Coincidental or not, the turnaround that the Orioles have made from last year’s pre-Showalter version to the respectable, gritty bunch that has evolved before our very eyes under Buck’s brief stint as manager, so far the results have been enjoyable; especially enjoyable given the backdrop of the last decade plus that has been Orioles baseball and the demise of the old Oriole Way.
As the turnaround came so quickly I was prone to dismiss it, at least in part, as luck. Call it anticipated luck as a matter of fact since the historical ineptitude that this team endured through most of last season didn’t seem commensurate with the talent on the club; modest as that talent may have been, those Orioles didn’t look on paper to be amongst the worst teams of all time. That however was the tune that they played to for most of last season, to some degree a market correction was in order. What’s more, given the rapidity of the O’s reversal of fortunes after Bucks arrival, it seemed that even if Showalter had all of the answers to the problems that had vexed the Orioles to that point, the likelihood that he could impart all of that wisdom on this team so quickly seemed improbable at least.
That said, baseball is a confidence game predicated on luck and timing, but with lots of built in opportunities for players to think themselves and their teams right out of the ballgame. At a certain point, bad teams seem to adapt to the notion that sooner or later things will unravel no matter what. Losing that perception is akin to the “building a winning culture” banter that so often surrounds the Ravens coming of age tale. That said, building a winning culture, and an expectation of success may be even more important in baseball than it is in football or any other sport.
It would seem that through the game calling of Matt Wieters, the Showalter impact showed itself earliest and most readily on the O’s young pitchers. Better pitch selection has seemingly led to better pitching performances, that confidence and success has a way of perpetuating itself when things are going well. Other components have been slower to come around, but are progressing nonetheless. Who knew that straightening out Robert Andino’s hat would straighten out his head along with it?
Wednesday night against the Royals, the Orioles picked up a win that they likely wouldn’t have gotten last year. They did it on the back of a strong pitching performance (those were few and far between last May) and in large part because of the heady decision made by Adam Jones not to field a Mike Aviles hit after it lodged itself under the Kaufman Stadium wall. The skipper’s attention to details that others might be prone to overlook is quickly becoming legendary; the team it seems is following his lead.
With all of that said, I’m sure that Showalter has given at least a little consideration to the significance of Thursday’s game against Kansas City. Not only do the O’s have the opportunity to win or lose the series against the Royals, but also maybe more importantly they have a chance to break a disturbing early trend.
At this early stage of the season, one in which the O’s now have a 14-15 (.482) record despite what has been an arguably daunting April schedule, their record is a disappointing 1-5 (.166) in their final games in any city (getaway days). The Orioles haven’t posted a getaway day win since their opening series in Tampa. They’re also just 2-7 (.222) in the final games of any series. (Those 2 wins both on Sundays by the way, perhaps breaking an old trend – O’s are 2-3 on Sundays this year)
As I started out saying that perhaps some of the perceived impact of Showalter may have been at least somewhat coincidental, I can also certainly concede that such a small sample size as the numbers this season on getaway days and in the last games of series’ also has a good chance of being largely coincidental. But if this is still an under talented team picking up edges wherever they can on the mental side of the game, than a lack of focus on getaway days and the O’s lack of success therein is at least conceivable. Otherwise we may expect a market correction soon anyway.
One thing is certain, those numbers haven’t escaped the vigilant notice of Buck Showalter, and to that end we can expect some type of correction soon, market or otherwise. Again, even if he does have all of the answers…I’d still expect it’ll take some time to dish them all out.