Three Key Things For Orioles To Stay In Postseason Hunt
Each week, two PressBox baseball writers weigh in on a different topic. This week, Jim Henneman and Matt Palmer weigh in on the three key things that need to happen during the next six weeks for the Orioles to stay in the postseason hunt.
By Jim Henneman
Pitching is the same as real estate. It's all about location ... location ... location, and baseball is all about pitching ... pitching ... pitching. So, although we might not have to go three deep to pinpoint what the Orioles need to do to stay in contention, we can at least break the pitching down to two segments -- and then throw in another element, or two, for good measure.
For openers, it goes without saying that the Orioles' success thus far can be attributed to the relief pitching corps. That is not even debatable. That's what has carried them thus far, so it stands to reason that a breakdown in that department would be disastrous.
But that's only my No. 2 priority for these last six weeks. From here on out, it will be all about starting pitching (which seems to be all about location ... location ... location). If the O's get that, the back end will survive. But more than ever, the starters need to continue their recent run -- and extend themselves deeper into games.
The magic number the Orioles should strive for is 21 -- finding a way to get starters to record that many outs per game. The reason for the club's huge run differential, a statistic people insist will ultimately bury the Orioles, can be traced directly to the performances of the starting pitchers. When they have been good, the Orioles have been good. When they have been bad ... well, that's how you explain run differential.
The Orioles lead the major leagues in one-run and extra-inning wins. But they also have numerous losses by five or more runs, so doing that differential math is basic. What were the odds a couple of weeks ago that we'd be saying, "What the Orioles need is a few more starts like the one Zach Britton turned in the last time out"? He was able to record 21 outs and, without doing the actual research, I don't think I'd have to take both socks off to count the number of times that's happened.
The Orioles need their starters to get past the sixth inning to enable the bullpen to hold up the rest of the way. It's as simple as that.
If you press me for a third priority, and you've been a regular reader here, you'll remember that it was noted in this month's print edition that as bad as it's been, the defense has actually been a contributor here lately. So a continuation of that trend is my third necessity -- which, of course, would make it a lot easier to achieve priority No. 1 -- having the starters reach that new magic number of 21.
And if you want to throw in a resurgence of power by Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, feel free -- but I'll settle for the offense continuing its opportunistic ways.
By Matt Palmer
If the Orioles are going to be a successful in their wild-card (and possibly the American League East) chase, they are going to need a player in the lineup to become a next-level star during the next month. Chris Davis has recently shown the potential for the big hit, along with Adam Jones.
The club's defense has committed 94 errors throughout the season, and that somehow has not cost the Orioles much ground. Nonetheless, being poor in a department and still succeeding is not an excuse. One big miscue -- see Bill Buckner -- can live on in playoff lore. The Orioles can't have "that guy" during the postseason push.
Above all, the Orioles need what they've needed all season, but have somehow gotten by without -- great starting pitching.
Two Opening Day rotation members -- Wei-Yin Chen and Tommy Hunter -- are actively on the roster and contributing, while two are in the minor leagues and another is hoping to recover from a knee injury. Since the All-Star break, manager Buck Showalter has placed his trust in pitchers that spent the first half of the season in the minor leagues.
Miguel Gonzalez, Zach Britton and Chris Tillman have largely filled in, and the Orioles are surviving and winning. Postseason teams need to bring their A game each night and the Orioles, admittedly, have C- game in the starting pitching department. Jason Hammel's return would be a major plus for the club, but his knee injury might mean that he won't be at the same level he was early in 2012.
The Orioles need an ace. Although Chen has been surprisingly tough, with 12 wins this year, he's not ace material yet. The Orioles need someone with gravitas to grab the moment. Britton and Tillman, while still young and prone to many mistakes, can be those guys. They're capable of the spectacular and the unexpected. The Orioles need magic on the mound if the playoffs are going to be a reality.
Posted Aug. 21, 2012