The Orioles enter their off-day Thursday with a record of 37-34. Only three games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the East, the Orioles remain very much in contention as they near the half-way point in the season. It has been a rocky season so far for Baltimore as they struggle to find consistency from their very talented roster. Obviously if the Orioles hope to remain in contention after the All-Star break, they’re going to need more consistent production from several everyday players; most notably the left side of the infield.
It’s true that this could be said about the entire Orioles’ infield. The platoon of Schoop and Flaherty has provided little production, and Chris Davis is hardly having a season comparable to last season. However, coming into this season, the left-side of the infield looked to be one of our greatest assets. Last season Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy, both offensively and defensively, were arguably the best third-base short-stop combinations in baseball.
This season, both players seemed to be struggling to find rhythm and consistency. Both battled injury issues early in the season that could be contributing to their lack of production. And yet whatever the reason, the two have hardly looked like the two All-Stars seen from a year ago, and at the moment, last season’s greatest strength is this season’s most glaring weakness.
An off-season knee surgery forced Manny Machado to miss the first full month of the season. Any player coming back from major surgery cold to face major-league players in mid-season form is going to go through their share of struggles. However, Machado has now played in 44 games and has had 175 at-bats. At this point last season, Machado was batting .326 with 38 extra-base hits, including a league-leading 33 doubles. So far this season, Machado is struggling to a .229 average with only 10 extra-base hits.
April started out slowly for J.J. Hardy while he struggled with lingering back spasms. Because swinging a bat can put so much pressure on a hitter’s back, these types of issues have slowed down many power hitters over the years. How much these issues are still affecting him is impossible to know. However, by June 19th last season, Hardy had hit 12 homers and driven in 42 RBI’s on his way to another Silver Slugger award. This season Hardy has yet to hit a home-run and has only 15 RBI’s.
The struggle hasn’t just been offensively. Both players are coming off Gold Glove seasons, with Machado winning the Platinum Glove for the American League’s best defensive player. Yet this season, both players have uncharacteristically struggled in the field. Hardy has made 8 errors in only 561 innings this season compared to only 12 in 1417 innings last season. Machado also has struggled with 7 errors in his first 392 innings this season, as opposed to committing 13 in 1390 innings last season.
It’s still early to call this a throw-away season for either player. With 91 games remaining on the Orioles schedule, there is plenty of time left for them to turn their season around. With the Orioles still in contention despite Hardy and Machado’s struggles, getting even a fraction of the production they got from them last season would be a huge boast as they make their playoff run.