Joe Saunders Is BACK (And So Are The Taxibirds)

Sam DingmanContributor IJune 15, 2009

So!  How far have we come since Friday?  Rocketing north in the standings from fifth to third on the backs of our mighty pitching rotation, that's how far.  Here, in summary, are the outings we got from our starters this weekend:

  • Friday
    Rick Porcello pitched 7 innings of 6-hit ball, allowing only 1 earned run and walking only 1, good enough for the win against the Pirates.
  • Saturday
    Joe Saunders returned to the form we saw consistently before his recent 3-start skid, tossing 8.1 innings, allowing only 7 hits, 1 walk, 1 run, and striking out 5.
    Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh, the Taxibirds switched dugouts, benefiting from another Zach Duke gem: 8 innings, six hits, 3 earned runs, picking up his 7th victory.
    George Sherrill gave us a mostly insignificant, but still helpful inning of scoreless relief in a non-save situation.
  • Sunday
    Jered Weaver continued to pay even bigger dividends than we were hoping for, hurling his third complete game in a masterful shutout of the Padres, winning his 7th game and lowering his ERA to 2.08.
    We will not speak of Derek Lowe's drubbing at the hands of the Orioles, because it was both atypical as well as extremely exciting to watch as a Balitmore fan (but more on that later).   Seven runs in three-plus innings is horrible, but that's only twice this year he's been knocked around that hard, and I'm not overly concerned.

We also got a four-hit game from Brian Roberts, who has his average back up to .299, a couple dingers from Jason Kubel (who has 11 in 56 games, compared with 20 all of last year), one from Adam Jones (particularly encouraging given he and the rest of the Bird's recent outage), and another from Yunel Escobar, which unfortunately came against the Orioles, and also unfortunately preceded his getting benched by Bobby Cox in the third game of the O's-Braves series for lack of hustle.  Fantasy obviously doesn't measure things like that, but it incenses me when multi-million dollar athletes can't be bothered to give a damn, and Escobar in particular has good reason to hustle--he's having a great season (.293-6-33 so far), and the Braves are very much in the hunt for the NL wild-card. We also saw another 2-hit game from Matt Wieters, whose patience continues to pay off.  All in all, third place, with some real distance between us and NextPlease, with a lot of our big home run and average guys getting healthy again (we picked up all our points without the usually-reliable Miguel Cabrera, who had a quiet weekend), our pitchers in a collective groove, and Wieters the Secret Weapon beginning to find his stroke is an excellent position to be in.

Speaking of Wieters, he wasn't the only Oriole who found his bat this weekend.  After their much-ballyhooed power-outage of the last few weeks (averaging 1.9 runs per game in June before this weekend), Baltimore exploded for 19 runs in the final two games of the Atlanta series--and they didn't sacrifice quality pitching in doing so in the process, which is normally how it goes.  Brian Roberts went 4-for-5 on Saturday, and stole serveral bases in the series, Adam Jones broke out of his home-run draught, Ty Wigginton (finally) found his power stroke, and Robert Andino continued to fill in admirably for Cesar Izturis.  Markakis still needs to get the monkey off his back, but he's starting to drive the ball again, even on fly-ball outs, and we were never particularly concerned about his long-term well-being, were we?  Right guys (brushes beads of sweat from brow)?

OH MY GOD BRAD BERGESEN IS AWESOME.  Double-B fired off his second stud outing in a row on Sunday, with a complete game victory over the Braves (following his 8-inning performance last week).  Bergesen improved to 4-2, lowered his ERA to 3.79, and cemented his status as the de facto ace of the Orioles staff.  With Guthrie's ongoing unreliability, Berken's  struggles to find his footing, Uehara's apparent inability to pitch past the 5th inning, and Rich Hill's continued problem with walks, Bergesen has emerged as the one reliable starter who will take the team deep into the game and give them a chance to win every time out.  This could all change, obviously, but the poise Bergesen has shown of late reflects more maturity than your garden-variety rookie hot streak.  Bergesen gets outs by working quickly and keeping his pitch count down--he threw only 93 pitches in his 8-inning outing last week and 112 in yesterdays complete game--and doesn't have lights-out stuff by anyone's estimation.  He's a smart, efficient pitcher who trusts his defense to get the job done, and while he may never develop into a Cy Young-caliber hurler, he's the only beacon of hope in the Orioles rotation at the moment.  My hunch is that things will continue to improve with the arrival of Jake Arrieta (who was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk this weekend) and Chris Tillman.  When you consider the option of dealing Mora or Huff for a Mark Buerhle/Jon Garland caliber veteran, and if you figure Wieters' upward trajectory has only just begun, it is easy to get stars in your eyes relatively quickly--assuming, of course, that Tillman and Arrieta arrive and instantly become Lincecum-clones.  Which, pitfalls of blind optimism be damned, I am going to go ahead and figure is 100% guaranteed.