With their win last night the Orioles are now 7.5 games up on the second place Blue Jays, which is the largest lead of any division leader in all of baseball. With only 43 games remaining in the season the division title seems almost evitable. They also improved their record to 69-50 which is currently the third best record in baseball. However, despite their success there are still a number of skeptics around baseball.
For most of the season the majority of MLB analysts have been quick to brand the Orioles as a powerful offensive team whose biggest weakness remains their starting pitching. However, for those who have followed the Orioles closely this season that simply hasn’t been the case. It’s obvious that with their lineup the Orioles aren’t going to struggle to score runs, but it’s their starting pitching that has been the key to their recent surge.
The first example of this would have to be opening day starter and assumed staff ace Chris Tillman. With another strong start last night Tillman has now allowed three runs or less in 13 straight starts. In his last ten starts he has an ERA of 2.60 and has an ERA of 1.74 in three starts in August. It’s also important to note his last eight starts have come against teams with winning records.
The two most consistent starters have been Bud Norris and Wei-Yin Chen. Norris has had a sub-4.00 ERA in every month since April, at 10-7, he has been the quality starter at back of the end of the rotation the Orioles have been missing in recent years. With 12 wins Chen has gotten his share of run support this season. However, he has also pitched well enough to deserve his good fortune. He has allowed 3 runs or less in eight of his last ten games.
Despite being sent to AAA last week Miguel Gonzalez may have been having one of the best seasons of all the starters. He hasn’t allowed more than four runs since his first start of the season and has failed to go five innings only twice. He also seemed to be heating up for the stretch run with an ERA of 1.82 in July.
The two wild cards in the rotation are Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez. Gausman has the best stuff on the team and has shown flashes greatness since he broke into the rotation going 6-4 with a respectable 3.90 ERA. If he could polish his talent into being a more consistent starter he could be the most important pitcher in the playoffs.
Ubaldo Jimenez has been a really expensive frustration so far for the Orioles. However, he did have the second-best ERA in the second half of last season. While that can give the Orioles some hope he can turn the season around, if he can’t the Orioles have enough options to be successful without him in the rotation.
Several of the Orioles’ starters began the season slowly, but mid-way through August the Orioles now have five starters with ERAs under 4.00. It’s true names like Gonzalez, Chen and Norris don’t carry the star-power of the Tiger’s Price, Verlander or Scherzer, and that could be partially responsible for the national media’s skepticism. However, anyone watching the Orioles closely this season realizes the Orioles aren’t winning games in spite of their starting pitching. In fact, of late it might be their biggest strength.