|Bullpen Key to O’s Success||| Print ||
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on June 12, 2012
Fans in Baltimore are rejoicing that they are able to see competitive baseball at Camden Yards this late into the season. That's saying a lot considering it's still only mid-June, but this is a team that has suffered through 14 straight losing seasons, including four consecutive last place finishes in the AL East.
Though they're no longer atop the division, the O's are right in the mix, and the team's bullpen has been one of the best in the game. Many fans and analysts have been skeptical of this early-season run, but the team has simply gotten the job done and played exciting baseball.
The main question mark heading into the season was the team's pitching staff. A major factor in why the team has not been competitive over the last decade is that the Orioles could never get consistent starting pitching.
Frankly, Baltimore's starting rotation has been nothing special, especially based on the team's early success. Righty Jason Hammel (6-2, 3.22 ERA) has been the exception, as he's looked good since being involved in the Jeremy Guthrie trade with the Colorado Rockies.
Taiwanese import Wei-Yin Chen (5-2, 3.49 ERA) has been impressive in his first Major League action as well. But Brian Matusz (5-6, 4.82 ERA), Tommy Hunter (2-3, 5.40 ERA) and Jake Arrieta (2-8, 6.32 ERA and since demoted to the bullpen) have lived up to the standard of Orioles' pitching mediocrity.
However, this year unlike years past, Baltimore's bullpen has been unstoppable. Each reliever has seemed to outdo his counterparts, which has been the reason for the O's success.
Closer Jim Johnson has led the way with 18 saves in 19 chances and boasts a 0.74 walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP). Matt Lindstrom, Pedro Strop, Darren O'Day, Luis Ayala and Johnson all have ERAs below 2.00.
The team's offense had been average, but when they get the lead -- especially late in games -- the bullpen has been able to hold it. Young stud center fielder Adam Jones, who signed the largest contract in franchise history on May 26 at six years and $85.5 million, is on a torrid streak after a slow start.
Chris Davis, Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy have all held their own with the bat as well. It's really been a team effort so far rather than just one or two guys carrying the team.
The Orioles will receive a major boost when team leader Brian Roberts returns today to the lineup for the first time since May 16, 2011. He's missed significant time dealing with post-concussion symptoms.
Roberts can be just the spark this team needs to keep its hot streak alive. The Red Sox and Yankees have recovered from slow starts, and the Rays and Blue Jays are playing as expected.
It would be great for baseball for a team like the Orioles to make as serious run this summer. Baltimore may be the beneficiary of the new additional wild card team. The Orioles have had a rich history of baseball, and a new chapter can be written this year. The bullpen will have to continue carrying the team for this to happen.