The Baltimore Orioles have played 54 games and Manny Machado has played in all 54. The amazing Machado fact, however, isn't that he hasn't missed a game but that he's hit 25 doubles -- he hit another one Thursday night, a grounder down the third-base line. That puts him on pace for 75; the all-time record was set by the not-legendary Earl Webb for the Red Sox in 1931.
We can get carried away with early season "on pace" totals -- Jason Grilli is on pace for 66 saves! Patrick Corbin is on pace to go 24-0! -- but Machado's pace is pretty fun, in part because it seems possible, however slim, that he could challenge Webb's record. Machado's Orioles teammate Brian Roberts hit 56 just four years ago, proving you can hit a lot of doubles in Camden Yards and it's easy to jump to the conclusion that Machado could hit 11 more doubles than Roberts.
Still, the odds are he won't do it. Just last year Joey Votto had 22 doubles through the Reds' first 54 games, which put him on a pace for 66. He got hurt but had fallen off by then anyway. Roberts had only 16 through 54 games in 2009. Craig Biggio had a couple seasons where it appeared he could make a run at 67 -- he had 38 doubles in 87 games at the All-Star break in 1999 and 35 in 87 games in 1994. He finished with 56 in '99 and the strike hit in '94, but he'd fallen off pace by then. Lyle Overbay had 37 at the break in 2004 (finished with 53) and John Olerud had 37 in 1993 (finished with 54). Todd Helton hit 59 in 2000, the highest total since 1936, but was never on serious Webb pace.
The guy who appeared most likely to chase down Webb was Edgar Martinez in 1996. Through the Mariners' first 54 games -- Martinez played in all of them -- he had 29 doubles. At the All-Star break he had played in all 85 of Seattle's games and belted out 42 doubles, which put him on pace for 80 (!). Even if he slowed down just a bit it appeared that he would do it. ESPN.com started running an Edgar Martinez Doubles Watch (hey, we were based in Seattle then).
Then, on July 20, Lou Piniella had the brilliant idea to start Martinez at third base for the first time that season. He collided with catcher John Marzano on a foul pop up and bruised his ribs, landing on the disabled list and ending a streak of 293 consecutive games played. Martinez missed 22 games. Upon returning he wasn't the same hitter, batting .309 but with just eight doubles in 44 games. He finished with 52 in 139 games.
Machado has one huge advantage over Martinez -- he can run, so has the ability to stretch singles into doubles that may generate a few extra two-baggers. Besides that, he has another advantage: He doesn't walk much. Martinez had 123 walks that year but Machado has just 12 so far, so he's putting a lot more balls in play.
Also, he has power but not too much power (yet), as with five home runs he's on pace for 15. That matches the Roberts mold as he had 16 home runs in '09. Plus, pitchers are still trying to figure out the best way to get Machado out. He's hit nine doubles off fastballs and those are the ones he lines into the gaps -- seven of the nine to left- and right-center. He yanks "soft" stuff down the line. Only five of his 25 doubles have been groundballs, meaning he's hitting line drives or deep flies for most of his two-base hits.
Odds are that Machado falls short, of course, that pitchers find a small hole in his swing or learn to take advantage of his aggressiveness. Still, this has become one of the intriguing little sub-stories of 2013, the breakout performance of another young star. Can he do it? What do you think?