Baltimore Orioles: 5 Players Who Must Step Up to Secure a Playoff Spot

James MorisetteCorrespondent IIIAugust 14, 2012

Baltimore Orioles: 5 Players Who Must Step Up to Secure a Playoff Spot

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    Just 47 games remain on the Baltimore Orioles' regular-season schedule, and MLB fans faithful to the orange and black have begun to fear pinching themselves.

    At 62-53, it seems the thumbs of baseball gods are pointed north. Now the winners of seven of the past 10 games, Buck Showalter and Co. recently got news that hot rookie Manny Machado was selected AL co-Player of the Week, per The Baltimore Sun.

    Now the national hype machine is on the prowl, as O's fans sit aboard this magical ride, hoping flanged iron wheels do not fly off.  

    Peering down the wooden track, Orioles fans cannot help beg the question: What will these birds do?

    Will they fight? Will they flee? Will they ultimately shock baseball powers that be?

    Like a heart-jolting suspense novel, this strong-willed team has become the most enigmatic mystery.

    That said, this doesn't have to be. If the following five players highlighted in this slideshow step up down the stretch, the Orioles and their fans will get to boogie.

J.J. Hardy

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    Where art thou, lumber extending from the hands of defensive wizard J.J. Hardy? When, oh when will you come out to play?

    Hitting just .223 on the season and .173 the past 10 games, the Orioles desperately need Hardy to step up his game.

    Birds fans know Hardy has the ability to thwack the ball with the best of them. Milwaukee Brewers fans can attest to this, as well. But for some reason, Hardy has been unable to match output of recent past.

    If Hardy can get his lumber right, he can join Nick Markakis and Adam Jones in a trifecta that may give Baltimore the edge down the stretch.

    And if Machado can stay hot, watch out.

Mark Reynolds

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    Who’s there?

    Same phenomenon.

    Same phenomenon who?

    Same phenomenon that is keeping Hardy from hitting is preventing Reynolds from finally getting hot.

    Not a joke by any means anymore, for Reynolds' lack of hitting has reduced the life span of Orioles fans.

    While many knew full-well Reynolds was not the best hitter on the planet, hardly anyone expected such measly power numbers from a guy who smacked the life out of the ball for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    This season, Orioles fans have been waiting and waiting…and waiting some more for Reynolds to finally hit that stretch where a light-bulb goes off and he starts whacking home runs in droves.

    But this has not happened yet, and it is starting to make fans worry.

    While giving Reynolds credit for making some key plays at first base, for Baltimore to have a chance, this hard-slugging first basemen needs to, well, start slugging.

Nate McLouth

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    “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years.”

    These are the now-famous lyrics spit by LL Cool J in his 1990 hit single “Mama Said Knock You Out.”

    These were also the words that came to mind when I thought of recent O's call-up Nate McLouth.

    From 2006-08, McLouth was a star on the rise for the Pittsburgh Pirates. This left fielder’s best season was in 2008, when he batted .276 with 26 home runs and 94 RBI for Pittsburgh. McLouth also earned his first All-Star game appearance and won his first Gold Glove.  

    But then McLouth was traded for three prospects to the Atlanta Braves, where his career subsequently went south (no pun intended).

    Now a member of the Orioles, McLouth has worked hard to resurrect his big league career. Still just 30 years old, this seven-year veteran has fought his way from Triple-A Norfolk to Camden Yards. Since joining the Orioles, McLouth has batted .333 (8-for-24).

    Now, McLouth has a great opportunity to be an unsung hero for an Orioles team in the thick of a race for the postseason.

    While this Michigan native's power numbers have yet to assemble, McLouth made a terrific play in the outfield on Sunday to help Baltimore to victory.

    If McLouth can solidify the three-hole in the Orioles lineup, it may very well pave the path for a major offensive takeoff.

Jason Hammel

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    On August 12th, MASN’s Steve Melewski reported that Jason Hammel was confident he would return from his knee injury in early September.

    Talk about coming back at just the right time—how awesome would it be if Hammel came back just as the Orioles were marching down the home stretch toward the playoffs?

    What a boost this would provide the Orioles' starting rotation—not just in performance, but spiritually as well.

    While Hammel struggled prior to his injury during the Orioles' 7-2 loss to the Tigers on July 13, this hurler has nonetheless been solid for the Orioles.

    Should Hammel be able to return to the form that watched him jump out to an 8-2/2.61 ERA through June 22, the Orioles will be in good shape going forward.

O's Fans

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    While not literal players on the football field, the Seattle Seahawks call their fans the "12th MAN."

    I say, let our fans be the "10th BIRD."

    After all, Baltimore is Birdland, damn it.

    Now I know deep scars still exist among the Orioles’ most loyal of fans, mostly for the way they have been treated by Orioles ownership the past few decades.

    And I know many Orioles fans think the $3-5 surcharge for walk-up tickets at the Camden Yards box office is beyond ridiculous.

    But now is not the time for bickering. Now is the time for unity. Now is the time for Orioles fans from all walks of life and across all generations to come together and support this team.

    Because nothing is as exciting for a baseball player than to see stadiums filled with home colors.

    Let’s be that 10th bird, by getting out to the Yard to support the Orioles.