The Orioles’ 2023 season is six weeks old, and after they play a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates this weekend, they’ll have played 40 games—roughly a quarter of the season.
As manager Brandon Hyde keeps reminding us, there’s still a lot of baseball to be played, but some conclusions can still be drawn by what we’ve seen.
The record shouldn’t be deceiving: The Orioles are 24-13, and that’s excellent. They’re 11 games over .500. At no point in 2022 where they more than 10 games over.
After they split six games with the only two teams with records better than they have, Atlanta and Tampa Bay, they’re on a pace to win 105 games. That’s unlikely to happen, but staying in contention throughout the season shouldn’t be a surprise.
They’re competitive in nearly all their games. Just once in 37 games have they lost a game by five runs or more (May 3rd, a 6-0 loss in Kansas City), and they have an excellent 8-4 record in one-run games.
In games against the American League East, they’re 6-6. They’ve yet to play Toronto, but that’s coming up May 19th-21st when they play three at the Rogers Centre.
With 52 games against the Blue Jays, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees, down from 76 in recent years, they should take advantage of that.
They’re averaging just under 5.2 runs allowed to the AL East. A year ago, they allowed five runs a game to the East, and 3.8 to non-East opponents. So far, they’re averaging just over four runs per game to teams outside of the East, and if they trend continues, that’s good news for the Orioles.
They’re scoring runs, too: The Orioles’ 192 runs scored ranks seventh in baseball even though they’re not ranked as high in other major offensive categories.
They’re 13th in batting average (.252), 15th in home runs (42), but higher in OPS (8th with .750) and sixth in on-base percentage (.334), an area they’ve been trying to improve on for years.
The Orioles have taken advantage of one new rule in particular. They’re tied for third with 38 steals, and they’ve been thrown out just seven times, a sparkling 84 percent success rate.
The roster will churn: On Tuesday, the Orioles recalled left-handed starter Drew Rom from Triple-A Norfolk as long relief depth. He didn’t pitch on Tuesday or Wednesday, and after the Orioles’ 2-1 win over Tampa Bay, he was sent back to the Tides.
Last month, the Orioles recalled right-hander Spenser Watkins from the Tides for a weekend series in Chicago, and after three games where he didn’t pitch, he was sent back to Norfolk, too.
Mychal Givens, who hasn’t pitched this season due to a left knee injury, pitched for the se2cond consecutive game for Double-A Bowie on Wednesday at Harrisburg. Givens allowed a hit and a walk and two runs, one unearned.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said that once Givens worked in back-to-back games, his return could be seriously considered.
To take Rom’s place on the roster, the Orioles recalled left-hander Nick Vespi from Norfolk. Vespi was 5-0 with a 4.10 ERA and a save in 25 games with the Orioles last season. With Norfolk, Vespi was 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA and three saves in 12 games. Last year, Vespi didn’t allow an earned run in 26 games for the Tides.
Logan Gillaspie, Rom, Watkins and many others will drive up from Norfolk, even for a few days if the Orioles have a specific need. Elias said he expected every member of the 40-man roster to play for the Orioles this season.
In recent weeks, three current Orioles, infielder Terrin Vavra, outfielder Kyle Stowers and first baseman/outfielder Ryan O’Hearn have been with both the Orioles and Norfolk.
Expect that churn to continue. Infielder Joey Ortiz, who was called up when Vavra was originally sent down should be back. Ortiz was promoted to play against three left-handers in Detroit.
Stowers, who’s just 2-for-24 (.083) is under pressure to perform. He’s hitless in his last 15 at-bats.
No one’s offensive stats are unsustainable: The Orioles are 11 games over .500 despite no hitter overperforming.
Adley Rutschman, who’s 2 for his last 24 is hitting .274. His league leading 30 walks give him a .401 on-base percentage.
Gunnar Henderson is batting only .175, but he’s showing unusual discipline. His on-base percentage is nearly double his batting average, .344. His 24 walks are second only to Rutschman, and with Ramón Urías on the 10-day injured list with a strained hamstring, Henderson will play often at third.
Jorge Mateo was batting .347 at the end of April, but this month, he’s hitting just .129 (4-for-31), but his play at shortstop continues to be outstanding, and he’s stolen 12 bases in 14 attempts.
Cedric Mullins (.248 average, .351 on-base percentage and 12 steals without being caught) could improve. So could Ryan Mountcastle (.255 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs) and Anthony Santander (.265, five home runs, 20 RBIs.)
While Rutschman could be the Most Valuable Oriole over the first six weeks, a case could be made for Austin Hays, who’s hitting .304 with a team leading .856 OPS. Hays has played through painful injuries, and has been a most consistent hitter this season.
How about Yennier Cano? The biggest surprise this season has been Yennier Cano, who was overlooked throughout spring training. He’s faced 57 batters, and only three have had hits. He’s hit a batter, but hasn’t walked any while striking out 22.
Cano will eventually allow runs, but his story is the best one on the 2023 Orioles.
Over the winter, it seemed likely that he’d be dropped from the 40-man roster when the team signed free agents, but they didn’t.
In less than four weeks, Cano has a 1.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), higher than Rutschman’s 1.0.