ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Buck Showalter officially took the helm of the Orioles on Aug. 2, 2010, two years and one day ago today. We couldn't celebrate his anniversary on an off-day.
He's got the Orioles five games above .500 and only 1 1/2 back in the wild card chase, which may come as a surprise to the folks who predicted his club would lose 100 this year. And there were lots and lots of them, both locally and nationally. The clock was supposed to be turned back to 1988.
I've fielded the same question countless times from fans and out-of-town writers: How are they doing it?
The rotation's 4.81 ERA ranks 25th in the majors. The offense's .244 average ranks 24th, and it's batting .234 with runners in scoring position (26th) and .217 with RISP and two outs (23rd). The 84 errors are more than any other team has committed in baseball.
Showalter didn't have his starting second baseman and leadoff hitter when the season began, and he won't have him when it ends. His replacement at second base sustained a shoulder injury. His starting left fielder hasn't played since April 30. His right fielder underwent wrist surgery. His best pitcher had knee surgery. Three-fifths of his opening day rotation is in Triple-A or on the disabled list. One of his power arms in the bullpen was shelved. His new designated hitter has a herniated disk. His third baseman is playing first. His designated hitter/first baseman is playing third. His first baseman/designated hitter is playing left field after moving over from right. His infielders have frequently played left and right field. His choice for backup catcher didn't make an appearance until July 14. His projected fourth outfielder has been on the DL twice and is batting .190. His lineup is filled with streaky hitters who seem to go cold simultaneously. His roster undergoes changes almost on a daily basis.
There are times when this team doesn't hit, pitch or field the ball. It's also one game below .500 at home, where it's supposed to hold the advantage.
So, how are they doing it?
The division finally has come down to them. I've spent years saying it would need to happen for the Orioles to approach .500 or blow past the mark. They hit home runs. The bullpen has been exceptional for most of the summer, allowing the Orioles to be 42-0 when leading after the seventh inning and 44-1 when leading after the eighth. And Showalter has held this team together and pushed it toward the top of the American League East standings.
Has he been perfect? Absolutely not. But I'm still shaking my head over the way some readers of this blog wanted him fired for using Miguel Socolovich too early and not pinch running for Jim Thome. He's been slammed for leaving his starters in games for too long or taking them out too early. It comes with the job.
No, Showalter isn't perfect in 2012, but he might be the American League's Manager of the Year.
The three biggest surprises in baseball are the Orioles, Athletics and Pirates. A colleague suggested that I include the White Sox, so I'll do it. That leaves Showalter, Bob Melvin and Robin Ventura vying for the AL award.
Who's your choice if the season ended today?
Showalter brings a 1,040-999 career record into tonight's game against the Rays at Tropicana Field. His next loss will be No. 1,000.
Just don't fire him for it.
NOTES: Though Showalter took over as manager on Aug. 2, 2010, his first game was exactly two years ago today. The Orioles scored four runs in the sixth inning on Luke Scott's 2-run homer and Josh Bell's 2-run double, and Jeremy Guthrie made his fourth straight quality start in a 6-3 victory over the Angels.
The Orioles are 158-166 under Showalter, and his .488 winning percentage is the eighth-best (minimum 300 games) in franchise history.
Tommy Hunter is starting tonight, followed by Wei-Yin Chen tomorrow and Miguel Gonzalez on Sunday. The Orioles list Chris Tillman, Zach Britton and Hunter as the three starters for the Mariners series that begins Monday at Camden Yards. No changes for now.
In his last eight starts, Hunter has walked two and struck out 25 over 48 innings. He just needs to keep the ball in the park. He's served up 24 home runs this season.
The Orioles have scored two runs or fewer while Hunter is in the game in nine of his last 14 starts.
Over the last six games, the Orioles are batting .323 with 16 doubles, nine homers and 35 runs scored.
In their last 23 games, the Orioles have been held to one hit with runners in scoring position six times and were held hitless with RISP nine times.
Be sure to read Josh Land's piece on MASNsports.com on Cal Ripken Jr.'s press conference at Camden Yards and his pleas to find his mother's abductor. Police are continuing the search.