Nick Markakis (Photo by Rick Vattimo)

Gut check time for the O’s


First off, I was a bit surprised at what kind of twitter stir the commentary on the sign-stealing allegations stirred with the Toronto fans yesterday. Aside from the ESPN article last year, can anyone really prove it’s going on? Survey says: probably not. However it’s one of those “where there’s smoke there’s fire” type of things. This wasn’t  the first time someone had accused that franchise of stealing signs, so my point is that perhaps Toronto fans who think that the “Yankees” are picking on the “Cannucks” should consider the possibility that they’re wrong.

All of that’s in the rear-view mirror now, as the O’s have moved onto Tampa for another battle for first place in the AL East. The issue at hand is not the five-game losing streak; I have no doubt they’ll snap out of that given that every team is going to go through a stretch (or two) like this in 162 games. However the Orioles will now be without Nick Markakis for the better part of a month. X-rays revealed that Markakis had broken the hamate bone in his right wrist. The recovery time for this procedure (which incidentally lasts all of 15-20 minutes) is generally three to four weeks, but some guys take six and others will only need two. Nick Markakis (Photo by Rick Vattimo)

My theory is that Markakis seems like a pretty durable guy overall, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him back in the lineup at the beginning of July. However what do the Orioles do in the interim? Obviously Markakis will go to the DL, but now the Orioles also have the problem of an everyday right fielder. There are options, with Bill Hall, Xavier Avery, and even Miguel Tejada. Dan Duquette also indicated that the Orioles might look outside the organization for help as well. In general I think that you have to be careful with that because you don’t want to trade for someone or pick someone up only to cut them or send them down in a month. The Orioles also have Jai Miller down at Norfolk, who was aquired in a trade with Oakland this past off season. However if you’re looking to replace Markakis’ bat there are probably better options. Miller’s been struggling at Norfolk, and is starting to look like the second coming of Josh Bell.

This is a key moment for the 2012 Orioles. Buck Showalter likes to say that nobody’s going to feel sorry for you in cases like this. Be that as it may, the Orioles privately have to be wondering whether or not they fall back to the pack at this point. Having injuries is one thing, however having them happen to a gold glove right fielder is another story. That’s a hard guy to replace. Another Showalter-ism in these cases is that it’s an opportunity for someone else to step up and be a great player. That’s very true, and if this Oriole team is truly going to be in the race all summer that’s exactly what’s going to have to happen.

Yet this is still a cross roads for the Birds. Tampa (this weekend’s opponent) is short Evan Longoria, yet they’ve somehow continued to win. The Washington Nationals have been without Michael Morse all year to this point, yet other guys have stepped up. It was for reasons like this that Dan Duquette went out and got depth in the off season, right? After losing eight of their last ten, the Orioles are still tied for first place in the AL East with Tampa. In general between 60-70% of teams that are in first place on June 1st end up winning their divisions. Obviously in this case there’s a first place tie, however you get my point. If the Orioles aren’t going to be in the other 30-40%, someone of a few someones will have to step up big time down the stretch.

In Tampa, the Orioles will see a team that’s scuffling right now also. Wei-Yin Chen will open the series tonight for the O’s, and he’ll be opposed by Tampa’s David Price. With a 2.71 ERA, Price has the lowest earned run average in the league among pitchers with five or more starts. That doesn’t bode well for the Orioles who are struggling to score without the long ball right now. But as I said, someone needs to step up with Markakis gone. It’s looking now like Bill Hall is going to be called up from the minors, which I believe is the right move. He’s a veteran and he’ll be able to slide right into RF without making too many mistakes. But time will tell.

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