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The Orioles Take Flight: The Showalter Era Takes Hold

Buck Showalter, a New Sheriff is in Town (Reuters Photo)

On August 3rd the Baltimore Orioles had a record of 32 and 73 and appeared to be heading not only for a 100 loss season but very possibly 110 or more losses.  Under Manager Dave Trembley and Interim Manager Juan Samuel they had lost 52 games before they had won 20.  It was a dismal record for a team that was demoralized and without real leadership.  Trembley and Samuel were both gentlemen and loyal organization people.  They were both popular with players but could not inspire them to win.

The organization was not only a losing organization of the field but in all departments except the minor league system. Unfortunately the promising prospects coming out of the minors entered a clubhouse where losing was accepted as a way of life presided over by an owner who did nothing to promote winning and spent no money to get All-Star caliber veterans to help provide leadership to the team. Instead of hiring top quality managers they settled for second and third tier managers for years, men who were good guys but terribly lackluster leaders and not Major League caliber managers.

The Orioles at that point seemed to be a franchise on the brink of an unrecoverable death spiral. In my times at Harbor Park last season and this season Elliott the Usher and I would spend much time together and muse about how if we ran the Orioles that things would be different.  As we talked about how to solve the problems of the world, in particular those of the Orioles I finally said that it was not the talent. I felt last season and this season that with the talent available at the Major League level as well as what the Orioles had in their farm system that they should at least be a .500 team this year.  But for the first two thirds of the season that was not the case and I told Elliott at the end of April that it was not the players but on field leadership that was the problem. I thought the Dave Trembley was a nice guy and a good minor league manager but that I felt that he had not been able to step up his game to the Major League level.  In fact I commented back on September 29th 2009 that I thought that Trembley needed to go.

“The one spot that I think that the team needs a change is the Field Manager Dave Trembley.  Trembley seems to be a good teacher but is not terribly inspirational.  Admittedly he began the year with a weak squad but something is not working and I do like his calm, but I wonder if the teams needs fire rather than calm right now.” See Oh, Oh, Oh, O’s….The Orioles Skid Continues But there are Some Bright Spots

I repeated this when the O’s had lost 9 of their first 10 games this season. Last year I was looking at Bobby Valentine as a potential manager having forgotten that Showalter was available. At the time that Trembley was fired the Orioles had a 15 and 39 record, the word by far in the majors with a pitiful .278 winning percentage. This did not improve much under Samuel who had served under Trembley as the Third Base Coach.  Samuel had a 17 and 24 record as the Orioles interim skipper with a cumulative .305 winning percentage. Most people doubted that Showalter do much with this year’s team but they were wrong. Drew Forrester wrote: As I wrote earlier this week, if I had to place a bet, I’d bet AGAINST you because history has shown that no one can turn this thing around in Baltimore…because management and ownership don’t want to do what it takes to win. But I’m really pulling for you, because I think you’re exactly what we need in Baltimore.”

I remember when Showalter was hired and I took a look at his track record. He has been successful at every team that he has managed. In fact he was in large part responsible for building the Yankees team that Joe Torre would lead to 4 World Series Championships. He did the same foundation laying work in Arizona with the Diamondbacks.  I would dare say that without Showalter building the foundation that Joe Torre might have been about as successful in New York as he was with Mets, Braves, Cardinals or Dodgers.  All of Torre’s championships came with the Yankees. I believe that this was in large part due to the acumen of Showalter and the willingness of George Steinbrenner for big name player as well as building up an excellent Minor League system to spend the money needed to produce a winner. When I saw Showalter begin to manage the O’s I knew that he would change things and that the team would start producing.  Since he took over the Orioles have won 25 and lost 15 and for the first time since 2008 had two consecutive winning road trips.  They have the second best record in the American League during this time period behind the Minnesota Twins.  The Orioles are now beating the teams of the AL East and in the past week have taken 2 of three each from the Rays, Yankees and as of tonight the Blue Jays who they will play again tomorrow.

The Orioles hitting has come alive and their starting pitchers who had been beaten about by about everyone in baseball made a turn as well.  It is interesting to look at Orioles player’s reactions after Showalter took over. Center Fielder Adam Jones said: “I think what’s really going on is everyone knows his reputation as a hard-ass. He’s going to get on you for doing this; he’s going to say something about everything. I think that’s actually worked. Hey, let’s get it done. You might as well. You don’t want him on you. I think that’s the approach a lot of guys are taking. Hey, let him sit in there with that scowl. If it works, it works.”

