The Orioles cobbling together a starting rotation had become a rite of spring in Baltimore, just like the locals busting out their lacrosse sticks and Hampdenites dusting off their jorts and sweat-stained off-white tanktops for a little fun in the sun.
This offseason has been different, though. Four of the team's five starters were set in stone long before the Orioles reported to Sarasota, Fla. The only real battle -- and it's a good one -- has been to see which youngster will be the fifth starter.
Still, despite the rotation certainty, the Orioles will once again start the season with a question mark on the mound. And that's because the veterans slated to lead a talented but inexperienced staff, Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie, were the ones looking like wide-eyed rookies while getting smacked around in Grapefruit League play.
A month ago, the consensus was that Millwood and Guthrie (though not exactly a dominating duo like Bill Bellamy and Dan Cortese in the days of MTV's Rock n' Jock Softball) would be rock solid atop the rotation. Lock 'em down. They were good to go.
The young guys, they were the X-factors.
Flash forward to today: The back end of the rotation has had an impressive spring.
Brian Matusz is a total pro. He's got the goods, he;;s got the swagger. If he's not the ace of this team in two years, I'll name my firstborn child Peter Angelos Vensel.
Brad Bergesen is rounding back into the form he showed midway through his rookie season. He started the spring behind schedule because of the fluke shoulder injury he suffered during a commercial shoot, but he has allowed two runs in his last 10 innings.
Chris Tillman was expected to be handed the final spot in the rotation, and he hasn't disappointed. It's just that David Hernandez and Jason Berken have been better. One will likely steal Tillman's spot while the other makes the Opening Day roster as a long reliever.
Sure, strong exhibition performances count only as moral victories for the Orioles, but there's a lot to feel good about there.
Then again, you could also debate the (in)significance of spring training while defending Millwood and Guthrie, who have a combined ERA of 9.00 this spring.
Millwood, a 13-year vet, says he isn't worried, and that he's just working out the kinks. I guess we won't know if they've been worked out until he takes the mound on Opening Day a week from today.
Meanwhile, Guthrie has looked a lot like the pitcher who led the majors in losses a year ago. He is one of those chicken-or-egg scenarios. I'm not sure which went first -- his confidence or command -- but neither has returned this spring. It's concerning.
In the hitter-heavy AL East, the Orioles' chances rest in the hands of their pitching staff. Millwood and Guthrie need to be rock solid, as advertised, to keep the pressure off the kids and keep Baltimore in contention.
If not, the Orioles will be irrelevant at the start of Ravens training camp in July for an umpteenth straight summer -- another annual rite they need to put an end to.
Matt Vensel is a content creator at b. Follow him on Twitter, @mattvensel.