Jason Hammel is starting game one of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees at Camden Yards Sunday. It will be Hammel’s first start since September 11th when he had to leave the game early after re-injuring his knee.
Despite the uncertainty of Hammel’s knee, he is the clear choice for Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles. Before going down with the injury, Hammel acted as the team’s ace. When healthy, Hammel provided the Orioles with a consistent presence on the mound. Hammel’s numbers may not be flashy (8-6, 3.43 ERA) but he gives the Orioles a chance to match up against C.C. Sabathia in game one.
Monday night’s game two will be pitched by lefty Wei-Yin Chen at Camden Yards. Chen has been the Orioles next most consistent starter all season long behind Hammel. The lefty has struggled over his final six starts posting a 5.05 ERA and that may be a result of being tired. Chen is used to pitching with an extra days rest in between starts in Japan. The good news is that Chen would be pitching on a week’s rest, which could be exactly what Chen needs.
Pitching game three at Yankees Stadium will be Miguel Gonzalez. Gonzalez also has been used carefully by Showalter to make sure he doesn’t tire down. Gonzalez is 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA between the bullpen and rotation on the season. In his last start against the Yankees at Yankees Stadium, Gonzalez pitched seven shutout innings. In his last four starts of the season, Gonzalez has gone at least six innings while allowing no more than two runs.
The Orioles could go with Chris Tillman (9-3, 2.93 ERA) if there is a game four at Yankees Stadium or choose to pitch veteran Joe Saunders on five days rest. After Saunders performance Friday night to get the Orioles into the divisional series, I feel Saunders should get a chance to throw game four. The veteran has experience pitching in big games and has proven he can handle the pressure.
Game five would be on Friday, October 12th and would set up for Hammel to come back on normal rest. Only the first three starters are certain, but the fourth starter will probably come down to Tillman and Saunders.
Despite not having an ace, the Orioles will have four quality starters in this series. Part of the reason for the Orioles success down the stretch is that they didn’t have a weak member of the rotation. No one was spectacular, but no one was bad either. The Orioles know whomever they are pitching in this series against the Yankees, they have a good chance of getting a quality performance.
All the Orioles starters have to do is keep the team close later in the game and let their bullpen and “Orioles Magic” take over.