Tag Archive | "Chris Davis"

2015 Orioles preview: Chris Davis

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2015 Orioles preview: Chris Davis

Posted on 13 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day just over three weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton

1B Chris Davis

Opening Day age: 29

Contract status: Becomes a free agent after the 2015 season

Minor-league options remaining: None

2014 stats: .196/.300/.404, 26 HR, 72 RBI, 65 R, 2 SB, 525 PA

Why to be impressed: Despite an awful campaign in which he hit only .196, Davis remained a patient hitter, drawing walks in 11.8 percent of his plate appearances compared to 10.7 percent a year earlier. His 26 homers still ranked third on the club despite Davis only playing 127 games.

Why to be concerned: Davis admitted this winter that the oblique injury he suffered last April lingered all year, but no player in baseball was a bigger victim of the shift as Davis saw it in 95.2 percent of his plate appearances and sported a .121 average on grounders and short liners against the shift compared to a .333 mark with no shift, per The Bill James Handbook. Davis was abysmal against off-speed pitching in 2014, but it’s fair to wonder if that was a byproduct of the injury and trying to cheat against fastballs after he feasted on off-speed pitching in 2013 and handled it adequately in 2012.

2015 outlook: His .242 batting average on balls in play from a year ago suggests he experienced plenty of bad luck as he owns a career .320 BAbip, but the shift isn’t going away and Davis has worked on his bunting down the third baseline this winter as a result. In the same way that his career 2013 season was an outlier, Davis shouldn’t be defined by his nightmarish 2014 that included a 25-game suspension for Adderall. A return to his 2012 numbers seems reasonable if he’s healthy, but it’d be very tough for him to match that .270 average with the shift becoming a fixture in baseball for the foreseeable future. If his power to the opposite field returns with his health, Davis should be able to approach the 35-homer mark.

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Who should lead off for Orioles in 2015?

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Who should lead off for Orioles in 2015?

Posted on 03 February 2015 by Luke Jones

With spring training only a couple weeks away, Orioles manager Buck Showalter has a number of issues to sort out as it relates to his everyday lineup.

Most attention has centered around replacing outfielders Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz — Steve Pearce, Alejandro De Aza, David Lough, Delmon Young, and the newly-acquired Travis Snider are among the candidates — but identifying who will lead off in the Baltimore lineup is anyone’s guess at this point. However, it’s not a question over which the skipper is panicking in early February.

“Somebody’s going to lead off Opening Day, I bet you,” quipped Showalter, adding that he’s more concerned with having a strong bottom of the order than with who’s hitting first. “Our guys don’t talk about it a lot. I’ve told you many times, [you could] just take your best hitter and hit him first to get more at-bats.”

It’s that very mindset that led to Markakis first becoming a regular leadoff hitter during the 2012 season even though he stole only six bases over his final three seasons with the Orioles. No one would confuse the Orioles with a track team after they stole a league-worst 44 bases in 2014, so speed isn’t a prerequisite for replacing Markakis at the top of the order.

Among their current candidates, who should lead off for the Orioles in 2015?

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Of the possible options currently on the roster, De Aza carries the most experience hitting in the leadoff position with 296 career starts there, but Showalter said Saturday it would be wrong to simply assume it’s his job to lose this spring. His career .334 on-base percentage in the top spot of the order is just a touch higher than his career .330 OBP overall, but De Aza told reporters he feels comfortable leading off if that’s what the Orioles want him to do.

His production in 2014 spiked when he was traded to the Orioles at the end of August, but De Aza is eager to rebound from a campaign he called the worst of his career as he hit only .252 with eight home runs, 41 runs batted in, and a .700 on-base plus slugging percentage combined with the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore. He would also represent one of the Orioles’ speedier options as he stole 17 bases last season.

“I can’t just go there and tell them that I want to be leadoff or they’re just going to give me the leadoff spot,” said De Aza, who added that Showalter hasn’t talked to him about the job to this point. “I’m just going to work hard, and they’re going to make the best [decision] for the team.”

