Let’s play a game. Imagine for a moment that the Orioles are able to advance to the AL Division Series this postseason.
I know, I know — I’m seriously jumping the gun there. After the club lost two of its first three games to the last-place Toronto Blue Jays this series, nobody is penciling the Orioles into the playoffs just yet.
But stay with me. The Orioles are still within 2 ½ games of an American League Wild Card berth with 26 games to play. It’s not impossible they finagle their way into a wild card spot and win the one-game playoff to advance to the ALDS.
So, let’s say that happens. Here’s the question: what would the Orioles’ playoff rotation look like?
Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman would be locks, of course. But then what? You’d need at least three and maybe four starters for a best-of-five series. So, who fills out the rest of the rotation?
Well, right now, the No. 3 slot would have to go to lefty Wade Miley.
That’s a statement that might’ve seemed outlandish roughly a month ago, when Miley carried a 5.69 ERA and was constantly putting runners on base.
But Miley has quietly turned in a solid performance since the end of July. Against the Blue Jays on Saturday, Miley retired 10 consecutive batters at one point, ultimately working six innings and allowing two runs. The Blue Jays’ only damage against Miley came on a Kevin Pillar solo homer in the fifth (on an 0-2 count) and a Kendrys Morales sacrifice fly in the sixth.
“I thought it was pretty good,” Miley said of his outing. “A mistake to Pillar there, just not a good pitch 0-2. Limited the walks. I felt pretty good for the most part. I wasn’t as crisp or sharp feeling-wise as I’ve been, but I was able to battle through it and make some pretty decent pitches when I needed to.”
It was Miley’s third quality start in his last five outings after he’d gone 12 straight starts without one. Since July 30, Miley has a 2.79 ERA in seven starts and has struck out nearly a batter per inning (37 in 38 2/3 innings). After slogging through a mostly forgettable Orioles career since he was acquired last July, Miley is trying to salvage his Baltimore stint in what could be his final month with the club. (The Orioles hold a $12 million option on Miley for 2018 that they’re unlikely to pick up.)
“I just want to go out and give us a chance to win,” Miley said. “Obviously tonight I wasn’t able to do that, but at the same time, just trying to keep moving forward, keep having positive starts. I’m just trying to keep it rolling.”
That’s not to say Miley has been terrific. Even with his recent hot streak, his season ERA is 4.91, and he holds the second-worst WHIP in the majors of any qualified starter (1.66, better only than the 1.70 of Chicago White Sox lefty Derek Holland).
Still, for an Orioles rotation that sports an erratic Jeremy Hellickson and the ineffective duo of Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Tillman, the improving Miley is the clear No. 3 behind Bundy and Gausman — perhaps by default more than anything. And if the Orioles do manage to play October baseball beyond a wild card game, expect to see Miley on the mound.
Rodriguez’s debut goes sour
Richard Rodriguez’s recent promotion to the Orioles was a feel-good story for the 27-year-old Dominican righty. Rodriguez, who began his professional career in the Houston Astros organization and joined the Orioles in 2015, had toiled in the minors for seven years before cracking his first big league roster Friday.
But the majors can be a rough place. Opponents don’t care about your feel-good stories. If you make mistakes, they’ll make you pay.
That’s the unfortunate fate that Rodriguez suffered in his MLB debut Saturday night.
Rodriguez was greeted rudely in the seventh inning when Darwin Barney laced his first pitch into the left-field corner for a double. He also drilled Luke Maile with a pitch. Rodriguez got a pair of outs, but couldn’t finish off the dangerous Josh Donaldson, who crushed a three-run homer on a 3-2 pitch.
Rodriguez allowed another run in the eighth, and his final line wasn’t pretty: one inning, three hits and four runs, giving him an ERA of 36.00 after one appearance.
Still, manager Buck Showalter saw signs of promise from Rodriguez, who had a 2.42 ERA in 42 games at Triple-A Norfolk this year and a 2.53 mark in 48 games for the Tides last season.
“I think he’s going to have the chance to be a good relief pitcher up here in the major leagues. I do,” Showalter said. “He’s got good presentation, a calm demeanor. It looked like we were going to wiggle out of that inning. (He threw) two good fastballs in a good spot there to get back in the count, and then he threw a ball where you don’t throw the ball and paid the price to a good hitter. But he’ll only get better.”
Chilly weather cools Orioles’ bats
Two games into September, the Orioles offense looks nothing like the unit that took the majors by storm in August.
Orioles hitters were an unstoppable force last month, leading the majors with a .306 average, .882 OPS and 57 home runs. The Orioles also posted a .534 slugging percentage in August, the only team in the bigs to top the .500 mark. That high-octane offense was the biggest reason the club was able to power back into the postseason race.
But in the last two games — which were played in temperatures of 64 and 61 degrees — the bats have gone cold just as the weather has.
It took the Orioles 13 innings to score their lone run Friday, as they went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position against six Blue Jays pitchers.
On Saturday, the Orioles were held to two runs, even after Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman was forced out of the game in the second inning. Mark Trumbo smashed a sharp liner that deflected off Stroman’s right arm to the collective gasps of the Camden Yards crowd. Stroman was on the ground in pain for several minutes before leaving the field under his own power. He was diagnosed with a right elbow contusion.
After Stroman left, Blue Jays relievers picked up where he’d left off. The standouts were lefty Matt Dermody, who earned the win with 2 1/3 scoreless innings, and righty Luis Santos, who made his major league debut with 3 1/3 innings of one-run ball.
“We didn’t put much together offensively all night,” Showalter said. “It’s September baseball at its best, with a lot of people pitching. Good pitchers, good prospects, but a lot of unknown. And you get ambushed this time of year easily. It’s just that time of year with baseball the way the rules are in September. But that had nothing to do with tonight, we just didn’t swing the bats very well.”
The Orioles have been held to three runs in 22 innings since the calendar flipped to September. With the type of talent in the Orioles lineup, it likely won’t stay in a funk for very long. But every game is critical down the stretch, and the club simply can’t afford an extended slump.