MLB: Was Orioles’ Rotation the Weak Link in the ALCS?

ALCS - Baltimore Orioles v Kansas City Royals - Game Four
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

After sweeping the Tigers in the American League Division Series, the Baltimore Orioles looked ready for the ALCS matchup with the underdog Royals. Four tight games later, Baltimore’s brilliant season ended without a win. Is bad playoff luck to blame or were holes in the Orioles team exposed in the ALCS sweep?

Lack of a rotation ace

The knock on the Orioles for several years running has been the team has no an ace in the rotation. MLB analysts believed Baltimore could get the job done in the playoffs with its rotation of mid-to-frontline starting pitchers, but Orioles starters struggled in the first two games of the ALCS. In the series opener, Chris Tillman surrended 5 ER on 7 hits in 4.1 IP; Game Two starter Bud Norris gave up 4 ER on 9 hits in 4.1 IP.

Considering the Orioles scored 6 runs in Game One (5 runs through 9 innings) and 4 runs in Game Two, Baltimore’s starters had plenty of run suppport to win in the playoffs. Starters Wei-Yin Chen (Game Three) and Miguel Gonzalez (Game Four) were magnificent — as was the Baltimore bullpen throughout the series — but those two lackluster performances at the start of the ALCS definintely came back to haunt the club. Two tight games, both ending in losses, ended the series and season for the Orioles. It’s fair to ask “what could have been” if the team had a rock at the top of its rotation.

Core players missing

No one in the Orioles organization would blame anything on injuries, but few teams could overcome the loss of star third baseman Manny Machado (to knee surgery) and catcher Matt Wieters (to Tommy John surgery). The Game Four loss featured a botched defensive play from backup catcher Caleb Joseph that allowed both runs to score, eventually sealing the team’s fate. Chris Davis, suspended for amphetamine use at the end of the season, also was absent in the ALCS.

ALCS - Baltimore Orioles v Kansas City Royals - Game Four
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Though Davis had a down year compared to his monster 2013 season, Baltimore certainly could have used his menacing bat in the lineup, especially when runs were hard to come by in the third and fourth games. Davis’s suspension will carry over to the first game of the 2015 season, while Machado and Wieters are both expected to return on or around Opening Day.

Moving forward

Despite the disappointing end to the season after winning the AL East title and sweeping Detroit in the ALDS, the Orioles’ future is bright. The core of young players is under club control for years ahead; the club has a chance of resigining slugger Nelson Cruz; and the bullpen should continue to be a lockdown force in 2015. Everyone on the club appears to have bought into the Buck Showalter way, and the dividends are clearly paying off.

Baltimore had a few rough bounces at the close of the ALCS, but it may have been the absence of a rotation ace that finally doomed their season. On a related note, chalk up yet another year where the club leading the league in home runs fails to deliver the power under the bright lights of the postseason. Even in a series featruing two high-scoring games, pitching once again decided the American League pennant winner.