The Orioles' offense carried the team for most of the season entering the All-Star break, and no hitter carried more of the load than Chris Davis.
With that has come exaggerated defensive shifts and detailed scouting reports, with opponents eager to find a way to get the left-handed slugger out. That is the task of starter Bruce Chen and the Royals on Tuesday, as Kansas City hosts the Orioles for the second game of the four-game set at Kauffman Stadium.
"He's definitely a dangerous hitter; I think you target two or three guys in that lineup in your game plan going in, and he's definitely one of those guys," Royals manager Ned Yost said of Davis, who leads the Majors with 37 homers. "He's a guy that if you make a mistake, he's more than capable of hitting it out of the ballpark, so you've got to be aware of those guys during certain points of the ballgame and pitch more carefully for sure."
Chen compared Davis to Miguel Cabrera and said the best thing he could do was keep the bases empty before Davis steps to the plate.
"These guys used to face him in the Minor Leagues, and they know how good he was in the Minor Leagues," Chen said. "He wasn't putting up the numbers in the Major Leagues, but this year and the end of last year, he's been hitting the ball very, very well with power. We all know what he's capable of doing, and he's doing it now in the Major Leagues, so obviously he has made some adjustments, and it's up to us to make some adjustments against him."
With expectations in place for the Orioles' offense, the starting staff is hoping to live up to its end of the bargain the rest of the way. Tuesday's starter, Jason Hammel, hopes he can be part of that turnaround.
The 30-year old right-hander was an important part of the starting staff last season, when he made 20 starts and finished the year with an 8-6 record and a 3.43 ERA. He limited opponents to nine home runs over 118 innings.
But this season has been a different story. Hammel is 7-6 with a 5.24 ERA over 111 2/3 innings pitches in his 19 starts. He also owns a 1.44 WHIP and has surrendered 19 home runs on the season.
"It all comes back to fastball command," Hammel said. "Walking guys and getting behind in counts makes you have to pitch in the zone instead of being able to attack early and expand later. So, I need to do a lot better job of staying aggressive early. ... When my fastball command is good, that's when I'm successful.
"I'm definitely looking forward to the second half and getting it going," he added, "because it is very important to have [starters] 1-5 being able to go out and know you have a great chance to win tonight."
Royals: Chen to pitch against his old team
Chen, a former Orioles pitcher, will face his former team in his second start of the season.
The left-hander began the season in Kansas City's bullpen, but on July 12 he replaced Luis Mendoza in the starting rotation. He pitched six scoreless innings with one walk and a hit against the Indians in his first start.
"I'm feeling good," Chen said after resting over the All-Star break. "I think the break, for some people it was like, 'Oh, you were just getting into the groove, and then you get 11 days off.' But for me, it was time for me to rest my arm. ... I'm glad I'm back into the rotation and feeling well and I'm able to help this team in a different role now."
Chen, a native of Panama, pitched for the Orioles from 2004-06 and had a career-high 13 wins in 2005. He is 2-3 with a 5.18 ERA over seven games (six starts) against Baltimore. He is 3-0 this season with a 2.04 ERA over 39 2/3 innings in 20 appearances, including the one start.
Orioles: Starters going streaking
The Orioles have won eight of their past nine games, including a season-high five straight games entering Tuesday, and the starters have been a big reason.
The starting staff has earned every decision and recorded a quality start each time out during that span. Scott Feldman pitched eight innings of two-run ball Monday night in a blowout win over the Royals, and he was just the latest Orioles starter to get the job done.
In 62 innings since July 10, they have collectively allowed just 20 earned runs, good for a 2.90 ERA.
Of course, it helps that the offense has scored more than 5 1/2 runs per game over that nine-game stretch, including nine runs Monday. The last time the Orioles won five consecutive games was Sept. 16-22.
• The Royals' streak of 11 consecutive games without an error ended in the first inning Monday.
• Kansas City center fielder Lorenzo Cain ended his career-best nine-game hitting streak with an 0-for-4 Monday.
• Orioles catcher Matt Wieters has a five-game hit streak after he singled in the first inning Monday.
• Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis is 8-for-16 (.500) with three doubles and a home run in his career against Bruce Chen. Danny Valencia is 11-for-20 (.550) with four doubles and a triple lifetime against Chen.
Derek Wetmore is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.