The Baltimore Orioles are still working on locking down a postseason berth, either as the AL East Division champion or as a Wild Card participant. Either way, Orioles manager Buck Showalter will have a decision to make concerning the makeup of his postseason 25-man roster.
Several of the roster spots are already locked down. Adam Jones is the heart and soul of the offense, Jim Johnson is certainly a lock at the back end of the bullpen and several other players have no worries concerning their place on that roster. However, Showalter will have several key decisions to make concerning his bench, bullpen and final starting rotation.
Showalter and the Orioles are taking a game-by-game approach in the final days of the regular season. We will take a look at some of the decisions Showalter will be forced to make if the Orioles do in fact clinch their first postseason berth in 15 seasons.
Jason Hammel (8-6, 118.0 IP, 3.43 ERA)
Wei-Yin Chen (12-10, 186.0 IP, 4.11 ERA)
Chris Tillman (8-2, 83.0 IP, 3.08 ERA)
Joe Saunders (2-2, 38.0 IP, 3.45 ERA)
This list is obviously contingent upon the health of Hammel, which is still currently an unknown. Hammel worked a side session last Friday and is still optimistic he can help his team this year.
If Hammel is unable to return, Miguel Gonzalez (7-4, 92 IP, 3.52 ERA) could become the fourth man in a playoff rotation.
In the shorter five-game ALDS, the Orioles would likely go with a three-man rotation. All kinds of scenarios are likely here and most of them again involve Hammel and his health.
If Hammel is out of the equation, manager Buck Showalter will have several options in terms of his starter for the one-game Wild Card matchup. Saunders, Chen and Tillman would all be well-rested for that particular do-or-die game.
In any event, the O's don't have that one ace they can look to, so Showalter could well decide on who happens to be the better fit against whatever team they face in the first round.
Jim Johnson (2-1, 48 SV, 65.2 IP, 2.60 ERA)
Luis Ayala (5-5, 11 HLD, 72.1 IP, 2.74 ERA)
Pedro Strop (5-2, 24 HLD, 65.2 IP, 2.33 ERA)
Darren O'Day (7-1, 12 HLD, 65.0 IP, 2.35 ERA)
Troy Patton (1-0, 9 HLD, 54.0 IP, 2.50 ERA)
Steve Johnson (4-0, 33.1 IP, 1.62 ERA)
Randy Wolf (2-0, 15.1 IP, 5.28 ERA)
Tommy Hunter (6-8, 130.2 IP, 5.58 ERA)
Brian Matusz (6-10, 95.2 IP, 4.99 ERA)
Orioles manager Buck Showalter won't have to worry one iota about selecting the top five guys in his bullpen. The quintet of Johnson, Ayala, Strop, O'Day and Patton are one of the biggest reasons why the O's are staring at their first postseason berth since 1997.
Johnson has excelled in every role Showalter has placed him in and he could have an edge over Wolf. Again, Hammel's health will affect the final two selections in the bullpen. If Hammel is out, Miguel Gonzalez would likely be the fourth starter, However, if Hammel is healthy, Showalter could use Gonzalez out of the bullpen in long relief.
The decision between Johnson and Wolf could come down to how much Showalter values Wolf's veteran experience. Wolf has four postseason starts on his resume, but with a career 6.61 postseason ERA. Considering Johnson's recent performance, he could well have the edge.
Matusz has been outstanding since transitioning to the bullpen in late August, posting a 1.64 ERA in 15 appearances.
Hunter, too, has been stellar since being removed from the rotation, posting a 0.93 ERA in eight relief appearances in September. Hunter was also clocked at over 100 MPH during an outing over the weekend at Fenway Park.
My money is on Johnson and Matusz for the final two slots. Again, contingent on Hammel's health and Gonzalez transitioning to the 'pen in a long-relief role.
