Buck Showalter Thriving in Baltimore
Coach Ron Meyer: Buck Showalter Thriving in Baltimore
The mainstream media and the legal betting markets have had trouble taking the Baltimore Orioles seriously this season. They've been doormats for so long that their early season successes seemed like a fluke that couldn't possibly keep going.
Well, we're now about six weeks into the season...and the Orioles take a 27-15 record into a big series with the Boston Red Sox that starts tonight. If I had told you before the season started that a May 21st game between Orioles and Red Sox would match the first place team and the last place team in the AL East, that wouldn't have surprised you. But Baltimore's in first place and Boston's in last place!!
A lot of the credit has to go to Showalter because:
He's had a history of doing this with other teams. He did the ultimate "building something out of nothing" back when the Arizona Diamondbacks became an expansion team. This is what he's known for...coming into a bad situation and turning the team into winners.
He's known for finding young talent and making it produce. That's his M.O. And, that's obviously what's happening in Baltimore. This is a young team with a bunch of players that many fans barely knew about. Showalter isn't a guy who needs established veterans to win. In fact, he's more likely to clash with players the longer they've been in the league. He's ideally suited to what Baltimore needed when they hired him back in 2010.
What impresses me so much isn't the fact that Showalter has improved this team so much...but that he's done it against a tough schedule in the strongest division in the sport. Baltimore has played more games against the AL East than anyone else, yet still has one of the best records in the league. Just a fantastic performance, even if it turns out that this was a temporary surge to greatness rather than a lasting improvement.
I have to admit I'm still skeptical about the Orioles playoff hopes this year. It's easier to reach the postseason than ever before because an extra Wildcard spot has been added. And, maybe that will allow the O's to sneak in. The problems I see are:
The team's starting rotation is very shaky. They're winning right now mostly with offense and bullpen. Those are the most fickle elements in the sport. Plus, if the rotation can't get going, that's going to eventually wear down the middle relievers.
This is the worst defense in the league in terms of making errors. Just horrible! Sometimes that's an issue with younger teams. And, it can also be an issue if a manager decides to try and win with slugging at the expense of all around team play. Baltimore is so much worse in this category than most of the league that it's very hard to see them making the playoffs. Fundamentals matter eventually, even if they don't bite you right at first.
Baltimore is 8-3 in one-run games this season...which is a sign of good luck. History has shown that you can't win all the close games on purpose. They've still done well if you throw those games out. But, they do lose some of their luster. Run differential through the weekend was just +14 for the whole season. It's VERY lucky for a team to be 12 games over .500 when they've scored only 14 more runs than their opponents.
We'll see what happens. The good news is that there are clear areas for improvement. If the defense settles down, and the starting rotation can hang around "adequate," then the Orioles are going to be a story all year. But, things could go south very quickly against this year's killer schedule if the wheels start to fall off. And, we've all seen several stories like that in this sport (often with this very franchise!). I'll be looking to back Baltimore in value spots for the time being. But, I won't be afraid to start fading them if I see the team hitting a wall.
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