Orioles Get First Sweep in Over a Year
The Baltimore Orioles did something they hadn’t done in over a year, sweep a team in a series, and, at the same time, Orioles pitchers set a team record. This past Sunday, the brooms were out of the closet when the Orioles, having won the first two at home against the Tampa Bay Rays, were ready to brush the dust into the pan. The sweep didn’t come easy for the O’s, however, as it never does. They went into the bottom half of the seventh on Sunday tied at one, and then scored three in the bottom half of the inning and another run in the eighth. Before they knew it, they were waving fake fives and flailing empty body bumps, on their way to a virtual interview or a socially distant walk to the locker room.
Orioles Set Strikeout Record
But this wasn’t the only reason for the team’s excitement. The Oriole’s pitching staff had completed a feat that had never been completed before by an Orioles’ team. Starting July 29thagainst the Yankees, despite losing the game, and ending Sunday against Tampa Bay, they recorded more than ten strikeouts in five consecutive games. Pitchers the likes of Asher Wojciechowski, Evan Phillips, Cody Carroll, Paul Fry, John Means, Alex Cobb, and finally Tommy Milone, combined efforts for the record.
A month ago, if you stopped the average Oriole fan on the street, he probably wouldn’t have been to name more than half of this group.
Great Orioles Pitching
But here we are, a new record, and not an easy one to break either. Think of the great Oriole pitching staffs of the past. Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar as examples, whose careers overlapped on Baltimore’s staff. These three as an example are among the top four in wins for the Orioles (Palmer with 268 wins, McNally with 181 and Cuellar with 143). Palmer’s career overlapped by at least five seasons with three other greats, Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor, and Dennis Martinez, who were also among the top ten winningest Oriole pitchers, Yet these staffs never had 10 or more strikeouts in five consecutive games.
The Game Has Changed
Truth, pitching has changed over the years. Pitchers have gotten bigger and stronger. The velocity of pitches has increased steadily over the years and the speed of the pitches has increased (as an example, the average velocity of the top ten pitchers in MLB increased from 98.21 mph to 99.09 mph in 2019).
2018 was the first season in history in which strikeouts outpaced hits. This divide was even greater in 2019. Teams are relying less on their defense. In 2019, hitters either struck out, walked, or homered 35 percent of the time. At the same time, the mean batting average was a measly .245. Batting averages haven’t been that low since 1972. They are 26 points lower than the mean BA during the steroid era.
The need for speed may be the reason why teams are also using more pitchers. In 2008, teams used an average of 3.76 pitchers per game. In 2018, that number jumped to 4.36.
The Great 1971 Staff
So, in summary, pitches today are thrown at a higher velocity, team pitching is a ‘pitch by committee’ approach, and, as a result, batters are hitting the ball less and with lower productivity – walking, homering, and striking out more.
It’s easy, therefore, to shrug off a team-record like the one the Orioles just set. I mean, more strikeouts and less hitting is the trend, right?
Hold on, not so fast. Even if you consider that pitching and hitting have changed over the years, the pitching staffs of the Orioles have been legendary. Again, take the 1971 Baltimore Orioles staff of Mike Cuellar (20-9, 3.08), Pat Dobson (20-8, 2.90), Jim Palmer (20-9, 2.68), Dave McNally (21-5, 2.68). These four 20 game winners combined for a 2.89 ERA and are often considered among the best staffs ever. If any rotation could have broken this record, they could have. But they didn’t.
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