The month of September brings highs and lows. The Orioles have inspired plenty of confidence when their starting pitchers deliver, but a jaded bullpen provided cause for concern during an extended stretch without a break. Baltimore’s clubhouse has done a tremendous job remaining steady and focused on the task at hand, but Mike Elias and the gang are already working hard to piecing together a postseason plan from the warehouse.
In a turn of events, the Orioles are poised to have one of the better rotations in the postseason. Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and John Means all appear capable of carrying the team to victory on any given night. Unfortunately, the bullpen has taken a turn for the worse.
The Birds are still reeling from the loss of All-Star closer Félix Bautista. The Mountain continues to throw, but Brandon Hyde admitted yesterday that the Orioles are running out of time to get Bautista back into game shape.
The loss bumped Yennier Cano and Cionel Pérez into ninth-inning territory. Hyde has played the matchup game with his two highest-leverage relievers, while Danny Coulombe and Jacob Webb have also worked with the game on the line. DL Hall has taken a step forward, and our own Tyler Young believes the 25-year-old could serve as a playoff X-factor.
Young pointed to Hall’s ability to strikeout opposing hitters, and noted that the O’s lack a true K-master without Bautista. The young lefty possesses knockout stuff, and that’s what plays in October.
While Hall has pitched his way into the conversation, a few of his fellow relievers are trending in the wrong direction. Jorge López will not be eligible for the postseason after joining the club in September, but the former All Star has not performed well enough to be missed.
Shintaro Fujinami continues to wow with electric stuff, but his triple-digit fastball simply is not enough without control. Fujinami entered last night’s game with only two clean innings in 10 September appearances. Elias took a shot by acquiring a pitcher with high upside, but it’s extremely difficult to picture the Orioles trusting Fuji with the game on the line.
Jacob Webb has 4.2 innings of postseason experience under his belt, but the former waiver claim allowed seven earned runs over those five appearances. Webb has done his part since joining the Orioles last month, but the righty will not be confused with a true weapon in the playoffs.
Kyle Gibson and Dean Kremer appear to have a battle for the fourth and final spot in the postseason rotation. The Orioles have already relegated Jack Flaherty to bullpen duties, but the former Cardinal can still view the move as an opportunity. Gibson worked as a reliever for the Phillies just last year, but the 35-year-old appears to have a slight lead for the final rotation spot.
Kremer and Flaherty have very limited experience working out of the bullpen. Flaherty pointed out last week that he needed to warm up in a different fashion. Kremer has only one relief appearance in 70 games.
The Orioles needed a fresh arm, so they optioned Cole Irvin to Triple-A two weeks ago. The lefty pitched to a 4.81 ERA in 12 starts, but holds a 3.61 ERA in 11 relief appearances this season. Irvin has made 77 career starts and pitched out of the bullpen 27 times between Oakland and Baltimore. Irvin provides the Orioles another left-handed option, but the Birds could be set with Pérez, Coulombe and Hall.
Tyler Wells rejoined the Orioles this week and provided another option for bulk relief work. Wells shined as a starter for parts of two years, but the former Rule-5 pick lost his stuff in a hurry. Wells tossed two scoreless innings on September 22, but only the Orioles can decide if he is back to his A game.
The Orioles optioned Mike Baumann last week to make room for Wells. Baumann leads all Baltimore relievers with 10 wins, but the righty had pitched on consecutive days when the team needed a rested arm.
Baumann holds a 3.76 ERA in 60 games this season. The 28-year-old is clearly comfortable pitching with the game on the line, and he holds better swing-and-miss stuff than many other options. Big Mike has struck out 61 batters in 64.2 innings.
Baumann’s time as a starter in the organization has come and gone. Baumann holds more relief experience than Flaherty, Kremer or Irvin, and his profile sits closer to Webb. Webb has struck out 54 batters in 51.2 innings this season.
The Orioles will have an opportunity to set a roster for each round that they achieve. Irvin may fall below several starters as a long-relief candidate, but Baumann could find his way to a postseason rubber at some point this October.