Zach Wilt: Power of the ‘pen

If the Orioles are going to be playing baseball next week, they’re going to have to out-pitch the New York Yankees in the remaining two or three games of the American League Division Series. Despite the $116 million difference in the two team’s payrolls, I’m confident that the Birds have the advantage when it comes to their arsenal of arms.

Jim Johnson picked a tough time to have an off night, but the good news is that his rough outing was just that night. The Orioles’ closer was charged with 4 earned runs over 1/3 of an inning in Game 1 after previously having not allowed a run in his last 12 appearances. Johnson led all of baseball in saves with 51 on the season and returned to form on Monday night when he recorded his first postseason save in a 1-2-3 inning against the top of the Yankees lineup.

Before getting to the closer, Buck Showalter has been going with the two hottest players he has out of the bullpen. Darren O’Day and Brian Matusz have seen the most work so far this postseason, pitching a combined six innings in the O’s first three playoff games.

However, it should be noted that Matusz only threw three pitches in his first appearance. That was all it took to strike out one of the game’s best sluggers, Josh Hamilton.

O’Day and Matusz have only allowed two hits over those combined six postseason innings and have struck out six. As a relief pitcher, Matusz has faced 21 batters with runners on base. In those situations, the batters are just 1-for-21 with 11 strikeouts.

What makes the O’Day/Matusz combo so difficult for the hitters they are facing is their difference in style. You have a submarine right-handed pitcher who throws an upper 80s rising fastball followed by a lefty throwing over the top in the low to mid-90s.

Monday night, Wei-Yin Chen, a lefty fastball pitcher, pitched through the Yankees lineup twice and then was replaced by O’Day in the seventh inning. Buck Showalter challenged New York’s lineup not only by switching to a righty, but by going with a groundball pitcher who throws from a completely different angle. Needless to say, it worked once again, as the O’s bullpen held on to win another one-run game and earned their 76th victory when leading after seven innings.

But O’Day and Matusz are only part of this machine that is the Orioles bullpen. The Birds also have the suddenly flamethrowing Tommy Hunter, a mid-90s pitcher as a starter who hit 100 mph in Fenway Park a few weeks ago, as well as specialists Troy Patton, Luis Ayala and Pedro Strop. Each guy brings a different set of tools to the mound and offers Showalter a unique look to present to the opposing batter.

You mix that in with the potential long relief from a Chris Tillman or Joe Saunders (if needed,) and you’ve got yourself one dangerous pitching staff the rest of the way.

There’s a reason that the Orioles won all three of their series in Yankee Stadium this year, and it’s the same reason that they have a great chance to win two games in the Bronx in October. Their unsung heroes from the ‘pen will certainly be relied upon to get them there, but they’ve proven themselves for six months so there’s no reason to think they’re going to stop now.

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