Perhaps because they had to suffer for nearly a week without him, but mostly because of the fire he brings to the top of the lineup, this past weekend's series for the Orioles brought into focus just how important center fielder Adam Jones is as the lineup's leadoff hitter.
With three straight two-hit games at the top of the Orioles' lineup, Jones is now batting .306 from that spot with an .848 OPS in 84 games batting there. The former ranks 10th among players with at least 100 plate appearances at that spot, the latter seventh.
Jones' move to the top of the order has allowed star third baseman Manny Machado to focus on being a run producer at the heart of the order. The Orioles have benefited from it tremendously. Machado did well leading off last year, but he's about to pass last year's RBI total of 86 in 30 fewer games.
Machado batting leadoff never really seemed to be in the cards this year. The role fell on rookie Joey Rickard, who started hot but then cooled as an everyday player before he ceded the top spot in the lineup to Jones and became a platoon player.
At that point, when Jones became leadoff hitter on May 27, the Orioles' leadoff position was a problem. From Opening Day to that point, and including the five games Jones missed with a hamstring injury last week, the Orioles' leadoff hitters have hit a combined .239 with six home runs.
Jones single-handedly pulled up that overall average to .278 entering Sunday's game.
His free-swinging approach might not fit with the modern approach to a leadoff hitter, but he's a fitting introduction to what a pitcher will face when they go against the Orioles. If you make your pitch, an they might chase it. If you miss your pitch, they'll go after it and hit it a long way.
Combine his leadership in the outfield with the things that often go unnoticed, like his scoring from first on a no-out double in the fifth inning Sunday, and Jones has been an asset the Orioles wouldn't be in playoff contention without.