If people don’t watch the Orioles regularly, and they only look at the roster, I’d imagine it’s easy to dismiss this club as a legitimate playoff contender.
The starting pitching doesn’t jump out at you and the offense is powerful but flawed.
This team, however, has been led by its defense and its bullpen over the last few years – two components that are crucial to winning, but maybe not particularly sexy to the average fan.
Monday’s 5-2 Orioles’ win perfectly demonstrated that. Dylan Bundy pitched well, Manny Machado homered and Brad Brach picked up his fifth save in place of Zach Britton.
But the star of the evening was the Orioles’ D, led, of course, by Machado.
His nightly clinic at third base has become routine.
On Monday, though, he took it to another level. He made at least five plays that would have been on the high-end of the difficulty chart for anyone else. Yet we’ve seen him make so many, that I’m not sure any of them crack his Top 10, or Top 20.
It seemed like every ball that was hit to Machado on Monday was a rocket, and he just kept flagging them down, including a diving snag to end the game.
Machado wasn’t alone in flashing the leather at Fenway Park.
Adam Jones, whom I think is playing his best center field since the first half of 2015, made two nice running grabs late in the game.
Middle infielders J.J. Hardy and Jonathan Schoop worked their double play magic and Chris Davis continues to quietly pick nearly every throw that comes his way.
And Ryan Flaherty, who isn’t a left fielder, made a couple nice plays out there Monday.
In contrast, the Red Sox struggled defensively and that may have been the difference in the game.
A quick Frank comparison
I never saw Frank Robinson play live – or I don’t remember if I did. By the time I was old enough to really get into baseball, Frank was a player-manager in Cleveland.
I heard plenty of stories from my dad and brothers and sisters, though. And when I wrote my Orioles’ book, I had a chance to interview Robinson and plenty of his teammates.
One of the things that stood out to me was that several teammates talked about how they loved when other clubs angered Robinson. Threw at him or said nasty stuff to him or whatever. It just strengthened his resolve. And he dug deeper. Robinson admits that he always felt like the way to get even was to perform even better on the field.
After Machado was thrown at by Boston’s Matt Barnes on April 23 – and Barnes was ejected – Machado continued the at-bat by crushing a pitch to deep center for a double.
On Monday night, amidst all of the boos from the Fenway Park crowd, Machado had one of his best all-around games in recent memory. Yes, his home run trot could have been timed by a sundial, but he primarily talked with his bat and his glove.
Answering criticism by playing that much better was a Frank thing, I’ve been told. Machado, who often is compared to Brooks Robinson, may have a little Frank in him, too.
Kim’s playing time situation
The last time the Orioles and Red Sox played a series, Showalter lamented that it would be tough to get left-handed hitting Hyun Soo Kim much playing time against Boston’s starting rotation.
That’s the same deal this week – but it looked like it might be even worse. The Red Sox will start two lefties – Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz – and also were scheduled to start knuckleballer Steven Wright. Kim has had his struggles against lefties (1-for-18 in his MLB career) and a lack of pro experience versus knucklers.
So, heading in to this week, it looked like the only chance for Kim to start at Fenway Park would be Monday against right-hander Rick Porcello. But Showalter chose to go with Flaherty in left field because he’s mashed Porcello in the past (6-for-14, .429 average). Flaherty, by the way, was hitless in four at-bats Monday.
Showalter has been trying to get some playing time for Flaherty, too, and his numbers against Porcello made Monday a good fit. Seth Smith (9-for-19) and J.J. Hardy (11-29, .393) also had more success versus Porcello than Kim (2-for-7), so those three started while Kim sat.
It’s possible Kim will start this week in Fenway, though. Wright was placed on the DL with a sprained knee late Monday night. His replacement for Thursday has not been named, but it might be a right-hander who doesn’t throw with his knuckles.
I get the reasoning for not having Kim start due to specific matchups, but sitting so much is asking a lot of a guy who didn’t play a lot in the first month (40 at-bats) of the season. And, remember, this is a guy who arguably may be the club’s best pure hitter.
Getting Britton back
Yes, Brad Brach has done an excellent job filling in for the injured Zach Britton (forearm). The entire bullpen held the line in Britton’s absence. But the All Star closer is expected back Tuesday, and it will be a huge addition.
That’s especially true if the Orioles decide to remain with a five-man bench. That means they’ll be down to six relievers – though the Orioles could send spot starter Alec Asher back to Triple-A Norfolk after his start Tuesday and call up another reliever then. That would buy some more time with seven relievers and five offensive reserves until another starter – likely Chris Tillman – is needed for Sunday.