Thursday, April 28, 2005

Can the O's Knock the Junkees Out of the Playoffs?

Oh, how I pine for the days of the early 90's, back when we could enjoy October baseball without having to put up with those clowns in pinstripes. But in the AL East, for the last decade, it's been mostly a 2-team race, with the Yanks and O's in the late 90's and then Boston the past few years. A three-team race would surely put the Yanks in jeopardy.

It's only been a few weeks into the year, but the O's have the third-best record in baseball, and, as a team, are batting .303. Their lineup is one of the best in the game. Roberts and Mora on top are arguably the best 1-2 combo in baseball. Then you hit the big boppers: Tejada, Sosa, Lopez, and Palmeiro. At the bottom of the order, Gibbons, Matos, and Bigbie aren't great, but they're tough outs.

The issue with the O's is their starting pitching. Rodrigo Lopez is looking pretty good in the early going, and shut down the Junkees a few weeks ago. But after that, it's very spotty. Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera are supposed to be good someday, but it hasn't happened yet. Ponson is too busy causing trouble off-the-field, and you can't expect a whole lot from Bruce Chen.

What I'm hoping for is that the O's are still in the hunt come July, and can trade for a decent pitcher. Offhand, I don't know who will be available. The Royals have nobody, Sheets just got an extension, and Oliver Perez isn't going anywhere. Unless some other team tanks, it doesn't look like there are any high-quality arms out there. But unless the kids develop quickly, the O's must get someone decent to have any crack at the playoffs.

The team they remind me of now is the late-90's Indians. They also had a lineup full of tough outs (Thome, Belle, Ramirez, etc.), and were able to make it in spite of spotty pitching. Throughout their run, they had a team ERA well into the 4.00's(4.73 in '97), and never really had a great starter. Their bullpen was excellent, though, led by Mesa and later Mike Jackson. The O's pen is pretty good too, led by BJ Ryan and Jorge Julio.

The big difference? The Indians were playing in a division with no competition. The Tigers and Royals sucked, the White Sox always managed to mess up come September, and the Twins were still building their team. If and when the Junkees and Sox get it together, Baltimore may be headed back to bottom of the AL East, where they've been for a good few years. But if their lineup keeps hitting the way they are now, that won't happen too quickly.

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