Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Finding themselves in the middle of an intense pennant race, the Baltimore Orioles tried to shore up the weak part of their starting rotation by acquiring Joe Saunders from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Saunders will make his Orioles debut Wednesday Night in a big game against the AL Central leading Chicago White Sox.
Of course, EVERY game is a big game for Baltimore right now. They’re neck and neck with Tampa Bay and Oakland for the two AL Wildcard spots, with the knowledge that Detroit is just behind them with a much easier schedule. Four teams (and the LA Angels would make a fifth if they could figure out how to end their two-week slump) are fighting for two spots. Before the Saunders acquisition, the Orioles were likely to be one of the odd teams out because:
*They had a tough remaining schedule
*They lacked the starting pitching of their competitors
Saunders isn’t exactly staff ace material. This isn’t like bringing in Roy Halladay or Zack Greinke to pitch the last month of your season. But, Saunders isn’t likely to hurt.
Chris Tillman: 3.26 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
Jason Hammel: 3.54 ERA, 1.24 WHIP (currently on disabled list)
Miguel Gonzalez: 3.66 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Wei-Yin Chen: 3.78 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
Brian Matusz: 5.28 ERA, 1.68 WHIP (demoted to minors, then bullpen)
Zach Britton: 5.59 ERA, 1.68 WHIP
Tommy Hunter: 5.95 ERA, 1.44 WHIP (recently demoted to minors)
Jake Arrieta: 6.13 ERA, 1.41 WHIP (recently demoted to minors)
Joe Saunders: 4.22 ERA, 1.36 ERA
The Orioles have given up on Matusz, Hunter, and Arrieta in terms of the stretch drive, and will go with Tillman, Gonzalez, Chen Britton, and Saunders until Hammel is ready to go (which looks like it’s still several days away based on recent reports). Saunders will basically rate as a #4 guy on a staff that spenr way too long dealing with the fact that they couldn’t even fill the back end of their rotation with innings munchers.
So, on the one hand, big deal? A generic guy joins the rotation. But, on the other, that generic guy is taking the place of what had been a dead spot. That at least gives the O’s a chance to win at a pace that will keep them in the Wildcard race (and conceivably the AL East race if the Yankees slump).
Right now, the Orioles are crossing their fingers over a variety of issues:
*Can they keep winning EVERY close game?! The team has won 13-straight one-run decisions, which is like watching heads come up 13 straight times on a coin.
*Can the bullpen keep thriving? The bullpen has made up for the poor back end of the rotation thus far. But, bullpens are the most fickle thing on a roster. There’s no guarantee that opposition outs will be automatic late in the game going forward.
*Can an inexperienced roster handle pennant race pressure? Pittsburgh’s Cinderella story has shown signs recently of turning into a pumpkin. Baltimore is about to enter the Thunderdome with very little experience. Tillman, Gonzalez, Chen, Saunders? Seriously?
*Can Saunders step in and contribute right away? He wasn’t in great form in his final days at Arizona. And, he’s stepping up to the SUPERIOR league. It could help that he’s a lefthander that hitters haven’t seen in awhile (he used to pitch for the LA Angels a few years ago, so the league does have a book on him). He’d help as a stopgap. If he can actually contribute a lot of quality innings, that might serve as the Wildcard tiebreaker over the next month.
Saunders will face a great test tonight vs. a Chicago White Sox team that’s trying to avoid a sweep as they deal with their own playoff fight with Detroit in the AL Central. Be sure you monitor this game closely to get a sense of Saunders in his new environment, and to get a read on the Orioles on the whole as a real playoff threat. The enthusiasm is there. Saunders may help bring some maturity too.
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