“It’s just that his presence, well, you can just feel the change coming. He’s been on some winning ballclubs, he knows what it takes. Everybody knows his reputation around here. They know it as someone who’s going to get on you, and it’s working for us.”

Showalter and his hard driving style, ability to get the most out of players and develop young talent is already remaking the Orioles. Any observe can sense that this team, which before Showalter’s arrival was described by Forrester as “a lot of people — players, coaches and management — who have done nothing but LOSE in their respective careers in Baltimore…  Pick a player on the team.  I don’t care what his name is or what his stats show, I can guarantee you this:  He’s contributed to LOSING during his time here.  Guys who won elsewhere in their career – like Tejada and Millwood – show up here…and start losing.  It’s the “Oriole Way”.

That has changed. As of tonight they have won 4 consecutive series for the first time since 2004.  The Orioles have made one of the most dramatic end of season turnarounds in recent memory.  Players universally talk about Showalter’s tough expectations and the difference in the clubhouse. They now believe that they can win any game against any team that they play.

The starting pitching is one department where things have changed When Showalter arrived; the rotation of Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta had a combined record of 15-45 with a 5.50 earned run average. As of September 7th under Showalter, those pitchers are 15-11 with a 3.23 E.R.A.

The expectations are high. Ty Wigginton commented ”This is our manager….You’ve got his track record, and everybody knows that Buck knows how to win. That speaks for itself with a lot of guys. Let’s wait and see, but I think for some of the younger players, it kind of opened their eyes to realize: I’ve got to start getting this right.”

Brian Matusz commented: ”You can’t just walk over us….We’re playing good baseball right now. We’re doing all the little things right. It’s fun to come out and beat teams in our division and continue this streak that we have.”

The Orioles management has stated that the off season will be very busy. There will be a lot of moves and hard evaluation of talent. There is a new sheriff in town, and his name is Buck. I expect that the Orioles will now be a factor in the AL East.  I do not expect them to be the “Washington Generals” of the division and they will make the East a very interesting division next year as teams that were used to getting 10-15 wins at their expense will have to fight the Orioles at every step of the way. It will be fun to watch the Orioles the rest of this season and next year as they take flight as they have not in the last 14 years.

This could well be the start of something good.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Tides fall to Yankees 4-0 despite Solid Performance by Brandon Erbe; Orioles Sweep Red Sox

Brandon Erbe allowed 1 run on 3 hits but got the loss Sunday

It was a hot day at Harbor Park but the bats of the Norfolk Tides were cold as the Tides dropped game two of their series against the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees by a score of 4 -0.  Tides starting pitcher Brandon Erbe (0-5 6.66) had his best outing of the year pitching six innings and allowing just one run on three hits. Unfortunately for Brandon and the Tides Yankees starter Jason Hirsch (2-3 3.06) and relievers Royce Ring and Amaury Sanit shut down the Tides offense allowing just three hits.

Steve Lerud forces Kevin Russo at home and

Erbe pitched his best game of the season giving up his only run in the top of the sixth inning when Kevin Russo tripled to right and scored on a soft ground ball to third that Tides Third Baseman Josh Bell could only go to first for the out.  Brandon worked out of the inning and was relieved by Koji Uehara making a one inning rehab appearance as he prepares to rejoin the Orioles at the conclusion of his rehab. Uehara allowed one hit but no runs facing four batters and making just 8 pitches of which 7 were strikes.  According to the Tides website there is a possibility of making another appearance in Monday’s game against the Yankees.

Josh Bell singles off the glove of Amaury Sanit in the bottom of the 9th

Kam Mickolio came on in the 8th inning and the big right hander struggled against the Yankees hitters. Kevin Russo singled and then Mickolio walked Reegie Corona.  With runners on first and second Eduardo Nunez laid down a bunt between the pitcher’s mound and third base. Mickolio fielded the ball and considered going to third to get the lead runner and then paused and attempted to get Nunez at first but the delay allowed all to be safe.  Juan Miranda then hit a ground ball to Scott Moore at second base and Moore came to the plate cutting down Russo. Catcher Adam Donachie threw to first attempting to get the double play but Miranda beat out the throw.  David Winfree a Virginia Beach native hit a soft ground ball to Josh Bell leaving Bell with only the play at first allowing Corona to score.  Mickolio walked Jesus Montero to re-load the bases.  Jon Weber then singled to right scoring both Nunez and Miranda and was replaced by Armando Gabino who struck out Chad Huffman.

