The 2018 season certainly isn’t playing out the way the Orioles had hoped. But Manny Machado is holding up his end of the bargain.
The Orioles shortstop, in his contract year, is off to a red-hot start at the plate. On Sunday, he was a one-man wrecking crew for the otherwise flailing Baltimore offense, bashing a pair of home runs off defending AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Machado accounted for two of the Orioles’ three runs in their 7-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
With the outburst, Machado extended his hitting streak to 10 games. He’s now batting .356 with a 1.147 OPS, eight home runs and 17 RBIs, all leading the team. He has three multi-homer games already this season.
“He’s on top of his game on both sides of the ball,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s been fun to watch. He was locked in the first day of spring. He’s carried that over to the season.”
“I think Manny’s been picking us up and carrying us a lot,” said Orioles starter Andrew Cashner. “It’s been impressive. I think him moving back to shortstop, it’s almost like being a little kid again.”
With Trey Mancini sidelined with a knee injury, Machado is basically the Orioles’ only offensive threat right now. Of the nine batters in Sunday’s lineup, Machado (.337) entered the day batting nearly 100 points than the next-best hitter (Adam Jones at .239). His 1.060 OPS was far and away the best of any Oriole, with Pedro Alvarez ranking second at .798.
Injuries and ineffectiveness have ravaged the offense. The bottom five hitters in Sunday’s batting order — Chris Davis, Tim Beckham, Anthony Santander, Caleb Joseph and Luis Sardinas — all entered the day hitting under the Mendoza line (.200).
Until other Orioles get healthy or find their form, it’s up to Machado to do most of the heavy lifting. He’s doing his part, but it’s not translating into victories.
“Unfortunately, it’s not going so well for the team,” Machado said. “It’s about winning games. When you come in here and you have a good game [individually] and you come out with a loss, it’s not fun.”
Still, Machado’s sizzling start is good news for the Orioles, no matter how the season plays out for the team as a whole. If the club goes on a hot streak, Machado will likely be a key contributor to that turnaround.
And if the Orioles’ 2018 slide continues, well, at least Machado is maximizing his trade value. The Orioles may have no choice but to deal their star shortstop midseason, rather than risk losing him in free agency for nothing but a draft pick.
A tale of two starts for Cashner
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think two different pitchers were on the mound Sunday for the Orioles in the first six frames — Dr. Jekyll in innings one to three and Mr. Hyde in four to six.
That’s the kind of day it was for Cashner, who started strong, but got hit harder as the game went on.
Only one of the first 11 batters Cashner faced reached base safely. He racked up four strikeouts in that span, and he also gutted his way out of a third-inning rally, stranding runners at second and third base. He looked like every bit the pitcher who’d thrown three straight quality starts entering the day.
Starting with the fourth inning, though, the Indians’ offense had Cashner’s number. Half their hitters — nine of 18 — reached base against him via hit or walk. The Indians sent six batters to the plate in the fourth and seven in the fifth, tallying two runs each inning. Each time, the rally erased a one-run Orioles’ lead.
“Once you get the lead, you can’t give it up,” said Cashner, who was charged with four runs in six innings to give him a 3.60 ERA as an Oriole. “I tried to bear down and make some pitches, but they just fell in. I gave up some hard-hit balls, but I thought I had a lot of soft contact, too.”
It wound up as an unremarkable — but not horrible — performance for the veteran righty, who finished strong by striking out Jason Kipnis on his 112th pitch to strand two runners in the sixth.
“He battled his way,” Showalter said of Cashner. “I thought it was a good effort. He gave us a chance to win. [He] didn’t let it get away from him. Pretty impressive, the last out he got to get us to that sixth inning.”
Defense falters again
As Dan Connolly noted last week, the Orioles’ defense has been one of the most glaring weaknesses of the cellar-dwelling 2018 club.
On Sunday, those defensive struggles were on full display again. Perhaps the biggest perpetrator was second baseman Luis Sardinas, filling in for the injured Jonathan Schoop.
In the third inning, Sardinas ranged up the middle for a Tyler Naquin grounder but let the ball get past him, committing his second error in six games. On the next play, a Rajai Davis bunt, Sardinas was a bit late in covering first base, nearly missing the bag — and just avoiding a collision with Davis — after taking the throw from Tim Beckham.
Later, in the fourth, Sardinas cut off a throw from right fielder Anthony Santander on a Yonder Alonso double, even though it looked like the Orioles had a play at second.
The rookie Santander had his troubles, too. Edwin Encarnacion reached on a gift bloop double in the fourth when Santander couldn’t catch up to a high, shallow fly ball and then let it bounce past him.
The Orioles’ continued struggles with the leather are a real concern. Granted, the club isn’t exactly throwing its best personnel out there. When the season began, the Orioles didn’t expect they’d be playing Sardinas at second base or Santander in right field regularly.
But when a team is struggling to score runs, as the Orioles are, it needs to be nearly flawless in other facets of the game to have a chance to win. After all, if you can’t score runs, you at least need to prevent the other team from scoring them.
The Orioles haven’t, partly because their defense has turned a lot of potential outs into baserunners.
“Our season is so revealing of any weaknesses that you have,” Showalter said. “Without getting into those, it’s pretty obvious where we’ve got to get better at.”