Manny Machado on the WBC and a look back at the three-homer game

In late December, we posed this question: How much better can Manny Machado get?

Machado’s OPS has increased every year he has been in the majors, going from .739 in 2012 to .861 in 2015 to .876 last year.

Here is a look at Machado’s last two seasons:
2015: .286 average, .359 OBP, .502 slugging, 30 doubles, 35 homers, 86 RBIs.
2016: .294 average, .343 OBP, .533 slugging, 40 doubles, 37 homers, 96 RBIs.

In 2016, he produced career highs in home runs and RBIs. He was named winner of the Louis M. Hatter Most Valuable Oriole Award, voted on by members of the local media. Machado finished fourth in voting for the American League MVP in 2015 and finished fifth last year.

He has filled up the stat sheet the last two years, but at 24, he has likely not peaked as a player and there could still be more to come in his game. That comes as great news to Orioles fans, who enjoy watching him play, at the same time worrying that he could leave as a free agent after the 2018 season.

manny-machado-batting-white.jpgAt FanFest, Machado expressed a sentiment we heard often from the Orioles. They like the team they have assembled for the 2017 season.

“We’re building,” he said. “Losing a couple of guys does (stink). But they’ve brought in a couple of guys that are going to come here, do the job and perform at a high level and fit in perfectly. It’s all about bringing guys that will fit in our clubhouse and with the players we have here.

“Bringing in (Welington) Castillo, bringing (Mark) Trumbo back, bringing in Seth Smith, those are guys that are going to help put us on another level. It’s a hard division. Every year is the same thing - they put us down low and don’t expect us to be where we’re at. We like surprising and going under the radar and playing as a team with the 40 guys on the roster. We play for each other and see what happens at the end of the year.”

Machado will spend part of this spring training away from the Orioles as he plays with the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic.

“Just started a little earlier, although working out about how I have every year,” he said about prepping for the WBC and a new season. “Started hitting a little earlier. Just try to get ready for the season and don’t try to change anything. You have to be a little more focused towards the beginning. But it’s just mindset. Getting ready for the season and for what’s important.”

The Dominican squad is in a four-team opening round pool with Team USA, Colombia and Canada. Two of those four will advance to the second round. Machado and the Dominican squad will play Team USA, featuring Adam Jones and Mychal Givens, on March 11.

Before that, on March 7, the Orioles will host the Dominican Republic in an exhibition game at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, where Machado will play against the Orioles.

“It’s going to be fun,” Machado said. “We always played intrasquads against each other, so that is kind of how I’m seeing it. Being across the field wearing a different jersey is going be weird a little bit. But I’m excited for the WBC. I’m excited to play for Team Dominican and experience this new chapter in my life. It’s going to be fun.”

Remember this?: It seems a distant memory now but on Aug. 7, Machado hit three homers in Chicago against the White Sox. What made it even more remarkable was he homered in the first, second and third innings. He became the second player in major league history to homer in the first three innings in the same game. Carl Reynolds of the White Sox did that on July 2, 1930.

Machado became the 16th Oriole with a three-homer game and it was the 21st time it happened. Boog Powell and Eddie Murray each had a trio of three-homer games. Chris Davis has done it twice. Before he hit three in one game on that Sunday afternoon at U.S. Celluar Field, Machado had hit a total of four homers his previous 36 games.

That day, Machado had produced career highs with three homers and seven RBIs by the third inning. He had three more shots to become the first Oriole ever with a four-home run game, but grounded into a double play in the fifth, lined out in the seventh and grounded out in the ninth. There are 16 players with four-homer games in major league history. Machado became the ninth player to homer in three consecutive innings.

So while fans ponder and worry about keeping Machado in Baltimore, how much better can he get and in what ways?

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