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Showalter's presence keys O's turnaround

Showalter's presence keys O's turnaround

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BALTIMORE -- To say it has been a tumultuous year for the Orioles' organization would be putting it mildly.

A spring that started with so much promise was followed by a 2-16 start and the eventual dismissal of manager Dave Trembley on June 4 (More| ). Trembley was one of three different managers in Baltimore this season, as the O's became the first team in Major League history to have three different skippers at the helm for at least 50 games.

But while the first half of the season was marred by injury, inconsistency and underperformance, the tide turned with the Aug. 2 announcement of Trembley's permanent replacement, Buck Showalter (More| ). Known for his attention to detail and no-nonsense approach, Showalter -- who took over for interim manger Juan Samuel -- made it clear upon arriving that no one's spot was secure.

And the O's stepped up, eager to prove that they were one of the 25 "nuggets" Showalter referenced in his inaugural news conference.

Top 12 moments

Buoyed by the second-half additions of a healthy Brian Roberts, Felix Pie, Koji Uehara, Jim Johnson and Michael Gonzalez, the Orioles posted their first winning August in 13 seasons. The starting rotation of Jeremy Guthrie, Kevin Millwood, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta all received a shot in the arm, so to speak, as quality starts became more the trend than the anomaly (More| ).

As Showalter frequently pointed out, "no one had all their bullets" in the season's dwindling days, but the Orioles finally started to play like the team that multiple national outlets predicted in the spring to be a plucky club. The O's snapped an 0-12 record against the Blue Jays with a series sweep at Camden Yards, and grabbed September series wins at Yankee Stadium (More| ) and Fenway Park.

Simply put, Baltimore saved its best baseball for the final two months of the season, putting a respectable finish on an otherwise disappointing year, that as late as July was on pace to be the worst team in franchise history.

Instead, the O's hope their late-season momentum is a signal that the organization is ready to "Buck" the trend of 13 straight losing seasons in 2011. When the young squad looks back on the '10 season, it will see the hope and promise of a turnaround compromised by a slow start, and an onslaught of injuries. But it will also be reminded of what it feels like to win under the bright lights of the Bronx and how sweet a September victory in Boston can be. And with Showalter signed through 2013, the O's hope to look back on this season as the first step in returning to prominence in baseball's toughest division.

What follows is a quick look back at the roller-coaster season:

Record: 66-96, fifth in the AL East

Defining moment: The Orioles made official what had long been speculated, naming Showalter manager in a news conference on Aug 2. Showalter -- an ESPN analyst who had stints in Texas, Arizona and New York -- brought an immediate air of accountability to the beleaguered club, winning his debut -- and making it clear that he was also auditioning and evaluating players for next season.

What went right: The O's played over .500 ball under Showalter for the first time all season. ... Luke Scott surpassed his career high in home runs, putting together a consistent four-month stretch that helped carry the offense. ... Ty Wigginton posted a torrid start to the season and was named to his first career All-Star team. ... Arrieta beat the Yankees at Camden Yards in his Major League debut (More| ). ... Guthrie posted his second consecutive 200-inning season. ... Uehara, who had two separate stints on the DL, proved he can be an effective ninth-inning man, taking over primary closing duties under Showalter. ... The O's starting staff, particularly Bergesen, Matusz and Arrieta, flourished in the final months of the season, including Bergesen's two complete games vs. Cleveland and Toronto and Matusz's seven scoreless innings against the Rays.

What went wrong: Leadoff man Roberts reinjured his back in the O's home opener and was sidelined for the rest of the first half (More| ). ... The 2-16 start was the second-worst opening to a season in Orioles history, putting Trembley on the hot seat from the get-go. ... Gonzalez, signed to be the team's closer in the offseason, blew two of his first three opportunities before hitting the DL. ... Nolan Reimold struggled in his return from Achilles' heel surgery and personal problems, and was sent to Triple-A Norfolk in May. Reimold remained there until earning a September callup. ... Chris Tillman, a favorite to be the team's fifth starter, started the season in Triple-A and struggled to establish any consistency in several chances at the Major League level. Just 22, the Orioles granted Tillman a September callup, but he didn't make a favorable impression, issuing six walks in consecutive starts.

Biggest surprise: With a batting average of .177 and three home runs heading into the Orioles' 25th game, Scott was admittedly at the lowest point of his career. But his perseverance and hard work paid off, as the O's designated hitter emerged as a key part of the team's turnaround, collecting career highs in home runs and proving he can hold his own against left-handed pitching, with a solid 4 1/2-month stretch. Scott hit .314 with nine homers and 20 RBIs in August, and his teammates called his powerful blasts "happy homers," in reference to Scott's giddy celebrations. Showalter has also praised Scott's blue-collar work ethic and team-first attitude.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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