About a week ago I asked Baltimore Orioles fans who they thought should pitch a one game wild-card playoff should the Orioles find themselves in that position. The Orioles basically have a seven man rotation right now without a true ace. There are plenty of options. This also makes it tough for Buck Showalter to decide who to include in a five game divisional series.
The Orioles still need to clinch a playoff birth and there is no telling if they will ever make it to the divisional playoff series, but let’s assume they do. Let’s play manager for a minute. Obviously a lot of will be decided based on who pitches the final series against the Tampa Bay Rays and how the rotation is set up by Showalter after the Orioles final off day on Thursday. However, if you could set up the Orioles rotation for a five game divisional playoff series any way you want, how would you?
The Orioles still don’t know if Jason Hammel will be healthy and ready to go for the playoffs, but you could make a strong argument he should be their game one starter. When healthy this season, Hammel has been the Orioles most consistent starter. The right-hander also carries himself like a staff ace. The only question is if the Orioles can trust his injured knee.
The Orioles next best starter arguably has been left handed rookie Wei-Yi Chen. Although his numbers aren’t overly impressive, Chen has been the team’s most consistent starter from start to finish. At times he has struggled, but for the most part he has come up big for the Orioles.
After Hammel and Chen, there are a number of quality candidates for the Orioles. Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez has been huge for the team this season. He continues to pitch great against the Orioles top competition. Critics will say it’s only a matter of time before Gonzalez gets lite up, but I couldn’t disagree more. Just because Gonzalez isn’t a highly rated prospect or throw 99 mph, doesn’t mean he can’t be a quality pitcher in the majors. Gonzalez has shown he knows how to pitch. He changes speeds and has great command. He has started 13 games and hasn’t seemed over-matched yet. The Orioles can’t go wrong with Gonzalez pitching in a divisional series.
Another playoff rotation candidate is Chris Tillman. This seemed absurd in April, but boy has Tillman been great since being called up. Don’t forget, Tillman was a highly touted young pitcher and although it seems like he has been trying for a while, he is still only 24-years-old. Tillman worked on his mechanics with director of pitching development Rick Peterson and he looks like a different pitcher since being called up. Tillman has been the Orioles best starter since being called up in early July. Would Showalter trust Tillman pitching in the playoffs?
Joe Saunders may be new to the Orioles, but he is the most established of the group. Saunders was acquired for this very reason. Expect Saunders to be in the Orioles playoff rotation. He has backed up general manager Dan Duquette’s faith in him. Saunders has been very impressive with the Orioles, especially in his last two starts.
The wild-cards in the rotation shuffle are veteran Randy Wolf and rookie Steve Johnson. I would be surprised if either of these guys makes a start in the divisional series, but there are worse options. Wolf has plenty of experience, but he has struggled in his last couple starts. I feel Wolf is much more valuable out of the bullpen as a second left-hander. As for Johnson, he has pitched brilliantly out of the bullpen and in three starts. Johnson just pitched five shutout innings against the Toronto Blue Jays to continue his impressive rookie campaign. I’m sure Showalter and the Orioles will be reluctant to start a rookie in the playoffs, but the young right-hander has impressive command and great poise. If he continues to pitch as well as he has, don’t be shocked if Showalter goes with the rookie.
If I’m Showalter, I’m going with Hammel game one (assuming he is healthy), Saunders game two, Gonzalez game three, Tillman game four, and then gack to Hammel game five. Yes, I would leave Chen off. He looks like he is tiring and was hit around against the Blue Jays in Monday night’s game. Chen will pitch well, but will then get hit hard out of nowhere. Even though Chen has been great for the Orioles all season, you have to go with who is pitching best late in the season and Chen just isn’t getting it done right now. If Hammel isn’t healthy I would go with Saunders game one, Gonzalez game two, Chen game three, Tillman game four, and back to Saunders game five. Comment below with your playoff rotations!
Baltimore Orioles Starting Pitcher Options: 2012 Stats
Jason Hammel: 20 Games Started, 8-6 W-L, 3.43 ERA
Wei-Yi Chen: 30 Games Started, 12-9 W-L, 3.98 ERA (before 9/24/12 start)
Miguel Gonazalez: 13 Games Started (16 Games Total), 7-4 W-L, 3.52 ERA
Chris Tillman: 13 Games Started, 8-2 W-L, 3.08 ERA
Joe Saunders: 26 Games Started, 8-12 W-L, 4.08 ERA (with Arizona Diamondbacks and Orioles)
Randy Wolf: 26 Games Started (30 Games Total), 5-10 W-L, 5.65 ERA (with Milwaukee Brewers and Orioles)
Steve Johnson: 3 Games Started (11 Games Total), 4-0 W-L, 1.62 ERA