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Is Nick Markakis Turning Things Around?

Nick Markakis has long been thought of as the cornerstone of the Orioles’ rebuilding efforts. At least, that's how he's viewed in Baltimore. It was that thought that led the Orioles to give Markakis a new contract a couple of years ago, paying him $11 million a year over the next six. Unfortunately for Orioles fans, nearly every offensive category in Markakis' arsenal has seen a dip each year since that contract was given. And 2011 has been the worst year of Markakis' career.

As Nick's struggles have mounted, so have the frustrations of Orioles fans, including yours truly. On Friday night, he finally did what a number three hitter is supposed to do; he had a couple of extra-base hits and drove in some runs. His grand slam in the second inning provided all the cushion Baltimore starter Jake Arrieta would need in a 7-0 victory. Incidentally, the grand slam was also his first extra-base hit in nearly 90 plate appearances, a stretch that went all the way back to May 15. He added a two-run double in the eighth for a six RBI night. The question on many Orioles fans minds this weekend is whether or not he has finally turned the corner.

I hope that's the case, but, in reality, one night does not a comeback make. Thus far in ’11, he has posted numbers that are substantially below his career averages. His OBP is nearly 60 points lower, his BA is 50 points lower, and, most concerning to my sabermetric friends, his OPS is nearly 200 points lower than his career average of .815.

The scariest thing about Nick's decline, however, is that the numbers this year are consistent with how the last couple of seasons have gone. While I desperately want to believe that he is turning it around, stats and trends rarely lie. And the most telling issue to me has been watching Nick play. He seems disinterested at the plate, swinging early in counts at pitches he can't possibly hit with authority. In most cases, it is easy to notice a player coming out of a prolonged slump because, even if the hits aren't falling, he is still making good contact and driving the ball. Nick hasn't really been doing that all season. His power numbers have almost vanished, as evidenced by the fact that, after averaging 45 doubles every season since 2007, he has just five in 60 games. In addition, and as most O's fans will sadly attest, he has been the Orioles’ biggest rally killer, finding it almost impossible to avoid the double play grounder and rarely bringing a guy home from third with less than two outs. It's awful to say it, but Nick is arguably the biggest hole in the O’s line-up this season.

His fielding has been solid as always, though even in that area of his game, there seems to be a lack of effort sometimes. Obviously, Nick is in a funk and, for the Orioles to have any hope of competing this season, they need their most talented player to figure out what's wrong. In recent days, the media in Baltimore have begun to wonder if Nick is injured and is refusing to get whatever is hurting fixed. According to both Markakis and manager Buck Showalter, that isn't the case.

I'll be the first one to admit that when I watched Markakis drive in those six runs on Friday, every part of me was aching for this to be the game that turns it around. Unfortunately, I heard my grandfather's voice in my head telling me that, "even a blind squirrel finds a nut from time to time." I really hope I'm wrong, because, when he is on, there aren't a whole lot of guys in the American League who are better from an all-around standpoint.

Luckily, because of his durability, he'll get a lot more chances. And when he steps to the plate for his next at bat, I'll be rooting for him, and hoping in a month I'll look back on this blog and wonder, "what was I thinking?"

Nick Markakis has long been thought of as the cornerstone of the Orioles’ rebuilding efforts. At least, that's how he's viewed in Baltimore. It was that thought that led the Orioles to give Markakis a new contract a couple of years ago, paying him $11 million a year over the next six. Unfortunately for Orioles fans, nearly every offensive category in Markakis' arsenal has seen a dip each year since that contract was given. And 2011 has been the worst year of Markakis' career.

As Nick's struggles have mounted, so have the frustrations of Orioles fans, including yours truly. On Friday night, he finally did what a number three hitter is supposed to do; he had a couple of extra-base hits and drove in some runs. His grand slam in the second inning provided all the cushion Baltimore starter Jake Arrieta would need in a 7-0 victory. Incidentally, the grand slam was also his first extra-base hit in nearly 90 plate appearances, a stretch that went all the way back to May 15. He added a two-run double in the eighth for a six RBI night. The question on many Orioles fans minds this weekend is whether or not he has finally turned the corner.

I hope that's the case, but, in reality, one night does not a comeback make. Thus far in ’11, he has posted numbers that are substantially below his career averages. His OBP is nearly 60 points lower, his BA is 50 points lower, and, most concerning to my sabermetric friends, his OPS is nearly 200 points lower than his career average of .815.

The scariest thing about Nick's decline, however, is that the numbers this year are consistent with how the last couple of seasons have gone. While I desperately want to believe that he is turning it around, stats and trends rarely lie. And the most telling issue to me has been watching Nick play. He seems disinterested at the plate, swinging early in counts at pitches he can't possibly hit with authority. In most cases, it is easy to notice a player coming out of a prolonged slump because, even if the hits aren't falling, he is still making good contact and driving the ball. Nick hasn't really been doing that all season. His power numbers have almost vanished, as evidenced by the fact that, after averaging 45 doubles every season since 2007, he has just five in 60 games. In addition, and as most O's fans will sadly attest, he has been the Orioles’ biggest rally killer, finding it almost impossible to avoid the double play grounder and rarely bringing a guy home from third with less than two outs. It's awful to say it, but Nick is arguably the biggest hole in the O’s line-up this season.

His fielding has been solid as always, though even in that area of his game, there seems to be a lack of effort sometimes. Obviously, Nick is in a funk and, for the Orioles to have any hope of competing this season, they need their most talented player to figure out what's wrong. In recent days, the media in Baltimore have begun to wonder if Nick is injured and is refusing to get whatever is hurting fixed. According to both Markakis and manager Buck Showalter, that isn't the case.

I'll be the first one to admit that when I watched Markakis drive in those six runs on Friday, every part of me was aching for this to be the game that turns it around. Unfortunately, I heard my grandfather's voice in my head telling me that, "even a blind squirrel finds a nut from time to time." I really hope I'm wrong, because, when he is on, there aren't a whole lot of guys in the American League who are better from an all-around standpoint.

Luckily, because of his durability, he'll get a lot more chances. And when he steps to the plate for his next at bat, I'll be rooting for him, and hoping in a month I'll look back on this blog and wonder, "what was I thinking?"

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Baltimore Orioles, Nick Markakis