Daniel Clark: What stands between the Orioles and playoff success?

Barring a complete meltdown in the remaining six weeks of the season, the Orioles look certain to make a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and will hope to do so by winning the American League East title for the first time since 1997.

With just 38 games now remaining in the regular season, the O’s hold an 8 1/2 game division lead and look forward to a favorable schedule over the next few weeks, which includes the completion of the current series against the White Sox, a three-game series against the Cubs starting Friday and a four-game series against the Twins starting Aug. 29. In the middle of that, there is a four-game series against the Rays, who despite showing signs of improvement in recent weeks, still have a lineup the Orioles should beat.

Assuming all goes to plan and the Orioles do reach the postseason, there are two major issues which still need to be resolved if the Orioles want it to be a postseason to remember.

* Consolidate the starting rotation

While the starting rotation has been much better in 2014 than it has been in recent years, a decision still needs to be made as to what the make-up will look like during September and the postseason. The biggest headache is what will be done with the struggling Ubaldo Jimenez. Now that he has been moved to the bullpen, will he stay there for the remainder of the season?

The numbers alone don’t suggest Jimenez’s season has been an absolute disaster, But when his $50 million price tag and the high expectations that come with it are factored into consideration, it isn’t far off. Having now appeared in 20 games, Jimenez owns a 4-9 record with a 4.83 ERA, which comfortably sees him placed at the bottom of the rotation in terms of performance.

His fellow rotation members this season, who each earn far less income for their efforts, have been consistent and each work to ERAs under 4.00:
* Chris Tillman - 10-5, 3.55 ERA
* Bud Norris - 11-7, 3.69 ERA
* Kevin Gausman - 7-4, 3.70 ERA
* Wei-Yin Chen - 12-4, 3.76 ERA
* Miguel Gonzalez - 6-6, 3.80 ERA

After Jimenez’s disastrous outing against his former team last Saturday night, I ran a poll on Twitter to see who Orioles fans thought was more deserving of a role in the starting rotation - Gonzalez or Jimenez. Here’s the result.

An overwhelming 97 percent of respondents believed that Gonzalez deserves the fifth-starter role ahead of Jimenez and since that poll was conducted, that situation has now become a reality.

If the decision was up to me, the Orioles need to write this year off as a loss for Jimenez and have him work out of the bullpen in long relief for the rest of the season, ensuring the five deserving starters keep their spots in the rotation.

* Settle the lineup

Nick Markakis (RF), Manny Machado (3B), Adam Jones (CF), Nelson Cruz (LF), Delmon Young (DH), J.J. Hardy (SS), Caleb Joseph (C), Chris Davis (1B) and Jonathan Schoop (2B).

Go ahead and call me biased, however I genuinely feel that the lineup above is still one of the best in the major leagues.

Assuming the Orioles get Machado back from injury sometime and all players remain healthy from here, the nine listed - in that order - is the best option for the Orioles heading into the postseason. The two key things to note are the addition of Young into the No. 5 spot and dropping Davis down to the No. 8 spot.

Despite being used sparingly, Young has proven this season that he is a reliable contact hitter who strikes out far less frequently than Davis - 20.9 percent for Young (39 in 186 at bats) and 39.5 percent for Davis (149 in 377 at bats).

Having the trio of Jones, Cruz and Davis bunched together in the lineup has hurt the Orioles far too often in recent weeks, with consecutive strikeouts occurring while runners have been in scoring position with less than two outs. The trio needs to be broken up and Young provides Buck Showalter with that option. It also allows Davis to shift down to the eighth spot, where he has batted .292 (131-for-449) throughout his career - the highest average of any spot in the lineup.

What are your thoughts on the two solutions posed? Should Jimenez remain in the bullpen for the rest of the season? Should Davis hit in the No. 8 hole?

Daniel Clark blogs about the Orioles at The Big Leagues Daily from Melbourne, Australia. Follow him on Twitter: @DC_TBLDaily. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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