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Division-leading Orioles all in for postseason run

With fate in their hands, Duquette may not be done building for this year @boomskie

BALTIMORE -- It doesn't happen often, but this is the way executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette planned it when the Orioles signed free agents Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz this spring, forsaking their first- and second-round picks in this past June's First-Year Player Draft.

The Orioles are in first place in the always tough American League East with a 3 1/2-game lead over the Blue Jays and 52 games left to play.

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Their fate is squarely in their own hands.

"Yeah, we've been trying to put as much as we can into this year's ballclub because of the age and the skill level of the players," Duquette told this weekend during an interview in the press dining room at Camden Yards. "So far, so good."

The window is wide open, as they say, and the Orioles are taking advantage of it. They've just come through a stretch of 16 games on the road and at home since the All-Star break against the A's, Angels and Mariners, acquitting themselves well with a 10-6 record against the cream of the West, including Sunday's 1-0 victory over Seattle.

They accomplished that, despite an anemic offense that has been 29th in the Majors in batting average (.202) and on-base percentage (.265), 28th in OPS (.607) and tied for 21st in runs scored (53) since the break. Conversely, the pitching has kept them afloat. They're third in ERA (2.78) and first in saves (12) during that same post-break period.

The margin of victory has been so thin that Baltimore's last six wins and eight of their last nine games have been decided by a single run, with Zach Britton holding tight on Sunday for his 23rd save since taking on the closer's role in midstream. Better still, Sunday's series finale marked the first time since the team moved to Baltimore from St. Louis in 1954 that the Orioles have won, 1-0, after a game-opening home run. Nick Markakis hit it off Seattle right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma to open the bottom of the first.

Talk about living large, the O's had four hits the rest of the game -- six baserunners in total -- and only two others got into scoring position.

Some of these sudden offensive woes can be attributed to coming up against the stellar pitching staffs of the three aforementioned West Coast teams. And that's why Duquette says he's bullish on his club's chances in the weeks ahead.

"Our pitching is strong, our defense is strong, we have power," Duquette said. "We can compete. We can compete against the best teams in the league. We've been playing them for the last three weeks."

It's not going to get any easier during the next 10 days. They travel to Washington on Monday night for a makeup Interleague game against the leader of the National League East. It's then on to Toronto for a three-game set that could make or break the season for the Blue Jays. Following that are six straight home games against the defending NL champion Cardinals and the Yankees, who still are right on Baltimore's tail in the division.

"It doesn't stop," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Sleep fast. Early bus. We could have used the off-day tomorrow. I wish it was a day game, but they don't have to take that into consideration."

The Orioles have experienced a period of enlightenment since Showalter was hired as manager in 2010 and Duquette came on board after the '11 season. Together in '12, they took the team into the postseason for the first time since 1998, losing an AL Division Series in five games to the Yankees.

The World Series has only been a memory here since 1983, when the Orioles defeated the Phillies in Cal Ripken Jr.'s second full season and long before the future Hall of Fame shortstop shattered Lou Gehrig's record by playing in 2,632 consecutive games.

The fact is, if the Orioles intend to make it back to baseball's version of the Promised Land, there's probably little more help coming, Duquette said. He obtained catcher Nick Hundley from the Padres after Matt Wieters sustained an elbow injury that led to Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, and he added left-handed reliever Andrew Miller in a non-waiver Trade Deadline deal this past Thursday.

Despite rumors to the contrary on Deadline Day, Duquette said the Orioles were not seriously involved in talks to grab ace left-hander David Price from the Rays "because there really wasn't any match." Price ultimately went to the Tigers in a three-way deal that sent center fielder Austin Jackson to the Mariners, who also added Kendrys Morales and Chris Denorfia to strengthen their lineup.

The Yankees picked up much-needed offensive help in Stephen Drew from the Red Sox and Martin Prado from the D-backs. They previously had traded for pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano and third baseman Chase Headley.

The A's continued to shore up their starting pitching, adding Jon Lester from Boston after already prying Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija away from the Cubs.

Duquette made his big deals, taking a chance on Cruz, who has had an All-Star season, and signing Jimenez, out since July 13 with a right ankle sprain and expected to return this week. There's some discussion about trying to bring back reliever Jim Johnson, released the other day by the A's, and old friend Brian Roberts, designated by the Yankees on Friday, could help plug a hole at second base.

Johnson has atrophied and will need some time in the Minors getting back his arm strength, Duquette said. Roberts, who was with the Orioles for 13 somewhat injury-prone seasons through 2013, played in 91 games for the Yankees, batting .237, and he could help right away.

"There are a couple of areas where we probably need to get better offensive production if we want to get where we're trying to accomplish," Duquette said. "So we'll keep looking in those areas, looking to fill those holes. It's a limited market now, but our team has been pretty consistent. Since June 1, we've played good ball."

To Duquette's point, on May 31, the O's were 27-27 and 4 1/2 games out of first place. They are 35-21 since then, enjoying an eight-game turnaround in the standings. Of course, that's all behind them now.

Their fate is in their own hands, and during the next 52 games is when Orioles history will be made.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.

Baltimore Orioles, Zach Britton, Nelson Cruz, Nick Hundley, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jim Johnson, Nick Markakis, Andrew Miller, Brian Roberts