Years that end in “4” seem to be the years when Buck Showalter gets the absolute best out of his teams, and 2014 was no different as Showalter won his third American League manager of the year award with his third team. Before this year’s triumph with the Baltimore Orioles, Showalter had snagged the prize in the strike-shortened 1994 season with the New York Yankees as well as 2004 honors with the Texas Rangers.
It’s a good bet that going into the season nobody outside of a few diehard Marylanders thought this team could capture the American East division title and a spot in the ALCS, but Showalter took a team and captained them to within a few games of the World Series before they ran into the Kansas City postseason buzz saw. Many preseason prognostications predicted the Orioles to finish fourth or fifth in the division due to the Blue Jays and Yankees payrolls and potential, the fact that the Rays have been consistent contenders with 90 wins in five of the last six seasons, and the fact that the defending World Series champion Red Sox were at the top of the division. While those division rivals faltered or failed throughout the course of the season Showalter kept pushing his players and getting the most out of every one of them, even those who may not have been names at the tip of anyone’s tongue coming into the season.
When considering exactly what Showalter was able to accomplish this year it comes as no surprise to see him considered the best at his craft. Season-ending injuries to Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, along with a late-season suspension of Chris Davis, forced Showalter to put out a line-up featuring Caleb Joseph, Jonathan Schoop, and the unexpectedly great contributions of Steve Pearce. The Orioles starting pitching was nobodies idea of intimidating, though Chris Tillman was fantastic for stretches, but the bullpen that the Orioles assembled was expertly utilized by Showalter and was one of the best in the league, thus allowing them to win many close games.
This year, while a stunning success for the Orioles, mustn’t be looked at as a single great year by a team mired in one of baseball’s toughest divisions. The 2014 season was more so the next step by a franchise that has flourished through a renaissance under the leadership of Buck Showalter, and they have put together three consecutive winning seasons (two of them with postseason appearances) for the first time since the early 1980’s. Showalter came into the Baltimore managerial job with a plan, and that plan has succeeded to the point that all he needs now is a World Series ring to go with his manager of the year awards.