Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Davey Johnson, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #225
If the Nats' leap forward under Davey Johnson was impressive, the Birds' single-season turnaround with Buck at the helm was otherworldly. The 14 straight years of losing is a theme that's been hammered home endlessly, but just taking it down to a smaller scale we find a 2011 O's team that finished dead last in the A.L. East at 69-93. In 2012, Showalter's charges flipped that record, tacking on an extra 24 wins and jousting with the Yankees and Rays for the division crown until the very end of the season. They scraped into the playoffs as the second wild card, beat a favored Rangers team on the road, and took the Yankees to the absolute brink before being shut down by CC Sabathia in a 3-1 final in Game Five of the ALDS. But more impressive than what the Orioles did is how they did it: Buck and GM Dan Duquette played roster roulette all season long, threatening a decades-old team record by utilizing 52 players on the big league squad. As you may have surmised, they dealt with injuries and other hardships throughout the 162-game slate, playing for big chunks of time without key players such as Mark Reynolds, Brian Roberts, Nolan Reimold, Nick Markakis, Jim Thome, and Jason Hammel. Looking at the rotation, only rookie Wei-Yin Chen started more than 20 games. But the O's played their best ball in close and late situations, obliterating the major league record with a 29-9 record in one-run games and going 16-2 in extra innings (with each of the last 16 extra-innings contests resulting in a win). They won at home (47-34), they won on the road (46-35), and they even won the majority of their intra-division games (43-29 vs. their East rivals). The young and pitching-rich Nationals were expected to make noise, but the Cinderella Orioles truly came out of nowhere. No one may ever be able to quantify Buck Showalter's contributions to that success, but he certainly seems like a deserving choice for Manager of the Year. Congrats, Buck.