Despite losing Manny Machado, Matt Wieters and Johan Santana for the season due to injuries as well as losing Chris Davis to a 25-game suspension, the Baltimore Orioles collected their first AL East division title since 1997 Tuesday night.
Yes, you read that correctly.
While many of us had predicted the Orioles to finish third at best in the division (behind the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox), the Orioles quietly dominated the division that has been labeled the toughest in all of baseball. Not only did the Orioles win the division with a 13.5 game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays, but Baltimore is sporting a 91-60 record.
So how in the world did the Orioles pull it off in spite of all of those injuries and a drastically under-performing Ubaldo Jimenez? Their success this season is a testament to the team that general manager Dan Duquette put together as well as the once again superb coaching job by Buck Showalter.
After taking over midway through the 2010 season, Showalter and the Orioles endured a horrendous 2011 year as the team went 69-93. After that, everything changed. Since that 2011 season, Showalters’ Orioles have posted a record of 269-206, a .566 winning percentage.
Showalter has instilled a “next man up” attitude within the Baltimore clubhouse. Egos are set aside and the focus of each player is the success of the team. His team plays hard day in and day out, regardless of the names on the back of the jerseys. The Orioles play like their manager – stingy and fundamentally correct.
Like the success of the Kansas City Royals, having the Orioles back at the top of the division is another step forward for baseball. It is another victory for parity within the game as the financial behemoths such as the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays are left behind as the playoffs quickly approach.
The old school approach of Showalter flies in the face of the times. He doesn’t live and breathe saber-metrics, he isn’t bringing in statisticians to help him gameplan and he isn’t spending his free time patrolling social media. He’s our generation’s Lou Pinella or Billy Martin. There will be a time in a decade or two when we look back at Showalter’s tenure as a coach in baseball and call him one of the best – especially his 2014 accomplishment.
For Showalter and the Orioles, the journey is just beginning for 2014 as they have dreams of much more than just a division title. While many obstacles stand in their way (hello, Angels), no one expected them to get this far – so there’s no reason to doubt they can win it all.
Cover Photo: John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER
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