For a while it was just a feel good story, but now with 41 games played (by my unofficial count) by the Orioles under Buck Showalter, the turnaround that this club has experienced is bordering on miraculous. And perhaps, in a glass half empty kind of way, it could be coming at the worst possible time.
For a while it felt like smoke and mirrors under Showalter. With no other reasonable explanations for the O’s sudden change, Buck has quickly become a cult hero of sorts, perhaps more deserving of the Chuck Norris-isms than even Matt Wieters; as now, 41 games into his tenure, before he’s had a chance to hire a single coach of his own, Buck’s O’s have played to the tune of 26-15 so far.
That’s a quarter of a season’s worth of sample size, and where I went to school, projects 100 wins over a full season. That’s not a record gained beating up on cupcakes, the O’s have been playing teams with far more at stake than themselves, and in some cases, playing big roles in their elimination from playoff contention. That’s eleven games over .500, for a team that had played to the tune of 41 games below .500 (32-73) through 105 games before his arrival. Miraculous? Sort of.
If the O’s play out their remaining 16 games to the same .634 winning percentage, they’ll win 10 and finish the season 36-21 under Showalter and a still abysmal 68-94 overall. The question then becomes, did the O’s show enough under Showalter to merit an extended look? How many changes would you make to a young team that finished the season playing .634 baseball? The free agent market doesn’t seem to have much to offer. Do you break the bank for Paul Konerko or Carlos Pena? Do you believe in Adrian Beltre or Ty Wigginton for that matter? Or would you parlay some of the young talent, for a star with free agency on the horizon like Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez? And would you part with Matusz and another young pitcher to make it happen?
In fairness, you could almost see where the O’s might be compelled to stand pat this off-season, and see how much of a mirage .634 really was. Whatever decision they make, it had better be the right one, and soon, after nearly a decade and a half of mostly putrid baseball looking to the future has turned to looking elsewhere for many. It’s too bad, because if you haven’t been paying attention lately, you’re missing some of the best baseball the Orioles have ever played…ever.
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