That is, until July 29.
That was the day the team hired Buck Showalter, who is beginning to look like the best manager Baltimore has seen since Earl Weaver.
The O’s are 26-17 under Showalter, a .605 winning percentage. They are still in the cellar of the AL East, but lately, they’ve hardly been a joke.
Baltimore has gone 3-3 against the Yankees and 2-1 against the Rays in September, something the Red Sox can be very thankful for as they try to climb back into the AL East race.
But as Bill Duck from Camden Chat tells us, Showalter and the O’s will look to spoil Boston’s playoff hopes for good this week at Fenway Park.
NESN.com: How has Buck Showalter been able to turn the Orioles into a competitive team?
Bill Duck: Quite simply, he showed up at the right time. The starting pitching has righted itself during his tenure, and I’m not sure how much credit he gets for that. Aside from Buck letting some of the younger starters (Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta) work through some difficult innings, a lot of it was simply timing. Steve Melewski of MASN pointed out the Orioles’ starters had an ERA of 3.00 in the first 40 games under Showalter with 27 quality starts. Under Dave Trembley and Juan Samuel, the O’s starters’ ERA was 5.61. Did Buck suddenly make them better pitchers where they collectively shaved 2.61 runs off their ERA? No, I don’t think so.
But what Buck has done is not lose games. He hasn’t made the untimely boneheaded hit-and-run call, he hasn’t ignored the game situation when using relievers and he hasn’t played lineup roulette. He’s been very good at communicating to players, that they’re auditioning for their jobs. Also, he is managing untraditionally. He doesn’t simply use his setup man in the eighth inning just because it’s the eighth inning. He’s managing to win games, not blindly following what the book says to do.
NESN.com: Kevin Millwood has had an awful season, but have you seen anything from the veteran that makes you think he can lead a young pitching staff in 2011?
B.D.: Nope. We want him gone. There’s not much salvageable in the career of Kevin Millwood. The O’s bought the mirage that was 2009 and are paying dearly for it. He’s going to set a career high for walks, he’s on pace to have his highest career ERA, and there’s still time for him to record the highest WHIP of his career. But I hear he loves clam chowder. Boston should sign him. He’s due for a rebound, right?
NESN.com: What do you expect from Adam Jones next year, following a pretty down year for the 2009 superstar?
B.D.: I expect him to learn how to stop fishing at a low, outside curve. But it’s unfair to say 2010 is a down year for Adam Jones compared to 2009. He’s on pace for 20-plus home runs and that’s with missing almost three weeks this season. He had 19 home runs last year, when his season ended on Sept. 1. He played 119 games last year and is already at 136 going into Monday’s game.
His batting average is higher this year, his on-base percentage is basically the same, and his slugging number is basically the same as 2009. Offensively, the sum total of the two years will be almost identical. I would argue the peaks and valleys of this year have been much more pronounced, but at the end of the year, the numbers will look almost identical. Jones will most likely be the Orioles’ center fielder for the next six years or so — I seriously doubt he’s going anywhere.
NESN.com: Nick Markakis’ .786 OPS is the lowest of his five-year career. What has been the reason for his sluggish season?
B.D.: It’s really been death by a thousand cuts. His average is down, slightly. His slugging is down, slightly. His walks will be up significantly after dipping way down in 2009. But a few points of batting average, 30 points of slugging, and all of a sudden, you’re looking at a career-low for OPS. It’s a bit misleading because his on-base percentage is currently 20 points higher that 2009.
He should be scoring runs, not driving them in. But with the way the O’s were constructed this year, we needed him to drive in runs since no one else was capable. Nick was never built to be a middle-of-the-llineup bopper. That’s not his game. He’s a No. 2 or No. 3 hitter who gets on base a lot. We were asking him to do something he shouldn’t have been asked to do and I think it changed his approach at the plate.
I think it’s also becoming clear that his 2008 campaign may be the outlier for his career. In the five MLB seasons he’s had, he’s never had as high a OPS, SLG and OPS+ numbers and he never drew more walks as he did in 2008. It’s possible he will simply never hit that ceiling again.
NESN.com: Who do you think will be Baltimore’s closer in 2010?
B.D.: Whomever Buck Showalter thinks can get the outs in the ninth. I can see him continuing to manage game by game, situation by situation. The closer position may be the most overblown in importance in baseball, aside from All-Star Game starter. If the O’s re-sign Koji Uehara, and I have a sneaking suspicion they will, he’s probably the closest thing we will have to a closer.
NESN.com: Are you displeased with the slow development of catcher Matt Wieters?
B.D.: Not really. Matt decided to focus on defense this year. The Orioles didn’t make a big deal about it in the media, but it was made clear to Matt his footwork and throwing needed to improve in spring training, and he needed to take command of this pitching staff.
He’s done both. There’s no question he’s the man among the starters, and while his caught-stealing percentage is still only 24 percent, he’s making strides. He’s batting .286 since Buck’s arrival, and his OPS is .791 in the same time frame. We’re not worried about Matt Wieters.
Thanks again to Bill Duck from Camden Chat for his contribution to this article.