This season, the Orioles have won 15 times in 54 games managed by Dave Trembely, 17 times in 51 games managed by Juan Samuel, and 19 times in just 32 games managed by Buck Showalter, who signed a four-year deal to be the field manager of the rebuilding franchise at the end of July. The O's won eight of Showalter's first nine games at the helm and have gone 11-12 since then, a pace still well above what the Orioles had been doing prior to Showalter's arrival.
The most notable change for the O's under Showalter has been their improved ability to keep their opponents from scoring. The Orioles allowed 5.46 runs per game over their first 105 games under Trembley and Samuel, but have allowed just 3.91 runs per game under Showalter. Some of that has been good timing. The Orioles' infield defense was significantly improved when Brian Roberts returned from his season-long exile on the disabled list a week before Showalter was hired. In Roberts' absence, the keystone had been manned by the defensively challenged Julio Lugo and Ty Wigginton. Miguel Tejada was a similar problem at third base before being dumped on the Padres at the non-waiver trading deadline mere days before Showalter took over, clearing room for third base prospect Josh Bell, who has played well in the field thus far. The O's also got Opening Day closer Mike Gonzalez back in late July from a nearly season-long DL stint due to shoulder trouble. Gonzalez has been outstanding in set-up duty since his return (save for the two runs he allowed on Sunday, that is). More recently, Jim Johnson, who became the closer after the Orioles traded George Sherrill to the Dodgers for Bell at the 2009 deadline, returned from a similarly lengthy DL stay to help sure up the Orioles' end-game.
The Orioles' late-inning picture has been further improved by Showalter's decision to make Koji Uehara his closer. The O's signed the Japanese veteran as a starter prior the 2009 season despite the fact that he had made just 12 starts over the previous two seasons and had been Yomiuri's closer in 2007. Uehara made just 12 starts last year and none this year while battling a variety of injuries, but has excelled in his new old role. (Not that it much matters; his contract is up after this season.)
The only starter to show meaningful improvement under Showalter has been rookie lefty Brian Matusz, who starts this afternoon against A.J. Burnett (see below). Matusz has gone 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA under Showalter after going 3-11 with a 5.46 ERA over his first 21 starts. The timing might just be a coincidence, as Showalter did not make any changes to Samuel's coaching staff, and Matusz's extreme fly-ball rate suggests his improvement has little to do with the defensive upgrades in the infield which pre-dated the new skipper's arrival.
The Orioles are also scoring more often under Showalter, though that improvement is both less extreme (from a pathetic 3.61 runs per game to a still weak but more respectable 4.22) and less surprising given the hitting talent in the O's lineup and the return of Roberts.
Since that initial 8-1 burst under Buck, the O's have won just two series. They swept the Angels at the end of August by allowing just one run in three games, and just took the last two of a three-game weekend set against the Rays by scoring eight runs in each of the last two games. The Yankees are 10-2 against the Orioles this season, all of those games coming prior to Showalter's hiring. The two Baltimore wins were both one-run games. The Yankee bullpen blew the first, while rookie Jake Arrieta, who will start Tuesday night, out-pitched A.J. Burnett, who starts this afternoon's opener, in the second.
A.J. Burnett vs. Brian Matusz (Monday, September 6, 1:05, YES/MLBN)
A popular pre-season pick to win the American League Rookie of the Year, Matusz won two of his first three starts, then didn't pick up another victory until July 4. Poor run support certainly played a part in that, but he was disappointingly inconsistent as well. Since picking up his fourth win on August 4, however, that has changed. The 23-year-old lefty is 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA over his last six starts, five of which were quality. In fact, Matusz has allowed more than two runs just once in those six starts and fewer than two runs in four of them. He hasn't been facing bad teams, either. His last four wins came against the Angels, Rangers, White Sox, and Red Sox, and his fifth quality start came in another game against Chicago that the O's ultimately won after his departure. Matusz has faced the Yankees three times already this season, each time turning in a quality start, yet taking the loss each time despite a cumulative 2.41 ERA in those games.
Burnett beat Matusz in the first two of those starts, the latter of which put A.J.'s season line at 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA. Since then, he has gone 6-12 with a 6.25 ERA. Yes, he managed to pull out a quality start and tie his season high with eight strikouts his last time out, but that came against the weak-hitting A's and a quality start in one turn has had no predictive value for the next for Burnett this season. The good news is that the O's don't have a dangerous lineup (that 4.2 runs per game under Showalter isn't scaring anybody). The bad news is that Burnett still managed to lose to them the third time he faced them back in June.
