On Wednesday Brian Roberts completed a long road back from injury making his first start with the Orioles since May 16, 2011.
I never thought I would be writing those words this year. I honestly doubted I would ever write those words again. Brian Roberts' recovery was so long and his body seemed so delicate this spring that I never thought he would get back to Camden Yards. But now he is back so that leaves the team with some very interesting questions:
What should the Orioles expect from Brian Roberts going forward?
At his best Roberts is a plus defender and an on-base and doubles machine. No one should expect a 50-double-pace from Roberts this summer; so what should be expected? Roberts should be among the team-leaders in OBP, BA in the .270's and probably a 30-ish doubles pace with very occasional power. The OBP is the key to Roberts' game, and something the Orioles lineup currently lacks an abundant supply of. In his first game back Roberts went 3-4 with an RBI, but more importantly he worked counts, saw pitches and played Brian Roberts ball. In four ABs he saw 22 pitches, just over five pitches per AB. In his second game Roberts went 0-5 where he saw only 16 pitches total, a little more than three pitches per AB. Once again, when Roberts is patient good things happen and I expect him to keep that trait going forward.
Perhaps most importantly Roberts seemed comfortable and unfazed in the batter's box or on the field. He took a hard slide on Tuesday trying to run a double play and he popped right back up and went back to work.
If Roberts struggles, what then?
In two games Roberts has gone 4-9 with three singles and a sac-fly. So far so good, but the question needs to be asked: what if he struggles? This is not the Orioles team that many expected. This Orioles team is currently 10 games over .500 and one game out of first place on June 14th. This Orioles team is quickly becoming a serious contender. This Orioles team might not be able to carry the fan-favorite amazing comeback-story if he can't produce at a significant level. At the very least Roberts needs to perform at second base better than Robert Andino. After four weeks the Orioles need to look at Roberts' body of work and be able to say, with no hesitation, this player will help us stay in the playoff hunt. If the team can't do that then they need to make some very tough decisions that could be very unpopular for a lot of reasons. One would think that if he discovers that he simply can't do it any more and he is hurting the team Roberts would be the type of guy to walk away without drama and I'd like to think that the team and Roberts already have some sort of agreement already in place, all we can do is sit and watch.
What does Roberts' mean to the team on another level?
After Wednesday's game Adam Jones tweeted taht Roberts continues to be the "sparkplug" of this offense, and I have to agree. I wrote a couple days ago that Roberts is statistically the best second baseman the Orioles have ever trotted out. During his tenure here he has solidified his position in Orioles history as one of the best and one of the few brightspots in a very dark period for the franchise. The fact that Roberts is back and has the opportunity to be a stabilizing force at the top of the lineup on a winning team can not be understated. This is not meant to knock Robert Andino in any capacity, however, people know what Roberts brings to the game and he is simply a much better player than Andino. Roberts historically has been a force at the top of the lineup. When Roberts is leading off that first inning the opposing pitcher knows that, odds are, he will not put this guy away on anything less than four pitches. Roberts' abilities to get on base and steal bases will mean a lot to this offense going forward. A healthy Brian Roberts also means that this lineup becomes suddenly more legitimate in the eyes of a lot of casual observers of the team. Combine this with the upcoming return of Nick Markakis the Orioles lineup will finally seem complete for the first time in over a year, at just the right time.
Seeing Brian Roberts on the field again is a fantastic sight. If he can perform to a level anywhere near his historic norms then the Orioles have just gotten a key source of production before the trade deadline without giving up anything. And that is a move that usually bodes well for teams gearing up for a postseason run.