It is an old baseball adage that teams rise and fall on leadoff hitters. Though maybe overstated at times, the top of the order is critical for any ball club. There are few more observable truisms over the past decade for the Orioles than the critical nature of Brian Roberts in the lineup.
Proof of that is simply verified by the fact that were Roberts to be healthy at this moment, neither I nor a hundred other Orioles bloggers would be writing anything on this topic!
But Roberts is not healthy … not for certain. A regular Brian Roberts at second base and leading off for the Orioles this season would be a bonus beyond our reasonable hopes and expectations. Clearly, the Orioles approach is to plan as if he will not be available. My own view is that he will return at some point, but it will be short-lived – as the first hard slide or collision with an outfielder in right-center will shake it all loose one last time. That is my fear; that is not my hope or prayer for the guy.
There is no clear alternative on the roster to bat leadoff. Showalter acknowledges this by saying there are a number of options … followed by a non-committal remark that the sportswriters can guess who they are.
OK… who are they?
For this evening’s game (oh, how sweet it is to write those words!), Nolan Reimold will be the first to the plate for the Birds. No less than Roch Kubatko, upon hearing this, asked if we should read anything into this? Frankly, I don’t have a lot of patience for reading much of anything into who bats first, second, or third … or even less who is the first pitcher of the day in a Spring Training game. But Reimold’s name is on the short list of contenders. He works pitchers and has significant speed down the line – we saw some impressive displays of this at the end of the season last year. He runs the bases well. I love Reimold as a player, but he is honestly not the stereotypical leadoff guy. But at this moment in time, I vote for Nolan… especially since the Birds are rich in 5-6-7 types of hitters – which I think is more of Reimold’s best place.
Some others have touted Robert Andino for leadoff. I don’t see that. All September heroics aside, I think Andino belongs only in the 9th spot in the lineup. Whatever ability he can bring toward turning over the lineup will be appreciated, and we can hope his base running antics don’t kill us first.
Wilson Betemit is another possibility. He has the historically strong OBP – the foremost need from the leadoff hitter. Speed is not his game, but I can imagine him being put into this role. I’ll have more opinions on this after watching him play. At this moment, he is more of a fuzzy memory and a bunch of statistics.
J.J. Hardy served often in this role last year. He has stated that it is not an aspiration he possesses to hit in this slot. He will certainly do it for the team in the absence of another, and did it quite well in 2011, but it is true that he also does not really fit the description.
I have seen Markakis’ name thrown out as a possibility. At first I reacted against this, but upon longer consideration, it is not crazy … especially since the Orioles do have a considerable amount of pop in the lineup for the 3rd to 7thpositions. Markakis is a consistent on base guy – displaying that with the long list of consecutive series wherein he had a base hit. He has a great eye and works pitchers, yet for some reason (the injury only?) his power numbers have been dropping over the past several years. Maybe he can now help the team most by leading off.
I really do believe Buck when he says that he is trying out and looking at different options. I do not believe he has anything close to a decision on this one, but is simply holding out on revealing it.
Showalter has stated in the past day that he thinks deciding who bats cleanup is going to be a more difficult determination. Hmmm… can’t say that I find that nearly so perplexing as who is the first to the dish for the Birds.
As I get ready to post this, the Birds are winning 3-0 in the 8th versus Tampa… AND… there is baseball on TV tonight… OH YES!!