The Orioles are sputtering along without their offensive sparkplug, Brian Roberts, who has called his headaches "certainly concerning" and will visit a concussion specialist in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. But if their leadoff hitter’s latest injury issue results in an extended absence, the Orioles will be in trouble.
We don’t have to dig deep into our memory banks to remember how the Orioles have struggled without Roberts. Last season, the Orioles went 30-29 when Roberts played and were 36-67 when he didn’t. His return from the disabled list, along with the Buck Showalter hire, corresponded with their strong finish.
Injuries have been a major issue for Roberts the past season and a half. People like to point out his past ties to performance-enhancing drugs as the reason, but his balls-to-the-wall style of play is really why he keeps getting injured. Well, that and his propensity to hit himself in the head with his baseball bat.
“I play the game with instinct," said Roberts, who started getting headaches after a head-first slide against the Red Sox last Monday. “I just never knew or dreamed that sliding headfirst would cause something like this. … So once I get back on the field, there might be things [I change], like I said. If I don't slide headfirst into first, then I won't slide headfirst into first. I guess it's one of those things I learned in a way that I didn't really want to learn."
But if he’s healthy -- unfortunately, it has gotten to the point where it’s “if” and not “when” -- and he's clicking, Roberts is the team’s offensive catalyst. He was a big reason the Orioles got off to a hot start in 2011, and they need his grinding at-bats and aggression on the base paths to set the tone for the rest of the lineup.
No offense to Felix Pie and Robert Andino, who have taken turns atop the lineup with Roberts out, but the Orioles offense can’t reach its full potential with Roberts sidelined. They need him back.