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Orioles' 2017 Success Hinges On Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman

February 15, 2017
A baseball team consists of 25 players competing together for one goal.

In the Orioles' case, it usually requires 40 to 50 guys in any given season to get them into the playoffs. Under manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, it has taken a village of minor league signings, under-the-radar pickups and unheralded promotions from Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie to lead the Orioles to the postseason three times in the past five years.

So, yes, it has to be a team effort, and not one particular player has been responsible for the club's recent successes or failures.

Which is why the following statement may seem a little dramatic at best, completely exaggerated at worst.

The 2017 Orioles will rise or fall based on the performances of young right-handers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy.

Gausman and Bundy are the two wild cards on a team of known commodities. Barring injury, most of the current Orioles are going to reach a certain, expected level of performance. There will be some fluctuation, of course, but for the most part, there should be few surprises involving the club's core.

Gausman's and Bundy's potential for 2017, however, could be wildly enigmatic. They could falter, maintain 2016's level or really soar. And, if they soar, well, the Orioles will soar.

Is that too much pressure to put on a duo with a combined 86 starts in the majors? Probably. 

But the Orioles didn't make a concerted effort to improve their rotation this offseason. In fact, they traded away a starter -- right-hander Yovani Gallardo -- to land Seth Smith, an outfielder who should improve the club's subpar on-base percentage.

The Orioles didn't make a splash for a starting pitcher this winter because no potential splashes were available; barely a ripple was attainable via free agency. And the Orioles don't have what it takes in quantity and/or quality in the minors to land an ace such as left-hander Chris Sale via trade.

Still, one of the key reasons the Orioles didn't actively seek a rotation upgrade is because they think that's about to occur anyway. They believe Gausman, 26, and Bundy, 24, will take the next step in 2017 and give the club its strongest rotation in years.

There's reason to believe it could happen. 

Both have impressive pedigrees: Bundy was the fourth pick overall in the 2011 amateur draft out of Owasso High School in Oklahoma, and Gausman was the fourth pick overall in the 2012 amateur draft out of LSU. 

They both have the talent. 

In 38 big league games, all but two coming in 2016, Bundy is 10-6 with a 3.96 ERA and has struck out 104 batters in 111.1 innings. Gausman has a 3.97 ERA in four seasons as a pro, striking out 414 batters in 453 innings.

And they both showed significant promise last year. Bundy, pitching in the big leagues for the first time since having Tommy John surgery in 2013, blew away the 80-inning limit initially proposed for him in 2016. And he finished the season healthy. Gausman posted a 3.61 ERA in 30 starts, including a team-leading 18 quality starts, and posted a 2.83 ERA in his final 12 outings.

Most important, Showalter said there are no specific limits on either of these guys this season. If they are healthy, they are going to go out and pitch every fifth day.

"Being able to develop those guys, it's going to be nice this year not to have those restrictions on them," Showalter said. "We're still going to have some, like we would with any pitcher, to keep them healthy. They're a precious commodity."

But no detailed innings limitations. No shutting down Bundy at 160 because that's 50 more innings than he has thrown in the past.

"Everybody's going to put these exact, cute numbers on everything. … There's no studies, no scientific stuff, nothing to back any of that stuff up," Showalter said. "It's just a bunch of people trying to create some niche that exactly this many innings and exactly this many increments, you have to do exactly this. It's a crock. And anybody that gives that any credence doesn't know what they're talking about. So, he's fine to go, and if there's a problem along the way, we'll back up and leave it alone. But people in the arena chuckle at people that try to say, ‘This is what you've got to do when a guy reaches X amount of innings.' It's a human body. It's not a machine."

What this means is Bundy and Gausman will get a chance to prove they are what the Orioles believed they would be when the club invested so much time and money into the duo. The pitchers are eager to show what they can do.

"You can learn from the good times just as much as the bad," Bundy said. "[2016] was fun. We didn't get where we wanted to go. We want to win the last game of the year. That's our goal, and as starting pitchers we've got to do a better job. And I'm looking forward to trying to do a better job."

What this also means is Bundy and Gausman must do a better job. Because they really are the difference between the 2016 and 2017 clubs. Chris Tillman is steady, and Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley are wildly inconsistent. There's no indication those variables will change.

The overwhelming expectation is the Orioles' bullpen has the personnel to be dominating again. The defense should be above average, and the offense will hit a lot of homers and will suffer droughts when the power isn't working.

In other words, 2017 should be a lot like 2016. 

And then there are Gausman and Bundy.

It may be unfair to say those two young pitchers, in a clubhouse full of veterans, are the most important ingredients in the club's recipe for success. But that's the reality. How the Orioles pitch will determine how far the club goes. And how well Gausman and Bundy perform will go a long way toward determining the effectiveness of the staff.

"Any time you're picked fourth overall, you're going to have high expectations, and we've both been linked from Day One," Gausman said. "It's exciting."

Issue 230: February 2017