It is completely unfair to judge the top of the Orioles’ rotation by the overall numbers for the team. Manager Buck Showalter announced Sunday that the team’s first three starters after the break would be Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and newly named All-Star Chris Tillman. The respective numbers for that group? Chen has a 2.82 ERA in nine starts through an oblique injury, Gonzalez a 3.48 ERA in 16 starts and Tillman a 3.95 ERA in 19 starts.
Of the 15 teams in the American League, only eight others can boast three starters with a sub-4.00 ERA in nine starts or more. Of the nine total teams, only two (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Chicago White Sox) are not currently in the thick of the playoff race. Of the teams over .500 in the American League, only the New York Yankees do not have at least three such starters.
The Orioles are in the position they’re in partly because of a solid amount of starting pitching. Don’t misconstrue that. The Orioles haven’t received exceptional starting pitching. But their current position is very solid in large part because of those three guys that will take the ball after the break.
The ability for the Orioles to win the division or nail down a Wild Card will be decided in large part by the same starting pitching.
Chen appeared quite healthy in his return against the Texas Rangers Wednesday night. If he stays healthy, the O’s have every reason to believe the lefty can pitch at a top of the rotation level the rest of the way. Tillman and Gonzalez have both been outstanding since midway through last season. The group will need to continue to work deeper into games. Chen has averaged six innings per start, Tillman just under six and Gonzalez six and a third.
Shorter innings have lead to an overtaxed bullpen, which has also played a role in some of the inflated ERA numbers. The Orioles will need those very effective starters to get deeper into games. Behind those three, the Birds will hope Sunday’s start was a sign that Feldman is ready to have his 3.46 National League ERA in 15 starts this season translate to the Junior Circuit. Hammel is clearly the fifth of five. After participating in All-Star festivities a year ago, Hammel will sweat through the break this year with an unknown future. Showalter’s loyalty to his vets will probably get him back on the mound for at least a start or two post-break to see if the rest helped clear his head, but Hammel will have to pitch effectively quickly or the Birds will have to look elsewhere.
That “elsewhere” could still come from outside the organization. The Orioles surprised many with the Feldman deal, but it is not guaranteed they couldn’t add something more before the July 31st non-waier deadline or the August 31st waiver deadline.
You’ll hear about the Orioles’ 4.39 team ERA during the All-Star break. Don’t buy into it. Instead, buy into the idea that the O’s need to get good starting pitching the rest of the way to return to the postseason.