Jun 30, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones (10) catches a pop-up by Texas Rangers designated hitter Michael Choice (not shown) in the eighth inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Rangers 7-1. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Dog Days Evaluation of the Baltimore Orioles

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So here we are in the month of July in Maryland, where temperatures today are in the mid 90s. Yes, it can be a tough time to play ball in the heat and humidity, but it is also a time for Baltimore Orioles power hitters to see the ball fly out of Camden Yards. Indeed, it happened four times last night; and the Orioles led all of baseball with the most home runs in the month of June.

This bodes well for a team built on power rather than speed. The early-season concerns about the loss of power seem to be a worry of the past.

We are approaching the “dog days of summer.” As with many expressions, I’ve tried to look up their history and understand how these terms came to be. This phrase apparently has connections to the ancient past and a linkage with the star Sirius (not to confused with XM radio) – the brightest star in the sky from the constellation Canis Major (not to be confused with cannabis) – and how it rises in the sky at the same time as the summer sun. This refers to a period of the year (most often dated specifically as 7/3 – 8/11) that is marked by slow and lethargic activity.

The Romans actually sacrificed a dog to appease the god Sirius, who was thought to cause the hot weather. I don’t think we should do that, though I’d suggest the sacrifice of a certain pitcher from the Oakland A’s instead!

So how are the Baltimore Orioles set up to have success in the dog days? There is much to be encouraged about. A number of the question marks seem to be coming around and getting a grip on things – like Chris Tillman, power returning to J.J. Hardy, Ubaldo Jimenez coming into HIS season of the year, Adam Jones hitting to all fields, Manny Machado appearing to get back to 2013 form, Caleb Joseph looking immensely improved at the plate, etc., etc.

Several large concerns are still present. The Orioles really need either Bud Norris to quickly return from this groin issue or Kevin Gausman to put together a string of quality starts that demonstrate he has “arrived.”  Actually, both of them doing this would be doubly awesome and certainly almost guarantee the O’s can compete for the title to the end.

Beyond that – again, no brain power here – Chris Davis has to do something more than be a Mendoza line hitter with occasional power and a decent OBP due to a lot of walks. He does not need 25 home runs over the last 80 games, but 15-18 would be a great contribution along with a .250+ average through the end of the year.

This is not going to encourage you as a Baltimore Orioles fan, but the O’s finished the first half of 2013 at 45-36 – nine games over .500 … meaning they went 40-41 in the second half of the season. At that halfway point last year, they were 3.5 games out of first place.

This year the Birds were 42-39 at the same center point. Simply repeating last year’s first half would have had them 1.5 games ahead instead of 1.5 behind.

Honestly, looking at the AL East situation as it stands right now, the Baltimore Orioles really should be the team to beat. I think we all know that internally, and that is why not seeing a better record leaves so many of us a bit uneasy about the lost opportunity … even as we are thankful to only be a game out of first place when entering play tonight.

Speaking of tonight …

T.J. McFarland will make the spot start for the Orioles and enters at 0-1 / 2.70 over 26.2 innings this season. This is only the second start of his career, the first being just over a year ago against the Yankees where he gave up three runs in 2.2 innings, though the O’s would win that game 4-3. The current Rangers roster is a combined 3-for-10 against McFarland with the only extra-base hit being a double by Michael Choice.

The Rangers will start 23-year-old right-hander Nick Martinez who is 1-5 with a 4.65 ERA. His only history against the Orioles was a previous start this year in Texas on June 4th where was the losing pitcher, giving up six runs (four earned) on nine hits and three walks in 5.1 innings. Nick Markakis and Chris Davis hit solo home runs. Adam Jones was also 2-for-3. McFarland was the first reliever following Bud Norris is that game, getting five outs and bridging his rather shaky start through the seventh inning.

Here is tonight’s starting order for the Orioles …

Nick Markakis – RF
Steve Pearce – LF
Adam Jones – CF
Nelson Cruz – DH
Chris Davis – 1B
J.J. Hardy – SS
Jonathan Schoop – 2B
Ryan Flaherty – 3B
Caleb Joseph – C

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