Why The Baltimore Orioles Are Still Poised To Make A Playoff Run
Even though the Baltimore Orioles were just swept by the Toronto Blue Jays, O’s manager Buck Showalter still has his team sitting pretty in the AL East. For a team that very recently suffered through fourteen straight losing seasons, this Orioles team resembles more of a division contender than a bottom feeder that they were so used to being before – and that many predicted would finish near the bottom of the standings in 2013. How then has this franchise had such a dramatic turn-around, once known for high-priced free-agent signings, under-performance, and general organizational mediocrity?
Previous history suggested that Showalter was a manager that was always hired to help build up a team, but then wasn’t able to lead them to the Promised Land. Before Baltimore, he was fired by the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers. But somehow in Oriole Land, he’s still building and winning with this playoff calibre team. As a matter of fact, the Orioles have the most wins of any A.L. team since last July.
Hired in July 2010, Buck inherited established stars in Adam Jones and Brian Roberts, had good players in Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters, had a 200-inning work-horse in Jeremy Guthrie, and a reliable bullpen arm in Koji Uehara.
In 2011, the youth-movement began with the likes of Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Troy Patton. No doubt these seeds were planted in the ear of Orioles owner Peter Angelos, one who preferred trying to buy wins rather than developing one’s own system, when Showalter came on board. The team also acquired J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds to help generate more pop on offense. Still, it was a last place team, but the move towards youth must have been refreshing for fans and younger players in the organization to know that they’ve got a chance to make it to the show.
Then on July 31st, 2011 they acquired Tommy Hunter and Chris Davis for Uehara. At the time, one wouldn’t be wrong to describe those guys as a 5th starter/long man in the pen, and a failed prospect who couldn’t figure it out in the majors. Later in August, they obtained Pedro Strop as the player to be named in the Mike Gonzales deal – all from the Texas Rangers. And all three players were instrumental in Baltimore’s 2012 Wild Card berth.
Who thought that trade with Texas would be franchise changing?
New GM Dan Duquette was hired in November 2011 and did what? He acquired Jason Hammel and Wei-Yen Chen in two low profile moves that have turned out big. That’s really it though. This team had the makings of a winner already – it appears they just needed a breath of fresh air in the form of a suitable manager, and some luck.
“Our team wouldn’t have been anywhere close to where we were at the end of the (2012) if Buck wasn’t the man in charge of it all. He was the man for the job and the best manager for us, for where we were [in 2012] and where we are going to be in the future.”
“You do have to give a lot of credit to our manager,” he said. “There is no bull. He doesn’t tolerate it. That’s what you need. I’ve said this before. He’s not anyone’s parent in here. He’s not our daddy, his family is in Texas.”
So what effect has Showalter had? There are pundits who don’t believe a manager has any impact on the game aside from bullpen management and employing a few hit-and-runs. However, as the above quotes point out, it’s not always about what happens on the field.
No body would have predicted the break-out that Davis had in 2012 and is having again so far this year, but that deal has clearly made Baltimore winners and they’re still relishing the returns on that trade. Oh, and speaking of luck, the O’s also picked up Nate McLouth on a minor league contract who’s getting on-base at a .369 clip right now – a career best – so yeah, they caught lightening in a bottle on a couple of occasions.
Indeed, the Orioles had their own crop of stud pitching prospects coming up through the system that coincided with Showalter’s arrival, although a few have turned out to be different than what they expected. Guys like Matusz, Patton and Hunter, all converted starters, have discovered new-found prosperity in the pen. Who I wonder can be responsible for suggesting moves to the pen in the first place?
Speaking of good fortune and the benefit of high draft picks, Manny Machado, drafted in 2010 and 3rd overall, who spent less than two years of development in the minor leagues, came up and had the kind of impact that only future stars can have. Indeed, the Orioles have been extremely fortunate in the draft recently. Both Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, drafted 4th overall in 2012 & 2011 respectively, have already contributed to the big league club with such little time spent in the minor leagues.
No team in the AL East can compare to that. In fact, only the Washington Nationals can outboast the Orioles with the likes of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg having zipped through the minors so quickly.
Truly, for an organization to have success like the Orioles have had and who are poised to contend again this season, they need to be blessed in a myriad of ways. And so far they’ve seemingly been able to maintain good health to all its key players (sorry Brian Roberts) and pull a few rabbits out of a hat to boot.