The regular season is now four days away. The last game the Orioles are going to play in Florida comes along later this afternoon, and since it is in Sarasota, the lineup is looking very, very Opening Day-ish.
They haven't fielded a lineup like that for a variety of reasons up until now, the biggest of which being that Matt Wieters wasn't playing in a lot of the spring games. It's also only been in the last few days that there's been a sense that Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard has settled in as the starting left fielder.
As you'd expect so close to the regular season, those things have been settled now. Not every roster spot is known yet. Some teams set theirs days ago. The O's still have choices to make. Their regular position players are set, though, and if today's lineup is any indication, this is how they will go when the season begins:
1. Joey Rickard LF
2. Adam Jones CF
3. Manny Machado 3B
4. Chris Davis 1B
5. Matt Wieters C
6. Mark Trumbo RF
7. Pedro Alvarez DH
8. J.J. Hardy SS
9. Jonathan Schoop 2B
With today's starting pitcher, Yovani Gallardo, lined up as the #2 starter.
Does that look like a regular season lineup to you? The biggest thing that gives me pause about it is that it seems very un-Buck Showalter-like to throw Rickard into the leadoff spot right away.
While it's true that Rickard, in the best case scenario for his performance, would fit the ideal archetype of a leadoff hitter (decent OBP, good speed, ability to steal a base,) it's not typical for Showalter to put a rookie in the high-pressure fire.
Perhaps this is a case where Rickard's hoped-for MLB skillset fits so perfectly in an area where the O's have no real answer. If it works out, the whole lineup will look a lot better than it might have otherwise. If the Rule 5 pick struggles, the O's are handicapping themselves by having a potentially bad hitter start the season as the anointed leadoff batter.
They would really be showing a lot of faith in Rickard to have him bat #1 on Opening Day, or regularly at any point afterwards. I'll be happy for him if he rewards that faith. Showalter himself signaled that the lineup is not the exact Opening Day lineup:
Buck said this won't be the Opening Day lineup today. Close, I'd imagine— Brittany Ghiroli (@Britt_Ghiroli) March 31, 2016
Your idea of what should or will change and my idea of the same may be different than Buck's.
What would you change?
If it was up to me, I'd bump Jones down to #4 and move up both Machado and Davis. As Jones is not really a player for whom OBP is in his toolbox, what's the benefit of batting him second? He's not a "get on base for the power hitters" guy. He is one of the power hitters.
Alvarez as far down as seventh in the lineup is a bit of a surprise, if only because he is supposed to hit a ton of homers and that feels more middle of the lineup than bottom. Then again, this is the Orioles we are talking about, and they have a lot of guys who may hit a ton of homers. Someone with proven power is going in the bottom of the order.
Putting Alvarez that far down can probably be chalked up to Showalter preferring to stagger his lefties and righties when possible. Wieters is the player with the track record on the Orioles, and that more than anything is probably why he gets #5. And with Wieters locked in at that spot, and as the switch-hitter, the spots below him can flow from there.
When you look at it that way, Trumbo is #6 and Alvarez is #7 because if you switched that around the other way you'd end up with righties at 7-9 in the order, and, as things stand right now, also at 1-3. Lining it up the way it is for today's final Florida spring game, they'll still have five righties in a row starting at #8. I guess that's better than six.
It's good in theory to put thought into this kind of stuff because it's better for a team if they don't line things up so that, in the later innings, the opponent can put in a lefty specialist and burn through three lefties right in a row without facing anyone against whom they do not pitch as well.
The problem that can't be ignored
The Orioles kind of frustrate this consideration because even their right-handed hitters are, or at least have been, bad against lefties. Machado, Jones, Hardy, and Schoop are all righties who have reverse platoon splits in recent years. They are worse against lefties. A given team's lefty relief option, or starting pitcher, can probably frustrate most of their lineup.
Of the eight guys in that starting nine with big league track records, Trumbo and Wieters might be the only one who are better against lefties than righties. The good news is, if you're going to suck against one type of pitcher, you might as well suck against lefties because there aren't as many of them.
The bad news is that last year's .240/.292/.370 line against lefties is really bad and it probably won't be better this year. If they run into a team that can throw multiple lefties at them in a series, although it's tough to even remember this is possible with the O's unable to field even a single lefty in their five man rotation, that's basically a lost series before it even begins.
There's nothing they can do about this now. They are who they are going to be. If Rickard works out, today's lineup is probably the best regular lineup. If Rickard doesn't work out, there will be more upheaval before things settle in. And whatever happens, there will be dongs. Hopefully enough to give them a chance to win most nights even with a lackluster starting rotation.