Showalter acknowledged he’s had some “radical” thoughts about his lineup throughout the offseason, mentioning Lough, Pearce, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, and even Chris Davis as potential candidates to be the leadoff hitter, but nothing is set in stone. Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates last week, Snider carried a .356 on-base percentage in the second half of 2014, and the Orioles hope that’s a sign of better things to come for the former first-round pick who’s struggled to realize his potential at the major-league level.

But if the Orioles are looking for a unconventional option who might also be the best one, Pearce led the club with a .373 OBP and worked the count as well as any hitter in the lineup a year ago. Even if the 31-year-old won’t match his lofty power figures of 21 homers and a .556 slugging percentage in 383 plate appearances in 2014, he has a career .335 OBP in parts of eight major league seasons as well as a .371 career OBP in the minor leagues.

Like Markakis, Pearce won’t offer much in terms of speed, but Showalter acknowledged the traditional leadoff hitter appears to be an endangered species in today’s game. In all likelihood, the Orioles will use a committee approach in Grapefruit League action until one or two hitters settle into the role depending on the opposing starter on a given night.

“They know things are going to change a little bit from time to time depending on who we’re facing,” Showalter said. “The conventional leadoff hitter like Brian [Roberts] was for a long time and like Rickey Henderson was for a long time, how many of them are there [today]?. How many guys can stay in the lineup against left-handed and right-handed pitching and be there every night?”

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Davis says using Adderall “never a baseball issue” for him

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Davis says using Adderall “never a baseball issue” for him

Posted on 31 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Breaking his silence to the local media about the suspension that cost him the opportunity to play in the 2014 postseason, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis expressed regret in letting down his teammates and explained his reason for using Adderall on Saturday.

Now the 28-year-old looks to bounce back from a nightmarish 2014 season in which he hit only .196 and was suspended 25 games on Sept. 12, just days before the Orioles clinched their first American League East title since 1997.

“It was a moment of weakness,” Davis said. “Obviously, I wasn’t thinking about the big picture. It was a mistake I wish I could go back and undo.”

Davis confirmed that he has received a therapeutic-use exemption to once again use the drug prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Major League Baseball did not grant Davis an exemption for the 2013 and 2014 seasons after having one in previous years, and the slugger admitted to using the drug “a couple times” last year even though he knew he was at risk of testing positive.

The first baseman would not reveal when his first failed test occurred or why he lost his previous exemption, only saying he “didn’t take the right steps.” However, Davis made it clear that his use of the drug shouldn’t be associated with his performance — good or bad — on the field as he downplayed the need to use the drug for baseball.

The drug helps sharpen focus, which is why it’s considered a banned substance with an exemption.

“It was never a baseball issue. For me, it was off the field — just an everyday life thing,” Davis said. “There were a lot of times when I was young where teachers had brought it up and kind of mentioned [ADHD], but we never really went down that road. When I was diagnosed in 2008, I was prescribed Adderall and I realized how much of a difference it made just in my everyday life. For me, that was kind of the reason I went down that road.”

Several of his teammates were asked how his return will impact the clubhouse with the general consensus being that the Orioles have moved on from last year. Though Davis was invited to rejoin the club for the AL Championship Series last October, many teammates expressed disappointment in his poor judgment at the time the suspension was announced.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy pointed to Davis’ exemption for the 2015 season as evidence that it’s a non-issue. Though he’ll be allowed to participate in spring training and play in Grapefruit League contests, Davis will serve the final game of his ban on Opening Day against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 6.

“I guess we should have won one in the American League Championship Series. We screwed that up,” said relief pitcher Darren O’Day, who played with Davis in Texas. “I think that’s in the past. We’ve all talked to Chris about it; he’s talked to us about it. We’ve addressed it as a team. He’s moving on, and we’re moving on. We’re expecting him to be right back where he was with the sweet swing and hitting balls out of left field. It’s going to be fun.”

