Originally written on B-More Birds Nest  |  Last updated 11/20/14

The following post is from Phil Backert, a former producer of The Rob Long Show on Baltimore’s Fox1370, current associate producer on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, and die-hard O’s fan for life. Phil’s work will be appearing regularly here at the Nest. Follow Phil on twitter at @PhilBackert.

After manager Buck Showalter elected to start Chris Tillman in the last regular season game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Oriole fans immediately turned their attention to who would start the tiebreaking game against the New York Yankees if needed on Thursday night, or the AL Wild Card game Friday night against the Texas Rangers.

The candidates appear to be rookie Steve Johnson or eight-year vet Joe Saunders. On the surface it appears to be an easy decision; choose the veteran who has been through the ups and downs and has pitched in more pressurized situations. However, looking deeper into the situation, it may not be as easy as someone would think.

Johnson, the local product, the pitcher who could have decided on June 1st  to opt out of his contract if he was not added to the 40-man roster and leave the organization he rooted for as a child, the organization his father pitched for, has been nothing but marvelous since he made his major league debut on July 15th.  He has pitched to a 2.11 ERA in 38 1/3 innings, while striking out 46 and walking 18 as a starter and reliever.  There would be nothing more gratifying for him, then taking the ball on Friday night with the opportunity to send the team he loved his entire life to a divisional round playoff against the hated Yankees.

However, Saunders was brought in by Executive Vice President, Baseball Operations Dan Duquette for this sole reason. Duquette wanted to bring in more veterans down the stretch to help take the burden off the young players and show them what it takes to not only make it to the postseason, but succeed when they get there.  This is also the reason Jim Thome and Randy Wolf were acquired.  Saunders has also pitched admirably since coming from Arizona. His ERA with Baltimore is 3.63 in 44 2/3 innings, while striking out 23 and only walking eight. He has also pitched to a 3-3 record.  The crafty lefty doesn’t wow anyone on the radar gun – the same can be said of Johnson – but at the end of day, when he hands the ball to Showalter, the Orioles have a great chance of winning that game.  In October, in a win or go home scenario, that is hard to overlook.

The problem with Saunders is this: in 6 career starts at Arlington against the Rangers, Saunders is 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA. He has also allowed 13 home runs.

Overall, against the Rangers, Saunders is 3-7 with a 6.48 ERA and 15 homeruns given up.

Yikes!

The positive? He hasn’t pitched against Texas since 2010 and in that start he pitched 7 innings, and allowed one earned run while striking out six.

His postseason numbers aren’t much better. In four starts amounting to 18 innings, he is 0-1 with 6.00 ERA. Saunders has allowed 23 hits, 12 walks with a WHIP of 1.944.

Obviously, as a rookie, Johnson has never pitched in this type of game, so Showalter, along with the rest of the team and the fans, don’t know how he will respond. The unknown could be a good thing. Maybe he is just too dumb to understand how big of a moment this is, or he thrives under these situations. Only Showalter can gauge this and that is what has made him such a great manager throughout his career – he knows the pulse of his team.

The wild card in this – no pun intended – is Jason Hammel.  Hammel threw a 73-pitch bullpen on Tuesday and declared himself ready whenever the team needed him.

Showalter indicated that Hammel will be ready to pitch, “sometime this week.” All signs pointed to a Saturday start if the Orioles won the division because it would be on normal rest.

That situation can not happen now, so Showalter must choose to hope the Orioles play Sunday so Hammel can return from his knee injury, or take a chance and let the best pitcher of the three go out there after not pitching since September 11th and gamble that he is physically ready to face a prolific Rangers lineup on short rest.  This is a huge risk because it opens the door up for a lot of criticism if Hammel exits the game early because he isn’t healthy or is ineffective.

Even with Showalter announcing on Tuesday that Hammel would not pitch before Saturday, it is something to keep an eye on.  However, with this scenario being the longest of long shots, we return to Saunders or Johnson.

Showalter trusts his veterans, sometimes to a fault. He believes that they have “been there, done that,” and that goes a long way when a player knows his manager backs him even if he is struggling at that moment.  Duquette brought Saunders to Baltimore for this reason. In a perfect world, it would not be a loser-goes-home scenario or Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman would be available or Hammel would be 100% healthy.

However, this is the hand he was dealt, and I think Showalter leans toward the veteran to punch this team’s ticket back to Baltimore against their hated rival.

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Falcons waive Prince Shembo after report of animal cruelty charges

Report: Tom Brady’s suspension appeal hearing set for June 23

Peterson is wrong (sorta): NFL players have great power

Scout: A-Rod 'looks like he doesn't give a (expletive)'

Belichick mum on Deflategate in first remarks since discipline

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Dwight Howard suspended for first game of 2015-16 season

Bucs veterans missing Jameis while he's at rookie symposium

Bulls GM: No teams asked to talk with Tom Thibodeau

Aaron Rodgers could take on more play-calling duties

Urban Meyer says Braxton Miller will return to Ohio State

DeMaurice Smith: NFL teams are blackballing Ray Rice

Klay Thompson officially diagnosed with concussion

Snoop Dogg hooks Texas A&M up with adidas cleats

WATCH: Stephen Curry rides a mini-horse

Metta World Peace gets ejected after five fouls in one minute

On satellite camps and the SEC crying over its self-protections

Four NFL quarterbacks set to take a step back in 2015

Spelling Bee co-champ wears LeBron jersey under shirt

Tigers' pitching woes make Scherzer loss more lamentable

Byron Maxwell guarantees Eagles play in Super Bowl 50

Australian paper runs "Bernie chokes on Kokk' as headline

Top 10 stories from 2015 NBA Playoffs

Rangers-Lightning Game 7 preview

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Peterson is wrong (sorta): NFL players have great power

Dwight Howard suspended for first game of 2015-16 season

Four QBs set to take step back in 2015

Spelling Bee co-champ wears LeBron jersey under shirt

Top 10 stories from 2015 NBA Playoffs

Rangers-Lightning Game 7 preview

The can't-miss Prince Fielder

Chip Kelly: Tebow is a quarterback

For LeBron, it's about more than the ring

Is Sam Bradford not close to full health?

Are Dwyane Wade and the Heat headed for a split?

Good news for the effort to bring an NHL team to Vegas

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.