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Painful Memories - A Baltimore Orioles preview

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A look ahead at our second opponent on our AL East road trip

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We begin with a recent history of Orioles starting rotations.

2008: Jeremy Guthrie is the only pitcher to start double-digit games and post an ERA under 5.00. The Orioles churn through 13 different starting pitchers. Matt Albers and Steve Trachsel throw 11 starts combined. Total fWAR: 3.4; MLB rank: 30th

2009: Guthrie continues to eat innings. Future closer Koji Uehara throws 12 inspiring starts. Future nominal ace Chris Tillman throws 12 extremely uninspiring starts. Rich Hill and Adam Eaton (pitcher version) combine for 21 starts and post ERAs of 7.53 and 8.56, respectively. Total fWAR: 5.8; MLB rank: 29th

2010: Things get a bit more respectable. Though Tillman is yet again below replacement level, Brian Matusz breaks out for a 3.0 WAR season and Guthrie continues to do LAIM things. A young pitcher named Jake Arrieta makes his debut and doesn't embarrass himself, though the results aren't great. Total fWAR: 8.4; MLB rank: 24th

2011: Uh oh. Matusz yields a whopping 18 home runs in 12 starts and posts a 10.69 ERA to go along with a 1-9 record. Tillman still hasn't figured things out. Uehara is traded for Tommy Hunter (and Chris Davis!), who does an uninspiring turn in the Orioles' rotation. Rookie lefty groundballer Zach Britton, pitches an okay season. Guthrie throws another 203 innings of league-average baseball. Total fWAR: 4.4; MLB rank: 29th

2012: The Rockies traded for Jeremy Guthrie! Fortunately, Jason Hammel is acquired in the trade and more or less fills his shoes. Wei-Yin Chen is acquired and he tosses the first of four consecutive third-starterish seasons for the Orioles. Miguel Gonzalez is acquired and he tosses the first of four consecutive fourth-starterish seasons for the Orioles. Arrieta posts a 6.13 ERA. Tillman posts a 2.93 ERA. Arrieta's FIP is lower than Tillman's FIP. Hunter implodes further, Randy Wolf shows up for some reason. The Orioles win a bajillion one-run games. Guthrie washes out of Colorado, joins the Kansas City Royals, and begins torturing the White Sox. Total fWAR: 10.0; MLB rank: 18th

2013: Back to reality. Tillman finally pitches a full season and becomes the third starter he was destined to be. Hammel starts Opening Day because the Orioles don't get to have above-average pitchers. Matusz is now the primary LOOGY in the pen. 22-year-old hard-throwing Kevin Gausman makes his debut and gets torched for home runs, starting a trend of his hype exceeding his results. Britton turns into a bust. Freddy Garcia makes ten awful starts. The Orioles trade Arrieta for Scott Feldman to augment their failed playoff push. Guthrie holds the White Sox to a .233/.280/.362 line. Total fWAR: 6.8; MLB rank: 28th

2014: Excluding one start given to T.J. McFarland, the Orioles only use six starters. Gausman takes a big step forward. The Orioles acquire Ubaldo Jimenez and he forgets his strike zone map, walking five-and-a-half per nine. Hunter and Britton are moved to the bullpen. The latter finds his stuff plays up in relief and he grabs hold of the closer role; he still has it today. Arrieta racks up 5.0 WAR for the Cubs. Guthrie holds the White Sox to a .225/.328/.261 line. The Orioles still don't have anything resembling at least a number-two starter. The Orioles win 96 games. Total fWAR: 9.6; MLB rank: 22th

2015: Jimenez randomly bounces back. The Orioles got some excitement from Mike Wright, a pitcher who came up and threw zeroes for 14.1 innings across two starts. Mike Wright then allowed nine home runs in his next 30 innings of work and can't strike major league hitters out. Arrieta wins a Cy Young award with the Cubs. The White Sox finally get to Guthrie to the tune of a 1.077 OPS. Total fWAR: 9.3; MLB rank: 18th

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The Orioles have shown no aptitude whatsoever for putting together a starting pitching staff. You have to go all the way back to 2007 to find an Orioles starter (Erik Bedard) that accumulated in excess of 3.0 WAR in a season. The story looks much the same this year as the rotation includes familiar faces Tillman, Jimenez, Wright, Gausman (though he may yet fulfill his promise) and currently-injured Yovani Gallardo. They've failed time and time again to generate starting pitching from within and are once again counting on the rest of the team to make up for this shortcoming.

