The Baltimore Orioles appear to be coming into the playoffs this year without a legitimate “ace” on their staff. However, nobody seems to have told the O’s that that would necessarily be a bad thing, and why would it be? The Orioles may not have a starter that can presumably go the distance in a given start, but the team has continuously won games and now sits atop the AL East with a five-game cushion. When the trade deadline hit, Baltimore GM Dan Duquette had a big decision to make: work with what they have and solidify their bullpen or blow up their future prospects in the hopes of getting an elite “ace” right now. Duquette went with option one and, as of now, the team is reaping all the benefits. The move, although questionable at first, would appear to be presenting the case that, if the O’s had a good bullpen, the team can go a long way.
Since the All-Star break, the O’s offense had struggled mightily, averaging mere .222 BA. Nonetheless, the team has found a way to win 14 of their past 21 games, which includes five straight series wins. The reason why is apparent: The starting pitching has been terrific. Since July 1, the Orioles starting pitchers have posted a 2.40 ERA, which is third best in the majors. Regardless of this success, the starting rotation has only been able to average 6 IP/game. This means the bullpen has been tasked, day-in and day-out, with consistently closing out the final third (or more) of the game.
Whether it has been to hold a lead or to keep the team within striking distance, the bullpen has been there. However, as arms grow tired and minds get weary, especially playing their current 21 games in 22 days, a move was needed to solidify all of the hard work the pen has been doing all year long. Therefore, Duquette was ultimately faced with a big decision heading into the trade deadline: improve on what the team already has or blow up the future.
On the eve of the trade deadline, Duquette made the move to solidify his starting rotation and his bullpen by adding a right-handed reliever. With the addition of Andrew Miller (2.15 ERA, 75 SO), Duquette made a statement to Baltimore fans, his starting rotation, and to his manager: Have faith in what the team already has. Thus far, this choice has already generated incredible numbers.
Since acquiring Miller from the Boston Red Sox, the O’s are 6-2. In all eight games, the total bullpen has pitched a combined 20.2 IP. In that span of time, they have been able to post a 1.74 ERA and a 0.9677 WHIP. Even more incredible is what the bullpen has been able to do with a lead. In Baltimore’s six wins since the Miller trade, the pen has let in just one earned run for a combined ERA of 0.71 and a WHIP of 0.7895 in 12.2 IP.
In a glimpse of what may come in a playoff series, when the game has been on the line during these past eight games and the bullpen is needed to hold a close lead, manager Buck Showalter has gone with a one, two, three-punch combo of Miller, O’Day, and Britton. Since this combo has been put together, the three have remained unhittable… literally. In 8.2 combined IP, Miller, O’Day and Britton have given up zero earned runs and zero hits to go along with a WHIP of 0.61
This win by committee approach has not phased the team as of yet and, if the O’s keep doing what they are doing, why should it? On the other hand, this approach could get a little harder come playoff time. For instance, if a team has one, two, or even three legitimate “aces,” as the A’s and the Tigers do this year, they could potentially rely on a hot hand to carry a game(s) for 8-plus innings without even having to rely on another pitcher. With Baltimore heading into a playoff series, the team could be tasked with hoping for the best outcome from three, four or even five of their pitchers every game.
Whatever the case may be, the Baltimore Orioles have what they have and they are what they are and it is hard to argue with the results. After all, they keep winning. The addition of Miller has truly completed their pen and the combination of Miller, O’Day, and Britton appears as if they could hold any lead given to them- playoffs or not. If their bullpen can remain as consistently successful as they have been, then the proof would surely be in the pudding that if a team has a good bullpen, they could truly go a long way.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer Covering the Baltimore Orioles