MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Despite long odds, Showalter has Orioles out in front

Despite long odds, Showalter has Orioles out in front

SEATTLE -- Buck Showalter's managerial record speaks for itself. He's won division titles with the Yankees, an expansion D-backs team in its second year of existence, and the Orioles in 2014 after claiming the American League Wild Card in '12 with the franchise that had suffered through 14 losing seasons prior to that, and hasn't had a losing season since.

Showalter's 1,387 victories rank fourth among active managers, behind only Bruce Bochy (1,753 and three World Series championships), Dusty Baker (1,720 and seven postseason appearances) and Mike Scioscia (1,448 and a World Series championship).

And here Showalter is again, the midway point of the season coming Saturday, and the Orioles sitting atop the AL East with a four-game lead on the Red Sox, and seemingly defying all odds in putting together a 47-32 record.

This is after all, a team that is sitting atop its division despite a rotation in which Chris Tillman (3.71) and Kevin Gausman (3.97) are the only starters with an ERA below 4.89, and Tillman (10-2) and Yovani Gallardo (3-1) are the only starters with a winning record.

It's a rotation that ranks 12th in the AL in innings pitched (433 1/3), ERA (4.94) and batting average allowed (.275). By contrast, the AL Central-leading Indians' rotation has an AL-best 3.51 ERA and the AL West-leading Rangers rank second in the AL at 3.60.

But it's a team sitting atop the division that features the defending AL East champion Blue Jays, big-spending Yankees, and preseason click to pick Red Sox.

"Obviously, on paper, it's not what they say you are supposed to have, but we have done well with where we are," said Showalter. "It's not conventional."

And it's not really the way a team expects to win a division title.

That's why Showalter can find plenty of good things even in a 5-1 loss to the Mariners on Friday night because Gausman, the right-hander who was the fourth player selected in the 2012 Draft, and less than 11 months later began bouncing between the big leagues and Minors, took another step in his maturation into an eventual No. 1 starter.

After working 7 2/3 shutout innings in a 5-0 victory against the Rays last Saturday, Gausman had the Mariners limited to one run over the first five innings before Kyle Seager followed up Nelson Cruz's leadoff double in the sixth by turning an 0-2 pitch into a two-run home run that put the Mariners up 3-2.

A disappointment, for sure, what happened in the next few minutes, however, reinforced the confidence the O's have in Gausman. Instead of giving in, Gausman came back to retire the Mariners' next three batters on a total of nine pitches, eight of which were strikes.

Dae-Ho Lee grounded out on a 1-1 pitch. Adam Lind struck out on three pitches. Chris Iannetta flied out on an 0-2 pitch.

"He's learning some things along the way, like a lot of young pitchers do," said Showalter. "He gave us six good innings. I like the way he responded after he gave up that last home run. He gave us a good chance to win."

With his development, the presence of Tillman and the fact Gallardo is back after 52 days on the disabled list with right biceps tendinitis, the Orioles have reason to feel the foundation of a rotation could be falling into place. And then there is the continuing development of Tyler Wilson, who starts Saturday against the Mariners, and a recent surge by veteran Ubaldo Jimenez, the Sunday starter in Seattle, who may be 5-7 with a 6.63 ERA, but is coming off back-to-back starts in which he has allowed three runs in 11 innings and picked up two victories.

This isn't a franchise with a fertile farm system, and it's not a big-city big spender, as owner Peter Angelos has learned over the years that big contracts lead to more big disappointments than big victories.

And nobody is pretending any different.

"We need some people to step up," said Showalter. "Our reinforcements are here. They are not coming from somewhere else."

The hope is plain.

It's the continuing evolution of a potential No. 1 starter in Gausman, the return of Gallardo to veteran pitcher who won 93 games and pitched 1,339 1/3 innings the past seven seasons.

And the continuation of an offense that set a Major League record for the month of June with 56 home runs that helped the O's win 19 of 28 games.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.