Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).
Five questions …
1. Is it just me or did Thursday bring a cruel juxtaposition with ex-Oriole Jake Arrieta earning his 15th win while T.J. McFarland was mopping up in a blowout loss? More than two years later, it’s painfully obvious that Dan Duquette’s decision to trade Arrieta and Pedro Strop to the Chicago Cubs for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger was the wrong move. The long man spot in the bullpen occupied by the then-Rule 5 pick McFarland would have been the perfect role for Arrieta, who would flash brilliance with Baltimore but was clearly struggling to establish himself with a 5.46 ERA in 69 career games (63 starts) and was out of minor-league options in 2013. Having blossomed into one of the best pitchers in the National League, Arrieta may never have found that success with the Orioles, but seeing McFarland toil as no better than a fringe reliever two years later just reinforces the organization’s strange obsession with the Rule 5 draft and how it’s often hurt them while providing little return.
2. Is it just me or is the perceived difficulty of this year’s training camp preparing the Ravens for a brutal start to the regular season? More than a few players have talked about the challenge of this camp compared to past years even though John Harbaugh already owned a reputation for working his players hard. That reality and the trip to Philadelphia to practice with the Eagles for three days ahead of Saturday’s preseason game have to be considered the tuneup for the start of the regular season that features five of the first seven on the road and two long-term road trips out west in which the Ravens will cut down on travel time between games. Harbaugh loves the expression “iron sharpens iron” and his team will need to be tough early to avoid an uphill climb to the postseason in the second half. If the Ravens can start no worse than 4-3, they should be in good shape for the rest of the season that features three consecutive home games in November and three of the last four at M&T Bank Stadium.
3. Is it just me or does the Miguel Gonzalez situation need to be handled delicately if you’re Buck Showalter? Many disagreed with Showalter stating Friday that the right-hander remains the club’s “best option” for the rotation and there’s little defending a 6.48 ERA since his return from the disabled list in late June, but this is a different situation than the one with Bud Norris when Kevin Gausman was ready and waiting earlier this year. With Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright both sidelined with injuries, there isn’t an alternative beyond bringing up a non-prospect type like Chris Jones just for the sake of doing it. Even if the Orioles do remove Gonzalez from the rotation, it would be wrong to completely bury him for the long haul as he not only has a remaining minor-league option, but he is under club control for a couple more seasons. Unlike Norris who was a pending free agent and little more than an average starting pitcher before 2014, Gonzalez pitched at a strong level for three full years before the struggles of the last two months and that shouldn’t be forgotten when looking toward the future.
4. Is it just me or is the Ravens’ 2015 draft class standing on its head right now? With first-rounder Breshad Perriman injured and second-round tight end Maxx Williams still working to establish himself, you do wonder how quickly the Ravens’ top two choices from this year’s draft will be ready to contribute. However, a pair of late-round picks have earned attention this summer as fifth-round tight end Nick Boyle and sixth-round wideout Darren Waller continue to make plays in practices. Boyle has dropped passes at times, but the football continues to be thrown his way as he turned heads during the practices in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the 6-foot-6 Waller is ahead of where most thought he’d be in his development after playing in a triple-option attack at Georgia Tech. Neither player is going to start, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Waller and Boyle involved more in the passing game — particularly in the red zone — than most would have predicted for their rookie seasons.
5. Is it just me or is Marlon Brown a player who needs to be careful not to land himself on the bubble? While Waller has established himself as a viable option for the 53-man roster, the 6-foot-5 Brown has battled back and hamstring injuries this summer and hasn’t done much to stand out when he has been on the practice field. Even in the spring, I thought Brown needed to have a strong camp to be a roster lock and that simply hasn’t happened, making you wonder if his spot could be in some jeopardy with other young receivers such as Waller, Jeremy Butler, and DeAndre Carter jockeying for roles. The University of Georgia product did improve as 2014 progressed, but he finished his second NFL season with just 24 receptions and no touchdowns after a 49-catch, seven-touchdown rookie campaign. For now, I’d still bet on Brown making the team, but he needs to pick up his play over the next couple preseason games to put a slow start behind him.