The Orioles, who head into the second half Friday with baseball's worst record (29-59), are a stunning 27 games out of first and 14 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East.
For comparison's sake, the Washington Nationals are in last place and 13 1/2 games out in the National League East. Both the Orioles and Nationals are in the basements of their respective divisions, but the Nationals are closer to first than the Orioles are to fourth.
Given that, it's easy to close the book on this season and resume interest when pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Fla., in February. But there are several intriguing storylines unfolding in the second half that could shape this team's future:
Here are five questions that should be answered in the next few months. How they are answered should reveal what's in store for 2011 and beyond. We take our best stab at them now.
Who will manage this team going forward?
Buck Showalter, current ESPN analyst and former manager of the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers, is the leading candidate and likely will take over in the near future.
There is no hiring timetable, however, and there are several issues that have to be worked out with Showalter, including contractual terms, specific responsibilities and staffing decisions. President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail historically takes his time with important decisions, so a move could be made in days or in weeks.
Although an external hire is expected, MacPhail has been impressed with the club's response to interim manager Juan Samuel, who is 14-20 since taking over for Dave Trembley on June 4. The Orioles are 10-7 in their past 17 games and have won a season-high-tying four straight after a sweep in Texas to end the first half.
Still, a change -- and more turnover -- is expected. Unlike Lee Mazzilli, the club's last external managerial hire in 2003, Showalter probably would be allowed to bring in his own coaches. It's unlikely Showalter would accept a deal without being able to make staff changes.
"Whether it is Juan's team or someone else's coming in, we have been in the situation before, and I think the guys know how to handle it," right fielder Nick Markakis said. "It is tough not knowing if you're going to have a new manager now or next season. But that's part of the game, part of the business, and you just have to go about it just like any other day."
Will this be the worst team in Orioles or baseball history?
With a .330 winning percentage, they are on pace for a 53-109 record, which would be the worst in modern-day Orioles history. They have the same mark through 88 games as the 1988 Orioles, who started the year 0-21 and ended with 107 losses, a modern franchise record.
At this pace, they won't come close to the 1962 New York Mets, the modern-day game's biggest loser with a 40-120 record and .250 winning percentage. That, of course, is no consolation to a fan base that is staring at a franchise-worst 13th consecutive losing season.
This year conceivably could get worse. Since 2000, the Orioles have not had a winning record in 10 Augusts and have just one winning record in 10 Septembers/Octobers. There are myriad reasons for their late swoons, including more games within a brutal division, younger players running out of steam and lack of reinforcements in the minors.
Given the horrendous start, another struggle at the end could push these Orioles toward infamy. But the players believe their recent play is more indicative of their talent.
"I think we have put [the losing] behind us now and can say, 'Hey, we don't want these last two months to feel like the first ones.' We know what that feels like. That's definitely no fun at all," outfielder Corey Patterson said. "So to have that in the back of our minds should help us go forward and have a better second half."
Who will be traded?
The early belief was that if the Orioles weren't in contention by the All-Star break, they would have plenty of chips to deal at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. That looked especially true because the Orioles had a bunch of veterans -- Ty Wigginton, Miguel Tejada, Garrett Atkins, Cesar Izturis, Kevin Millwood, Koji Uehara and Will Ohman -- on expiring deals.
Of that group, only left-handed reliever Ohman and Wigginton, who has played first, second and third base while making his first All-Star team, have met or exceeded expectations. Atkins was released, Millwood was placed on the disabled list after a two-month skid and Tejada, Izturis and Uehara have done nothing special to entice a contender to deal prospects for their services.
Two other trade possibilities, injured designated hitter Luke Scott and starter Jeremy Guthrie (3-10, 4.77 ERA), have limited value and are still under club control next year. That leaves Wigginton as the only readily available player on the 25-man roster certain to attract interest.