In some ways, the Orioles can feel justified in that plan. They've made the postseason two times in the last four years despite their rotation issues. However, the 2012 Orioles were what Pythagoras might call the luckiest team ever. The 2014 Orioles clubbed a league-leading 211 homers and had the league's second-most efficient defense. To make the playoffs, Baltimore will once again need to coax greatness out of their position players. Fortunately, they've got a good crop of those.

In an era in which everyone is living in the shadows of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout and players like Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa are bursting onto the scene, it's really easy to forget that Manny Machado is one of the greatest players in the game today. Machado is an outstanding defensive third baseman and does it all on offense. Last season, he swiped 20 bags and hit 35 home runs while hitting for average. This year, he's off to a very hot start and leads the American League in fWAR as of this writing.

Catcher Matt Wieters returned from Tommy John surgery last season and the switch-hitter more or less returned to his old form offensively. Getting league-average hitting from the catcher position is nice. Unfortunately, Wieters is no longer the stellar defensive backstop he was when he first burst into the league, a trend that began before he went under the knife.

It's a bit odd that the Orioles got off to the hot start they did without the usual consistent production from center fielder Adam Jones, who has been slumping horribly this year. Generally, Jones is a very productive player who can hit for a high average and deliver near 30 home runs. There's something to be said for patient hitters who take their walks, but Jones is proof that a player can still rack up lots of value with the bat even if the base on balls isn't really his thing.

Of course, there's been plenty of players that have been able to pick up the slack for Jones. One such player is 24-year-old leadoff hitter Joey Rickard, who has been a pleasant surprise in Baltimore. The rookie didn't have much of a prospect pedigree, but got on base in half his plate appearances in the first two games of the season from the 9-hole and that's been enough for Buck Showalter to trust him at the top of the lineup ever since. Although he's a speedster, Rickard has yet to flash the base stealing ability he showed in the minor leagues.

Rickard and Machado set the table for Jones and the powerful cornerstone of the Orioles' future, Chris Davis. Over the past four seasons, Davis has led the major leagues in homers twice and strikeouts once. He generally fans in about a third of his plate appearances and turned 30 years old in March. Despite Davis' age, the profile of a one-dimensional slugger, and the fact that no other teams even appeared to be seriously bidding, general manager Dan Duquette horribly misread the position player market and handed Davis a seven-year, $161 million deal as if he was in a race to make the worst move of the offseason (he lost to Dave Stewart). Davis is still among the best hitters in the game, but the Orioles are taking a huge gamble that it'll last.

That gamble will have to pay off, because if the Orioles' pitching development woes continue, Davis will have to help Machado and Jones keep Baltimore relevant in the perpetually tough AL East. The Orioles' recent stretch has been equal parts exciting and surprising, but now they face a very real risk of reverting to also-ran status. With little in the way of significant non-Machado competitive advantages to point to, the Orioles face a tough road ahead.

Jeremy Guthrie is in the San Diego Padres organization, pitching for the El Paso Chihuahuas. His ERA is 11.50.

Projected Record and Finish: 80-82, 4th place AL East

Probable Starting Pitchers

  • Thursday, April 28: John Danks vs. Tyler Wilson
  • Friday, April 29: Carlos Rodon vs. Mike Wright
  • Saturday, April 30: Mat Latos vs. Kevin Gausman
  • Sunday, May 1: Chris Sale vs. Ubaldo Jimenez

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. Joey Rickard - LF

SP1. Chris Tillman - RHP

2. Manny Machado - 3B

SP2. Ubaldo Jimenez - RHP

3. Adam Jones - CF

SP3. Kevin Gausman - RHP

4. Chris Davis - 1B

SP4. Mike Wright - RHP

5. Mark Trumbo - RF

SP5. Tyler Wilson - RHP

6. Matt Wieters - C

CL. Zach Britton - LHP

7. J.J. Hardy - SS

RP1. Darren O'Day - RHP

8. Pedro Alvarez - DH

RP2. T.J. McFarland - LHP

9. Jonathan Schoop - 2B

RP3. Brad Brach - RHP