The surprising, AL East first-place Baltimore Orioles (31-24) have been one of the more exciting teams around the league so far this season as we have seen young stars emerge to show us a bit of the Birds' future.
However, if they want to stay atop the tough American League East, they need to make an addition or two to their roster.
It’s no surprise that the Orioles have struggled over the last 14 seasons, and one of their major problems over that dreadful stretch has been their starting rotation. They always seem to have high hopes and expectations entering the season, and fans are always filled with disappointment as notable pitchers fail to help the Orioles win.
So far this year, the Birds’ offense and bullpen have been their driving force, and as long as they continue to perform well, they will stay afloat; however, if they want to have a shot at the division this year, they need to pick up an experienced starter and improve their defense immensely.
The Birds have used six starting pitchers this season, while reliever Dana Eveland has only started one contest for them. So, really, they have been consistent with their set rotation, it just has been a struggle for their starters to perform well with consistency.
Collectively, the rotation has tossed a total of 264 innings over their 55 games, and they have surrendered 160 earned runs on 328 base hits, including 112 walks, 258 strikeouts and 44 home runs given up.
Jason Hammel has emerged as the Orioles' No. 1 hurler on the mound. The former Colorado Rockies' pitcher leads the club with a 6-2 record and a 2.97 ERA in 11 outings. He has racked up 66.2 innings of work and has allowed just 22 earned runs on 59 base hits, including seven home runs.
26-year-old Taiwanese pitcher Wei-Yin Chen has also emerged as one of the Orioles’ top starting pitchers, and has also lived up to his hype so far. Chen sports a 4-2 record with a superb 3.75 ERA over his first 10 starts in the major leagues.
I remember when Hideki Matsui came over after Ichiro, and critics raved about these Asian ballplayers and how they need time to adjust to America and the media. Well, Chen has had no problem adjusting this season.
Brian Matusz, who the Orioles selected in the first round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, has come around recently and almost regained his 2010 form. Last year, as we all know, was a struggle as it was his sophomore year, and maybe the sophomore slump set in.
The southpaw has won four of his last five decisions, and has gone 3-2 since the beginning of May, lowering his ERA from 5.66 to 4.41 over that stretch. He is 5-5 with a 4.41 ERA on the year and he has surrendered 31 earned runs on 67 base hits over 63.1 innings of work.
The Birds’ ace Jake Arrieta has struggled for most of the season after getting off to a strong start. He leads the club in starts with 12; however, he also leads the club with seven losses on the year.
The right-handed hurler just lost his fifth decision in a row and he has not won a game since he pitched his career-best game against the Yankees back on May 2nd; he tossed eight scoreless innings, scattered five base hits and struck out nine Bronx Bombers.
After that game, Arrieta posted a 2-2 record with a 3.52 ERA, and now he is 2-7 with an inflated 5.53 ERA. He has tossed 70 innings, allowed 43 earned runs on as many base hits as innings, including 23 free passes and 61 walks.
The fifth man in the rotation, recently demoted Tommy Hunter, has really struggled this year. Over his 10 outings, he has posted a 2-3 record with a team-high 5.59 ERA. In 58 innings of work he has surrendered 36 earned runs on 69 base hits, including 13 home runs allowed.
Hunter has not found his form with the Orioles since being traded to Baltimore from Texas at the end of the deadline last year. He is not currently with the ballclub, but he will be a part of the Birds’ rotation in the future.
Due to Arrieta’s struggles and with Hunter out of the rotation and questions about when he will make it back to the majors, the Birds are in need of a strong, experienced hurler to fortify their rotation.
The first name that comes to mind is Francisco Liriano.
Since Liriano has struggled this season, I do not think he will be on most team’s radars. In fact, he was lifted out of Minnesota’s rotation in May due to his tough April.
On the year, the 28-year-old southpaw out of the Dominican Republic is 1-6 with an inflated 6.46 ERA. After six outings to begin the year, Liriano posted an 0-5 record with a 9.45 ERA.
He then spent a couple of weeks in the pen and looked impressive in most of his relief appearances. He was touched up for just four earned runs (all in his last relief outing) over his five contests.
Since returning to the rotation, he has tossed 12 innings and allowed just one earned run. He might not be back to his 2006 form when he won 12 games and pitched to a 2.16 ERA. However, he has flown under-the-radar this season, and he would be a great addition to the Birds’ starting rotation.
If the Orioles do add Liriano, he would be the third southpaw in the rotation, and if Zach Britton makes his way back into the rotation (which he is supposed to in the last half of June), they could potentially have four left-handed starting pitchers (even though we do not know how Britton will pitch after missing almost a year).
