Sunday, September 5, 2010

Series Win Against Rays Reveals New Face of the Baltimore Orioles

Winning Series Against Tampa Bay Rays: Assessing Showalter's Influence

The Orioles took a series against the Rays losing the first game then winning the next two. This is only the second time this season the Orioles have won a “rubber” game against an opponent. How long has it been since an Orioles team could accomplish a feat like that?

This afternoon’s game showed eerie signs of why the Orioles failed so miserably before Buck Showalter’s arrival. Despite developing a substantial lead, the bullpen collapsed, but rather than the carnage continuing through the late innings, the Orioles fought back, and brought home the win. There were signs in last night’s game that looked like the team would grab defeat from the jaws of victory too.

When Buck Showalter assumed the manager’s position, the Orioles stood at 33-73, .311 pct. Now just a little over a month later, their record is 51-86, .372 pct. They were on a pace to win 50 games and lose 112. They’ve picked up ten games on the season’s end projection to 60-102. If they play .500 ball for the rest of the season, they will avoid the stigma of 100 loss season which would be a huge accomplishment both because they were on a pace to historical failure when Dave Trembley was in charge and that if they accomplish it, they will be beating the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Rays, teams they must master if they are to become a respected team once again.

Some might write off the Orioles’ recent success as the law of averages just balancing out, but those who have watched the games closely saw that the Orioles truly were a team hell-bent on failure with motivation way off track and no chemistry between players on the field or advancing round the bases. There was one clear statement that was never heard, “We are here to win!” The “W” word was not in the vocabulary of the Dave Trembley era team. It seems like, “We tried” was about the most profound thing ever said.

Juan Samuel did a decent job holding the team together but the problems were far too deep and the challenges far too overwhelming for a coach with no previous major league managing experience to have any shot of pulling the team together. Still, the Samuel team played better, sometimes noticeably, than the Trembley Birds. Samuel would openly challenge players who showed lack of focus on the field.

Buck Showalter instantly changed the dynamics in the clubhouse. Instantly, every player had a clean slate but was also very clear, he was playing for his job. Showalter showed the kind of intensity required to do the job, on one hand being upbeat and humorous setting a positive atmosphere to do well, but at the same time making it very clear that results matter and the most important result is winning games. Yes, the Orioles have a real manager not a middle school guidance counselor in charge now. All a fan needs to see is the TV camera trained on the dugout and now one can clearly see a fellow who is completely in charge calling the shots and sweating the details.

Some of the accomplishments are sweeping two series against the Los Angeles Angels, both in Baltimore and Anaheim. The Angels have been a team the Orioles could not master in recent years. In their second series, playing “Buck Ball” they took three out of four games against the Chicago White Sox tipping the balance toward the Twins in the AL Central Pennant Race. They’ve won five series, lost four, and split one – not sensational but playing to an 18-13 record is huge by recent standards, their first winning month in recent memory.

September will be a difficult month as the Yankees and Rays fight for playoff berths and perhaps the Red Sox might attempt to mount a challenge. The Blue Jays have always played the Orioles with intensity, and while they look down and out, the Orioles must be on top of their game to beat the Tigers in what could be Jim Leyland’s final days as a major league manager. It would appear the winds of change are blowing through the Tiger’s lair.

More consistent starting pitching seems to be the main difference in the Orioles’ recent success along with the improvement on offense having Brian Robert at the top of the batting order provides. Koji Uehara looks like the real deal as closer. In their present shape, the way to beat the Orioles is to force out the starter, and clobber the middle relief which still is a chamber of horrors far too often.

College football started this weekend, and the NFL and Ravens go into action next weekend. The Orioles will struggle to even get mentioned in the short little segments on the nightly news for sports. The best way to attract attention is to keep winning. With Buck Showalter in charge, fans can be assured the team will be pushed to achieve those results.

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