After finally becoming the last team to reach 30 victories in 2010 with a dramatic extra inning win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, the Baltimore Orioles can now set their sights toward continuing to improve over the final two and a half months of the season as they try to avoid a 100 loss season.
It might seem like a long-shot considering that they would have to win 33 of their final 69 games (.478) to accomplish that goal after playing at a .322 clip through the first 93 contests.
However, though victories have not been plentiful so far in 2010, the Orioles have shown an unusual fortitude for late game comebacks and that might be something they can build on over the final two months.
What the Orioles desperately need is a spark, both on and off the field.
If Andy MacPhail finally gets off his duff and brings in a new manager and Brian Roberts and Matt Wieters are able to get back to top form when they return from the disabled list, they could give Baltimore the push they need.
The rumor has been that Buck Showalter would be named the manager of the Orioles sometime before the end of July. Some speculation has been that MacPhail was waiting until after Roberts and Wieters returned to the lineup so Showalter could have his lineup at full strength.
If Showalter does join the team, his arrival should help give the Orioles some focus for the final 2+ months of the season.
You can bet that Showalter will be watching and grading every player as he determines which players he will want to have on his squad for 2011.
In recent years the Orioles have been notorious for playing near .500 baseball through July and then wilting in the summer sun while struggling through the final two months.
This year the Orioles got off to a horrendous start (.277 in 54 games under Dave Trembley), but have been playing at least slightly better clip (.368) under Juan Samuel.
If MacPhail doesn’t blow this chance to make an early start toward 2011, the Orioles could elevate their game for the remainder of the season. However, if MacPhail decides to wait until after the season and keeps Samuel at the helm, then the Orioles have no chance of avoiding their first 100 loss season since 1988 and only their third since moving to Baltimore in 1954.
Regardless of who is skipper of the team over the remainder of the season, his job will be significantly easier if leadoff hitter Brian Roberts returns to his normal role as one of the best table setters in baseball.
Baltimore is scoring nearly a run less per game this season than they were a year ago. The loss of Roberts, who has averaged 100 runs scored per season for the last six years, since the first week of the season is a major reason for that decline.
If Roberts is completely recovered and able to have a “Brian Roberts type performance” over the final two months, the Orioles could see their run production increase immediately.
The return to form of Matt Wieters could also be big for the Orioles as they look to make a late surge.
After struggling for most of May and June, Wieters hit .388 over his last five games before being injured on July 9th. If he can regain that form, the Orioles’ lineup becomes immediately more formidable.
Even if Showalter gets the nod soon, Roberts comes back at full strength and Wieters returns to his rookie form, it will still be tough for the O’s to avoid reaching 100 losses. But considering how disappointing the first three months have been and how awful Baltimore has been in the final two months every year over the last decade, any improvement would be seen as a positive.