By Matt Vensel
The Baltimore Sun
9:41 AM EDT, May 14, 2013
The Baltimore sports scene is blessed with a bunch of talented bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. Each week, I hope to chat with one of them in a regular feature called Blogger on Blogger. This week, I exchanged emails with Matt Taylor, who blogs about the Orioles for Roar From 34.
MV: You recently wrote that last year you were waiting for the bottom to fall out with this team, but that isn’t the case this season. What makes you believe that this Orioles team has staying power?
MT: Well, some of that fear of the bottom falling out last year was a product of my in-born Baltimore sports pessimism reinforced by 14 seasons of losing baseball. I kept waiting for it to be 2005 all over again. I had my "This is why we can't have nice things" rant all prepared. But lo and behold, it turns out we can have nice things in Baltimore. Last year was an extended exercise in rekindling my belief in Orioles Magic.
The Orioles have the youngest team in the AL East and the fifth-youngest team in all of baseball. Last year wasn't as much a flash in the pan as it was a laying of the foundation. I love watching Manny Machado play, and Matt Wieters makes defensive baseball interesting. A lot of the right parts are in place, including the manager.
I still want to see a young, reliable No. 1 starter emerge. I suppose that's kind of an obvious statement. I'll be feeling great about the future if Gausman and/or Bundy stay healthy and live up to the hype. I drove to Kannapolis last April to see Bundy pitch. It's exciting to have those type of guys coming up through the ranks.
MV: Miguel Gonzalez was sent to the 15-day disabled list with a blister on his pitching hand and Wei-Yin Chen could soon join him with an oblique injury. Jason Hammel hasn’t eaten innings like he did a year ago. And pitchers such as Jake Arrieta, Steve Johnson and Zach Britton have not seized opportunities. We know the O’s have organizational depth, but are you concerned with the starting pitching?
MT: Are Dontrelle Willis and Jamie Moyer still looking for work?
My biggest concern is the load the bullpen is carrying. I believe the rotation will come around. I just hope it happens without taking too much of a toll on the relievers. The O’s had 12 different guys start a game for them last year. Buck and the brain trust showed that they can patch holes due to injury and inconsistency through a combination of spot starters, minor league call-ups, and general managerial voodoo. However, they can only extend their relievers so far before it takes its toll.
The Gausman chatter is already beginning and will only get louder as questions about the rotation continue. I hate the injuries. I cringed when they started talking about Chen’s injury during Sunday's broadcast. However, I’ll admit that it’s kind of fun to guess who might step up and surprise us. It just won't be Willis or Moyer. (Go Long Island Ducks!)
MV: Are you surprised with how well Tommy Hunter, a former starter, has been pitching in the Baltimore bullpen, and do you think he has the poise and the pitches to perhaps one day be a closer?
MT: I have been surprised, but I probably shouldn't be.
Hunter pitched 10 games out of the pen last September, didn’t give up a home run, and had 12 strikeouts, two walks and a 0.71 ERA. Despite those efforts, I still had it stuck in my head at the start of this season that he's the guy who gives up all the home runs. Then he did just that, allowing a walk-off home run to Matt Joyce in his first game this season -- against the first batter he faced, no less -- and I started thinking “Here we go again.” After a rough outing in Boston a couple of games later, he got himself straight and is right back to that September form: 10 games, no home runs, 12 strikeouts, three walks and a 0.00 ERA.
Hunter's been great. I like him in his current role where Buck can stretch him out for two or sometimes even three innings of work occasionally as needed. As for the closer conversation, I prefer to enjoy what he’s doing now and not project what he could be doing in a different role, which is my way of saying I stink at projections. I watched Steve Johnson pitch in Norfolk last year right before he was called up for that August start against the Mariners. I was impressed with his poise but didn’t think he had major league stuff. That shows how much I know about pitching at the big league level.
MV: Manny Machado is off to an excellent start this season and should be considered a legit candidate to make the All-Star Game. Which other Orioles do you feel are making compelling arguments?
MT: Well, if the Vote Orange campaign pans out, they might all be All-Stars. I want to meet the fan (or fans) who complete 10,000 ballots and earn that 12-person catered suite as part of the rewards program. So many questions.
Kidding aside, several O's players can make an honest case for the All-Star Game. That's a nice change from 2010. The guy I’d like to see make it who probably won’t is Chris Davis, not only for the home runs, but also for his improved ability to get on base. The problem is he’s playing a position that's stacked with potential All Stars throughout the league.
Davis is in a three-way tie for most home runs in the American League with Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Reynolds, and all three guys could find themselves watching the game from home. James Loney is having a great year, and I haven't even gotten to names like Joe Mauer and Prince Fielder. Let's not speak of Albert Pujols or Mark Teixeira. I'm not sure which would be worse, seeing an injured Teixeira voted onto the squad or a healthy Nick Swisher get the nod.
To quote my Magic 8 Ball on Davis' prospects, "Outlook not so good." I guess I should vote 10,000 times, send Davis to the All-Star Game, and get that suite for myself.
MV: Have we seen the last of Brian Roberts as a regular contributor?
MT: I hate to see what’s happened to Roberts. I don’t begrudge him for that time spent trying to recover from his concussion issues. It sounds like it was a terrifying experience that had little to do with toughness -- in the macho sense of the word -- and a lot to do with real life. I was thrilled to see him overcome all of that, which made the hamstring injury that much more disheartening. I really want him to have some kind of happy ending after all he's been through.
I could see Roberts coming back later this season and providing a boost down the stretch. I'm inclined to believe Buck when he said, "Brian Roberts is going to come back and make a contribution to this club this year. I've got a good feeling about that." That' doesn't exactly fit on a T-shirt, but it fires me up all the same.
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