Over a week later, it’s still difficult to wake up and think about playoff baseball, sans the Orioles, being played. It’s not how it was meant to be — and now, we’re stuck watching and waiting.
Maybe we’re waiting for Spring Training. Perhaps we’re just waiting until next September to get another shot at the playoffs. Or maybe, just maybe, we’re waiting for some strange forfeit situation to occur in which the MLB gives the Orioles another opportunity to win the World Series in 2016 (guilty... just kidding... kind of).
Regardless, all that’s left on the 2016 Orioles horizon is the future. Fortunately, with Buck Showalter at the helm, there’s plenty of reason to stay optimistic about the 2017 Orioles.
It’s becoming very clear that regardless of the team Showalter has to work with, he’s going to milk every ounce of heart and determination out of them. It’s proven — time and time and time again.
Sure, it’s often an overreaction that one person in a locker-room has the ability to be a culture-changer and a season-shifter, but that’s just the role that Showalter has played since he’s arrived in 2010. Like a quarterback in football, Showalter, who just happens to be a 60-year-old manager instead of a player, is “that guy” in the O’s locker room. And as history has shown, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Just think of the big-picture turn-around that Showalter has presided over during his tenure with the O’s.
Managing teams that have been sub-elite in terms of talent (look back at previous rosters, you’ll regularly cringe), Showalter has found a way to barrel along and find ways to win ballgames.
Interestingly enough, perhaps because the Orioles from the exterior seem to flash plenty of fireworks, Showalter has helped the team get things done. There hasn’t been top-to-bottom lineup production. A void in starting pitching has been evident since 2010. Team speed doesn’t exist in Baltimore. Yet Showalter finds a way.
Look around the league and gather up a handful of managers who are capable of doing the same thing. It’s nearly impossible.
Of course, the night of October 4th might attach at the hip of Showalter for the rest of his career. By allowing Zach Britton to keep his jacket on and not even touch the bullpen dirt, Showalter made a mistake. A costly error that might’ve cost the Orioles a shot at an ALDS appearance.
Bad timing? Yes.
A legacy shifter? Hardly.
Showalter presented a decision that didn’t pan out. Looking back now, it’s easy to be a skeptic and brutally criticize the decision at face value. However, what if the move panned out? Suppose Jimenez tossed a 1-2-3 inning, the offense responded with a run and Zach Britton entered to capture the final three outs of the inning to send the Orioles to the ALDS.
Instead of receiving the brunt of the accountability, the headlines would’ve still been legacy-changers for Showalter, instead in a brilliant light:
“Showalter’s brilliant trust in team bullpen helps Orioles to the ALDS”
“Buck Showalter proves why he’s the right man for the job in Baltimore”
“Orioles beat Blue Jays in bold, confident stance by Mr. Baltimore, Buck Showalter”
Those headlines might’ve been a shot to the heart while reading, but they’re necessary to encapsulate the big picture of Showalter’s tenure in Baltimore.
Baseball, like any sport, is a “what have you done for me lately” arena. Sometimes, “heroes” are players who were merely in the right place at the right time to make a big play and forever be in the history books. And many times, “zeroes” are brilliant players or coaches who receive the blame for one mistake, sometimes an error that traces back to other sources of difficulty.
What if Showalter had confidence in his offense to score in the next half inning? If they were built like the Blue Jays, do you think the skipper would’ve trotted out Britton starting in the ninth inning?
He knew that the game could’ve been a marathon, and made a decision to trust Ubaldo Jimenez. It appears catastrophic now, but what if the game went 17-18 innings as Jimenez pounded the strike zone and worked his second-half magic to help lead the Orioles to victory?
Showalter would’ve been praised for his confidence and preparation.
Instead, for the next six months, he’ll be debated because of one disastrous result.
You can throw out his win totals (93, 85, 96, 81, 89) over the past five seasons, or you can take the optimistic route — one that’ll, if nothing else, keep you at non-miserable level until first pitch of 2017.
Showalter has led some fairly ... we’ll go with unique ... teams to successful seasons. He hasn’t been given the talent of other AL East counterparts. Imagine what his teams could do with consistent lineup pieces and even a single high-powered starting arm.
But alas, Buck has settled in to the job — managing teams that don’t come with the puzzle completed.
Assembly is most definitely required, year after year.
And as the seasons roll along, Showalter proves that there might not be anybody in the league better at handling seemingly 1,000 pieces moving at once. His teams win games and play exciting, spirited baseball.
So no matter what the future holds for this Baltimore Orioles squad, take solace in the fact that they’ll have one of the best in the business at the helm.
He’s still an elite baseball manager.
One decision shouldn’t change his legacy.