The week in Orioles baseball has been a memorable one, for better and for worse. After last week’s difficult 1-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals in which Adam Jones and Chris Davis stranded the tying run at third, questions surrounded manager Buck Showalter’s stubbornness with his everyday lineup. With Manny Machado playing every day and batting second, the Orioles most consistent hitter, Nelson Cruz, has now been moved down to the fifth spot.
After a week in which the Orioles have actually put runs on the board with Showalter’s “stubborn” lineup, the team has won just once. Cruz continues to impress, while it appears that Jones has settled in to the three hole with 8 hits in his last 4 games. Which begs the question: Should the Orioles make major changes to their lineup?
FOR By: Brett Dickinson
Though the Orioles had a decent week at the plate, that does not change the long-term reality for some “stars” in this current lineup. At the top, Nick Markasis has been steady getting on base as needed with some many run producers batting behind him. Manny Machado has struggled through his first several weeks, coming off a serious knee injury and missing out on the entire off season. It may be hindering the team now, but getting the young superstar comfortable is much more important for this team’s success later on. Hopes are he can start to turn things around and be the same type of player that filled the two hole for the Orioles last season.
But the heart of the lineup is where I see Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter really struggling with his inner demons. He is consistently not putting his best hitters in the best situations to succeed at their highest level. Nelson Cruz is certainly an extremely early MVP candidate, yet is left batting in the fifth spot. Showalter has been loyal to a fault in his tenure with the organization; clearly evident with his handling of Jim Johnson and the closer role last season. The same can be said with the team’s highest paid player (and supposed team leader) center fielder Adam Jones.
When everyone watching the game knows the scouting report on a player (including my own wife, who knows baseball, but doesn’t follow it as intently as most fans), then there is a problem. Just the other night Adam Jones came to the plate; her exact quote as a slider was thrown to the outside corner, into the dirt:
“I’m surprised he didn’t swing at that one…”
Jones plate discipline this season has been down right despicable. Yet he still bats third in a lineup that has struggled to consistently score runs all season. Buck needs to stop worrying about hurting his feelings and tell the young man he is moving down a couple spots. It should not matter that he is the “face of the franchise;” if that were true, he should do what’s best for the team without hesitation. Ideally, Chris Davis should move into his slot, because though he does not have the massive power numbers of 2013, he is getting on base at an alarmingly high rate, taking an massive amount of walks in the process.
This would lead to Nelson Cruz batting cleanup, where he has the potential to come to the plate with runners on base each and every time. Doesn’t that seem like the smart decision for a guy that among the tops in the entire MLB in home runs and RBI? Moving the free swinging Jones down to the fifth spot should not hurt his approach either, because he really doesn’t have one at this point. Whether he bats third, fifth or ninth, he is going to swing and swing a lot.
Time to stop being loyal to a player’s past performance and looking at his current contributions Buck!
AGAINST By: Barry Kamen
In the month of May, it is very easy to overreact to things that happen during the course of an entire baseball season. Sure, no Oriole fan likes to see the middle of the order fall flat in a close game. But every fan LOVES it when 3 Orange Crushes leave PNC Park. There are ebbs and flows to every season. The goal of the Orioles in May is consistency, ensuring that the peaks and the valleys are not drastically far away from each other.
One way to ensure is consistency is with the lineup. The criticism surrounding Adam Jones is largely unwarranted. The free-swinger is what he is; a .280 hitter with above-average home run and RBI numbers for his position. Jones doesn’t walk, and he is going to strike out more than he should. Fan frustration should not be with Jones, but with the injuries that have plagued the team all season. With Manny Machado’s bat starting to come around after joining the team at the beginning of May, the entire lineup has produced as a result. Assuming no other injuries occur, the Orioles have one of the best 1-5 lineups in all of Major League Baseball. Not only is the top and middle of the order talented, but there are very few mysteries associated with each player. The biggest question mark could very well be Chris Davis, as he works to ensure that last year’s production was not a fluke.
Rather than tinker with the lineup, depth becomes the next issue for Showalter to deal with. David Lough has played himself out of the lineup, and the end might be nearing for the former Royal. With Delmon Young and Steve Pearce in the fold, there is very little reason to keep Lough. It will not be long before Steve Lombardozzi returns to the majors, and could make a significant impact at the bottom of the order. Until then, tread water in May, and prepare for the high tide in September.