Caught in the middle of a four-team race for the division lead and an equally competitive log jam in the wild card race, the Baltimore Orioles were devastated when their ace, Chris Tillman, was forced to the DL in late August. All hope seemed lost in Birdland as the O’s would be without their best starter for critical games down the stretch, especially with multiple series against division rivals looming. The Orioles needed someone to step up and take control of games while the staff’s de facto ace was on the shelf and that is exactly what Kevin Gausman has done.
Gausman is fresh off of a win over the Boston Red Sox in which he threw a career high 120 pitches over eight shutout innings. Gausman was nothing short of brilliant in his start, fanning six batters while walking only one and giving up just four hits to the powerful Red Sox lineup. The young righty looked strong throughout the evening and into the eighth inning where he still reached back and fired fastballs in the mid-90s. His best game of the season could not have been better timed, as Rick Porcello was dealing as well giving up only one run on a moon shot by Mark Trumbo. The win brought the Orioles within one game of the division-leading Red Sox.
What may be more impressive than his last start are the stats Gausman has posted since Tillman’s assignment to the DL. In his five starts since the ace went down, Gausman has established himself as the alpha-dog of the rotation, acquiring four wins and giving up only three runs in 33 innings. The 2012 first round pick has looked like everything Orioles fans have wanted him to be and more. He has gone six or more innings in each of his last five starts and has had four shutout performances, lowering his ERA from 4.11 to 3.43. Not bad for a guy who didn’t get his first win this season until June 25.
While Gausman has been great, he hasn’t been forced to do it all alone. The Orioles have been pleased with the rebound made by Ubaldo Jimenez. While usually Jimenez starts cause a collective groan by the Orioles faithful, the 32-year-old starter has been fantastic down the stretch. In his last four starts the brand new United States citizen, Jimenez, hasn’t given up more than three runs and has lowered his ERA from a whopping 6.94 to a less hypertension-inducing 5.98. While that may not seem like a big deal as that is still a gaudy number, it marks a significant improvement for the veteran arm. Jimenez has pitched six or more innings in each of these starts and hasn’t given up more than five hits in any of them. In this span the veteran has also turned in the O’s first complete game in over two years in a win against the Tampa Bay Rays. The performance was Jimenez’s first complete game since 2011.
Tillman returned to the rotation September 11 and earned a win against the Tigers. The rotation fared well in his absence, but the Orioles faithful are certainly happy to have him back.