Gary Thorne is the Orioles’ regular play-by-play man on MASN, however he was in the FOX Sports booth with Tom Verducci for yesterday’s 5-1 loss to Tampa. (In a sense FOX “rented” Thorne for the day from MASN, and for the record I felt that they did a great job in pairing him with Verducci.) The two of them brought up what I felt was an interesting angle regarding the Baltimore Orioles, and one that perhaps we can look at in some depth over the course of the coming off season. The O’s have five players who have played 150+ games, so in a sense they’ve used variations of the same lineup all season long. One might ask how that’s a bad thing, and for the most part it isn’t. However, does it allow a team to become one-dimensional?
Miguel Gonzalez was able to provide a tired Orioles’ bullpen with some quality innings in yesterday’s game. Gonzalez’s line: 6 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 5 BB, 2 K. The death blow came in the fifth inning when Gonzalez walked Molina and Yunel Escobar, only to give Desmond Jennings the fastball on which he was sitting and to have him hammer it out of Tropicana Field. (And keep that in the back of your minds, as it figures into the premise of this article.) Jennings would add an RBI-triple in the seventh, and he would later score on Ben Zobrist‘s RBI-single. Chris Davis would get his first triple of the season with one out in the 9th on David DeJesus‘ misplayed ball in left field, and he would score the Orioles’ lone run on Adam Jones‘ RBI-single.
With a few exceptions, the Orioles’ lineup has been the same all year long. The DH role has been platooned, and of course has been ineffective for the Birds. Second base duties rotated around a bunch, as did left field. However we’ve seen the likes of Wieters, Davis, Hardy, Machado, Jones, and Markakis being put into the lineup in ink on a daily basis. (Wieters of course would have his day game after a night game off and so forth.) Without a doubt, those players have tired down the stretch. We talked a lot this year about the bullpen being tired with starters not going deep into games, and in effect it’s really the same principle.
A lot of these players might not have the strength to be anything more than one-dimensional hitters at this point in the season after playing so many games. So what exactly does that mean, and how do you really remedy it? Players are always going to have their strengths and weaknesses. Adam Jones is a great fastball hitter, and in my opinion one of the best two-strike hitters in baseball. However he struggles with the low-and-away slider. Of late I’m seeing more low-and-away sliders coming his way, and the same is true with Davis being pitched up as opposed to inside. This is not a knock on these players or on anyone else, it’s simply saying that they aren’t able to protect the plate in given situations whereas earlier in the year when they were a bit more spry perhaps they did.
And this is not unique to at-bats either. Manny Machado committed two errors in the field in a game earlier this week in Boston, and J.J. Hardy‘s committed a few in the past couple of weeks as well. I suppose it’s similar to what I went through starting at about 1 AM on Saturday morning during that marathon game. At a certain point, your brain sometimes hits a wall and ceases to function correctly! In this case your level of athleticism reaches empty, and again that’s not a knock on any of these players. However in a nutshell, the players are still able to play to their strengths but they lose the ability to fight off their weaknesses, making them much more easily defensed.
What it does mean however is that perhaps in the off season the Birds need to focus a bit more on beefing up their bench. If that means making a few trades for some utility players who can swing hot bats and perhaps give Jones or even Davis and Machado a day off (or let them DH for a day here and there), that’s what they should do. I mentioned Desmond Jennings sitting on a fastball above. I’ve noticed that Orioles’ pitching can be somewhat predictable, and that sequence really proves that premise. Desmond had recorded two strikes on breaking pitches, and he knew that 1-2 was a fastball count. Given that the Orioles seem to be a pretty by-the-book team, he knew he could sit on that fastball.
In no way does it come across as a bad thing to have players who want to play everyday. However at a certain point, the toils of the grind catch up with players. Even the great Cal Ripken Jr. only hit .151 over the course of his career in September (and October). However nobody really noticed because the team was out of contention for much of that time. When you’re in contention for the post season and your players start suffering from fatigue (making them predictable/one-dimensional), it tends to stick out a lot more. The Birds are a team of all-stars and gold glovers, yet at a certain point the fatigue factor catches up to you. The fact that Danny Valencia, who hasn’t played everyday and hasn’t even been with the team for 50 games this season, has been the hottest hitter of late is probably no coincidence.
The Orioles will need wins this afternoon and Monday to salvage a series split with Tampa, and they’ll send Scott Feldman to the mound this afternoon in hopes of a victory. Tampa has had to shuffle their rotation with Jeremy Hellickson having pitched in relief on Friday/Saturday morning, and thus Roberto Hernandez will take to the mound against Feldman and the Birds today.