The Yankees and Orioles are playing meaningful baseball as the month of August comes to a close, ladies and gentlemen. Did you see that coming in 2012? Probably not, but here we are. Up just three games in the AL East, the Yankees will host the Orioles at the Stadium for three games this weekend before heading to Camden Yards for a four game set beginning this Thursday.
Ahead of tonight's series opener, Stacey, who manages our SBN sister site Camden Chat, was kind enough to answer some questions about this weekend's games and all that Orioles magic happening in Baltimore this year. You can read my answers to Stacey's questions here.
What has been the most surprising aspect of all the Orioles' success this season?
Honestly, the most surprising thing about the success is that it has happened at all. And it's a success that nobody seems to be able to explain. The Orioles don't have an imposing lineup, they don't have a shutdown rotation, they don't have one superstar. They have a good bullpen. I've been enjoying the season but at the same time waiting for it to fall apart because I can't point to the reasons for their success. But at this point we're late enough in the season that I'm starting to believe they can finish what they started.
If the Orioles are going to make it to the postseason, what do you think they need to improve on the most before then?
Their pitching rotation needs to stabilize, in my opinion. Duquette and Buck Showalter have gotten by so far with a rotating door aside from Chen, but a solid five need to emerge. With the impending return of Hammel and the recent success from Britton and Tillman, it looks like that could happen. If it does and the bullpen keeps on being awesome, this team could go far. I don't mention the offense because while I'd obviously like them to improve, I don't see it happening with this group of guys. Adam Jones could break out of his slump and make a real difference, but otherwise these guys are who they are.
It appears that Joe Saunders will be taking Tommy Hunter's spot in the rotation and Randy Wolf will be used as a lefty out of the bullpen, making the current rotation Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, Miguel Gonzalez, and Saunders. When Jason Hammel returns (supposedly Sept 6th vs. the Yankees) they'll have to make a change; I have no idea who will be the one to go.
Chen was an off-season pickup for the Orioles, signed out of the Japanese league to a three-year deal. While he's a lefty, he doesn't have a major platoon split (though we only have less than one season of data); basically he's good against everyone. Like Gonzalez, Chen won't blow anyone away with his fastball, but he works it well with a slider and change up to keep hitters guessing. There was some concern over his fatigue level of late, so the Orioles gave him a few extra days off and started him Monday against the White Sox and he looked much better. He struck out eight in six innings and gave up just two runs.
Tillman started the season at AAA Norfolk working with pitching guru Rick Peterson, and whatever Peterson has done for him worked wonders. Last season his straight-as-an-arrow fastball averaged 89 mph, this year it's up to over 91 and he touches 94 with regularity. He's also striking out more than he ever has before at the major-league level and walking less. He's been knocked around a couple times since his call up in early July (once by the Yankees), but overall it's hard to have any complaints about his performance.