Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Déjà Vu

Or, I think I’ve heard this before somewhere… I’m sorry everyone but something very strange is happening. It’s been very uncanny recently, I keep hearing sports stories that I could swear I must have heard somewhere before. Possibly in a dream… (a bad one)

(1) The Orioles desperately need a fourth (and fifth) starter, tempted to bring up a young buck before his time. (2) The Terps, because of his fantastic practices, make the unpopular decision of naming Jordan Steffy their starting quarterback. (3) The Ravens have a tough decision (or indecision, if you choose to look at it that way) at the quarterback position.

Now let’s put them in perspective, and try to lose the angst (not to mention headache) brought on by each strangely familiar story.

Where oh where is the pitching?
The struggles of the O’s pitching staff have certainly been well document. Now that Garrett Olson has been removed from the rotation in what is regrettably a necessary move, the Orioles are left with only three starters. THREE. And the third? Chris Waters. No offense, but that’s a lot of pressure for a rookie who has only had one quality start, albeit against the best team in baseball in his debut. So where do the Orioles go from here? Simply put they need to go to Hayden Penn for- what? He’s injured and most likely shut down for the year? There’s that funny feeling of déjà vu again… isn’t it creepy? In all seriousness, the Orioles are only left with the option of dipping into the farm system, as there are no bullpen arms to insert into the starting staff(Lance is too necessary in the rotation and JJ is now the closer, so there’s that.). The O’s most likely options include Andy Mitchell (not a prospect, more of a stopgap option a la Chris Waters), Radhames Liz, Brian Burres, Bradley Bergesen, and David Hernandez.

O’s management has played their minor leaguers, for the most part, far better than in previous seasons. Despite the struggles of Liz and Olson, both callups were the right move at the time. Olson was dominating AAA and Liz had made significant strides (though again, they had originally wanted to bring up Penn and give Liz more time). For that reason I doubt they go straight to AA for their fourth starter. Andy Mitchell might be a safe move, but I’m leaning toward the organization bringing back up Liz for the fourth starter’s role. For this Friday’s start (when they will need the starter) Liz will be on regular rest, and he’s coming off of a dominating performance at AAA. There is something to be said for momentum, and keep in mind when he originally came up from Norfolk this season while he was on a roll he started exceptionally strong. I can see the O’s bringing up Brad Bergesen as a fifth starter. I wouldn’t agree with this move, as major league hitters will absolutely hammer him if he does not keep the ball down. He does not have room for error; I’ll leave further elaboration on Bergesen to Expatriate, who has a scouting report from Bergesen’s Sunday start. Also shameless plug, you can reference my earlier prospect report for a more detailed breakdown.

Jordan Steffy? But… but why??
College Park is famous for sports riots. But rarely before school has started. Message boards and sports show call-in lines have exploded as of late, as the bulk of Terp fans have conducted a riot of sorts in wake of the announcement of Jordan Steffy as starter. There is no question that Jordan Steffy is a fantastic guy and has had some terrible luck. But last year he was named the starting QB coming into the season over the popular Florida transfer Josh Portis, and disappointed in the regular season. While he took care of the ball effectively, Jordan far too often settled for check downs and was indecisive on taking the ball deep. A common opinion was that while Jordan could manage a game, the team could never be great with him at the helm. After he suffered a concussion, the second of his career, Chris Turner exploded onto the scene and enamored himself with College Park fans.

But consider the flip side; it’s easy to forget that Chris Turner faded badly down the stretch, despite the victories against Rutgers and Boston College. While head coach Ralph Friedgen has not accomplished enough to be beyond reproach, he certainly would not put in a quarterback he didn’t think could win. He would catch very little flak for starting Turner or Portis instead of Steffy and unlike last year there was no unspoken understanding that it was Steffy’s turn to take over. Coach Friedgen repeatedly expressed frustration at Jordan’s inability to take the ball deep in games, and one can only think that he has seen enough to feel that that has changed.

Jordan Steffy has all the tools to be a very good quarterback, and this year represents a fresh slate. Terp fans should give him a chance; after all, it’s about the team winning, not about ‘being right’. Riiiiiiight?

Who’s willing to hang on to the hot potato?
“Hot potato, really? That’s the pun you’re going with?” Yes, I am. Because both times a Ravens quarterback has been given the limelight of starting this preseason they’ve thrown it away, let’s be very honest. As of yet neither Troy Smith nor Kyle Boller has shown that they want this job when the chips are down. There’s no doubt that both of them want it, but it’s about performance. You do have Flacco in the mix, but the coaching staff has made it relatively clear that he will be holding a clipboard to start the season. Kudos to the organization on that, it is possible to learn from mistakes.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Troy Smith must be the starter to begin the season. Yes; Kyle has looked better in practice, and is certainly the better pure thrower. However, this season the team needs a leader they can believe in, and a quarterback who can mask deficiencies in his supporting cast (O-Line anyone?). The team’s confidence in Troy (and lack thereof in Boller) has been the most poorly kept secret in Baltimore. Neither will set the league on fire, but Smith has the versatility and leadership to elevate the team.

Let’s try to keep our heads up and take a deep breath. This time it could be different. Wait, haven’t we heard that be– oh forget it.

(Photo Credit: AP, Nick Wass)

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