The Orioles didn't make it into the playoffs on the strength or consistency of their power-packed lineup, but they'll have to find a way to move on from their September hitting slump if they intend to get deep into the postseason.
That won't happen unless Adam Jones reassumes his leadership role in the Orioles' rudderless offense.
Jones had a tough September. He, and the team, cannot afford for him to have another rough October.
The Orioles entered the final weekend of the regular season having scored three runs or fewer in 10 of their previous 12 games. They averaged just 2.6 runs per game over that span and somehow won six of those games to hold on long enough for the offense to heat up in New York and to earn a place in Tuesday's wild-card game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
It was a struggle for just about everyone in the Orioles lineup, but it was a particularly difficult period for Jones, who batted just .137 with one extra-base hit and two RBIs in his final 51 at-bats of the regular season.
Of course, he's going to have fewer RBI opportunities hitting out of the leadoff spot, which — along with his soft .286 on-base percentage over the past month — might make the argument for a return to the middle of the lineup during the playoffs. Jones gave the Orioles a real spark when he unselfishly moved into the leadoff role earlier this season, but it might be time for another Buck Showalter offensive chemistry experiment.
Showalter moved Chris Davis into the No. 2 slot in the lineup in an attempt to get him out of a funk, but the combination of Jones and Davis at the top of the order produced just one single and one run in the first innings of the six games it was employed. Overall, the Orioles scored in the first inning just once from Sept. 18 through the final game of the regular season.
The uptick in intensity in October might be all the Orioles need to light a fire under their sleepy lineup, but it will certainly help if Jones can rebrand himself as the big-time postseason player he is certainly capable of being.
That is the one hole in his impressive career resume. He has been a steady run producer, clutch hitter, great defender and strong leader during the regular season over the course of his career. But that has not yet translated into a similar body of work in October. Maybe this is the year.
He was a much younger player when he managed just two singles in 26 at-bats during the 2012 wild-card round and American League Division Series. He had a couple of big hits in the American League Championship Series in 2014, but his combined .151 batting average and four RBIs in 13 postseason games will require a serious upgrade for the Orioles to pound their way past the Blue Jays and Texas Rangers to get back to the ALCS.
No one should doubt his ability. The struggles he has had in past postseasons are a combination of good opposing pitching and what Showalter might refer to as "too much want-to." In other words, Jones knows how important he is to the Orioles lineup and he puts a ton of pressure on himself when the big lights come on.
Jones is a very aggressive hitter, which has proved to be both a blessing and curse throughout his career. He can ambush a pitcher with the best of them, but he can also dig himself a big hole at the plate by lunging at balls out of the strike zone and regularly falling behind in the count. He's a good two-strike hitter because he has to be, but that becomes a much bigger challenge against the high-quality pitching staffs that generally populate the playoffs.
Showalter is always quick to point out that Jones is one of those guys he can always depend upon, which is certainly true over the long haul of the regular season. Whether Jones can take that into the postseason remains to be seen, especially after the way he has struggled the past few weeks.
One thing is certain: It would be foolhardy to underestimate him.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.