Manny Machado's season-ending knee surgery will test the Orioles' depth and Chris Davis' ability to play third base, both of which could be tough on the O's come playoff time.
With a 73-54 record and a seven-game lead over the second-place Yankees, Baltimore is hardly in danger of missing out on the postseason. The Orioles have 35 games over which they'll have to maintain their lead, which is the largest current margin in baseball between a first- and second-place team.
But Machado's absence could spell trouble if the team reaches October. Though he'll finish the season with just a .278 batting average, he was hitting .351 since returning from his five-game suspension, during which—as Yahoo! Sports' Tim Brown notes—the Orioles were 19-9.
With Machado out, Chris Davis will move across the diamond to third base and Steve Pearce—who's hitting .288 with an .867 OPS in his breakout season—will play first base. That means the offense might not take much of a hit; rather, the team's defense is likely to be the bigger issue.
In 655.2 career innings across 80 games at third base, Davis has a -31.2 UZR/150, according to FanGraphs, a far cry from his -1.1 career UZR/150 total at first base. That difference has been particularly pronounced in 2014: Davis' UZR/150 at first base is 52.2 points higher than it is at third, and he's playing the worst defense of his career at the hot corner.
Baltimore already needed all the defensive help it could get. The team's starting pitching hasn't been indicative of a dominant first-place team, with a rotation that has constantly been in flux and doesn't feature a starter with an ERA under 3.55.
Luckily, the Orioles staff as a whole doesn't rely on ground balls to get outs. (Though that might explain the rotation's struggles this season, especially while pitching in the hitter-friendly Camden Yards, where grounders can be a pitcher's best friend.) Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen have identical ground-ball percentages of 40.9, falling significantly below the league average of 45 percent, while Bud Norris sits at 42.7 percent and Kevin Gausman comes in at 41.6.
That doesn't necessarily let Davis off the hook, though it should help mitigate the effect of the defensive downgrade at third base. Either way, Machado's injury could hurt the Orioles in more ways than one, and the team will need Davis to step it up away from his regular position.