There's mound of reasons to pick O's in six

October 08, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

Scott Kamieniecki likely would have started tonight if the Seattle series had gone five games. Manager Davey Johnson then would have faced a decision -- pitch Kamieniecki again in Game 5 or start Scott Erickson, Mike Mussina and Jimmy Key on three days' rest in 5, 6 and 7, if necessary.

Of course, the Orioles avoided that problem.

The Cleveland Indians did not.

Their record was 11 1/2 games worse than the Orioles in the regular season, and they needed five games to defeat the New York Yankees, leaving their already questionable starting rotation at a disadvantage in the American League Championship Series.

Orioles killer Chad Ogea, the Indians' version of Kamieniecki, will pitch on three days' rest tonight. Charles Nagy, Orel Hershiser and Jaret Wright will follow, then return on three days' rest for games 5, 6 and 7, if the Indians can extend this series to its full length.

That's doubtful.

The Orioles should win in six games.

Such optimism was not warranted before the Seattle series, but it is now.

Anything can happen with the overly rested Kamieniecki likely to start once and the struggling Key twice, and with reliever Arthur Rhodes ailing. But the Orioles have the better rotation, the better bullpen and the better manager. And, with the Indians throwing four right-handers, they'll again put their best lineup on the field.

That might not have happened against the Yankees, who could have started left-handers Andy Pettitte, David Wells and Kenny Rogers against the Orioles. But Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro will start every game against Cleveland, with Jeff Reboulet and Jerome Walton returning to the bench.

Johnson can opt for either Harold Baines or Geronimo Berroa as his designated hitter -- Baines is left-handed, but Berroa is a career .358 hitter against the Indians. B. J. Surhoff and Brady Anderson will occupy two outfield spots. The other could rotate among Eric Davis, Jeffrey Hammonds and even Berroa.

In the Seattle series, the Orioles' approach was to get into the Mariners' bullpen. Against Cleveland, it figures to be just the opposite. Of the Indians' starters, only Wright is overpowering. The Orioles' goal will be to take early leads and prevent Cleveland's bullpen specialists from shortening the game.

Paul Assenmacher is the Indians' Jesse Orosco, Mike Jackson their Armando Benitez, Jose Mesa their Randy Myers. But beyond those three, manager Mike Hargrove can't match up the way he did in past seasons. The starters don't pitch deep into games. The other relievers can't be trusted. It's a potentially explosive mix.

In the past three seasons, the Indians' team ERA has risen from 3.83 to 4.34 to 4.73. The first two of those years, they led the American League in that department. But this season they ranked ninth, while the Orioles' ERA dropped from 5.14 -- a club record -- to 3.91, second only to the Yankees in the AL.

Erickson did not face the Indians this season -- Rick Krivda, Esteban Yan, Nerio Rodriguez and Mike Johnson started six of the 11 games in the season series. Mussina made two of the other starts, winning at Jacobs Field on May 24, then throwing his near-perfect game at Camden Yards six days later.

Kamieniecki? He figures to pitch Game 5 at the Jake, where he threw six terrific innings on Sept. 8 in his only start against the Indians this season. (Attention, Davey: That was the game Berroa misplayed a fly ball, leading to a 2-1 Orioles defeat.)

Key? As all of Baltimore knows, he has won only once at Camden since May 7. That one victory, however, was against the Indians Sept. 16, a game in which he allowed no earned runs in 7 2/3 innings. The Indians' 1-2 hitters, Bip Roberts and Omar Vizquel, are a combined 9-for-54 against him lifetime.

Which brings us to a critical point.

Kenny Lofton, the Indians' former leadoff man, reached in only five of his 20 plate appearances against the Orioles in last year's Division Series. Joey Cora, the Mariners' regular leadoff man, reached in three of his 17 appearances this year (including Game 3, when he batted ninth).

The Orioles pitched so well, neither opponent could exploit their difficulty in throwing out opposing base stealers. Roberts and Vizquel, however, combined for 61 stolen bases in the regular season, and six in the five games against the Yankees. No. 9 hitter Marquis Grissom also remains a base-stealing threat.

"Our job is keep their 1-2-8-9 hitters off base, and let the 3 through 7 guys hitters hit homers -- hopefully solo shots," Orioles general manager Pat Gillick said. "When Vizquel and Roberts get on base, they create problems for us."

Perhaps, but the Indians averaged only 3.73 runs in the season series, despite facing the Rochester rotation more than half the time. Their sluggers have bigger holes than the Seattle sluggers. And the lowest ERA among their starting pitchers -- Nagy's 4.28 -- was higher than each of the Orioles' top four starters.

True, the Indians played much better the final six weeks of the season -- they were only 59-56 on Aug. 13. True, the difference in these teams' regular-season records was the same as it was last season, only this time it was the Orioles who finished on top.

Upsets are always possible, and the Indians could easily leave Baltimore with a split. But how can they win a seven-game series without dominant starting pitching and a deep bullpen? They can't, unless the Orioles' pitching collapses.

It's not going to happen.

Orioles in six.

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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