Sure it is just three games in early August, but for the Baltimore Orioles and new manager Buck Showalter the sweep of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the first three games under Showalter is a positive sign in what has generally been a dismal season.
Though the goal for Showalter is long-term success for the Orioles, the short term can be very important for a team that has played above .500 ball in the months of August and September only once in the last decade.
Baltimore has not had a winning season since 1997 and their play in the final two months every season has typically set a negative tone for the offseason. Since 2000, the Orioles have posted a winning percentage of .382 (218-352) after August 1st.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the only season during the recent decade in which the Orioles had a winning record over the final two months was 2004 when they went 32-28. The next season Baltimore jumped out to a great start and led the American League for two months before fading down the stretch.
If the Orioles hope to inject any hope back into the minds of a fan base that is tired after watching 13 straight losing seasons, they can start the process with a strong final two months.
Showalter gives the team the much needed motivation to play hard now because he is using this time to gauge which players he wants to carry the mantra for his team in 2011.
The sweep over the Angels is a nice start to the Showalter era and saw the team play well while also overcoming some late game adversity.
In both of the final two games of the series, Baltimore built solid leads only to see the Angels get back in the game late. However, rather than folding, the Birds made the necessary plays down the stretch to pull out the victories.
If Showalter can restore a confidence and winning belief to the team, it can help build toward 2011 as clearly the building blocks are there, particularly at the everyday positions.
Young phenom Matt Wieters, who has struggled much of this season, has displayed the confidence of his rookie season since returning from injury and his double in the ninth inning led to the winning run in the final game of the sweep.
The Orioles have also been glad to have Brian Roberts back in the lineup. It is certainly no coincidence that Baltimore is averaging half a run more per game since Roberts came back from the disabled list than during his extended absence.
Outfielders Nick Markakis and Adam Jones will be staples of the franchise for years to come, but Felix Pie and Luke Scott are among the players who are making big plays as they look to show their new manager what they can do.
Of course, the biggest weakness for the Orioles this season has been pitching, especially starting pitching.
In the first three games under Showalter, Baltimore starters have gone deeper and pitched better than typical during the 2010 season. Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matusz both earned victories and Jake Arrieta was in line for the win when he left his start in the eighth inning.
If the starters can continue that improvement and take some pressure off the over-worked bullpen, then the Orioles could indeed have a strong showing over the final two months.
While you never know what to think of stats and omens, it is fun for Oriole fans to point to the fact that by winning his first three games with the team, Showalter joins Hank Bauer, Earl Weaver and Davey Johnson as the only managers to win their first three games guiding the O’s. Of course both Bauer and Weaver went on to win a World Series and Johnson took the team to two playoff appearances.
There is certainly no guarantee that Showalter can repeat that level of success, but he is off to a nice start.