Monday, August 30, 2010

For the O's, it's all about the pitching (in August)

The Orioles are off tonight after a three-game sweep of the Angels in Anaheim. They have one more game in the month of August -- tomorrow at home against the Red Sox -- but have already clinched, with a 16-11 record, their first winning August since 1997. And not to harp on this point, but the O's are also 16-10 since Buck Showalter took over as manager on August 3.

But this post isn't about Showalter. He's obviously had some kind of effect on the team, but there's no way of knowing just exactly how much he means to the team both on and off the field. So instead, let's focus on something tangible, like how much better the starting pitching has been this month. The latest sweep of the Angels, which allowed the O's to sweep the season series (six games) from them for the first time ever, only reinforces how strong the starting pitching has been lately. On Friday, the O's won 3-1 behind eight innings and one run allowed by Brad Bergesen. In the outing, Bergesen struck out four and walked none. On Saturday, the O's turned to Kevin Millwood, who responded with a fantastic performance of eight scoreless innings. He walked only one while striking out five. And yesterday, Jeremy Guthrie capped the series with 8.1 innings of shutout ball, striking out five and walking just one. So in one three-game series, three O's starters combined for 24.1 innings and just one earned run. Simply put, that is fantastic.

But, again, the starting pitching has been outstanding all month. Out of all major league teams in the month of August (with two days to go), the O's have the fourth-best ERA (3.21) among starters. Think about that -- yes, the Orioles -- with a rotation of Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Bergesen, and Millwood, have the league's fourth-best ERA in August right now. In those 27 starts, O's starters have thrown a combined 182.1 innings, the most out of all MLB teams. Oddly enough, they've only struck out 92 batters in those innings -- second-lowest among all teams -- but have kept their walks down at the same time: 44 walks, tied for sixth fewest.

I'm not going to say the entire starting staff has turned over a new leaf. They've actually been a little lucky: O's starters have a combined .261 BABIP in August. And by not striking out a ton of batters and keeping their walks down, O's starters have been relying on the team's defense, though the O's currently have the worst UZR among all MLB teams.

Still, even if it's been a little bit of a fluke, no one can take away what the O's pitching staff has done this month. Starters are pitching later in games and throwing more innings, which not only keeps the O's in the game, but saves the bullpen from being used too much.

It's likely that Showalter has affected the team's pitching in same way -- maybe they're all trying to impress the team's new manager and show him that they deserve a spot in the rotation next season. With the exception of Millwood, the team's other four starters -- Matusz, Guthrie, Arrieta, and Bergesen -- are all showing that they can be relied on to start next season in the rotation. But who knows for sure.

August has been rather fun. Let's see what happens in September, when the O's play 17 games against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. Not even Showalter's magic may be enough to get the team through that difficult stretch of games.

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