Post­sea­son-chal­lenged Jones needs to step up his game

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Peter Schmuck

The Ori­oles didn’t make it into the play­offs on the strength or con­sis­tency of their power-packed lineup, but they’ll have to find a way to move on from their Septem­ber hit­ting slump if they in­tend to get deep into the post­sea­son.

That won’t hap­pen un­less AdamJones re­as­sumes his lead­er­ship role in the Ori­oles’ rud­der­less of­fense.

Jones had a tough Septem­ber. He, and the team, can­not af­ford for him to have an­other rough Oc­to­ber.

The Ori­oles en­tered the fi­nal week­end of the reg­u­lar sea­son hav­ing scored three runs or fewer in 10 of their pre­vi­ous 12 games. They av­er­aged just 2.6 runs per game over that span and some­how won six of those games to hold on long enough for the of­fense to heat up in New York and to earn a place in tonight’s Amer­i­can League wildcard game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Cen­tre.

It was a struggle for just about every­one in the Ori­oles lineup, but it was a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult pe­riod for Jones, who bat­ted just .137 with one ex­tra-base hit and two RBIs in his fi­nal 51 at-bats of the reg­u­lar sea­son. Of course, he’s go­ing to have fewer RBI op­por­tu­ni­ties hit­ting out of the lead­off spot, which — along with his soft .286 on-base per­cent­age over the past month —

might make the ar­gu­ment for a re­turn to the mid­dle of the lineup dur­ing the play­offs. Jones gave the Ori­oles a real spark when he un­selfishly moved into the lead­off role ear­lier this sea­son, but it might be time for an­other Buck Showal­ter ex­per­i­ment in of­fen­sive chem­istry.

Showal­ter moved Chris Davis into the No. 2 slot in the lineup in an at­tempt to get him out of a funk, but the com­bi­na­tion of Jones and Davis at the top of the or­der pro­duced just one sin­gle and one run in the first in­nings of the six games it was em­ployed. Over­all, the Ori­oles scored in the first in­ning just once from Sept. 18 through the fi­nal game of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

The uptick in in­ten­sity in Oc­to­ber might be all the Ori­oles need to light a fire un­der their sleepy lineup, but it will cer­tainly help if Jones can re­brand him­self as the big-time post­sea­son player he is cer­tainly ca­pa­ble of being.

That is the one hole in his im­pres­sive ca­reer re­sume. He has been a steady run pro­ducer, clutch hit­ter, great de­fender and strong leader dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son over the course of his ca­reer. But that has not yet trans­lated into a sim­i­lar body of work in Oc­to­ber. Maybe this is the year.

He was a much younger player when he man­aged just two sin­gles in 26 at-bats dur­ing the 2012 wild-card round and AL Divi­sion Se­ries. He had a cou­ple of big hits in the AL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries in 2014, but his com­bined .151 bat­ting aver­age and four RBIs in 13 post­sea­son games will re­quire a se­ri­ous up­grade for the Ori­oles to pound their way past the Blue Jays and Texas Rangers to get back to the ALCS.

No one should doubt his abil­ity. The strug­gles he has had in past post­sea­sons are a com­bi­na­tion of good op­pos­ing pitch­ing and what Showal­ter might re­fer to as “too much want-to.” In other words, Jones knows how im­por­tant he is to the Ori­oles lineup, and he puts a ton of pres­sure on him­self when the big lights come on.

Jones is a very ag­gres­sive hit­ter, which has proved to be a bless­ing and curse through­out his ca­reer. He can am­bush a pitcher with the best of them, but he can also dig him­self a big hole at the plate by lung­ing at balls out of the strike zone and reg­u­larly fall­ing be­hind in the count. He’s a good two-strike hit­ter be­cause he has to be, but that be­comes a much big­ger chal­lenge against the high-qual­ity pitch­ing staffs that gen­er­ally pop­u­late the play­offs.

Showal­ter is al­ways quick to point out that Jones is one of those guys he can al­ways de­pend upon, which is cer­tainly true over the long haul of the reg­u­lar sea­son. Whether Jones can take that into the post­sea­son re­mains to be seen, es­pe­cially af­ter the way he has strug­gled the past few weeks.

One thing is cer­tain: It would be fool­hardy to un­der­es­ti­mate him.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Starter Chris Till­man, who has tra­di­tion­ally strug­gled against the Blue Jays, has a 3.63 ERA in four starts against Toronto this sea­son. In two starts at Rogers Cen­tre this year, his ERA is 2.38. The Ori­oles are 22-8 in games started by Till­man.

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