Understandably, many will remain skeptical of Davis after he was so outspoken against the use of performance-enhancing drugs during his 2013 campaign in which he slugged a franchise-record 53 home runs, but he is focused on rebounding in his final season before becoming a free agent. The Orioles have discussed a long-term extension with Davis’ agent, Scott Boras, in the past, but it appears likely that the first baseman will want to rebuild his value during the 2015 campaign before potentially hitting the open market.

Davis pointed to a slow start and the oblique injury suffered in late April as the primary reasons why he was unable to get on track in 2014 after producing his overwhelming numbers a year earlier. In 127 games, Davis saw his home run total fall from 53 to 26 as he posted a .704 on-base plus slugging percentage a year after producing a 1.004 mark.

“I’ve been doing a little bit different workout this [winter]. I’ve been working on my bunting down the third-base line a lot,” said Davis, cracking a smile as he alluded to the exaggerated infield shifts opponents used against him last season. “But I’m ready to get started. I wish we started tomorrow.”

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Wieters, Davis, Tillman agree to one-year deals with Orioles

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Wieters, Davis, Tillman agree to one-year deals with Orioles

Posted on 16 January 2015 by Luke Jones

With arbitration-eligible players and major league teams scheduled to exchange salary figures for the 2015 season on Friday, the Orioles came to agreements with several key names including catcher Matt Wieters, first baseman Chris Davis, and starting pitcher Chris Tillman.

According to an ESPN report, Wieters will make $8.3 million in 2015 after making $7.7 million last season. After being limited to just 26 games before undergoing Tommy John surgery last summer, the All-Star catcher will be entering his final year before becoming a free agent next offseason.

Davis agreed to a one-year, $12 million deal after making $10.3 million last year, according to The Sun. Entering his final season before free agency, the 2013 home run king will try to bounce back from a nightmarish campaign that included a .196 average and a 25-game suspension for Adderall use that forced him to miss the Orioles’ run to the American League Championship Series.

Per CBS Sports, Tillman will receive a substantial raise in his first arbitration-eligible year by receiving $4.315 million after making only $546,000 last season. The 26-year-old has blossomed into the Orioles ace over the last two years and went 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA in 207 1/3 innings last season.

Lefty reliever Brian Matusz settled on a $3.2 million contract with the Orioles after making $2.4 million last season, per MASN Sports.

Outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Steve Pearce, infielder Ryan Flaherty, starting pitchers Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez, and closer Zach Britton round out the list of arbitration-eligible players who exchanged salary figures with the Orioles on Friday. Hearings will be heard next month if the sides do not come to an agreement, but teams and players typically split the difference to avoid arbitration.

Right-handed reliever Tommy Hunter avoided arbitration earlier this week by signing a $4.65 million agreement.

In other news, free-agent outfielder Nori Aoki agreed to a one-year, $4 million deal with the San Francisco Giants on Friday. He had been linked to the Orioles as a possible short-term replacement for Nick Markakis in the outfield and at the top of the lineup with his career .353 on-base percentage, but the club never showed more than limited interest.

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Orioles first baseman Davis receives approval for Adderall

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Orioles first baseman Davis receives approval for Adderall

Posted on 16 December 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles hope first baseman Chris Davis can bounce back from a nightmarish 2014 campaign that ended with him being suspended 25 games for testing positive for Adderall.

It now appears that he’s been approved to use the drug for the 2015 season. Manager Buck Showalter told reporters Tuesday that Davis recently told him that he received a therapeutic use exemption from Major League Baseball to use the drug commonly prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Davis reportedly had an exemption to use the drug when he was a member of the Texas Rangers, but it’s believed that growing concern over the high use of Adderall has led to baseball creating a more stringent process for issuing approval in recent years. Roughly 10 percent of players on 40-man rosters in the major leagues presented notes from doctors for Adderall use last year.

