The Orioles are coming off of a nine-game homestand against the Twins, Yankees, and Red Sox in which they went 4-5. Getting swept by the Yankees again was certainly disheartening, but there were positives to be found. In those nine games, the starting pitcher never went less than six innings and with the exception of Brad Bergesen against the Yankees, never gave up more than three runs (and forgive me for not getting too worked up over the Bergesen faltering against the Yankees). Here are the total pitching lines for the starters:
Chris Tillman vs. Twins: 6.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 5 K
Jake Arrieta vs. Twins & Yankees: 12 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 6 BB, 13 K
Zach Britton vs. Twins & Red Sox: 12 IP, 10 H, 4 ER, 5 BB, 5 K
Jeremy Guthrie vs. Twins & Red Sox: 13 IP, 14 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 10 K
Brad Bergesen vs Yankees & Red Sox: 12 IP, 14 H, 8 ER, 4 BB, 9 K
Total: 55.2 IP, 53 H, 20 ER, 18 BB, 42 K; 3.23 ERA, 8.6 H/9, 2.9 BB/9, 6.8 K/9
That's not bad work by the rotation over the past nine games. It'd be nice to see Arrieta and Britton bring those walk totals down and for Britton to rack up a few more strikeouts, but overall there isn't much to complain about. The relatively short outings by the starters has been a hot topic here on CC, and it does seem that Buck Showalter errs on the side of caution when taking his starters out of the game. The starters are averaging just 99 pitches per game and on multiple occasions over the past week and a half it seems like they could go longer. It's not too alarming right now given that the season is less than a month old, but it will be something to monitor as we get deeper into the schedule.
When the Orioles had such success in the last two months of the 2010 season, it was largely due to the performance by the pitchers. If the rotation can keep up its success (and it will only help when Brian Matusz returns) the Orioles will have a good chance at a decent summer.
Unfortunately for the rotation, it has more often than not been sabotaged by the offense, the bullpen, or both. While the offense averaged over four runs per game over the homestand, their eleven run explosion against the Twins makes that kind of misleading. In the five games they lost they failed to score more than three runs. That's not going to win many ballgames in the American League. The offense has been getting better, though, with Vladimir Guerrero, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Derrek Lee starting to heat up. It's unlikely that Mark Reynolds and Nick Markakis will continue their abysmal ways at the plate, and the return of J.J. Hardy in (hopefully) a few weeks will give the team another boost.
As for the bullpen, those guys had a completely disgusting homestand. As good as the rotation pitched, that's how terrible the bullpen was. They allowed runs in seven of the the nine games played, a total of 23 in 27.1 innings. The only reliever who didn't give up a run was...wait for it...Kevin Gregg. In fact, in four appearances he didn't allow a hit, struck out three, and walked one. For the member of the bullpen who gets the most ire (other than Mike Gonzalez perhaps), he and Jim Johnson have been the only guys out of the pen who haven't totally blown their chances.
It's hard to have any confidence in a team when you're terrified they'll blow it as soon as the starter is taken out of the game. And it's hard to watch the starters get pulled after the sixth inning when it appears they could pitch at least one more. And it's hard to watch Nick Markakis flail about at the plate looking totally lost. But it's been a long, long time since my favorite thing about an Orioles team was its rotation, so for now I'll be taking solace in that.