The First Struggles


Losers of three straight, after last night’s failed comeback, Birdland fans are getting their first taste of struggle in 2013. Miguel Gonzalez has missed starts, Freddy Garcia has been middling at best in the rotation; Jason Hammel has gotten rocked his last couple of starts, and Jim Johnson blew his first save of the year.

Some Orioles fans may be wondering if this might be the beginning of a deeper decline, especially when you look at the struggles of the starting rotation recently. What these fans need to remember is that the baseball season is remarkably long and the Orioles, like every team, will likely have at least couple bad weeks scattered throughout the season. The important thing for the Orioles to figure out is to somehow stabilize the starting rotation. Jair Jurrjens is making a start today for the Birds and Miguel Gonzalez should be back Monday or Tuesday but Hammel’s struggles are a real concern.

Jason Hammel had a breakout season in 2012 and was a major reason for the team’s sustained success. Hammel right now is striking out 6.4 batters a game, more than two fewer than where he ended last year. His last three starts have been particularly rough. He gave up four runs against the Angels in LA; six runs facing the Twins in Minnesota, and last night against Tampa Bay he gave up seven runs. All said and done that is 17 runs in 14.2 innings, a 10.43 ERA over his last three starts.  Is a testament to the Orioles’ offense that the team has only lost one of those games, but Hammel needs to be better.

People continued to scoff when the Orioles picked up as many arms as possible over the offseason, but this is precisely the reason they did it. Jurrjens by far was a great pick-up. If he can get anywhere close to where he was in 2011 with Atlanta then the Orioles found a more than reliable arm. As always Orioles mega-prospect Kevin Gausman is still sitting there in the minors waiting for a call-up at any time.

The Orioles still lack a true “number one” type pitcher and while the offense and bullpen is more than good enough to win many game it is stretches like this one that make a person realize how much better this team would be with that ace-like arm in the rotation. As we approach the trade deadline the Orioles will most likely be linked to teams looking to move some older, veteran players. And once again the Orioles will have to make a decision regarding their desire to deal from their, admittedly thin, minor league system. Jake Arrieta has not performed at a strong enough nor consistent enough to bring anything significant back in a trade, neither has someone like Nolan Reimold.

Despite these struggles the Orioles are still sitting in good shape thus far. The Red Sox and Yankees sit ahead of them. Last night the Orioles started a 10-game stretch against the AL East. We should know a lot more about the makeup of this team after this stretch.