MLB: It Is Actually HOW You Start That Matters

Brian MarkhamCorrespondent IApril 17, 2008

What are the differences between the good teams and the great teams? 

What allowed the Red Sox to dig out of that 3-2 game hole against Cleveland last year and go on to win the World Series? 

When we look back on the great games of our lifetime what do we usually think of? 

Hint: Jack Morris, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, David Cone, and John Smoltz.

If you said starting pitching, you're right.  And guess what?  Unfortunately, the 2008 Baltimore Orioles don't have enough to get them through the season. 

When you look at the landscape of the AL East, you see so much depth in starting pitching.  Even the Rays are now having starting pitching controversies.  The Rays! 

What universe are we in again? 

Just think to yourself: If Andy Pettitte gets hurt, or Josh Beckett, or Roy Halladay, or Scott Kazmir (ding! that actually happened!), who can their teams bring up to fill the void?  Well, they've got someone; either a reliever who can step in or fill the role of starter, or a major league ready minor leaguer. 

The O's?  Well, Hayden Penn, what's up?

Right now, the O's starting five looks like this: Jeremy Guthrie, Steve Trachsel, Daniel Cabrera, Brian Burres, and Adam Loewen.  Loewen is off of elbow surgery and has not regained the brilliance/luck that made people wonder early last year if he was coming into his own. 

Trachsel is an innings-eater.  Cabrera is still more unpredictable than your girlfriend.  Burres - see Daniel Cabrera (with less Ks).  Guthrie is a great #3 starter but he has some big shoes to fill for now.  Time will tell if he can do it or not.  Sorry folks, this won't get it done.  I don't think this shocks anyone in reality. 

They aren't SUPPOSED to be good this year and this is why.  For the record; I believe that Cabrera, Loewen, and Guthrie can all be very good, above-average major league pitchers.  I'm just not betting the farm on it yet.

Here is the shame of it: the Orioles bullpen has been lights out (sort of) so far.  Dennis Sarfate, save one inning, has looked dynamite.  Randor Bierd has been unhittable.  George Sherrill is my friend Colm's hero these days and will no doubt be traded for Jay Bruce at the All-Star break (just kidding Reds fans). 

Which leads me back to my headline - when it comes to wins and losses, it IS how you start and how you finish.  You think the O's will be psyched to come back against Mariano Rivera or Jonathan Papelbon more than  handful of times this season?  No way; that's frickin' murder.  They need to get in a position where they don't ever have to see these guys to begin with and you do that by throwing quality starts and scoring runs. 

The O's actually have a bunch of guys who will work the count, get good at-bats, and push guys across the plate.  None of that matters though if the opposing team is up 5 - 0 after the first half inning, they have Dice-K/Beckett/Halladay on the mound, and you've already got a long man in the game (enter the so-far-so-good Matt Albers).

Look, bullpens are unpredictable.  When a guy is coming in with the game on the line 50 times a year, they're going let a few get away.  This is going to happen to the O's this season also.  My point is that without consistent and effective starting pitching there might not be a lead to give away.

When the starting pitching gets in order I think you'll see the bullpen scrutinized more.  With that all being said, you've at least got to be happy with some of the arms in the 'pen.  That and you've got Rocky Cherry sidelined temporarily and Chris Ray and Danys Baez rehabbing their Tommy John'd elbows. 

Speedy recovery guys - feeling like starting?