The Baltimore Orioles under new manager Buck Showalter have become a force in the American League and the American League East. On August the 2nd the O’s had the worst record in baseball, even lower than the perpetual dwellers in the Marinas Trench of baseball the Pittsburgh Pirates. In four months of play the O’s had but 32 wins and had gone through two managers. They were on pace to lose well at least 110 games and maybe more games than any team in Major League Baseball History in a 162 game season.
At the end of last season I said that manager Dave Trembley had to go. At the time I suggested Bobby Valentine as a replacement. After Trembley was fired Valentine as well as a number of other candidates was interviewed, shortly after Valentine removed himself from consideration as a possible successor to Trembley. On August the 2nd the Orioles hired Showalter to take the place of Interim Manager Juan Samuel. When Showalter took over the Orioles no-one gave him much of a chance of making any real progress this season, most considered the Orioles a lost cause. I did not think so. At the beginning of the year I predicted that the Orioles would be a .500 team and that this would be a good year for them. That prediction did not materialize but it was not a question of talent but of leadership and the ability of the Orioles Coaching staff to get the best out of the team, especially the young talent. The team is playing to the level that I thought that they could at the beginning of the season.
It is my belief that finishing a season well is an indicator of the real potential of a team. If one was to simply look at the Orioles aggregate win and loss totals one might say that the season was a disaster. That is not true. The first 4 months of the season were an unmitigated disaster as the team lost 16 of its first 18 games and never recovered under the management of Dave Trembley and Juan Samuel. The team was obviously demoralized and looked to an outsider that they believed that they would lose when they took the field. Young players, especially the young pitchers either got knocked around or were given no run support. Veterans acquired in the off-season to provide experience and on field leadership to the youngsters were a bust and the team had numerous injuries to key players. You could not have a worse first two thirds of a season if you tried.
But all of that changed on August 2nd with a simple change in leadership. The Orioles started to win and win frequently. Not only did they win frequently they began to win a lot more series than they lost.If the season began on August 2nd the AL east would look like this:
Orioles 34-23 .596
Blue Jays 30-26 .535
Yankees 30-27 .526
Red Sox 28-27 .509
Rays 28-28 .500
There were turnarounds in hitting as well as starting pitching. Orioles starters went 26-15 with a 3.13 ERA after Showalter. With that their starters were the 3rd best rotation in majors since August 2nd. They have the third best record in the Majors since August 2nd with only the Phillies and Twins winning more.
The Orioles have a lot to look forward to. Buck Showalter will not rest in the off season as he gets the O’s ready for next year. There will be changes. I would think that pitchers Kevin Millwood and Mark Hendrickson will be gone; others will have to fight for their jobs. In the off season Showalter will take the raw talent that has been present on the Orioles at the Major League and Minor League levels make prudent trades as well as assignments within the organization to get them ready to challenge the rest of the AL East in 2011.
While the Orioles are definitely on the way up one has to take a look at how others are doing not just in the East but in the Majors. In the AL East the Rays Owner says that payroll will be significantly reduced and with numerous key players in contract negotiations and declaring free agency they will not be the same team that they have been the past three years. The Yankees and Red Sox are both showing signs of age with the Sox being in worse shape in the long run because they have little to speak of in their minor league system are saddled with a good number of older players and have key players entering the free agent market. The Yankees can always spend money but as the core of the team, Jeter, Posada, Pettitte and Rivera get older they will lose something. Since the organization will be unlikely to trade such favorites at some point they will spend more time on the DL and not perform as well as in previous years. It is simple; the older guys get the more that they wear out. This may prove problematic for the Yankees in the coming years. The Blue Jays finished strong but one does not know what will happen with them with the exit of long time manager Cito Gaston.
Outside of the AL East only the Twins performed really well. Almost every team in the AL was just above .500 or below during the last two months of the season. This includes teams that have a history of doing well and some that are playoff bound. Finishing well matters and with the exception of the Orioles and Twins in the AL no teams finished strong, many stumbled and the proof is in their records.
All of this bodes well for the Orioles especially if Showalter is able to continue what he started this year. I expect the Orioles to be competitive in the AL East. I do not think that they will necessarily win the division but they will not be the door-mat that they have been for so many years. There is work to do in Birdland but for the first time in years there is real hope based on their performance the last two months of the season. The team believes that it can win every time it takes the field. When there is leadership and talent there is no limit to where the O’s can go.
Over the off-season I will continue my reporting and commentary on the Orioles and their organization, particularly the Triple-A affiliate the Norfolk Tides. Over the next month I will be commenting of the MLB playoffs and begin to publish articles on the young talent in the Orioles organization and what I think might happen as Buck Showalter and Andy McPhail makes the changes to the organization to make the team a force in the American League for years to come.