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April 21, 2014 at 12:35 am ET
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Under the MicroSchoop

Jonathan Schoop looks like a guy who walked in on the middle of a movie. He’s completely lost at third base and his inability to catch up with the plot is costing his team.

Sunday night in Boston, the Orioles suffered a sickening, come-from-way-ahead loss on a game-ending throwing error by left fielder David Lough. Schoop, who started the game at second base – his natural position – moved to third when JJ Hardy’s hamstring went bad. With the score tied at 5 and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Boston’s Mike Carp sent a rocket directly to Lough, who made a terrific catch.

Dustin Pedroia, the runner at third, broke back to the base and tagged up. But Lough’d been playing so shallow that Pedroia hesitated after tagging … until Schoop failed to cut off Lough’s wide throw that skipped past catcher Matt Wieters and all the way to the backstop. While the ball ricocheted like a stray bullet, Pedroia scored easily. Game over.

Schoop admitted after the game that he should’ve cut the throw. A natural third baseman would have known the throw was headed a long way from the catcher. But Schoop is A) a second baseman and B) 22 years old. Filling in while the mighty Manny Machado rehabs his knee, Schoop has produced some offense, but has looked baffled at third. Sunday night, he cost his team another run when, playing far too deep with the bases loaded in the seventh, Schoop fielded a Mike Napoli ground ball, then threw home too late and too wide to force a speedy Grady Sizemore. With David Ortiz at first and Napoli running, the ball was a fine candidate for a double play.

The Orioles can’t afford bad defense. Whether or not you call them contenders, a major part of what’s dragged them out of the crapper has been their terrific defense the past two seasons. Offense and good defense have helped Buck Showalter paint over some of the cracks in the pitching staff.

But when your third baseman doesn’t know where to play or where to throw or when to cut off a throw from left field, there’s not enough paint in the can to hide the flaws.

Manny Machado’s return will feel like Christmas for Baltimore fans, who’ve watched their manager shuffle so-so infielders around the diamond like a shell game artist. A handful of Tweeters pinned Sunday’s loss on Showalter for putting Schoop at third after Hardy’s injury. I suppose there were other combinations for the three remaining infielders. But I’m not inclined to put Steve Lombardozzi at third; he’s played only a handful of games there in his career.

If anyone in the dugout has questions to answer, it’s the guy in charge of positioning infielders. Wayne Kirby? Bobby Dickerson? John Russell? I forget whose job that is.

Anyway, as they say, it’s still early. No one in the American League East is jumping out to a big lead or falling out of the race yet. There’s plenty of baseball left to play.

But defense like Sunday’s can sour a promising season. Time to tighten up.

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