The Baltimore Orioles were swept by Tampa Bay, effectively ending all playofff hopes, but the attention and concern was directed toward third base phenom Manny Machado, who suffered what appeared to be a gruesome knee injury after stepping on the first base bag.
Machado was trying to beat out an infield single when he stepped strangely on the first base bag, with his left knee giving out from under him. He immediately fell to the ground, clutching his knee, rollling around and screaming as trainers and manager Buck Showalter rushed onto the field. He was eventually taken off of the field on a stretcher with a grim look on his face.
The injury to Machado looked devastating, but then came surprising news on Tuesday that it wasn't a worst case scenario. I won't even get into the exact injury, but he did not tear his ACL, PCL or MCL, and that's the key. It was a much smaller ligament that Machado tore, one that helps to keep the kneecap from sliding laterally, which is probably why the injury looked worse than it really was. With rest and rehab, Machado is expected to be healthy again in about two months. Even if that course of action doesn't work and surgery is necessary, Machado would still be expected back for spring training.
In only fitting fashion, the O's lost yet another game in the late innings, and one of the one-run variety, to open up their final homestand against Toronto. The loss eliminated the O's from playoff contention, and while I'm sure some players are frustrated that the final five games are meaningless, it's not like they still had a real shot. I also think that there was such a relief surrounding the news about Machado's knee that some attention has been deflected off of the team's struggles over the past month.
At this point, I think a lot of the players are just ready for the season to end, get some time away from the ballpark and come back ready to get after it again in 2014.
It's hard to blame them. They lost four games against Tampa Bay and easily could have won three of them. You can tack on another heartbreaking loss against Toronto. The Orioles are now a league-worst 17-31 in one-run games after being nearly unbeatable in them last year. The offense continues to sputter, with Chris Davis home runs being the only way the club manages to score of late. As magical as last year was, the Orioles have been equally as unlucky in 2013.
It's a disappointing end to the season for a team that was in the AL East race for most of the year and seemed to be a pretty safe bet to make the postseason as a wild card team until the final two months.
Surprisingly, it was the hitting and not the pitching that doomed the Orioles in September. The O's had one of the best ERA's in the league in the final month, but the bats went ice cold.
Chris Davis saw his home run pace drop and his strikeout rate increase, Matt Wieters struggled in a month when he usually catches fire, and Manny Machado looked like a 21-year old worn down by his first full season in the big leagues. Nick Markakis was one of the worst starting outfielders in all of baseball and only seemed to get worse as the season progressed. Nate McLouth stopped running halfway through the season and saw his average plummet in the final month. J.J. Hardy wasn't much better, and both second base and the designated hitter spot were problems throughout the season, though Danny Valencia was the club's hottest hitter in September.
The Orioles free-swinging ways really caught up with them, as they struggled to execute with runners in scoring position, to drive up pitch counts to knock starters out of the game and to put runners on base via the walk. The Orioles simply made it too easy for opposing pitchers, and they hit way too many home runs with the bases empty.
After having such a strong bullpen last year and an amazing record in one-run and extra inning games, the tide really turned in 2013. The O's finished with the worst record in one-run games in the major leagues. Buck Showalter's decision to stick with Jim Johnson as his closer really came back to haunt the O's. His nine blown saves is tops in all of baseball, and the way in which the O's gave away so many games in the late innings had to be demoralizing. It certainly had to wear them down mentally over the course of the 162 game season.
The O's will now play out the remaining five games of the season and then turn their attention on how to improve the club heading into 2014. The free agent market won't have too many attractive options and the club doesn't want to trade any of its top prospects, so the O's will likely have to outbid other teams on some of the more sought-after players and then find creative ways to improve the roster.
It would be nice to see the Orioles let Jonathan Schoop start the remaining five games at either second or third base, but the O's don't really have any other young players ready to get a look at the big league level. It would also be smart to call it a season for Bud Norris, who has complained of some elbow problems in recent weeks.
Look for articles in the coming months on the O's offseason plans and a glimpse of how the farm system looks after a lot of changes during the 2013 season.