Three starting pitchers have ERAs above six runs per game. Not a single starter has pitched to a batter in the ninth inning, and on Wednesday, manager Buck Showalter had a most distasteful choice of who to start.
He could have picked Mike Wright, who a few days earlier was sent down to the minor leagues with a 6.12 ERA. Instead of looking at Norfolk, he could have picked Jason Garcia, who spent much of last year on the active roster as a Rule 5 draft pick. Garcia’s ERA at Bowie is 4.95.
Odrisamer Despaigne could have been the choice. He had a 1-6 record at Norfolk before he was called up last week, but he was needed in relief on Tuesday night.
That pretty much left Ubaldo Jimenez, who had been sent to the bullpen after a horrifying start in Toronto, where he retired only one batter, the shortest Orioles start in nearly five years.
After Jimenez’s creditable start where he struck out the last four batters he faced, his ERA fell to a still unsightly 6.97.
With all these unpalatable choices, it would seem remarkable that the Orioles are first place, two games ahead of Boston in the AL East.
The halfway point of the season is nearing; the Orioles have played 71 games, but they’ve been in first place for most of the season.
Not only are Jimenez’s and Wright’s ERAs cartoonishly high, but so is Yovani Gallardo’s. In his five starts, Gallardo has pitched to a 6.26 ERA.
Kevin Gausman, who the Orioles thought would be a breakout starter, has failed to win any of his 12 starts.
With all these issues, how are the Orioles in first place?
Chris Tillman is a primary reason. The Orioles are 11 games over .500, and Tillman himself at 10-1, is nine over.
Of course, the bullpen has been stellar. While missing Darren O’Day and enduring the occasional hiccup like that of Mychal Givens on Tuesday night, Brad Brach (1.11 ERA) and Zach Britton (21 of 21 successful save opportunities and a 1.17 ERA), have been remarkable.
Dan Duquette, the Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations knows that the team has to add a starting pitcher if it wants to hold onto first place and be a factor in the postseason.
The number of starting pitchers available is likely to be small, and what do the Orioles have to offer?
Other than Christopher Lee, who’s now on the disabled list at Bowie, they seemingly have few attractive young pitchers to deal for a veteran. Perhaps Trey Mancini or Christian Walker will be part of a package deal.
A year ago when the Orioles needed a right fielder, they traded for Milwaukee’s Gerardo Parra, and the pitcher they dealt, Zach Davies,
Davies, who was drafted in the 26th round by the Orioles in 2011, has a 5-3 record with a 3.62 ERA and 1.148 WHIP with the Brewers.
While Duquette concentrates on adding an additional starter, there’s not much he has to do elsewhere.
He could also pick up a tertiary bullpen arm, like the just injured Brian Duensing.
Barring injuries to the position players, the Orioles look set there.
The offense has been as good as many predicted. The Orioles lead the majors in home runs and are on pace for 253 homers.
They have six players who should hit at least 20: Pedro Alvarez, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop and Mark Trumbo.
Davis has the lowest average (.230), and is on track to surpass 220 strikeouts, but hasn’t truly gotten hot, and still projects to hit 37.
A year ago, Davis had 15 home runs in 70 games, and finished with 47.
Jones, who was off to a shockingly poor start, has righted himself since Showalter moved him to the leadoff spot. He’s batting .282 with a .311 on-base percentage. Jones has eight home runs in the 24 games he’s batted leadoff.
Schoop’s offensive excellence hasn’t been unexpected, but it’s still been pleasant. He’s now hitting .285 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs. While Schoop still doesn’t walk enough (11 in 275 plate appearances), his defense has been fine, and adds another power threat to the lineup.
Duquette’s offensive pickups for this year have been noteworthy. Trumbo, who was acquired for Steve Clevenger, has strong numbers (21 homers, .283 average, .891 OPS). Joey Rickard, who provided surprising offense at the season’s start and Hyun Soo Kim, with a .417 OBP, have provided some diversity to the lineup.
Pedro Alvarez, who started slowly, is batting .314 in 15 June games with a 1.032 OPS.
If the Orioles’ starting pitching can improve at least somewhat in the next 91 games, then we’ll have a lot to talk about for the next four months.