Thursday Thoughts: Machado Seems More Comfortable Hitting Second

Manny Machado trots around the bases.
GulfBird Photo/Craig Landefeld

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 WeaverBrooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.

1. I was extremely surprised that the Orioles set a new record for futility this past week. In all my years of watching this team, there have been some very poor pitching staffs. Yet none of them have given up at least five runs in 18 straight games like this bunch has done. That’s an American League record, and just two shy of the Major League mark set by the 1924 Philadelphia Phillies.

We’re basically looking at one of the worst pitching stretches in league history, not just team history. And that’s a team history that included the early 2000s teams which seemed like they couldn’t get worse. Eventually, it will be the pitching that dooms this Orioles team. I don’t think that’s a radical statement. Unless there’s some sort of turnaround from players like Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez, there won’t be a lot of competitive baseball down the stretch of this season.

Even Dylan Bundy has struggled to an ERA of 6.64 in the month of June, which is a bad sign when he’s the best the O’s have to offer by way of a starter. Now he’s going to be moved around to get some extra rest over the next month as well. After throwing a career-high 109.2 innings last season, Bundy is already up to 92 IP in 2017. It’s uncharted territory for a player with injury history.

These are all things that lead me to believe records like the one we’ve seen recently set will continue to be reached by the Orioles in the near future. The pitching really is that bad, and there aren’t any signs of it getting better.

2. Despite an 0-for-4 night Wednesday, Manny Machado appears to be making some strides at the plate. There’s one subtle difference in Machado over the last week, but it really has nothing to do with his swing. Buck Showalter has moved Machado to the #2 spot in the order, bumping him up from #3. The move started last Friday at the start of the Cardinals series, and in the short timeframe, Machado is hitting .318 with three homers in the 22 at-bats. Compare that to hitting .214 with 12 homers in 238 at-bats from the third spot in the order.

Machado has the vast majority of his career plate appearances from the second spot, and has better numbers there than from the third spot. He actually has even better numbers from the leadoff spot. There’s no real way to quantify any of this, other than to find out directly from a player if he’s more comfortable in one spot in the order or the other. But even that doesn’t provide any tangible evidence of better play.

Machado has been a hot topic all season, and lineup construction is always a hot topic. I never quite understood the motivation behind putting him behind Adam Jones in the lineup, but it also wasn’t something to really get worked up about. Perhaps this move back to the #2 spot is doing something for Machado’s mentality. Maybe it’s just coincidence.

Regardless, the Orioles need to embrace every bit of production they can get out of the All-Star third baseman’s bat while they have it.

3. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal wrote a column earlier this week that labeled the Orioles as “Misguided Buyers” when it comes to the trade deadline. Everyone knows the Orioles aren’t going to be “sellers” this time next month. They still believe they can win and that they have the talent to do so. I only know a handful of fans who actually feel this way. Ask any expert and they’ll tell you the Orioles simply don’t have the horses to compete. But that’s been a topic of conversation for half a decade now.

The O’s are never picked among those to be in the running for a postseason spot late in the year, yet they’ve won the most games of any American League team since 2012. Aside from playing fairly awful baseball over the last few weeks, the Orioles have two major issues. They have expiring contracts in the near future for some of their best players, and they don’t have enough assets in the minor leagues to give up on in order to acquire talent for a push to the playoffs.

“Misguided Buyers” is the perfect label, because the O’s will attempt to make a deal for something (though it won’t be much). They have a false belief that they are a World Series-caliber team, and want to hold on to that feeling for as long as possible.

Zach Britton looks into home plate.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

4. Zach Britton is working his way back to the Orioles, having started a rehab assignment earlier this week at Low-A Aberdeen. The O’s closer tossed a 12-pitch scoreless first inning for the IronBirds and is now off to Delmarva to pitch two outings with the Shorebirds. He’s still a little less than two weeks away from being able to return, but the fact that he’s showing no signs of discomfort is obviously a good thing.

Britton was clearly mishandled after his first trip to the disabled list, whether it was by his own doing or someone else’s. What’s important now is getting him back to a bullpen that has struggled in his absence. The injury to Darren O’Day certainly hasn’t helped matters either, but it’s a relief staff that needs an anchor at the back end.

It’s also important to realize, however, that Britton returning won’t mean everything is fixed in the bullpen. Britton wasn’t pitching up to his 2016 level before he was hurt. It’s not that he’s expected to be perfect, but the Orioles need him to be very close to it if they want to turn things around in what is still considered one of their stronger parts of the roster.

Britton’s health over the next few weeks could be a key factor as to whether this team completely unravels or gives itself a slim shot at being in the mix.

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