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The 2019 Orioles starting rotation could be good

As the Birds’ offense continues to sputter and doesn’t project any better for 2019, the starting rotation will need to step up in the future. Believe it or not, that could happen.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

There is plenty of blame to go around when figuring out why the Orioles have won 10 out of their first 37 games. Most disappointing for a team that was supposed to outslug opponents has been the offense. Baltimore is currently last in the American League in runs scored.

Unfortunately, these offensive problems very well could continue into next season. Allow me to look forward to 2019 and ask a few questions.

What will the lineup look like without long-time middle of the order threats Manny Machado and Adam Jones, who very well may be playing elsewhere? Will Chris Davis rediscover his offensive abilities in 2019 and live up to his contract? Will Mark Trumbo do the same? Will Chance Sisco, Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays, and/or Cedric Mullins be ready to contribute? Does Jonathan Schoop, whose contract is up after next season, make it through a potential midseason firesale? Will Tim Beckham return to his August 2017 ways?

Depending on the answers to all these questions, the 2019 version of the Orioles may struggle to score more runs than this 2018 club. That’s bad news for the once feared “Birdland Power Company.” After outslugging opponents for a few years, Baltimore may need to find a new way to win.

The good news is that the starting rotation could be a legitimate strength for the 2019 Baltimore Orioles. What?? The starting rotation could be a strength for a 2019 Baltimore Orioles. Those words in that sequence don’t seem right. But it’s a possibility for the first time in many Orioles fans’ lifetimes.

Barring unexpected moves, three of the rotations spots will be filled by two relatively young pitchers who have their best years in front of them and a proven major leaguer.

Dylan Bundy- It’s tough to put a positive spin on this one after his historically bad performance in his last start. That giving up seven earned runs without recording an out raised his season ERA to only (only!) 5.31 shows just how good he was in April. After five starts, his ERA sat at 1.42. His strikeout numbers (10.6 per 9 innings) are way up from last season. Bundy is going through a rough time right now where his velocity is down and he isn’t hitting his spots. But he’s only 25 years old I’d bet on him being very good in 2019.

Kevin Gausman- Since two rough outings to start the 2018 campaign that left his ERA at 8.00, he has looked very good. He’s lowered his ERA to 3.30 and his WHIP sits at an impressive 1.15. His strikeout numbers are down a tick (7.4 per 9 innings as opposed to 8.3 throughout his career) and he still gives up his share of home runs. But he has pitched at least six innings in five of his last six starts (the other was 5.2 innings) and has already accumulated over half his 2017 WAR. At just 27 years old, he is still getting better and perhaps has finally turned the corner.

Alex Cobb- We all know that Cobb got absolutely hammered in his first three starts. But since then, he’s settled down and looked more like the guy with the 3.63 career ERA that the O’s gave $57 million to. Over his last twelve innings he’s allowed three earned runs. He’s still only 30 years old and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue his very nice career next season, especially if he has a full spring training. Maybe he was given too much money, but his track record in the AL East speaks for itself.

The next two spots are question marks, but the players called upon will almost certainly be better than Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, or Chris Tillman (2016-2017 vintage).

Andrew Cashner- I was very pleased with Cashner after his first five starts when his ERA was at 3.60 and he’d pitched at least six innings in all but his first start of the season. He hasn’t looked as good since then (current ERA at 4.84) and his peripherals have been a mixed bag. His strikeout numbers are way up from last season, but so is his WHIP and home runs allowed.

All in all, Cashner is a proven major leaguer (3.84 career ERA) and a competitor who generally keeps his team in the game. In 2018, that’s a bargain for $6.5 million. Because of that, he could be attractive to teams at the deadline. If not, he is under contract for next season and isn’t a bad back of the rotation starter.

Prospect(s) in O’s minor league system- The O’s don’t have a great minor league system but there are some attractive starting pitching prospects that could be ready in 2019. RHP Hunter Harvey is at the top of that list despite a limited minor league track record. LHP Keegan Akin was said to be nearly big league ready when drafted in 2016 and he’s lowered his ERA with every start this season (now at 3.31). RHP David Hess has pitched to an ERA of 2.12 in Norfolk this season and is strikeout a batter per inning.

Young pitcher acquired in trade- There are no names to mention here because we don’t know who they are. But we know that a young and talented pitcher with a controllable contract will be something the Orioles will require when parting with Manny Machado in a trade. If this potential trade is executed properly, it could benefit the O’s starting rotation for many years starting in 2019.

If this feels like forced optimism, you may be correct. I’ve used the words “could,” “probably,” and “maybe” a lot, I know. But O’s fans need something to look forward to! The potential 2019 rotation outlined here nicely blends major league experience and untapped talent and could (I did it again) be a strength of the club.

Given the outlook for 2019’s offense, it may have to be.