Showalter's thus-far charmed start gives cause for hope

There are some tough games ahead but it's possible to look past them to an offseason

August 17, 2010|Peter Schmuck

Obviously, the Orioles were hoping that the arrival of Buck Showalter two weeks ago would be an elixir for what was -- at the time -- baseball's losingest team, but Andy MacPhail wasn't expecting the club to turn on a dime.

Sometimes, timing really is everything, and through the miracle of perfect hindsight, we now know that Aug. 3 was the perfect day to start the Showalter era.

"I didn't expect us to be 10-4 [before Tuesday night's loss], but I did feel the date was important," MacPhail said. "I think he needed the opportunity to get to know the club a little bit, and I thought it should be before the rosters expanded. I thought the scheduling was favorable. The timing was favorable. And it was before the rosters expanded."

MacPhail isn't conveniently revising history here. He made it clear during Showalter's introductory media conference Aug. 2 that the first day of the first homestand of August was his target date all along.

Of course, everybody was hoping that night would be a turning point for the beleaguered O's and their fans, but nobody reasonably could have predicted eight wins in the next nine games. Heck, it had taken nearly five weeks for the Orioles to collect their previous eight victories.

It probably defies any precise explanation, but it was a different team that left the clubhouse after Showalter introduced himself to the players that Tuesday afternoon.

"They look different because they have responded,'' MacPhail said. "For whatever reason, our performance with runners in scoring position is far better than at any point in the season and we've had 90 percent quality starts. But the principal reason was for him to get familiar with the team in the dugout and see how players react to situations."

MacPhail could have dropped a big "I told you so" on all the people who thought it was foolish to drop Showalter into this mess before September (including a local sports columnist who is almost never wrong), but he was more interested in looking at all the other factors that have contributed to this enjoyable respite from the horrors of the first four months of the season.

"We've got some people healthy, though unfortunately we just lost a couple [David Hernandez and Jason Berken]. We got back Roberts and Pie. I think some of it is getting a little bit of an adrenalin rush starting over with a guy who has been the Manager of the Year a couple of times. I think when you get a fresh face, it's an opportunity to hit the reset button. That's one of the benefits of bringing someone in externally."

The evaluation period is still in its early stages, but Showalter's happy honeymoon has given fans an excuse to dream again. There are some tough games ahead -- particularly in a September filled with American League East opponents -- but it's possible to look past them to an offseason when MacPhail and Showalter can work together to add some quality talent from outside the organization.

In that regard, MacPhail said that nothing has changed.

"We'll still just try to prioritize our needs and address them one by one," he said.

That might be true, but it remains to be seen how things develop with a manager who is now locked up through 2013 and a president of baseball operations whose contract extends only through next season. Though that isn't unprecedented, it does raise questions about the power dynamic in the front office.

"It really doesn't mean anything to me," MacPhail said. "All I'm concerned about is making the Orioles as good as I can make them. The rest couldn't mean less to me. When Peter Angelos and I were going through this process, the only thing we cared about was getting the best person for the job."

MacPhail isn't willing to look beyond next year, and he isn't willing to answer any questions about his long-term plans. He is considered a strong candidate to become the next commissioner of baseball, but there's still the small matter of completing a rebuilding project that finally is engendering some confidence on the field and in the stands.

"It's my intention to fill out my contract and do the very best I can possibly do and then we'll take it from there," he said. "We'll just see how it plays out."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and with Brett Hollander on Tuesday and Thursday at six. Also, check out his blog "The Schmuck Stops Here" at http://www.baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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