#1 – Buck’s Biggest Impact: Walks on Water or Wakes Up Wieters?
While it’s easy to get caught up in the inherent euphoria of the Buck Showalter experience so far, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago I’m having a hard time envisioning Showalter (or anyone for that matter) possibly living up to the expectations set forth by the team’s stunning turnaround since his arrival, set to the backdrop of historical ineptitude in the midst of 14 straight miserable seasons. At least part of the Orioles success under Buck could be attributed to an expected “market correction” of sorts, another to the infusion of Brian Roberts, Koji Uehara and other key contributors arriving at the end of the season with Showalter. Still, to this point Showalter has seemingly garnered most of the credit (deservedly or not) and will likely take more than his share of the blame too if things go south (again deservedly or not).
My reasoning for trying to minimize Showalter’s impact is simple, it seems to me that even if Buck Showalter had the right answers to every question that seemingly vexed these Orioles before his arrival, it still seems inconceivable that he could have imparted all of that wisdom on his new charges quickly enough to have had the impact that we saw by way of the team’s turnaround last year.
If there was a place however, that Buck may have been able to implement his own philosophy on the fly, it was through catcher Matt Wieters. Pretty much immediately after Wieters’ arrival with the big club, Dave Trembley made it known to the fans and media that he’d be charged with calling his own game, how true that was is still actually anyone’s guess. If Showalter’s arrival though brought with it simply a better called game through Matt Wieters, either by changing his approach in calling pitches, or by calling the pitches himself from the dugout, that’s the one place where I’d be prone to believe that Showalter could have had an immediate and sizable impact.
After beating the Texas Rangers last year on July 11th, the Orioles were 29-59 on the year (32.9%). In games caught by Craig Tatum at that point however, they were 10-13 (43.4%). Maybe the biggest single factor in the O’s struggles last year was the game being called by Wieters. It’s inconceivable that Showalter taught nearly every pitcher on the team how to throw more effectively, but it’s highly conceivable that he taught Wieters how to set them up better for success themselves. If that is indeed the case, I can’t wait to see what he can do for him with the bat in his hands this season.
#2 – Prime Time Reimold
Nolan Reimold started his 2011 campaign off much better than he left off 2010 with a solo shot off of Pittsburgh’s Paul Malolm in his first plate appearance of the spring. The acquisition of Vlad Guerrero immediately led me to believe that the O’s would be shipping Luke Scott (and his big mouth) to anyone willing to make an offer, so far that hasn’t been the case. As long as Scott remains an Oriole, and the rest of the outfield and Guerrero remain healthy, Reimold looks to be the odd man out. That may not be the worst thing in the world though.
One big spring game does not a comeback season make, and Reimold has work to do to bounce back from last year’s disappointment. As the only player in that mix with an option remaining on his contract, Reimold is likely to be shuttled back and forth between the minors and the big club as needs arise throughout the upcoming season. Getting everyday at bats in triple A is probably more beneficial for Reimold and his development anyway than filling the 4th or 5th outfielder role and playing once a week in the majors.
What Monday’s line from Reimold reminded me of though, and the impression that I hope he leaves with Showalter no matter where he winds up beginning the year, is all about his mature approach at the plate. After the big shot to start his season, no one could have blamed Reimold for getting aggressive and expanding his strike zone looking for another bomb, especially in the first game of the spring. Instead Reimold compelled 3 walks to compliment the dinger on his line, and scored another run to boot in the O’s 6-4 victory over the Pirates.
The day I grew to appreciate Reimold as a hitter is one I’ll never forget. It was the afternoon of May 27th, 2009 against Toronto. The O’s were down 8-3 to the Jays and Roy Halladay after 7 innings. Reimold entered the game for Felix Pie in the 8th and struck out swinging with the bases loaded against reliever John Carlson, still the O’s rallied in the 8th to tie the game at 8. In the 9th Reimold came to the plate with runners at first and second in an 8-8 game and was called out looking on a Jason Frasor pitch that seemed to be a terrible call by home plate umpire Rob Drake. After surrendering a 10-8 lead to the Jays in the top of the 11th, Reimold came to the plate with 2 men on and delivered a game winning 3-run shot for the O’s, delivering the win. Despite feeling gypped at the plate all night by Drake, Reimold never adjusted what he knew to be his strike zone, as a result he came through in the clutch, Reimold seemed at that moment, clearly disciplined beyond his years in terms of approach.
I’m sure Buck will grow to love and appreciate the patience of Reimold, if he hasn’t already. Hopefully that patience will translate to patience regarding his relative place in the hierarchy of O’s outfielders. After last seasons disappointment, no one could blame him for being antsy about getting past it, just like no one could have blamed him on that day in 2009 in the bottom of the 11th, having already struck out twice. Let’s hope his approach is the same.
#3 – Riley’s Angels Beefing Up
With the passing of the NBA’s trade deadline, and the wave of bought out contracts, the last official migration of NBA talent for the season is set to take place, as bought out players can now align their services with the team of their own choosing for the stretch run, provided of course that the team’s interest is mutual.
The Heat look to be the early winners here, as the attraction of playing with Riley’s Angels, and their apparent need for someone to steer the ship and someone to take care of the dirty work make them a compelling destination for players not only looking to pick up some hardware as hired guns, but also seeking an opportunity to be the difference maker, the player who puts them over the top. It looks like Troy Murphy and Mike Bibby will be answering that call for the Heat in the next couple of days. It wouldn’t be surprising if San Antonio got a lot more interested in Bibby with the news that Tony Parker may be out for a few weeks, but for now the Heat looks to be his likely destination.
In Murphy the Heat may find the front court difference maker that they’ve been looking for since Udonis Haslem went down for the season, in fairness he’d project to be a lot better for the Heat than Haslem ever was, and surely better than Erik Dampier has been. Murphy would finally free up Chris Bosh to be the pick and pop power forward that he was made to be. Bibby, sadly doesn’t seem to be the player that he once was anymore, and probably won’t make much difference in how far the Heat can go this season. He surely doesn’t bring with him as much potential as Murphy in Miami’s system.
Ultimately if the Heat hope to be successful they’ll have to find a way to beat good teams and to win close games, they’re 2-6 in games decided by 3 points or less, and 14-15 against teams that are above .500. Maybe Sunday’s showdown with the Knicks shows the biggest reason why. Given a last shot at a tying 3-pointer against New York, LeBron James put a move on a defender and launched an off balance 3 from the top of the key, instead of looking to DeWayne Wade who looked to be wide open and looking for the ball on the wing for 3.
When this triumvirate of excessiveness came together the biggest early question was who will get the big shots, now the Heat have to find themselves wondering who can make a big shot in a critical moment for them. If their struggles in close games continue, I fully expect the “who gets the shots?” questions to appear again with renewed fervor, maybe from within the Heat’s own locker room too.