The Baltimore Orioles represent everything that is crazy about the AL East in 2013.
On paper, the bird’s depth chart looks like a laundry list of unproven pitchers.
But sometimes paper is just that…paper.
In reality, the Orioles have both talent and depth in its rotation that has not yet been fully tapped. This team also has the ability to shift starters back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. This fact alone makes this team dangerous.
In its rotation, Baltimore has a good one-two punch in Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen. When healthy, Hammel is a workhorse that can put Baltimore on its back. When not healthy, Chen has proven he can put the Orioles on his back until Hammel returns.
And very slowly, the third-through-fifth spots in Baltimore’s rotation are beginning to solidify itself.
Third in the Orioles rotation is Chris Tillman. Entering 2012 Tillman had great stuff but struggled with his confidence. But after being called up on July 4 to pitch against the Seattle Mariners, Tillman went on a rampage. On the season, Tillman went 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.
It is difficult to see Orioles making the postseason last season without Tillman’s arm.
In the fourth spot is Miguel Gonzalez.
A relative unknown going into the 2012 season, Gonzalez came up huge for the Orioles, just when this team needed a pitcher to stop the bleeding, Gonzalez pitched a 9-4 record with a 3.25 ERA.
While Tillman and Gonzalez look to solidify themselves in the Orioles rotation, a very intriguing fight for the fifth spot will take shape come spring training.
Up-and-down lefty Brian Matusz will compete with Baltimore native Steve Johnson (4-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 2012), Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton for this spot.
Then there is phenom prospect Dylan Bundy. This stud right-hander is expected to put plenty of heat on more seasoned pitchers on the Orioles.
Regardless of who breaks camp in Baltimore’s rotation, the thing that makes the Orioles a dark horse in the AL East, is this team’s ability to shift starters to the bullpen with success.
Matusz, Arrieta and Tommy Hunter for example, all moved to the pen after struggling in the rotation last season. All three men went on to play significant roles in Baltimore’s run to the playoffs and in the postseason as well.
It is this depth, talent and flexibility that makes the Orioles the biggest enigma in the race for the AL East pennant in 2013.
Still, starters in the three-through-five spots need to repeat their output of 2012 to enable the Orioles to be a top-tier rotation in the AL East.
If not, the Orioles may struggle. Sounds Armageddon. But in this now star-studded division, there is very little room for long losing streaks.