In recent weeks, the man I call the most interesting manager in the world has looked like the most irritated manager in the world as he scowls away in the Orioles dugout. Then again, I would be pretty ticked off, too, if the Yankees put up double digits in the first inning against my team's latest fading pitching prospect.
These past two months have been the most turbulent of Buck Showalter’s first 12 on the job. On June 2, his Orioles were four games below .500 and within a Nick Markakis throw of the rest of the AL East. Since then, his club is 17-34 and has won just two series. Jake Arrieta is the only one of the Orioles’ young pitchers who hasn’t been sent to the minor leagues and the Orioles are ninth in the American League in runs scored.
As Buck Showalter celebrates his one-year anniversary as Baltimore’s manager, you can’t help but wonder if the Orioles magic act he put on down the stretch last season was simply smoke and mirrors.
But that’s not an indictment of Showalter. I still think he was an excellent hire. He has the right attitude. Everyone around him says his preparation is second to none. And he has the unquestioned respect of the Orioles clubhouse even though they have dug themselves into last place in the American League.
With the hand dealt to him this season, Showalter would need divine intervention to fix what ails the Orioles. The team’s struggles are because of poor management, not a poor manager.
President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail inherited a huge mess four summers ago, and his much-mocked “buy the bats, grow the arms” philosophy was the right idea.
The issue has been execution.
The Orioles stockpiled hyped-up young hurlers such as Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, and Matt Hobgood. The Orioles have the talent, but they haven’t been able to develop it to translate at the major-league level. That’s why Matusz, Tillman and Brad Bergesen have spent time in Triple-A Norfolk this season and why Buck is stuck with overmatched starters such as Mitch Atkins, Alfredo Simon and Chris Jakubauskas.
And now that the Cavalry has arrived, retreated, arrived and retreated again, the Orioles don’t have any high-impact prospects within a couple years of Camden Yards -- think Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy. Well, if Bundy wants to sign on for this.
Meanwhile, the stopgap veterans signed to fill out the starting lineup -- once again, that was the right approach at this point in the total organizational overhaul -- were unfortunately brought in a year or two too late. Derrek Lee, now with the Pirates, was sublime defensively, but he was subpar offensively. Vladimir Guerrero’s bat retired after the 2010 season, but the Orioles never got the memo.
To be fair, MacPhail deserves passing grades for acquiring J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds via trade. Both were solid moves.
But this is not an indictment of MacPhail. He might not return to Baltimore after the season, leaving a rebuilding plan still “under construction.” But the Orioles are in much better shape than they were before he took one of the longest titles in baseball history (I certainly won’t miss typing out “president of baseball operations”). How much better? We won’t know for a couple of years.
So who am I blaming? I’m not sure. There is plenty to pass around after what will be a 14th straight losing season in Birdland. I do know that Showalter has done pretty well in the past 365 days.
The Orioles went 76-86 in his first 162 games as manager. That’s a .470 winning percentage, which Dan Connolly points out that over a full season would be the team’s best record since the 2004 season.
More importantly, Showalter instilled hope at the start of the season, both inside and outside of the Orioles clubhouse. Sure, that hope got crushed a couple of months ago. But if anyone can bring the buzz back to Baltimore, whether it’s down the stretch, next season or two Opening Days from now, it’s Buck.
Until then, he will be the most irritated manager in the world.