BALTIMORE -- If tonight's lineup is any indication, Manny Machado's days as a leadoff hitter could be numbered. After hitting first in the Baltimore Orioles' lineup for the majority of the season, the 23-year-old third baseman finds himself batting third for tonight's series opener against the Braves.
It marks the fourth straight game that Buck Showalter has penciled in the All-Star third baseman at the three-hole in the lineup. Prior to this season, Machado had never hit third as a big leaguer.
Of course, he'd hardly ever hit leadoff either (two games in 2013). But the free agency departure of Nick Markakis -- who, by the way, makes his Baltimore return with the Braves tonight -- combined with the early-season struggles of Alejandro De Aza (traded to Boston in June after hitting just .214 in 30 games) led to Machado and his team-leading .365 on base percentage becoming entrenched at the top of the O's order.
It's a seemingly unnatural spot for Machado, a 2015 Home Run Derby participant and one of the game's emerging sluggers: Of the hitters ranked among the American League top 10 in OPS, Machado (currently eighth at .890) is the only who has consistently hit leadoff.
"We've had to do some things that aren't conventional," said Buck Showalter earlier today.
But this past weekend at Tampa, after watching his team average just 3.2 runs over its first 17 July games, the Orioles' skipper moved Machado -- whose 21 home runs are tied for ninth in the American League, but who has nine solo shots among his last 10 jacks -- into the three hole. Although Machado has failed to impress in his new slot (2-for-12, no extra-base hits, no RBIs), his replacements in the top spot have fared even worse: Jimmy Paredes and David Lough have combined to go 2-for-13 with no walks and six whiffs.
Tonight, outfielder Nolan Reimold -- who boasts a .324 OBP for his career and hasn't batted leadoff since May 2013 -- is atop the O's order.
For what it's worth, Showalter is fully aware of the conundrum his recently anemic offense faces: "If you hit Manny first, who hits third? If you hit him third, who hits first," the manager asked.
With the July 31st trade deadline just days away, leadoff is certainly one place the Orioles -- who currently sit three and a half games behind Minnesota for the second wild-card spot -- could use an upgrade. In the meantime, the revolving door will continue.