Yesterday, the Orioles announced that Manny Machado has a right knee ligament sprain. The severity of this injury (and therefore the length of time Machado could miss) varies. As birdland waits for news to hear how long Machado could be out, I find it fascinating how Oriole fans are coping with the issue.
The initial reaction after Manny Machado went down with another knee injury on Monday was a combination of shock and anger. I had never witnessed so much profanity on my twitter feed (thank you @TheCloser53). However, it wasn’t long after the initial shock and anger that I witnessed and talked to many Oriole fans who were going through and are still currently going through the first stage of grieving: Denial. Yes, many Oriole fans have taken on the mantra of “next man up” or referenced Baltimore’s 21-15 record without Machado this season. Yes, these are the words fans in denial. These are the words of those who delude themselves into thinking the Orioles can still be a really good team without Manny Machado; unfortunately, this is not the case.
All the talk after the first half of the season was about how much the Orioles had overcome. The Matt Wieter’s injury, JJ Hardy’s lack of power, the struggles of Ubaldo Jimenez, Tommy Hunter not being an effective closer and Chris Davis’s year long slump are just some of the factors the Orioles had to overcome this year. All of these factors remain, yet add to this ever-growing pile the Manny Machado injury and at some point it just becomes too much to overcome. And let’s not forget how good Manny Machado has been.
Offensively, after coming off a knee injury, Machado struggled early in the season, but in June he started to turn it around. In the month of July, amongst the starters, Machado led the Orioles in batting average (.333), on base percentage (.356) and slugging percentage (.565). Impressive, but apparently he was just getting warmed up because so far in August, Machado has been hitting .379 with an OBP of .429. A quick glance of Machado’s overall numbers would lead one to believe that he is having an okay offensive year, but they only reason that his numbers are just okay is a result of his horrendous start in May and most of June. As of late, Machado has been one of our best offensive players, but of course with Machado it’s never just about his offense.
Defensively, Machado makes plays that no one has any business making (just ask Albert Pujols). His defense becomes all the more important because the Orioles do not possess a dominant pitching staff. The Orioles have an average pitching staff that relies heavily on its above average defense. Manny Machado is the best defensive player on the team. Losing Machado not only worsens the defense at third base, but it also opens the Orioles up to weakening themselves at other positions (2nd and 1st) in order to cover up for the loss of Machado.
The possibilities of who replaces Machado at third remain a short and unimpressive list. Chris Davis is one of the leading options. Much has been made of Davis’s struggles at the plate as he’s batting a mere .197. Moving Davis to third also forces Showalter to put Steve Pearce at first. Steve Pearce has been terrible since the All Star break batting .149 with zero homeruns. Well this isn’t an appealing option but there are other options. Schoop and his .216 batting average could play third, though Schoop did struggle there at the beginning of the year committing 4 errors in only 43 tries at third. Schoop to third would also allow Flaherty and his .202 average to be a regular at second base. This would give you an unhealthy combination of 3 of the four infielders batting around .200 (yikes!).
Recently, there has been talks about third baseman Cord Phelps being called up from Norfolk if/when Machado goes to the DL. This could be a good option until you look at Phelps's numbers. The 27 year old's .258 batting average looks pretty decent compared to a couple short stints in the majors where he batted .159. The fact that Cord Phelps is the next man up should give Oriole fans a hint into severity of the issue.
The Orioles have some depth in the corner outfield positions, they have depth in their starting rotation, and they have depth in their bullpen. The Orioles do not have depth in their infield. The loss of Manny Machado is devastating. The only good news lies is that the Orioles played so well after the All Star break that they have built some breathing room atop the AL East. Of course the bad news is the Orioles just lost one of their best players and the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees continue to defy the odds and play good, winning baseball, and oh yeah with this unbalanced schedule, the Orioles still have to play those two teams a combined 15 more times.
The Orioles are still in the driver seat of the AL East, but if Machado is out for any significant amount of time combined with all the other factors the Orioles have to overcome, the Machado injury could be the straw the breaks the camels back.