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The art of loving a bad baseball team is in celebrating the minor triumphs, in following the individual characters in the grand drama that is the 162-game season. My Baltimore Orioles have been bad for a really long time. The team has failed to finish with a winning record for 14 consecutive seasons. But I believe that any true fan loves the game first and the team second. The doormats are as much a part of baseball as the perennial powers. Win or lose, baseball still means nine innings of one of the strangest, most wonderful sports on Earth.
Nine innings equal 18 half-innings. Perhaps not coincidentally, 162 games is divisible by 18. And so, my plan for this baseball season is to post about the Orioles every nine games, featuring the players most likely to play a role in each half-inning. Each man has a role to play. The cast of characters is never static, even on the very best teams. Today's conquering hero is tomorrow's goat. Therein lie the stories that make this game so engaging, no matter which team you like.
The Orioles began their 2012 campaign at home and so we launch with the team's starting pitchers. During the franchise's glory years, the Oriole pitching staff was the envy of the sport. Between 1969 and 1980, four different Baltimore pitchers won the AL Cy Young award a total of six times. As good as they were then is about as bad as they've been in our present era. That said, the young Oriole rotation has gotten off to a relatively promising start this year. The Birds hit the nine-game mark with a 5-4 record and pitching has played a crucial role in this early success. What's more, every Baltimore starter has managed to survive the first inning so far! When you love a bad team, you learn not to take that sort of thing for granted.
The Ace: Jake Arrieta
Photo via Wikipedia
It's hard to think of a man who had a 5.05 ERA last year as the ace of the staff but as the opening day starter, Arrieta gets the tag for now. That said, he's off to a pretty good start. The 26-year-old righty is in his third year in the Majors. With two games under his belt so far, his record is 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA. In fact, Arrieta would have been the winning pitcher in his second start but for a blown save opportunity by reliever Luis Ayala. In both games, Arrieta was able to pitch into the seventh inning. Last year, the bullpen was horribly over-extended.
The Second Starter: Tommy Hunter
Photo via Wikipedia
Hunter, a 25-year-old righty from Indianapolis, has also performed well to this point. Also with two starts, he has a 1-0 record with a 2.77 ERA. Two Oriole starters with an ERA under 3? Gotta be pleased with that.
The Veteran: Jason Hammel
Photo via Call to the Pen
Make that three pitchers with an ERA under 3 as Hammel's stands at 2.08, best of the bunch so far. Hammel was acquired in an off-season trade and, at 29, is the old man of the rotation. Asking too much of young pitchers was the club's undoing last year. Are we heading down the same path again?
The Struggling Lefty: Brian Matusz
Photo via The Baseball Index
Here's where the trouble begins. After a very promising rookie campaign in 2010, the lefty Matusz fell apart last year. He missed the first two months of the season with an injury, then was shelled upon his return - less velocity on the fastball cited as an area of major concern. The 2012 season has not begun well. Matusz is 0-2 with a whopping 8.38 ERA.
The Rookie: Wei-Yin Chen
Photo via Baltimore Sports Report
Chen is the mystery man. A dominant pitcher in Japan, the Taiwanese lefty signed with the O's as a free agent during the off-season. His first start was encouraging, only allowing two earned runs over 5 2/3 innings. Eventually, the Birds will need him to pitch deeper into games but for his first Major League appearance, not bad at all.
It's always great to see your team pitching well. The news has certainly been encouraging thus far but I see a couple of big areas of concern so far. The biggest is Matusz, of course. If he can regain his rookie year form, this team has a chance to at least turn some heads. If the nightmare continues, how long can manager Buck Showalter even afford to keep him in the rotation?
The second area of concern for me is stamina. I understand wanting to preserve arms over a long season but unless the starters can consistently make it through at least six innings, the bullpen will once again be overtaxed.
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