Both this year and going forward, the Orioles' success on the field is inextricably linked to the combination of third baseman Manny Machado and second baseman Jonathan Schoop, the young stars who are battling for the team home run lead this season.
This weekend in Cleveland, they'll come face-to-face with one of the few pairs in the league that matches up with their talent — Cleveland's Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez.
With Machado now up to a tie for 14th in the American League in wins above replacement (WAR), the two pairs now represent four of the top 14 players in the league this year. Ramírez, whose breakout season has seen him post a .926 OPS and 25 home runs with good defense at third base, leads the way among the group with 5.4 WAR, good for fourth-most in the AL, according to FanGraphs.
Lindor's .915 OPS and 27 home runs with premium shortstop defense have accumulated him 4.2 WAR this year, good for eighth-best in the league. Behind him are Schoop and Machado, who have 4.0 and 3.6 WAR, respectively.
For Schoop, his 31 home runs, 101 RBIs, and .892 OPS might make for the best resume of the bunch offensively, but he had a slow start to the year defensively and hasn't recovered from a metrics standpoint. Machado's .830 OPS is ever-rising after a slow start, and his 32 home runs and 91 RBIs put him on pace for a career-high as he chases another Gold Glove at third base, as well.
As far as complements to each other go, the pairs make sense. Like Lindor, Machado was a top draft pick who was immediately considered a premier prospect and has grown into an All-Star and perennial MVP candidate in short order. Like Schoop, Ramírez's arrival and emergence has happened in concert with his teammates, yet despite their talents neither was considered a top prospect in any rankings.
None of that much matters now, as each team boasts a premier infield tandem whose production alone will mean both are in the playoff race as long as they're together. That the Indians duo has been more consistent this year, and that their pitching staff is so far ahead of the Orioles, mean that Lindor and Ramírez get the spoils of a 15-game winning streak in early September and are approaching home-field advantage for the playoffs.
But matchups of young stars like this typically bring out the best in each side, and no matter how different the two tandems' teams fates are this year, these three days in Cleveland could make for a special game of one-upping between four of the game's brightest stars.