During a season in which they have defied expectations and made do with a makeshift starting staff, the Orioles -- who have thrown the most innings in the Majors -- have had their bullpen pick up the fourth-most innings in baseball, and are the only postseason team in the top six. O's relievers have combined to throw nearly 40 innings more than the next American League playoff contender -- the AL West-winning A's -- and have been able to avoid injuries or lulls in performance.
"There's two parts of that: What's best for them health-wise is best for us," manager Buck Showalter said of his club, which entered Wednesday 74-0 when leading after seven innings. "There's a reason why, knock on wood, our bullpen stayed pretty healthy. One of the biggest impacts you can have on your club is how you try to handle that, manage it.
"If you guys keep the same card we keep every day, eight columns we fill out for them to meet a certain criteria to pitch, you would know who's going to pitch that night and who's not. [We're] not going to broadcast it."
Following Wednesday's game, the Orioles will have pitched 1,483 regular-season innings. To put that in perspective, no team has hit 1,500 in a regular season since the 1964 Yankees (1,506 2/3), with the 1969 Twins coming the closest, at 1,497 2/3.
In the AL East, the Rays are second in innings pitched but still 25 behind the Orioles, who have played 18 extra-innings contests, winning their last 16 in a row.
Expanded rosters have helped the Orioles, as has the meticulous way that Showalter, pitching coach Rick Adair and bullpen coach Bill Castro handled the pitching staff all season. The team frequently made roster moves to avoid overextending their arms, and the relievers have repaid the favor in spades.
"You look at all the guys who have been have been here all year, even though we are throwing more innings, it's not a lot of extra stuff on the side, like other teams that have guys up since the first inning," said closer Jim Johnson, who leads the Majors in saves, with 51.
"Trust me, I've been warmed up a lot in previous years. But if you know you are getting into the game, it's totally different, as opposed to just the grind it takes on you. In your head, too. If you get a guy up, and he's not coming in, it's like the boy who cried wolf. 'Are you serious or no?'"
No Orioles reliever is ranked in the top 10 in innings pitched, with Luis Ayala 11th and Johnson the next highest, at 38. Johnson ranks 11th in the AL in outings (71), with no other Oriole among the top 15. The bullpen entered Wednesday with a 3.00 ERA, third-best in the league and fifth-best in baseball.
"They have a deep bullpen. They have a lot of options there," said broadcaster and former Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer, who was part of the 1970 team that set the previous mark. "Collectively, when you think about the conditioning and the way they've been used and the fact that these guys have a pretty good idea how to pitch, and not how to throw. There's not a lot of throwers out there. [Pedro] Strop's probably the only one. He's going out there on his stuff. Most of the guys have great stuff and deception, but they know how to pitch."
The bullpen has been particularly effective when the pressure's on, with a 1.37 ERA in extra-innings game. After the ninth inning in those games? The relief corps has allowed five earned runs over 60 innings, a 0.75 ERA to go with a 3.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The O's hope to carry that success into the postseason, but there is always the burnout factor, particularly when going into uncharted territory with a largely inexperienced roster. Is there a concern about fatigue for the bullpen?
"You always do [worry]," Showalter said. "And we've had our moments. But we've gotten ahead of it sometimes. Kind of like the starters, how we give some of them five or six days [of rest]. I follow Rick's lead. Rick Adair should be pitching coach of the year. Nobody wants to talk about that. I've been impressed with what he's been able to do with this."