Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis, Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop, Jason Hammel, Wei Yin Chen - all have been essential to the Orioles' success this year, but as of right now, to this blogger, the most important Oriole is one William Nathaniel Showalter.
Honestly, has there been one person that is more responsible for the Orioles' year? Showalter has been the rock, the steady-handed captain of this improbable team. He is calm, cool and clearly in charge. When you look at the team the Orioles have beaten each of the last two nights, you see the polar opposite of Buck's Birds and, frankly, you see an image of the Orioles' past. Chaos, turmoil and the complete breakdown of communication and power structure. The result is clear - losses, frustration and a manager who is currently the subject roughly one dozen office "death pools" around the country. Meanwhile in Baltimore, Showalter has guided this team and managed them to an improbable season.
There is a lot of debate over just how much impact a manager has in baseball on a win-loss level. Most people would agree that a manager's moves, or non-moves, have a direct impact on the result of maybe four to five games in a year. After all is said and done, the manager just pushes buttons and it is up to the players to perform. Now, the baseball manager needs to put his players in a position to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Showalter has done an admirable job of this. He has been utilizing shifts much more this year to help the pitching staff; he has not been afraid to juggle the lineup to maximize hotter bats and trends; he was not shy about moving Mark Reynolds off of third and certainly not shy about throwing Manny Machado straight into the deep-end of the major leagues.
Where Showalter has really excelled this year is in bullpen management. The Orioles' biggest strength this year has been the bullpen. And the bullpen continues to excel even after an inordinate amount of extra innings and a heavy workload due to inconsistent starting pitching. Showalter has done as good a job as anyone could be expected to do. He has worked to keep arms fresh and has not been shy about leaving young starters in the game an inning or two longer than other managers might in an effort to save those arms.
But even then, we aren't really discussing Showalter's biggest contribution to this team - the way he runs his shop. Showalter has never expected less than 100 percent from any of his players because he himself gives 100 percent in everything he does. Showalter has the reputation of having near dictator-like control over every aspect of his team. Rumor has it, he even had a hand in the design of the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks' uniforms. It has been said that it is this desire for control that makes Showalter such an excellent manager, but also leads to Showalter outliving his welcome wherever he goes. You get the idea, however, that Showalter's brand of type-A attention to detail is exactly what this team, and this organization, needed.
As I stated above, the current situation in Boston is a complete disaster, but Baltimore does not have to look far back in its history to see a very similar situation. The Orioles, like the Red Sox today, were a rudderless ship taking on water in an unforgiving sea. The Orioles, as an organization, were a revolving door of upper management and field management with no one staying around long enough to put any plan into action, let alone see it through to the end. Former Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone said as much on ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning earlier this week. He compared Baltimore's turmoil to the regimented structure of the very successful Atlanta Braves organization. You could hear the spite in his voice when he talked about the complete chaos the Orioles' organization was. Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette have changed that culture. Showalter runs a tight ship, his words carry weight and you can see how everyone on this team has completely bought into his ideals and plan for this team.
The relationship that Showalter has developed with the core players like Jones and Wieters is amazing. You can tell that Jones and Wieters have complete trust in whatever Showalter says and does. Jones has pretty much said that the deciding factor in his decision to extend in Baltimore is because of Showalter's commitment to staying on this team awhile. That is why it is absolutely imperative that Showalter be extended this offseason.
The first order of business on Day 1 of the offseason for Duquette should be to extend Showalter for at least another three to four years. I want to see Showalter here to guide Machado, Dylan Bundy and Nicky Delmonico in the majors. I want his vision of this team to be set in stone and a system deeply entrenched so when he does leave or retire from the Orioles, his replacement is ready to go, in-house, and pick up right where he left off. Can anyone out there picture this team with anyone other than Showalter at the helm right now?
Showalter means so much to this team. He means so much to this city. When he was hired, it gave this team and this rebuilding program instant credibility. Showalter brought with him a way of doing things that he has implemented in Baltimore with ease. And the results speak for themselves. The Orioles are in the playoff race and they legitimately control their own destiny at this point. The team is showing no signs of slowing down and while players will get the glory, everyone must recognize the work Showalter has done. If the season were to end today, he would be American League Manager of the Year without a doubt. No one comes close. It would be Showalter's third MOTY award and to go with that, he should get a nice big contract as well. He has earned it, and the team will need him going forward.
James Baker blogs about the Orioles at Oriole Post. His observations about the O's appear as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.