The Orioles were flying high a couple of days ago, and they still are looking strong with seven victories in their first nine games, but back-to-back losses to the Red Sox and Rangers have opened some old wounds.
The unprecedented season-opening winning streak glossed over the fact that Orioles starters again are having trouble getting far enough into games to keep the bullpen from getting worn down. But when Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Tillman unravel after five innings of work, the situation becomes more critical.
Those are the two guys who really must step up to assure that the starting rotation doesn't become a daily issue. Now, the Orioles have to hope that Vance Worley can step up tonight to prevent them from squandering all the momentum they carried with them to Texas.
Worley is just getting stretched out, so he's going to have to be very efficient to get through six innings, and Saturday starter Yovani Gallardo is just getting up to his normal pitch count after lasting just five innings in each of his first two Orioles starts.
The remainder of the Rangers series is going to be quite a litmus test, since Worley has not pitched more than five innings since May 3 and Sunday's starter, Mike Wright, has not done that since May 23. For that matter, Gallardo is a high-count guy who has not gone beyond six innings since last June.
Even if things go well, the bullpen is likely to pitch double-digit innings this weekend, and -- as Buck Showalter has warned throughout the first two weeks of the new season -- that cannot go on forever.
The Orioles also struggled to maximize some promising offensive situations, but that's going to happen with this power-packed lineup. Hitters have been showing a lot more plate discipline, but they cannot expect to rout quality pitchers such as Thursday night Rangers starter Cole Hamels. They did a good job of running up his pitch count and getting him out of the game in the sixth inning.
They've actually done a terrific job of squeezing the top pitchers who have faced them so far, beating Chris Archer on Opening Day and putting up a big number against David Price in the Red Sox home opener before chasing Hamels.