Springtime Storylines: Do the Orioles have enough pitching?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  We’re out of the playoff contenders in the AL East and into the also-rans. First up is the faster of the also-rans, the Baltimore Orioles.

The big question: Do the Orioles have enough pitching?

Well, sure, on some level the answer to this question is “no” because, as the old saying goes, you can never be too thin, too rich or have enough pitching.  So I guess the real question is whether the Orioles will have enough pitching to keep them competitive enough so that people don’t get totally discouraged that the O’s are hitting the cover off the ball with nothing to really show for it (that’s too long for the headline, however).

And it was bad last year. Indeed, the Orioles gave up more runs than any team in baseball. And their opponents came by those runs honestly, inasmuch as the O’s also led the league in earned runs and didn’t walk a ton of people (they were actually in the good half of the league in walks allowed).  They just got hit hard, being the only team that allowed over 10 hits a game while leading the league in dingers.

The addition of Kevin Millwood helps matters, as he’ll presumably eat a lot of those innings the Orioles starters upchucked last season.  He’ll be joined by last season’s “ace” Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz and probably Chris Tillman. I say “probably” because, contrary to expectations, Dave Trembley has not simply named Tillman the fifth starter yet, saying there’s an open competition.  I suppose fifth starter competitions are all the rage this year, so why not?

Bergesen, Matusz and Tillman represent the future, however, and a pretty bright one at that.  How quickly they develop will determine how quickly the Orioles go from bad to frisky to genuine contenders.  But they’ll certainly be better this year.

So what else is going on?

  • Pitching is a source of alternating concern and hope, but the Baltimore offense is shaping up to be something special indeed. A middle-of-the-pack group in 2009, sure, but the lineup is chock full of rising stars like Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Luke Scott. There’s reason to worry in the form of Brian Roberts’ lingering injury, but this Orioles team should (a) score a lot of runs this year; and (b) be a lot of fun to watch;
  • Of more concern are the additions of Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada. Tejada has never played third base in the majors. While one would assume the transition to third would work out OK, it’s not a lock that he’ll take to the position quickly or, even if he does, that he’ll be good at it.  Atkins may be a bigger question mark. After a nice run in Colorado he hit the wall last year. There’s not a ton of risk given that he’s in town on a one-year deal, but if he hits like he did last year there’s a big hole in the lineup;
  • The general optimism surrounding this club could actually work against manager Dave Trembley, who I was surprised the Orioles brought back for another year.  Young pitching takes a while to develop, and if it doesn’t develop fast enough to turn that optimism into wins Trembley could find himself out of a job;
  • The Orioles invested $12 million in closer Mike Gonzalez. The same thing I said about Rafael Soriano in the Rays’ preview applies here: he split the closer’s job in Atlanta last year, his first full season after Tommy John surgery, but threw in A LOT of games.  He still struck out over 10 per nine innings, however, so he should be OK if he stays healthy;

So
how are they gonna do?

I like this Orioles team. No, not to actually contend for the playoffs — the three teams ahead of them are just too loaded — but they have a bunch of players I like (and one player’s mother I kind of get a kick out of).  I’m a big fan of Adam Jones in particular and Bergesen, Matusz and Tillman are all guys I’ll make a point of watching on MLB.tv or Extra Innings or whatever watch-every-game solution I settle on in the next couple of days. Can’t help myself. I’m a sucker for young pitching.

Still, we must remember that this was a 98-loss team last year, and even dramatic improvement puts them only in the .500 range.  Feel free to exhibit some optimism, Bawlmer, but just temper it accordingly.  Your time will come.

Prediction: Fourth place, because that’s all The Man will allow in the AL East these days.

Should Dave Roberts have taken Clayton Kershaw out of Sunday’s game?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 29, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will likely be second-guessed heavily during tomorrow’s news cycle. Starter Clayton Kershaw had pitched a terrific ballgame, as is his tendency, but with 114 pitches to his name, Roberts decided to pull him from the game in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on first base.

Roberts opted not for closer Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday, but for another lefty in Adam Liberatore. He was playing the numbers, with the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson coming up. Liberatore, much to Roberts’ chagrin, served up what turned out to be a game-tying triple to Granderson, hitting a rocket to right-center just out of the reach of a leaping Yasiel Puig.

