Slap me with a large shoe the next time I doubt the Orioles
You know who isn’t one bit surprised by the Orioles’ 6-0 start? That would be the Orioles.
Adam Jones and Buck Showalter. J.J. Hardy and Chris Davis. Darren O’Day and Chris Tillman.
Yeah, those guys.
Some teams just have a certain vibe, a quiet confidence. For sure, the Royals and Giants have it. The Astros seem to have it as well.
And there’s absolutely no doubt the Orioles have it, perhaps more of it than any club other than maybe the Royals.
This core group of Birds has been together for five seasons, and in that time they’ve won more regular-season games than any other American League team.
This run coincides with Dan Duquette taking over as the head of baseball operations. No general manager has done a better job of unearthing talent without spending wild amounts of money.
When a team has won as often as the Orioles have in recent years, there’s a collective ego that is born and strengthened and reenforced.
While those of us on the outside evaluate things that can be weighed and measured, the Orioles see the whole world a different way.
They look around their clubhouse and look at guys that they know and trust and believe in.
Some of that comes from a manager, Showalter, who is absolutely brilliant. He sweats the small stuff, sometimes obsesses over the small stuff.
No manager is better at building the right environment and convincing his players they can write whatever ending those choose to write.
None of us on the outside can be 100 percent certain how he does it. He’d be the first to remind us that it’s a player’s game and that whatever the Orioles do this season will be because Jones, Davis, etc., are the guys who make it go.
On the other hand, some managers have an ability to motivate and reach players in ways others don’t.
In a season like this one, when the whole world had the Orioles penciled in for the bottom of the American League East, Showalter absolutely thrives.
So does Jones.
“Oh so, we’re counting Spring Training games now?” he asked a few weeks ago when his team had the worst record in the Grapefruit League.
He reminded me, politely, that the game was different when the games counted, that paying too much attention to March was silly.
Still, it was tough to believe in the Orioles who need a lot of things to fall into place:
- Could Chris Tillman bounce back from a disappointing season?
- Would Yovani Gallardo fill the hole in the rotation left by Wei-Yin Chen’s departure?
- Did the organization have quality arms for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation?
Here’s what we know so far:<p>
1. Tillman has a 1.29 ERA after one start cut short by rain and another very solid one.
2. Gallardo has been good once and not so good another time.
3. Ubaldo Jimenez and Vance Worley have a combined 2.31 ERA. Mike Wright makes his first start today as the fifth name in the rotation.
The Orioles also fretted about production from their left fielder. That’s where Joey Rickard, a Rule V pickup from the Rays, comes in.
He started hitting in Spring Training and hasn’t stopped. He began the day with a .409 batting average.
No one evaluates a baseball team on these first few days. Baseball seasons have a way of exposing every weakness, and that rotation could still be a problem.
But a 6-0 start helps, too. It instills confidence and becomes a building block. And the Orioles look around the rest of the AL East and don’t believe there’s a better team.
If, say, young right-handers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy end up churning out quality innings and if Tillman continues to lead the way, the Orioles could easily end up back in the postseason for the third time in five seasons.
Perhaps the larger lessons is this group—from general manager Dan Duquette to Showalter to the players—has earned the benefit of the doubt.
They’ve resurrected this sport in one of the country’s great baseball cities. They play the game a certain way, the right way.
They were one out from defeat on Monday afternoon when Davis hit a three-run home run off Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel at Fenway Park for a 9-7 victory.
In the celebration that followed the victory, it was easy to believe that this could end up being one of those galvanizing moments and that maybe we really have underestimated the Orioles.
We’ve done that a lot in recent years. We ought to know better by now.