O's to closely monitor development
Prospect improvement in second half key to big picture
The tiny details are piling up, giving form to the big picture. The Orioles successfully introduced a few more elements to their rebuilding program during the first half, leaving just a few more to implement. Baltimore has added talents like Matt Wieters and Brad Bergesen and allowed them plenty of room to learn on the job.
And in most respects, the Orioles have gotten good returns. They've seen their team grow younger and more dynamic over the first half of the season, a fact that hasn't been wholly reflected in the American League East standings. Baltimore still needs plenty of work to compete in its division, but the progress is certainly evident.
The Orioles never expected to take the East by storm. By contrast, they just hoped to take another gradual step toward contention, a process aided by one of the better farm systems in the league. Baltimore still has several prospects waiting to make the big league leap but won't rush them and risk scuttling their potential.
And now, the Orioles head into the second half hoping to consolidate their gains. They want to watch Wieters continue to develop and Bergesen and Nolan Reimold make a charge at the league's Rookie of the Year award. And then, after the smoke has cleared, they'll know where they stand heading into the 2010 season.
Club MVP: He's their breakout player, and more to the point, Baltimore's best all-around talent. Adam Jones has jumped out of his mold and converted much of his potential into actual production. The fleet-footed center fielder was named to his first All-Star team and will be a central factor in Baltimore for years to come.
Call him "Ace": It may take longer than 15 starts to gain ace status, but Bergesen has been by far Baltimore's most reliable starter in the first half. The right-handed rookie completed at least six innings in 11 of his first 15 outings and allowed three earned runs or fewer in two-thirds of his starts.
Greatest strength: The Orioles have seen their outfield -- which boasts Jones and homegrown talents Nick Markakis and Reimold -- evolve into perhaps the best young unit in baseball. The Orioles have speed and power from all three slots, and Markakis and Jones are both dynamic defenders in their own right.
Biggest problem: Baltimore's veteran grafts to the starting rotation (Mark Hendrickson, Rich Hill and Adam Eaton) didn't take root, forcing the Orioles to go to their younger prospects a bit earlier than expected. Jeremy Guthrie has also struggled, laying even more pressure on the young arms to thrive immediately.
Biggest surprise: If it's not Bergesen, it would have to be Reimold or Robert Andino. Reimold burst out of the gates for Triple-A Norfolk and hasn't stopped hitting since a promotion to the parent club. Andino, meanwhile, came over in a late spring trade from Florida and stabilized shortstop while Cesar Izturis was on the disabled list.
Team needs: The Orioles just need time and space to grow. They've already seen Reimold and Wieters introduced to the big league level, and next they'll see high-wattage arms like Chris Tillman. By this point next season, the Orioles will likely have Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz in the big league mix as well.
He said it: "No one ever gives you credit when your fundamentals are good. ... But as soon as you make a mistake fundamentally, it stands out like a sore thumb. People are ready to jump on you. My approach is to talk to the player individually and to stress to the team as a whole that baseball games are won and lost with your ability to be fundamentally sound." -- Baltimore manager Dave Trembley, on playing sound baseball
Mark your calendar: The Orioles are tested right out of the chute in the second half. Baltimore will have to travel to Chicago, New York and Boston for a nine-game road trip right after the All-Star break. The Orioles also have a 10-game jaunt in September before finishing the year with a three-game series at home against Toronto.
Fearless second-half prediction: The Orioles will avoid the unmitigated September swoons that have plagued them in recent years and will finish closer to .500 than they have in any season since 2004.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.