Even if the newly-secured exemption may bring some closure to the disappointment of last season, trying to determine how much Adderall might impact Davis’ performance is difficult. He allegedly didn’t have an exemption to use it in 2013 when he hit a franchise-record 53 home runs. In contrast, he tested positive for the second time in his career — the first failed test reportedly came when he was still a member of the Rangers and didn’t carry a suspension — in the midst of a season in which he hit .196 and saw his long-ball total fall to 26.

The 28-year-old still has one game remaining on his 25-game suspension that began on Sept. 12 and made him ineligible for the Orioles’ 2014 postseason run.

Entering his final season before hitting free agency, Davis will look to prove he’s more like the player who was the major league home run king in 2013 and not the player who struggled throughout 2014 and saw his season end in disgrace. The Orioles would gladly take a compromise resembling his first full season with the Orioles in 2012 when he hit .270 with 33 homers, 85 runs batted in, and an .827 on-base plus slugging percentage.

Davis posting numbers in that neighborhood would go a long way in helping replace the void left behind by Nelson Cruz, who departed via free agency earlier this month to sign a four-year, $57 million contract with Seattle.

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Orioles tender contracts to Davis, Matusz, nine other arbitration-eligible players

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Orioles tender contracts to Davis, Matusz, nine other arbitration-eligible players

Posted on 02 December 2014 by Luke Jones

There were no surprises prior to Tuesday night’s deadline for arbitration-eligible players as the Orioles tendered contracts to all 11 eligible in that department.

The group includes position players Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Ryan Flaherty, Steve Pearce, and Alejandro De Aza and pitchers Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, Tommy Hunter, Zach Britton, and Brian Matusz. There had been some debate about the futures of Davis, De Aza, Hunter, and Matusz, but the Orioles tendered each a contract with the former three set to become free agents after the 2015 season.

As is always the case with arbitration situations, the sides will exchange salary figures in hopes of meeting somewhere in the middle and avoiding a hearing. For now, each player simply remains under club control as the Orioles can include them in any potential trade.

Though it was previously undetermined whether the Orioles would retain De Aza, his presence becomes even more important after the free-agent departure of Nelson Cruz and the undetermined status of free-agent outfielder Nick Markakis. De Aza batted .293 with the Orioles after being acquired from the Chicago White Sox in late August and is projected to make $5.9 million in 2015, according to MLBTradeRumors.com.

Davis is coming off an abysmal season in which he hit only .196 and was suspended 25 games for amphetamine use, but the memory of his 53-homer campaign in 2013 was too much to ignore as he enters his final season before free agency. After making $10.3 million in 2014, Davis is projected to receive a raise to $11.8 million next season.

Perhaps the most questionable decision was tendering Matusz a contract as the lefty specialist is projected to make $2.7 million in 2015. The 27-year-old remained effective against left-handed hitting in 2014, but he once again struggled against right-handed hitters, who posted an .876 on-base plus slugging percentage against him.

Of the Orioles’ other arbitration-eligible players, Pearce figures to receive a significant bump after a career year while arbitration first-timers Tillman, Gonzalez, and Britton are in line for significant raises after impressive accomplishments in 2014.

Davis, Wieters, De Aza, Norris, Pearce, and Hunter are all scheduled to become free agents next offseason.

Below is a list of of Baltimore’s 11 arbitration players with their MLBTradeRumors.com projected salaries for 2015 in parentheses:

LHP Zach Britton ($3.2 million after making $521,500 in 2014)
INF Chris Davis: ($11.8 million after making $10.3 million in 2014)
OF Alejandro De Aza ($5.9 million after making $4.25 million in 2014)
INF Ryan Flaherty ($1 million after making $513,000 in 2014)
RHP Miguel Gonzalez ($3.7 million after making $529,000 in 2014)
RHP Tommy Hunter ($4.4 million after making $3 million in 2014)
LHP Brian Matusz ($2.7 million after making $2.4 million in 2014)
RHP Bud Norris ($8.7 million after making $5.3 million in 2014)
1B/OF Steve Pearce ($2.2 million after making $700,000 in 2014)
RHP Chris Tillman ($5.4 million after making $546,000 in 2014)
C Matt Wieters ($7.9 million after making $7.7 million in 2014)

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How far should Orioles go to re-sign Markakis?

