James Baker: Facing grim reality

Last night Brad Bergesen struggled - again. Pitching three terrible innings, giving up six runs and effectively putting the Orioles out of it before they even had a chance to be in it. The Orioles bullpen did not help either. All in all it was just another all-too-familiar sight for Orioles fans.

This weekend, the Orioles will play four games in three days against the New York Yankees in The Bronx. Young Orioles starters Chris Tillman and Zach Britton have been recalled to start the day-night affair. It will be a big start for both of them because the entire future of the Orioles franchise rests on their shoulders. Well, not just their shoulders but theirs, as well as Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta’s, because, Orioles fans, if those four players do not live up to their potential then the team is better off blowing the entire thing up and starting over from scratch.

That may sound drastic, but let’s face it. The Yankees and Red Sox are not going to get worse anytime soon. There is no window for them. The resources that both teams have afford them an almost immortal status when it comes to competitive baseball. But, James (you herculean exemplar), what about the Rays? Well, let’s face it, the Rays had a couple of very magical years, but it appears as if their window is beginning to close right now. They are having a good year but now sit 11 1/2 games out of first, are hovering right around .500 and appear to be sellers. And, yes, they will make moves and trades, but does anyone really think that a proposed 2012 Rays or Jays team has the guns to go up against the Red Sox next year?

Make no mistake, the Red Sox are the class of the American League East right now. They started the year 2-11; since then, they have played at a .674 clip. Put another way, if the Red Sox would have played like that from the start, they would be on a 110-win pace. And that is a team that has had problems in their rotation and Carl Crawford not really being Carl Crawford all year. That team is coming back pretty much intact next year, and they are likely to be better. Now, eventually, you top out as no team can win every game, but if the AL East was a tall mountain to climb in 2012, it looks to be Olympus Mons.

The only hope for the Orioles are those four players I mentioned. It all comes down to the pitching. The Orioles offense, overall, has actually not been that bad this year. For example, the team OPS is ranked sixth in the AL, which is right around league average - in fact, in many categories the Orioles are hovering right around league average. The difference, of course, has been pitching.

The Orioles’ team ERA 4.81 - worst in the league. Runs given up per game, over five - worst in the league. Homers given up, 130 - worst in the league. Total number of strikeouts, 659 - third worst in the league. Team WHIP, 1.454 - worst in the league. Team ERA+, hits per nine and homers per nine - all worst in the league.

So why are the hopes of the franchise on those guys for the next decade? Because they are it - this is the cavalry, folks. This past offseason Baseball America, in its organizational preview, picked the 2014 starting lineup for the Orioles and those four represent four of the five starting rotation spots. Moreover, there is no one really behind them right now that really projects out to be a starter as meaningful as that quartet is supposed to be.

Yes, a lot can change over the next couple of years, but this was supposed to be the core and, as of right now, that core has imploded in a display that defies logic and explanation. Until Dylan Bundy is brought in the fold, what other pitchers are on the horizon? Steve Johnson? Oliver Drake? David Baker? Some of those stories are nice and we could always find a guy who just simply turns it on out of nowhere - it happens all the time in the game - but let’s face it, Birdland, we are going to live and die on the shoulders of those four young men. If they do not show significant improvement throughout this year and into next year, this organization is in store for another four or five years of a complete rebuild.

James Baker blogs about the Orioles at Oriole Post. His observations about the O’s appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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