The Baltimore Orioles find themselves at 53-43 after 96 games of baseball.
While the Birds are 10 games over .500 heading into the All-Star break, the club has some questions looking to be answered as they are poised for another postseason appearance.
1. What will the starting “rotation” look like for the rest of the season?
If healthy, the top four seemingly look like this in no particular order: LHP Wei-Yin Chen, RHP Chris Tillman, RHP Miguel Gonzalez and RHP Scott Feldman. The odd man out? Jason Hammel. While the four aforementioned pitchers aren’t exactly measures of consistency, Hammel seems to be on the steepest decline. One game, he’ll throw a one-run quality start. The next, he barely escapes the sixth and has at least five earned runs next to his name in the box score. The guy that was once pegged as the “ace” of this staff has somewhat resorted back to his days in Tampa and Colorado. Although the postseason rotation is usually limited to three, the Orioles have to make it there first. With the potpourri of starting pitchers they have allowed to take the bump already this season, Orioles manager Buck Showalter could use anyone in that final spot… if it is just one spot after all. Don’t sleep on LHP Zach Britton and RHP Kevin Gausman for that fifth starter spot as Hammel could join the likes of T.J. McFarland in the long-relief role. However, I wouldn’t expect it, based on Showalter’s managerial history, unless of course the 30-year-old right hander continues the steady fall into the abyss he finds himself in as of late — Hammel has a 7-6 record despite a 5.24 ERA and 1.44 WHIP.
2. Although the Orioles made a splash earlier this month by dealing RHPs Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop to the Chicago Cubs for RHP Scott Feldman, should the Os be content with their roster and build from within or make an additional move at the trade deadline?
I will answer my own question with another question: Have the Orioles escaped their previous history of losing and are ready to build a serious contender? If the answer is yes, they will make another move. If not, they’ll stand pat… which may not be devastating. The Feldman trade gave this Orioles pitching staff flexibility in both the starting rotation and in the bullpen. The former Cubs pitcher is one who excels off of short rest more than the traditional five days of rest, giving Showalter the ability to either give another starter additional rest, plug in a spot starter or even use Feldman in a bullpen role. The right-hander has shown early on his ability to at least make the sixth inning, easing some of the tension off of the bullpen. While the likes of LHP Tsuyoshi Wada could make an appearance for the Orioles heading into August or September, there still seems like a need for another pitcher. Houston Astros pitcher Bud Norris and Chicago Cubs starter Matt Garza are two of the names being tossed around as potential deadline deal guys — Garza is a 50-50 trade target as he is possibly constructing a long-term deal with Chicago. Milwaukee Brewers reliever Francisco Rodriguez has also generated buzz with the Orioles, given the club’s overuse and inconsistency of it’s bullpen. K-Rod seems to be the favorite in my eyes, despite the ticking time bomb nature he possesses that rivals the pitching antics and escapades of Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Pedro Strop. While Wada is a left-handed arm, I would side with taking a chance on Rodriguez, given his postseason history, World Series experience and his previous success as a setup man and closer. Adding the Venezuelan right-hander could light a fire under Orioles closer Jim Johnson as well.
3. Is Brian Roberts the everyday second baseman going forward?
For the rest of the 2013 season, if healthy, No. 1 should be the go-to guy at second. While the 35-year-old hasn’t dominated per say, he offers the Orioles a little bit of Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla’s skills. Roberts has demonstrated an ability to slug extra base hits on more of a regular basis his competition at the position. His power rivals that of Flaherty and his speed rivals that of Casilla — not saying he is greater at either of those skills, but he is more dynamic. Roberts could potentially assume the designated hitter role with his switch-hitting prowess, but his defensive efforts this season have warranted a starting infield spot for Brian. Whether he is in the middle of the lineup, at the top of the order or the bottom for the double leadoff, if Roberts can stay healthy, he could be the missing piece to this club going further into the postseason.