The Nationals are going to win the World Series with a rotation that includes Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez.
Or the Astros are going to mount an amazing comeback and win the World Series with a rotation that includes Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke.
(And pigs will fly non-stop as alternatives to Southwest flights.)
Having money to spend or minor league assets to swing premium trades puts these clubs and others at a distinct advantage.
The Orioles won’t compete without improvements in their rotation. It has to get better, which should be obvious to anyone who follows the club.
They were able to win the division in 2014 without a true No. 1 starter. Miguel Gonzalez had a 3.23 ERA in 27 games, Chris Tillman a 3.34 ERA in 34 starts, Wei-Yin Chen 16 wins and a 3.54 ERA in 31 starts, Kevin Gausman a 3.57 ERA in 20 starts and Bud Norris 15 wins and a 3.65 ERA in 28 starts.
Ubaldo Jiménez collected 22 starts among 25 appearances and had a 4.81 ERA and 1.52 WHIP.
The Orioles made it work, leaning on a bullpen that included Zack Britton, Darren O’Day, Andrew Miller, Brad Brach, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter. T.J. McFarland, perhaps lost among the group, posted a 2.76 ERA in 37 appearances.
The 2016 team qualified for the Wild Card game with Gausman and Tillman each making 30 starts and posting a 3.61 and 3.77 ERA, respectively, and 1.28 WHIPs. Tillman won 16 games. Gausman was 9-12.
Jiménez had a 5.44 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 29 games (25 starts). Yovani Gallardo had a 5.42 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 23 starts. Tyler Wilson made 13 starts among his 24 appearances and finished with a 5.27 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. Mike Wright made 12 starts among 18 appearances and finished with a 5.79 ERA and 1.43 WHIP.
Wade Miley was a trade-deadline acquisition who went 2-5 with a 6.17 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 11 starts.
Vance Worley was given four starts that season.
The Orioles made it work.
Dial it back to the 2012 Wild Card team and you’ll find a rotation that at various points included Steve Johnson, Randy Wolf, Dana Eveland, Joe Saunders, pre-closer Britton, pre-lefty specialist Matusz and pre-Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta,
Tillman had a breakthrough year with a 9-3 record, 1.05 WHIP and .207 average-against in 15 starts. Jason Hammel (3.43) and Gonzalez (3.25) posted ERAs below 4.00 in a combined 38 appearances.
Twelve pitchers made starts. The Orioles used 18 in the rotation this summer.
It doesn’t always work.
They’d love to live by the theory, shared in the culinary world, that less is more. But they need John Means to avoid a sophomore slump, Alex Cobb to report healthy and round into the form that led the club to give him a franchise-record deal for a pitcher - which could lead to a deadline trade - and Dylan Bundy to reach the 30-start mark again.
That’s only three-fifths of the equation. And it isn’t the same look offered by the two World Series teams.
“You can’t compete in this league if you don’t have starting pitching and you don’t have bullpen guys that can keep you in games and hold onto leads, and that’s an area that we struggled in this year,” manager Brandon Hyde said before the final game.
“I don’t think that’s any secret. So it’s an area I’d like to see improve.”
The Orioles aren’t going to spend big on a starter. Cole won’t be running down the orange carpet on opening day. They can’t roll out a rotation that rivals the groups leading the Nationals, Astros and other elite teams.
(The Nationals opened the season with a $197.2 million payroll, with Scherzer and Strasburg each making $35 million this year as part of their lucrative seven-year deals that include deferred money.)
The Bundy-Gausman tandem didn’t pan out. The Orioles thought they’d have two No. 1s. Cobb was viewed more as a middle-to-lower rotation type by other clubs, but the Orioles envisioned him leading the pack.
They also envisioned Hunter Harvey as an eventual No. 1, but he’s likely to stay in the bullpen as their high-leverage guy. An important contributor, capable of dominating, but in a different role.
They wanted Walker Buehler and Dustin May in the Manny Machado talks with the Dodgers. They wanted Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver from the Cardinals. They got shut out.
Maybe they become the envy of baseball one day with Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, Alex Wells, Cody Sedlock, Blaine Knight, Gray Fenter, Drew Rom, Ryan Wilson, Nick Vespi and others who might emerge. Others who could fill out a rotation or bring back a stud pitcher in a trade.
In the meantime, fans will be jealous of the teams that trot out multiple No. 1-type starters that create contender status year after year. The biggest separator at crunch time.
Shameless plug alert: I’m appearing on “Wall to Wall Baseball” from noon-2 p.m. on MASN.