No miracle

Call it baseball's version of the circle of life.

Orioles manager Dave Trembley looks across the field at the Los Angeles Angels and sees the kind of team that he would like his team to be. Angels manager Mike Scioscia looks across the field at the Orioles and sees one of the organizations that was a model for what his team has become.


"They have balance in every conceivable area," said Trembley. "They have every component you would want. When somebody gets hurt, they can bring somebody up from the minor leagues and not miss a beat."

There might be little resemblance between them right now. The Angels have the best record in all of major league baseball. The Orioles have slipped into the American League East cellar and don't look as if they have enough starting pitching left to climb back out. The only similarity is in the way the Angels have been built over the past decade and the way the Orioles are trying to build for the future.


That's where the full-circle thing comes in, because this Angels team has roots in the Los Angeles Dodgers' tradition, and the Orioles used to do things pretty much the same way in the days when the fundamental philosophies - and the player-development pipelines - of those teams were the envy of their respective leagues.

In a sense, what Trembley is seeing is just a modern reflection of some of the old-school principles that used to be known as the "Oriole Way."

"What we try to do isn't re-inventing the wheel," Scioscia said before last night's 6-5 win at Camden Yards. "The way we [Scioscia and the nucleus of his coaching staff] learned the game of baseball was in the Dodgers' organization. But we have some guys from other organizations. I think the template we use, from the fundamentals we run to our style of play, it's not groundbreaking stuff. It's just solid baseball. I think every team tries to do that."

Maybe so, but there are teams that have taken it to another level. The Dodgers of the 1960s, '70s and '80s. The Orioles franchise that strung together 18 straight winning seasons from 1968 through 1985.

Those organizations were often compared to each other at the time, and for good reason.

"I've talked to Eddie Murray, Rick Dempsey, Cal Ripken, Davey Johnson, Rich Dauer," Scioscia said. "These are guys who have a great understanding of what we're talking about. That baseball foundation they have is what we were around when we were developing. That's what we wanted to have here."

It's starting to look as if this Angels team might join that list, though it is a different time with a much different competitive and economic landscape. The Angels developed a large chunk of the talent that carried them to their first world title in 2002 and playoff appearances in four of the past six years.

And they have guarded their best young talent jealously; a good example of which was their reluctance to part with several top prospects in exchange for Miguel Tejada at about this time two years ago.


When Orioles president Andy MacPhail laid out a blueprint for his rebuilding plan, he could have used the Angels as an audio-visual aid. Much of their strong pitching staff is homegrown, which has allowed them to focus on filling holes elsewhere through free agency. Sound familiar?

The Angels have weathered several key pitching injuries to enter last night's game with a double-digit lead in the American League West. The numbers say they are the best team in baseball right now, and Trembley isn't about to argue.

"At this point in the year, the team with the best record in baseball ought to be the best team," he said. "If it was May 15, it might be different, but they've played more than 100 games and they have the best record, so they're the best team."

The Orioles are still a long way from emulating them - that much is self-evident - but MacPhail figures to stockpile more prospects between now and next season, which could position the club to sign a couple of free agents and blossom by 2010.

Don't laugh. The Angels had gone 16 years between playoff appearances when they finally broke through in 2002.

Now look at them.


Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.