Heading in to the All-Star break, all talk of the O’s was reduced to two players who were having monumental first halves of the season: Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones, and rightfully so. The Baltimore Orioles were sitting atop the AL East coming into All-Star weekend for the first time since 1997; Cruz was leading the AL in home runs with 28 and all O’s players with a slugging percentage of .570; and Adam Jones joined teammate Cruz as a starter for the AL All-Star team, batting .301 with 16 home runs and 54 RBIs. However, since the All-Star game, Cruz and Jones’ bats, along with the play of most of the other players on the team, had fallen asleep in the middle of a pennant race. This happens to most championship teams. Every one of them could point to a time where there was an immense lull from their bats in the schedule. A time that they could all later point out as the time someone different stepped up and carried the team through a rough patch. These players, although known very well locally and to their teammates, are better known to the rest of the public as the unsung heroes.
J.J. Hardy, although still known in Baltimore to be a household name, still ranks behind the more popular names of Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters. Hardy has always been a player known for his stellar fielding and “light-tower” power, but also as a player with a sub-par batting average. Nonetheless, the success of the O’s would certainly have not been accomplished without Hardy’s clutch success at the plate all-season long. With RISP this season, Hardy has batted an average of .343 with 32 RBIs. With 2-outs and RISP, Hardy has still remained clutch, batting .323 with 10 RBIs. Even with Hardy batting .433 in Baltimore’s last ten games, one rookie on the O’s has been outshining every player on his way to the record books.
Caleb Joseph, who has been splitting time at catcher with Nick Hundley after starter Matt Wieters went down with an elbow injury, was on fire before missing Friday night’s opening game versus the St. Louis Cardinals. Nonetheless, the 28-year-old rookie was still able to come back red-hot, setting a franchise record as the only rookie and Baltimore catcher to hit five home runs in five consecutive games. Since the beginning of August, Joseph is batting a .381 with a ridiculous slugging percentage of 1.143.
However, not all wins are accomplished through the starters and their big bats. For David Lough, the rest and ability to make hits in a timely fashion as a spot starter has also helped spark the O’s second half run. Since June 1, Lough has provided some much needed assurance as a backup, batting .313 with a surprising .542 slugging percentage when getting the opportunity to play.
The Orioles may have seen their team batting average go from .265 heading into the break to a mere .234 ever since, but players such as Joseph, Lough, and Hardy have thankfully found timely success at the plate, helping to extend the Orioles AL East lead to five games. By year’s end, these three players may not receive the credit due for their team’s ultimate success, but nonetheless, like every championship team can probably point out, it takes every player on a baseball team to win a championship. O’s fans will most likely remember the stellar pitching as what carried the team through this rough patch, but inside the clubhouse, it will be these unsung heroes that will get remembered as keeping it all going when all odds were against them.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer Covering the Baltimore Orioles