Shortstop J.J. Hardy, who once again bailed out the Orioles, both with his glove and bat last night, has at least put himself in the conversation of joining elite company. Robin Yount (1982), Cal Ripken Jr. (1991) Alex Rodriguez (2002-2003) and Derek Jeter (2006, 2009) are the only American League shortstops to win a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award in the same season. I'd be shocked if Hardy pulls off that feat, but he at least has a case. Among AL shortstops, Hardy is seventh in batting average (.270), first in home runs (26), third in RBIs (67) and first in slugging percentage (.505). Defensively, he leads qualifying AL shortstops in fielding percentage (.990) and has the fewest errors (five). I think it's more likely that Hardy gets shut out of both awards, especially with all the well-deserved attention on Asdrubal Cabrera's breakout season, but it is interesting nonetheless to see where his numbers stack up.About a month and a half ago, I was resolute in saying that as shaky as Kevin Gregg was at times, I didn't see his standing as the team's closer as one of the main issues confronting the Orioles. That was based on the idea that the most unnecessary commodity for a last-place team is a high-priced and dominant closer. I still believe that, but I also now believe this has become a major issue for the Orioles and the closer spot is something whoever will be the team's GM will have to address again this offseason. Gregg is 20-for-26 in save opportunities, and I can think of three more just off the top of my head that he would have blown if not for superb defensive plays (Nick Markakis on Ben Zobrist, Adam Jones on Denard Span and J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds on Brandon Guyer last night). He has also allowed 87 base runners (including 36 walks) in 52 innings. Oriole fans used to cringe during George Sherrill's high-wire act in the ninth inning, but watching Sherrill was a walk in the park compared with some of Gregg's outings. Nobody wants to hear this, but Gregg has been absolutely terrific in the clubhouse and in the bullpen. He has spent a ton of time with the young pitchers, and Zach Britton is effusive in his praise of Gregg. His ongoing dialogue in the bullpen has really helped Jim Johnson. And Gregg, on a couple of occasions, has had things to say to a fellow pitcher if he feels he is not preparing well. However, on the field, it has been a huge struggle. It takes so much for the Orioles to put themselves in position to win a game that when a lead is squandered in the ninth inning, it really is demoralizing. I don't think it's coincidental that a couple of Gregg's blown saves have started extended losing streaks.
I forgot to mention this yesterday, but the Orioles' player development department named Single-A Frederick infielder Jonathan Schoop Player of the Month for August and Keys left-hander Jacob Pettit Pitcher of the Month. Pettit went 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in five starts for the Keys during that period, while Schoop batted .336 with eight doubles, a triple, four homers and 21 RBI in 28 August games. I'm not exactly going out on a limb here in suggesting that this may not be the last piece of hardware Schoop picks up from the Orioles this year. The 19-year-old has emerged as one of the favorites to capture the Brooks Robinson Award as the organization's Minor League Player of the Year. Cases could probably also be made for Manny Machado, L.J. Hoes and maybe even Joe "Big Irish" Mahoney, but my vote goes to Schoop, who has batted .290 with 13 homers and 71 RBIs in 125 combined games for Single-A Delmarva and Frederick. When the next Baseball America prospect rankings are released, I suspect Schoop will be third with the Orioles, behind only Machado and Dylan Bundy.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you could have a good discussion on which Orioles minor leaguer has been most disappointing this year. The three that jump out to me are Matt Hobgood, Josh Bell and Chris Tillman.
At this point, I don't think anything could salvage this season for the Orioles, but Zach Britton's turnaround lately has been a good sign. It hasn't always been pretty for the rookie lefty, but I think he's learned a ton this year, and that was obvious last night in the way he rebounded from a tough first inning. It's also clear that he's learning how to pitch more, rather than just relying on his sinker, which isn't always going to be there for him. My colleague, Dan Connolly, said even before spring training that by year's end, Britton would establish himself as the Orioles' best young pitcher. I think it's clear that he has. Ten or more wins and an ERA in the low 4.00s for a last place team in the AL East isn't a bad rookie season by any means.
Still lamenting the nontendering of Matt Albers? In his past 12 outings for the Red Sox spanning 12 2/3 innings, the burly right-hander has allowed 19 earned runs, 21 hits, four home runs and eight walks. If it sounds familiar, it should.
Quick observations: I don't know whether it is because he is eyeing a 30-homer and 100-RBI season or he's trying to make up for the time he missed with the chest injury, but Adam Jones is clearly pressing at the plate right now. … Nobody should be surprised any time you hear or read about another Orioles front office member being let go or leaving on his own over the next five weeks. I've been saying this for a couple of months, but I would be shocked if there wasn't a front office overhaul. … As maddening as it is to watch Mark Reynolds strike out three times a night – he now has 15 K's in his past 24 plate appearances – his defense at first is stunning to me. It sounds ridiculous, but I'm not sure he's not playing the position at a higher level than Derrek Lee was earlier this year. I always thought Reynolds' problems at third were a result of poor focus, not poor fundamentals. Perhaps being involved in nearly every play and learning a new position on a regular basis has negated some of those focus issues. … I've covered Brian Roberts since 2005, and I've never seen him more emotional than what I saw yesterday. And for him to admit how hard it was to even get in the car, drive 45 minutes and meet up with his teammates, I think that says a lot about where he is at this point.