Ask Orioles third baseman Manny Machado about his scalding start, and he'll tell you he’s simply playing baseball and good things are happening. That’s what happened last week, when in the midst of one of the best stretches in his career I tried to get him to expound on it.
He said then he was swinging the bat well. He's continued to do so since then, including on his fifth home run of the season Tuesday against the Blue Jays.
Maybe he doesn’t want to jinx it. Maybe he doesn’t want to take the shine away from his team’s surprising 9-4 start. But whether he wants to talk about it or not, Machado’s hot start is one of the under-the-radar stories both on this team and around the league.
A pair of hits in Wednesday’s walk-off win over Toronto at Camden Yards gave Machado a 13-game hitting streak, the longest such streak in baseball to begin 2016 and the second-longest of his career.
His .407/.467/.796 line obviously leads the Orioles, but is also among the best starts in the game. Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper (.327 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs), Colorado Rockies rookie shortstop Trevor Story (eight home runs, including seven in his first five games) and Machado’s closest peer at third base, Rockies star Nolan Arenado, are all getting plenty of headlines.
Not so much Machado, who manager Buck Showalter said is just building on a 2015 when Machado hit. 286/.359/.502 with a career-high 30 home runs.
“It’s really a big sample if you think about last year, too,” Showalter said. “Manny’s gotten better and what I’ve liked is he’s stayed within himself for the most part and has let the game come to him instead of pushing it. Because as your reputation gets more, they’re going to see how many times they can get you out of the strike zone."
His hitting streak was already extended by the time he was walked twice late in Wednesday's game, but to Showalter, the fact that he didn't try to push his luck was just another sign that his All-Star third baseman is in a zone.
Just how good has Machado’s start been? Let’s go inside the numbers and see:
1.263 – With an OPS (on-base plus slugging perscentage) of 1.263, Machado leads the majors through 13 games. That’s better than Harper (1.253), whose start has led highlight shows all season. It’s even more impressive in the context of Machado’s career, though. Many consider his true breakout to have occurred last June, when he hit eight home runs and batted .365 over 28 games. This is a lot better than that.
.327 – Just for comparison’s sake, this is what Machado hit over the course of his career-long, 14-game hitting streak between June 2-16, 2013. That was a much different Machado from the one we’re seeing now, with his power at age-20 not where it is now. He led the league with 51 doubles that year, and hit seven over the course of the streak without a home run. During this streak, he has six doubles, but also has five home runs. They’ve all been no-doubters.
6 – Machado has played just two Aprils in his career, missing the first month of 2014 on his way back from knee surgery. But in those two Aprils, Machado hit six combined home runs. That he has five so far not only shows how far his power has come, but how he’s taken the step of translating it into games earlier. A .285 career April hitter, he’s never been a slow starter. This is a different level.