Friday, April 13, 2007

So far, so good...

Going into the 2007 season, many fans were worried about the starting pitching, in particular, how the big three (Bedard, Cabrera and Loewen) would fare. Many also felt that Jared Wright and Steve Trachsel would be horrendous replacements for horrendous pitchers like Bruce Chen, Russ Ortiz and Rodrigo Lopez.

Well, outside of two bad starts from Bedard (on opening day in Minnesota) and Wright (2 days later), the starting pitching has been solid, all the way around. Trachsel has been the biggest surprise so far, pitching to a 2.63 ERA. Trachsel was a late substitute for Kris Benson when he went down for the season, and many thought his age and pitching in the AL for the first time would play a part in his decline. It still may, but Trachsel looks to be a decent replacement for Benson, and an innings eater that this team needs.

Coming in at a close second in the "pleasant surprise" department is Daniel Cabrera. Many were fed up with Cabrera's control, or lack of it, in his last 2 seasons, but in his first 2 starts, Cabrera has only walked 4 batters, and they all came in his first start. Has Cabrera's laser eye surgery helped him with his control? Well it looks that way. But it's still early. As Cabrera showed in his first start, he can still walk more people than he should, but he's also attacking hitters more, and challenging them to hit his stuff. In other words, it looks like he's finally got the confidence he needs to be a good, if not great starting pitcher.

Jared Wright succumbed to his usual arm problems, but not before wowing skeptical fans (myself included) with a solid 5 innings of work against the Tigers on April 10th. His status is up in the air, but it looks like it may not be as bad as initially thought. However, with Wright, you have to think that his arm problems will be a season-long problem. And it should come as no surprise either, since arm problems have plagued Wright for most of his career.

Erik Bedard came back from a shaky start of the season to hold down the Yankees after letting up 3 runs in the first inning, and looks to continue his success against the Royals tonight. Loewen has been solid, but is still walking too many batters (7 in 10 IP), and also needs to go deeper into games. When his stuff is on, however, it baffles fans as much as the opposing batters. If Loewen gets his control under... control, he could easily become the Orioles best pitcher.

I know it's only 10 games, and I know that guys like Steve Trachsel and Jared Wright are statistically average pitchers who are on the decline, but one can't help but be optimistic when looking at the pitching on this team. And for once, it appears as if the bullpen is not going to be a weakness either. Other than the disastrous loss in New York, the bullpen has been lights out.

Even if Wright is out for a long period of time, or becomes ineffective along with Trachsel, we've got a few guys in Jeremy Guthrie, Hayden Penn and Garrett Olson ready to step in make this rotation even younger and more interesting.

The hitting is another issue, but we all knew it would be streaky. Good pitching will easily shut this team down, and hopefully Hernandez and Payton will help the team improve against LHP when they come back from the DL. And hopefully the O's make the right move when they call up the minor league bench player they've been hinting at.

It's still going to be a long season, in my opinion, and I still think we'll be lucky to break even at .500. But from what I see, any problems this team is going to have this season is going to come from the offense, more than the pitching, which is encouraging in and of itself. Hitting is usually abundant in the offseason, and sooner or later, Angelos is going to have to put some of that MASN money to good use, especially if he knows that the pitching problem is pretty much solved.

So looking forward, the Orioles need to beat the bad team and play the good teams close. And in the end, maybe something positive can happen more than just player development.

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