LF Nate McLouth (.275/.353/.433, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 10 SB)
SS J.J. Hardy (.234/.277/.385, 21 HR, 67 RBI)
RF Chris Davis (.265/.322/.465, 26 HR, 72 RBI)
CF Adam Jones (.292/.341/.519, 32 HR, 81 RBI, 15 SB)
1B Mark Reynolds (.228/.344/.441, 22 HR, 67 RBI)
C Matt Wieters (.251/.332/.441, 22 HR, 82 RBI)
DH Jim Thome (.256/.356/..397, 2 HR, 7 RBI)
2B Robert Andino (.214/.287/.310, 7 HR, 28 RBI)
3B Manny Machado (.262/.282/.411, 4 HR, 20 RBI)
This would likely be the starting lineup for Orioles manager Buck Showalter against right-handers. Against lefties, Thome would likely sit, Davis would slide from right field to the DH slot and Endy Chavez (.204/.238/.280, 2 HR, 12 RBI) would get the start in right field.
McLouth has been a nice addition at the top of the lineup, considering the O's had no real options otherwise. The 2-6 slot is capable of going deep at any time and the weakest link is at second base with the No. 8 spot in the order. Andino will more than likely get the nod over Ryan Flaherty.
Nick Markakis' unfortunate late-season injury hurts, but having the versatile Davis gives Showalter a solid replacement.
However, if the Orioles move deeper into the playoffs, Markakis could be available.
Endy Chavez (.204/.238/.280, 2 HR, 12 RBI)
Ryan Flaherty (.226/.273/.361, 5 HR, 14 RBI)
Taylor Teagarden (.148/.207/.315, 2 HR, 8 RBI)
Xavier Avery (.223/.305/.340, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 6 SB)
Lew Ford (.174/.240/.348, 3 HR, 4 RBI)
Steve Tolleson (.188/.233/.319, 2 HR, 6 RBI)
Omar Quintanilla (.235/.287/.357, 3 HR, 12 RBI)
Despite Teagarden's terrible showing at the plate, Wieters needs a backup, so he's likely in.
Chavez has been solid since his return from the minors in early September and will likely get starts against left-handers as long as Markakis is still injured.
Flaherty gives manager Buck Showalter great versatility off the bench, having played five different positions this season.
The other two bench spots will be tough. Quintanilla would seem to have an edge based on slightly better production and his versatility in the middle infield. Avery could be used as a late-inning pinch-runner with speed.
There's no impact bat in the bunch, so Showalter will have to make his last choices based on versatility, speed and defensive ability.
Again, Nick Markakis' ability to come back from thumb surgery quickly will be a factor in Showalter's decision as well.
Heading into the postseason, Orioles manager Buck Showalter is slighly hamstrung with at least two positions—starting rotation and right field.
Jason Hammel and Nick Markakis have been huge contributors all season long. Hammel is working through issues following right knee surgery and Markakis is trying to come back as quickly as possible following thumb surgery on Sept. 11.
Starting Rotation: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Steve Johnson
If Hammel is deemed unavailable, Gonzalez might seem the logical candidate for the No. 4 starter. However, Johnson has been outstanding no matter how he's used.
Winner: Gonzalez. Johnson could give Showalter more value with his versatility out of the bullpen.
Second Base: Robert Andino vs. Ryan Flaherty
Neither have shown gifted offensive ability, so the O's will have a soft spot in the No. 8 spot in the batting order regardless. Andino has received the bulk of playing time, so unless Flaherty absolutely breaks out in the final week, the job is Andino's.
Bullpen: Steve Johnson vs. Randy Wolf
This may not come down to a decision. If Hammel isn't healthy, both could end up on the roster. However, my money is on the hot hand of Johnson should Hammel prove unable to pitch.
Prized 19-year-old pitching prospect Dylan Bundy was recalled by the Baltimore Orioles last week.
Following the Orioles' 18-inning marathon game against the Seattle Mariners, the bullpen was clearly taxed and Bundy got the call.
Bundy made his debut on Sunday against the Boston Red Sox, retiring the only two batters he faced.
For those who are wondering if Bundy is eligible for the postseason, yes, Bundy could replace an injured player on the roster.
However, don't expect it to happen. The bullpen has been the strength of the Orioles all season long, so don't expecting Bundy to be supplanting any of those solid arms.
Unless of course, one of those solid arms falls off a body in the coming days. That's about the only way I see Bundy playing deep into October.
Jason Hammel (if healthy)
The two big question marks are Jason Hammel and Nick Markakis. Hammel we could know about later this week, Markakis possibly longer. Reports on Markakis' rehab thus far have been positive, and it's entirely possible he could be available if the Orioles can make it into the ALCS.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.