The streaking O’s have won 11 of their last 14, including eight of their last ten games. This is without a doubt due to an overall increase in offensive production. The pitching, for the most part, has been a consistent presence all season long. With the exception of a slow start by ace Chris Tillman and former 15-game-winner Bud Norris, the staff as a whole has done an excellent job keeping the Birds (34-32) in ball games.
This recent surge in the win column has been partnered with production from all parts of the lineup. J.J. Hardy is finally healthy, and it looks like he has enough AB’s under his belt to consider him fully “back.” Hardy extended his hitting streak to 11-games during Thursday’s loss to the Phillies, going 2-4 with a double. J.J. is batting .378, and has been playing a huge roll in the recent success of the offense.
Matt Wieters is another key player in this recent offensive explosion. Since returning back to the Orioles on June 5th in Cleveland, the Orioles are 10-3, and 7-0 in the games with Matty behind the dish. 7-0! (0-1 at DH). Wieters (.344) has added a switch-hitting presence in the middle of the order that the O’s so desperately needed.
Third baseman Manny Machado may be the hottest of them all. In his last 15 games, the reigning AL Player of the Week is hitting .350, adding 6 HR and 11 RBI during that stretch. In 8 of the last 12 games, Manny has had at least two base knocks, and has raised his average from .266 to .289. There’s no coincidence why the Orioles are winning, and why they’re winning big.
Production from guys like Hardy, Wieters and Machado have given the Orioles the ability to rest center fielder Adam Jones, and have him healthy and ready to rock this weekend in Toronto.
More impressive may be the fact that Machado is doing all of this in the lead off spot in the order. The big offseason question regarding the Orioles was how are they going to replace Nick Markakis? Who could possibly step in to that role and be close to the level of production that Nick brought to the lineup day-in and day-out? Buck trusted his guys, and started experimenting with various players down in Sarasota.
Machado caught my eye when he was placed in the leadoff spot in spring training, as he showed his ability to get on base, hit for power and steal bases. Manny has since taken full control of the leadoff position for the O’s, and his production is truly “leading” the way for the team’s success. With Machado’s power numbers increasing each month into the 2015 season, we ask the question: Should Manny lead off?
Machado, 22, has seen this increase in power each of his first three big league seasons. As you can see below, Manny matched his career high in home runs on Thursday after his “walk-on” homer against the Phillies, his 14th of the season.
Manny’s career HR totals:
- 2013: 14 HR, 156 games played
- 2014: 12 HR, 82 games played
- 2015: 14 HR, 66 games played
With this spike in power, and youth still on his side, we ask if the Orioles are getting as much value out of Machado as they can with him in the leadoff spot. As he’s on pace for 34 HR by season’s end, shouldn’t the Orioles be trying to get men on-base in front of one of their most potent hitters? That’s the idea of batting a player third or fourth in the batting order, have men on-base for your best players to drive in. It’s simple.
Here are some more stats with regard to Manny in the leadoff spot:
- Leading off the game (1st inning): .283, 3 HR, 4 RBI
- Leading off any inning (not just the 1st inning): .300 7 HR, 7RBI
- Batting with the bases empty: .303 11 HR, 11 RBI, 17 BB
Machado has eleven solo home runs. Eleven! That’s eleven times he’s blasted the ball out of the ball park and rounded the bases with nobody else on them. These scoring opportunities are being wasted by only adding one run at a time.
Manny is essentially a modern-day Brady Anderson, who knocked out an Orioles record 12 HR to start a game in 1996. A simple solution to this problem is to move Machado down in the order to try to get more runners in front of him. But who would lead off? Need to have a high On-Base-Percentage (OBP) here. Machado is doing a decent job in that department posting a .344 OBP this season. This is where they could #freeNolan.
Nolan Reimold holds a career .373 minor league OBP. This season, in Norfolk: .355 OBP. The consistency is there, and he’s even proven it at the major league level as well. He would then be hitting leading off, with Machado now comfortably in the two-hole. Machado provides protection in the lineup to Reimold, and may get Nolan even better pitches to hit (see Matt Wieters getting Jonesy better pitches to hit, rather the pitches he was getting with Davis behind him).
This works in Manny’s favor as well, because nobody is going to want to put him on-base with #10 lurking in the on-deck circle.
Another argument altogether is leaving Manny at that leadoff position. He’s succeeding. The team is amidst it’s best stretch of the season so far. Why change it up? Baseball is a mental game. A challenging, mental game. Machado is comfortable in that leadoff spot and getting the job done, why move him?
These questions are valid, and I believe this plays a big part into Buck’s managerial style. He knows his players better than anybody, and if he doesn’t see Machado having success lower in the order for whatever reason, he’s not going to move him.
Buck also trusts his guys. Maybe he feels that the production from the bottom of the order is going to increase, similar to J.J. Hardy’s recent hot streak. Now, not everyone is going to go on a 10-game hitting streak, but there could be some more guys on base to prevent Machado’s all too-familiar solo homer. A key factor getting guys on base from the bottom of the lineup is going to be 2B Jon Schoop. As his return to Camden Yards nears, Manny is probably more excited than anyone to get his buddy back in the lineup. Schoop, in just nine games, blasted 3 HR and batted .303. Pretty soon we’ll be seeing a lineup that could look like this every day:
1. 3B Manny Machado
2. LF (Nolan Reimold, Chris Parmalee, Travis Snider)
3. CF Adam Jones
4. C Matt Wieters
5. 1B Chris Davis
6. SS J.J. Hardy
7. DH Jimmy Paredes
8. RF (Nolan Reimold, Chris Parmalee, Travis Snider, Delmon Young)
9. 2B Jon Schoop
This lineup provides flexibility depending who’s on the mound for the opposing team. With a LHP on the bump, the O’s can go with Reimold and Young in the OF, while against RHP Buck can go with Snider and Parmalee. He can play match ups, while having a deep bench featuring utility man Rylan Flaherty, Caleb Joseph and David Lough ready to fill in. Yes, I think this spells the end for Steve Pearce when Schoop returns from the DL, but that’s for another post.
At the end of the day, it’s up to Buck. He knows his guys. He trusts his guys. This may just be a statistical anomaly we look back at the end of the year and chuckle at. Eleven solo shots in 2015 does raise some eyebrows, but Machado is proving that he can be the consistent presence atop the Orioles order that Markakis was throughout his career.