For only the second time all year, Buck Showalter put Hyun Soo Kim in the leadoff spot in Wednesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox. And he came through with one of game’s biggest hits to help the Orioles break their six-game losing streak.
Down 5-1 to start the top of the fourth inning, the Birds looked like they were on their way to their seventh consecutive loss. But after a walk sandwiched between two singles, the bases were loaded with no outs. The Orioles had an opportunity to break through and get back in the game – something they’ve failed at for most of the last month.
After White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier threw wildly to home after fielding a Welington Castillo slow grounder, the Orioles scored a run. Frazier wanted a 5-2 putout, but instead made it a 5-2 game.
Desperately needing a big inning, the Orioles turned next to David Washington – inexplicably on the roster – who looked completely overmatched and struck out for the second of three times in his big league debut. The aging J.J. Hardy followed with a measly fly to center – not deep enough to score the runner from third. And it looked like the Orioles would blow another great chance.
Thankfully, the lineup turned over to Kim who stroked the first pitch to right field to bring home two runs and make the score 5-4. The Orioles had life. If not for that hit, the team could have felt as deflated as a Tom Brady football. But the momentum swung the Orioles’ way, as they scored four more runs the next inning on Castillo’s grand slam giving the black and orange a lead they would not relinquish.
Maybe it’s not a complete coincidence that the Orioles, currently tied for last place in the AL East, are 14-6 in games Kim has started. He seems to have knack for coming through just when the team needs him.
And, boy, do they need him. The Orioles haven’t just played poorly; they have failed miserably at every level of the game. Losers of 23 of their last 33 games, the Birds are in a free fall and they urgently need a dose of good news.
Enter Hyun Soo Kim. At the plate, he’s the antithesis of the Orioles’ haphazard batting style embraced by so many of his teammates. Kim is a contact-hitter with a discerning eye.
It’s no secret that the free-swinging Birds present an all-or-nothing approach at the dish, often to the dismay of fans hoping for more of a small ball approach. The team needs to balance their home run-or-nothing mentality. Too many players swing at pitches out of the strike zone, often letting it fly and trying to hit grand slams with the bases empty.
They need a player who works the count, draws walks and hits line drives. That’s Kim.
In four of his last eight seasons playing full-time in the Korean Baseball Organization, Kim’s OBP was over .400, and it was never below .354. Granted the KBO is not MLB, but it shows the kind of patient hitter he is. And he did have an OBP of .382 in his first year in the majors in 2016.
Last year he began to play regularly against righties in late May, giving the team a boost and finishing the year hitting a strong .302/.382/.420/.801. In one 52-game stretch, Kim’s line was .321/.398/.455/.853. You think the 2017 Orioles could use something like that?
Thus far, Kim hasn’t played much this year, but that should change now with injuries to Chris Davis and Seth Smith. With Davis on the DL, productive rookie Trey Mancini should move over to first base, opening up left field for Kim against right-handed pitchers.
Customary leadoff hitter versus righties, Smith is battling a stiff back. But even if healthy, it’s time for Kim to replace him at the top spot. Smith has cooled off significantly since his great start. In his last 18 games, he’s hit just .196 with an OBP of .262. Despite his season-long .344 OBP, his recent lack of production has contributed to the team’s putrid play and makes him a poor candidate to continue batting first.
Kim is not a fleet-footed outfielder, which limits how much he can help the Birds reverse their current streak of 12 straight games giving up five runs or more. But his smart approach at the plate could give him a chance to seize more regular playing time and make it difficult for Buck not to play him, which is just what this team needs.