November 18, 2017

Bottoming Out in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

September 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

They should bottle Showalter’s elixir and sell it outside Camden Yarks.  The Baltimore Orioles are showing signs of life in response to their new manager’s tonic after flat-lining for more than half of the 2010 season.

The Orioles’ record since Showalter stepped into the dugout is 17 – 10.  That is a .630 winning percentage and if maintained would put Baltimore into the thick of the AL East in seasons to come.  All they had to look forward to a month ago was supplanting Washington at the top of the board in next June’s amateur draft. Now even that must be re-evaluated.

High draft picks year after year have led to nothing but another high draft pick as the Orioles could not make a clubhouse full of potential click.  Brian Matuxz, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman were supposed to sit atop the Baltimore rotation and command the heights as well as any.  But it did not happen.  And Markakis, Weiters and Adam Jones were the solid foundation of what was sure to become an offensive juggernaut.  Andy MacPhail’s moves were being questioned until his hiring of Showalter revived all of the hope that was there at the beginning of the 2010 season.

Baltimore was 32 – 73, barely a .300 winning percentage, when Showalter took over from Juan Samuel as manager.  If Ty Wiggington had not had a career year in the first few months of the season, the Orioles would have been headed towards record-setting futility. But two things happened on the way to the baseball morgue, Brian Roberts returned to the lead off spot for Baltimore and Showalter pumped confidence into his young starters.

Texas fans issued dire warning about Showalter after he signed to manage in Baltimore. The Rangers were the last gig Buck had–from 2003 to 2006–and Texas managed only a single winning season during those four years.  The blog Lone Star Ball attributed the departure of Alex Rodriguez to manager Showalter.  But he turned both the Yankees and Arizona Diamondback in to winners relatively quickly and he has been a winner until he ventured to Arlington Texas. So far there has been no visible clubhouse angst in Baltimore, though it is early.

Pittsburgh has eclipsed the Orioles in the race for the bottom and look to have locked up next year’s top pick, thought to be Rice University third baseman, Anthony Rendon.  He broke his ankle playing for Team USA this summer which may take the sheen off his 26 home run season in 2010. The Pirates desperately need the polished college arms that will be available in 2011 more than another Pedro Alvarez.  Baltimore has a young third baseman in Josh Bell who has yet to convince Showalter to write his name in the lineup every day. So Rendon might fit better playing in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

It is far too early to speculate on what will happen to next year’s college season, but Baltimore is still likely to get one of the top two or three picks in the 2011 June amateur draft. Another college pitcher or a bat like Rendon’s could propel the Orioles into the thick of the AL East for the first time since 1996 when seven of their nine hitters had more than 20 home runs.  It is easy to see how the Orioles could soon have that kind of production at almost every position.

Buck Showalter may have the best talent he has been given since the 2004 Rangers that had Teixeira, Soriano, Hank Blalock and Mike Young all in their prime. The tell will be the pitching.  So far Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Jeremie Guthrie have turned around their 2010 seasons.  The Orioles still have one of the best pitching prospects in the American League not named Jeremy Hellickson.  Zach Britton has only a half season at Triple-A Norfolk, but he has looked very good over eleven starts there.

The Yankees and Red Sox may have more company than just the Tampa Bay Rays at the top of the AL East.  Showalter’s first month is a small sample, but whether he leads them to the pennant or not, Baltimore has bottomed out and is headed back on a road that could take them into the thick of the AL East pennant fight next season or shortly thereafter.

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