What a difference a week makes. It’s hard to believe that in just over a week’s time under the watchful eye of Buck Showalter, the Orioles have gone from the laughing stock of baseball, to a team to be reckoned with. Maybe that’s because we shouldn’t be so quick to believe what we’ve been seeing. Like most of us, I’d like to believe, that with Showalter came the magical elixir for all that ailed the Orioles, and from here on out the moribund existence that we’ve come to expect from this team is nothing more than a distant memory. But that can’t be true, right?
First of all, even if Showalter does have all of the answers that the Orioles have been looking for, which I’m quite sure he doesn’t, it’s inconceivable, based on the type of play that we’ve seen from this club Pre-Buck, that he could have given all of those answers to the O’s already. How much organizational philosophy can one impart in the course of a single week? More likely, what we’ve seen from the O’s is a combination of factors, coming together at the right time to create the perfect storm of circumstance that we’ve watched unfold in the last week plus.
First is the simple market correction. It simply stood to reason, if baseball people, both inside and outside the Orioles’ organization know anything at all about talent, that this is not one of the worst teams in the history of baseball. That is though, the tune that they’ve been playing to for most of the season. Sooner or later a hot streak was bound to bail them out.
This team is still bad no doubt, but not that bad, not historically bad. Heck, it’s not even the worst O’s team we’ve seen in the last 14 years. Say what you want about this current group, but they’re miles ahead of the team that featured Jay Gibbons, Jeff Conine and Luis Matos at the top of the order, with Rodrigo Lopez on opening day…miles ahead.
Second has to be the return of Brian Roberts. All year we’ve talked about the impact of losing a leadoff hitter has on a team. The Phillies are the easy comparison, as they floundered offensively through most of the summer without leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins. And while Roberts is no Jimmy Rollins, he’s a lot closer to Rollins than those charged with carrying the middle of the O’s order are to Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez. Moreover, Roberts approach is infectious. In each of the O’s last 4 wins, Roberts has seen upwards of 20 pitches. Teammates have seemingly picked up on his example. The result has meant the difference between being into opponents’ bullpens in the 6th or 7th inning as opposed to the 9th. Of course that helps win ballgames, and it’s easily been the difference in a couple of the O’s recent wins. The returns of Matt Wieters, Mike Gonzalez and a finally healthy and functional Koji Uehara certainly haven’t hurt Buck’s cause either.
What Buck seemingly has brought to the team however, is a sense of urgency and accountability. That much is evident from simply watching them. In last night’s game, a 14-6 laugher in the bottom of the 8th, as the camera panned to Luke Scott’s exit from the dugout, everyone was on the top step, with only coaches enjoying seats in a game all but over. That’s clearly different.
The other big change, and the toughest to explain, has been the starting pitching. How do you explain that? O’s pitchers are clearly taking back the inside part of the plate, an issue which they’ve failed to address all year, and are still stumbling though at present. It’s hard to say that O’s pitchers though are stumbling through anything right now, as all of their success has been predicated on good pitching so far under Buck, a trend that we can only hope to see continue.
Throughout the season we’ve listened with interest as team legend and TV broadcaster Jim Palmer has taken the team to task. But his seemingly favorite, and redeeming stat has been that when the O’s score 4 runs they win. (By my unofficial count, now 34-19 when they score 4 or more runs) As hard as it is to believe that in 113 games the Orioles have managed 4 or more runs just 53 times, it’s almost impossible to conceive that a team 35 games below .500 on the season would stand at 15 games above .500 when that simple benchmark is achieved. In the AL East, that has to be the standard offensively.
Maybe they’re closer than most would allow themselves to think. Maybe the Showalter syndrome is infecting my brain a bit. And maybe, in regard to his timing on this one at least, MacPhail is working his plan. It’s sure been fun thinking so.
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