It's relief: O's are favorites Bullpen big part of edge, but Rhodes a concern

October 08, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Same teams, different spin.

A year after the Orioles were wrongly perceived as prohibitive underdogs to the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series, they enter the American League Championship Series as favorites. The Orioles are the club that led its division wire-to-wire, won 98 games and rode its pitching for extensive stretches because of a downsized offense.

"There's no question that we're the underdogs in this series. But that certainly doesn't mean we don't have a good ballclub or a shot at winning this thing," said Indians general manager John Hart.

Orioles manager Davey Johnson, who loves the favorite's role, couldn't resist a dig at Hart, who attended the same high school.

"Hey, John, I hope things happen the same as last year," said Johnson, never one for false modesty.

The Orioles won the season series with the Indians, 6-5, but never faced them at full strength. Right fielder Eric Davis' story was told within the parameters of the series. His last game before undergoing colon-cancer surgery was May 24 in Cleveland. On Sept. 15, he returned during the first game of a day-night doubleheader against the Indians at Camden Yards. The teams played six of their games in the season's final three weeks, splitting.

For the Orioles to gain their first World Series berth in 14 years, their must accomplish the following:

1. Scott Erickson must step up.

Erickson ended the season in a slight funk, going 1-2 in his last seven starts while consistently having trouble in early innings. In that span, he suffered two of his four shortest starts of the season, including a 2 1/3 -inning nightmare against the New York Yankees Sept. 12. Erickson gave a strong performance in Game 2 of the Division Series, containing the Seattle Mariners on seven hits and three earned runs in 6 2/3 innings.

Now Erickson must set the tone for a series. He may be asked to start two of the first four games against the only team he didn't face this season. Erickson is 1-1 in six postseason starts. With Jimmy Key making a home start in Game 2, Erickson needs to come up big now.

2. The Orioles must flex the bullpen advantage they hold over every team they play.

That may be more difficult with Arthur Rhodes' health a question and Johnson sticking with a 10-man staff.

Randy Myers and Armando Benitez slam-danced the Indians all season. Combined, they allowed four hits and no runs in nine innings while striking out 12. However, middle relievers Rhodes and Terry Mathews had a difficult time. The two were ripped for 12 hits and seven runs in five combined innings.

At some point, Jesse Orosco will become a huge factor against David Justice and Jim Thome. Justice is 0-for-4 against him, Thome 0-for-12.

3. Just as they did against the Mariners, the Orioles must contain Omar Vizquel, Bip Roberts and Marquis Grissom by playing from ahead.

The Indians' acquisition of the versatile, switch-hitting Roberts on Aug. 31 has made them much more prone to run.

4. Now that he's in the lineup every game, Rafael Palmeiro must be more disciplined.

That should be less difficult against the Indians' right-handed pitching, which he reached for three home runs and nine RBIs.

Palmeiro ranked third in the American League with 22 home runs after the All-Star break but was one of only two Orioles position players to play in the Division Series without an RBI. (Jerome Walton was the other.)

5. Key must come home again.

In his past 12 home starts, Key is 1-9 with a 5.12 ERA, including a loss in Game 3 of the Division Series. Johnson and pitching coach Ray Miller do not intend to start him on three days' rest in this series, meaning he will appear twice at Camden Yards. He is pitching beyond 200 innings (217) for the first time since 1993 and has labored recently for location within the strike zone.

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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