Andrew Stetka: With Machado and Hardy down, can O's defense hold steady?

A lot of emphasis is being put on the defensive struggles the Orioles have seen over the past few games.

Two losses to the Red Sox have people up in arms and wondering what happened to the O's defense of 2013. As many know, the team set a major league record by playing 119 errorless games last year and also committed just 54 errors during the campaign, a record for a 162-game season.

It's a small sample size, but the Birds are showing some dents in their defensive armor on the young season.

As bad as things have looked on the surface, though, it's also important to note that the Orioles are still tied for second in baseball with the fewest errors in the league. Much of the so-called issue has been the absence of third baseman and Gold Glove winner Manny Machado. While Machado recovers from offseason knee surgery, the O's have used a combination of Ryan Flaherty and rookie Jonathan Schoop to fill in at the hot corner. Six of the team's seven errors have come from the pair and neither one is a natural third baseman.

Aside from putting emphasis on errors, the O's have also had to shift things around a bit at shortstop because of injuries to J.J. Hardy. The veteran has already missed six games with back spasms and is bound to miss more time now with a hamstring issue.

Having a sound left side of the infield has been one of the keys to the team's success over the past few seasons. The big question to ask now is whether Machado's return will provide enough stability to right the ship. It's almost too obvious to say that Machado's return will not only help from an offensive standpoint, but in the field as well. He can allow Schoop, Flaherty and Steve Lombardozzi to fight it out for who gets time at second base, as a backup and who might be headed to Triple-A Norfolk.

Aside from the obvious hole left by Machado at third base, I wrote a few weeks ago that it was puzzling to me that the O's had been completely quiet in any extension talks with Hardy. Perhaps they saw something coming on the injury front or had some information no one else did. The more likely scenario could be to shift around the entire infield going into the future.

Not signing Hardy could create a scenario where Machado moves to shortstop, which is his natural position. That would move Schoop to third base and leave a continued hole at second, which was never really addressed this offseason with a long-term solution. Flaherty is being shuffled around as more of a utilityman while the acquisitions of Lombardozzi and Jemile Weeks don't provide a great amount of confidence going forward like a highly touted prospect like Schoop does.

An extension for Hardy would seemingly solve all of those questions by allowing Schoop to remain at second base.

Back in the short term, Machado appears to be making his way back slowly from the knee injury. Getting him back on the field is obviously a top priority for a team that needs stability on the left side. These last few games are likely more of an aberration than what will become the normal trend for this team. There's too much talent on the field for things to continue to trend in this direction.

Losses like the two the Orioles suffered in Boston this weekend are tough to stomach. Sunday's was especially difficult, having to listen to an ESPN crew that was about as one-sided as a national broadcast could be. The hope now is for health. Machado's return seems near and Hardy's steady glove must return at full strength if this team wants to go places. Until then, it's up to the rest of the crew to steady the ship and hold on for dear life in the tough American League East.

Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. His thoughts on the O's appear here as part of MASNsports.com's continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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