Bats warming, but pitching has carried Orioles over final month

October 01, 2016 | Luke Jones

The Orioles hope their highest run output in nearly three weeks on Friday night is the harbinger of an offensive awakening for October, but their pitching is what’s made that kind of talk still possible.

A six-run, three-homer fifth inning was the story in Friday’s 8-1 victory over the New York Yankees that put Baltimore in the lead for the top wild card with two games to play, but veteran starter Yovani Gallardo gave the Orioles exactly what they needed and continued a month-long trend that’s saved the season. Allowing only one run over six innings to earn the win, Gallardo lowered the starter ERA to a very respectable 3.83 for the month of September.

For a group that was the Achilles heel of a contending club for the better part of five months, the substantial improvement couldn’t have come at a better time as the Orioles’ bats entered Friday averaging just 4.0 runs per game in September, continuing the second-half frustration for a lineup increasingly dependent on home runs. The offensive struggles had been even worse over the last 12 games prior to Friday as the Orioles scored more than three runs only twice while still managing to post a 6-6 record over that stretch to stay afloat in the race.

The survival was because of the pitching, which leads the American League with a 2.90 ERA in September.

The surge has been led by Ubaldo Jimenez, who has rebounded from an appalling 7.38 ERA in the first half to pitch to a 2.31 mark over his last five starts. The recent performance may not forgive his many missteps that hurt the Orioles earlier in the season, but where would they have been without him over the last five weeks with Chris Tillman not himself for most of that time?

Jimenez hasn’t been alone as fellow maligned starters Gallardo and Wade Miley have also had their moments in recent weeks. It’s easy — and fair — to ask what took so long for this group to finally pitch better, but the Orioles are just grateful to see the necessary improvement after the rotation’s previous best ERA for a month was a mediocre 4.55 in April.

Assuming good health, Tillman and Kevin Gausman were always locks for a potential postseason rotation, but Jimenez has easily secured the No. 3 spot with Dylan Bundy, Gallardo, and Miley all vying for the fourth and final starting spot.

Though known for being the backbone of the Buck Showalter era in Baltimore, the bullpen has also rebounded from a nightmare August (6.43 ERA) to post a 1.38 mark over the final month, eclipsing the previous best month of a 2.24 ERA in April. The Orioles still don’t know if Darren O’Day — who pitched for the first time in a week on Friday night — can reclaim his status as one of the best setup men in baseball in time for the playoffs, but Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, and Donnie Hart have continued to do admirable work in bridging the gap to the impeccable Zach Britton in the ninth.

The best closer in baseball remains a perfect 47-for-47 in save opportunities with eight coming in September.

It’s no secret that the Orioles will need offensive performances similar to Friday’s if they’re to make any noise in October, but the improved pitching will need to accompany the bats into the postseason.

For now, however, the pitching staff deserves a tip of the cap for making any of this excitement possible.