Think back to the past decade of Orioles baseball and try and recall moments of success. Yes, this dismal decade might be a bit of a blur; however, the 2005 season had some moments of hope, at least in the first half of the year. Baltimore spent 62 days in first place in the AL East, and came into the All-Star break 47-40. The O’s came out of the break, and won two straight over Seattle. Shortly after, the O’s traded outfielder Larry Bigbie to the Colorado Rockies for slugging outfielder Eric Byrnes. The team believed they could be contenders. However, the deal at the deadline for Byrnes, as well as their success in the first half, could not be sustained. By the end of August, the O’s were 51-53. Rafael Palmeiro was busted for steroids and lying to congress. By season’s end, it was more of the same sad story for the Orioles. Their combined record post All-Star break was 27-48, and their 74-88 record was 21 games behind both the Red Sox and the Yankees.
There have been pessimistic comparisons out there, from fans and media alike, that 2012 will turn out like 2005. Heck, maybe you can’t blame people for thinking that way. The Orioles came into the All-Star break with a 45-40 record. They also enjoyed a stint in first place during May and early June. Dan Duquette has been telling the media and the fans that he has been given the green light to buy at the deadline, in hopes of continuing the push towards the team’s first potential postseason appearance since 1997. However, the trigger has not been pulled on any one of significance yet, a la Ryan Dempster or Zach Greinke. The Yankees are still eight games ahead of Baltimore in the AL East. After struggling out of the gate post-ASB, losing 4 of 5, the O’s have won three straight, including their 10-2 drubbing of the Indians last night in Cleveland. Their ace, Jason Hammel, is on the DL with a knee injury. Could the comparison to 2005 come to fruition?
Whether or not the Orioles are able to make their first postseason appearance since 1997 is irrelevant to this argument; 2012 will be different than 2005. To begin the comparison, one must look at the man who leads the players every day, the manager. Lee Mazzilli, who led the Orioles for the first half of 2005, had not even managed in the Majors for two years. Sam Perlozzo, who succeeded Mazzilli after the midseason firing, had a career record of 128-172; not much better.
Buck Showalter has won AL Manager of the Year twice. He managed both the Yankees and Diamondbacks, and left right before they both became World Series Champions. His experience and style has changed the culture in a locker room, which has been accustomed to losing for a long time. Buck is not going anywhere. However, if he was to leave, and if history is any indication, that means the Orioles will be World Series champions soon; right?
Secondly, the 2012 Baltimore Orioles lineup has been built much differently than seven years ago. In 2005, the Orioles had sluggers, and supposed-to-be Hall of Famers, with Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro in the heart of the lineup. I think we all know how that turned out. Before the season started, Rafael Palmeiro adamantly denied steroid use, after Jose Canseco mentioned, in his book, that he had. Palmeiro went to Congress, looked them dead in the eyes, and said, “Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.” Well, on August 1st, he was suspended 10 days after testing positive. From then on, Palmeiro would need ear plugs the rest of the season to drown out the boos in Baltimore and opposing stadiums when he would come to the plate.
Sammy Sosa? He hit a dismal .221, with only 14 home runs and 45 RBIs. Tejada had a down year, compared to an MVP like season in 2004. Eric Byrnes, who was acquired at the 2005 deadline, hit .192 with 11 RBI in 31 games with the O’s.
The 2012 Orioles lineup is infused with young talent that will be part of the nucleus for years to come. Adam Jones, who signed a 6 year deal worth $85.5 million this year, made the All Star team and currently leads the Orioles in Average (.294), HRs (22), RBIs (63), Runs Scored (63) and SBs (11). Chris Davis, at 26 years-old, is a consistent power threat, and is second on the team in homeruns with 15. Matt Wieters, also age 26, is second on the team in RBIs with 46, and has been one of the best defensive catchers in the league. Nick Markakis is off the DL, trying to build on some of his strong moments in the first half of the season, before his injury. In this post-steroid era of baseball we now live in, the younger, fresher lineup allows for guys to play fundamentally sound baseball, on an everyday basis.
With the next three games against Cleveland, and July ending with series against division foes Tampa Bay and New York, this stretch will serve as a test of where this team will go this season. In addition, it will provide GM Dan Duquette a plan, as to the players he needs to target and the teams he needs to call before the July 31st trade-deadline. Regardless, 2012 has been assembled and guided in a much more effective manner than 2005, and the Orioles are finding success they have not had in a very long time.