Here comes the hard part for the first-place Orioles

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles won't play a .500 ballclub until August 11th.

The Orioles finished out in a pretty good place going into the All-Star Break.  10 games above .500.  Four games ahead in the A.L. East.  The rest of the division falling apart.  These were great times to be an Orioles fan.

Well, I have some bad news.  The hard part is about to start.

Going by pre-All Star Break records, the Orioles won't even see a .500 team until they play the Yankees on August 11th.  They won't see a sub-.500 team until they face the White Sox on August 18th.

The birds kick off the season's second half with ten road games against excellent AL West teams, most of which start at 1 a.m. Eastern (which is annoying for viewers as well as players).  Three in Oakland, three in Anaheim and four in Seattle.  Those three teams are a combined 167-117 (.588) with a cumulative +291 run differential (admittedly, Oakland drives a lot of that).  Only mildly comforting is the fact that the Orioles have been better on the road than at home so far.

The Orioles zip back from the west coast to play ... the Angels and Mariners, in Baltimore, from July 29-August 3.  Then they squeeze in a makeup game against the Nationals (51-42) before shooting up to the great white north for a series against Toronto (49-47), then returning to Camden Yards to play the Cardinals (52-44) before getting to that Yankees series.

That's 23 games.  23 brutal games.  The Orioles only have 68 left to play, and the first 23 are that run of matchups, with only one off day.

So, Orioles fans, buckle up.  This team's not going to be able to skate by on a four-game lead to close out the season, not even with the rest of the division limping along.  They're going to have to earn some tough wins against some quality competition.

If they can get out of that 23-game stretch with a lead in the A.L. East, though, they'll be poised to make a run.  When that stretch ends, their toughest competition the rest of the way is the Cincinnati Reds.  They mix up ample intradivision matchups (they're 26-18 against the division so far) with some chances against lesser teams like the Twins and White Sox.

So mark your calendars.  The Orioles' record on August 11th will probably be important.

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