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How far should Orioles go to re-sign Markakis?

Posted on 28 October 2014 by Luke Jones

It’s no secret that the Orioles want to keep Nick Markakis.

The organization’s first-round pick in 2003 and the regular right fielder since 2006, Markakis is the longest-tenured Oriole and offers some value that can’t be easily measured as a longtime leader in the clubhouse. But even as executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette engages in contract talks to keep the soon-to-be 31-year-old in Baltimore for the 2015 season and beyond, everyone has a price and determining Markakis’ overall value is a tricky proposition.

It was apparent a couple years ago that the Orioles weren’t going to exercise Markakis’ $17.5 million mutual option for 2015. Even as a favorite of manager Buck Showalter and his teammates, the right fielder’s numbers have declined in recent years as 2013 was his worst season and he still only produced a .729 on-base plus slugging percentage this year. He’s hit below .280 in each of his last two seasons and his slugging percentage has fallen below the .400 mark in back-to-back years as he doesn’t provide the same gap power he did as a hitter who once averaged 45 doubles or so.

A simple look at his numbers over the last four years — save a productive 2012 that was limited to 102 games due to injuries — suggests the Orioles should attempt to find an upgrade in right field, but it isn’t quite that simple with a player like Markakis. This winter’s crop of free-agent outfielders offers few options as good as Markakis, let alone better.

That reality not only means it would be challenging to find a player of his caliber, but demand could be substantial in the open market, further driving up his price. The Orioles could make the $15.3 million qualifying offer that would drive down demand from other teams who would then forfeit a draft pick to sign him, but Markakis could simply accept the qualifying offer — in addition to his $2 million buyout — and essentially be back where he was with the original mutual option.

Internal options to replace Markakis in right field include Steve Pearce and a variety of fourth-outfielder types such as David Lough, Alejandro De Aza, and 25-year-old outfield prospect Dariel Alvarez unless you’re going all in to re-sign slugger Nelson Cruz to a long-term contract.

So, how much is Markakis really worth?

The general consensus is that a win costs approximately $6 million on the open market and Markakis has averaged just over two wins above replacement (WAR) per season over the last five years if you eliminate a very productive 2012 cut short by injuries and a horrendous 2013, the two clear outliers in that period of time. If we’re to assume Markakis continues to be a 2.0 WAR player over the next few years — optimistic, but not unreasonable for a player in his early 30s — that would put him in the neighborhood of earning $12 million per year in a vacuum.

Of course, that’s a statistically-driven monetary value that doesn’t consider the intangibles that Markakis brings that can’t be easily quantified or the supply and demand of the open market in any given offseason.

What does each side expect from the other? Do the Orioles want Markakis to take a hometown discount after signing shortstop J.J. Hardy — who’s been a 3.65 WAR player per year since 2011 and is only slightly older — to a reasonable three-year, $40 million contract with a vesting option? Does Markakis expect the Orioles to split the difference between what the numbers suggest he’s worth per year and the $17.5 million option for 2015 that they declined? Does he expect to be paid as much as or more than Hardy even though the latter has been more valuable over the last four seasons?

Even though he’s one of the few Orioles to make Baltimore his year-round home in recent years, Markakis has never had the opportunity to test the free-agent market and perhaps he’s curious to see what other teams might offer.

If you’re the Orioles, a three-year contract worth somewhere between $34 million and $38 million would be acceptable if you can’t reap the benefits of a hometown discount. Perhaps a vesting fourth-year option similar to the one Hardy received — which is reportedly based on plate appearances — would be an attractive addition, but there has been too much decline in Markakis’ production in recent years to go much higher than that in terms of years or money unless you’re perfectly fine with overpaying.

