The Angels Series
It's only been three games since Buck Showalter took the reins as the Baltimore Orioles' skipper, but can you really blame O's fans for the excitement flowing through the Baltimore harbor?
Having just completed their first three-game sweep of the Angels since 1999, the Orioles seem to have a new giddy-up in their collective step following the hiring of Showalter, a no-nonsense manager who has twice built teams into the upper-echelon only to be replaced in the offseason before that team won the World Series (see: 1996 Yankees, 2001 Diamondbacks).
Without a doubt, Showalter is the best Orioles manager since Davey Johnson, who took the team to the ALCS in 1996 and 1997.
In a season that started with very modest goals (get back to .500), it has been disheartening to see the O's sink to the cellar of the AL East, the American League, and all of baseball. But when you've been at least twenty games out of first place since June 2nd, fans start looking for the silver-lining in the cloudiest of situations (e.g. at least Garrett Atkins got a hit tonight!).
But in Showalter's three game debut, even the silver-linings are lined with silver.
The starting pitching over the course of the three-game series was perhaps the best the staff has seen all season, with each starter recording a quality outing.
Jeremy Guthrie gave up three earned runs over seven innings in the opener while rookie Brian Matusz only surrendered one run in his six innings of the second game. The best start, however, likely belongs to fellow rookie Jake Arrieta, who gave up two earned runs over seven and 2/3 innings in a no-decision he deserved a win.
Meanwhile, the Orioles bats came to life to the tune of 20 runs over the course of the Angels series.
Scoring runs has proved troublesome for the O's throughout 2010, barring a fluky home run here or there. These three games featured timely hitting that has been amiss as of late.
Under Showalter's watchful eye, the Orioles batted .454 with runners in scoring position (I can't find the exact stat of what their season average is, but rest assured it is about half this number) while nine of the 20 runs were driven in with two outs.
In a season where runners have been stranded on base longer than Desmond Hume on the Island, fans can't help be be excited that perhaps Showalter has figured out how to get these runners home.
This Author's Perspective
As a fan of a team that has had a losing record and missed the playoffs every season since 1997, there have been very few things to be excited about over the past decade-plus.
Off the top of my head, my most favorite recent baseball moments have been:
—The O's coming back from down nine runs to beat the Red Sox in 2009;
—Seeing Matt Wieters on the cover of Sports Illustrated (thanks for the jinx); and
—Dave Roberts' steal against the Yankees in game four of the 2004 ALCS.
Three great moments, only two of which involved the Orioles. That's how hard it has been to be a fan of this squad, one I wholeheartedly believe has the most incompetent owner in all of sports.
Based on the astute moves made in recent seasons, I'm going to guess that Showalter's arrival in Baltimore had much more to do with General Manager Andy MacPhail's efforts than whatever fat-cat owner Peter Angelos was doing to replace interim manager Juan Samuel.
MacPhail has built the Orioles farm system into one of the best in the league, mostly through his mantra of "grow the arms, buy the bats."
While Baltimore has yet to sign a marquee bat, a line-up featuring Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Josh Bell and other up-and-comers should be appealing for an experienced big-time bat. If these players produce as they have in the minors and at times in the Bigs, they could offer some protection in the line-up for a big bat, making his arrival all the more likely.
If Showalter can continue pushing his young team towards the potential we all want to think is in there, then the Orioles should at least be in contention for the playoffs as early as 2011.
Sure, we've been saying that for years, but isn't the scent of success tickling your olfactory for the first time since we thought the first Tejada experiment would make the O's contenders?
Only this time, it's a bit more pungent.