Liriano won 14 games for the Twins back in 2010, and in his career, he is 48-47 with a 4.35 ERA.
Although this is an unlikely acquisition, I think there is still a chance that the Birds could pick up LHP Matt Harrison from the Rangers. These two clubs have completed a couple of deals in the past at trade deadlines, and Harrison would be a great addition to the Birds’ rotation.
After he broke out last season and won 14 games for the former AL champion Rangers, he has rebounded with a 7-3 record and a 4.37 ERA. He has the second-highest ERA of the team's starters, while southpaw Derek Holland sits at 5.01 on the year.
However, Holland is most likely not going to be traded because he is a left-handed starter and those are hard to come by—plus, he is just 25 years old and has been a top prospect for a couple of years.
Harrison has recorded 70 innings, allowing 34 earned runs on 76 base hits, including seven home runs allowed, only 18 free passes and 44 strikeouts.
In his young career, Harrison is 34-22 with a 4.47 ERA in parts of five seasons with the Rangers. Last year, he started 30 games for Texas, while the year before, he made 31 relief appearances and just six starts.
So, Harrison has the ability to start games—which the Orioles desperately need—or he can be moved to the pen and flourish out there.
Another southpaw, San Diego Padres’ Clayton Richard, could be on the chopping block come July. Not because he has struggled this season, but because the Padres are one of the worst teams in baseball, and they would get a top prospect in return for their hurler.
The 28-year-old out of Illinois sports a 2-6 record with a 4.44 ERA. Over his 11 outings, he has tossed 71 innings of work, surrendered 35 earned runs on 70 base hits, including nine home runs allowed, 21 walks and he has punched out 42 on the year.
Richard broke out in 2010 when he won 14 games for the Pads and earned a 3.75 ERA. His 2011 year was cut short due to a season-ending surgery in June, so the question has been whether or not he can return to his old form.
So far this season, he has not been able to. But, then again, he is pitching for the last-place San Diego Padres, who have trouble scoring runs.
In his career, Richard is 32-34 with a 4.85 ERA in 96 career starts at the major league level. Now, I am not saying that he is the answer to the Orioles' rotation problems, but in a different uniform and a new ballpark, he might be able to help the Birds.
The Birds feature the best bullpen in the American League and they really have not shown signs of needing another arm out of the pen.
Pedro Strop (3-2, 1.07 ERA) has quietly emerged as one of the game’s best setup men; he has appeared in 24 games this season, and he has allowed just four earned runs on 15 base hits over 28.1 innings of work. He’s picked up three saves, nine holds and 25 strikeouts on the year.
As a whole, the pen sports a 12-5 record with a 2.50 ERA (best in American League, second to the Cincinnati Reds). Over their 187 innings of work, they have allowed just 52 earned runs on 156 base hits, including 18 home runs, only 54 walks and 153 strikeouts.
The Birds do not need anyone else in their bullpen as long as they continue to come in and slam the door on opponents.
As for the Orioles offense, although they have been declining recently, they really do not need, or have room for, another slugger. They have put up impressive numbers, and one of their key sluggers, Mark Reynolds, has not even gotten hot this season.
Currently, the Birds’ rock in right field, Nick Markakis, is out due to a broken bone in his wrist. However, he will be back within the next month or so. Also, Nolan Reimold has missed majority of the year, but he will also return within the next month or two.
Plus, who can forget Brian Roberts, who has been playing at AA Bowie recently. However, Robert Andino is doing a great job filling in for him as he is hitting .247 on the year with three home runs and 14 RBI. His numbers are not that impressive, but he has been stellar on defense in the absence of Roberts over the last year.
Adam Jones is putting together the best season of his career as he is hitting at a .312 clip with 16 home runs and 35 RBI. J.J. Hardy is having another special season in Baltimore; after getting off to a slow start, he’s come around as he has smashed 10 home runs and driven in 25 while batting .269 on the year.
Matt Wieters, who won the Gold Glove Award behind the plate last year, is breaking out with the bat this year. He has crushed nine home runs and driven in 25 RBI over his 50 games.
Even with Reimold, Roberts and Markakis out of the lineup and Reynolds struggling, the Birds have been able to smash home runs (they are third in the AL with 78) and put up enough runs to stay tied for first in the AL East.
The Birds just need to continue to play well and find ways to win games until the rest of their offensive players are back in the lineup. If the Birds are able to find a starting pitcher who has experience, I think they will be a stronger and playoff-bound team.
Follow me on twitter: @Alex_VanRees