After Dave Trembley and Juan Samuel, the Orioles hired the man that they see leading this team into the future, Buck Showalter. On July 30th Buck aggreed to a three year deal beginning at the start of the 2011 season. Showalter took over a team that had gone a combined 32-74 after the first 106 games of the season (15-39 under Trembley, 17-34 under Samuel). The team was on pace to lose more games than the ’62 Mets, offensively they struggled and their pitching was inconsistent. But Showalter’s track record spoke for itself. He walked into the Yankees managing job in 1992, finished 76-86, then turned them around to an 88 win team in 1993. He turned a 65 win team in Arizona into a 100 win team the following season and a 71 win team in Texas into an 89 win team his second season there. But the Orioles, would admittedly be his biggest challenge.
The questions that surrounded the Orioles when Buck took over were overwhelming. Which of these young pitchers have what it takes? Who is the legitimate left fielder for this team? Can streaky players find consistency? Who is the closer? But Showalter attacked every question with accountability. His demeanor told the entire Orioles clubhouse that they had to step up or be left behind. Buck was here to stay, no one else was guaranteed a spot unless they proved themselves.
Buck put on the uniform on August 3rd, wearing number 26 to honor his friend, the late Johnny Oates. The Orioles returned home after a seven game road trip in which they had gone just 1-6 against the Blue Jays and Royals and hosted the Los Angeles Angels in Buck’s debut. Under Showalter, the Orioles swept the Angels, a hot team at the time, and took three of four against the Chicago White Sox to finish the homestand. Starting pitching and timely offense was the story for the Orioles. Jeremy Guthrie immediately stepped up as the Orioles Ace, through difficult starts for Kevin Millwood.
New managers often bring spikes of better performances to even the most struggling teams in baseball. Though there was excitement for Showalter, a guy with a proven background, many fans still wondered how long the Orioles could keep this up. They went on a .500 road trip against the Indians and Rays and came home to six games against the Mariners and Rangers in which they also went 3-3. It wasn’t until a more difficult road trip that the Orioles proved they were for real, when they went to Chicago to take one of three and Los Angeles where they swept the Angels again. It was a road trip of firsts for the Orioles. Their first winning road trip, their first road sweep as well as a season sweep of the Los Angeles Angels.
This consistency continued for the Orioles as Guthrie, Bergesen and Matusz continued to get wins in August and September. Baltimore took two of three from the Yankees in New York, two of three from the Tigers in Detroit, swept the Blue Jays at home and took two of three from the Rays in Tampa Bay.
All the while, the Orioles rotation and bullpen continued to get it done. Under Showalter, Brad Bergesen held his opponents to a .229 average and went 5-3 with a 2.88 ERA. He had been sent down to Triple-A Norfolk on several occasions this season, but found that sinker under Showalter.
Jeremy Guthrie, who got the win in Showalter’s debut, went 7-3 with a 3.14 ERA under Showalter and held batters to a .218 average. He recorded seven wins in his last two months of the season, but just four between April and July.
Koji Uehara proved could could get it done out of the bullpen in whatever situation Showalter threw him in. He recorded seven straight saves between August and September and went on a month long stretch only allowing one earned run.
The difference between the Orioles of Trembley and Samuel versus Showalter was dramatic. The team had a confidence despite their first 2/3 of the season. Under Showalter the Orioles finished 34-23, passing the combined wins of Trembley and Samuel in a third of the time. More than anything, Buck brings hope to the Orioles. His “want to” attitude isn’t just a catchy phrase he uses, he shows passion for the game through talking with umpires between most innings, not worrying about player politics and getting the most out of his players everyday. Time will tell if Buck will be able to turn the Birds around in 2011. Based on a small sample size, he’s off to a good start.