Chris Davis (19) celebrates with Nelson Cruz (23) at home plate after hitting the go-ahead, two-run home run in the fourth inning against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards Sunday night. Photo: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

An improved Davis one key to Baltimore Orioles' second half

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Should I resist the temptation to say Chris Davis is the key to the second half for the Baltimore Orioles?

He’s not THE key, but it would, to say the least, be invaluable if he would raise his average back above .200 and go from there, because that would mean he was getting at least a few hits that didn’t land in the seats. It would mean he was going with the pitch and hitting a few pitches to left field, rather than accommodating the pitcher by hitting into the shift.

At 10 games above .500, leading the AL East by four games at the All Star Break, life could be a lot worse for the Orioles. If that sounds like a new feeling, the last time the Birds lead the division at the break was 1997.

But the West Coast trip that starts Friday night at Oakland begins a stretch of 26 straight games against teams with winning records. It starts with three games over the weekend against the A’s, 23 games over .500 and leading the AL West. Then there are four games at Anaheim against the LA Angels, 20 games over .500 and trailing Oakland by a game and a half, and three at Seattle, where the Mariners are nine games over.

Davis’ protracted slump has been only one of the obstacles the Orioles faced in the first half. Manny Machado missing April and taking most of May to get going; Matt Wieters being lost to season-ending surgery, and Bud Norris‘s trip to the DL were others. Their reward for overcoming them will be to face a few more, beginning with A’s hurler Jeff Samardzija, their first mound opponent Friday night. Former Oriole Jason Hammel will face the O’s Saturday night.

I guess I was too weak to resist the temptation to say Davis is the Orioles’ key. Don’t tell anyone, but he isn’t the only one. Starting pitching, that well-known broken record, is another. Kevin Gausman will be a very intriguing x-factor in that picture. His ability to deliver consistency if he’s used consistently will be crucial.

Want one more? It would be very nice of Nelson Cruz to maintain his power stroke, because if he goes to sleep for any period of time, it will be all the more important for Davis to pick up his end of the deal. His go-ahead, two-run homer Sunday night, perfectly timed just before the rains came, ended the first half on a high note. Starting the second half on the same note will be essential.

This isn’t supposed to be a column dealing with the minor leagues, but who couldn’t notice the night Mike Yastrzemski had? This season he’d already made the jump from Delmarva to Frederick. The Orioles promoted the centerfielder  to Bowie yesterday, and tonight he made his Double A debut with a 4-for-5 night, including a triple and two runs scored, in Bowie’s 8-6 win at Altoona. He brings speed to the table. His triple was the stand-up variety on a drive to the wall in right-center field. The game was on MiLBtv.com.

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