A couple of summers ago, my dad looked at the Orioles' schedule and happened to notice the team was heading to Kansas City for a three-game series with the Royals. Hailing from Colorado, the chances of seeing the Birds in person is far too low, so we decided to make a boys' trip and drive the eight hours to Kansas City.
Drinking Boulevard wheat beers and watching Scott Feldman masterfully carve through the Royals' lineup for eight innings was in itself worth the trip, but throughout the evening, this guy I'd never seen, or heard of before, turned out to be the only headache for Feldman in what ended up being a dominating start. Of course, that guy was David Lough, who went 2-4 with a run and an RBI.
He sent line drives throughout the spacious Kauffman Stadium outfield, and even when he made outs, they weren't cheap. Lough tracked down fly balls, showcased his speed, and in what seemed to be a regular July baseball game, this skinny, 5'11 outfielder made some weird impression on me.
That impression grew to excitement when the O's traded for Lough in December of that year. In his first full season with the Orioles last season, Lough was good not great in 112 games, slashing .247/.309/.385 with a low strikeout rate and a team-high eight stolen bases. His numbers were right around league-average in most categories, because, as the statistics suggest, he produced much like an average player.
As we've said before too many times, 2014 is not 2015, and the left field position has been a showcase for what's been ailing a dying offense. Alejandro De Aza had his chance, but it's hard for a guy with speed to maintain credibility when his biggest issue is putting the bat to the ball. Travis Snider was a decent low-cost pickup, and his hot start at the plate had O's fans yelling "LUNCHBOX" every chance they could, but as of late, his every now and again singles, epic TOOTBLANS and continuous strikeouts are forcing fans to wonder what the hell he's packing in said lunchbox.
Yes, Lough has been used primarily this season as a spot-starter and 9th inning defensive replacement, but on same plane of my first impression of him, there is a weird feeling that makes me think there is something more to Lough than simply being the third wheel in the Orioles' patented outfield celebration. The carousel of Baltimore's left field position is now David Lough's to keep, and for the best of the team, he appears to be the obvious option for the Orioles going forward.
Firstly, Buck Showalter covets defense, and with a pitching staff that doesn't have the put-away stuff to limit defensive chances, it's essential to have speed and instincts in the field, both of which Lough has proven in limited chances. Snider isn't a liability in the outfield, but Lough just has a more natural feel for tracking down fly balls.
As for the bat, Lough's been limited in opportunities so far this season, going 12-54 (.222) in 34 games, with his biggest moment of the season being a walk-off home run on April 25 against the Red Sox. From strictly a skill-set point of view, there is no hitter on the Orioles' roster that compares to Lough, who is a slap-type hitter that can spray the ball to all fields. He's a tough guy to strikeout, and with further playing time and hopefully more comfortability, Lough has the ideal look of a leadoff hitter. When you think of the leadoff mold, the first things that come to mind are peskiness, the ability to spray the ball to all fields, putting the ball in play and of course, speed. That is Lough in a nutshell.
Lough's had just over 50% of his season's plate appearances since May 24, so it's hard to grill him just yet for not having the type of effect that was just described. In a perfect world, Lough would be able to slot into the leadoff spot, moving Manny Machado down to the two-hole, where his ability to find gaps to both fields is better suited. As an optimist and as someone who thinks Lough still needs more consistent at-bats in order to really showcase his worth, that pesky nature could really be a difference-maker for an offense that is stuck in the ruttiest of ruts.
The Orioles just can't sit back and allow runs to magically appear. Sometimes there needs to be a little push, and a player like Lough, who can scrap out singles, steal bases and put a nervousness into pitchers out of the stretch is an aspect missing in the lineup. Really, could Lough really be a detriment to what we've seen over the last few weeks?
A platoon only works if the rest of the engine isn't running on spare parts. Perhaps swapping an ever-changing batting order for an everyday guarantee may do the O's some good, especially someone like Lough.
Snider still has some value to the O's, but sometimes, his laid-back nature gets old. Lough has an attitude, or better yet, a fire, that may not reignite a dimming offensive attack, but maybe his enthusiasm can.
Though the Orioles have been ravaged by injuries, because you know you're having issues when Steve Pearce is a steady presence at second base, there is still plenty of time to make up ground, especially in a division that has yet to reveal a breakaway candidate. For the O's, it might be time to start taking chances.
David Lough might be the right chance.