Arms gap

This week, the Milwaukee Brewers made a bold move by trading for pitcher CC Sabathia, surrendering four minor league players to the Cleveland Indians to acquire the reigning Cy Young Award winner and pending free agent. They haven't seen the playoffs since beating out the Orioles on the final day of the 1982 season. They're going for it in 2008.

(They're also finding out that Sabathia doesn't look any slimmer in their uniform, but I digress.)


The Chicago Cubs, trying to hold off the Brewers in the National League Central, delivered a counterpunch Tuesday night by acquiring pitchers Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin from the Oakland Athletics for pitcher Sean Gallagher, outfielder Matt Murton, outfielder/infielder Eric Patterson and a minor league catcher.

This is the good life. You're contenders, and you're not afraid to roll up your sleeves and fight for what you want. The fans love it. Baseball needs it. Keep it interesting.


Then there's the other side of life. You're the Orioles, and all you're trying to do is survive. Counterpunching has been replaced by covering up.

Contending would be nice. Hanging around .500 has been a blast, especially during the days when you've been above it. But right now, you're looking at the state of your bullpen, and your rotation, and rolling up your sleeves doesn't sound as appealing as rolling over and hoping it'll be 2009 when you wake up.

Manager Dave Trembley has three starters who bump their heads on the ceiling after five innings. He can't count on Radhames Liz, Garrett Olson or Brian Burres to go any further. All he can do is hope.

Trembley's options are drier than roadside diner meatloaf. Lance Cormier has made 18 starts in the majors, but he's needed in the bullpen to fill the void left by Matt Albers' shoulder injury. Jim Johnson started 120 games in the minors before this season and was the organization's Pitcher of the Year in 2005, but he's the new eighth-inning setup man.

Triple-A Norfolk's rotation was supposed to dazzle us with all its talented young arms fighting to gain the Orioles' attention, but Liz, Olson, Albers and Johnson are on the major league staff, Troy Patton underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum, and Hayden Penn is coming back from another injury and needs more innings, and much better luck, in the International League.

Jon Leicester, who made five starts for the Orioles last season, is 2-8 with a 6.13 ERA. Andy Mitchell, Craig Anderson and Randy Keiser are part of Norfolk's rotation these days, and nobody is campaigning for promoting them. The top pitching talent is a level down at Double-A Bowie - Brad Bergesen (10-2, 2.53 ERA), David Hernandez (5-1, 2.70 ERA, 105 strikeouts), Chris Tillman (7-2, 3.12 ERA) - and the Orioles would like to keep it there.

If you're not going to rush your prospects, you preach patience with the ones who are supposed to be helping you now. And you scramble to find ways to assist them, which takes us back to the bullpen.

The Orioles scored 10 runs Sunday and lost. They scored six Tuesday and lost. When times were good earlier this season, the bullpen held down opponents, kept the games close and allowed the Orioles to rally in the late innings. Now it can't hold leads, and opponents are coming from behind to win.


With Albers and Adam Loewen on the shelf, Dennis Sarfate is being asked to serve as the bridge to Johnson and closer George Sherrill, a big responsibility for a guy who is out of minor league options and trying to harness his upper-90s fastball, but Trembley isn't draped in choices, unless you want Ryan Bukvich back. Veteran Jamie Walker, also on the DL, has been replaced as the left-handed specialist by Alberto Castillo, 33, who never pitched above Single-A until this year, played several years in the independent Atlantic League and spent two minor league seasons in the field.

Kam Mickolio, acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the Erik Bedard deal, has been promoted to Norfolk and threw two scoreless innings in his debut this week. Randor Bierd has been transferred from Single-A Frederick to Double-A Bowie on his injury rehab assignment. They eventually could be in Baltimore to provide assistance - a reliever who has never pitched in the majors and a Rule 5 pick.

One of these days, the Orioles will be the contenders who deliver the first blow or a stinging counterpunch. They'll be living the good life, like the Brewers and Cubs, instead of holding on for dear life.