Fauber: O’s returning to form

Now these are the Orioles that we’ve become accustomed to seeing over the past few years.

They still can’t seem to find good, consistent starting pitching. They field the ball well. They don’t steal bases, the term “small ball” isn’t in their vocabulary, and sometimes the apparent lack of sound situational hitting will make your head spin. But boy can they hit the long ball.

It took Baltimore a little longer than many people probably thought it would, but the Orioles are finally heating up at the plate this season. Maybe it’s because the weather is warming, but the Orioles are looking like the team that has become one of the premier manufacturers of home runs in the majors over the last three seasons.

Baltimore’s lineup was packed with power potential coming into the season with guys like defending home run king Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nelson Cruz and J.J. Hardy all easily capable of hitting 25-plus homers. But Davis and Jones started slowly, Wieters got hurt and is done for the season and Hardy has surprisingly lost his power stroke.

The Orioles’ saving grace in the season’s first two months was Cruz, who had already belted 24 home runs heading into Friday’s doubleheader against the Rays, a mark that was tied for the MLB lead. Cruz has already earned that $8 million contract that he signed in the offseason a few times over.

But now Baltimore suddenly finds itself in a familiar spot — near the top of the majors in homers — after a power surge in June. This month, Orioles batters had hit 35 home runs in 23 games heading into Friday, easily the best mark in the majors. That had Baltimore’s total sitting at 89 for the season, third-best in the MLB.

What’s even more encouraging is that the home run production has come from everywhere. Jones led the O’s with eight home runs in June through Thursday, while Davis has slugged six this month to nearly double his output from the first two months combined. Cruz, who has cooled off a little bit, had four homers and Nick Markakis and Steve Pearce — who has been a nice surprise this season — had three home runs each in June going into Friday. Four more Orioles had gone deep twice in 23 games this month.

It’s no surprise then that Baltimore was 14-9 June before Friday and nipping at the heels of the Blue Jays for the lead in the A.L. East.

Of course, there is a downside to living by the home run ball — the Orioles really aren’t known for manufacturing a whole lot of runs in other ways. That means Baltimore has to maintain this power supply for the next three months if they have any hope of making the playoffs, especially with the Orioles’ pitching being the roller coaster ride that it’s been.

It’s entirely possible for the O’s to continue this trend, but it’s a dangerous way to live. They can’t afford to hit another cold spell and hope that someone carries the load like Cruz did in April and May. Will Baltimore’s front office try to bolster the lineup with a midseason trade?

Baltimore’s main area of need continues to be starting pitching, which could be addressed over the next month as the trade deadline approaches. But the Orioles could also chase an impact bat to add a little extra stability to its lineup for the second half of the season, especially now that Wieters has been shut down after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

It doesn’t sound like Baltimore is in the market for a short-term offensive solution at catcher, but the Orioles still have a glaring hole offensively at second base, where rookie Jonathan Schoop and light-hitting Ryan Flaherty have split playing time this season. Baltimore could also chase a power-hitting left fielder if they don’t think Pearce can maintain his current level of play. (The Orioles also have a decision to make regarding oft-injured outfielder Nolan Reimold, who will be coming off the DL soon.)

There are some interesting potential middle-infield trade options that could be available in the market by the end of July. Guys like Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist, Arizona’s Aaron Hill, the Mets’ Daniel Murphy and even Philadelphia’s Chase Utley could all be dealt, and it will be interesting to see how heavily the Orioles pursue any one of those guys.

But as I said, Baltimore’s main area of concern should be starting pitching, and that should be the first thing addressed if the Orioles decide to start making moves over the next month. The one constant in almost every playoff team is solid starting pitching — it won’t matter how many home runs the Orioles hit this season if they can’t keep opposing teams from returning the favor.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD