Can the Orioles Count on Manny Machado to Be Postseason Difference-Maker?

Mike RosenbaumMLB Prospects Lead WriterSeptember 28, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 13: Adam Jones #10 hits teammate Manny Machado #13 of the Baltimore Orioles with a shaving cream pie after Machado drove in Jones for the game winning run to give the Orioles a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in fourteen innings at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 13, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

With six games left in the regular season, the Baltimore Orioles (89-67) are seemingly poised to make their first appearance in the postseason since 1997. Headed into the weekend, they currently trail the AL East-leading New York Yankees (90-66) by one game and hold the top wild-card spot by one game over Oakland A's (88-68).

Fresh off a 12-2 trouncing of the Blue Jays on Wednesday night that featured seven total home runs from five different Orioles, Baltimore will wrap up the season with a weekend series at home against the Red Sox followed by a three-game series at Tampa Bay.

Obviously, the Orioles will play out their schedule with the intent of winning the division; the Wild Card security is more of a safety valve. Their season has been a product of ongoing contributions from a variety of players, both pitchers and hitters. It seems as though there’s always a rotating group of players performing beyond their potential and carrying the team.

When identifying one of the turning points of the season, it’s hard to look past the arrival of Manny Machado—promoted from Double-A—on August 9, when the Orioles trailed the Yankees in the division by 5.5 games.

Since that date the Orioles are 29-15.

One can argue that the 20-year-old has been the team’s X-factor down the stretch of the season. But is he capable of making a significant impact in the Orioles' long-overdue trip to the postseason?

After a hot start to his big league career that included three home runs in his first four games while hitting safely in seven of his first eight, Machado struggled in the second half of August.

However, since the calendar turned to September, the right-handed hitter has picked up the pace at the plate, as he’s posted a .320 wOBA with eight extra-base hits, 13 runs scored and 13 RBI in 25 games. 

Overall, Machado has posted a .316 wOBA (weighted on-base average) with 16 extra-base hits, 21 RBI and a 33/7 K/BB ratio in 45 games. More importantly, Machado’s batting .333 with 17 RBI with runners in scoring position and has shown a propensity for thriving in crucial situations—a trait that should aid the Orioles in the playoffs.

But that’s not to say that he’s been flawless, as he’s struggled to consistently drive the ball to right field (.182 batting average on balls in play to the opposite field) and, at times, is overwhelmed by above-average fastballs (-2.6 wFB pitch value). On the other hand, against offspeed pitches such as sliders and changeups, Machado has posted pitch values of 0.9 wSL and 2.3 wCH, respectively. 

I can assure you that in the postseason, opposing pitchers will try to bust him with fastballs on the outer half. But considering the adjustments he’s already made over the first 45 games of his career, Machado should be well-prepared.

While I had the opportunity to see Machado’s ability as a hitter on several occasions, I was yet to enjoy an extensive look at him on defense. After watching him for the last month and a half, I’m admittedly more impressed with his play at third base than his offensive production—which I’m not trying to minimize.

Machado's instincts, defensive actions and arm are all on par with some of the better third basemen in the game.

From a statistical standpoint, Machado’s defense has already saved five runs in only 416 innings, while his 10.9 UZR/150 ranks ninth among all third basemen that have played at least 400 innings at the position this season. In a playoff scenario, the youngster’s defense will be an even greater asset than his still-developing bat.

While we won’t be able to gauge Machado’s postseason impact until the Orioles’ season is complete, his performance since August 9 suggests that he could be a household name by mid-October.