Pitching. With a staff that allowed but 3.40 earned runs a game and gave up the fewest home runs, walks and total runs in the league, the Orioles have few worries here. Only Whitey Ford and Billy Pierce compiled a better ERA than lean lefthander Jack Harshman's 2.90. If his 12 and 15 record seems unimpressive, consider that in 11 of his games the Orioles scored no more than one run. Another southpaw, Billy O'Dell, was a bit luckier, since he had a winning record of 14 and 11 to-show for his low 2.97 ERA. Manager Paul Richards lived up to his prestidigitator's reputation last year by pulling one out of the hat: Arnold Portocarrero, a big right-hander who couldn't win more than nine games in three years with the Athletics, set a modern Oriole record with 15 wins. Nineteen-year-old Milt Pappas was carefully brought along last season and still managed to win 10 games. He should be ready to step up the pace now. Superior pitching, sound defense and a well-coached team have been Baltimore's balm under Paul Richards. The only home-run hitter in the Baltimore popgun attack is big Gus Triandos, the Orioles' All-Star catcher, who ranks with the best in the league. Ageless Bob Boyd at first base will hit enough line drives to average .300. Outfielders Bob Nieman and Gene Woodling, both great competitors, round out the Orioles' meager list of legitimate major league hitters. A six months' tour in the Army killed spring training for Brooks Robinson, the third-base virtuoso, and may hinder his progress for a while. When he was hitting last year, he was the most exciting player Baltimore had.
The Orioles have proved rather conclusively that it takes more than a heap of pitching to make a pennant contender, or even finish in the first division. Someone has to get some hits and someone has to drive in some runs once in a while. The Orioles found it impossible to do any of these things: they finished last in the majors in hits, runs, total bases and runs batted in. And next to last in homers. Even the extremely stingy pitching staff gave up more runs and home runs than the hitters could produce. Granted that the Orioles' home park, with its big in-play area and spacious outfield, seems designed by and for a pitcher, but as long as they send fancy glovemen with .200 batting averages up to the plate the Orioles will never get too healthy.
ROOKIES AND NEW FACES
The Oriole farm system, which has been unspectacularly but steadily abuilding, may have come up with a beauty in 26-year-old Willie Tasby. An exciting ballplayer, the trim Tasby was named Rookie of the Year in the American Association last season (.322 batting average, 22 home runs, 95 RBIs). He could finally be that long-sought Orioles center fielder who can hit as well as field. Lennie Green, another fleet center fielder, is back for another try and hit well this spring. Ron Hansen, the rangy shortstop, will only be stopped by his hitting. Bonus Pitcher Jerry Walker looks ready to join the staff. In an effort to add punch to his anemic infield, Richards has picked up an assortment of shopworn infielders. Chico Carrasquel arrived from Cleveland, via Kansas City, and at 31 is still capable of good play at short. Ex-Indian Second Baseman Bobby Avila hit .253 last year but it looks like .400 in the Oriole infield. Billy Klaus had a few good years in Boston and could win the third-base job with his hitting, while Jim Finigan and Whitey Lockman, fair hitters once, add depth.
THE BIG IFS
It would be a shame if the Orioles once again waste all that good pitching for want of a base hit. Richards feels he may have solved that problem with his new infielders. If Carrasquel and Klaus can make the difference with their bats, there will be fewer losing 2-1 games. Of course, if those fantastic young glovemen, Robinson and Hansen, could learn to hit, infield problems would vanish. It would be pleasant, too, if scrappy Second Baseman Billy Gardner were to return to his hitting prowess of two years ago when he was the most valuable Oriole. The same could be said of Al Pilarcik, the speedy outfielder with so much talent who was such a disappointment last season. The Orioles can't afford to lose the big bats of Nieman and Woodling for even a short time but they are liable to, since Nieman has an aching back and Woodling, at 37, needs occasional rest. A lot depends on Willie Tasby making it big in the outfield.
It wouldn't take much—a few base hits at critical moments—for the Orioles to make life uncomfortable for the block of teams ahead of them. It also wouldn't take much—a weakening in the defense, a letdown by the pitchers—for the Orioles to slip way back. This is a fringe club which has, temporarily at least, found its home near the middle of the league, and it could move either way without straining the probabilities or the imagination of the fans. It will be an enjoyable team, tough to beat, but chances are it will finish little better than last year.
PAST PERFORMANCE CHART
RUNS BATTED IN