Pitching A Fit: The Case Of The Baltimore Orioles’ Pitching Staff

Monday night’s 12-0 loss was just more of the same for a struggling Baltimore Orioles team: a ton of strikeouts, an underwhelming start and no relief out of the bullpen.

The Orioles were red hot in April and a perfect selection for our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests, but on May 10 something changed. After a six-game winning streak, the O’s went in a tailspin, going 12-25 since.

The hot start has kept Baltimore around .500 through the struggles. The O’s are still within striking distance of the second wild card, but they need to turn things around in a hurry. They are not only losing, they are losing badly.

They have the second-worst run differential in the American League. For the O’s, the struggles primarily rest with the pitching staff.

After Monday’s debacle, the Birds rank dead last in baseball with a 5.06 ERA, passing a Cincinnati Reds team in the midst of a similar—though perhaps slightly less epic—collapse for the dubious honor.
Baltimore has now allowed at least five runs in a game in 15 consecutive contests, which is a team record. The O’s have a team ERA of 7.12 in June.

The bullpen has been a bit better than the rotation, but it too is an issue. That’s unfamiliar territory for veteran manager Buck Showalter, who leaned on the ‘pen the last several years—except when it came time to use Zach Britton in the wild card game last year, of course.

Speaking of Britton, he’s only pitched nine innings this year. His injury has been disastrous. Not having Darren O’Day doesn’t help either. Brad Brach and Mychal Givens have been okay overall, but they’ve had their hiccups and are heavily overworked. Besides, they can only do so much.

In the rotation, Dylan Bundy has the only arm with respectable numbers. He’s 7-6 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.217 WHIP in 92 innings. That’s solid for 24-year-old with a riddled injury history and minimal experience.

Nevertheless, even Bundy has been a concern lately. He was on the mound for Monday’s loss. After getting through three innings unscathed, he allowed four in the fourth and couldn’t make it out of the fifth. In the end, he gave up six runs in 4.1 innings.

Through April, Bundy’s ERA was 1.65. It had climbed to 2.89 by the end of May and now sits at 3.72. It’s trending in the wrong direction.

He has just one quality start in his last four outings after delivering 10 in his first 11. In those last four games, he’s pitching to a 6.64 ERA. He’s allowed 10 runs in his last two games, spanning just 9.1 innings.
Bundy is also just 17.2 innings away from his total count from a year ago, leading to a question of just how long the Orioles will go before shutting him down.

That’s a lot to consider for a pitcher who, by the numbers, should be the least of the team’s concern. The only other starter with even passable overall numbers is Wade Miley, and he’s pitching to a 4.29 ERA. But his WHIP is 1.612 and he’s walking five per nine innings. He’s been getting in trouble all year, leading to short outings.

Early on in the season, Miley was able to avoid damage. Lately, however, it has been unavoidable. His ERA was 2.82 after a June 1 start against Boston. Since, he’s made three appearances and failed to get out of the third twice, allowed 15 runs and pitching just 10.2 innings.

Beyond those two, the rest of the rotation is an unmitigated disaster. Chris Tillman has been awful since returning from injury. He’s 1-5 with an 8.07 ERA and 2.103 WHIP. His command is off and his pitches lack movement.

Then, there’s Kevin Gausman, who leads the league in runs allowed. He’s made 15 starts and has a 6.60 ERA after posting a 3.61 mark last year in what looked like a huge step forward.

Lastly, there’s Ubaldo Jimenez, who is back in the rotation after briefly losing his spot to Alec Asher when he arrived from the Philadelphia Phillies. Jimenez’s quirky delivery makes him incredibly inconsistent, yet his WHIP is better than any other arm in the rotation besides Bundy. Sadly, he’s made the best start this month, holding the Cardinals to two runs in seven innings his last time out.

The ‘pen doesn’t have many more answers. Brach and Givens are good, and Richard Bleier has been a pleasant surprise from the left side. But nobody else is grabbing the opportunity. The Orioles have been shuttling arms up and down from Triple-A Norfolk and have used 23 different pitchers already.

Britton is now beginning a rehab assignment. The Orioles desperately need him back to better align the ‘pen. Even if he’s the cure for the relief corps, the O’s still need to find a way to get to the sixth with the game still in grasp.

At this time, that’s asking an awful lot.

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