Checking in on Orioles' playoff possibilities, All-Star chances, homestand - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

Checking in on Orioles’ playoff possibilities, All-Star chances, homestand

Photo Credit: Reggie Hildred USA TODAY Sports

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If you’re getting more confident about the Orioles’ postseason possibilities, you’re not alone. Two widely followed models tag their playoff chances at better than 50 percent.

FanGraphs, which projects the Orioles to win 88 games, assigns them a 60.5 percent chance of making the postseason, up from 54 percent 10 days ago. BaseballReference.com puts them at 66.7 percent after its model gave the Orioles only a 47 percent playoff chance 10 days ago.

The Orioles are hoping to get centerfielder Cedric Mullins and first baseman Ryan Mountcastle back from their rehab assignment at Triple-A Norfolk soon.

Without Mullins, who’s on the 10-day injured list with a strained right groin, the Orioles have gone 11-8 and their record is 45-28. Mullins and Mountcastle, who’s on the injured list because of vertigo, have had solid replacements in Aaron Hicks and Ryan O’Hearn.

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Hicks was viewed as a lottery ticket by some. The New York Yankees had just released him after he hit .188 with a .524 OPS, and they’re responsible for the bulk of  the 3 ½ years remaining on his seven-year, $70 million contract. In 18 games with the Orioles, Hicks has hit .321 with three homers and 10 RBIs and a .996 OPS.

When Mullins comes back, the Orioles must cut a player, and it seems that Hicks has ensured himself a spot on the 26-man roster, though it’s unlikely he’llplay as regularly as he has since he was signed on May 30th. Ryan McKenna’s speed and defense have been helpful, and Josh Lester has shown occasional punch, though he’s just 4-for-21 (.190) since his June 3rd recall from Triple-A Norfolk.

Mountcastle, who last played on June 8th, is 2-for-21 and batting just .227. Even though he has 11 home runs, he hasn’t hit one since May 24th. It will be interesting to see if manager Brandon Hyde decides to play the left-handed O’Hearn more often when Mountcastle returns.

O’Hearn entered this season with a lifetime average of .219 in 342 major league games with a .683 OPS. He’s hitting .341 with a .993 OPS in 31 games. In his last nine games, O’Hearn is hitting .469.

All-Star candidates: Adley Rutschman is one of the top finalists for American League All-Star catcher. Rutschman and Texas’ Jonah Heim, a onetime Orioles’ minor leaguer, face off in the second phase of voting, which ends June 29th at noon.

The All-Star starters will be named on ESPN at 7 p.m. on June 29th. Pitchers and reserves will be revealed on July 2nd.

Closer Félix Bautista seems a certainty to be added. He has 20 saves, a 1.04 ERA and has struck half his batters faced (69 of 138). Since his last blown save, his fourth, on May 23rd, Bautista has pitched a scoreless 10 2/3 innings, allowing just two hits with a hit batsman.

Austin Hays was just 14th in the balloting among outfielders, an oversight that Hyde referred to as “terrible.” Hays begins Friday’s game against Seattle with an American League-leading .323 average. He has eight home runs and 31 RBIs with an .882 OPS.

Each team must be represented in the All-Star Game, even Oakland and Kansas City, with both seemingly on their way to more than 100 losses. The Athletics’ All-Star should be outfielder Esteury Ruiz, who leads the majors with 39 stolen bases. Salvador Perez, a seven-time All-Star, should be representing the Royals.

It would be surprising if Hays remains the AL batting leader and doesn’t’ make the team.

The Orioles haven’t had multiple All-Stars since 2016 when pitchers Brad Brach and Zach Britton, catcher Matt Wieters, third baseman Manny Machado and outfielder Mark Trumbo were all on the team.

Homestand: The Orioles begin a nine-game homestand against the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins on Friday. It’s their final homestand before the All-Star break, and they’ll reach the mathematical halfway point of the season (81 games) on July 1st.

Seattle’s star is centerfielder Julio Rodriguez, last season’s runaway American League Rookie of the Year whose stats have fallen from last season.

The Reds are one of the biggest stories in baseball. They begin Friday with an 11-game winning streak, their longest in 66 games. Cincinnati is leading an underwhelming National League Central. Their 21-year-old rookie shortstop, Elly De La Cruz, is off to a sparkling start with a .321 average and .923 OPS in his first 14 games.

Their longtime first baseman, Joey Votto, who’ll turn 40 in September, is in the final season of his contract and is a likely Hall of Famer. Votto, who had left rotator cuff surgery last August, returned to the Reds this week. It’s the first appearance in Baltimore by the Reds since 2014. Votto has played only three games at Oriole Park, hitting two home runs in 2011.

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