6 Predictions for the Baltimore Orioles 2012 Playoff Run
The Baltimore Orioles (89-67) sit comfortably in the driver's seat for one of the two wild-card spots, and appear to be as close to a lock as a team can get heading into the final week of the MLB season.
Now that that's settled, it's time to start planning accordingly. As most O's fans will tell you, getting to a one-game playoff is enough to guarantee that this season is an enormous success, but that doesn't mean we won't get greedy and demand a win in that do-or-die affair.
With a piece-meal rotation and a lineup that's big on both home runs and strikeouts, it's hard to envision what kind of team Buck Showalter will put on the field for a one-game playoff, much less a five- or seven-game series.
Still, that's our job, to predict the unpredictable, so let's take a stab and foresee what the final week of the season and the playoff opener will hold for the Orioles.
Wei-Yin Chen Will Get the Ball for the One-Game Playoff
With a sweep of the Red Sox, the O's can put themselves in prime position heading into their final series of the season against the Tampa Bay Rays. Showalter has already committed to sending RHPs Chris Tillman and Steve Johnson to the mound in games one and two, but the game-three starter is still TBD.
There's a good chance that Wei-Yin Chen will make that start, leaving the trio of Joe Saunders, Miguel Gonzalez and either Tillman or Johnson as options for the three-game set against Tampa. That begs an even bigger question: Who will start the one-game playoff for Baltimore?
Gonzalez and Saunders will likely be out of the equation, and it's looking more and more unlikely that Jason Hammel will be able to return in time. That leaves Chen and whoever doesn't start the final game against the Rays.
There's been much said over the past few days about Chen running out of gas.
Take into account that in three of his past four starts he's failed to make it through the fifth inning, surrendering 14 runs in just 15 innings, including six long balls. As reliable as he's been, and there's no debating that he's been the Orioles' best pitcher over his 31 starts, he's not the same guy who posted sub-3.50 ERAs in April and July.
Still, he's the Orioles' best option, despite Johnson's gaudy stat line (4-0, 1.62 ERA, 43 K in 33.1 IP), and gives the squad the best chance to stay with the A's, Angels or Rays.
More important, he has Showalter's trust.
If the O's Win the Playoff, the Rotation Will Be as Follows...
Assuming the O's are victorious in the one-game playoff, they'll shuttle off to their next destination with a pretty set rotation.
In any given order, the games one, two and three starters will be LHP Joe Saunders, RHP Miguel Gonzalez and RHP Chris Tillman.
The Game 4 Starter (If They Make It That Far) Will Be...
If the O's somehow take a game or two from their ALDS opponent, that would leave them in a predicament for Game 4.
The team lost spot-starter Randy Wolf for the rest of the season, and is already missing Zach Britton and Jason Hammel. So who gets the ball for Game 4?
Enter Brian Matusz.
Matusz has been brilliant since rejoining the Orioles in a relief role. He's allowed a mere five hits and two runs in 16 appearances, racking up 18 strikeouts.
Furthermore, with the return of Troy Patton from the disabled list, he's now allowed to grow into a different role. He's no longer pigeonholed into being the team's lefty specialist.
Matusz has earned his way back into Showalter's good graces and could be more reliable (and less homer-prone) than Tommy Hunter when deciding on a starter for Game 4.
Don't Expect Dylan Bundy to Play a Major Role
The moment the O's added uber-prospect Dylan Bundy to their active roster just weeks before the end of the season the comparisons to David Price began.
Many O's fans expected the team to groom the right-hander into a role similar to the one made famous by the Rays lefty during Tampa's World Series run a few years ago.
Fortunately, the O's have one of the best bullpens in baseball, and relying on a rookie with no experience above Double-A isn't a necessity. Furthermore, there's no guarantee that Bundy will even be on the Orioles' postseason roster.
Yes, Bundy's blazing fastball and knee-buckling breaking ball are welcomed additions, but Darren O'Day, Luis Ayala and Jim Johnson are more than enough to convince just about anyone that if the O's can build an early lead, the game is theirs for the taking.
The Team's Go-to Reliever Could Be This Guy
Lost in Tommy Hunter's terrible 2012 campaign (5.54 ERA, 27 HRA) has been his impressive move to the bullpen.
Don't forget, Hunter was a closer at the University of Alabama, and with his fastball velocity it might make sense to force him into a major role, maybe even taking over eighth-inning duties for setup man Pedro Strop, who has struggled greatly as of late.
Since moving to the pen, Hunter has struck out nine batters in eight scoreless innings.
And oh yeah, he hit 101 mph on the radar gun in his last outing.
Expect Manny Machado to Retain His Everyday Spot at Third Base
Since the O's recalled Machado on August 9, the team is 29-16.
Don't think that his presence hasn't been a boost to the team's playoff run. Despite hitting .264 with seven doubles, three triples and six homers, Machado's biggest impact has come on defense. By now everyone knows of his heady play against the Rays made earlier this season, but did you also know that if he had enough total chances to qualify, he would rank among the top-10 third baseman in the majors in terms of fielding percentage (.970)?
Not too shabby for a guy who had never played at the hot corner in an actual minor league game.
Now that the O's are on the cusp of reaching the playoffs, don't expect Showalter to pull the 20-year-old in favor of a veteran.
Machado has helped them get there, and who knows, maybe he could help them get even further.