Wednesday, June 19, 2013
J. J. Hardy, 2013 Topps Orioles Team Set #BAL-5
Okay, that's not the headline. The O's won their league-best 16th series of 2013 by demolishing the Central-leading Tigers, 13-3. The Baltimore bats pounded out 17 hits, with the big blows coming from (shock of shocks) Chris Davis, who had a double and a pair of towering two-run homers, his 25th and 26th of the season. Taylor Teagarden added a three-run shot, giving him more runs batted in than hits. Nate McLouth chipped in with three hits and his career-best 24th stolen base, Adam Jones knocked in three runs...it was truly a group effort.
But back to Hardy. He had a single and a sacrifice fly and played his usual impeccable shortstop. He may still be basking in the glow of last night's game, when he hit his third home run of the season against 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Justin Verlander. Overall, J. J. is rebounding nicely from a subpar offensive effort in 2012. After a slow start, he's gotten his average up to .271 on the year with 14 home runs and 43 RBI.
Thanks to the absence of Derek Jeter and the Orioles' recent success and increased fan interest, Hardy is one of four O's who would be slated to start the All-Star Game if voting ended today. Even in the Davey Johnson glory years of the late 1990s, I've never seen the Birds enjoy such popularity in Midsummer Classic voting. Jones is leading all AL outfielders in votes (even that Mike Trout guy), and seems primed to make his third All-Star appearance. Hardy's lone trip to the showcase game was back in 2007 as a Milwaukee Brewer. The other two Orioles sitting in prime position are Davis, who is holding off Prince Fielder at first base, and Nick Markakis, who is something of a surprise would-be starter. Nick was a victim of the O's long fallow period, as his superior early-career performances were largely unrecognized. He doesn't drive the ball like he once did (.488 slugging % in 2007-08, .417 to date in 2013) and has lost some zip on his throwing arm in right field, but it would be nice to see his teammates push him toward Citi Field in early July after he had to carry the weight for so long.
It's mid-June. The O's are in the thick of the American League East and Wild Card races, they're 11 games over .500 and have a whole handful of key players dotting the statistical leaderboards, and it seems like things are as they should be. This is why I hung in there for so many years.