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.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 13, Rays 5: The Yankees scored seven runs in the sixth inning thanks in part to five walks issued that frame by Tampa Bay pitchers. Thairo Estrada, who I had literally never heard of before reading his name in the box score, had a pinch hit three-run double. That’s just how things are going for the Yankees right now. They could lose basically anyone to an injury, put your aunt Tillie in the lineup and she’d go 3-for-5 to lead the Bombers to victory. As it is New York takes two of three from the Rays — a week after taking two of three from them down in Florida — and takes possession of first place in the American League East.

Marlins 3, Mets 0: Let’s leave the woe is Mets stuff to posts specifically about that and instead focus on just how nice an outing Marlins starter Sandy Alcántara had. He tossed a Maddux, shutting out the Mets on only 89 pitches, allowing only two hits while striking out eight and walking only one guy. The whole game took only one hour and fifty-nine minutes, which made me double check to make sure it didn’t take place in 1937 or something. Curtis Grandrson, who I am pretty sure was playing in 1937, homered for Miami. The Fish came into the series with a seven-game losing streak but swept the Mets in three. The final two games were shutouts with Saturday night’s being a one-hitter. New York has lost five in a row.

Red Sox 4, Astros 3: Houston was staked to a 3-1 lead after three but Michael Chavis‘ homer made it 3-2, Xander Bogaerts singled in a run to tie things up in the fifth and then he doubled in a run in the seventh to put Boston up for good. Mookie Betts had three hits and scored three times as the Sox broke the Astros’ ten game winning streak. George Springer left the game in the fifth due to a stiff back. Been there. Ballplayers: they’re just like us!

Phillies 7, Rockies 5: Before I get to this game I want to share something. As some of you might know, I did some family research a couple of years back and discovered all kinds of bloody drama on my mom’s side of the family. That was certainly fun. Yesterday, realizing I know almost nothing about my dad’s side of the family, I decided to go on Ancestry.com and see what I could see. I got lost in all of that stuff for hours and managed to trace back one direct line that, before I shut down to go to dinner, stretched back to England in the late 1500s. That line got to America in the mid-1600s and settled for two generations in . . . Philadelphia. They left by the early 1700s, but I’ve decided that, in the ultimate heel-turn for anyone who remembers how much I used to roast Phillies fans on this blog circa 2009-10, I am going to claim Philadelphia heritage, start calling everything a “jawn” and get super defensive to the point of insanity anytime anyone even suggests that I’m acting obnoxious. Especially, you know, when I’m actually acting obnoxious. Don’t like it? I don’t care. I’ll boo you and then throw a battery at you. Hey, don’t say anything to me. I’m (kinda) from Philly, buddy, and you just don’t get it. Don’t tase me.

As for this jawn, Bryce Harper homered for the second straight day, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run shot in the sixth and driving in three. He woke the hell up against Rockies pitching this weekend, going 5-for-12 with two homers and six driven in in the three-game set and leading Philly to the sweep.

Indians 10, Orioles 0: Shane Bieber went the distance, tossing a five-game shutout while striking out fifteen O’s batter. Mercy. I know Baltimore is kinda like a Quadruple-A team in a lot of respects but that’s still a hell of an outing. He struck out Chris Davis and Dwight Smith Jr. four times a piece. He had plenty of support here too. Carlos Santana homered, Mike Freeman hit a two-run double and Oscar Mecardo, Carlos González, Roberto Pérez and José Ramirez also drove in runs. Cleveland takes three of four. Baltimore has lost nine of eleven games.

Dodgers 8, Reds 3: Hyun-Jin Ryu shut the Reds out over seven innings to extend his scoreless innings streak to 31. He allowed five hits and issued one walk while striking out five. His ERA is now 1.52. Alex Verdugo drove in three, Russell Martin added a solo homer and Cody Bellinger homered as well and he’s now hitting .405/.485/.791 and is on a 57 homer, 149 RBI pace. I think I said something last week about Christian Yellich looking to repeat as NL MVP but he’s gonna need a big Bellinger slump to make that happen.

Brewers 3, Braves 2: Ben Gamel led off the 10th inning with a solo homer to give the Brewers the lead and, ultimately, the win. All five runs in this game came on solo shots with Yelich and Keston Hiura going deep for Milwaukee and Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman hitting ’em out for Atlanta. Freeman has homered in four straight games. Those two homers were all Milwaukee starter Brandon Woodruff allowed, scatting five hits over eight innings of work. The Braves lost but they did get some good news as Mike Foltynewicz himself allowed only two runs over six which, given how he’s been shelled of late, was a good sign.

Blue Jays 5, White Sox 2: This one was tied at one heading into the eighth but the Jays plated a pair in each of the last two innings to earn a split of the four-game set. Vlad Guerrero Jr. is getting hot. He homered — his fourth homer in six games — and is 7-for-21 with nine RBI over those six.

Rangers 5, Cardinals 4: Dexter Fowler homered in the ninth to force extras and Paul DeJong hit a sac fly in the tenth to put the Rangers’ back against the wall, but the Rangers rallied with Willie Calhoun singling in Rougned Odor in the bottom half to tie things up and Nomar Mazara hitting a walkoff sac fly to end the game. Texas took two of three from St. Louis, has won four of five overall. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have lost five straight series and haven’t won back-to-back games since taking five April 30/May 1.

Giants 3, Diamondbacks 2: Pablo Sandoval‘s tenth inning pinch-hit homer gives the Giants the W. Fun fact: Sandoval, despite being given up for dead not all that long ago, posting a line of .300/.326/.675 and is on a 25-homer pace despite not playing full time. Every team has to have an All-Star representative. My guess is that it’ll be some rando reliever, but if Dave Roberts has any sense of fun he’ll pick Sandoval. Both because it’d make a good story but also because Sandoval gets a $50,000 bonus if he makes an All-Star team and the Boston Red Sox, still paying on that five-year deal they gave him, would have to pay it.

Royals 5, Angels 1: Danny Duffy allowed one run over six to help the Royals salvage one in this three-game set and snap their four-game losing streak. According to the AP story, Duffy’s father was in the stands, “as part of the team trip for Royals dads.” I’m picturing an entire section of the stadium just rotten with shiny white New Balances, jean shorts, tucked-in t-shits, unnecessary belts and transition lenses.

Pirates 6, Padres 4: Colin Moran hit a three-run homer and El Cajon native Joe Musgrove pitched into the seventh to get the win. I added that bit because I really like to say “El Cajon.” It’s a very satisfying city/boulevard name to say.

Mariners 7, Twins 4: Edwin Encarnacion hit a three-run homer and Mitch Haniger and Daniel Vogelbach hit back-to-back shots to end the M’s three-game skid. Yusei Kikuchi allowed one earned run in six, striking out six.

Cubs 6, Nationals 5: The Cubs led 6-1 after their half of the six but a three-run homer from Anthony Rendon and a solo shot from Howie Kendrick made things close by the seventh. Joe Maddon called on Steve Cishek that inning and he stayed in the rest of the game, snagging a two-and-a-third inning save, which is not something you see much of these days. That’s some John Hiller stuff there. Don’t know who John Hiller is? Educate yourself, man. The guy had multiple heart attacks one offseason but still came back and, two years later, put up one of the best seasons ever recorded by a relief pitcher. He was unstoppable. He was like the John Wick of 1970s relief pitchers. Yet, somehow, hardly anyone talks about the guy.

Athletics 5, Tigers 3 — SUSPENDED:

Well I don’t know why I came here tonight,
I got the feeling that something ain’t right,
I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair,
And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs,
Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you