Can Baltimore Win Without Roberts?

Image taken from Google Images c/o Zimbio

After suffering through an injury-riddled season in 2010, it looks like Brian Roberts will be spending a significant stretch on the sidelines again in 2011 following a serious concussion suffered in mid-May. Though the Orioles’ table-setter isn’t the All-Star he used to be, he is still a crucial part of the Baltimore offense and replacing his production will be a key as the O’s try to stay in contention in the AL East.

Much as it was the case a year ago, a big struggle for the Orioles in 2011 has been scoring runs in a consistent manner. The O’s rank 21st in the majors in runs scored and have scored three or fewer runs in 25 of their first 51 games.

In an era when run production is down across the entire league, the Orioles must find ways to manufacture runs and try to improve their overall run production. They rank 16th in team batting average, 19th in walks, 26th in stolen bases.

Even when Roberts was in the lineup, the two-time All-Star wasn’t playing at his peak, hitting just .221 with three home runs, 19 RBI and 18 runs scored during his first 39 games.

However, without Roberts the Orioles don’t have a legitimate leadoff hitter capable of regularly getting on base and sparking the offense. Felix Pie and Robert Andino, who have split the leadoff duties in Roberts’ absence, have combined to score only five runs since replacing Roberts as the leadoff hitter.

Baltimore has not scored a run in the first inning of a game since the last game Roberts was in the lineup and scored first in a game only once during the first 11 games of his absence.

These results are not significantly different than a year ago when the Orioles struggled to generate runs in the nearly four months that Roberts was out of the lineup. Baltimore was 29-62 during his absence in 2010 and then went 29-26 in games in which he played over the final two months.

Though Roberts will likely never return to the level that saw him average 100 runs scored every season between 2004 and 2009, he still is a solid veteran and capable table-setter.

However, given his recent lack of durability, it may be time for the Orioles to look for a permanent replacement to Roberts at the top of the lineup.

The O’s are obviously giving Andino a chance to audition while Roberts is on the sideline, but while a solid defensive player, he has shown no indication to be a top-level leadoff man. He has scored just three runs when serving in the leadoff role and in 35 total games so far this season has a .274 average with 11 runs scored and two RBI.

As the Orioles teeter on the edge of contention in the American League East, figuring out how to increase offense at the top of the lineup will be a key to whether they stay in the hunt or fall back during the heat of summer.

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