Remember when the O's ended June on a 10-5 run, scoring an average of 6.01 runs per game? Can you recall that epic doubleheader sweep of the Indians, thinking ever so loudly that day was the exclamation point on the Orioles supposed turnaround?
Nope. I don't remember it either.
So far in July, Buck Showalter's club has gone 2-6, scoring a meager 2.88 runs per game (including a 9-run outlier!), squandering the short-lived first-place presence at the top of the AL East standings on July 1, as the O's now sit at 43-42 and 2.5 GB from those strangely consistent Yankees.
Yet again, the Orioles offense is as inefficient as a diesel-fueled Prius, evidenced by the 4th-worst batting average so far in July (.207). Though the O's range from the middle to the top of the hard-hit categories according to Fangraphs, and are the hard-luck owners of a .247 BABIP, it's hard to make excuses for a team that's only tallied 5 hits in 54 at-bats with runners in scoring position this month (an ugly .092 average).
However, there is one way to boost BABIP and RISP numbers, and that's hitting the home run, which happens to be the most important aspect of the Orioles' offensive success. One man that's built to do it? Second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
Schoop missed a lot of precious growing-up play time, the vicious byproduct of his DL stint that began on April 18. Before the unfortunate knee injury, Schoop was hitting similarly to his 2014 self, batting .259 with seven RBI's, one walk and six strikeouts in 27 at-bats, but of his seven hits prior to his stint on the DL, four were home runs.
In his first at-bat back with the big club, Schoop did what he does best, hitting a monster shot off of soon-to-be stud lefty Carlos Rodon, and even better, it happened to be on his best pitch, a slider.
Ryan Flaherty made strides at the plate in Schoop's stead, but he just doesn't have the kind of presence that the young Curacaon possesses.
We know Schoop plays as good a second base as anyone in baseball, but this was supposed to be a big year for him at the plate. The chance to build off of his 481 plate appearances in 2014, as well as his .209/.244/.354 slash would make him the better all-around player the Orioles were hoping for in '15, but life, like baseball, can be unfair.
Despite a scary high strikeout rate (25.4%) and frustratingly-low walk percentage (2.7%), his 16 HR's and 45 RBI's a year ago, in my personal theory, show just how good Schoop is, and can be. Having only accumulated 844 plate appearances between Bowie and Norfolk, Schoop was still as raw a hitter a 22 year-old could be. Take away a September call-up in '13 that gave Schoop 15 plate appearances worth of big-league experience, he had no friggin clue what the hell he was doing for 137 games in '14.
This '15 season was meant to be his time to really take in the art of hitting, that is, working counts, understanding how pitchers would attack him, use previous experience to better himself in the future, etc. That time was lost, and as a result, the Orioles are probably going to see a lot of the Schoop from last season, but that's OK.
The Jonathan Schoop of now is still a premium power force in the eyes of opposing pitchers, and as Rodon learned very quickly, no matter how good a slider you may have, a hitter as talented, and as strong as he is can still barrel up a breaker down and away.
The Orioles have sent out a predominant bottom-of-the-order combination of J.J. Hardy, Caleb Joseph, Ryan Flaherty, with the occasional appearance from Steve Pearce or Travis Snider. J.J. runs into one every now and then, while the others have been far less successful in their seeking of the precious dinger. That's where Schoop can be the difference-maker for a club needing the ever-special X-factor in the 7-8-9 range. Instead of rallies being killed by the lower half, he has the tools to be the guy that blows out the candles on the birthday cake.
Baseball is a funny game, ya know. Line drives aren't always base hits, and base hits aren't always line drives. Right now, the O's are having a rather difficult time hitting it where they ain't, but the only way to in-fact, 100% hit the baseball away from the defense is to provide the souvenir, and Mr. Schoop is yet another case study in that theory. For Johnny, it's probably going to be ugly more often than not, but the O's are going to need him to grow up quick.
Because baseball, like life, isn't always fair.