This is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. This year, I’ll be cutting it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl Weaver–Brooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.
1. It’s been quite a few nights for the Orioles, winning back-to-back games in extra innings after tying each in the bottom of the 9th with a two-run homer. The script couldn’t have been written in a more dramatic way for the Birds. I also couldn’t have been more satisfied to see one of my fantasy closers (Tony Watson) crash and burn in the way he did.
I am certainly not one to make a big deal out of two emotional victories, but the Orioles definitely have the potential to gain something from them. That something is momentum.
The old cliché that “you’re only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher” is a bit tired in my eyes. This team doesn’t have much by way of starting pitching, but they can still find ways to win ballgames. It’s mostly going to be by the home run and mostly going to come from a strong bullpen performance, but it can happen just as it has in years past.
2. There certainly was bad news stemming from last night’s game, and it involves the injury to Manny Machado. Perhaps it’s mostly nothing, but Machado left the game after being injured by a slide from Andrew McCutchen. Buck Showalter made it a point to say the slide was not malicious and that there would be no need for retaliation, which is how things are supposed to be handled (looking at you, Boston).
The slide was “unfortunate” though, as Showalter put it. It’s left the Orioles with an injury to their most talented player. No one really knows if this means the disabled list is in the future for Machado, but it’s obviously not ideal to have this hit to the depth. I’ve been very vocal about Machado’s struggles this year. He simply hasn’t been the player he’s capable of being, and I’d guess he’d be the first to admit to that.
If Machado has to miss even just a few games, the O’s are going to be tested in replacing their #3 hitter.
3. This week’s acquisition and subsequent call-up of Ruben Tejada told me a few things about where the Orioles stand in the infield. By no means do I think Tejada is going to step in and play as well as a certain other infielder by the same last name did for the Orioles more than a decade ago. But I do think Tejada now plays a crucial role.
First it tells me that Ryan Flaherty is going to be out for some more time. It doesn’t seem like there’s a quick fix in place for the utility infielder, so Tejada can be that in the interim.
Looking ahead a bit further, I feel like the Orioles could be viewing Tejada as a possible stopgap at shortstop. If J.J. Hardy fails to reach the 600-plate appearance mark this season, it’s very unlikely that he’ll be back in Baltimore next year. Tejada could be a player the O’s view as a plug for that spot. He could also very well be a player that helps to prevent Hardy from getting to that benchmark needed to vest his $14-million option for next season.
I don’t think anyone believes the Tejada acquisition was a major one, but it could end up starting a ripple effect in the O’s infield.
4. The other roster shakeup the Orioles made this week was calling up Edwin Jackson ahead of his opt-out from the team. Jackson is going to work out of the bullpen after replacing Donnie Hart on the 25-man roster. What’s confusing to me is that I really have no idea how the O’s plan to use Jackson, a veteran and former starter.
Is he now the team’s long-man out of the bullpen? Where does that leave Ubaldo Jimenez? How is Jimenez still actually on the roster? Will Jackson simply be a three-out type of pitcher?
The 33-year-old made a less-than-promising debut last night by allowing two runs in 2.2 innings of relief.
It was interesting that the O’s didn’t make a move to keep Michael Bourn around ahead of his opt-out last week. Bourn went on to sign a minor-league deal with the Angels. Instead, they’ve made room for Jackson, who appears to be “just another guy” in a bullpen that certainly needs all the help it can get.
5. The 2017 MLB Draft gets underway on Monday, and the Orioles will have the 21st overall selection. Dan Duquette has indicated the Orioles will be looking for pitching that can impact the team sooner rather than later, but isn’t that always the case? Last year the Birds selected Cody Sedlock out of the University of Illinois.
Baseball’s draft is an incredible crapshoot, but you may be surprised to realize that in the last decade, five of the O’s top picks have actually turned into contributing players on the big league roster. That’s not a bad percentage. Obviously it’s tough to even take players like Sedlock or 2015 picks D.J. Stewart and Ryan Mountcastle into consideration at this point. It’s simply too early. But the O’s had Matt Wieters, Brian Matusz, Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman all turn into big league players from that crop.
Where the Orioles must improve is in the deeper parts of the draft, and in development. With such a depleted farm system, the Orioles can’t just make great picks. They also have to mold those picks into talents that can contribute.
Otherwise, the whole operation simply gets thrown out of whack.