Even with Upgrades, Baltimore Orioles Rotation Remains Focal Point

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 03: Chris Tillman /

The Baltimore Orioles are a team that has improved itself over the last few days, but their success will still be determined by the starting rotation.

A new season is set to kick off, with just a few days before the Baltimore Orioles play organized baseball.

The infield mostly looks the same from last season. A new starting catcher will be in place. There also will likely be a new starting outfielder.

At DH and first base, the team needs power hitters who hit for power, and then they will take the strikeouts. The bullpen will be missing their closer, but he will return and the depth is good enough.

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An emphasis on getting back to playing defense and the fundamentals will work to help the Orioles compete with the loaded lineup and the Yankees and Red Sox.

All of that is true, and the Orioles’ lineup is pretty good itself. In the end, it won’t matter. The success of this season will come down to the starting rotation. My mantra for the Orioles is that their success is always tied to the rotation.

Don’t believe me?

2012: Team had a 3.90 ERA, No. 6 among AL teams. The starters had a 4.42 ERA, 9th in the American League. That was led by a 24-year-old pitcher named Chris Tillman, who went 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 15 starts.

Miguel Gonzalez and Jason Hammel also had ERAs under 3.50. Ultimately, the Orioles made the playoffs, lost in the ALDS to the New York Yankees after winning the play-in game versus the Texas Rangers.

2013: The Orioles owned a 4.20 ERA, 10th among the teams in the AL. The starters had a 4.57 ERA, good for 12th. Tillman led the Orioles with a 16-7 mark in 33 starts, with a 3.71 ERA. Gonzalez had a 3.78 ERA in his 28 starts. The Orioles were 12 games back in the AL East.

2014: The Orioles had a 3.43 ERA, third best in the American League. Starters similarly had a 3.61 ERA, fifth best in the AL. Gonzalez had a 3.23 ERA in 26 starts, Tillman 3.34 in 34 starts. Wei-Yin Chen had a 3.54 ERA in 31 starts, Kevin Gausman 3.57 in 20 starts and Bud Norris 3.65 in 28 starts.

Combine that with an excellent bullpen and the Orioles had their best pitching in recent memory. The team won 96 games, won the division and the ALDS against Detroit before bowing out in the ALCS against the Kansas City Royals.

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2015: Another odd year, pitching not as good. The team ERA of 4.05 was ninth in the American League, while the starters’ ERA of 4.53 was second worst. Wei-Yin Chen had a 3.34 ERA in 31 starts. No one else was under 4. The bullpen was still great, but the rotation was a mess.

2016: Even season, a playoff berth. The team’s ERA of 4.22 was 10th best in the AL, while the starters’ ERA was 4.72. So, this year the team won despite their pitching. Kevin Gausman had a 3.61 ERA in 30 starts, but a losing record.

Tillman was 16-6 with a 3.77 ERA in 30 starts. All other starters weren’t just over 4, but over 5. The Orioles exited the playoffs early on a walk-off home run in the play-in game.

2017: It was abysmal. The team’s ERA of 4.97 was 14th out of 15. The starters’ ERA of 5.70 was not only the worst in the AL but one of the worst in baseball history. Dylan Bundy had the best ERA, and it was 4.24. The Orioles also had a starter with an ERA over 5.60, over 6.80 and over 7.80.

The book on 2018 is just getting started. The names Gausman, Bundy and Tillman are all now back in Baltimore. Can Bundy and Gausman continue their emergence, and take the step to being top starters. Can Tillman rebound to his 2012-2014 numbers? Can Cashner keep his ERA under 4.5?

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All of these things could help the Orioles compete in the division. No matter what is going on in the outfield, with Chris Davis, with Mark Trumbo, the success of the 2018 Baltimore Orioles will come down to the starting rotation.