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Showalter has O's believing in possibilities

BALTIMORE -- Plucky? Yes. Lucky? That, too.

A second-place Orioles club picked by many to finish in the American League East cellar is defying the odds and common logic in statistical analysis while doing more than simply hanging around.

Manager Buck Showalter's players believe the club is still in the hunt. And not only for the second AL Wild Card -- a race they entered Thursday 1 1/2 games back -- but for the division title as well.

"I never put limitations or restrictions on what a team can or cannot do," said Showalter, who had said that the standings can be taken seriously come August.

"I just want us to be as good as we're capable of being, and I felt comfortable about that coming out because of the type of people we had. You're always going to seek your level in this game, good or bad. I've said it many times, it's a great exposure of strengths and weaknesses."

So how are these Orioles -- who have 13 more wins at this juncture than a year ago -- continuing to win?

Baltimore has an inconsistent rotation -- which the club tried unsuccessfully to upgrade at Tuesday's Trade Deadline -- ranking 25th in starters' ERA (4.81) entering Thursday. The O's have a negative run differential, having been outscored by opponents, 499-439, and rank 24th in team batting average and 18th in runs scored.

Timely hitting has continued to be a problem over the past two months, and the club has been without two important bats -- leadoff hitter Brian Roberts and power-hitting left fielder Nolan Reimold -- for most of the season. The O's 84 errors are the most in the Major Leagues.

The Orioles' bullpen, one of the best in baseball in the first half, still sits a respectable eighth in ERA (3.22), and the team has hit its fair share of homers, trailing only the Yankees and Blue Jays in that category. It doesn't exactly add up, but don't tell that to this O's club, a close-knit group challenged by Showalter to get stronger mentally, as a unit, this spring.

"We know where we stand, and we know who we're up against," right fielder Nick Markakis said following Monday's win, the first of two in New York that helped closed the gap between them and the Yankees. "We just have to take it day by day, game by game."

The Orioles roared back from a five-run first-inning deficit against the Yankees on Tuesday -- scoring 11 unanswered runs -- and have avoided long losing streaks that have plagued them in the past. Baltimore has yet to lose more than six consecutive games and hasn't been under .500 once this year, no small feat for an organization that has posted 14 consecutive losing seasons.

Asked the biggest difference that gives this club the ability to bounce back from seemingly-devastating losses, catcher Matt Wieters said, "It's the mentality."

"You can't take one inning, you can't take one pitch for granted," Wieters said. "You got to go out there and keep playing. And that's the big thing, whether we are down eight or up eight, when you go out there and it's your turn, you do your job."

Outside of the Orioles' clubhouse, skepticism abounds. But executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said on a conference call Tuesday that part of the reason he stood pat was because he believes there are internal solutions to help give the club a boost the final two months.

The hope is right-handed pitcher Jason Hammel, recovering from right knee surgery, will be able to return in early September, and young starters such as Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz -- both demoted to Triple-A earlier this season -- can figure things out. Zach Britton also needs to right things, after yielding seven runs in just 2 2/3 innings against the Yankees.

Twenty-four-year-old Chris Tillman has shown encouraging signs at the Major League level and Miguel Gonzalez, 28, has been a bright spot in the rotation, working his way up as a late Minor League signing.

Duquette also said he's not done adding to the team, with trades still possible so long as the player(s) involved goes through waivers. The Orioles won't mortgage their future -- taking top prospects Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado off the table in trade talks -- but no one in the organization is taking for granted where the Orioles are in the standings, and assuming it will be the case again next year.

"We know really what's at stake now," center fielder Adam Jones of an Orioles' club in unfamiliar territory with meaningful August games. "They are all important. We need to take every inning, every pitch, like it's the last one."

Coming off their first sub-.500 month, a 13-14 July, the Orioles are in a second-place tie with the Tampa Bay Rays and kick off a pivotal three-game set against them Friday.

"There's a consistency, there's a maturity that comes," Showalter said of his club's resilience. "Let's face it, we've got a lot of young guys who have been exposed to the competition at this level. ... But I think the experience -- they're starting to grip the reality of going through the season and how you do have to have a certain mentality.

"We get frustrated. There are some tough train and plane rides. There's some tough days, but the great thing is that there's a game the next day to change that feeling. That's the good thing about baseball. There's many days when I've said, 'Gosh, I'm glad we have a game today. I'd hate to sit on that one for six days.' And there are times where I say, 'I'd like to sit on that one for six days.'"

Baltimore Orioles, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters