If the season ended today, how much better off would the Orioles be for the future?

July 22, 2012 | Luke Jones

That’s where these final two months become much more critical to the future of the organization than to their unlikely wild card hopes in 2012. Of course, the ideas aren’t mutually exclusive, but continuing to win with smoke and mirrors — in other words, mediocre starting pitching — leaves a cloudier picture for the future when you’d like to see the club become perennial contenders.

In order for this season to truly be a beacon of hope for 2013 and beyond, the Orioles need at least two more starting pitchers to emerge and join Hammel and Chen as real options the organization can count on going into the offseason. Acquiring one or two legitimate starting pitchers via free agency or trade is doable; adding three or four of real quality is next to impossible when you consider the other positional needs the club must address.

It doesn’t really matter who emerges at this point as the Orioles have moved past the days of simply running young pitchers out to the mound start after start without expectations of positive results. Arrieta and Matusz will only get their next opportunity in the big leagues when those in the current rotation falter and they prove deserving of another shot.

Even if highly unlikely, the 28-year-old Gonzalez is still young enough to perhaps show he’s the next diamond in the rough in the way Jeremy Guthrie was five years ago. A 2.79 earned run average in his first three starts certainly hasn’t hurt his chances to this point.

After parts of three seasons with disappointing results, Tillman just might be pushing himself back onto the radar for the club’s future after two impressive outings in three tries. Or, it could just be the latest short-lived tease of unfulfilled promise.

Sunday’s outing from Britton might be the most encouraging sign of them all after an injury halted the start of the left-handed sinkerballer’s sophomore campaign, but it’s difficult to get too excited yet when even Arrieta and Matusz produced similar outings this season before being sent back to Triple A.

While a trade or two before the end of the month isn’t an impossible notion, it’s still difficult envisioning the Orioles having the goods to acquire impact starting pitchers substantially better than their internal options, meaning their hopes will largely rest with the arms they already have.

Yes, there are plenty of names, but none have materialized as good, dependable answers to this point. For the Orioles to stay in the race and — more importantly — appear primed to compete moving forward, that must change over the season’s final 10 weeks.

As enjoyable as the 2012 season has been through the first 95 games, it feels much more like the unlikeliest of temporary dreams than a true harbinger of bigger and better things to come in Baltimore.

But the final two months of the season can paint a brighter picture, regardless of whether it results in the Orioles playing in October or not.