At times, it's very easy to forget that Manny Machado is just 22.
The 2014 season has presented a number of significant challenges for the talented young third baseman, but despite the troubles, it appears that he has come through it for the better.
Starting the season on the sidelines after a horrific knee injury last September, Machado's rehab took slightly longer than Orioles fans had originally hoped. When the 2013 Platinum Glove winner wasn't ready for opening day, it gave yet another reason for experts to discount the Orioles as potential winners of the American League East.
He eventually made his return to the team at the start of May - the Orioles' 26th game of the season - and, as expected, it took some time for him to find his rhythm. After two weeks back with the team, Machado was hitting just .176 (9-for-51) and he'd also made a somewhat unexpected three errors in the field. At times, he looked frustrated and understandably so. After all, since making is major league debut in August 2012, Machado hasn't had too many periods of such low production.
The rest of May brought with it some more consistent hitting and by the time June arrived, Machado's average had increased to .220. The concern, however, was still his lack of power, having recorded just one double and two home runs.
To add to Machado's frustration, just as there were some signs of improvement during the first week of June - where Machado hit two doubles and two home runs - the now infamous series against Oakland took place from June 6-8 and with it came a whole new challenge. During the three-game series, Machado was widely criticised by opposing fans for his role in a number of heated exchanges between the two teams and ultimately, the bat-throwing incident on June 8 would become the key media focus of the fiery series.
With the possibility of suspension looming, Machado played through until the end of the month under pressure and clearly not at ease. The intense media scrutiny in the weeks that followed would have been difficult for a veteran to deal with, let alone a young star still finding his way in the game. Despite the distractions, Machado performed admirably and when his five-game suspension did arrive at the end of June, he entered it hitting .239 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs.
Not only in sport, but in all aspects of life, they say that the strength of a man can be seen by his ability to bounce back from adversity; in the case of Machado, the weeks since his return from suspension have proven just how strong and mature a character he is. Since his return, Machado has clearly put the incident behind him, hitting .400 (18-for-45) with three home runs and six RBIs. Included in this period was last weekend's series in Oakland, where Machado was somewhat unfairly ridiculed by an abusive Oakland crowd, where a number of fans even resorted to displaying derogatory posters impersonating a crying Machado.
During the series, Machado held his head high and played all three games in good spirits - often with that much-loved big smile on his face. While doing so, he also performed admirably considering the hostile environment, going 3-for-11, including a go-ahead two-run home run in the opener1 of the series. While the Orioles left Oakland with one win (almost two) and plenty of respect, Machado's professionalism during the series would also have gone a long way to improving the relationship between the two teams.
As the second half of the West Coast road trip awaits, Machado's average has improved to .267, and his season tally of home runs and RBIs has jumped up to 10 and 23, respectively. More importantly, he now has closure on the events of early June and, better still, the Orioles remain in first place. The Birds have their best opportunity to win the American League East since 1997 and with his troubles now behind him, expect Machado to play a huge role in bringing the pennant back to Baltimore.
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.