Entering the 2015 season at age 31, Markakis should have plenty of solid baseball ahead of him, but the last five years suggest the best you’re reasonably going to get from him is worth roughly $12 million per year on the open market and that’s assuming he doesn’t decline further. Of course, his value isn’t based solely on the numbers, but you have to be careful not to overpay for intangibles and sentimentality.

Replacing Markakis wouldn’t be easy in terms of finding a leadoff hitter and replacing his leadership in the clubhouse, but the Orioles shouldn’t overpay for those qualities, either, with other players and other needs to address this offseason and in the coming years.

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Pondering changes to Orioles’ 25-man roster for ALCS

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Pondering changes to Orioles’ 25-man roster for ALCS

Posted on 07 October 2014 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles advancing to the American League Championship Series to take on the Kansas City Royals, manager Buck Showalter will have the opportunity to reset his 25-man roster before Game 1 on Friday.

For weeks, many have pondered what the Orioles will do when suspended slugger Chris Davis is eligible to return, but the three-game sweep in the AL Division Series made it all but guaranteed he’ll remain on the sideline until a potential trip to the World Series. There had been some thought at the start of the postseason that the Orioles could play a man down to begin the ALCS, but the quick elimination of the Tigers left Davis with five games remaining on his 25-game suspension and he wouldn’t be eligible to play until a potential Game 6.

Davis has continued to work out at third base in Sarasota to stay sharp, but it will be interesting to see if the Orioles automatically welcome him back to the 25-man roster if they advance to the Fall Classic. Working out and playing in instructional league games in Florida are fine, but a layoff of more than a month will inevitably leave some rust and the Orioles might not want to mess with their karma should they find themselves playing for a world championship.

With the Royals regularly using four left-handed hitters in their lineup, Showalter may elect to turn to left-handed relievers Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland after they were left off the ALDS roster against Detroit, who feasted off southpaw pitching in the regular season. Kansas City hit .266 against left-handers and .261 against right-handed arms, but the presence of lefty hitters Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alex Gordon — right fielder Nori Aoki hit .363 against left-handers this season — would make you think Showalter would prefer having the situational Matusz as an option to pitch to a left-handed hitter or two in certain spots.

Left-handers hit only .223 against Matusz in the regular season while righties hit .277 with an .876 on-base plus slugging percentage.

McFarland’s addition for the ALCS would appear to be less certain as lefties hit .266 against him compared to right-handers posting a .324 average. There wouldn’t appear to be room for both Ubaldo Jimenez and McFarland in the bullpen, so you wonder if Showalter will once again go with the veteran as his emergency long man to keep Kevin Gausman available to pitch in high-leverage situations.

The Orioles kept 11 pitchers for the best-of-five ALDS, but the next round having a best-of-seven format might entice Showalter to add an extra pitcher, leaving him with a shorter bench. Considering Ryan Flaherty played such strong defense at third base, the Orioles manager might not find it necessary to have both Jimmy Paredes and Kelly Johnson on the bench for this series.

The switch-hitting Paredes did not appear in any of the three ALDS games while the lefty-hitting Johnson appeared once as a pinch hitter and replaced Flaherty at third base for the ninth inning of Game 2.

As for the starting rotation, Showalter is expected to send Chris Tillman to the hill for Game 1, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll slot Miguel Gonzalez into Game 2 after he didn’t pitch in the ALDS or the right-hander will once again fit behind Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris in the pecking order.

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Orioles hoping hot corner doesn’t burn chances in October

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Orioles hoping hot corner doesn’t burn chances in October

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles may not be sounding an alarm, but all you need to know about their concern at third base was signaled with the insertion of veteran Alexi Casilla at the hot corner in Saturday’s lineup against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Yes, Casilla brings major league experience and manager Buck Showalter wanted to take a look at him after he was rehabbing a hamstring injury in Sarasota earlier this month, but how many games did the 30-year-old play at third base for Triple-A Norfolk this season you might ask?

