Let’s get the important distinction out of the way early. The Orioles are not better off without Kyle Bradish, John Means and Tyler Wells — the latter two whom we know won’t pitch this season due to season-ending elbow injuries and the former who may well join them on that list.

Even without them, though, their rotation feels better than last year’s version. Of course, it would be even more so with them available through the dog days and into October. They will be sorely missed. But we are through a meaningful chunk of this season, and the rotation that remains intact for the Orioles compares favorably to the one that helped this team win 101 games and a division title a season ago.

What Bradish and Means did while their elbows allowed them to pitch is important on its own. The Orioles went 9-3 in their 12 combined starts, and the two struck out 69 in 60 innings with a 1.00 WHIP and a 2.70 ERA. That’s a shade under 20% of the team’s victories, and lesser pitchers or performances in those 12 starts probably would have the Orioles well off the pace of the first-place New York Yankees and feeling far less assured of a successful season than they do now.

Part of that has to be about those who have filled in around their injured pitchers this season. Corbin Burnes has delivered as a veritable ace since opening day, and to say he’s as expected only really exposes anyone with that perspective of having expectations set way too high.

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His acquisition, which roughly lined up with Bradish’s elbow injury in January, felt from the moment we learned Bradish had a UCL sprain as being a preemptive attempt to replace him for 2024 as opposed to a power move to add someone that good alongside him. Burnes’ 2.14 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 92 2/3 innings more than cover what the Orioles would have expected from a healthy Bradish this year.

It’s not all about newcomers. Grayson Rodriguez had a 2.58 ERA with a 1.10 WHIP and 73 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings after returning from Triple-A Norfolk last July. Although this year’s 3.20 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with 77 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings don’t quite stack up statistically to that, there are many markers of improvement: the strikeouts, the start-to-start consistency and his ability to get through outings when he’s not at his best.

Similarly, Cole Irvin is continuing his second-half improvement over a full season. He had a 3.22 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP as a swingman from June 10 on last year after a challenging introduction to life on the Orioles. He remade his arsenal in the offseason with great effect this year. He has a 3.03 ERA with a 1.23 WHIP in 68 1/3 innings and has been effective in multiple roles for manager Brandon Hyde, most recently back in the rotation.

Dean Kremer is, statistically, not at the level he was at last year before this season’s triceps soreness kicked in, but he’s not materially worse in any way and has dealt with tough luck. Add in the material upgrade that Albert Suárez is on the veteran spot from last year’s holder of that title, Kyle Gibson, and the Orioles’ rotation stacks up favorably against last year’s version in many ways.

Statistically, Orioles starters sans Bradish, Means, and Wells (but including Kremer, whose return seems imminent) have a 2.88 ERA, a 3.51 FIP (which approximates ERA on pitcher-controlled factors of strikeouts, walks and home runs), a 3.83 xFIP (which uses the same formula but substitutes the leaguewide home run rate for a pitcher’s actual home run rate), and a 1.13 WHIP.

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Cole Irvin has a 3.03 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP after making offseason changes. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Entering Sunday, that would stack up first, second, 12th and second out of all the rotations in baseball. With those pitchers’ stats included, the Orioles entered Sunday second (3.07 ERA), second (3.48 FIP), ninth (3.78 xFIP), and second (1.12 FIP). By comparison, the 2023 Orioles rotation had a 3.91 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 4.08 xFIP and 1.24 WHIP.

The expected stats for this year’s group give a bit of pause, but even pitching to their peripherals wouldn’t make the rotation bad on its own. No team’s starters have a larger or more favorable gulf between their expected slugging percentage allowed (.413) and actual one (.359) than the Orioles, and the rotation’s expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) is, at .310, 26 points higher than its actual one of .284.

It’s perfectly reasonable to wonder whether this group is going to keep it up or, perhaps more meaningfully, to wonder whether this group will even be the one we’re talking about when we discuss the rotation in a month or two months’ time, given the injuries that have hit.

Rotation depth at this point seems like Chayce McDermott, Julio Teheran and then a handful of scribbled question marks. That makes it impossible to rule out additions, but to me it still feels unlikely the Orioles will wade into a seller’s market with such a clear need and make what they consider an overpay in valuable minor league talent for an upgrade.

Those are questions for the highest levels of baseball operations and ownership. Is this club’s blossoming, dominant offense so good that it’s worth pushing more chips than they want to in for the season, or is it so good that they can afford to ride with this on the pitching side and roll the dice in October.

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What happens in the playoffs will define this team. At this point, the rotation doesn’t have much playoff success to draw from, and the Orioles saw how quickly that could go sideways last year.

This group, as built now, seems plenty good enough to get them there. The absences won’t make it feel that way but, as we sit now, it’s better than the rotation that got them to October last year.