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As Orioles' lineup imbalance continues, benefits of a change not clear to manager Buck Showalter

Batting order doesn't matter to the players in manager Buck Showalter's Orioles clubhouse, he frequently declares, which is a departure from his era of the game, when a man was defined by his place in the lineup.

Outside that room, though, the Orioles' batting order is a possible source of the team's inconsistent offense this season, with the men who are supposed to be producing runs and keeping rallies going in the middle of the order not often filling that role.

As the Orioles wait for third baseman Manny Machado, outfielder Mark Trumbo and first baseman Chris Davis to click, Showalter said that at least for now, they'll continue to make up the heart of the batting order. He says Machado's season-long slump won't last much longer, though it won't be a quick fix, and that Trumbo has come around in May, but he acknowledged at least with Davis that he's considered a move.

"I have [moved] Chris some. Four, five, and two [Monday]," Showalter said. "That was more of a left-handed thing and Adam [Jones] being out. A lot of that stuff is kind of a, what do you call it, a short fix. Sometimes it is. But we think about it. [Bench coach John Russell] and I, when we do the lineup with [hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh], every day we talk about things like that.

"I look at this — where we are competitively, knowing there's a lot better times ahead with where Chris and Manny are concerned. They're not the only ones. But what happens when somebody else falls off a little bit? But I've thought about it. We look at it. It's something I bring up with the players, too — what best fits their mentality."

This is the time of the season — late May and entering June — when last year Showalter made his biggest lineup change in recent years, removing Joey Rickard from the leadoff spot and putting Adam Jones there to both fill a need and get a scuffling Jones going.

The sample size might be large enough to do that now, though Jones' absence of late with ankle and hip problems has put the whole lineup in flux as the Orioles fill his spot. That's not to say the top of the order is immune to criticism, either, but the middle of the order has come under the most scrutiny of late.

Statistically, it's hard to deny that the Orioles' big swingers aren't connecting the way they're expected to. Machado entered Wedneday batting .210/.292/.415 with a team-high 10 home runs and 25 RBIs. Trumbo has pulled himself up from a slow April to hit .262/.317/.401 with seven home runs and 24 RBIs through 50 games, while Davis has slumped badly in the past two weeks to bring him to .223/.324/.446 with 10 home runs and 18 RBIs.

That they've batted 3-4-5, in some order, for almost every game this season has meant anecdotally that more rallies started by the bottom half of the order seem to end once the lineup turns over to them than the other way around. Plenty of games have been like Tuesday, when the bottom half of the order created all three runs and had seven of the team's nine hits.

It has created an imbalance in the lineup, with the likes of second baseman Jonathan Schoop (.274/.326/.474 with seven home runs), catcher Welington Castillo (.317/.339/.467 with four home runs) and outfielder Trey Mancini (.300/.348/.525 with seven home runs) relegated to lower parts of the order while swinging the bat well.

Machado has hit third in every game he has played this year, and the team's .749 OPS from the third spot entering Tuesday ranks 12th in the American League. Davis and Trumbo began the season swapping the fourth and fifth spot depending on the opposing starter — Trumbo typically hits fourth against left-handed pitching, with Davis generally there against righties. Their combined .834 OPS as the cleanup hitter through Monday is second best in the league, but when facing the same-side pitcher from the fifth spot, the team's .688 OPS there is 13th in the AL.

The more consistent hitters who constitute the second half of the lineup have the team ranked sixth (.739) for the No. 6 spot, fourth (.871) from the No. 7 spot and fifth (.727) from the No. 8 spot.

All that rolled into one team's snapshot at this point in the season, nearly a third of the way through, shows a team that entered Tuesday ranked 10th in the AL in runs per game (4.41) and OPS (.726).

But Showalter isn't sure what the solution would be, or how long it would last. With Machado, for example, Showalter is as resolute as he is about anything that the way the 24-year-old third baseman is handling his struggles means they won't last long, no matter where he hits.

"Somebody was trying to tell me Manny in another spot might try to take on those characteristics of that spot in the order," Showalter said. "I think guys are taking their at-bats as they take them; 'I'm leading off — should I take? Should I start bunting? Should I start hitting the other way because I'm leading off or hitting second?' Believe me, that's not their mentality. But sometimes it does work. We're not there yet."

That there's no lack of candidates to move up to at least break up the core in the middle is a two-sided quandary for Showalter, he said. He likes having them there to extend the lineup, but knows moving them could add balance.

"I love having those guys down there," Showalter said. "We have a lot of people capable of hitting higher in the order and having those type of threats down there. The Yankees are so good at that. They present threats all the way through. [Infielder Rob] Refsnyder, a guy I really like — he's a professional — you've got him down there at the bottom. Chris Carter is capable of hitting 40 home runs and he's batting ninth. That's the American League, and that's the major leagues."

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