You can blame Buck Showalter all you want about his decision not to bring in Zach Britton in the 11th inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Blue Jays. It’s the easy thing to do, to say the least. We watched in anguish as Ubaldo Jimenez was chosen by Buck to come in as a relief pitcher, and then almost as quickly as it took him to walk from the bullpen, give up two singles and a homerun to end the game. And so the question bares asking- Why not Bitton?
“Nobody has been pitching better for us than Ubaldo, too, so there are a lot of different ways to look at it,” Showalter stated. This is a true statement. It is also something that many opponents of Buck’s decision seem to forget.
Ubaldo Jimenez had a rough first half of the season, there is no doubt about that. But, he improved himself so much in the last two months that there was a fairly large outcry from a portion of the fanbase that he should have been the starter for the game against Toronto. It seemed as if everyone was jumping on the Jimenez bandwagon, and with good reason. He found command of his fast ball. He was pitching great baseball. He was limiting damage to keep his team in the game and he was becoming the dominant pitcher that he showed he could be in his years in Colorado.
So when the decision arose for Buck to decide who to bring into the game in the 11th to hold the lead yet again, he went with the hot hand, not the closer. Showalter made it apparent after the game that he decided this because he needed to keep Britton in case the Orioles’ offense, the real culprit for the loss, ever decided to score a run and put their team on top. But as fate would have it, Showalter would never have the opportunity to get his All-Star lefty in the game and he and Jimenez took the fall.
It’s easy to look back and criticize Showalter’s decision not to bring in the best closer in the game. However, it’s a much harder task to understand that Buck saw that the situation didn’t call for his closer. He needed a stopper. Someone that he has been able to rely on lately to get the job done resolutely and permanently. And so, he brought in his hottest starting pitcher to face the middle of the Blue Jays lineup and everything imploded.
In fact, one might argue that Buck’s decision to pinch hit for Hyun-Soo Kim with Nolan Reimold, who proceeded to strike out on three pitches, all out of the strike zone (it took him 25 seconds from first pitch to final swing-and-miss), was the final nail in the coffin. With other options on the bench, most notably 22 home run guy Pedro Alvarez, it seemed as if Buck could have made a better decision by forgetting the statistical matchups and sending Alvarez up there to hack away. He couldn’t have done any worse than Reimold did.
But, let’s put all that behind us and try to understand one thing. There is no fairness in demanding Buck Showalter be fired from his job because he made a decision that did not work out. There is a reason behind Buck’s continued success wherever he goes as a manager, and he is especially well known for his ability to play matchups and make in-game decisions that generally work to his favor. To banish the guy to the same realm as Lee Mazzilli, Ray Miller, Mike Hargrove, Sam Perlozzo, Juan Samuel, and Dave Trembley is utterly disappointing and a bit unnerving considering that is the same kind of mindset Peter Angelos ran the team with for so long and that drove potential managerial candidates away from the Orioles’ organization in the first place. There are no possible manager hires out there that would be smarter and better equipped than Buck Showalter has been since he began his career in Baltimore in 2011.
In fact, it’s embarrassing that professional media personalities have to tweet, Facebook, and write articles explaining why Buck Showalter will not, nor should be, fired from his position. There is and always will be room for error in baseball; Anyone that knows anything about the game should understand its intricacies and complex reliance on statistics that separate it (and in some opinions, make it better) than any other professional American sport.
The real culprit here for the Orioles loss to Toronto in the Wildcard game is the offense. For a team that had 253 homeruns this season (an average of 1.57 per game), they allowed themselves to fall into the same habits that were the sole reason the team slipped from atop the division to scraping to get in to the playoffs via a second wildcard spot. The Orioles couldn’t even generate a base hit after the sixth inning. Despite their bullpen providing ample opportunities by extending the game, allowing the offense to have extra innings to score the game-winning runs, the offense fell silent- a characteristic that we had become familiar with throughout the stretches of struggles that the team faced during the regular season. Four hits in eleven innings does not win playoff games. It sends you home early.
This off-season, the question hangs over our heads like it has every year since Dan Duquette took over operations of this team. What will this team look like next year? Who will they pursue in free agency? Who will they try to re-sign? Duquette has a dark cloud above him in regards to his off-season aggressiveness. In order for the Orioles to improve, it might be time to give up the ‘homerun or die’ mentality and find some on-base guys to surround the middle of their lineup. Will they attempt to bring back Mark Trumbo? Matt Wieters? There are a lot of decisions to be made in the next six months. However, one of them we can be sure is not in question- Buck Showalter will be at the head of the ship as it sails into Spring Training in March. And there is nobody else this fan base wants, regardless of whether they know it or not.