I'll say the over/under on this game is now 16 innings.
— David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield) September 19, 2012
Yes, I just cited my own tweet. I wrote that last night in the 10th inning of the Orioles-Mariners game and I was only half-joking. After all, the Orioles have a good bullpen, the Mariners have a good bullpen, the Mariners can't hit and the game was at Safeco Field. I made it through 13 innings before calling it a night. When I woke up this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see the game lasted 18 innings and not at all surprised that the Orioles, once again, pulled out an extra-innings victory.
That's 14 wins in a row in extra frames (including nine on the road), the most since the 1949 Indians won 17 such games in a row. It's really a remarkable achievement. You can say it speaks volumes about Baltimore's grit and determination and clutchiness, but mostly it speaks to a terrific bullpen. Tuesday's win was one of the best considering Mariners rookie Erasmo Ramirez had dominated the Orioles for eight innings, taking a two-hit shutout into the ninth inning, showing electric stuff with a 93-95 mph fastball with movement and diving changeup. I had no problem when Mariners manager Eric Wedge left Ramirez in to go for the shutout; he'd thrown just 95 pitches. But the first two batters singled to knock out Ramirez, J.J. Hardy put down the sac bunt and Chris Davis singled off Tom Wilhelmsen to tie it up.
Three hours later, the Orioles won as the bullpen threw 12.2 scoreless innings. Because of that heavy workload by the pen, the Orioles recalled top prospect Dylan Bundy and he'll be available tonight as a long reliever, with Joe Saunders starting.
Somebody asked me the other day if the Orioles make the playoffs if they'll have the worst ace ever for a playoff team. Wei-Yin Chen leads the staff with 2.8 bWAR (Jason Hammel, limited to 20 starts, is at 2.7), although his raw numbers don't blow anyone away (12-9, 4.00 ERA). Remarkably, Chen is the only pitcher on the staff who will qualify for the ERA title. Tommy Hunter is second on the team with 126 innings and he's now in the bullpen.
As it turns, not having an ace with a WAR above 3.0 isn't all that rare. I checked the past 10 seasons and found the following playoff teams:
2010 Reds -- Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto (2.2 WAR each). Arroyo was 17-10, 3.88; Cueto went 12-7, 3.64. There were the only two Reds pitchers to win more than eight games. If you remember, Edinson Volquez started the first playoff game and got knocked out in the second inning. (Not that it matters; Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter.)
2006 Mets -- Tom Glavine (2.6 WAR, 15-7, 3.82, 198 IP). Glavine and reliever Billy Wagner were the only pitchers with 2.0 or better WAR, even though the Mets finished third in the NL in ERA. But it was a makeshift rotation as 12 different pitchers started at least four games.
2004 Yankees -- Orlando Hernandez (2.7 WAR in 84 innings). Relievers Mariano Rivera and Tom Gordon combined for 8.0 WAR but no Yankee starter reached 200 innings and only El Duque had an ERA under 4.00.
2004 Braves -- Jaret Wright (2.7 WAR, 15-8, 3.28 ERA, 186 IP). The Braves actually led the NL in ERA and had four starters make at least 29 starts, so it was still a pretty solid rotation, if not quite Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz.
2003 Braves -- Russ Ortiz (2.0 WAR, 21-7, 3.84 ERA, 212.1 IP). The Braves led the NL in runs scored this year but were just ninth in runs allowed. Greg Maddux (3.96 ERA), Mike Hampton (3.84) and Horacio Ramirez (4.00) were all solid and the Braves' top five starts combined for 159 starts. No piecemeal approach like the Orioles have had to do.
2002 Giants -- Russ Ortiz and Kirk Rueter (2.6 WAR each). Some park effects going on here as Giants allowed second-fewest runs in NL. Jason Schmidt (2.2 WAR, 3.45 ERA) would have been considered the staff ace. And they used just six starters all season.
2002 Cardinals -- Matt Morris (2.7 WAR, 17-9, 3.42 ERA, 210.1 IP). Cards got good work from Woody Williams (2.53 ERA) and Andy Benes (2.78 ERA) but they made just 17 starts apiece. Chuck Finley came over in a midseason trade as well. Jason Simontacchi was actually second on the team with 143 IP.
There are a lot of steroid-era pitching staffs on there; not sure if that's just a coincidence or a reflection that it was more difficult to post a decent WAR in those seasons. Certainly, the fact that Baltimore has had just one starter remain in the rotation all year is a rare thing for a playoff team, but we have seen that before. Is it worth noting that none of those teams won the World Series, and only the 2002 Giants reached it? Maybe. We found 10 playoff teams out of a total of 40, so the statistical odds would be 2 or 3 World Series winners.
Plus, the Orioles need to get to the playoffs first before we worry about their chances of winning. Needless to say, just getting there would be an amazing accomplishment.