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Cubs searching for last year's magic entering set with Orioles

BALTIMORE -- The world champion Chicago Cubs and the Baltimore Orioles both struggled throughout the first half of the 2017 season. Both teams will be hoping to start the second part on a better note when they kick off a three-game interleague series at Camden Yards Friday night.

The Cubs have played inconsistent baseball throughout 2017. The World Series champs just have not been able to put it all together like they did so easily last year -- and manager Joe Maddon knows it.

"We've never been able to get on a roll, and with that comes that edgy kind of feeling," Maddon said on MLB.com "We've underachieved offensively, and our starting pitching hasn't been as good as we thought. We've been playing from behind a lot. It's hard to create edginess under those circumstances."

Chicago has posted a surprising 43-45 record in the first half and is tied for second with St. Louis in the National League Central, 5 1/2 games behind Milwaukee. The hitting really has been puzzling to Maddon and anyone who follows the Cubs.

"Everybody knows there's a lot more we can bring out in the second half," Chicago's Ben Zobrist told MLB.com.

The Cubs rank just 14th in the National League with a .239 team average. The pitching is fifth in the National League in ERA (4.10) but needs improvement from their starters, who have been inconsistent.

Closer Wade Davis has been perfect so far, converting all 16 save opportunities. He is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA but was the losing pitcher in the All-Star Game Tuesday in Miami.

However, the Cubs made a big move Thursday morning by acquiring Jose Quintana, the White Sox's top starter, for top prospect Eloy Jimenez and three other minor-leaguers. That trade should give the Cubs' starting rotation a jolt, and Quintana will be with Chicago through at least 2020.

This year, though, he is just 4-8 with a 4.49 ERA in 18 starts, although he has struck out 109 in 104 1/3 innings. He last pitched versus the Rockies on Saturday, allowing three runs on five hits in 5 1/3 innings and coming away with a no-decision despite striking out 10.

Quintana will make his debut for the Cubs on Sunday.

Mike Montgomery (1-6, 3.75 ERA) began starting for the Cubs in early June and has been fairly effective. He will start the series opener against Baltimore's Kevin Gausman (5-7, 5.85 ERA).

Montgomery is 0-0 with an 0.00 ERA over three innings in two career games against Baltimore, both coming last year.

Gausman has pitched better of late for the Orioles (42-46) but allowed six runs in four-plus innings in a loss to the Twins on July 7. Gausman has been inconsistent in a season where Baltimore needed him to step up.

He is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in his only career appearance against the Cubs, and that was in 2014.

The Orioles' offense often struggled in the first half but should get some help when first baseman Chris Davis (oblique muscle) returns from the disabled list, which should be Friday.

He played in a few rehab games with Baltimore's minor league teams this week and fared well.

"I felt really good," Davis told MASN. "I felt like I was maybe pressing a little too hard a few times, but I wanted to see where I was at swing-wise, what it felt like to turn and twist at that game speed, so it felt good."

Both teams also have gotten some pleasant surprises through the problems, though, as Chicago's Ian Happ came through with 13 homers and 31 RBI as a rookie.

Trey Mancini also gave the Orioles a boost. The rookie leads the Orioles with a .312 batting average. He also banged out 14 homers and drove in 44.

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