Fauber: O’s still pack punch

By Brad Fauber

We Orioles fans really didn’t expect it to last forever, did we? And no, I’m not referring to that dreadful four-game series against Kansas City as if it is the start of Baltimore getting back to its usually losing ways.

I’m talking about the duo of Chris Davis and Manny Machado, who each played out of their minds throughout much of the first half of the Major League Baseball season and were bringing all kinds of national attention to Charm City.

You remember Davis, right? He’s the guy who was on pace to challenge Roger Maris’ 61-homer mark while crushing 37 long balls (a career high) before the All-Star Break. And Machado? He was the young phenom who spent the first half of the season on pace to shatter the league doubles record.

I’m being dramatic of course, but it seems like the hype surrounding those two guys has quickly faded as we wait for them to regain that first-half form. The problem is that they have yet to show even a flash of that first-half greatness as we plow head on into the season’s second half. I’m not about to begin to freak out with plenty of season still left to play, but it is a little disheartening that Davis and Machado have appeared to finally come back down to earth. I really wanted to see some record-setting seasons.

Davis’ recent decline has been the most glaring of the two, as he has yet to homer in the first seven games since the break entering Friday. And it’s not just that he hasn’t homered — he’s gone through longer droughts than that this season — it’s how bad he has looked at the plate.

Davis is just 6-for-28 (.214) since the All-Star Break, tallying just four RBIs in that span — three of which came in the first game of the four-game series against the Royals. He also has struck out 13 times in seven games and was 0-for-4 with four strikeouts against Kansas City on Thursday.

He seems to be swinging and missing — a lot — which was something that had plagued the slugger up until the early part of this season when he appeared to finally gain a little bit of plate awareness. But like I said, I’m still not that worried. Slumps are something that every hitter goes through, and I’m willing to be patient with Davis and wait this out.

Machado’s struggles at the plate, on the other hand, are a little bit more of a concern to me. His recent woes have probably gone somewhat unnoticed simply due to the fact that he has been absolutely stellar with the glove and he isn’t a power hitter known for putting up huge offensive numbers.

Machado maintained a batting average around the .315 mark for most of the first half, even batting in the .330s at the end of May. He was also on pace for over 70 doubles at one point, but that pace has since dropped and he is no longer in line to break Earl Webb’s record of 67 doubles in a season.

The 21-year-old third baseman has really struggled of late, going 5-for-28 (.179) since the All-Star Break, but his numbers have actually been on the decline since the beginning of June. Also, in an interesting bit of information from the ESPN Stats and Info center, Machado is batting just .093 on pitches of 93-plus mph, the worst mark in the majors.

Machado’s case may be less of a slump and more of opposing pitchers simply figuring out how to pitch him, which isn’t surprising in the least.

The good news for the Orioles is that there is plenty of firepower in Baltimore’s lineup, despite what happened — or didn’t happen — the last three games at Kansas City. Adam Jones has been having a great year, Matt Wieters has looked good so far in the second half, and Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy have been reliable in the past and will be critical components down the stretch. And the addition of Henry Urrutia at the moment appears to be a huge upgrade at designated hitter. Even if Davis and Machado are unable to match their first-half numbers, Baltimore should manufacture plenty of run support.

The really good news is that the starting pitching has been phenomenal as of late, and the Orioles have gotten quality start after quality start from the guys in their rotation. If Baltimore is going to make the playoffs, it’s going to need pitching like that on a regular basis.

The Orioles’ offense will be fine — it’s the pitching that I’m worried about.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com