Jansen has, for six years, been one of the game’s elite relievers. Kershaw, though at a high pitch count, doesn’t seem to suffer from the times through the order penalty like most pitchers. Kershaw’s opponents’ OPS facing him for the first time was .525 coming into Sunday. Twice, .597. Three times, .587. Four times, .526 (but this suffers from survivorship bias so it’s not exactly representative).

Furthermore, Kershaw held lefties to a .546 OPS over his career. Liberatore, in 99 plate appearances against lefty hitters, gave up a .575 OPS. Jansen? .560. It seems that, faced with three decisions, Roberts arguably made the worst one. Playing conservative with Kershaw at 114 pitches is defensible, but only if Jansen comes in. If Roberts wanted the platoon advantage, Kershaw should have stayed in.

Luckily for the Dodgers, Mets closer Jeurys Familia didn’t have his best stuff. He loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth on a single and two walks, then gave up a two-run single to Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Jansen came on in the bottom half of the ninth and retired the side in order to pick up his 15th save of the season.

Royals sweep White Sox over the weekend on three late rallies

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 28:  Brett Eibner #12 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates his game-winning RBI single with teammates in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on May 28, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 8-7. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Royals had themselves a pretty good weekend. The quickly fading White Sox, not so much.

On Friday, the Royals fell behind 5-1 after the top of the sixth. They would score once in the bottom of the sixth, four times in the seventh, and once in the eighth to steal a 7-5 win facing pitchers Miguel Gonzalez Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and Nate Jones.

On Saturday, the Royals entered the bottom of the ninth down 7-1. They scored seven runs on closer David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to win 8-7.

On Sunday, the Royals were down 4-2 after the top of the eighth. They plated three runs in the bottom half of the eighth against Jones and Albers, going on to win 5-4.

Coming into the weekend, the Royals were 24-22 in third place. The White Sox were 27-21, a half-game up in first place. Now the Royals are in first place by a game and a half, and the White Sox are in third place, two games out of first.

Here’s video of the Royals’ comeback on Saturday, since it was so unlikely:

Report: Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there”

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 24: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers waits to hit during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 24, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In Saturday’s column for The Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo notes that, according to a scout, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there.” Braun has been bothered by neck and back issues this year, missing on Sunday his eighth start out of the Brewers’ last 14 games, but he has still put up a quality .351/.424/.583 triple-slash line in 170 plate appearances this year.

More importantly for an acquiring team, Braun is in the first year of a five-year, $105 million contract. He’s earning $19 million this season and in the ensuing two seasons, and then his salary decreases slightly to $18 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020, and $15 million if both sides pick up his mutual option (else a $4 million buyout would be exercised).

Per Cafardo, the Astros, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Giants, and White Sox are potential landing spots for Braun.

Mets unhappy with Dodgers’ request to make outfield markings to position fielders

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 28:  The 1986 New York Mets are honored before the game between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field on May 28, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.The New York Mets are honoring the 30th anniversary of the 1986 championship season.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Mets have asked MLB for clarification on the Dodgers’ use of a laser rangefinder for defensive positioning over this weekend’s series at Citi Field. The Dodgers notified the Mets’ ground crew that they wanted to mark certain positions in the outfield grass after determining positions with the rangefinder. The grounds crew said they could leave two marks in center field and one in left field.

However, the grounds crew then went to their superiors and told them that the Dodgers threatened to dig holes in the outfield grass with their cleats, so the grounds crew was then instructed to “erase or obliterate” any of the Dodgers’ markings.

According to Rosenthal, Major League Baseball reinforced a few weeks ago that teams aren’t allowed to use markers to aid defensive positioning. The Dodgers haven’t been accused of doing anything nefarious during a game. Howie Kendrick was seen pulling something out of his pocket in the outfield, but Brett Anderson clarified on Twitter that it was just a piece of paper with notes for defensive positioning.

The series between the Mets and Dodgers has been heated, as Noah Syndergaard was ejected for throwing at Chase Utley on Saturday. Utley then responded by hitting two home runs, one of which was a grand slam. The Mets may have a legitimate concern, or it may just be gamesmanship.