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Monday, September 29, 2014

Next Man Up: Baltimore Orioles to play in October despite injuries

By on 9/29/2014 05:00:00 PM

At the beginning of the baseball season, no one in Baltimore was prepared for the Orioles to have two devastating injuries and still make it to postseason play; no one, that is, except for the men in the home clubhouse at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.  Serious injuries to All-Stars Matt Wieters and Manny Machado, as well as various injuries to many in the lineup throughout the season, forced the Orioles to adopt the mantra of ‘Next Man Up’. 

In early May, All-Star catcher Matt Wieters was placed on the disabled list as a result of a right elbow strain. Wieters and the team believed that he would be able to return after resting the elbow, but it was soon determined that he would need season-ending Tommy John surgery on June 16.  The estimated recovery time after his successful surgery was nine months.  Before Wieters went on the disabled list on May 10, the Orioles were 19-14; they would end the season at 96-66 and Wieters would be named as a starter to the All-Star 2014 Game, despite his injury. 

Much of the Orioles' success behind the plate after Wieters left can be attributed to catchers Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley.  Joseph, 28, made his Major League debut on May 7 after playing in the Orioles minor league system since being drafted in 2008.  His abilities, both offensively and defensively, quickly shined with the Major League club. He ended the season batting .207/.264/.354 with a .618 OPS.  Although Joseph's final line does not look all that impressive, he set a franchise record for catchers when he hit home runs in five consecutive games in early August.  Defensively he had a fielding percentage of .993 as catcher while throwing out 40% of base runners (23-for-57) when the league average is about 27% of base runners.  Nick Hundley came to the team from the San Diego Padres via a trade after Wieters injury.  Hundley, who has been in the Major Leagues for eight seasons, batted .243/.273/.358 with a .631 OPS.  In the 50 games he caught, he had a .996 fielding percentage and only two errors.  Baltimore native Steve Clevenger also started in 25 games with the Orioles as catcher, batting .225/.289/.261.  Defensively, he had a .929 fielding percentage and only made one error.

Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado, who started the season on the disabled list, suffered the other significant injury on August 11 when he sprained a ligament in his right knee.  The Orioles were lucky he did not injure his left knee, which he hurt last September, but he still required season-ending surgery on August 27 to repair the right knee ligament.  The Gold Glove third baseman was hitting .278, with 12 home runs in 82 games, before his injury.  Replacing Machado has proven to be harder than it was to replace Wieters.  Chris Davis, Ryan Flaherty, Kelly Johnson, Jonathan Schoop, Alexi Casilla and Jimmy Paredes all started at third base in Machado’s absence. 

In addition to these season ending injuries, ten other players spent time on the disabled list, including four pitchers (Nick Markakis, Steve Pearce, J.J. Hardy, Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Davis, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Tommy Hunter, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop,)

The Orioles were the first team to clinch a division title and guarantee that they would be playing in October.  Clinching on September 16 allowed them the opportunity to rest the regular players who were dealing with the aches and pains that come with the end of the regular season.  Manager Buck Showalter juggled the lineup daily in the remaining games but the Orioles noticeably struggled defensively, with 14 errors in 11 games.

The Orioles hope the defensive difficulties will be behind them in the postseason.  Third base appears to be the biggest question going into the ALDS.  With the exception of saying Chris Tillman will start Game One, Showalter has not released the roster for the first series against the Detroit Tigers.  Most likely, Flaherty will get most of the starts at the hot corner with Schoop getting most of the starts at second base.  Johnson, Casilla and Paredes don’t have the success at third that Flaherty has shown this year and Davis is not eligible for the ALDS roster because of a 25-game-suspension which will not end until the ninth game of the postseason.

Coming out of Spring Training, no one expected two of the Orioles All-Stars to not make it to the end of the season because of injury.  Every player in the Orioles organization, including those in the minors, played with the mentality of ‘Next Man Up’ which helped the Major League team end the season 12 games ahead of the second place Yankees in the American League East.  The Orioles have shown they are both resilient and focused on the team goal of not only reaching October baseball, but also bringing the World Series trophy home to Baltimore for the first time since 1983.

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