Baltimore Orioles: Can Improved Pitching Continue?

Jun 15, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Baltimore Orioles pitcher Dylan Bundy (37) delivers a pitch during the eighth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 15, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Baltimore Orioles pitcher Dylan Bundy (37) delivers a pitch during the eighth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /

The Baltimore Orioles have benefitted from improved pitching over the past two weeks. Could this continue throughout the remainder of the season?

It has been largely assumed for some time that the Orioles’ only chance to make the playoffs, win the division, or compete well into October was dependent upon getting at least one veteran arm for the rotation. But as we have written here on The Baltimore Wire ad infinitum, making this happen successfully is not only expensive long-term, it is fraught with historic disappointment in the product. I’d sooner predict a cheerful, peaceful presidential campaign season than predict success from any pitching acquisition.

If the O’s pitching staff can continue as they have over the past 12 games (8-4 with a 2.77 ERA), the Birds really don’t need to be making any moves. But that is asking for and hoping for a lot … probably too much. We could be happy with a 3.50 ERA, or something like that!

The question is essentially whether the staff, particularly the starting rotation, has finally arrived at what we hoped they could be, or whether the previous period of struggle is the real “them” and that this new success is the aberration.

To answer the question posed by this piece, yes, the Orioles’ pitching is capable of continued high-level success. The talent is there, both from the history of veterans and the rising skills of young pitchers. But the devil is always in the details of execution of talent on the field, specifically over that space of 60’6”.

It is reasonable to expect Chris Tillman to extend his good season through the end. Kevin Gausman has pitched better than his record, and we can hope he is finally arriving into a regular and dependable piece for every fifth day.

Dylan Bundy looks to have “arrived” also in terms of pitching ability. It was great to see back-to-back wins from Gausman and him … been waiting a few years to experience that!  The issue, of course, relates to how many innings are safely available in his arm. This is an imprecise science, though I wonder if the physique and strength for which he is renowned might not position him for a higher number than is typically true of TJ-recovering pitchers.

The following two pieces are the wild cards for sure: Yovani Gallardo and Vance Worley. Both have the veteran ability to work the edges and pitch out of trouble while minimizing damage. They can both get shelled from time to time as well. Like Miguel Gonzalez before them, they have to be very good at walking a fine line. It would be huge if they could do it.

It is not inconceivable that Mike Wright or Tyler Wilson could put together a hot stretch and contribute well. It too would be huge! The more likely of the two is Wilson. After a 5.22 ERA in 13 starts and 16 games over 81 innings with the Orioles, he has been sent down for a sort of “re-set” or “re-start.”  The numbers are too ugly to print, though he reports feeling good, for what that’s worth. But this is the guy who shut out the Red Sox over eight innings on June 16th.

Mike Wright has had a strange season. His 2.58 ERA at AAA Norfolk is half of the 5.97 for the Orioles. We know that there is a jump from one level to the other, but not that much of a difference. And his last three starts for Norfolk have him with a combined ERA of 4.58 over 17.2 innings. Yet again, we know that talent is there, but not the consistency.

Left out of this discussion so far has been Ubaldo Jimenez. And “left out” is what he needs to continue to be. The Orioles have simply not had need of a mop-up man lately. In the 10 games since the All-Star break, the O’s have only scored 29 runs … yes, let that sink in. They have given up 30, so being 6-4 ain’t bad. But there have been no blowout wins or losses, so no need for a “just-git-r-done-and-go-home” pitcher. I think I’ve written in the past how I have a car I have nicknamed “Ubaldo,” since it was very expensive and does not work as advertised.

All of this discussion so far has been about starting pitchers. What is there to say about the bullpen other than that they have been a great team strength?  And now Darren O’Day is back. A key element of the pen will be how they handle middle innings, particularly in Bundy starts, along with any others who can’t get through six innings.

While we are talking about pitching, let’s weigh in for a moment on the trade of Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees to the Cubs for four prospects. In the short term this is good for the Orioles, who have nine games remaining with the Evil Empire, including six in NY. It is also good that the Nationals did not get him, since the O’s have their four games yet with Washington. From a baseball perspective, it would be better to see Papelbon at the end of a game, though it is never a good thing to see or be around Papelbon in any context. In the longer term, it will be interesting to see what comes of the prospects who now are with the Yankees.

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I’ll finish by saying that I would not make any deals for pitchers, other than exiting Ubaldo by whatever means possible. Let’s lace them up and see what the Birds can do with what we have, quoting Buck by saying, “I like our guys.”

OK, here we go … posting this 90 minutes before Gallardo takes the hill for the Orioles. Prove me right Yovani!