Can the success last?
That’s the question that all Baltimore Orioles fans have to be asking themselves right about now, a day after the birds completed yet another late comeback to beat the Tigers 4-2, as Chris Davis hit his league-leading 20th homer of the season and Nate McLouth was once again “McClutch”, driving in a key run in the 7th to give the O’s the lead. The win gave the Orioles the series over a first-place Detroit team with arguably the best lineup in the AL and the best overall hitter on the planet in Miguel Cabrera. They did this despite trailing late in both wins, and Jason Hammel getting absolutely shelled in game 2. While the team and their fans will both certainly take series wins any way they can get them, some things may need to change in order for Baltimore to keep up their recent winning ways.
First and foremost is the starting pitching. Right now, the O’s are red hot despite Chris Tillman being their most consistent starter. That’s the same Chris Tillman with a 4.26 ERA and who gave up 6 runs in 4.2 innings to the normally meek Nationals lineup in his last start. The rest of the rotation consists of Hammel (who, again, just had zero control of his pitches against Detroit and got rocked), the über-talented but inconsistent rookie Kevin Gausman, career journeyman Freddy Garcia, and the not-bad-but-not-great Miguel Gonzalez. Now, the O’s do have Wei-Yin Chen almost ready to come off the DL, and Garcia pitched a fantastic 8-inning shutout against Washington his last time on the hill, but the fact is that the rotation needs to improve by leaps and bounds for the birds to have a realistic chance of making the playoffs at the end of the year.
The second underlying problem the Orioles have is, surprisingly, the bullpen. I don’t necessarily mean everyone, as Darren O’Day has been his usual dominant self all year, and Steve Johnson has provided quality innings for the club since his call-up. But the rest of the ‘pen needs to step their game up. Pedro Strop has given up 12 runs in roughly two months this season; he gave up 18 all of last year.The team hasn’t won a game he’s appeared in since May 12th against the Twins. Jim Johnson’s struggles have been well documented, and while his last few outings have been better, he needs to keep it up, or the O’s can watch their hopes go down the drain. Troy Patton has also almost matched his earned run totals from last year (12/15). The bullpen was the backbone of the team last year, and helped hide a starting rotation that was in nearly as much disarray as it is right now. If they don’t right the ship quickly, the question remains: Can the success last?
It just might, thanks to the backbone of the 2013 Baltimore team: the lineup. There is something about this group of guys that brings the best out of everyone, every single time they take the field. They never panic if they get down early (or late), and they know that if one guy is having an off day that someone else will pick up the slack. As CF Adam Jones says, “It’s all about fighting and grinding. We do both everyday”. As long as they continue to “Stay Hungry” (the team’s unofficial motto) and hit a league leading 81 homers with a .275 team batting average (2nd in MLB), the team should be able to stay afloat while their pitching issues work themselves out.
And once they do, there might be no one who can stop this team.