If you're scratching your head and wondering why the Orioles suddenly decided to rush top position prospect Manny Machado to the major leagues and play him out of position, it really isn't that complicated.
The fact that they felt they needed to wedge something in between the poignancy of Steve Johnson's first major league win and the promotional value of Wei-Yin Chen Mandarin Chinese T-Shirt Night ought to tell you something.
The Orioles have a defensive hole at third base you could drive the team bus through, and they didn't do anything at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline to upgrade either their starting rotation or their inconsistent lineup. They have a legitimate shot at a playoff berth at this late stage of the season for the first time in this century, and they drew only 17,312 Wednesday to watch a hometown kid win his first major league start and extend their winning streak to five games.
It's funny how something can work on so many levels and still make you wonder.
The club announced Machado's impending promotion late Wednesday night, not long after Johnson had wiped the shaving cream pie off his face and the Orioles had completed a three-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners that boosted them into a three-way tie for the first American League wild-card spot.
The 20-year-old shortstop of the future has been swinging a very hot bat at Double-A Bowie lately, and Wilson Betemit has been wearing a very cold glove at third base in Baltimore. It is an aggressive move by the Orioles' front office and a signal to both the fans and the players that — regardless of what happened at the deadline for making trades without waivers — this thing just got real.
Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter have just made it official that they are in it to win it, and we're not just talking about the wild-card race. The Orioles have chopped 5 ½ games off a divisional deficit that was in double digits three weeks ago. They entered Thursday night's game against the Royals just 4 ½ games behind the Yankees in the AL East, and you know how owner Peter Angelos feels about the Yankees.
Machado didn’t waste any time making his presence felt. He got a big ovation when the lineup was announced before the game and another one when he came up for his first major league at-bat. He bounced out with runners on base in the second inning, but tripled in his second trip to the plate and also had an infield single. Not a bad way to start.
Now, all there is left to do is wait for the other piece of baseball-appropriate footwear to drop, since it was probably no coincidence that top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy was just promoted to Double-A Bowie.
Maybe this shouldn't be such a big surprise. The Orioles tried to give every indication that they were projecting both Machado and Bundy as possible major leaguers sometime in 2013, but there was always the suspicion that they were limiting Bundy's innings (just 84 so far) to keep him available in case he was needed late this season.
Machado was not as hot a topic of that kind of speculation, but that's probably because the Orioles were more than satisfied with J.J. Hardyat shortstop and didn't anticipate both Mark Reynolds and Betemit being unable to adequately hold down third base.
Though it remains to be seen if Machado can do better with the bat and the glove than Robert Andino, there's no great risk here. Machado is a confident young man who — in a worst-case scenario — isn't going to be damaged by playing over his head for a couple of months. Showalter won't let that happen.
There is a precedent. The O's called up a 20-year-old third baseman named Cal Ripken in 1981 and he struggled badly at the plate, going 5 for 39 (.128) with neither a home run nor an RBI. The next year he was the American League's Rookie of the Year award. The year after that he was the American League's Most Valuable Player and the Orioles won the World Series.
Bundy might be a slightly different story if he does get the call in the next few weeks. The 19-year-old right-hander has been babied all season. He started out at Single-A Delmarva pitching just a few innings per start and only in his last two starts has been allowed to pitch beyond the fifth inning.
That means that his arm should be relatively fresh, but there is more to the developmental equation with very young pitchers, and organizations have become quite conservative with them in the wake of some major injuries — most notably the torn elbow ligament that sidelined 21-year-old Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg for a year after he made just 12 starts in his rookie season.
The Orioles are well aware of the potential downside, so it's still possible that Bundy will not be brought up when major league rosters expand Sept. 1. But it is becoming more and more obvious that the front office views this surprising season as an opportunity not to be missed.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.Orioles Insider | Live scores | Photos | Baseball app