Baltimore Orioles: Starting Pitching Is Key to 2012 Playoff Push

Bradley Smith@@Bradley_Smith88Contributor IIIJuly 4, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 27:  Jason Hammel #39 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches during a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 27, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Baltimore Orioles showed their hand by trading for veteran slugger Jim Thome to bolster a recently stagnant lineup. That move signified one thing to baseball and O's fans: the Birds are in the race for playoff spot in 2012.

This has been an exciting season so far in Baltimore. They are right in the thick of things in the American League Wild Card, and they have not been in this position this far into the season in quite some time.

For the first time since 1998, the Orioles will enter the All-Star break with a winning record.

The move to get Thome was very telling in that the organization believes they can make a push for the postseason. But if they plan to stay in the race, they must address the starting pitching situation and revamp their rotation. 

Right now, Baltimore has two quality starters in Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen. Both have been solid and really pleasant surprises. Hammel sports an 8-4 record with a 3.43 ERA and 97 strikeouts. Chen is 7-4 with a 3.64 ERA and 73 strikeouts. 

After that, things get pretty murky with Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter and recently demoted Brian Matusz. Hunter has been up and down between the minors and the Orioles and is currently back at Triple-A. Dana Eveland is filling a spot in the rotation, but he is a subpar major league pitcher with a career 5.41 ERA.  

Orioles starters have a collective 4.79 ERA and opponents are batting .269 against them. Those marks put the Orioles at 27th and 25th in the majors, respectively.

Baltimore's starting rotation is not getting it done, and it is getting to the point where it is hurting the rest of the team, especially the bullpen, which has been the saving grace of this club in 2012. 

Starting pitching is what wins ball games down the stretch and in the postseason. Baltimore needs to acquire at least one, if not two, starters for the rotation before the trading deadline.

The good news is that they do have some expendable pieces to trade to acquire such a need, and there are quality starting pitchers available in the market. 

The first name that comes to mind is Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies. With the Phillies likely out of the race in 2012, they will try to trade their ace lefty before he enters free agency at the end of the season.

Baltimore is not likely to pursue Hamels because Philadelphia would command a king's ransom in return for his services. Also, there is the factor of trying to sign Hamels. Baltimore lacks to resources to ink him to a new deal.

There are two names that make sense for the Orioles, and both are currently on the Chicago Cubs' roster: Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster

Either one of those pitchers could be valuable to an Orioles playoff push. Garza has experience pitching in the American League East, where he was previously with the Tampa Bay Rays. Dempster is a quality veteran pitcher who is having a great season with a 2.11 ERA despite a 3-3 record.

Other fits that the Orioles could pursue would be a couple of Oakland A's pitchers in Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon. The A's are clear sellers and would gladly unload one or both pitchers for the right price.

Both have struggled with injuries this season, but McCarthy has pitched well with a 6-3 record and a 2.54 ERA. Colon has shown he can still get it done even at age 39. He is a veteran who can still eat up some innings, which will be a key for Baltimore as the season wears on.

The Orioles can decide to stand pat and wait for the arrivals of Zach Britton and Chris Tillman to the rotation, but deciding to do that without acquiring a veteran pitcher for the rotation would seemingly send up the white flag of surrender for 2012.

If the Orioles want to continue their magical 2012 season and make a push into the playoffs, they must continue to be buyers and revamp their starting rotation.