CC Sabathia vs. Jake Arrieta (Tuesday, September 7, 7:05, YES)
Another of the O's heralded pitching prospects, 24-year-old righty Arrieta made his major league debut with a quality start against the Yankees back on June 10 (it was he that beat Burnett), but he's been up and down since. Still, those extremes haven't been terribly exaggerated. His best start of the year was his second, in which he held the Giants to one run in seven innings. His worst saw him give up five runs in four innings to the Twins.
CC Sabathia will pitch for his 20th win, which would be a new career high and make him the first 20-game winner in the majors since 2008. He's 16-2 with a 2.40 ERA over his last 18 starts, has won his last six times out, and is 4-0 with a 2.73 ERA against the Orioles this year.
Ivan Nova vs. Brad Bergesen (Wednesday, September 8, 1:05, YES)
Sophomore lefty Bergesen, who is 24 but not a prospect, is 3-1 with a 2.77 ERA over his last seven starts, in part because he has been hit-lucky (.247 BABIP). He doesn't have great stuff, and the Yankees torched him back on June 2 (2 1/3 IP, 6 R).
Ivan Nova was less impressive in his third start, walking two against no strikeouts and getting hooked with two out in the fifth, but he wasn't lit up, and there was an argument to be made for leaving him in to give him the chance to get that big third out and earn the win. Nova has averaged just 79 pitches in his three major league starts, and I'm getting increasingly anxious to see him work deep into a game. The upside of Joe Girardi's quick hook has been that Nova has indeed stayed out of big trouble and has a tidy 3.45 ERA in his three starts, the last two of which have come in Yankee wins. Still, until he can do it for 100 or even 90 pitches, it won't mean much. Also worth noting, purported groundballer Nova has gotten just one more ground ball than fly ball in his three major league starts.
2010 Record: 51-86 (.372)
2010 Pythagorean Record: 50-87 (.365)
Manager: Buck Showalter
General Manager: Andy MacPhail
Home Ballpark: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Bill James Park Indexes (2007-2009):
LH Avg-104, LH HR-115
RH Avg-107, RH HR-129
Who has replaced whom:
• Buck Showalter has replaced Juan Samuel
• Brian Roberts (DL) has replaced Scott Moore (mL)
• Josh Bell (mL) has replaced Miguel Tejada (SDP)
• Felix Pie (DL) has replaced Lou Montañez (mL)
• Jake Fox (OAK) has replaced Garrett Atkins (released)
• Chris Tillman, Nolan Reimold, Brandon Snyder, and Robert Adino were called up from the minors when rosters expanded
• Mike Gonzalez (DL) has repalced Will Ohman (FLA)
• Koji Uehara (DL), Alfredo Simon (DL), Jim Johnson (DL), and Rick VandenHurk (FLA) have replaced Jason Berken (DL), David Hernandez (DL), Alberto Castillo (mL), and Frank Mata (mL)
1B - Ty Wigginton (R)
2B - Brian Roberts (S)
SS - Cesar Izturis (S)
3B - Josh Bell (S)
C - Matt Wieters (S)
RF - Nick Markakis (L)
CF - Adam Jones (R)
LF - Felix Pie (L)
DH - Luke Scott (L)
L - Corey Patterson (OF)
R - Julio Lugo (IF)
R - Jake Fox (C/4C)
R- Craig Tatum (C)
R - Nolan Reimold (OF)
R - Brandon Snyder (1B)
R - Robert Andino (IF)
L - Brian Matusz
R - Jake Arrieta
R - Brad Bergesen
R - Kevin Millwood
R - Jeremy Guthrie
R - Chris Tillman
R - Koji Uehara
L - Mike Gonzalez
R - Matt Albers
L - Mark Hendrickson
R - Alfredo Simon
R - Jim Johnson
R - Rick VandenHurk
RHP - David Hernandez (sprained left ankle)
RHP - Jason Berken (right shoulder inflammation)
S - Brian Roberts (2B)
L - Nick Markakis (RF)
R - Ty Wigginton (2B)
L - Luke Scott (DH)
R - Adam Jones (CF)
L - Felix Pie (LF)
S - Matt Wieters (C)
S - Cesar Izturis (SS)
S - Josh Bell (3B)