Can Cobb, Cashner and Bundy lead the rotation to better days?

Among many areas where the Orioles can show improvement in 2019 is their starting rotation. Their 2017 rotation ranked last in the American League with a 5.70 ERA and .837 OPS against. Their 2018 starters ranked last with a 5.48 ERA and .850 OPS against.

Plenty of room to get better.

The Orioles did produce 64 quality starts to rank seventh in the AL and 18th in the majors. Also, O’s starters received 352 runs of support, which ranked second-fewest in the majors. Overall, O’s pitchers received 622 runs of support, which ranked fourth-fewest in the majors and fewest in the AL. So the pitchers could use more help on both offense and defense.

The top three return to the Orioles rotation, with Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy in some order. Last year the Orioles went 9-22 in Bundy’s starts and 8-20 in games started by both Cobb and Cashner. Bundy and Cobb made 15 quality starts. Cashner made 13.

Bundy-Bears-Down-Gray-Sidebar.jpgA few reasons why this trio may be better in 2019: Bundy could be healthy all year. He suffered an ankle injury on June 23 at Atlanta. He had a strong June, going 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA, but was 2-9 with a 7.61 ERA his last 15 starts after he hurt that ankle running the bases. Also, Bundy’s homer rate could come down, and it needs to. He allowed 41 last season, the most in the majors since 2011.

Cobb could benefit from a full spring training. After he signed late last year - on March 21 - he struggled badly early in the season. He finally got going after the All-Star break, going 3-3 with a 2.56 ERA and 1.156 WHIP in 11 starts. His OPS against dropped from .899 to .665 in the second half.

Cashner made 28 starts last season, but nagging injuries hurt his cause and a healthy season could be big for him. In 2018 he went to the disabled list twice in June for a lower back strain and neck strain. He ended the year dealing with bursitis in his left knee. He could also benefit from being reunited with Doug Brocail, the new O’s pitching coach and Cashner’s pitching coach with Texas in 2017. Then Cashner went 11-11 with a 3.40 ERA that was ninth in the league. His ERA was under 3.00 in four different months that year.

A few reasons why this trio could have some struggles: Bundy could have more issues with the longball but feels better and more consistent location should help his cause. He features a solid four-pitch mix, and last year batters hit just .178 off his slider. But they batted .361 off his changeup, after hitting .229 against that pitch in 2017. His curveball average against was .419. It was .167 the season before.

It doesn’t seem likely, but Cobb could have another rough first half. In his career his ERA is 4.34 in the first half and 3.07 after the All-Star Game. But he really found his splitter as 2018 rolled on, and that should help him from the get-go this time. Opponents hit .300 off his split in June, but then just .177, .175 and .100 the last three months of the season.

Cashner will need to prove that his 2017 was not an outlier, and that the 5.25 and 5.29 ERAs on either side of that were not more of what can be expected now. He’s also made four trips combined in 2017 and 2018 to the disabled list and will need to show he can be durable. In 2017, his homer and groundball rates were outstanding, and he’ll look to recapture that again this season.

Does this trio of right-handers produce better collective numbers this year?

Meanwhile, our MASN crew at spring training asked some O’s pitchers which among them could go deep into a game:

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