Through the first couple weeks of the regular season, we’ve consistently heard about how Orioles starters need to go deeper into games. Obviously, it goes without saying that it’s not quite as simple in practice as it is to talk about. The first question that should be asked is: Why aren’t the starters going deeper? If you look at the anatomy of the games, one thing that stands out at me is that the starters aren’t attacking the strike zone as early and as often. They’re trying to nibble on the corners, which doesn’t usually work well. So that’s one thing that probably needs to change if the starters are going to go deeper.
However, is there another reason as to why the starters aren’t going deep? One thing that stuck out at me when the schedule came out last September was the fact that 12 of the Orioles’ first 15 games were in the American League East. Ultimately, all teams are going to play either 18 or 19 games in their division come the end of the season. People that don’t give any credence to the idea that your schedule doesn’t really matter will often point to that fact. And they’re right. However, until this past weekend’s series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Orioles had played only one non-AL East opponent on the year.
Why is this important or even noteworthy? Before the season began, almost every analyst on ESPN, MLB Network, et al, said that the American League East was going to be the toughest division to predict. If last week’s grinding series with Tampa Bay is any indication, tough games are exactly what we can expect for most of the summer when it comes to this division. For years and years, games involving Boston and/or New York would always last a bit longer due to the way the hitters would work the count and take pitches. Eventually Tampa Bay (and last year the Orioles) realized that the only way to beat these teams was to do the same.
Nothing has changed in terms of teams taking a lot of pitches, even though the likes of Boston, New York, and Tampa Bay now have much different personnel. The players on those teams are all being taught to take pitches. Immediately following a leadoff homer last week, Kelly Johnson strung together a 13-pitch at-bat against Jake Arrieta. How did Johnson manage to do that? He fouled off multiple pitches, and did so quite a few times on a two-strike count. Those types of at-bats take a lot out of a pitcher.
Keep in mind, folks, this is not a scientific study. American League East teams aren’t the only ones that know how to take pitches. It’s something that every team should be doing. However, that’s part of why this has always been one of the toughest, if not the toughest, divisions in baseball. And the short outings aren’t limited only to the Orioles; Tampa Bay’s starters didn’t make it into the seventh inning last week, either.
Buck Showalter has said in the past that you have to keep grinding through the season, and having other teams take pitches on you is part of that. However, with a plethora of good hitters in the division, that’s all the more reason for Orioles pitchers not to nibble on the corners of the plate. If you can’t fool someone, you might just have to pitch to them. And the number of division games that the Orioles have played might offer one hidden reason as to why the starters aren’t going deeper. Again, the onus is still on the starters themselves to find ways to go deeper in the games.
On a side note, with the division being as tight as it is, that puts more of an onus on bullpens to win games. Troy Patton ended up being the winning pitcher Thursday against Tampa Bay and Darren O’Day on Saturday afternoon against the Dodgers. While O’Day gave up the lead Thursday night, as well, for the most part the Oriole bullpen is solid. This puts the O’s at a competitive advantage in a sense that their relievers are very solid. Ultimately they won’t be solid for long if they continue to get called upon so much. However, all things being equal, the other teams’ relievers are in the same boat.
Domenic Vadala blogs about the Orioles at Birds Watcher, and his opinions appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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.