Daniel Clark: Bottom of O's lineup providing a spark

The Orioles have had a successful past nine days, winning seven of eight games and moving themselves into first place in the American League East, 2 1/2 games clear of the Toronto Blue Jays. As with any wining period, there have been a number of elements working well for the Birds and one of them has been the extremely impressive performances from the bottom third of the lineup.

Since the start of the Texas series last week, the Orioles' bottom three have hit to a .309 average (29-for-94) and while doing so, have also drawn five walks, scored 18 runs and tallied 11 RBIs. In addition, they've combined for four home runs, proving that the power exists in the bottom third of the lineup as well as what's above it.

* Texas (June 30-July 3) - 14-for-42, 3HR, 7 RBIs, 12 runs, 4 walks

* Boston (July 5-6) - 13-for-40, 1 HR, 4 RBIs, 5 runs, 1 walk

* Washington (July 7) - 2-for-12, 1 run, not including pitchers

Of the seven O's to hit in the bottom third of the lineup during this period, three have hit well above .300 with the greatest success coming from J.J. Hardy, Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado.

* J.J. Hardy, .666 (2-for-3), 1 HR, 1 RBI
* Ryan Flaherty, .462 (6-for-13), 1 HR, 2 RBIs
* Manny Machado, .364 (4-for-11)
* Nick Hundley, .286 (4-for-14), 1 HR, 3 RBIs
* Jonathan Schoop, .266 (8-for-30)
* Caleb Joseph, .277 (5-for-18), 1 HR, 5 RBIs
* Delmon Young, .000 (0-for-4)
* Steve Pearce, .000 (0-for-1)

It's also worth noting that in the final game of the Tampa Bay series, the bottom three went a combined 4-for-11 with two home runs and two RBIs. Prior to this hot streak, they had averaged .251 (217-for-866) with 19 home runs and 80 RBIs.

The impressive numbers from more established players on the team like Hardy and Machado can somewhat be expected, but it's the impressive returns from the less-heralded players that has really turned heads. As highlighted below, four hitters in particular have turned their seasons around and increased their batting averages considerably during this period.

* Flaherty - .200 to .230
* Hundley - .217 to .242 *as an Oriole
* Joseph - .160 to .180
* Schoop - .213 to .223

The importance of lower-order production should never be underestimated. It has been proven time and time again throughout history to be a crucial element for winning teams and something that turns good teams into great teams. In recent seasons, the Orioles have experienced their fair share of hitting slumps with runners in scoring position and quite often this stems from a weak lower-third of the lineup. This has resulted in many potential tying or winning runs being stranded out on the basepaths.

Recently though, there's been a very noticeable change for the better and when combining that with one of the major leagues' most powerful top six, a return to the playoffs for the Orioles is looking likely. Throw in some solid pitching and a bit of luck, and all of a sudden the American League East title, which has been out of their reach since 1997, may even return to Charm City.

Who in the bottom three has impressed you the most during this period of Orioles success?

Daniel Clark blogs about the Orioles at The Big Leagues Daily from Melbourne, Australia. Follow him on Twitter: @DC_TBLDaily. 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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