In playoff aftermath, Cruz tops Baltimore Orioles’ priority list


Well, has the stunned disappointment worn off yet? I didn’t think so. It will take some time.

If the Baltimore Orioles were a much different and better team in the second half of the season, it turned out so were the Kansas City Royals. Speed doesn’t go into slumps. In spite of leading the Major Leagues with 211 home runs during the season, the Orioles proved redundantly that power does. The Royals showed their pitching, and their bullpen in particular, was the equal and then some of the Orioles’.

They just played better baseball than Buck Showalter‘s club did, from pitching and defense, to situational hitting (which sometimes seemed a lost art to the Orioles), to hitting at all. Unlike the case with most opponents the Orioles faced this season, the strategy of getting into Kansas City’s bullpen was a losing proposition. Unfortunately, the basic necessity of hitting the Royals’ starting pitcher was also a failure.

Adam Jones hit .222 this postseason, with a home run (against the Royals), eight strikeouts and 3 RBI. In the ALCS, he hit .214, with three hits (which included that homer) and four strikeouts. The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post published features this week centering on his anxiousness and not very successful, free-swinging ways, but the combined total of all newspaper columnists in the world typing until next Spring Training is not likely to change those ways.

This was only the second postseason of his career, but he is trending toward becoming the David Winfield of the 21st century. He wasn’t the only Oriole in a slump, but his bat was conspicuous by its absence considering his regular season success, in 2012 as well as this season.

Steve Pearce got just one hit in 13 at-bats in the four games against the Royals, and hit an anemic .077. Would Chris Davis have done better? We’ll never know.

Jones’ bat was only one of those that slept through the ALCS

The empty feeling of losing the first two games at Camden Yards didn’t even begin to get any better at Kauffman Stadium, even though the Orioles were a winning team on the road this season. Maybe it’s best not to keep the wound open by analyzing too much.

The questions of what the Orioles need for next season began even before the playoffs ended so ingloriously.

1. Sign Nelson Cruz. He was at the high end of the playoff performance spectrum, going 10-for-28 in seven postseason games, hitting .357 with two home runs and seven RBIs. He had multiple hits in his first five playoff games. 2. Sign Nick Markakis. The club for some time has been weighing picking up his $17 million option for next year. 3. Sign Andrew Miller. 4. Try to sign a true leadoff hitter, if one doesn’t exist in the minor leagues. Alejandro De Aza is well worth a shot.

Markakis has worked out as a leadoff hitter in a makeshift kind of a way for the last two years, by being the team’s most patient hitter and having its best on-base percentage. His consistency and approach to hitting, in addition to his defense, have been his trademarks. But the ideal would still be to have speed at the top.

The team’s accomplishments despite its injuries have whetted the fans’ appetites for next season, when Manny Machado and Matt Wieters are expected to have fully healthy years. There is no way on knowing how the Davis saga will work itself out.

It was interesting to see the actual season become as much fun in terms of action as the Hot Stove League has usually been in speculation and news. This offseason should be nothing less.