From a baseball-performance standpoint, losing right-hander Chris Tillman to the 15-day disabled list due to shoulder discomfort is a big blow to the club’s on-field performance.
But his void – which will extend to at least Sept. 5 and potentially after that – will be felt beyond what happens on the mound.
Tillman, who has made 31 or more starts in each of the past three seasons, had his outing pushed back last week, finally pitched on Saturday and allowed six runs in two-plus innings. Now he’s been scratched from his start Thursday at Washington and Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Tillman is headed to the DL. He had an injection in his troublesome shoulder Tuesday and hopes he can return when eligible Sept. 5 (the move will be backdated to Sunday).
When Tillman is on the mound, the Orioles have a chance of winning. Period. He is 15-5 this season with a 3.76 ERA in 26 starts this year. The Orioles are 20-6 in games that he has started. They are 49-50 in games he hasn’t. The rest of the rotation has a 5.27 ERA in those outings – and that includes Kevin Gausman’s six shutout innings Tuesday.
But Tillman’s importance goes beyond the numbers.
Tillman is the quiet leader of this group. He’s the ace, the best pitcher, the one the Orioles count on after a loss. The one that often matches up against the opposition’s top starter. Most important, he’s the guy that takes the pressure off the rest of the rotation and sets the example for it.
There’s a mentality that he provides to this team that I’m not sure anyone else in this current rotation can replicate. Gausman and Dylan Bundy have the talent, but they are still learning how to pitch. And they are still learning how to shake off a bad inning or a bad start.
Tillman was the same way when he was younger, but he’s developed a short memory over time. He doesn’t get lost in his own head on the mound, and doesn’t let one bad situation affect the next.
Frankly, the Orioles haven’t had a guy like that for a long time, maybe since Mike Mussina, who left after the 2000 season. Tillman doesn’t have the same overall numbers, of course, as Mussina, an eventual Hall of Famer. But his teammates have about the same kind of faith that Tillman’s going to post every fifth day and give his best as Mussina’s did in the 1990s.
Not having that presence – especially as the pennant race heats up – could take its toll, even if he misses only two starts. It would be a great time for veterans like Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez — who will start for Tillman on Thursday in Washington — to step up. But they’ve done nothing this season to instill confidence that they can fill Tillman’s leadership, ace and stopper roles.
The resilient O’s
I heard a lot of grumblings about how the Orioles’ season was virtually over after losing five of six to start this homestand. Losing three of four to Houston was the nail in the coffin I was told on the BaltimoreBaseball.com Facebook page. Stick a fork in them.
It’s baseball, people. And these 2016 Orioles are as streaky as any club I’ve ever covered. They are good, and then they are bad. And then they’ve proven they’ll be good again.
Now they’ve won two straight against an exceptionally balanced Washington Nationals team and are 69-56 this season, still two games out of first place in the AL East and still holding onto the second Wild Card spot. They received consecutive quality starts from Bundy and Gausman versus the Nationals, a positive development that could be key with 37 games remaining and Tillman’s health in question.
Remember, it is still August. A lot can happen in 37 games.
That may mean the Orioles fall apart ultimately. But this isn’t the time. If we’ve learned anything about this team it’s that it keeps battling.
I said in April that the Orioles would be playing meaningful games in September; whether that propels them into the playoffs, I don’t know. But I figured they’d be in the hunt in September, and I’m sticking with that, even with the Tillman injury.
Beating up the Nats
I didn’t write it, but I told several friends that I believed the Orioles would win three out of four against the first-place Nationals in this home-and-home series. The Orioles have won the first two and now just need a split in Washington to make me look smart (and that’s tough to do).
My reasoning was twofold: The first, is my premise above. I just didn’t see these Orioles folding right now. I thought there would be another push ahead after the disappointment against Houston.
And, secondly, the Orioles just seem to beat the Nationals. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, it’s just the way it is. The Orioles are 35-23 against the Nationals since they moved to Washington. The Orioles haven’t lost a season series to them since 2007. If the Orioles win one game at Nationals Park this week, they’ll have captured five straight season series in this geographic rivalry.
I could make the argument that the Nats have been better each year in those last five. But the Orioles, for some reason, seem to get the upper hand most times in head-to-head play.