Whether the O’s concede this season by going trade crazy or not, clearly this is a team whose best days are still ahead of them. Whether they elect to finish out the string with the current cast of characters or begin cleaning house will be the subject of lots of debate over the next month or so until the trade deadline. One thing that seems clear though is that the group in the clubhouse, from the manager on down, is playing to win. And who could fault them for that?
If Dave Trembley intends to be with the club for the log-term though, and I see no reason why he wouldn’t, then he too needs to start thinking about building for the future. And since Adam Jones seems to be one of a few centerpieces of that future, furthering his development should be mission #1 for the remainder of the season.
How well do you think Nick Markakis would hit from the 8 spot in the order? When Markakis struggled early in this season, many attributed those struggles with a lack of protection in the lineup. If that were the case, than how much would Markakis be hurt if he had to bat between Quiroz and Fahey on most nights?
One of the great things about baseball is that each slot in the lineup seems to have it’s own distinctive nuances and requires it’s own type of approach at the plate. As appealing as it might sound, even a lineup full of 3 and 4 hitters is destined to fail. A good cleanup hitter, plugged into the 6 or 7 hole will normally drop off substantially in production. Furthermore, many modest hitters have put up unfathomable numbers when thrust into the middle of the order for teams without much offensive firepower.
If you buy into all of that, you’ll probably agree that there is no easier place to hit than the 2 hole. It seems that Dave Trembley believes that too, as he has routinely used the 2 spot in the lineup to help some struggling players get out of a batting funk. Markakis has been the most recent and most obvious beneficiary of a trip to the 2 hole. The biggest drawback to putting good hitters like Markakis into the 2 spot is that you force them into bunt situations, for a competitive team the #2 hitter should absolutely be a great bunter.
Since the O’s have seemingly made no effort to trade the veteran bats at the top end of the lineup, they ought to at least use them to help get Adam Jones more pitches to hit. Brian Roberts is a fantastic leadoff hitter, and a proven base stealer. At his best, Roberts is a huge distraction for any pitcher on the bases and leads the 2 hitter to get a lot more fastballs to hit. Pitchouts help him get ahead in the count too. If a credible #3 is on deck and a solid #4 in the hole, #2 is surely going to see pitches to hit. Teams don’t want to walk guys in front of the big hitters in the lineup. All of this makes the 2 hole, the perfect place for a hitter to get things going.
Markakis has certainly seen the benefits. After a dismal start to the season, Markakis has thrived mostly in the 2 spot, raising his average to .300 and cutting his strikeout numbers dramatically over the last month and a half. While that’s great for a guy who was struggling without credible protection in the lineup, Markakis is being groomed to be the protection in the lineup. His walk numbers indicate that he has the patience to make pitchers pay for pitching him cute. Now it’s time to see him do it from the middle of the order.
Adam Jones has caught fire of late, and deserves an opportunity to move up in the lineup. Like it or not, this isn’t the O’s year, developing Jones is far more important than pursuing .500. It’s time to see if he can lay down a bunt, time to see if he lay off of the garbage early in the count and make pitchers come after him. It’s time to get him out from between Hernandez and Bynum or whoever else the O’s are featuring at 7 and 9.
Roberts is Roberts and taking him out of the leadoff spot would be silly, placing Jones behind him could certainly lead to bigger and better things for Adam. Putting Markakis third would begin grooming him for his future role in the order, and provide Jones with adequate protection. Aubrey Huff should bat cleanup for as long as he’s here, and at this point he’ll provide Markakis all of the credible protection in the lineup he’ll need. If Luke Scott is part of the O’s long-term plans, then he should bat 5th. Millar would still provide him adequate protection too, or you could throw Millar in front of him to mix up the lefty/righty match ups.
I, for one, keep waiting for Andy MacPhail to blow this thing up and get us back to rebuilding. In the meantime, there are certainly easier, subtler ways to begin to shape this team for the future. The once pesky O’s are being pesked a lot lately themselves, a shakeup in the lineup might be just what they need to get things going again. From what I’ve seen of Jones so far, the prospect of seeing him get more at bats, in more crucial situations gives me reason to be excited about the second half, winning or not.