Al Bello/Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Al Bello/Getty Images.
The Birds have not put together a strong starting staff since the days of Mike Mussina and Scott Ericson in the late 1990s. They’ve struggled with wannabe aces like Sidney Ponson, Jeremy Guthrie or Daniel Cabrera, who at times showed they could pitch well.
They just could not demonstrate sustained success at the major league level.
Finally, the Orioles have put together a strong starting staff, although it’s currently in pieces right now. There is no doubt Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.43 ERA) will return next season as the ace of the staff.
The former Rockie led the Birds for the first three and a half months of the season before his bad knee sidelined him for most of the rest of the year. He had picked up eight wins before the end of June and was on a roll until his knee acted up and he was forced to the DL.
In the postseason, he started two games and allowed four earned runs over 11.1 innings to the Yankees (3.18 ERA). There’s no question he was one of the reasons the Orioles made it so far this season, and he will be at the top of the list next year.
The crafty LHP out of Taiwan, Wei-Yin Chen (12-11, 4.03 ERA), will definitely be back as a number two starter, most likely. After Hammel went down, the 27-year-old really took control of the rotation and led the Orioles in starts and wins.
In his first year in the big leagues, he tossed 192.2 innings, allowed just 186 base hits and 86 earned runs. Not to mention, he picked up 154 strike outs and walked just 57 opponents. He showed great control, and although he struggled down the stretch, he will be a different pitcher next season.
In the postseason, he started one game and was very impressive; he tossed 6.1 innings, scattered eight base hits and allowed just one earned run against the Bronx Bombers.
RHP Miguel Gonzalez (9-4, 3.25 ERA) out of Mexico was one of the most pleasant surprises for the Orioles this season, as he came out of nowhere and really showed the Birds what he can do.
Although he was called up primarily to be used a long man out of the bullpen, he eventually pitched his way into the rotation and it’s a good thing he did. He appeared in 18 games, had15 starts and tossed 105.1 innings, allowing just 38 earned runs on 92 base hits.
In the postseason, he continued his dominance as he tossed seven strong innings against New York. He surrendered one earned run on five hits, but received a no-decision in his only start.
Although Zach Britton (5-3, 5.07 ERA) struggled this season after returning from an elbow injury, next season he should be back and hopefully will pitch the way he did his rookie season in 2011.
The 24-year-old southpaw went 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA in 28 starts in ’11 and started off the year very strong. He did trail off towards the end of the year, but after just 12 appearances this season, he should be well-rested for next year.
Chris Tillman (9-3, 2.93 ERA) really turned heads this season and he pitched like his life depended on it. There’s no doubt he will make a bid for the fifth spot in the rotation. Joe Saunders (9-13, 4.07 ERA), who pitched in two of the three elimination games, showed he deserves a shot at the rotation could be that fifth starter as well, if he returns.
Finally, let's not forget Tsuyoshi Wada, who is out of Japan. He was supposed to be at the top of the rotation this season, but was lost to an injury in Spring Training. He will be back next year battling for a shot at the rotation as well.
I’ve run out of room, but who can forget the Orioles' strong bullpen? Although a strong starting staff is slightly more important than a proven bullpen, a winning team needs a bullpen that can close the door. The 2012 Birds’ pen showed they can do that with the best of them.