The Tides could mount nothing else and the game ended with Erbe getting loss while having his best start of the season. One hopes that the next time he has such a performance that he will get some run support.

Meanwhile up in Baltimore the Orioles completed a sweep of the Red Sox when in the 10th inning Ty Wigginton doubled to drive in Nick Markakis giving the Orioles the win.  Former Tides pitcher Matt Albers got the win in relief of Kevin Millwood while Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon got the loss. The Orioles have won three in a row for the first time this season and swept the Sox for the first time since September of 1974.  Former Tides Outfielder Rhyne Hughes connected on a two out RBI double in the 4th inning.

Orioles reliever Koji Uehara made a rehab appearance in the 7th inning for the Tides

On Monday the Tides will face the Yankees in game three of their series and the Orioles will travel to Yankee Stadium to take on the New York Yankees.  Here in Norfolk weather permitting Chris Tillman (2-3 4.05) coming off two exception starts on the road including his no-hitter against the Gwinett Braves will face Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova (1-0 2.70).

See you are Harbor Park,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Tides Down Yankees 2-1 Patton Gets Second Win

Troy Patton firing a pitch on Saturday night against the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees

The Norfolk Tides returned home to the friendly confines of Harbor Park where Troy Patton came back from a rough outing in Charlotte to pitch 7 solid innings against the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees on Saturday night.  In front of 10,489 fans in warm weather Patton gave up just one run on five hits in seven innings work, the run coming on a solo home run by Yankees first baseman Juan Miranda to lead off the 2nd inning.  Apart from that Troy had little difficulty with the Yankees and was backed up by Ross Wolf who set the Yanks down in order in the 8th inning. Frank Mata got the save despite a two out grounder with eyes by Yankees shortstop Eduardo Nunez which eluded Tides Third Baseman Justin Turner for a single and a bobbled ground ball by Second Baseman Robert Andino.

Adam Donachie completing a double play tagging out Reggie Corona at the plate

The Tides generated enough offense to win getting their hits in situations where it mattered.  In the 6th inning Catcher Adam Donachie doubled to lead off the inning and was moved to third on a single by Joey Gathright who then stole second base. Donachie scored on a sacrifice fly by Justin Turner.  The Tides would score again in the bottom of the 7th inning when Brandon Snyder reached second on a throwing error by Shortstop Eduardo Nunez to first.  Corey Patterson then singled to left and Snyder beat the throw from Chad Huffman going head first into home to score the run.

Brandon Snyder scoring the winning run

The Tides also played some excellent defense which was highlighted when with runners on second and third with one out Eduardo Nunez hit a fly ball to Tides Right Fielder Corey Patterson.  Yankees Second Baseman Reggie Corona tagged and came home. Patterson threw a strike to Catcher Adam Donachie who tagged Corona out for the double play which ended the inning and the Yankees only real scoring threat.

Frank Mata closed the game and got his 4th save

When all was said and done on this perfect night for baseball the Tides got back on the winning track and Troy Patton (2-3 6.12) got the win and Frank Mata (0-0 S4 1.64) got his fourth save of the year. Romulo Sanchez (0-2 6.48) got the loss for the Yankees.  The Yankees had 1 run on 6 hits and 1 error and the Tides 2 runs on 6 hits and 1 error.

On Sunday afternoon the teams will face each other again and it will be a hot one with temperatures in the 90s.  Brandon Erbe (0-4 8.35) will take the hill for the Tides, the young prospect is seeking his first win of the season.  He will face Scranton right hander Jason Hirsch (1-3 3.91).

In Baltimore the Orioles defeated the Red Sox for the second consecutive night extending their winning streak over the Sox to 3 games.  Brad Bergeson got his first win of the season for the O’s after having been called back from Norfolk and Alfredo Simon got the save.  The O’s had the best offensive production of the year Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield scoring 12 runs on 12 hits including 5 home runs, two by Ty Wigginton and one each by Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters and Luke Scott.  The O’s will try for a sweep tomorrow afternoon at Camden Yards.

See you at Harbor Park.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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