As the Orioles coming barreling into May after a bipolar April, remember that April is just one-sixth of the baseball season. If first-month numbers are real indicators of where a player will be at season’s end, then we can go ahead and make some predictions.
Nick Markakis will be traded by the deadline. With a .207 batting average, the O’s will need to dump that big contract. Andy MacPhail will just have to put the three years remaining of his six-year, $66 million contract in the loss column.
Zach Britton will become the first Oriole since Mike Boddicker in 1984 to win 20 games. The rookie’s 5-1 record in his first six starts puts him on pace to whiz right past that sacred mark. Oh, and based on current ERAs, Britton (2.63) will also finish in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting along with Jeremy Guthrie (2.53).
Robert Andino will be the Orioles’ batting leader come September. His .333 average could also quite possibly win him the AL batting title.
Get the point?
The reality of the Orioles’ first month is we saw a team that sprinted out of the gates with a 6-1 record and ran out of gas quickly, going 0-8 over their next stretch. Finally, the Birds are settling into a nice pace as they are back up to .500.
Every year at this time, we see such a mixture of premature panic juxtaposed with premature hype. How long have we been watching this game? Yet, we always play the fool.
The campaigns have already begun. According to lines from those out there in the blogosphere, Mark Reynolds is another Garrett Atkins; Derrick Lee is a bust, move him down in the order; and Zach Britton should win the AL Rookie of the Year.
Slow down, everybody. While Britton deserves applause for six impressive starts, he still just has six starts. Over the course of the season, if healthy, he’ll make about 26 to 28 more. Curt Schilling always said that over the course of a season, a starter maybe has his best stuff for 10 starts. How will Britton react in the other 20-plus starts? Nobody knows.
Recall the predictions surrounding Brian Matusz after the 2009 season. After just eight starts at the end of the year, he was the early favorite to win 2010 AL Rookie of the Year. Then, Matusz had to pitch an entire major league season. After 175 innings and a 4.50 ERA, he finished fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting. It was a promising first year with much to be proud of, but far from a breakout season.
Speaking of Matusz, look at the rotation he’ll return to in the coming weeks. What do we make of the O’s starters based on the month of April?
Coming into the weekend, the Orioles’ Guthrie, Britton and Jake Arrieta were tied with the Phillies’ Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt as the only two trios of teammates to have four quality starts each in their first five starts.
So, can we conclude the O’s rotation is going to keep pace with arguably the best rotation in baseball? Probably not.
The Orioles’ rotation has held its own in the face of losing Matusz, its No. 2 starter, to injury, but quality starts can be deceiving. To me, going just six innings and giving up no more than three earned runs is good but not “quality”.
The Orioles’ starters need to go deeper than the sixth inning or we are going to see, well, what we saw Sunday afternoon - the bullpen coughing it up in innings seven through nine. Kevin Gregg can thank umpire Cory Blaser for some generous calls which helped preserve the O’s 6-4 win over the White Sox.
As we enter May, the Orioles are in a good place. In 2010, the O’s went into May with a 5-20 record, so at 13-13, we’ll take it. With the anticipated return of Matusz and J.J. Hardy in the weeks to come, the O’s pitching staff and bench will only be deeper for the experience gained in their absence. That depth will prove crucial over the course of a long season, where so many factors are unpredictable.
Which brings me back to my original point - predictions in April are just too early. I would say let the season marinate a bit, but then again, what fun would that be?