem to have.

But the O's are about to embark upon another tough test, and it's fitting that it comes around the Deadline. They'll play nine straight, including six at home, against the Rays, the equally surprising A's and the Yankees, all while Duquette works the phones.

Showalter, meanwhile, is focused on the 25 guys on hand.

"The players don't need to hear me talking about other people's players and coveting and saying, 'We've got to have this,'" he said. "Because along the line, that reflects on somebody who must not be bringing that. I'm looking at it like every answer we need is going to come from within, whether it's here or Norfolk. Dan and our guys are hitting it daily, and sometimes the best moves you make are the moves you don't make. We'll see. I have a lot of faith in the people who are looking at it."

How much faith should we have in the O's keeping it together? We've been asking that question all year, and yet they're still in the thick of the playoff chase. Whether it's sustainable, with or without the help of a trade, is a matter not yet determined. For now, the O's still consider their situation to be pretty sweet.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.