TORONTO - The injection of energy that accompanied the arrival of Buck Showalter as manager of the Baltimore Orioles last July 29 seems to have run its course.
Showalter inherited a listless outfit that had managed just 32 wins in their first 105 ballgames in 2010, then whipped them the rest of the way home to a 34-23 record, second best to the Phillies in all of baseball during that time period.
After making some high-profile off-season moves to improve their offence, spring training this year brought a chorus of bright predictions for the O’s, who haven’t had a winning season since 1997. A short burst of confirmation ensued as Baltimore bolted from the gate at 6-1 in the first week of the season.
Since then, it’s been more of the same malodorous stuff that has infested Camden Yard for the last 14 years. They have racked up just 34 wins in their most recent 91 ballgames to once again take up residence in the basement of the American League East.
The Blue Jays have never fallen so far or for so long as the Orioles, but there are parallels between what Alex Anthopoulos is trying to do in Toronto and what Andy MacPahil has been trying to do in Baltimore since he took over as GM in 2007.
As writer Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun pointed out in an article this past weekend, the MacPhail plan was “to grow the arms and buy the bats.” Given how Toronto has concentrated on pitching these last two drafts, you can say that Anthopoulos may have the same philosophy in mind.
Given the high price of quality pitching, that makes perfect sense, but when you go that route, you are counting on the draft and your own development people. Where the Jays and the Orioles diverge in the implementation of that blueprint is that Toronto has spent many millions on doubling the size of its scouting staff and many more millions on expanded development.
For Toronto, it’s too premature to say those investments have paid off but there are signs throughout the system that pitching help is very much on the way. Tangible proof of that may be two or three years away.
For the Orioles, not so much. At 25, Jake Arrieta has emerged as a solid product of the O’s system and Zach Britton, at 23, though he may have been pushed too far, too soon, is going to be a good one. Their other bright hope, Brian Matusz, is struggling on a rehab assignment after a shoulder problem has kept him on the sidelines all season.
Four years into its “plan”, Baltimore sits dead last in all of major league baseball in the most pertinent statistical pitching categories: runs allowed (514), ERA (4.83) and OPS allowed (.796). Right now, they have just about no where to turn for pitching help because nobody is ready in the system.
Their recent history as well as their hitter-friendly ballpark make them a destination of last resort for any good pitcher who has other options. If they start trading youth for established arms it will be tantamount to waving a white flag on their intent to grow the arms themselves.