None.

In fact, Casilla had made just two career starts at third and appeared at the hot corner just 10 times in his eight major league seasons before Saturday’s game at Rogers Centre. But it reflects the level of uncertainty the Orioles face at the position as Casilla became the fourth different player to start there since the announcement of Chris Davis’ 25-game suspension on Sept. 12.

The concerns at third base have been very real since 2013 Gold Glove winner Manny Machado went down with a season-ending knee injury on Aug. 11, but the Orioles appeared to find an acceptable solution in Chris Davis before the slugger’s 25-game suspension was announced on Sept. 12. Since then, Showalter has shuffled candidates with the results being mixed at best.

Though the Orioles have been playing out the relatively-meaningless regular-season string since clinching the division title on Sept. 16, they’ve committed five errors in their last eight games at third base entering Saturday.

The switch-hitting Jimmy Paredes has shown offensive promise with a .308 average in 54 plate appearances, but the 25-year-old has also displayed poor hands and an erratic arm, committing three errors in 13 games and looking shaky on a number of other plays at third base. Showalter has given Paredes the most extensive playing time at third, but his defense has often led to him being pulled in the late innings.

Veteran Kelly Johnson has shown decent hands, but his throwing arm hasn’t inspired confidence to throw out speedier runners at first base. The left-handed hitter also sports a .215 average in time split among the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Orioles this season.

Considered the strongest defensive option on the current roster, Ryan Flaherty has even shown recent struggles at the hot corner with two errors in his last four starts at third base this past week. And though he’s hitting over .300 in the month of September, Flaherty’s appearance at third creates another hole at the bottom of the order — he’s a career .222 hitter with a .654 career on-base plus slugging percentage — to go with rookie second baseman Jonathan Schoop and one of Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley behind the plate.

It’s unlikely that Casilla makes the postseason roster, but the simple fact that he’s getting a look at third base speaks volumes about Showalter’s lack of confidence in any of the candidates at the position.

The Orioles knew they wouldn’t be able to find an option with the all-around ability of Machado when he was lost for the season, but they appeared to be able to live with Davis’ solid defensive play while knowing the offensive upside he brings despite his .196 average in the 2014 regular season. But his suspension lasting until the ninth game of the postseason leaves the Orioles flapping in the wind at third for at least the American League Division Series and some of the AL Championship Series before Davis is an option.

None of their current options provide enough upside with the bat to endure such shaky defense and only Flaherty — if you’re willing to overlook the recent shakiness — appears to provide steady-enough defense to Showalter’s liking. That’s what makes the 2012 Rule 5 selection the most palatable option over Paredes, Johnson, or the recently-summoned Casilla until Davis can potentially return.

Looking for an answer since Machado crumpled to the ground on Aug. 11 and then again when Davis was banned on Sept. 12, the Orioles have yet to find a solution with the Division Series beginning in less than a week.

While many look at the Orioles’ league-leading home run total and improved pitching numbers, defense remains the heart of their success over the last three seasons. Baltimore ranks third in the AL in team ERA but only 10th in strikeouts, a simple reflection of how hurlers pitch to contact and how important the defense has been. Entering Saturday, the Orioles were tied for first in fielding percentage and had committed the second-fewest number of errors in the AL.

In October when such a premium is placed on pitching and defense in typically low-scoring games, the Orioles defense will need to be at its best as they begin a journey to try to win their first World Series since 1983.

You just hope the uncertainty at the hot corner doesn’t burn their chances.

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Nothing typical about these AL East champion Orioles

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Nothing typical about these AL East champion Orioles

Posted on 17 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — For years, the discrepancy was clear as the Orioles wallowed at the bottom of the American League East.

