Apparently, the Baltimore Orioles front office is leaving next season all up to the young starters again.
Gee, that sure as heck fared well during the 2011 season.
But on a serious note, it appears as though the success of the Orioles will depend on how the group of young pitchers, particularly Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton, grow and blossom.
The two pitchers mentioned above definitely weren't terrible last year. Britton put up a nice season for any rookie pitcher, but he isn't content with it. Arrieta had his faults, but was astronomically better than either Chris Tillman or Brian Matusz were.
(Matusz put up the worst single-season earned run average of any starting pitcher in history with at least 10 starts during the season.)
Ideally, Britton will only improve, Arrieta will come back from bone spur surgery and continue to grow and Matusz will return to the form he showed in late 2010. If that happens—and that's a huge if—then that puts the Orioles in a great position to make a run at a winning record, and maybe a Wild Card contender if they're lucky.
After all, good young pitching is a big key to winning. Just ask the Tampa Bay Rays, or the 2010 World Series champion San Francisco Giants. The Orioles offense is better than either of those teams' offenses, but their league-worst pitching is what kills them.
At least this coming season, there's going to be a lot more pitching depth to take the pressure off the youngsters and staff veteran Jeremy Guthrie. Orioles general manager Dan Duquette has added to the major-league ready starting pitching depth with the additions of Dana Eveland and Japanese imports Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen.
Of the three, Chen seems to be the only sure thing for next season's rotation out of spring training, and the pitcher with the most upside.
However, all three present better options than what former GM Andy MacPhail brought in last season to provide depth: an oft-injured Justin Duchscherer who was a low-risk, high-reward option, but only ended up throwing two innings for the Orioles in spring training, and never donned the O's uniform in another game.
And there's also Alfredo Simon, who can step in and make some starts if another starter becomes injured or is ineffective.
The outlook for the pitching staff currently looks a bit better for this year than it was in 2011. However, the Orioles will not compete unless the pitching staff is improved and/or the young starters make huge strides during the season. The most realistic optimistic expectation is to hope for the pitchers to improve and the Orioles to have a 70- to 80-win season.
This team needs a lot of work, on every front of the game. But if the pitching improves greatly, then so would the team's record. The offense and defense are good enough to help the pitching win, if the pitching can help the offense and defense.
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