Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Beltre shows up suspect Orioles pitching
By David Schoenfield
Hey, it's not like Adrian Beltre hasn't been stiffed for the All-Star Game before. Back in 2004 when he was with the Dodgers, he was hitting .315 with 22 home runs and 56 RBIs at the break but didn't make the All-Star team, getting squeezed out at third base by starter Scott Rolen and backup Mike Lowell. Beltre would put up even bigger numbers in the second half and finish second in the MVP vote. But he wouldn't make his first All-Star Game until 2010 in his one season with the Red Sox after leaving the Safeco Field dungeon.
After putting up big numbers the past two seasons for the Rangers, Beltre finally played his first postseason games since that '04 season and, not coincidentally, finally began escaping the "most underrated" label. Amazing what playing for a playoff team will do for your reputation. People have even started viewing him as a potential Hall of Famer, given his reputation in the field and the possibility he'll reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. He's just 34, aging well and on track for another terrific season. He went 4-for-4 with two home runs and five RBIs in Tuesday's 8-4 win over the Orioles, and suddenly, his season totals are 20 big ones and 52 RBIs to go with his .319 average.
He won't be going to Citi Field next week for the All-Star Game, however, which isn't an insult as much as a matter of the luck of his happening to play the most loaded position in the majors right now: third base, American League, at which Miguel Cabrera and Manny Machado made the All-Star team. As a result, Beltre, Evan Longoria and Josh Donaldson will get to spend a few days fishing.
Beltre is in a little different station this season: With Josh Hamilton gone, you can make the case that Texas is Beltre's team. Well, not in the sense that he owns the Rangers team, but in the sense that he's the guy of whom opposing pitchers will say -- if they actually say such things -- "We can't let this guy beat us." Beltre never has really had to be "the man" on the Rangers before, but without Hamilton and with this Rangers team scoring half a run per game fewer than last season, it's hardly the same power attack we saw in Texas in recent seasons.
However, Beltre did beat the Orioles on this night. He led off the second with a home run as Zach Britton tried to get ahead with a first-pitch, middle-of-the-plate 90 mph fastball. Beltre doesn't miss middle-of-the-plate fastballs, and he crushed this one 411 feet to center field. After surrendering a single to Beltre in the fourth, Britton tried to sneak a 1-0, middle-of-the-plate fastball past Beltre, or maybe figured he'd be taking. Bad idea. Beltre was sitting on that high fastball and tomahawked it on a line to left for a three-run homer. In the seventh, the Orioles had learned their lesson and intentionally walked Beltre. He added an RBI single in the ninth.
Pitchers try to work Beltre outside -- he's pretty much a dead-pull hitter for power, as only two of his 20 home runs have gone to the right of center field (including his first one Tuesday, which went just to the right of center). But he still hits for a good average on pitches on the outside part of the plate, hitting .311 on the season due to his ability to drive the ball to right-center for base hits and doubles. And if you miss over the plate, he can punish you.
Britton's inability to locate those fastballs pinpoints the larger issue with the Orioles: Their rotation remains a big question mark. The Rangers pounded new acquisition Scott Feldman on Monday. Britton now owns a 4.76 ERA and, after getting no strikeouts against the Rangers, has just 12 in 34 innings. He's not going to succeed with that ratio, and while his fastball has adequate velocity, he's just not the same promising left-hander of a couple of years ago.
The Baltimore rotation now sports a 4.85 ERA, 27th in the majors, and even the spectacular hitting from Chris Davis and all-around brilliance from Machado won't be able to mask that over a full 162 games. Orioles starters allow the most home runs per nine innings, and while some of that is a Camden Yards effect, it's a staff that gives up a lot of fly balls and doesn't register a lot of strikeouts. That can work in the spacious outfields in Seattle or San Francisco, but it's not going to work very well in Baltimore. Wei-Yin Chen returns Wednesday for his first start since May 12, and the Orioles are desperate for him pitch as well as he was before straining his oblique.
Chen's return essentially bumps Britton from the rotation, which now looks like Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Jason Hammel and Feldman. If the Orioles can keep those five guys healthy -- they've used 13 different starters -- and Chen pitches well and Hammel starts pitching like he did last season, maybe that's enough, even lacking an ace. But I get the feeling the O's will need Davis to keep hitting a lot of home runs.