On Sunday afternoon, Adam Jones and Manny Machado jolted the Orioles to a 2-1 win, and the Orioles avoided a sweep at the hands of the Yankees that would have knotted the season series up at six games a piece. Instead, the Orioles have a chance to best the Yankees in the season series for the first time since 1997 if they can win three of the seven games remaining between the two teams. So, what did we learn this past weekend that could give us some insight to what this team has in store for us in the second half?
Every time Jim Johnson gets the ball for the rest of the year, you’re going to sweat. As silly as it sounds, listening to Gary Thorne may be your best bet when the Pretender comes on to pitch. Buckle up your seat-belt and get ready for quite a ride. Johnson has been far too inconsistent as a closer for anyone to be comfortable anymore. That includes Buck Showalter. From the moment he gave up a lead-off single to the Yankees #9 hitter on Friday night, you knew things weren’t going to go his way. But when he was reaching the high 90s on the gun to Lyle Overbay to begin the 9th yesterday, it was clear that Johnson had his confidence back. At the same time, replicating that confidence on as consistent a basis as you need to be a closer in this league isn’t as easy as it seems. Throwing strike one and getting out number one is essential to the mental and physical sides of closing out a win for a playoff contender like the Orioles. But even if he does that, you know just as well as I do that it won’t make you feel much better.
Brian Roberts doesn’t have what it takes to bat in the middle of the lineup. When I first saw Roberts as the #5 hitter for Saturday afternoon’s game, I had to take a few more glances to make sure I was seeing it right. Even when Roberts was in the prime of his career, he wasn’t a qualified hitter in the middle of the order. He can hit at the top or at the bottom. He gives you speed and contact to complement guys like McLouth, Markakis, and Machado, but that’s about all. He won’t hit many home runs, and he only has two extra-base hits in his ten games this year. If you’re going to put him in the lineup in the first place, he should hit first or last. Maybe, if Buck is feeling generous, hit him eighth. But that’s it.
If Ryan Flaherty is going to perform, it’s going to be on a routine basis. Brian Roberts’ return couldn’t have come at a worse time for Ryan Flaherty, who was finally getting into a hitting groove when the veteran came back last week. Flaherty went 0-3 with a strikeout on Friday night, his only start of the series. You can’t play him twice a week and expect the guy to come up with the big hit. He’s not that kind of player. If you start him every day for a week, he’ll give you a good game or two at the plate. Many people aren’t ready to give up on the Brian Roberts experiment (I am) but even if he continues to start, Flaherty needs more chances in order for him to help this team.
For this team, each inning is a new one. The first inning has nothing to do with the second or third. The seventh or eighth has nothing to do with the ninth. These guys come to the plate each time without a thought of their previous time at the plate. Adam Jones, after going hitless Friday night, picked up two hits on Saturday afternoon. Then, after starting out 0-3 on Sunday, he came through against the greatest closer this game has ever seen and gave the Orioles the lead. That short memory comes a long way when you’re down late in a game. It’s something Orioles fans should be happy about for this team going forward.