Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bedard and Guthrie give the Orioles hope

Over the last two days against the hated New York Yankees, the Orioles received two very encouraging starts from Jeremy Guthrie and Erik Bedard. On Tuesday, Guthrie struck out six while only giving up two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings. He ended up with a no-decision, but Guthrie battled against Andy Pettitte and a tough NY lineup. He made only one mistake -- hanging a slider to Johnny Damon for a two-run HR. But he kept the Orioles in the game when runs were hard to come by, and the O's eventually won in the 9th inning when Scott Proctor forced in the winning when when he walked Ramon Hernandez with the bases loaded.

On Wednesday, Bedard squared off against the always formidable Roger Clemens. Looking unhittable at times, Bedard allowed only two hits and walked one while striking out eight bewildered Yanks in seven scoreless innings. Surprisingly, the bullpen held the lead for the Orioles, and led by Bedard's great performance, they shut the Yankees out 4-0.

Even though the Yankees have been struggling all season, they still have a talent-laden lineup that can strike at any time. But Guthrie and Bedard tamed this team on consecutive days, and the Orioles have arguably looked the best they have all year. After viewing these last two games, I was extremely impressed by the talent that Guthrie and Bedard both possess.

Bedard has seemingly put all the pieces together and is starting to pitch up to his skill level. With the help of Leo Mazzone, Bedard is trusting his stuff and is leading the MLB in strikeouts with 129. In his start last night, Bedard mixed and matched his fastball and curveball effectively. He handcuffed hitters throughout the game, and no one in the Yankees lineup looked comfortable at all.

Guthrie is a name that very few Orioles' fans had even heard of before the season began. But current O's manager Dave Trembley, who had seen Guthrie pitch in the minors over a couple seasons, urged the Orioles' front office to sign Guthrie and give him a chance. The Orioles did just that, and Guthrie took his opportunity in the starting rotation early in the season and ran with it. So far, he's passed all of the tests placed upon him with flying colors and has a stunning 2.45 ERA, which ranks second in the AL behind the A's Dan Haren.

Every time these pitchers step to the mound, they give the O's a chance to win. Combined the two only have 10 wins between them, which says more about how the rest of the team has played than their abilities to win and finish games. They have been two bright spots on a team littered with missed opportunities and wasted potential. Guthrie and Bedard are both 28 years old and have helped secure a starting rotation that has been, to be polite, very mediocre over the last several years.

Daniel Cabrera, another promising young talent for the Orioles, on the other hand, has been average at best for the O's this year. Cabrera has a high ERA of 4.98 and has already walked 49 batters. But the crazy thing with Cabrera is that, in between some bad starts, he occasionally shows flashes of brilliance. In the middle of June, Cabrera had two bad starts in a row against the overachieving Nationals and the surprising Diamonbacks. He gave up seven and five earned runs respectively in two losses. But in his next start in Arizona on June 22nd in a rematch with the Diamondbacks, Cabrera took a no-hitter into the 6th inning. He left after the 6th because of a high pitch count, but Cabrera pitched effectively to lead the O's to victory.

Cabrera has always been a pitcher with a high ceiling. He has so much talent, yet at times he looks completely lost on the mound, frequently unable to harness his abilities and simply throw strikes. He has an explosive fastball and a nasty slider, but besides those two pitches, he never throws anything else -- no change-up, no splitter, no sinker. Does he need a third pitch? Probably, but that doesn't mean that his control should be so terrible in long stretches. Anyway, Cabrera was supposed to break out either last season or this one, and he hasn't pitched particularly well.

The point is this -- if Cabrera can ever maintain some consistency and pitch to the talent level he owns, the Orioles could have three solid and relatively young (Cabrera is only 26) starting pitchers to build around. The O's farm system also has strong pitching talent with names like Olsen, Liz, Doyne, Hoey, Penn, and Erbe. And Adam Loewen, who also has an incredibly high ceiling, pitched well before his season-ending injury in May. If the O's and Leo Mazzone keep pushing and working with Cabrera, the O's could potentially have a rotation with some combination of Bedard, Guthrie, Cabrera, Loewen, and Penn/Olsen/Erbe. That's a solid core right there to build around, and the O's could contend with teams for years, especially if they ever received consistent efforts from the bullpen.

Is this a lot to hope for? Sure, I guess, but compiling a starting rotation with mostly homegrown talent is a lot less safer than taking huge risks; just the name Carl Pavano should be scary enough to strike fear into the hearts of any fans waiting for a free agent pitcher to produce.

There's no doubt that the Orioles possess some promising talent in the farm system, and the next few months, which always seems like the case, will be very important for a club still searching for an identity. But I believe these guys should be the direction the O's go in. Guys like David Segui, Albert Belle, Sammy Sosa, the latest Rafael Palmerio aquisition, and, sadly, Miguel Tejada, just haven't helped the team at all. They've all only added to the disappointment, and very rarely do the O's trust a group of young guys to turn the team around. That doesn't mean free agents can't be signed or smart trades can't be made, but building around this young pitching core and hitters like Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts should be the plan the O's front office makes.

Who would have thought before the season that the starting pitching staff would be the part of the team to build around? I wasn't one of them -- but I'm definitely a believer now.


Apparently the NBA Draft is tonight, and not this weekend, so the running blog will be posted tonight. My mistake on the previous post.

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