BALTIMORE — The most surprising aspect of the Orioles’ record-tying 26-hit showing in an 18-2 win over Oakland on Sunday was how little the white-hot Chris Davis factored into the demolition.
It was still a good afternoon for the first baseman as he went 2-for-5 and drove in his league-leading 89th run of the season as the Orioles won their third straight game over the Athletics, but his performance paled in comparison to what we saw in consecutive walk-off wins on Friday and Saturday. After hitting a go-ahead home run in an eventual 13-inning victory in the series opener, Davis followed that feat with a two-homer game on Saturday, including the winning blast in the bottom of the ninth.
To put it mildly, the 29-year-old is seeing the ball well these days with an incredible 15 home runs in the last 23 games entering Sunday’s action. It’s a stretch reminiscent of what he put together in 2013 on his way to a club record 53 long balls.
Davis is now on pace to hit 47 home runs, the kind of territory no one expected him to reach again after he hit an anemic .196 and just 26 homers last season.
“Anytime you’re swinging the bat well, you feel good about where you are,” Davis said on Saturday night. “I try not to read too much into it. I know as quickly as it comes, it can go. You just try to take it one day at a time and stay with your approach.”
After Davis’ nightmarish 2014 ended prematurely with a 25-game suspension for unauthorized Adderall, some questioned whether the Orioles even should have tendered the 29-year-old a contract in his final year of arbitration. It was fair to question whether Davis would be worth $12 million following a season in which he hit rock bottom on the field and in the public eye.
A reasonable expectation for Davis laid out over the winter was a return to his 2012 level of production in which he hit 33 homers and drove in 85 runs with an .827 on-base plus slugging percentage. If he wasn’t as bad as he was in 2014 and not as great as he was two years ago, the truth fell somewhere in the middle, right?
But in a contract year, Davis has already outdone those 2012 numbers with 34 home runs and an .895 OPS, to go along with a very respectable .261 batting average in 473 plate appearances. The higher average is especially impressive when acknowledging the extreme infield shifts continuing to be employed against him.
“He’s done this before,” manager Buck Showalter said. “He had good periods last year, he had good periods the year before, and over in Texas. The thing I’ve been most proud of is where his batting average is.”
Despite much handwringing over Davis’ strikeout totals and low average, Showalter’s assessment of the slugger’s run in Baltimore is spot on. There has been far more good than bad in Davis’ four full years with the Orioles as he’s homered at least 33 times in three of those seasons.
In a pitching-rich era in which offense is at a greater premium, can the Orioles afford to let Davis walk away this offseason? Part of a free-agent-to-be trio that includes left-handed starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and catcher Matt Wieters, Davis now appears to be the most appealing of the three to keep in Baltimore for the long haul.
The slugger says he isn’t dwelling on his future right now.
“I’d love to stay here,” Davis said. “I told you guys in spring training I wasn’t going to talk about contracts this year. We have way too much on our plate right now [and] too much to focus on. I feel like it’s selfish for me to sit here and talk about my future with the team when we’re trying to make the postseason. We’ll address it when the time comes.”
The excuses are plentiful for why the Orioles won’t do it.
Even if Davis cools considerably over the final six weeks of the season, the left-handed hitter would likely command the richest contract in club history.
It will be a headache negotiating with super agent Scott Boras.
The memory of his poor 2014 and his Adderall suspension are examples of his baggage that will always be in the back of your mind.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette dragged his feet over offering Nelson Cruz a fourth year last offseason, but Davis is nearly six years younger and has hit more homers than the former Oriole over the last four seasons. In addition to age, Davis brings more value defensively with the ability to play both first base and right field at a solid level.
At a forum with Orioles season-ticket holders on Saturday, Duquette said the organization wants to re-sign Davis this offseason and indicated that he would be a priority. It’s clear at this point that Davis won’t be cheap, but his strengths are worth having with no acceptable replacement at first base waiting in the wings.
With some high salaries coming off the books this winter, the payroll flexibility will be there — if the Orioles choose to use it — to make a serious run at keeping Davis.
But the price continues to climb with every mammoth home run.
If you’re going to pay a premium for any of the Orioles’ big three free agents, Davis is the clear choice, even with his sometimes-frustrating flaws. It will be intriguing to see what the rest of his season brings as the Orioles try to qualify for the postseason for the third time in four years.
“It’s just words right now,” said Davis of Duquette’s comments on Saturday. “My focus is on the field trying to do everything I can to help us win a game.”
Just words, indeed, as Duquette and ownership will have the opportunity to step to the plate to avoid having another slugger walk away.
Fans can only hope the Orioles won’t whiff again, but they have every right to be skeptical after what transpired last winter.