- Eddie Matz
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BALTIMORE -- Don’t look now, but the Baltimore Orioles' offense is finally awakening from its seemingly interminable midsummer slumber. For the second night in a row, the Orioles, who moved to within a game of the second AL wild card spot with an 8-7 win over the Detroit Tigers, mounted a huge comeback. For the second night in a row, they tallied double-digit hits. For the second night in a row, they scored eight runs. It’s a turnaround that’s long overdue.
Heading into the Detroit series, Baltimore had produced just 77 runs in 23 July games, the second-lowest total in the American League. The culprit? An almost unfathomable run of ineptitude in clutch situations. According to ESPN Stats & Information, through June, the O’s were hitting a robust .317 with runners in scoring position, the best mark in baseball. But from July 1 through July 29, they plummeted to just .158 with runners in scoring position, dead last in the majors. Over the past two nights, though, it’s been a completely different story.
“Right now, guys are just clicking and feeling good with their approach at the plate,” said catcher Matt Wieters, who went 2-for-2 on Thursday -- including a seventh-inning, pinch-hit RBI single -- then followed that up with a double and a walk in four plate appearances Friday. “I’ve always thought that hitting was contagious.”
The Orioles’ performance would seem to back up Wieters’ theory.
After a brutal July in which no Baltimore regular managed to hit .300, the Birds' bats -- especially the big ones -- all seem to be stirring at the same time. So far, in the first two games of the Detroit series, Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Davis have combined to go 11-for-24 with four home runs, while scoring nine runs and driving in 13. Along with Jimmy Paredes, who batted second on Friday night, the Orioles’ 1 through 4 hitters reached base 11 times via hit or walk.
The entire offense seems to be following suit: Coupled with a seven-run explosion earlier this week against Atlanta, the O's have scored seven or more runs in three of four games. It's the first time this season they’ve accomplished that.
When asked about his team’s offensive outburst on Friday, Buck Showalter chalked it up to being patient at the plate.
“Selectivity was big,” the O’s skipper said.
Being discriminating isn’t something this current Orioles vintage is known for. In fact, they’ve been about as choosy as a drunk college kid at Golden Corral. Heading into Friday, Birds batters had whiffed 851 times against only 251 walks. That works out to a 3.29 K/BB ratio, the second-worst mark in baseball (the White Sox are at 3.39). During the first two games of the Detroit series, though, it’s been a different story, as O’s hitters have fanned just 11 times and drawn nine free passes (a 1.22 ratio).
Granted, the recent success has come against a struggling Tigers pitching staff that ranks 14th in the American League with a 1.36 WHIP, but still, after a dreadful, month-long stretch like the one the Baltimore offense has endured, they’ll take it where they can get it. What’s more, the recent surge has come without a legitimate leadoff hitter, a problem the Orioles might have finally solved with the acquisition of Gerardo Parra.
The former Brewers outfielder was acquired just before the trade deadline in exchange for minor league hurler Zach Davies. Although he didn’t arrive in Baltimore until close to game time and wasn’t in Friday’s lineup, the 28-year-old is an experienced top-of-the-order hitter who should enable Showalter to drop Machado down to the 2- or 3-hole, where the slugging third baseman is a more natural fit. In the midst of a career year, Parra’s current slash line is .328/.369/.517. Even if he comes back to earth -- which can be expected after a July in which he put up video game numbers (.435 avg., 1.212 OPS) -- he should still be a significant upgrade for an Orioles team that’s been getting bubkes from the four-headed LF monster known as Stevis Loughmold and next to nothing out of any leadoff hitter not named Manny.
“His presence at the top of the lineup should be additive,” general manager Dan Duquette said of Parra. “That’s an ingredient we’ve been missing.”
And one that should only help the Birds’ bats to continue cooking.