Lagging behind in payroll and player development, they looked up at the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays while being stuck in neutral with no apparent direction or plan of how to get better. The Orioles didn’t spend like New York or Boston and couldn’t cultivate their own talent like Tampa Bay while suffering through a seemingly endless run of fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the toughest division in baseball year in and year out.

When the Orioles finally broke through Tuesday night with an 8-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays to win their first AL East title since 1997, it was an atypical sum of the parts that put them on top. Yes, their payroll is higher now than it was for years, but it still remains in the middle of the pack and far below those of the Yankees and Red Sox. Their farm system has produced a number of key players, but it isn’t the well-oiled machine like those of other top organizations in baseball.

It started with Andy MacPhail using some savvy trades and top draft picks to put together a core group of All-Star talent and continued with the arrival of manager Buck Showalter and current executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who began filling in the gaps with below-the-radar additions and, finally, a couple high-profile free agents this past winter. What’s resulted is a club that’s won more than 90 games for the second time in three years and appears poised to make a deep run in October.

The journey certainly hasn’t been easy as the season-ending injuries to catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado and the recent 25-game suspension of first baseman Chris Davis have provided easy excuses for the Orioles to wilt down the stretch. Not all has gone to plan as the $50 million free-agent addition of starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez has been an utter failure in the first season of a four-year commitment.

But Tuesday’s win provided the perfect microcosm of what’s made the Orioles continue to thrive in 2014.

You can expect the unexpected.

Making his first start in a month after being dumped from the starting rotation, Jimenez overcame a shaky beginning to pitch five solid innings to earn just his fifth win of the season. Ironically, it was the kind of important game in which the Orioles envisioned Jimenez pitching when they signed him in February.

A three-run home run in the first inning came off the bat of Steve Pearce, the journeyman who was designated for assignment in April before being re-signed a few days later when Davis went on the disabled list. The 31-year-old has gone on to hit a career-high 18 homers, which is more than he’d hit in his first seven major league seasons combined. More than any other player, Pearce might be the ultimate symbol of the 2014 Orioles when the final chapter is written sometime next month.

A solo shot came an inning later from third baseman Jimmy Paredes, who was claimed off waivers by the Orioles during spring training and then lost to the Kansas City Royals a couple days later. Duquette eventually reacquired the 25-year-old in time for him to provide a handful of big hits in his few weeks with the club.

T.J. McFarland pitched a scoreless sixth inning. He was the Rule 5 selection the Orioles stubbornly retained on the 25-man roster all last season.

Darren O’Day provided 1 1/3 innings of excellent relief as he has for the last three seasons. The sidearm pitcher was claimed off waivers from Texas before Duquette was even hired three years ago.

Left field Alejandro De Aza hit the three-run triple in the seventh to bust the game open after he was acquired for two nondescript minor-league pitchers at the waiver trade deadline late last month.

Dominant lefty Andrew Miller struck out the only two hitters he faced and has been exactly what the Orioles envisioned when they acquired the best relief pitcher on the market while the rest of baseball lauded Oakland and Detroit for acquiring Jon Lester and David Price, respectively. The Orioles now own a better record than the Athletics and the Tigers.

When Pearce fielded the final out for the club’s 91st win of the season, it was just the latest example of the sum being much greater than the parts appear on paper.

There hasn’t been a set formula apparent to the rest of the baseball world that explains the Orioles’ ascent over the last few years, but they play great defense, hit home runs, and have pitched as well as anyone since early June. Those strengths have allowed them to overcome the loss of All-Star position players and failed free-agent acquisitions.

For Duquette and Showalter, the question isn’t who is the best player as much as it’s who is the best fit. It hasn’t been about spending money as much as it’s been about making the smartest decision.

And it’s been perfectly imperfect as Baltimore wrapped up the division title with 11 games to spare.

Whether they have 11 wins in them next month remains to be seen, but the journey to this point has been both difficult and overwhelmingly rewarding.

And it paid off with a celebration at Camden Yards Tuesday night while the rest of the American League East was looking up at the Orioles for a change.

 

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