Arguably, the most important part of a baseball team is the pitching. Playoff teams prove it year in and year out, and a #1 starter seems to be as important as the entire rotation. A veteran presence that can shut down an opposing team’s bats is essential.
The Orioles lack this #1 and have since Mike Mussina left. Eric “one-hit-wonder” Bedard was as close as we have gotten, well statistically, at least. In 2006, he had 15 wins. In 2007, he had 13 wins with 221k’s in 184 innings, only to be shut down due to injury then shipped off to Seattle for Adam Jones and Chris Tillman, overall, a successful trade for sure. Current #1 Jeremy Guthrie seems to be the closest we have to a pure ace. His stats aren’t quite Bedard’s, but now in his 5th season in an O’s uniform, he can at least be a veteran presence for the team’s young staff.
The Orioles need to get serious about bringing in one more veteran arm capable of winning 15 games and carrying the young guys. Off-season acquisition Justin Duchscherer, who will start the season on the DL, seems like more of a gamble than ever. The cost was small, and I like the guys upside, but the chances of the gamble paying off are slim. Guthrie could be the guy; his ERA was 3.80 last ,and, with the new lineup, it’s possible to boost his wins up to 15 or more with run support. If you’re wondering why I’m not pushing for a big-time 20-win, 200-K guy, it’s because, between Brian Matusz and Zach Britton, I think we have that guy for the future. My concern is having someone who can mentor these young guys, as it’s quite possible they could become stars. There would be nothing worse than one of them going all Sidney Ponson and become more famous for eating or, worse, a DUI arrest. Millwood provided veteran presence last year, but made it perfectly clear he was not returning. “We’re not his first choice” or some crap like that; have fun at Triple-A New York this season, Kevin.
In order to be a playoff team, the Orioles need that presence. The staff is so young that we could have a San Francisco situation: three young pitchers with over 13 wins and ERAs under 3.50, along with a rookie, Bumgarner, going 7-6 with a 3.00 ERA in 18 starts. Anything’s possible, and the scenarios are countless, But numbers don’t lie, and the average wins of a playoff team’s #1 starter last year was 17.87 with an average ERA of 3.19. I, for one, hope Guthrie is our guy. And by no means do I think the Orioles are a playoff team this year; 82 wins would reach most fans expectation. If, at the end of this season, the O’s have young arms pushing their way up the rotation and no veteran to guide them, they’ll need to look this coming off season for that guy and write the check.