Zach Wilt: Machado heating up for first-place Orioles

Make no mistake about it, with the American League East wide open for the taking, I fully expect that the Orioles will be aggressive at the trade deadline. Despite falling 6-2 to the Nationals on Wednesday night, the O's still find themselves in first place in the American League East, 2 1/2 games ahead of the free-falling Toronto Blue Jays, who have lost six of seven games. The defending world champion Boston Red Sox are now 11 games below .500 and in last place, the Tampa Bay Rays appear to be ready to trade ace David Price and begin to look toward 2015, while the third-place Yankees have lost CC Sabathia for the season and just placed Masahiro Tanaka on the 15-day disabled list. If there's ever a time for the Orioles to be aggressive, it's right now.

Of course, Baltimore's front office is well aware of these anomalies in what is typically baseball's toughest division. That's typically the case, but maybe not in 2014. Now is the time to make a splash.

While the Orioles could use rotation or bullpen help or may possibly look to improve their offensive production from the second base and catcher positions, they did just recently acquire a Platinum Glove-winning All-Star third baseman. Well, technically he wasn't acquired, per se, but it certainly feels that way now that Manny Machado has begun to heat up.

Machado followed a 5-for-6 night on Monday by going 3-for-4 in Baltimore against the Nats on Wednesday. That's an .800 batting average and yes, of course it's a small sample size, but come on, how often do you get to say that anyone is batting .800? Machado's hot streak stretches well beyond the last two games though. Since June 1, he's hitting .312 with eight doubles, seven home runs and 15 RBIs. His batting average has climbed from .230 to .269 over that span. It's probably no coincidence that the Orioles are 22-14 since June 1 and have gone from a third-place team that was 4 1/2 games back and just one game over .500 (28-27) to the division leader.

It's important to remember that Machado's preseason preparations weren't anything like the rest of his Orioles teammates. Rather than getting ready for the season in Sarasota, he was instead relearning how to run to avoid damaging his surgically repaired left knee. This not only threw off his workout plans, but shifted the time it took for him to get ready for the 2014 season.

To put it in perspective, Machado had 56 at-bats in his 21 spring training games in 2013. While on his injury rehab assignment this year, Machado played in three games and had 12 at-bats with Single-A Frederick. Sure, he had four doubles and eight hits in those 12 at-bats, but getting back up to major league speed understandably took time.

Machado missed the first month of the season and returned to Baltimore on May 1. He recorded his 56th at-bat in the big leagues on May 16, his 15th game played. Since that game, he's performed at the All-Star level Orioles fans have become accustomed to, with a .291 average, eight homers, nine doubles and 19 RBIs. It's actually pretty amazing that he was able to bounce back this quickly.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zamwi. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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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