CHICAGO – A lot of the advanced defensive metrics don’t reward Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis for the defender he is. His steadiness in the outfield sometimes make you take him for granted, especially given the way he expertly maneuvers around a tricky right field corner at Camden Yards.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has said it often this year -- that Markakis is a player you likely won’t fully appreciate until he’s gone. And this could be his final year in an Orioles uniform.
Markakis’ home run-robbing catch in Monday’s 8-2 win over the Chicago White Sox came at the perfect time. If Markakis didn't bring Conor Gillaspie’s fly ball back into the yard, a one-run lead would have turned into a one-run deficit.
Elaborate formulas aside, that’s the definition of defensive runs saved.
Markakis made the play on the run, crashing into the right-field wall while reaching his glove over the fence and making the catch. As he hit the wall, his left hand grated against wire fencing and he fell to the ground at the warning track, then pulled the ball out of his glove.
As he got back to his feet, he mouthed ‘ow’ to center fielder Adam Jones.
“Adrenaline’s going there, so it didn’t feel good,” Markakis said. “It felt good to catch the ball, so that’s all that matters.”
The Orioles then broke open a one-run game with a five-run inning in the eighth – scoring all runs with two outs on Jonathan Schoop’s three-run double and a two-run homer by Markakis.
So for Markakis, what was bigger, hitting a two-run homer or taking one away?
“Robbing a two [-run] home run, especially in that situation in the game,” Markakis said. “It takes the wind out of their sails, and shifts the momentum to us, going back to the eighth inning there. We scored a lot of runs there. We did a good job.”
Markakis’ catch was the top web gem on SportsCenter – Nelson Cruz’s sliding catch in foul ground in the eighth was also included – showing again how the Orioles are using defense to win games.
As a team, the Orioles have a combined defensive WAR (wins above replacement) of 6.1, which is the best in baseball and much better than other playoff contenders Oakland (4.6) and Kansas City (4.5).
Among American League position players, five Orioles players are among the top 25 in defensive WAR: Caleb Joseph (1.5, 11th), Jonathan Schoop (1.5, 12th), J.J. Hardy (1.4, 14th), Steve Pearce (1.4, 15th) and Manny Machado (1.1, 23rd).
By comparison, Markakis has a minus-1.0 defensive WAR, so the stat isn’t entirely telling in terms of defensive capabilities. Markakis won an AL Gold Glove in 2011 after posting a minus-0.4 defensive WAR.
-- Following Monday’s win, Showalter alluded to the fact that he’d like to keep right-hander Bud Norris on regular rest, one of the reasons he took Norris out of the game after just 82 pitches.
If that’s the case, then Norris would likely start Saturday’s game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Right-hander Kevin Gausman will start Friday’s series opener against the Cubs and right-hander Chris Tillman – who is scheduled to start Tuesday night against the White Sox – would be in line to start Sunday on regular rest.
Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez could start Sunday or he could pitch out of the bullpen earlier if needed.
Where does that leave right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez? We might find out more following a scheduled work day Tuesday.
-- The Orioles can clinch their ninth series win in their last 10 series with a win tonight at U.S. Cellular Field. It would mark their fifth series win on the road over that span.
Tillman is unbeaten on the road this season, going 6-0 with a 4.68 ERA, having received 6.24 runs of support per nine innings away from Camden Yards.
In three starts against the White Sox, he is 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA and threw seven scoreless innings, allowing one hit with five strikeouts and four walks in his most-recent outing against the White Sox on August 28, 2012 at Camden Yards.