Several Orioles pointed to their strong finish to last season after Showalter took over as proof that there is still plenty to be gained over the final 21/2 months. However, the key to that run was the Orioles' starting pitching, a group that is in shambles.

The Orioles' projected five-man rotation when spring training broke was Guthrie, Matusz, Chris Tillman, Arrieta and Brad Bergesen. Britton was promoted to the big leagues when Matusz went to the disabled list on Opening Day.

Of that group, Matusz and Tillman are getting uneven results in Triple-A, Britton is in Double-A after compiling a 6.86 ERA over his past eight big league starts, Arrieta has had recent elbow discomfort, and Bergesen and his 5.65 ERA are in the bullpen. Their issues — and the organization's alarming lack of pitching depth — have forced the club to rely on career minor leaguers such as Mitch Atkins, Chris Jakubauskas and Alfredo Simon to make starts.

It's no wonder that the Orioles have the worst team ERA in baseball at 4.76. The ERA of their starters is 5.00, third worst in the game, ahead of those of the Kansas City Royals (5.13) and Chicago Cubs (5.29). Orioles starters have gone six innings or more twice in the past 16 games, compiling a 9.56 ERA during that span and taxing an already-vulnerable bullpen.

"We knew going in that we were depending on our young starting pitching and that they will continue to perform to the level close that they did the last two months last year. Up until this point, they haven't been able to do it," MacPhail said. "We just got to get the starting pitching back on track. We've only had like three quality starts in the last three weeks. That is going to take a toll on all aspects of the team."

Basically, the Orioles are left hoping for a similar pitching renaissance to the one that occurred last year, when the starters posted a 3.10 ERA after Showalter took over Aug. 2.

"I am not going to say the world is going to end if we don't win X number of games," Showalter said. "Nothing is ever as good as it seems, nothing is ever as bad as it seems. You try to stay positive. You are talking to a guy who lost 97 games [with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998] and then we won 100 [with Arizona] the next year. I know how quickly things can change, good and bad. It gives you a grip on reality. I've told you all along, if we get the starting pitching figured out, we are going to have some fun."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.

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