Fauber: Latest blow will test Orioles

You have to wonder just how much more the Baltimore Orioles can take.

They’ve survived an early, season-ending elbow injury to all-star catcher Matt Wieters. They held tight while budding star Manny Machado missed the first month of the season recovering from knee surgery, and did not miss a beat when Machado was lost for the remainder of the season with another knee injury last month.

Now there comes the news Friday that slugging first baseman Chris Davis has been suspended for 25 games after testing positive for amphetamines.

It’s entirely possible that the Orioles’ magical season — one that Baltimore fans have waited long enough for — could be derailed by a string of bad luck and a poor decision by one of the team’s biggest stars.

Davis released a statement early Friday morning acknowledging his failed drug test came as a result of his use of Adderall, a drug that Davis claims he has had permission to use from the MLB in the past but did not receive a therapeutic use exemption for its use this season.

As a result, the Orioles will be without Davis for the final 17 games of the regular season and eight playoff games, should Baltimore advance that far. Even then, it’s unclear whether the Orioles would bring Davis back if they are still playing in October when his suspension is up.

The impact of that loss could be a huge blow to the Orioles, who have suddenly emerged as a legitimate World Series contender this season.

Davis has struggled at the plate this summer, failing to live up to the expectations that many placed on him following his breakout 53-homer season last year. This season, Davis is batting just .196 with 26 home runs and 72 RBIs with an alarmingly high strikeout rate.

But his bat will be sorely missed in the middle of a Baltimore lineup that lives and dies by the home run. Though he’s been struggling at the plate, Davis is a guy with the kind of power that can quickly change a ballgame. And although Davis holds a batting average south of the .200 mark, his 26 home runs were second on the team entering Friday’s game and his 72 RBIs were good for third.

Baltimore has shown the susceptibility to be lulled into three-game stretches where they don’t hit well against good pitching, and Davis’ absence gives the Orioles one less power bat that could deliver that one game-deciding blow with one swing.

And Davis’ glove has been extremely valuable for Baltimore as well. He plays a very solid first base, and his tremendous athletic ability has allowed him to move across the diamond to man the hot corner in Machado’s absence.

As it sits right now, Baltimore’s lineup could contain any combination of Ryan Flaherty, Jonathan Schoop, Kelly Johnson and Jimmy Paredes. Of that group, neither Flaherty, Schoop nor Johnson had a batting average higher than .215 entering Friday, and though Paredes is batting .350 with the Orioles, he’s only played in six games this year and is a career .239 hitter in his brief Major League career.

The one positive is that the Orioles should be fairly used to plugging holes by now. Manager Buck Showalter has been forced to do it all season long, and the Orioles still hold the second-best record in the majors.

Baltimore still has the makeup of a team that could make a serious playoff push. The bullpen is rock solid, the starting rotation has been better than advertised and there are still plenty of boppers up and down the lineup. There will just be more pressure on guys like Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones to produce runs, while power contributions from guys like Steve Pearce and Delmon Young will be paramount.

The Orioles — who held a 10-game lead in the A.L. East entering Friday — have started a critical stretch to close out the season that includes eight games against the Yankees. I don’t expect any kind of epic collapse as a result of Davis’ suspension, but we’ll find out just how well Baltimore can fight off this latest curveball over the next few weeks.

That will give us a pretty clear picture of Baltimore’s playoff chances.

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

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