This past week we saw the O’s getting themselves involved in a mini-controversy regarding sign-stealing, and then dropping two-of-three in Tampa over the weekend. The common motif in all of it was the lack of timely hitting and faulty starting pitching. I’ve maintained that the Orioles are going through a rough patch, and that things will level out. If you think about it that kind of makes sense; when they were riding high people said that they’d regress to the mean. The same still applies, however now they’ll improve to the mean at some point. (It’s almost the old for every action there’s an equal and opportune reaction thing.) However let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment; do other teams know what’s coming?
By this, I don’t mean in a sign-stealing sense. What I mean to imply is do the Orioles have players that are so specialized that teams know exactly what they’re going to do, almost before they do? That’s a polite way of asking if the players are too one-dimensional. In looking at the most recent opponent (Tampa), we see a team that’s probably more nimble than Humpty-Dumpty when he fell off that wall. When a guy is struggling at the plate (i.e.-Carlos Pena), Joe Maddon bats him lead off. And somehow…it works. And to be frank, it’s frustrating as heck! When you play a shift on a team and they’re consistently able to beat it…what exactly are you supposed to do, go against the numbers and statistics?
However I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen teams play shifts against the Orioles the past couple of weeks. And the Orioles seem to happily oblige and hit the ball right into the shift. Does that partially explain the lack of clutch hitting? Teams know that Nick Markakis is a pull hitter so they shade their defense towards right field when he hits. Ironically, in yesterday’s game Mark Reynolds was the guy that seemed to try and fight back against this. Following a Wieters home run Reynolds shortened his swing significantly and hit the ball up the middle with nobody on (splitting the middle infielders). That showed a Joe Maddon-like nimbleness on Reynolds’ part, and it got the Orioles a base runner. You could almost see Tampa wanting to say that wasn’t how it was supposed to be. But that’s how you win games.
The exception to these shifts of course is if someone hits the ball over the fence. However again, it seems like teams are a step ahead of the O’s. The Orioles are by nature a team that takes a lot of hacks at pitches. However of late they’ve been trying to put an emphasis on working the count, and we’ve seen several hitters do that. So teams know that the O’s are trying to emphasize that, and they’re throwing pitches in the zone early so as to get ahead in the count. Then when the count suddenly gets to 0-2 or 1-2, they know that the Orioles are probably going to take. So they’ll throw fastballs on the inside black (perhaps after someone had flailed at a sweeping breaking ball that started in and went down-and-away) which is freezing hitters for strike three.
This is all fixable, but it’s easier said than done. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that other teams know exactly what the Orioles are up to prior to them doing it, however the fact is that the Orioles have very poignant tendencies. Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz have developed killer curve balls, which at the moment is starting to freeze hitters. Here’s the other thing; the Orioles seem to have some trouble bunting. If they could get bunts down corner infielders would have to play in, which would in essence give the O’s the chance to square and push/pull an extra-base hit right by them.
Interestingly, the O’s are starting to see teams for the second time now. Keep in mind that they swept Boston at Fenway, and took two-of-three from Tampa at the yard. Boston took two-of-three from the Orioles in Baltimore the second time around, and Tampa did the same at the Trop. So other teams are making adjustments based on seeing the Orioles already. In fairness, with different guys playing different positions every day it’s tough to adjust, however this is the hand the Orioles have been dealt.
Speaking of which (as if the news needed to get any worse), Adam Jones stayed behind in Tampa when the team flew to Boston last night and will have an MRI on his right wrist today. Jones of course was hit on the left wrist in Toronto last week, but he said after the game that the right wrist had bothered him for a few weeks. If Jones has to go to the DL for whatever reason, the Orioles are in a lot of trouble. People want to say that they need more depth and so forth, however all the depth in the world won’t replace a player like Adam Jones. With Markakis already on the DL, it would be a cruel twist of fate to see Jones get sent there as well. It’s easy enough to say that’s part of the game and that they should be better prepared and so forth. However again, you can’t just have another Adam Jones waiting in the wings because if a guy’s that good he’s going to be starting somewhere as opposed to rotting on the bench or in the minors for an occasion such as this. One way or the other, it’s something that the Orioles will have to play through.
Jones Update: The MRI on Adam Jones’ right wrist came back negative, and as of this afternoon he’s on his way to Boston to join his teammates. The MRI revealed a contusion, which in layman’s terms is a bruise. Jones is expected to be in the lineup tomorrow night when the Orioles take on Boston. Exhale people…
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