Future looks bright for the Orioles

Win or lose tonight, you should feel good about this season

October 04, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

Orioles fans, let's not hear any more whining about a one-game wild-card playoff and how your team got hosed with this format, OK?

Focus on this, people: 93 wins after a 69-win season. Last to second in the American League East. Postseason play for the first time in 15 years.

That's not too shabby, is it? Anyone going to weep after a season like that?

So enjoy tonight's game against the Texas Rangers and we'll see where it leaves these scrappy O's, who've had more comebacks than Rocky after tough defeats.

While you're at it, think about how bright the future looks for this team.

For openers, the core group of Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis appears to be entering its prime.

Moving Mark Reynolds from third base, where he played like a blind man, to first, where he played like a Gold Glover, solidified the infield defense. And smooth-fielding phenom Manny Machado seems set to anchor third for years to come.

Chris Davis (33 homers) and his big bat will find a place in this lineup next year. And so should Nate McLouth, a former Gold Glover who played so well down the stretch and could either start or platoon in left field next year with Nolan Reimold — assuming Reimold can ever stay healthy.

Sure, the starting pitching has some holes. But at least Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen have solidified the front of the rotation, and Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have shown promise. Top draft picks Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are also close to joining the team permanently, which has the Orioles' brass practically giddy.

Not only that, but the bullpen was lights out this year. And with a full year at closer under his belt, Jim Johnson (51 saves) could be a rock there for a while.

You gotta love Johnson's intensity, too. Reminds me of Goose Gossage, who practically spit nails when he took the mound late in games.

True story: when the Orioles were on the field after their last game at Camden Yards, watching the end of the Rangers-Angels game on the scoreboard and hoping to clinch a playoff spot so they could celebrate in front of the home fans, Johnson suddenly whirled and walked to the dugout.

"Were you just so nervous you couldn't watch?" I asked him after the Rangers had won and spoiled the party.

He looked at me as if my head had just exploded.

"No," he growled. "I just didn't want anyone to (mess) with my glove."

Anyway, the bottom line is this: the Orioles will have a nice blend of youth and veteran talent going forward. And to think that general manager Dan Duquette was practically raiding nursing homes earlier this year when he looked at has-beens like Dontrelle Willis, Jamie Moyer, Miguel Tejada and J.C. Romero.

At the risk of stating the obvious, here's another reason to feel good about this team: Buck Showalter.

The guy should be a shoo-in for American League Manager of the Year. But Bob Melvin of the Oakland A's will get a ton of consideration, too. And Melvin's gutty team won the AL West in dramatic fashion, which is hard to overlook. And the A's have a storyline as compelling in its own way as the Orioles'.

I wrote that the best thing Showalter did with the O's last season was keep the team from succumbing to all the negativity of another train-wreck season. Not once did he go all woe-is-me in front of the media — even off the record. Not once did he throw a player under the bus.

This year, the best thing he did was keep his players on an even keel, even as it became clear something magical was happening with this team.

Showalter's focus was always on the next game. Which is why the Orioles never got complacent, never got too high after a win or too low after a loss. They'd look in the manager's office after a game and the little guy with the white hair would be at his desk, quietly studying tomorrow's pitching matchup.

How do you whoop it up or bang your fist against a wall after that?

There was also this: as summer gave way to fall and some well-meaning media rube tried to congratulate the manager on his team being in the thick of the wild-card chase, Showalter would shake his head and give the rube that gunslinger squint and say: "Uh-uh. We're trying to win the division here, big guy."

That didn't happen, of course. But that doesn't diminish the season. Are you kidding? After 15 years, the Orioles are playing baseball in October.

Let's see where it goes from here.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kevincowherdsun

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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