Buck Showalter has a reputation for preparing a team to win. He just never has had many chances to enjoy the success. This time could be different. In his second full season as the Baltimore manager, Showalter has guided the Orioles to their first winning record in 15 years. And a postseason spot is lurking. The Orioles enter Friday a game back of the Yankees in the American League East and share the Wild Card lead with Oakland, 4 1/2 games up on the fading Angels.
When Showalter took over the Orioles late in 2010, he became the seventh manager in the midst of a 14-year stretch of losing records during which they finished better than fourth place once and were last in four consecutive seasons. It was not unlike his stops with the Yankees, D-backs and Rangers, except this time he may be around to see the job completed.
When Showalter became manager of the Yankees in 1992, he inherited a team coming off back-to-back 90-loss seasons and had not been to the postseason in a decade. In 1994, he led the Yankees to the best record in the AL East but the postseason was canceled by a strike, and while the Yankees did advance to the postseason as the AL Wild Card in 1995, Showalter was let go after that season. The Yankees proceeded to win four World Series in five years under Joe Torre.
Showalter took over the expansion Diamondbacks in 1999 and had them in the postseason in their second year of existence, but he was dismissed after an 85-victory effort in 2000. The D-backs won the World Series in 2001. And then there was a four-year stay in Texas, where he had only one winning season before being replaced for the 2007 season by Ron Washington, who has taken the Rangers to the first World Series appearances in franchise history each of the past two years.
Nothing like a three-game visit by Houston to give the Cards a boost back into command of the National League's second Wild Card spot. After having lost eight of 11, the Cardinals swept an Astros team that managed to score just five runs in three games, allowing St. Louis to maintain a 2 1/2-game lead on surging Milwaukee for the second Wild Card berth.
The Cardinals have another week of feel-good opportunities awaiting, spending the weekend at Wrigley Field to play the Cubs and then traveling to Houston for three games beginning Monday. Adding to the anticipation in the Windy City was that Chris Carpenter, who enjoyed an unbeaten postseason last October -- capped by starting Game 7 of the World Series -- made his 2012 debut, having made a surprising recovery from a neck problem that eventually led to July surgery for the removal of part of a rib that was putting pressure on a nerve, creating the pain.
The Astros could be a trap, however. In the past two weeks, they have gone to Cincinnati and taken two of three from the Reds, then last weekend, they derailed Philadelphia's late-season rally aspirations by taking three of four from the Phillies. And the Cardinals, it cannot be overlooked, entered Wrigley with a 34-41 road record.
The Brewers are lurking, waiting for the Cardinals to sputter. They jumped past the Dodgers into third place in the battle for the two Wild Cards, 2 1/2 games back of St. Louis as play began Friday. The next seven games will be telling. First, there is a four-game visit to Washington and then a three-game challenge in Cincinnati. The Brewers can only hope there's some celebration hangover for the two teams that clinched postseason berths on Thursday.
But don't overlook the fact that the Brewers are 31-43 on the road, the fifth-worst road record in the Majors and the worst among teams with winning records.
Yes, the Brewers have gone from nine games below .500 on July 27, when they dealt Zack Greinke to the Angels in what was viewed as a concession statement, to five games over .500 by Friday morning. And yes, they have gotten a major boost from Ryan Braun, who is making a strong bid for a second consecutive NL MVP Award, hitting .306 with 12 home runs and 36 RBIs during the Brewers' resurgence. And the rotation? It is 23-12 with a 3.80 ERA during that stretch, thanks in large part to the revival of Yovani Gallardo, who is 8-0 with a 2.69 ERA in his past 10 starts, in which the Brewers are 10-0.
There is no recipe for instant success, as the Dodgers are finding out. Yes, they have new ownership. Yes, they are committed to spending what it takes to be successful. No, there doesn't appear to be any reason for celebration this year. Even a grasp for the second NL Wild Card spot is slipping away from a team that has lost 10 of its last 14 games, and with Thursday's loss in Washington, the Dodgers fell behind Milwaukee in a bid to overtake St. Louis for that final NL postseason spot. The Dodgers are three games out.
What's more, their two best starting pitchers, Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw, are done for the season. So much for any anticipated excitement when the San Francisco Giants, who have virtually locked up the NL West, come to Dodger Stadium for the final three games of the regular season. Since the arrival of the Red Sox reinforcements -- Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto -- on Aug. 25, the Dodgers have lost 15 of 24 and gone from three games back to 10 behind the Giants.
And the offense has gone flat. They have scored 75 runs in their past 24 games, 14th fewest in the NL -- ahead of only the Astros (73) and Mets (69), which are the only two teams with a batting average lower than the .235 mark the Dodgers during that time. The heart of the offense, Matt Kemp, has hit only .195, and the three offensive players the Dodgers added have struggled during the 24-game slide: Gonzalez (.245), Shane Victorino (.213) and Hanley Ramirez (.211).
Yes, Tampa Bay is coming off back-to-back wins against Boston. No, that doesn't create much reason to celebrate. Even a six-run, ninth-inning, walk-off rally on Thursday can't obscure reality. The Rays have lost seven of their past 10 games, and what really hurts is that they lost five of six to their two primary rivals, the Orioles and Yankees. With 12 games to play, they are 6 1/2 behind the Yanks in the AL East and 5 1/2 behind the O's and A's in the Wild Card standings.
Rockies: Colorado has reached the 90-loss level for the fifth time in franchise history, and it needs to win five of its final 13 games to avoid the first 100-loss season in franchise history. The Rockies went into the weekend with 91 losses, five shy of the franchise record set in 1993 and 2005. The Angels, born of expansion in 1961, are the only other team to have never suffered 100 losses.
With a rotation that was hit with significant injuries to three primary starters, Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Juan Nicasio, and then experimented with a hybrid four-game alignment that limited starters to 75 pitches, the 2012 Rockies will be the only team in history to get fewer than 800 innings out of its rotation in a non-labor-shortened season. The rotation ERA of 5.90 is second highest in franchise history to the 6.19 of the 1999 Rockies.
Catcher Wilin Rosario has started 89 games but committed 20 passed balls, which is more than the team record coming into this season. The team's .979 fielding percentage is the worst in the NL, and the third worst in the franchise's 20-year history.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.