For Orioles, it was a hot August

Team's success in month defies easy explanation

September 01, 2010|Peter Schmuck

If you're an Orioles fan -- and there seem to be a lot more of you than there were a month ago -- it's going to be hard to say goodbye to August.

And who could blame you for that, considering the last time anyone around here had anything good to say at the end of August was in 1997, which was the last time the Orioles had a winning record for the month.

The O's went 17-11 (17-10 under Buck Showalter), which is in such stark contrast to anything that has happened previously this season that it defies any easy explanation.

"I don't have one," said Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie, who defeated the Los Angeles Angels in Showalter's first game and won four of six decisions in August. "Kranny [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] hasn't talked to us any differently since Buck arrived, and I don't think the pitchers are trying any harder, per se. Maybe it can be traced back to a little more focus. A change like that is a new start for everybody. Bringing in a new manager, everybody has a new slate."

Of course, there is no discounting the way the abrupt turnaround dovetailed with the arrival of Showalter, but even he doesn't think it can be explained away that easily. There is a clear connection between his won-lost record and the dynamic upturn in the performance of the starting rotation -- which dates to his first day on the job -- but what exactly has made so many pitchers pitch so much better?

Showalter acknowledged during his pre-game media briefing Tuesday that he has pondered that question like everyone else, but he has only been around for the upside.

"I've seen them pretty good here for the most part," he said. "[But] I'm not naive. I understand there have been some struggles with them, and I'm probably putting it mildly when I put it that way, but we've seen why people are high on them and, at times, you've seen why they've probably had some struggles."

For that reason, no one should assume that this is a done deal. The month of September promises stiffer competition than the Orioles faced in August, though August was no pushover. When the month began, there were 20 games on the schedule against teams that were in either first or second place.

Now, the Orioles get to spend much of the final full month of the season facing their AL East rivals, which will be the truest test of their competitive renaissance. They closed out August on Tuesday night with a solid performance by left-hander Brian Matusz in a 5-2 win over the Boston Red Sox in the opener of a three-game series but open September tonight against Jon Lester, whose 12-0 career record against them is the best by any opponent -- ever.

Maybe the next few weeks will be a reality check, but maybe not. The success of Guthrie and the three young starters has extended over a long enough period that it probably isn't an accident.

Catcher Matt Wieters, who has had the best view of all of them, doesn't think it's all that complicated.

"To me, it's their command," Wieters said. "We've been ahead of most hitters, and when we get ahead, we stay ahead. They've seen now that if they're ahead, their stuff plays a lot better at this level than when you're behind. It doesn't matter how good your stuff is, if you get behind, you're going to have some struggles, which we had earlier in the year. But lately, they've been doing a great job of getting strike one and going from there."

Veteran infielder Ty Wigginton has a slightly different take. He thinks it's more a matter of the young pitchers surviving some tough times earlier this season and starting to come into their own at a logical juncture in their development.

"I think we had a younger staff and a lot of these guys were coming into Year Two, and I know for me coming into Year Two was tougher than Year One," Wigginton said. "It's tougher and you've got to make adjustments, and you're seeing guys making those adjustments on the mound and you're seeing some results. Â And then you get all five pitchers competing against themselves and trying to outdo each other on a nightly basis, and that's what you get on good teams."

For one month, at least, the Orioles have been a good team. Who could have imagined that a month ago?

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and with Brett Hollander at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

Buy Orioles Gear


Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by The Baltimore Sun. The Sun Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.