Zach Wilt: Who would start a wild card game for O’s?

It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to not compare the 2013 Orioles to their 2012 squad. I can’t promise that I won’t do this every week for the rest of this season. As of Aug. 13, the Orioles find themselves five games back of the first-place Red Sox in the AL East with their 65-53 record. On this date a season ago, the Orioles were also in third place in the division with a 62-53 record, six games behind the leading Yankees.

While drawing these comparisons, I began to ponder Buck Showalter’s possible options for a one-game wild card matchup. As everyone remembers, the Orioles skipper handed the ball to Joe Saunders, who despite entering the contest 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in six career starts in Texas, earned the win by surrendering just one earned run on six hits over 5 2/3 innings pitched.

Should the O’s again find themselves in a similar situation this postseason, who will Showalter turn to for the most important start of the season? Here’s how the O’s rotation looks today:

Wei-Yin Chen - 6-5, 3.06 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 1.155 WHIP, 5.9 K/9, 2.41 K/BB
Chris Tillman - 14-3, 3.73 ERA, 4.72 FIP, 1.293 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 2.31 K/BB
Miguel Gonzalez - 8-5, 3.91 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 1.279 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 2.36 K/BB
Bud Norris - 8-9, 3.78 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 1.392 WHIP, 6.6 K/9, 2.14 K/BB
Scott Feldman - 9-9, 4.00 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 1.19 WHIP, 6.65 K/9, 2.65 K/BB

While I wouldn’t expect Feldman, or any other No. 5 starter for that matter, to get the nod in such an important game, each of the other four Orioles starters have their own specific strengths. Chen appears to be the most well-rounded, Tillman strikes out more batters per nine, Gonzalez has proven to be consistent in some big road matchups and Norris has looked solid with a better defense behind him.

In a perfect world, Chen would take the ball for the O’s. The lefty rested for nearly two months between May 12 and June 10 when he landed on the disabled list with an oblique strain and has logged just 88 1/3 innings this season. He leads the staff in ERA, FIP and WHIP. Here’s how Chen stacks up on the road against other potential wild card contenders over his career. (note: Tigers are omitted due to their 6.5-game lead in the AL Central).

At Oakland: 1-0, 8 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K
At Tampa Bay: 1-2, 2.88 ERA, 25 IP, 1.160 WHIP, 2.83 K/BB
At Boston: 1-1, 3.44 ERA, 18 1/3 IP, 1.200 WHIP, 2.20 K/BB
At Texas: 1-1, 1.42 ERA, 6 1/3 IP, 1.579 WHIP, 1.50 K/BB
At Kansas City: 0-0, 7 1/3 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 K

Tillman has quietly racked up 14 wins this season and he’s done so with the best strikeout per nine on the staff (7.6). His 4.72 FIP suggests that the O’s defense has helped him more than any of the other four starters. Here are Tillman’s career numbers on the road against wild card contenders.

At Oakland: 1-0, 2.61 ERA, 10 1/3 IP, 1.742 WHIP, 1.80 K/BB
At Tampa Bay: 1-2, 3.13 ERA, 23 IP, 0.913 WHIP, 3.00 K/BB
At Boston: 0-0, 1.65 ERA, 16 1/3 IP, 1.408 WHIP, 1.83 K/BB
At Texas: zero career starts in Texas
At Kansas City: 0-1, 3 2/3 IP, 10 H, 8 ER, 1 BB, 3 K

Despite two rough outings in Kansas City (4.2 IP, 6 ER) and against the Astros (3.2 IP, 4 ER), Gonzalez has started in some big-time road games for the Orioles. Last season, he won games in Tampa Bay, Boston, Toronto, New York, Cleveland and in Los Angeles against the Angels. Here are his career numbers against the above wild card contenders.

At Oakland: 0-0, 5 1/3 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
At Tampa Bay: 2-0, 0.92 ERA, 19 2/3 IP, 0.864 WHIP, 1.88 K/BB
At Boston: 1-0, 2.61 ERA, 10 1/3 IP, 1.161 WHIP, 1.67 K/BB
At Texas: zero career starts in Texas
At Kansas City: 0-1, 4 2/3 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 0 K

Since coming to Baltimore, Norris is 2-0 in three starts with a 2.65 ERA, 1.235 WHIP and 2.50 K/BB. Norris’ experience could make him an enticing option for Showalter in a road play-in game. However, he’s more of an unknown as he hasn’t pitched in Tampa Bay, Texas or Kansas City. Here’s how he’s fared on the road against potential Oakland and Boston.

At Oakland: 0-1, 2/3 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 0 K
At Tampa Bay: zero career starts in Tampa Bay
At Boston: 0-1, 6 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K
At Texas: zero career starts in Texas
At Kansas City: zero career starts in Kansas City

Orioles starters are 27th in the big leagues with a 4.62 ERA this season, but they have pitched to a 3.93 ERA over the last 30 days. The addition of Norris and continued dominance by Tsuyoshi Wada in Triple-A would make Showalter’s decision another tough one, but the numbers show he’s got a few really solid options.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. His views appear here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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