Bob Klapisch has a great feature today on Buck Showalter and the O’s.
Here’s most of it:
There’s no need to wonder how Buck Showalter feels about this weekend’s showdown series against the Yankees, because it’s obvious to anyone who grasps human nature. Buck is loving every minute of the Bombers’ discomfort while their lead keeps shrinking. He’s having the finest year of his managerial career, and if it comes at the Yankees’ expense, the payback is as powerful as a narcotic.
Of course, Showalter is too smart and too careful to inflame his former employers just as the Orioles arrive in the Bronx. “We all respect the Yankees,” Buck said. They’d be crazy not to. But the Birds’ synchronicity couldn’t be more perfectly timed, having just taken three of four from the Central Division-leading White Sox. The Yankees, meanwhile, are coming off an embarrassing series at home, losing two of three to the last-place Blue Jays.
Yankees officials won’t address the possibility that’s on everyone’s mind – that the 10-game lead could be blown by Monday morning – but no one’s downplaying the gravity of the situation, either. “I’m worried,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “It’s my job to be worried, whether we’re 10 [games] up or three up.”
That’s music to Showalter’s ears, knowing the Yankees are taking a harder look at the team no one considered a legitimate threat in 2012. But here the Orioles are, crazy overachievers who believe in Showalter and, mostly, themselves.
Their us-against-the-universe ethos has been forged into steel during a run of 13 consecutive victories in one-run games. The Birds are here not just on some ordinary hot streak, but riding a monsoon of karma.
So what can stop the O’s? Perhaps reality: They haven’t been this close to first place after 130 games since 1997, and while Showalter has gone a long way toward lifting the suffocating gloom at Camden Yards, sabremetricians still aren’t buying the renaissance.
According the Pythagorean expectation, a formula devised by Bill James that predicts how many games a team should’ve won based on runs scored and runs allowed, the Orioles are supposed to be in last place with a 58-71 record. Their minus-44 run differential ranks 12th in the American League – mystifying and unimpressive. But that allows Showalter to enjoy a private laugh on those who see baseball as science instead of art.
“Those guys can’t figure us out. They’ve tried but they can’t,” Buck said by telephone earlier this week. “All the people who put numbers on us don’t understand the great thing about my players: They stay in the moment, they don’t panic, they don’t take themselves too seriously. We don’t have any divas in our clubhouse.”
The formula is actually a little more complicated. With a negative run-differential, the Orioles have had to rely on their bullpen to prevail in close games. And therein lies their secret: Baltimore’s relievers are fourth in the league with a 3.06 ERA and are second in this category after the seventh inning.
But even that number is undercut by the deficiencies in the Orioles’ offense, especially on the road where they rank last in the AL with 239 runs. That just leads you back to the origin of the O’s success – Showalter himself, who, although quirky and driven to the point of obsession, has a unique ability to make players believe in themselves.
Those who know Showalter consider him complex – the sum of the better angels of several different managers. He lacks Bobby Valentine’s room-filling charisma, but he’s just as gifted as a talent evaluator. He’s as efficient and organized as Joe Girardi but more human. Showalter isn’t as laid-back as Don Mattingly and lacks the built-in acceptance of a former superstar, yet he speaks in a way that his players understand.
The formula almost worked with the Yankees in the ’90s, but fell short with Texas and Arizona. Finally, Showalter could get payback this weekend and deep into September, a fitting gift to his legacy. But it remains to be seen whether the Orioles can handle a highly charged Stadium with this much at stake.
Showalter knows better than anyone how tough the crowds can be in the Bronx – although, admittedly, the demographic has changed since the new ballpark was built. And, if anything, the Blue Jays proved how vulnerable the Bombers were this week without Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Mariano Rivera.
But Toronto had nothing to play for. For the Orioles, it’s all about holding their breath, exhaling slowly and letting fate weave its fabric over the next 27 innings.
“I’m learning as I get older, just enjoy the ride wherever it takes you,” Buck said. “All I know is I have a bunch of guys who grind it out every night and they aren’t afraid of anyone.
“If you’re asking if I’m enjoying this, you bet I am,” Showalter said with a laugh, although he still won’t make headlines talking about his old bosses.
You know that Showalter, along with Stick Michael and Bob Watson, set up the Yankees on a tee for Torre and Cashman. And, he did it for Bob Brenly in Arizona too.
Texas didn’t work out for Buck. Yet, he’s doing a great job now with the O’s.
If someone besides the Yankees has to win the World Series this year, I wouldn’t mind seeing Showalter get a ring – even if it is for a terrible owner like Peter Angelos.