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NEAPOLIS -- The struggling Orioles haven't played their best baseball for the past few weeks, but Baltimore will still enter Friday very much in the postseason race, in second place in the American League East and a half-game out of the second Wild Card.
While there's outside skepticism as to whether the plucky club can keep this thing going, inside the Orioles' clubhouse, the consensus remains that they are still in the postseason hunt, and the club is eager to prove naysayers wrong. Executive vice president of baseball operation Dan Duquette's words on Wednesday -- that the Orioles are still a buyer at the Trade Deadline -- only fueled the fire that Baltimore isn't bowing out of what is shaping up to be an extremely close playoff race.
"He's completely right," center fielder Adam Jones said of Duquette's sentiment. "We aren't out of anything. We are just not playing good baseball. ... Not too much ground has been lost. We just got to get back on track. We are still in a good position to make some moves and add to this team for the better.
"We've never been here before; we're about to face teams that have. New York, Boston, Tampa [Bay], they've been in this for the last five years. When they get to the second half, they kind of know what to expect. Most of us don't."
The addition of veteran Jim Thome should help in that regard, and the 41-year-old -- acquired in a trade with the Phillies earlier this season -- preached patience on Wednesday, noting that every good team he has been a part of has experienced ups and downs.
"You can't panic," Thome said of the team's recent backslide, which included losses in 17 of 25 games heading into Thursday. "You root for each other, you're there. That's really about it. You prepare every day. You have a positive attitude and believe in the fact that they are doing everything they can from an organizational end to put the best out there."
Duquette said on Wednesday that any moves made at the Trade Deadline will be within the mindset of improving the current club and -- so long as the team remains in contention over the next few weeks -- the focus will remain on playing in the postseason this year. It's a far cry from the club's recent past, where several veterans and rentals were shopped for whatever the Orioles could get.
"It's a little different, to be sitting here well after the All-Star break and to have that be part of the conversation," manager Buck Showalter said prior to Thursday's game when the topic shifted to his club's status in the standings.
"Around the first of August you start paying attention to them. I know there's some [general managers] that will really pay attention to them for the next 10 or 12 days. It's always a tough call for organizations. Sometimes the ability to say no is as important as the ability to say yes. So, you are always trying to bridge those two things. It's the time of year where you don't envy general managers and owners. It's really tough to satisfy so many different things that decisions you make this time of year impact."
One thing is certain: The Orioles' pitching needs to improve, and it remains the club's top priority as the Trade Deadline draws near. Given the state of the O's rotation, adding multiple starters would be ideal, but isn't feasible given what's out there, Duquette said. Instead, a Baltimore club that has recently struggled to produce offense has to hope its young starters can step up and its lineup can wake up.
A tall order? Perhaps. But the Orioles believe that they can still turn things around.
"[Duquette is] still confident in what we have on the field," Jones said. "He knows that, OK, we are not playing good now, but we are about to turn it around and we can add some pieces that can push us forward for the last two months. Because, like I said, we aren't out of it. We just got to back to our style of play, which is this team's style. We got to create some excitement."
"You got a chance to roll the dice, to play meaningful games the last eight weeks," added Showalter, who referenced Apollo 13 in his motivational speech to the club before the All-Star break.
"Our guys are engaged. I think they are mature enough to realize that every team goes through periods. If you can weather that, you will seek your level. There's no Cinderella, there's too many games. Every strength or weakness shows up."