Consider me skeptical that the loss of Chris Davis for 25 games is all that debilitating of a blow to the Orioles postseason chances. Sure his 26 home runs from the left side provide a nice complement to the right-handed bomb hitting machine otherwise known as Nelson Cruz, and with Steve Pearce having a career year hitting behind Davis, it gave opposing managers an interesting dilemma in late game matchups. Do you bring in a righty? Now a lefty? Pearce has been a nightmare to left-handers this year, so we better not leave him in now. You could just see Buck Showalter grin, just a little, filling out the lineup card.
Now? Well, the lineup leans a little more right, and if Friday’s makeup game against the Yankees is any indication of Showalter’s thinking then the O’s will feature four straight right-handed batters, with lefties such as Nick Markakis at the top of the order and the possibility of Ryan Flaherty at the bottom. If Jonathan Schoop, another righty, the lineup gets skewed even more so. Davis would have provided a nice contrast, but Pearce will do just fine playing first, and Davis’ line of .196/.300/.404 wasn’t exactly the stuff of legends like when he was last year’s darling.
Where it truly hurts is at third where Davis had been playing regularly of late. Showalter has the advantage of having both Flaherty and Kelly Johnson to play there now, which won’t hurt the club all that much in clinching the East. They’re up 10 with 17 to play and have the opportunity to eliminate the Yankees this weekend (the O’s won Game 1 of their Friday double-header on a walk off two run double by Jimmy Paredes). The photo below, taken about 20 minutes after the game, did not happen:
When it comes right down to it, however, clinching the East hasn’t been a legitimate worry since early August when Toronto lost six of seven (two to Baltimore) and the O’s found themselves up five. Showalter has these Orioles firmly believing in a “one game at a time” mentality, but it’s nearing time the team will clinch the franchise’s first East crown since 1997, sip a little champagne, and ready for whoever comes out of the Central division’s meat grinder.
This could have been the weekend for that, and this 10-game home stand will certainly provide the Baltimore fans a legitimate reason to cheer. Dark clouds have dotted the Baltimore sports scene this week, but things were all sunshine and blue skies for the Star-Spangled Spectacular. Tall ships are in the harbor, President Obama is expected to be in town, and if everyone was celebrating the bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore the O’s were going to win this season’s war against the Yankees. The Davis suspension puts a damper on things, the looming gray cloud in the ALDS distance.
Davis may have been struggling, but it’s not as though Johnson has been worlds better with his .210/.292/.353 line with six home runs. Flaherty filled in nicely for J.J. Hardy, and he’s certainly a guy you can trust in the field, but his batting line of .219/.278/.347 somehow makes Johnson look all the more appealing. To be fair, Flaherty has been hitting the ball much better of late, going 8-for-18 in last four games with a 4-for-5 against Boston on Wednesday, but how long is that going to last? Still, Showalter has options, and I don’t see the impact of losing Davis hurting all that much overall. The team is 14-4 without him on the season, and the much ballyhooed “Next Man Up” philosophy seems very real for this club. They’ve withstood the loss of Matt Wieters and Manny Machado and Hardy playing with back issues this season that has sapped him of his power. The team will be fine.
What’s the best case scenario for the O’s, however? They have losing records against both the Royals (3-4) and the Tigers (1-5), but wouldn’t you rather avoid the Tigers and their right-handed dominant starting pitching? You certainly would hate to face the never ending stream of power arms the Royals can throw your way in late-inning situations, but if you’re tending to feature right-handed bats, the opportunity to bypass Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez (close to returning apparently) and either Rick Porcello or Justin Verlander.1 Oh, who am I kidding? There’s no way I want any piece of James Shields, Yordano Ventura (how much will he have left in the tank, though), and Danny Duffy when he returns. Duffy absolutely dominated the O’s in an outing in May, going seven innings while allowing just two hits. Once it gets to the seventh, you’re seeing a steady diet of 96-97 mph heaters. No thanks. Not in a five-game series.
So, yes, Orioles fans the suspension really sucks, and maybe it just seems unfair that the universe is piling on. At least this time, you can feel okay for cheering for a player when he returns, or at least the rest of us won’t cringe because of it.