In watching this most fascinating postseason, it’s again emphasized how important it is to have a top-shelf starting pitcher—or three—on your team.
There aren’t many premier starters, and the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals seem to have most of them.
Houston has Gerrit Cole, set to start today’s Game 3 at Yankee Stadium; Zack Greinke, who started Game 1; and Justin Verlander, the Game 2 starter.
Washington has Aniabal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg and has built a 3-0 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. Patrick Corbin goes for the series clincher tonight.
In the Astros-Yankees series, New York manager Aaron Boone is taking a different route. He has 13 pitchers, an unusually large postseason staff, especially with two off-days.
Boone, who yanked Game 2 starter James Paxton after just 2 1/3 innings, used nine pitchers in the 3-2, 11-inning loss on Sunday night. He’s relying on a skilled bullpen that includes Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman and Adam Ottavino, big free-agent signings all, and the soon-to-be retired CC Sabathia.
Watching the machinations of the postseason managers reminds us how far the Orioles have to go to even be in contention, and perhaps how they’ll construct their team.
With a number of interesting pitchers in the minor leagues, including Keegan Akin, Michael Baumann, Gray Fenter, DL Hall, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther, Grayson Rodriguez, Drew Rom, Cody Sedlock, Alex Wells and Bruce Zimmermann, general manager Mike Elias hopes that some will produce at the major league level.
The Astros, for whom Elias worked before the Orioles, didn’t develop Cole, Greinke or Verlander. They acquired them in trades. They had so many good prospects in the minor leagues that they were able to trade for each of them without depleting their farm system.
Cole, Greinke and Verlander are No. 1-type starters, and they’re rare.
Corbin, Scherzer and Strasburg fit into that category. Corbin and Scherzer were pricey free-agent signings. Strasburg was the first selection in the 2009 draft.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw is another. He was the seventh pick of the 2006 draft. Kershaw’s history of shaky postseason performances demonstrate that not even having a No. 1 starter guarantees success.
Last year, the Boston Red Sox won with Rick Porcello, David Price and Chris Sale, none of whom were developed by the Red Sox.
In 2012 and 2014, the Orioles advanced in the postseason without a top-tier starter. In 2014, they coasted to the American League East title with back-end starters Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris and Chris Tillman all posting ERAs lower than four.
Combined with a bullpen of Britton, Brad Brach, Andrew Miller and Darren O’Day, they had an excellent staff, but they never had a No. 1 starter.
Elias hopes that he’s able to develop a No. 1 starter from the group of minor leagues and John Means, who had an outstanding rookie year.
Without that No. 1 or multiple number 1’s, no team is likely to win a World Series.
If the Orioles don’t have that top starter, having several attractive prospects could help them deal for one when the time is right.
The Orioles are far from doing that, but they’re beginning to accumulate talent.
This year’s draft was pitching-poor. Elias didn’t choose a pitcher until the eighth round, the first time in the Orioles’ history they’d waited that long to select pitching.
Of their first 11 choices, three were catchers, including top pick Adley Rutschman, three were shortstops and three were centerfielders.
When teams are looking for prospects, they’re often looking for strength up the middle. If the Orioles develop a surplus of players in those positions, that will make them more attractive trading partners in years to come.
There are few great starting pitchers in baseball, and even fewer available in the trading market at any one time. Because of Oriole Park’s home run-happy dimensions, free agent starters have been reluctant to come to Baltimore. Developing them and trading for them are the only realistic options.
Next June, the Orioles will have the No. 2 pick, and it’s possible they could choose University of Georgia right-handed starter Emerson Hancock, if the Detroit Tigers don’t select him first.
As you watch the rest of the postseason, remember how rare these top starters are, and how difficult it is to find them, retain them, trade for them, or sign them.