When Baltimore Orioles' third baseman Manny Machado injured his right knee on an awkward swing in Monday night's win over the New York Yankees, many fans had flashbacks to when Machado was carted off the field late in the 2013 season in Tampa Bay after he crumpled to the ground. Machado eventually needed surgery on his left knee, and he wasn't able to return to the Orioles' lineup until May.
Machado got off to a slow start when he returned, posting a slash line of .220/.271/.284 in May and botching a few routine plays in the field that he would normally make. But it wasn't realistic to expect that he would immediately return to star form after such a serious injury, and Machado eventually shed the rust and turned things around. He has been playing strong defense at third base, and his offensive numbers have improved each month:
May: .252 wOBA
June: .338 wOBA
July: .394 wOBA
August: .416 wOBA
Despite missing all of April and that slow start, Machado currently ranks fifth among Orioles' position players in FanGraphs' version of Wins Above Replacement at 2.3. He's right behind Nelson Cruz (2.4) but ahead of Nick Markakis (2.1), who has played in every game and has accumulated 190 more plate appearances.
So Machado has certainly played a key role in the Orioles' 68-50 record and six-game lead in the American League East. But the Orioles are going to be without Machado for at least a little while, as it was reported Tuesday night that he has a right knee ligament sprain. More information will be provided on the severity of Machado's injury on Wednesday, but a stint on the disabled list is not out of the question.
It appears that Machado has avoided a second major injury to one of his knees, but his timetable at the moment is uncertain. Going forward, the Orioles will need someone to play third base. Buck Showalter has a few options. After Machado left the game on Monday, Chris Davis entered the game as his replacement at third. So Davis could spend some time at both corner infield positions while Machado is out. Ryan Flaherty has shown that he can at least handle the position competently defensively, and Jonathan Schoop spent some time in the minors playing both second and third base. The Orioles also have some third base options in Triple-A Norfolk: Steve Lombardozzi, Jimmy Paredes and Cord Phelps. (Phelps appears to be the call-up, if needed.) And it's not unreasonable that the Orioles would at least think about acquiring a player from outside the organization who has cleared revocable waivers, though that would be a drastic alternative.
Obviously none of those options is ideal. Davis is hitting .197 -- although does have four home runs in his past seven games -- and the O's have tried to give him a day off every now and then, which they may not be able to do now. He's started 68 games at third in his career but has a .913 fielding percentage and hasn't played there much since starting 17 games in 2011. Flaherty and possibly Schoop would probably be all right defensively, but they have been awful at the plate. Realistically, the Orioles would be grateful to get by with even average or below-average production while Machado recovers.
Machado is a fantastic talent, and the Orioles won't be able to replace him if he ends up missing significant time. Thankfully, the Orioles have already banked plenty of wins and a sizable division lead, and they'd have to play pretty terrible baseball the rest of the season to blow it. Of course anything can happen and no lead is truly safe, but if the O's aren't able to hold onto their division lead, it won't be just because Machado injured his knee.
Matt Kremnitzer is a writer for Camden Depot, the Orioles blog in the Sweetspot Network.