Guest post by Andrew Holly. You can follow him @AndrewDHolly.

Miguel Gonzalez Has Become The Orioles Secret WeaponIt’s creeping toward the end of June and the Baltimore Orioles are proving 2012 was not a fluke.  There are a TON of positives with this ball club.

The offense, led by Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Manny Machado, has been effective while also being multi-faceted.  Forget about leading the AL in homers; when was the last time the O’s were among the league leaders in STOLEN BASES?!?  This team has been fun to watch and the offensive firepower ensures they are NEVER out of a game.

While I truly expect the Orioles to be in the thick of the AL East race the rest of the season, I have one major worry: the pitching staff.

I know…  This isn’t some major revelation.  I haven’t uncovered some secret key to the remaining 2/3rds of the season.  But the problem is still there in front of our faces.  Here are the two overarching issues as I see them:

  • No true Ace on current staff with lack of minor league inventory to trade
  • While recent results are encouraging, the rotation is not consistently getting deep enough into the game to provide sufficient rest for an under-performing bullpen.

What To Do About A #1

To me, a true Ace meets these four criteria:

  1. Dominant Stuff
  2. Control & Command
  3. Consistency
  4. Ability To Last Deep Into the Ballgame

There are only a handful of true aces in MLB and the Orioles (here’s another big surprise) do not currently have one in their rotation.  They have a nice collection of solid pitchers, but no one you can point to right now, unequivocally, and say, “HE is our Ace.”  So can the Orioles make a move to acquire an ace…?

To paraphrase Rick Pitino: Cliff Lee ain’t walking through that door.

As much as I would love to pry away the lefty from the Philadelphia Phillies, short of Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy heading up I-95 there isn’t a package likely enticing enough for the Phillies.  Who else reportedly “on the market” would make a difference?

Would you trade anything of significant value for Matt Garza from the Cubs?  No, thanks!  How about Yovani Gallardo from the Brewers?  I might, depending on the price tag.

Then there are a bunch of guys like Ricky Nolasco from the Marlins and Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris from the Astros.  While these three could possibly be better with the Orioles defense behind them and a consistent offense, are any of the three appreciably better than any of the Orioles top four of Gonzalez, Tillman, Chen, and Hammel?  What about our trio of fifth starters: Gausman, Britton, and Garcia…?  I’m not so sure.

So short of Gallardo (who isn’t an ace) I don’t see anyone that is particularly attractive enough to make a significant move for.  The Orioles have a very limited pool of resources to barter with when talking trade.  By my estimation the Birds have maybe eight prospects other teams would ask for in some combination to complete any deal of substance: Gausman (AAA), Bundy (DL), Schoop (DL), Wright (AA), Hader (A-), E. Rodriguez (A+), Delmonico (A+), and Walker (A+).

It would appear that Gausman and Bundy would be off the table to begin with.  Schoop has been on the DL and will continue to be for at least a few more weeks.  That leaves us with five prospects of any significance (Wright, Hader, Rodriguez, Delmonico, and Walker) to use as trade bait.  While O’s brass and fans may be very high on these five, only Wright has played above the Carolina League at this point.  So unless the O’s decide to part ways with most of or all of their lower-level high-ceiling guys, I personally foresee the Orioles standing pat for the most part in the pitching department.  Sure, maybe a Joe Saunders-like move can be made, but let’s not get too crazy with any deadline deal expectations.

With No Moves, How To Improve

What needs to happen…?  As boring as this may be to those itching to make a deal, the best way I see our pitching improving is through development of those already on the roster.  While I’d love to see one of our current starters develop magically into our ace, I understand that is unlikely.  With that said, the biggest way we can see our pitching improve is for our starters to start getting deeper into ballgames on a more consistent basis.  In my list of four traits of an ace, number four is the one we need to be stressing to our starters the most.  Being smart with their pitch counts and getting deeper will be the perfect remedy for this pitching staff.  They may not perform like an Ace on a consistent basis, but they can still provide quality innings and be horse for the staff.

It’s no secret that the Baltimore bullpen is not as deep as in 2012 with only Hunter, O’Day, Matusz, and Jim Johnson (that four-game stretch in May notwithstanding), deserving any true measure of confidence.  That means we need to keep the pen as fresh as possible.  The only way to do that is to get our starters deeper.  Too many times we’re seeing starters struggle with 20+ pitch innings that kill their chances of getting deep into games consistently.

A perfect example is Chris Tillman’s start against the Rays at Tropicana Field on June 7.  Tillman was cruising through the first 3 innings with an 8-1 cushion, then a 21-pitch 4th and a 32-pitch 6th used up all of his bullets.  With his pitch count at 109, Tillman hit the showers with only getting through 6 innings.  I will grant you that Tillman had a nice game.  I’ll take 6 innings, 3 runs, 2 ER, 5K, 1BB just about any day of the week.  However, after Tillman exits with a 9-3 lead, the bullpen allows four runs and the Orioles walk away with a 10-7 win that shouldn’t have been close.

Tillman basically matched his pitch count from innings 1-3, and 5 (56) with just what he threw in innings 4 and 6 (53).  There has got to be a way to cut those latter two innings down and conserve enough bullets to get into the 7th and 8th.  I don’t want this to sound like an “I hate Tillman” rant, because that couldn’t be further from the truth.  He and Gonzo are the best two on the staff with Chen a close third.  While none of the three would be termed aces at this time, those three (and Hammel) have the talent to at least give the Orioles a rotation of horses they can ride to the playoffs.

With the O’s offense firepower, consistent innings may be all that’s really needed to for 2013 to top the excitement of 2012.