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Schmuck: The pitching duel that defined the Orioles' Dan Duquette era

8/8/2017 -- The Orioles lost to the Angels Tuesday night in California, 3-2. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)

While we're all riding the Oriole emotional express and trying to figure out whether their improved playoff prospects are real or imagined, let's take this opportunity to ponder a moment in time that might've truly defined the Dan Duquette era.

It was Tuesday night's late game against the Los Angeles Angels and if you can't stay up well past midnight to watch baseball on a weeknight, you probably didn't see the impressive pitching duel between Orioles newcomer Jeremy Hellickson and recently departed Orioles pitching prospect Parker Bridwell.

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Both pitched well and Bridwell won an old-school, low-scoring baseball game that also featured solid defense and strong relief work. It was worth staying up for, if only to ponder its greater meaning.

The Orioles had a chance to move to within a half-game of the second American League wild-card slot, but that's not terribly significant. It's just part of the ebb and flow of a typical playoff race in the two-wild-card format. They would get that opportunity again Wednesday afternoon and they are suddenly playing well enough to imagine a fourth trip to the postseason in six years.

What's really interesting about Tuesday night is that it was a microcosmic look at how the Orioles have become a regular playoff contender … for better and worse.

Little more than a week ago, Duquette was getting both bouquets and brick bats for his performance at the nonwaiver trade deadline. He acquired Hellickson and shortstop Tim Beckham, but chose — or was told — not to deal closer Zach Britton for a package of prospects that would've upgraded the club's organizational depth and brightened its future.

Duquette traded Single-A pitching prospect Tobias Myers in the Beckham deal, and the 19-year-old — if history is any guide — will probably will develop into a 16-game winner in three or four years. He also sent Double-A prospect Garrett Cleavinger to the Philadelphia Phillies in the complicated trade for Hellickson.

Both moves obviously look pretty good at the moment and the case can be made that the Beckham acquisition is also a future play, since he'll be under club control through 2020. Duquette has unapologetically dealt young prospects for a number of veterans over the past 5½ seasons to keep the Orioles playoff-viable and you can sum up his philosophy in four words: That's what they're for.

OK, so maybe that's 4½ words, but you get the idea. The Duq is a right-now kind of guy and has been since the day he walked in the door. He has regularly harvested the minor league system to bring back temporary veteran talent, which has kept the Orioles low in the various player development ratings and high enough in the standings to have the best regular-season record in the American League since 2012.

Still, it's fair to wonder if the Orioles suffer from an organizational deficiency when it comes to projecting young pitching talent. We'll leave Jake Arrieta out of this conversation because it was pretty obvious that he needed a change of scenery to emerge as the great pitcher he has become. But the Orioles obviously didn't see Zach Davies developing into a guy who is on pace to win 18 games this year for the Milwaukee Brewers.

They apparently didn't see Bridwell (6-1) developing into much of anything, because they all but gave him to the Angels in April. The Angels saw something, because they brought him to the major leagues just six weeks later and he has given up two earned runs or fewer in seven of his first 10 big league starts.

That kind of thing is particularly galling in a season in which the Orioles had no legitimate minor league alternatives when the struggles of Ubaldo Jiménez, Wade Miley and Chris Tillman dragged them as deep as seven games under .500 in mid-July.

Frustrated fans also could point to left-hander Ariel Miranda, who is five games over .500 (12-7) since being traded to the Seattle Mariners for Miley, who is 7-14 over the same period. But to be fair in that case, Miranda was an older prospect who has benefited from great run support and a pitcher-friendly stadium.

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez also has to come up in the conversation, though it's hard to argue with the deal that netted the Orioles top reliever Andrew Miller, who was a key figure in the 2014 drive to the American League Championship Series.

Duquette isn't second-guessing himself. His wheeling and dealing helped pull the Orioles out of a 14-year losing streak and they haven't had a losing season since. That streak is in danger this year, but Hellickson has pitched well in his first two Orioles starts and Beckham was the AL Player of the Week after a record-breaking offensive performance by a player joining a new team.

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Maybe the Orioles will ultimately regret dealing the two pitching prospects they gave up in those deals. It certainly wouldn't be the first time.

If Duquette is someday remembered unfondly for the deals that contributed to this year's pitching crisis, however, don't forget to give him credit for stealing Brad Brach and Mark Trumbo, or signing 2014 major league home run king Nelson Cruz for a song.

Dan does what Dan does, and it has worked out pretty well so far.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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