Jul 8, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters (32) is congratulated by Adam Jones (10) after hitting a two-run home run in the seventh inning against the Texas Rangers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Rangers defeated the Orioles 8-5. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles: Can They Return To The Playoffs?


 

On the talent and prestige of their offense alone, the Baltimore Orioles have a strong chance to make it to the post season.  However the same cannot be said for the Orioles inept and inconsistent bullpen.  As a result, while the Orioles have proven to be legitimate contenders within their division, they can’t achieve the supreme greatness that they are striving to emulate.  Their overall streakiness and their inconsistencies from game to game is a cause for concern assuming they make the post season.

The atrocities of the Orioles pitching have made their season more arduous than it should be.  Between Jason Hammel’s inadequacies over the last month (overall ERA 5.03) and Jim Johnson’s inexplicably poor closing abilities, the Orioles bullpen lacks some much needed depth and consistency.  On any other team, these issues could be attributed to a lackluster offense coupled with a pitching squad that lacks the proper assistance to do its job effectively.  This is not the case with the Orioles.  As the regular season nears the All-Star break, the Orioles have triumphantly managed to be in the top five in runs, slugging percentage and batting average.  Despite the fact that their on base percentage leaves something to be desired, given how proficient the Orioles offense is at hitting the ball out of the park, this never poses much of a problem.  While there are offensive standout such as Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Adam Jones who have proven to be clutch hitters in their own right, nearly anyone on the Orioles roster is capable of making a standout play.  Anyone from left fielder Nate McLouth (Batting average of .281 on the season) to right fielder Nick Markakis (batting average of .292) can be a crucial contributor to the Orioles exceptional offense.  Unfortunately, even the Orioles high-octane offensive force needs some relief from time to time.

So far, Chris Tillman has proven to be the only member of the Orioles bullpen that shows any type of athletic candor and resiliency.  His ERA is vastly below his career average of 4.50 (his ERA currently stands at 3.92 on the season) along with this impressive win-loss record, which currently stand at 10-3.  While the same cannot be said about the remainder of the Orioles bullpen, they aren’t exactly horrible either.  However, the problem isn’t that they’re terrible pitchers, it’s that they’re horrible pitchers at the wrong time.  More often than not, the Orioles will choke away a one or two run game simply because a pitcher wasn’t at their best.  These unfortunate moments usually occur in the latter innings of a game, which is odd considering this was the Orioles strong suit all of last season.  Last season, the Orioles had one of the best closers in Jim Johnson who was typically responsible for the Orioles triumphant victories, particularly when they were up by only a single run.  Although the Orioles offense has vastly improved since that time, the pitching has sadly regressed to the point where it becomes hard to confidently determine a victorious outcome even when they’re winning towards the end of any given game.

If the Orioles wish to overcome these issues, then they need to find a temporary replacement for Jim Johnson.  While Darren O’Day typically doesn’t pitch more than one inning, his clutch repertoire and overall ERA of 2.09 suggest he could be the perfect candidate for the closing job.  On top of that, his funky underarm pitching style gives him a unique strategic advantage where by a hitter is unable to properly read O’Day’s release point and type of pitch until it has quickly left his hand.  Obviously, this wouldn’t be a permanent fix for the Orioles closing woes, but if nothing else it would allow O’Day to become more proficient at his craft while giving the Orioles more opportunities to succeed in games they should be dominating.

In the end, no matter how frustrating the Orioles pitching fallacies may be, their intimidating offensive prowess and their uncanny ability to bounce back from debilitating losses is highly impressive.  If Buck Showalter can properly rework the Orioles bullpen, this team has a chance to not only make the playoffs for a second consecutive time but to also out due what they accomplished after last years Cinderella season.    

Tags: Baltimore Orioles MLB