Good teachers throw in a pop quiz every once in a while.
At this point, Orioles manager Buck Showalter is probably wondering who is writing the lesson plan for his team.
The tests keep coming for the 2012 Orioles, and they seem to be getting more challenging as the year goes along.
The club just finished one of its biggest tests—emotionally, mentally and physically—in splitting a four-game set against the Yankees.
But each month this season has posed a potential challenge for Showalter and company:
March: Promising starter Zach Britton goes down in spring training.
April: Tsuyoshi Wada and Taylor Teagarden are placed on the disabled list to start the year. Teagarden was out until June. Wada is out for the year.
May: Nolan Reimold goes on the disabled list with shoulder and neck injuries after a hot start.
June: Nick Markakis breaks a hamate bone in his hand and undergoes surgery.
July: Jason Hammel is sidelined with a knee injury and missed all of August, too.
August: Jim Thome, acquired a month earlier, goes on the disabled list retroactive to July 28. He has yet to return.
The Hammel injury was huge. The Orioles managed to get by with some unproven starters—Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman, in particular—stepping up.
The Nick Markakis injury could loom even larger.
Not only is Markakis a steady defender and a consistent bat, he stepped into the leadoff role in July and flourished. His success actually negated the season-ending injury to former all-star Brian Roberts.
Markakis is as underrated as they come. Forget the Gold Glove defense—that has always been overlooked. Teams don’t run when the ball goes to right field anymore, so he’s not making the highlight reels as often.
But with the bat, Markakis ignited what was an inconsistent offense earlier in the year.
Prototypical hitter for the top of the lineup? No.
But I’ve often said Markakis is in a tough spot because he’s the club’s best No. 2 hitter and No. 3 hitter. This year, he was also their best leadoff hitter.
Markakis’ injury goes beyond the tangible.
Most kids when I grew up wore No. 8. For the past four or five years, most have a No. 21 on their Orioles’ shirt.
He’s gone from the kid to the longest-tenured Oriole on the active roster. He’s now the veteran. He’s the quiet clubhouse leader.
He’s the one they’ll have to rally around now.
Nick Markakis is transitioning again: to cheerleader.
The timetable for his return is up in the air. Saturday night, it was six weeks at-best. Sunday afternoon, Showalter was forecasting a Monday surgical procedure that could speed up the clock. But we’re still looking at an October return at best.
So, if Markakis does return, the Orioles will have passed their latest test—and a few really tough ones to come.
Regardless of how the rest of the semester goes, the Orioles should have cemented an A long ago.
TELL US: How confident are you that the Orioles will reach the postseason? Leave a comment.