The weather is warm, the grills are cooking and the calendar has flipped to spring. Orioles baseball is right around the corner and droves of orange clad Birds fans will be lining the streets outside of Camden Yards in only a couple of weeks.
Baseball season has not been memorable for over a decade in Baltimore, but make no bones about it, if the Birds are competitive there is a buzz in this town like no other. Sadly, this is shaping up to be a season much like the last 14 in Baltimore with a whole lot of questions and not enough answers.
However, there is one major question that if answered properly and successfully could lead to some playoff baseball in Charm City: Who should be in the Orioles starting rotation?
This is the biggest and most important question surrounding the Orioles in 2012. This is also the one that will determine if the Birds have their first winning season in 15 seasons or once again are relegated to the AL East cellar.
You know it’s bad when the last three texts you get about the Orioles are Jason Hammel pitching into the 5th (something that shouldn’t be a big deal), Tommy Hunter losing his debut and, worst of all, Zach Britton likely being sidelined for four weeks. It seems like when it rains it pours and the Britton injury is a major blow to the staff, but hopefully one that won’t hurt too bad.
“Grow the arms, buy the bats” was the Orioles mantra under Andy MacPhail and now it’s time to see how “grown” those arms are.
The best news surrounding the Orioles this spring has to be the reemergence of Brian Matusz and his fastball, both of which were found on the back of milk cartons just a few months ago. In 15 innings this spring Matusz has yielded four earned runs and also showed the velocity that has been missing since he tore is intercostal muscle.
In many people’s opinion, mine included, Matusz is the key to this staff. He has shown he can be successful and possibly be a number one, but then he has also shown that he can get hit around and look like nothing better than an average pitcher. With Britton likely on the shelf for six weeks, Matusz is going to have to shoulder the load of the pitching (luckily for him he doesn’t have to intercostal the load.)
With Matusz my choice to toe the rubber at 4:05 on April 6th, the question still remains on the other four starters. Certainly Britton is a shoe-in once he comes back fully healthy. This gives the Orioles a talented top of the rotation, if they both can stay injury-free.
To determine the rest of the staff, Buck Showalter could probably just throws darts at a board and see whose name it lands on. I have always been a Jake Arrieta fan and, with him being fully healthy this season, he should win about 15 games.
Rounding out the rest of the staff I believe will be Tommy Hunter and Wei-Yin Chen with Jason Hammel filling in until Britton returns in May. Certainly this is not a staff of names that will strike fear in the hearts of hitters, but it is one that has shown individual success in spurts. If they can have those spurts consistently then they can be very formidable.
One thing is certain surrounding the Baltimore Orioles pitchers in 2012 – they are all going to pitch. It’s just a matter of where in the game they come in and for how long.
Certainly this year’s Orioles starters won’t contain four 20-game winners like the Palmer, Dobson, Cueller and McNally staff which was the greatest Orioles rotation ever. They should, though, be better than the likes of Rocky Coppinger, Omar Daal, Daniel Cabrera or any other mediocre staff the Orioles fielded over the past plus-decade.
Like anyone who owns a T-Mobile phone (is there anyone that does?) the Orioles are going to have to choose their “5.” Let’s just hope they choose the right ones.