Baltimore Orioles: Who’s on Third?

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Sep 24, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Baltimore Orioles third baseman Ryan Flaherty (3) singles to left center during the eighth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Baltimore Orioles won 9-5. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Today marks the official last game of the regular season, but Orioles fans have long been looking ahead to Thursday when the Orioles play their first meaningful game in nearly two weeks — game one of the American League Division Series.

Going in to the postseason, several questions remain about this team and the pieces that will help carry them through their second playoff run in the last three years, but third base has been of particular concern.

The Orioles’ strongest defensive position became arguably its weakest when Platinum Glove winner Manny Machado suffered a season-ending knee injury in mid-August. Chris Davis filled-in for 26 games at the position before his suspension for the unauthorized use of Adderall on Sep. 12. Now, the Orioles are seemingly stuck between a rock and a hard place with several players who perform well either offensively or defensively, but don’t offer the balance and reliability the Orioles desperately miss at the position.

Newcomers Jimmy Paredes and Kelly Johnson tried their respective hands (or lack thereof) at the position and each has come up with disappointing defense. Paredes has committed three errors at the position over the last 13 games and posted a bottom-scraping fielding percentage of .900. Johnson has not been not much better with a .913 fielding percentage at third base and one error over his last 17 appearances.

Even the normally sure-handed Ryan Flaherty has been a questionable option at third base, posting a .947 fielding percentage and four errors over 42 games (26 starts).

Despite about half a season of stellar defense from Machado, the Orioles team fielding percentage at third base (.941) is second to worst in MLB.

Last night, utility man Alexi Casilla was called-up for his first start of the season and committed an error himself. On the season, Orioles third baseman have committed 26 errors, third most in MLB.

Offensively, the results have been nearly equally disappointing from many of the Orioles’ third base candidates.

Johnson’s slash line is  .231/.333/.410 since coming to Baltimore. Flaherty is batting .223/.289/.360. Casilla went hitless in his only appearance this season yesterday.

But while most would rank Paredes as the worst defensive option at the hot corner, he has proven to be the best-hitting third baseman currently on the Orioles’ 25-man roster.

Paredes is a switch-hitter with speed who has been very effective at the plate during his short time with the Orioles. The 25-year-old has hit .302/.327/.491, making him the only third base candidate hitting over .300.

But even considering Paredes’ success offensively, don’t expect Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter to start him or Johnson. Buck Showalter’s regime values defense over offense, and Paredes and Johnson have been unreliable with the glove. That said, both should see pinch-hit opportunities throughout the playoffs.

Ryan Flaherty seems to be the most likely candidate to start, but the Maine-native will need to continue his hot-hitting ways to help fill what has been a hole in the Orioles infield. Flaherty has hit .302 in the month of September.

Baltimore has gotten by with patchwork lineups all season, but their situation at third base represents, in my opinion, the biggest gap in talent from starter to bench player they’ve seen thus far. Flaherty, Paredes, and Johnson will be relied on heavily as Orioles attempt to reach their first World Series since 1983.

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