By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun
12:50 PM EDT, July 6, 2014
BOSTON -- The Orioles will go into their series finale against the Boston Red Sox on Sunday afternoon with a one-game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays atop the American League East after Toronto lost in Oakland on Saturday night.
While the Orioles are sitting pretty on top of the division, there’s one major question that becomes more perplexing by the day.
What’s wrong with Chris Davis?
The Orioles first baseman enters Sunday’s game hitting just .201, floating just above the Mendoza Line. He's not in the starting lineup in the series finale.
In Saturday’s doubleheader, Davis was 0-for-8 with six strikeouts and one walk, including one span over the two games in which he struck out in six consecutive plate appearances.
Over his past 10 games, dating back to the Orioles’ doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 27, Davis is just 2-for-34 with 15 strikeouts. Both of his hits in that span are singles.
Davis’ slump goes back further. His average has dropped 67 points over his last 40 games. Since May 22, Davis is 22-for-147 (a .149 average) with 61 strikeouts.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has been persistent in keeping Davis in the starting lineup. He has gone out of his way to compliment Davis’ work ethic and his defense. But he's giving Davis a break to start the game Sunday.
This is an unprecedented slump for Davis since he joined the Orioles. When Davis was traded to Baltimore from the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline in 2011, he arrived with a .237 batting average, but he raised it to .266 by the end of the year. In 2012, his average never dropped below .250, and he hovered around .300 during the entire season.
Davis has tried to take early work, but it’s obviously not working. Showalter wants to let Davis work through his struggles, but we’ll see how long the Orioles can hang in there.
-- While Showalter rarely criticizes his starting pitchers, his words following Ubaldo Jimenez’s rocky 3 2/3-inning start expressed some disappointment.
"Not very good,” Showalter said of Jimenez’s outing. “He was fortunate to give up the few runs that he did. I think that's because he was wildly effective. It's just inconsistent. It's tough to hit him because you go up there trying to be selective, and he throws three pitches on the black. And then he gets out of sync again. It's frustrating because the stuff is there. We were fortunate that we stayed engaged in the game with that many walks."
Jimenez issued a career-high six walks in Saturday’s nightcap, and even though he didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning, it seemed like he was on the ropes the whole night.
“I think it was my mechanics,” Jimenez said. “I didn’t get comfortable with my mechanics. I didn’t find a good release point. Basically it was my mechanics.”
-- Right-hander Brad Brach has quietly become a valuable bullpen weapon for the Orioles. He earned his third win in his past six games in Game 2 with 1 1/3 scoreless innings.
In each of those three wins, he entered the game with the Orioles trailing. Over his past six outings, Brach has thrown nine scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and striking out seven and walking one.
With that level of success, Brach has gone from being one of the relievers on the Norfolk shuttle to a valued, contributing option out of the bullpen.
“Brach's been solid for us,” Showalter said.
-- One of the best sights of Saturday was watching Nelson Cruz try for the cycle while attempting to leg out a triple in his final at-bat.
After he was thrown out at third base in the eighth, Cruz received a warm welcome and a lot of smirks.
"If you can't enjoy that and take it the way you need, you're taking yourself way too seriously,” Showalter said. “I'm glad they didn't hit the first cutoff guy. At least it was close. They're all screaming at me to do the replay. Nellie's always screaming 'go, go, go' every time there's a ball in the dirt with somebody on base, just kiddingly.
"We tell them all the time, 'You feel something, go for it.' He had a great night. Gosh, he had a great night. I thought he played left field pretty well, except for that one kind of came back on him."
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun