Baltimore Orioles: How Jason Hammel's Return Will Impact the AL Playoff Picture

Alex SnyderContributor IIAugust 30, 2012

Jason Hammel will be a welcomed addition to the team when he returns from the DL.
Jason Hammel will be a welcomed addition to the team when he returns from the DL.Rob Carr/Getty Images

When the Baltimore Orioles lost Jason Hammel to the DL in their first game after the All-Star break, many O's fans had something along the lines of "Here we go again..." flowing through their heads.

However, the O's have managed to hold their own and remain in AL wild-card contention since then, and many starters have stepped it up for the team in Hammel's absence.

But with Hammel, the team's best starting pitcher up until his injury, set to return in the beginning of September, and with the recent acquisition of starter Joe Saunders, the rotation is beginning to look like a pretty crowded place.

This is something that O's fans wouldn't have expected just a few weeks ago.

Assuming he can return and pitch as well as he was prior to his injury, Hammel should provide a huge boost for a team that's been very hot in recent weeks.

While not a legitimate number-one starting pitcher, Hammel was in the midst of a career year. He and rookie Wei-Yin Chen were proving to be a very nice one-two punch atop the rotation.

Since the O's have a strong bullpen this season, keeping the team in the game is more important than ever and that's what Hammel provides: an almost always-solid start to give the offense and bullpen a chance to win the game. On any team contending for the playoffs—and especially on one contending that wasn't supposed to—that's a huge thing for a starting pitcher to provide every fifth day.

That sort of thing should only help the Birds mentally when trekking on that final stretch through September, with the goal of securing a wild card spot and possibly overtaking the New York Yankees for first place in the AL East.

Never underestimate what reliable starting pitching can mean for a team's mentality. That's why the O's have been playing so well in recent weeks—the starting pitchers have been providing quality performance after quality performance, and the team has kept building off of that good feeling.

Hammel's much-anticipated return should only help keep that vibe going, hopefully sparking a few more wins along the way. The Orioles cannot welcome him back soon enough.

Not because they need him that badly at the moment, but because he can possibly push an already-hot team over the edge and into the playoffs.