I don’t mean to be the black storm cloud at your kid’s outdoor birthday party here.
Eight games in, and the Orioles’ season is all sunshine and roses. Seven-game winning streaks don’t happen often in the majors – every 11 years for the Orioles – no matter if they are in the beginning, middle or end of a season.
So I hope you enjoyed it.
And there are plenty of reasons to be enthusiastic about this club going forward. Joey Rickard has been a revelation. Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis and Manny Machado appear to be engaged in a personal home-run-derby contest. And the club’s defense and bullpen has been as good as advertised.
But here’s where that black-cloud opens. Say goodbye to the clown and the pony, grab your cake and ice cream and balloon animals and high-tail it into the basement.
The first eight games of this season have confirmed my apprehension about the starting rotation – not so much about quality as quantity.
Heading into today’s games, the Orioles have the third best ERA in the American League at 3.04 – and that’s fantastic. Yet they are 10th of 15 teams in the league in starters’ ERA at 4.19 in 38 2/3 innings pitched.
And that last number is the one that really bothers me.
The rotation is 12th of 15 teams in the AL in innings pitched so far, but the teams below the Orioles all have played fewer games. The Orioles are the only AL club that has averaged fewer than five innings per start.
Now, that stat is a little unfair. Chris Tillman would have pitched much deeper than two innings on Opening Day, but his outing was truncated by rain delays. Vance Worley hadn’t pitched in a week before his first start Sunday and so his leash was short no matter how he performed.
But what makes these abbreviated starts so concerning is that the Orioles’ tremendous bullpen is already being taxed early. The relievers have a collective 1.67 ERA, third best in the AL. What makes that mark even more outstanding is that the Orioles’ bullpen has already thrown 32 1/3 innings. That’s second most in the league behind only the Oakland Athletics, who have played two more games.
It’s kind of what observers expected from this pitching staff, but also a disturbing pattern. Yes, the Kansas City Royals proved last year that you can win by getting five solid innings from a starter before handing the ball over to a great bullpen. But that is a precarious blueprint for success. It requires the relievers to stay healthy and consistent when the innings pile up.
The Orioles relievers are an excellent group as a whole, and manager Buck Showalter manages his bullpen as well as anyone in the business. But, eventually, the innings load is going to take its toll. And, so, the Orioles’ rotation has to do its part for this great start to turn into a great year.
The winning streak is over; back to the reality of what the Orioles must do to keep the momentum going.