The Orioles, standing 7 games ahead of the second-place New York Yankees, were beginning to show signs of a dominant team.
Their 73-54 record is the third best in the American League behind the Los Angeles Angels (76-52) and Oakland Athletics (76-52). They are routinely winning series against contending teams like the Nationals, Angels, Cardinals, and Mariners.
Their 162 home runs on the season lead the majors by a considerable margin. Their .988 fielding percentage is tied for first in the majors.
It had seemed the final piece of the Orioles’ championship equation had arrived with the pitchers posting a 3.10 ERA in the second half of the season — good for seventh best in the majors.
With all of these things going right, the Orioles were primed for a postseason that Baltimore fans would remember forever. This would be the season that completed the rise from the doldrums started in 2012 and re-establish the Orioles as a consistent force in the AL East.
All that changed when news of Machado’s season-ending surgery broke on Friday.
Don’t get me wrong — the Orioles have performed, and likely will continue to perform, well in Machado’s absence. Without Machado, the Orioles have compiled a 26-20 record for a winning percentage of .565. That figure, in an admittedly small sample size, isn’t much worse than the Orioles’ .575 winning percentage on the season.
However, any Orioles fan would acknowledge the significant drop-off in the team’s talent without its platinum glove third baseman. With Machado out, the Orioles sacrifice defensive prowess at two positions and also absorb a blow offensively.
Regular first baseman Chris Davis is adequate playing third, but he’s not going to demoralize opponents with impossible double plays on slow rollers or amazing plays in foul territory.
With Davis on third, another adequate-but-not-spectacular glove in Steve Pearce takes over at first, creating another dent in the Orioles’ vaunted infield.
Replacing Machado at the plate could be even more challenging. In his last 30 games, Machado is first on the team in batting average (.319) and second in on-base percentage (.351). With so many all-or-nothing hitters like Davis, Cruz, and Jones in the lineup, Machado’s ability to pass the baton down the order was a valuable skill for the O’s.
Without Machado, the Orioles drop from a team that could be “great,” to a team that is “very good.” The Orioles will still win the division and give fans a season to remember, but the latest injury to Manny Machado will stop Baltimore short of the World Series this team seemed capable of.