The great transformation: the Orioles’ starting rotation

No doubt a real key to the Orioles playing excellent baseball after the All-Star break and particularly down the stretch was the very solid starting pitching we saw, pitching that got better deeper into the season.

The Orioles’ starting pitchers posted an ERA of 4.42 for the entire season to rank ninth in the American League. But that works out to an ERA of 4.77 in the first half, when the O’s went 45-40, and a starters’ ERA of 4.01 after the All-Star break, when the Orioles went 48-29.

From Aug. 1 on, the O’s starters worked to an ERA of 3.85 through the end of the regular season, going 38-20 in that time.

The improvement by the starters was a key reason the club’s overall team ERA improved to 3.90 by the end of the year to rank a respectable sixth in the AL.

The O’s starters were outstanding in the postseason with an ERA of 2.00, allowing just one earned run in four of the six games and just two earned runs in the other two. That was impressive.

Amazingly and surprisingly, the O’s revolving-door rotation, one where just one starter won in double digits and just one had more than 21 starts, was a strength by the end of the year.

By comparison, the four teams that remain in the playoffs all have either four or five starters that made 21 or more starts this year. The Giants’ opening day starting five all recorded at least 31 starts and combined to make 160 of 162 starts. That is remarkable.

The Orioles’ opening day rotation featured in order: Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Jason Hammel, Brian Matusz and Wei-Yin Chen. That group of five combined to make just eight of the 31 starts in September and October.

Of those last 31 games, Joe Saunders, Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman combined to make 22 of them.

As the season ended, who knew Tillman would be the hurler that is the most promising of the young arms? Who knew Saunders would pitch the Orioles to a pair of wins in playoff elimination games? Who knew Matusz would be a bullpen standout? Who knew the futures of Arrieta and Britton would be less certain at the end of 2012 than they were at the beginning?

It was a year when the rotation underwent a major transformation from beginning to end, but despite that, got better.

That bodes well for the 2013 season.

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