Photo: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
With their impressive win last night the Orioles move to 81-57 and 9.5 games up on the second-place New York Yankees in the American League East. Now just two games behind the Angels with just 24 games remaining, the Orioles primary focus for the rest of the regular season will be finishing with the best record in the American League and earning home field advantage through the ALCS.
However, Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter will have some interesting roster decisions to make come October, particularly in the starting rotation. Although they would never say it, the rest of September will partially be used to help shape how the starting rotation will be lined up going into the playoffs. How effective or ineffective each starter is in their remaining 3 or 4 starts could determine their role in the Orioles’ first playoff series.
There is no doubt any post season rotation will include Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen. The only question will be in which order. There’s a lot to consider when laying out the rotation for the post season. The first could just come down to who is on normal rest. Also, who the Orioles play and whether or not they have home field advantage. Even the time of the game could factor into the decision.
However, there is something special about pitching the first game of the post season, and its obvious Buck will want to go with his hottest hand. With his performance last night, Miguel Gonzalez is doing his part to get the nod. Gonzalez may have pitched the best game of his career going all nine innings and allowing only five base runners for his first career shutout. However, it was no fluke. Since June he has allowed more than 3 runs only once, and has failed to go at least 6 innings only once.
Chris Tillman was the Orioles’ opening day starter, and would be the obvious choice to start game one in any playoff series. He has also had an impressive recent stretch. Tillman hasn’t given up more than three runs since June 5, that’s a 16 game span. He also gave up a ridiculous 6 runs in 6 starts in August.
While Tillman and Gonzalez have been impressive of late, it’s Wei-Yin Chen that has been the most reliable pitcher all season. He has failed to go at least 5 innings only twice all season, and currently leads the team with 14 wins. He has also only walked 28 in his 26 starts this season.
Back of the rotation starters Kevin Gausman and Bud Norris could have their roles dependent on the playoff schedule, and what the series score is heading into the fourth and fifth game. If the Orioles are down going into the fourth game, they may choose to stick to a three-man rotation and use Norris and Gausman out of the bullpen.
The Orioles could use a three-man rotation throughout the playoffs. However, over their careers both Gonzalez and Chen have seemed to benefit from more extra rest in between starts. So off days and travel schedule could dictate how often Buck wants to use them. It’s also important to note that all five starters could be over or near their career highs in innings pitched going into October.
There are a lot of factors that go into the how to set up a playoff starting rotation, and the Orioles will have some tough decisions to make. However, there aren’t a lot or any managers in baseball that are as prepared as Buck Showalter, and there is no doubt he will have his players in the best position to win.