The Baltimore Orioles are, all of a sudden, sporting some viable fantasy options for those of you looking to add a boost to your roster in September. Not only that, the team looks totally reborn under manager Buck Showalter who has led the club to a 20-13 record since he took over managerial duties. “Starting pitching probably is the biggest difference,’ second basemen Brian Roberts said. “I don’t know if you can attribute that to Buck or not.” Maybe it’s all coincidental, but it certainly seems like Buck has pushed all the right buttons. Here are some notes about a few of those Orioles arms that you would be wise to add to your staff down the stretch if you need a little boost.
Brian Matusz is on fire – even if you didn’t notice, and even if you couldn’t pick out his season long stats from a lineup. You can be forgiven for that given that Matusz is 8-12 with a 4.71 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP on the year. However, he has morphed into the pitcher that everyone knew resided in that body despite the early season struggles, you know, the one that AL-only fantasy performers were hoping for when they dropped $10 on him on draft day. After picking up his 8th win on Monday, Matusz is 5-1 over his last seven starts with some sparkling numbers highlighted by a strong 3.33 K/BB mark, a 1.09 WHIP and 2.43 ERA. To compare, Felix Hernandez, an ace if there ever was one, has a 3.48 K/BB mark, a 2.30 ERA an a 1.09 WHIP on the year. I’m clearly not stoned enough to be saying that Matusz is a pitcher on par with the King, but the fact of the matter is that over his last seven starts Brian has been nearly effective as the Mariners’ ace – a shocking statement to make no matter the small sample size.
We don’t have to go very far at all to find another Orioles starting pitcher who has been mighty impressive of late. I know how crazy it is to suggest that there are actually two hurlers in Baltimore that are fantasy must-starts right now, but the fact of the matter is that there are. The second hurler is Jeremy Guthrie who, lo and behold, has once again remade himself into a pitcher to consider in mixed leagues. Guthrie was 3-10 with a 4.77 ERA in the first half looking decidedly like the disappointing hurler from ’09. However, since the All-Star game the guy has looked like a completely different hurler. In addition to turning his won-loss record completely around, he has gone 6-3, Guthrie stopped walking batters to the point that his BB/9 rate dropped to Cliff Lee like levels at 1.51. The lack of free passes has enabled Guthrie to post a wonderful 3.50 K/BB mark in the second half leading to a duo of delightful ratios: 2.51 ERA, 1.00 WHIP. I wouldn’t bet a hundred bucks that he will continue this run through September, but if you need help off waivers there likely aren’t many available who are performing better than Jeremy.
Koji Uehara is the current closer in Baltimore after the early season struggles, an injury, of the man brought into town to do the job – Michael Gonzalez. Alfredo Simon then took over and was far from impressive, and Jim Johnson came down with some arm woes leaving the pen in an almost constant state of turmoil. However, the situation has worked itself out since Showalter took over with Koji asserting himself as the 9th inning option of choice. On Monday he picked up his 7th save of the year as his ratios continue to drop toward the realm of a Mariano Rivera type (Koji has a 2.18 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP). Over the 21 appearances he has made since the All-Star break, Uehara has been a dominating force with 25 strikeouts and a mere walk over 24 innings. It’s really a simple game as he has success because he simply hasn’t beating himself with the free pass. As a result, his WHIP over his last 21 appearances is a superb 0.79, and though his ERA nearly doubles that mark it’s still a stupendous 1.50. As for Gonzalez, he has started to find his groove in a setup role as he has 17 Ks in 15.2 innings since returning from injury while he has produced a 2.87 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP while holding batters to a mere .164 average.
There are more keys to the club’s resurgence as players like Felix Pie, Brian Roberts, Luke Scott and Nick Markakis have done some things, but most of the time when a team is surging it’s because their pitching staff is excelling. That is clearly the case with the Orioles who all of a sudden have a reason to be somewhat optimistic heading to the offseason.
By Ray Flowers