Dominating Pitching From Young Staff Gives Orioles Best Start Since 1997, Reason for Optimism

Dominating Pitching From Young Staff Gives Orioles Best Start Since 1997, Reason for Optimism While the Red Sox were busy being knocked around the park in Texas over the weekend, the Baltimore Orioles were orchestrating one of baseball's most surprising starts.

The O's promptly swept the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field over the weekend before returning home on Monday for their home opener at Camden Yards beating the Detroit Tigers.

When you compare the starts of both the Red Sox and Orioles, the one glaring difference, of course, has been the difference in starting pitching. Simply put, Baltimore's starting pitching has been dominating.

Now, here's the big disclaimer. Just like it's unlikely that the Red Sox — namely their starting pitching — will continue to struggle also, it's also pretty unlikely that the O's will keep up their impressive mound work. That's even less likely when you consider some of the lineups they'll face throughout the year.

Yet, it's tough to ignore what the O's have done through four games. In three contests with the Rays and one with the Tigers, Baltimore has given up exactly one run in each game. They feature a rotation of pitchers who either have yet to live up to expectations in terms of consistency, or young pitchers on the verge of breaking out.

Opening Day starter Jeremy Guthrie has some pretty filthy stuff. His problem, however, has been finding that consistency. He's shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career — he started the Mother's Day Miracle in Boston if you recall — but he hasn't put it all together just yet. The leader of a young staff, Guthrie has proven that he is capable of being a workhorse. In four full seasons with the O's, he's averaging 194 innings per season.

Following Guthrie, though, are a few young pitching prospects that should actually be giving O's fans some reason for optimism and excitement about the future. Chris Tillman, who made his big-league debut in 2009 but has yet to throw more than 65 innings with the big club in a season, threw six no-hit innings against Tampa on Saturday. He was followed up on Sunday by Zach Britton. The young lefty pitched so well this spring that he gave the O's no choice but to put him in the rotation after it was deemed that Brian Matusz would start the year on the disabled list. In his debut on Sunday, he didn't disappoint, going six innings, allowing just a run and striking out six in a win.

Jake Arrieta, who beat the Yankees in his major league debut in 2010, is yet another strong young arm that the Orioles are hoping they can rely on this season. He got the ball on Monday afternoon in the home opener and didn't disappoint with a six-inning gem.

If the Orioles are going break the .500 mark for the first time since 1997 (which also happens to be the last time they started 4-0), they will need this rotation to stay healthy. That's already been a bit of a problem. Matusz, who showed at times last year he can live up to the hype surrounding him since he was drafted, is starting the year on the disabled list. Also, his return may mean a return to the minors for Britton. Guthrie has already made a hospital visit, albeit for a fever.

There are a lot of big "ifs" surrounding this Orioles team, and most of those stem directly from a young pitching staff. It's unlikely, maybe even a little unfair to expect the Orioles to pitch like this all year long. If they stay healthy, though, they'll be at the very least in a bunch of ballgames this year. That in itself would be an upgrade for a franchise that looks like it's starting to head in the right direction.

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