COMMENTARY | One of the beauties of baseball is that it is such a team sport. If one player fails, often another player on the team has the opportunity to pick him up, as they say -- to make his teammate's failure become insignificant.
That said, it is obvious that for a team to be truly successful, and by that I mean win the World Series, there are a certain number of players that must have good or even great years. There are also a certain number of starting pitchers who have to produce for the team all season long.
That number, by the way, is three.
Over the past 15 seasons, 14 of the teams that have won the World Series had one thing in common: They all had at least three pitchers who both pitched at least 180 innings and won at least 10 games. Only one team in that group, the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, were able to win it all without these three pitchers, and that team had Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, who just happened to finish Nos. 1 and 2 in the Cy Young Award voting that season.
History tells us that no matter how good your offense, how slick your defense, or how dominant your bullpen, if you don't have those three starting pitchers, your chances aren't very good. (Last year's World Series winners, the San Francisco Giants, had five such pitchers!)
After the first two months of 2013, the Baltimore Orioles can realistically hope that two of their starting pitchers will log at least 180 innings and win at least 10 games -- but two isn't three, and Jason Hammel and Chris Tillman ain't Johnson and Schilling.
When looking at the Orioles' rotation today, there are a few possibilities for who may step up to fill that all-important third starter role. Freddy Garcia, for one, has pitched well at times, and he has been that pitcher for a World Series winner before, pitching 228 innings and winning 14 games for the 2005 Chicago White Sox. But Garcia has also been knocked around on occasion this year. He's 37; his fastball now tops out at 86 miles per hour or so, and he would not be the best bet to meet the Orioles' needs this season.
Kevin Gausman is one of the game's top pitching prospects and is a definite wild card to be what the Orioles are looking for but he is a rookie who struggled in his first two starts, and it would be unfair and unwise to rely too much on him.
Wei-Yin Chen was the Orioles' best starter early this season and the team's only starter to win double-digit games a year ago, but an oblique injury has forced him out of the rotation, and he still has not resumed throwing. Chen should come back at some point this season and when he does you would expect him to be effective, but it's still not clear when that will be.
So the Orioles still need that third starting pitcher who they can count on to take the ball every fifth day and give them a good chance to win. But the O's are not the only A.L. East team still searching for a third starter this season. The Yankees are crossing their fingers that it's Andy Pettitte, the Red Sox that it's John Lackey, and even the pitching-strong Rays need a third starter to emerge, with Jeremy Hellickson, seeming a more likely candidate than the reigning Cy Young Award winner, David Price.
Unlike their rivals and their big-name possible third starters, the Orioles will likely have to rely on little-known Miguel Gonzalez to step up and be that 10-plus/180-plus pitcher that every great team needs at least three of. But despite Gonzalez's lack of name recognition, Orioles fans have good reason to believe he can reach these numbers and more after watching him become nothing short of an ace the second half of 2012, when he won nine games and pitched over 100 innings.
Though he has only 11 career victories to his credit, the quiet, unflappable Gonzalez clearly represents the Orioles' best option for that magical third starter. He missed a couple of starts earlier in the year due to an injury (blister), and perhaps that helps explain his early inconsistencies on the mound.
If the O's hope to take that next step and become a serious World Series contender, they will need one pitcher to step up and fill an absolutely vital role on their team -- and it's an unlikely, unheralded, 29-year-old that few outside of their fan base even knows exists who is their best if not only hope.
The Orioles need Miguel Gonzalez.
Joe Cooney has been a professional baseball writer for nearly 20 years, covering the Orioles, Rockies, Cubs and more. He grew up and still lives near Baltimore, Md.
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