Peter Schmuck: Building dependable pitching staff is key to Orioles' future success

October 11, 2011|Peter Schmuck

After a horrid 1988 season in which the Orioles set a Baltimore franchise record with 107 losses, they went on an amazing run the next year and remained in contention for the American League East title until the final weekend.

Everyone who remembers that miracle season remembers the organically grown team slogan:

"Why Not?"

Of course, it was a rhetorical question that did not seek a negative answer. It would only later turn into a serious question that continues to be asked by beleaguered Orioles fans from year to disappointing year.

There are all sorts of reasons the Orioles have continued to spin their wheels at or near the bottom of the standings for the past 14 years, but the crop of playoff teams that are vying to meet in the World Series this year provides additional insight into the sad state of the Orioles in the 21st century.

You see, the AL East excuse goes only so far when the minuscule-market Tampa Bay Rays have managed to reach the postseason three of the past four seasons. If there's ever a movie made about their amazing run, don't be surprised if it's called "Pocket Moneyball," yet they outlasted the Boston Red Sox (with some help from the Orioles) and remained standing in the postseason as long as the New York Yankees.

Meanwhile, this year's League Championship Series field is populated with teams from medium markets that should have nothing on the Orioles. The St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers play in cities that are similar to Baltimore in size and don't have another major city within short driving distance. The Texas Rangers play in a top-five market, but not in the same ballpark as the teams in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

The Tigers play in Detroit, for God's sake.

If you want to know what separates those teams from the other second-tier-revenue teams, you need only to look at the way they have acquired, developed and maintained their pitching staffs. You need only to ask yourself how the Cardinals can lose a pitcher the quality of 20-game winner Adam Wainwright at the start of the season and still have five pitchers with double-digit wins this year.

Sure, the Brewers have some big bombers in their lineup. So do all the other remaining title contenders, but in the post-steroid era, pitching has reasserted itself as the dominant competitive factor in the sport — if there was ever really a time when it wasn't. Just ask the Red Sox, who stumbled because their big-money pitching staff crumbled. Just ask the Rays, who got into the playoffs even though they scored fewer runs than the Orioles.

Departed Orioles general manager Andy MacPhail understood this and focused much of his attention on growing organizational pitching depth, but the fruits of that effort still are not apparent. Maybe Brian Matusz will rediscover his mojo and Jake Arrieta will come back strong from elbow surgery and Zach Britton will continue his positive growth curve, but the Orioles can no longer afford to wait around for all the internal options to fall perfectly into place. That was the fatal mistake of this past season.

The Brewers went outside their organization to get Randy Wolf a couple of years ago. They traded for Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke last winter. The Cardinals have spent the past decade developing pitchers but have never shied away from paying for quality arms to keep them competitive from year to year.

The Tigers had to keep the faith through some lean years while they developed the nucleus of their starting rotation, but they also have looked outside the organization to build around homegrown ace Justin Verlander.

The Rangers might be the best argument on both ends of the development vs. acquisition debate. They spent years and a ton of money trying to plug holes in their pitching staff with mixed results but took a dynamic change in direction when Nolan Ryan took over the franchise and put a huge emphasis on developing talented, durable starters.

Look at the results. Only one of this year's full-time starters (Colby Lewis) has pitched in another major league uniform, and the same five-man rotation started 157 of the Rangers' 162 regular season games.

Can that happen here? Probably not, since that's borderline miraculous in today's game and the Orioles clearly don't have the organizational acumen to usher that many promising pitchers successfully through the minor league system. Buck Showalter has to know the Orioles need to go outside the organization this winter and bring back enough real pitchers to avoid a replay of 2011.

There probably aren't enough available to get the Orioles into next year's postseason, but you've got to start somewhere.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and

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