Who doesn't love a majestic, Icarus-too-close-the-sun mortar shot into the bleachers, only to be dropped by the average athlete beyond the fence? I know I do. I love it all. The dynamite echo of the bat, gazing admiration, obligatory trot, and run(s) on the scoreboard. And since 2012, the Orioles have patented the process.
Even now, through the first 46 games, the Orioles aren't allowing their hands to fall idle. Manny Machado is second in the American League in home runs with 13, as is Mark Trumbo. Chris Davis has a quiet 10 dingers, whereas Jonathan Schoop's 8 bombs have been just a bit grander.
The sum of the parts equate to 65 home runs, tied for most in baseball with, as a I shrug in confusion, the Tampa Bay Rays. Extending further, the O's are first in HR/FB% (15.6%), fourth in ISO (.187) and seventh in wRC+ (108). The Orioles are built to score runs, and mostly, they have.
However, as purposeful the Orioles' lineup has become, those same run-creating hands that paved the club's 26-18 start have slowly fallen into the devil's workshop.
This past week, the Orioles' offense has been drubbed into the fetal position by the likes of Wade Miley, Nate Karns, Matt Shoemaker, Jered Weaver, Doug Fister and Collin McHugh, with the only win in the current AL West road trip coming via Matt Wieters' 9th inning birthday home run. But it's been bad. Like the Orioles are acting out a Zack Snyder directed screenplay bad.
Not only have the Orioles struck out 37 times in the last 22 innings, but the prodigious production of bat flatulence has equated to 78 strikeouts over the previous eight games. That is #ungood baseball.
Naturally, probably hopefully, the Orioles understood the kind of peaks and valleys that a lineup centered around Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez and Jonathan Schoop could face. Yes, the Orioles bring the boom, and they bring it often. And yet there are stretches, such as this current debauchery the O's falsify as hitting, that were very much realistic.
For example, there is Adam Jones, whose plate approach of "F*** it, let's see what happens" has magnified the current team-wide issue.
This is Jonesy's zone profile in 0-0 counts since last Tuesday. There are an abundance of swings because Jones' hunger is everlasting, but this solely accounts for first pitch breaking balls and off-speed pitches. Swinging everywhere and at everything, his BABIP on such swings has accounted for an average of .000.
That's right. Jones has put two baseballs in play in regards to the plot above, dooming himself into the abyss that is the 0-1 count. A constant victim of tipping his intentions to the opposing pitcher, Jones has been an automatic out, and even more dumbfounding is his maverick need for swing.
In this at-bat, Jones was unable to connect on a pair of fastballs before falling victim to McHugh's hammering curveball. Houston's crafty righty throws his curveball 26% of the time, but the Orioles eagerness to prove him wrong allowed him to sequence the pitch 38% of the time, inducing a whiff rate of 34.2%.
Of the 20 swings on McHugh's curveball, only two resulted in action behind him. Just as McHugh proved to Jones, the formula was simple. Had it not been for a squirter sneaking by Evan Gattis and a dinking single by Pedro Alvarez, McHugh likely escapes the 6th inning without angst.
While Jones may be the most whiffing enemy No. 1, his ineptitude isn't alone.
It's easy to turn a cheek when watching Chris Davis hit. You take the swings and misses because there is usually a ball in the stands on the other side of a Crush rainbow. And sometimes there are at-bats where he, though you know he isn't, just looks disinterested and whiffs at three pitches, walking back to the dugout before his caveman chaw wad kicks in. It is what it is.
The thing is, Davis, like Jones, thrives on prediction rather than reaction, and as you can see, he hasn't been one to predict much of anything over the last week. Just as his free-swinging comrade before him, Davis has been seduced by first-pitch breaking balls and off-speed pitches, and like Jones, has not produced a single base hit, or ball in play, to show for his efforts. Surrendering to the 0-1 count has meant a lot of succeeding fastballs up in the zone, pitches that tend to sneak away from Davis' uppercut swing, leaving him befuddled the rest of the way.
Compounding with Davis and Jones are Machado and Trumbo, who have seemingly taken the same approach of muscling at sliders down and away. Manny, though likely brief, has caught the plague while Trumbo's disciplined start has evaporated into his reputable self.
The big picture isn't necessarily the swings and misses, because this roster was constructed with the blueprint of Buck Showalter's "damage-to-contact" mantra. It's understood. There are going to be plenty of frustrating swings sooner and later, but succumbing to defeat after one pitch inflates the Orioles inherent weaknesses.
Yes, the Orioles want to hit fastballs, but to date, the O's have seen the second-fewest fastballs (53.3%) so far in 2016, a 2.9% decline to 2015. Changeup, slider and curveball rates have risen as a result, and if this past week is any reassurance, the differing rates are only going to continue to surge unfavorable to the Orioles.
Maybe this week is an aberration. After such a torrid start, the Orioles could have been due for a reality check. Could it be the the fact that aside from Hector Santiago and Taijuan Walker, the Orioles were just pitched to with precise, efficient caution? Perhaps, but it doesn't take away from the Orioles being borderline unwatchable over the last eight games.
With the way the pitching staff continues to look like 2014, and the Red Sox having been body-snatched by the Monstars, the Orioles would be wise to figure out how to reclaim the weapons at their disposal.
The Greek warrior Achilles was turned mortal, and ultimately dead, by a poisonous arrow lodged at the base of his foot. If the Orioles are unwilling to change, their Achilles heel won't be the swings and misses. It will literally be the strain caused by the whiffs from incessant lunging out over the plate.
That's a story no Baltimore Homer wishes to write.