Perhaps imbalanced, powerful Orioles offense succeeding at what it was built to do

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DETROIT — A week of productive at-bats came to an abrupt halt for the Orioles on Friday, with one of the league's brightest young pitchers powering down one of the game's most imposing lineups just as he has done to so many others.

What followed was not a dressing down from the Orioles coaching staff to their big-swinging bunch; no imploring that theirs wasn't the only way to win in September and October; no fire and brimstone speeches insisting they cut down their swings to create a more consistent, balanced offense.


While allowing that what they do best — hitting home runs — is most effective as a product of their philosophy of selective aggression as opposed to a singular goal in itself, the message Saturday will be the same as it has been all year. Change is not in the cards. No one much thinks they need it, instead opting to reinforce what they do well: swinging big.

"We don't get down on the guys," assistant hitting coach Mark Quinn said. "They're pro athletes. They're going to get down on themselves. We cannot pound negative problems in their head. We cannot tell them they need to do this, need to do this. We're here to push them along in a positive way instead of break them down in any kind of negative manner."


Said hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh: "If you start taking that comfort away from him and ask him to do other things to justify or satisfy somebody's else's view, sometimes you limit their success and limit their ability to do what they're capable of doing. I think our success as an offense is based on the fact that we do take those individuals and what their comforts are and what they do best and we try to maximize that as much as we can. When we do that, we're a very, very threatening offense that can do a lot of damage to teams."

Perhaps the biggest gulf in this matter is the one between the perception the Orioles' closest followers have of their offense and the view of that group inside the game. There's a level of incredulity among the players and coaches that they even have much to answer for, and they have a point.

For all their foibles, this an offense that, outside of its major league-leading 220 home runs entering Saturday, was second in the American League in OPS (.770), sixth in runs (663) and seventh in batting average (.260). They strike out, with their 1,144 in that category the fifth most in the AL, but the entire league is striking out more than in the past. With a 21 percent strikeout rate and three weeks to go in the season, Major League Baseball is on pace for the highest strikeout rate in its history.

By all accounts, the Orioles are a league-average offense in every aspect except for speed and power hitting. The former is nonexistent, and the latter is prodigious. They entered Saturday on pace for 255 home runs this year, which would put it a shade behind the behemoth 1996 Orioles offense that holds the franchise record with 257.

To try and become anything other than that would be folly. It would take changing the spine of the team, as the way they are seems to be in each player's marrow.

"When a team is built kind of like ours, with guys who hit for a lot of power, there are going to be some periods where it's not as consistent an approach as someone who's going out there and necessarily trying to slap the ball around a little bit," right fielder Mark Trumbo said. "You're probably going to have more consistency in terms of average with that approach. But that's not what we're looking to do. We're not looking to give up outs here. I think at the end of the day, possibly some of the frustration on the execution side can be attributed to if fans want to see maybe an older-school style of play reminiscent of decades ago. That's not the style of game we're trying to execute here."

"I think that's just how the makeup has been the last five, six years," center fielder Adam Jones said. "It's been more of the power variety. But with that said, I think we have the athleticism. By any means, we're definitely not a speed lineup. … We're not guys who are basically going to bunt guys over. We're not the big hit-and-run team because we've got guys who swing and miss. But one thing we do, we go out there and we grind out every at-bat and try to drive the ball."

When looking at the players they've been given, Coolbaugh and Quinn see just one way to bring it along. Look at the positions where teams might sneak in a speedy contact hitter. The Orioles boast the leadoff man and center fielder Jones, who went into Saturday batting .278 with 26 home runs. At second base, Jonathan Schoop is part of the best group of hitters at that position in generations, with his 22 home runs through Friday making him one of eight in the AL alone with at least 20 at that spot.


Manager Buck Showalter said such distinctions, where every position on the field and every spot in the lineup is a power threat, is one of the biggest changes in the game recently.

"Our lineup has been based on a lot of power," Coolbaugh said. "That power that puts a lot of stress on the pitcher, but how do we utilize that power is the key. … We all have the same type of guys one through nine, so it makes it a little easier from a standpoint of how you go about it than having a different type of offense with a bunch of speed guys in there, some bunters, some singles guys and some on-base guys."

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Quinn, a former major leaguer with the Kansas City Royals who came to the Orioles after running his own successful hitting academy for several years, said trying to be anything else for these Orioles just wouldn't work.

"In everything I've experienced in baseball, it's been easier to teach a singles hitter how to hit for power than a power hitter how to hit singles," Quinn said. "I think guys at this level can ramp it up. But to ramp it down, it's hard."

It all begs the question, though: why would the Orioles ramp down? This team was built in this image, is constantly directed by its hitting coaches to succeed in a specific way and for all anyone knows, could be the new version of the mid-market benchmark for how to construct a winning baseball team in the 21st century.

"I just think that people's perception is the old school, a lot of times. People haven't caught onto the reality," Coolbaugh said. "This game's about scoring runs. Look at the offense as a collective. Do we have a lot of speed? Do we have a lot of runners? Do we have guys that move runners. We don't have that type of offense. So in realty, when people want to go out there with as much fantasy baseball and fantasy football stuff that goes on, everybody wants to have an idea of what that offense is supposed to look like. Sure, would everybody like to have that combination of both? …


"If you don't, you have to coach the way we have. I think that Mark and myself do a job in the sense that we try to maximize our talents and who we have in the dugout. A lot of people question that. Some people will look at it like we should do this and that, and they have every right to say that. But when we win a ballgame, we look at each other and say, 'You know what? I feel good about where the direction of the offense is going and what we've been doing so far.'"