Reviewing the good and bad of the Orioles' 1st 2 months - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

Reviewing the good and bad of the Orioles’ 1st 2 months

Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

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Through one-third of a season in which there were great expectations for the Orioles, they’ve largely met them. That’s not to say there haven’t been surprises, both good and bad, with some important questions to be answered.

Their record projects to be better than in 2023

A year ago, the Orioles were 34-20 through 54 games, which projected to 102 wins. They won 101, their most since 1979, and won the American League East.

The conventional wisdom was that they would play in the postseason again this year, though their record would not be as good.

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Entering Friday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles are a game better, 35-19, which projects to 105 wins.

With a difficult schedule of 29 games in 30 days beginning on Friday—all against teams with realistic playoff ambitions this season — if they’re still on pace for 105 wins on June 30th, that will be something to talk about.

Their biggest names are performing well

Shortstop Gunnar Henderson has 18 home runs, 41 RBIs and a 3.7 WAR (Wins Above Replacement). Henderson projects to hit 54 home runs, which would be a team record, and drive in 123 runs.

His WAR leads American League position players, and if he keeps his stats strong, he could win the Most Valuable Player, something an Oriole hasn’t done since Cal Ripken Jr., another shortstop, in 1991.

“I need to start bringing a thesaurus when I’m getting interviewed about Gunnar,” manager Brandon Hyde said last week. “It’s unbelievable what he’s doing and how good he is — in every single way.”

Catcher Adley Rutschman has 10 home runs, 37 RBIs, a .299 average and a 2.0 WAR.

Rutschman, who has played in all but three of the Orioles’ 54 games, is on track for his strongest offensive season. If he could hit 30 home runs and drive in 111 runs and bat nearly .300—as a catcher—that could be an MVP season—if it weren’t for Henderson.

Westburg’s second year has been far better than imagined

Infielder Jordan Westburg came to the major leagues just under a year ago, on June 26th, and performed well in 2023, though his three home runs were a bit of a disappointment.

So far this year, Westburg has a .291 average, an .859 OPS, eight home runs and a 2.3 WAR. He’s played nearly three times as often at third base (37 starts) as second base (13), and he’s been flawless in 113 chances.

Westburg’s only error came on August 15th, 2023 in San Diego.

Burnes has delivered

When the Orioles acquired Corbin Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers, much was expected from him, and he’s produced. In his 12 starts, Burnes hasn’t allowed more than three runs, and the Orioles are 8-4 in his starts.

In the four losses, the team didn’t support him. They scored just four runs, getting shut out twice.

While some fans are eager to see Burnes go deeper in games, he’s pitched six innings in nine of his 12 starts, and never fewer than five.

Bradish, Irvin nice surprises

When it was announced at the beginning of spring training that Kyle Bradish wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day, there were fears he wouldn’t be ready until deep in the season—if at all.

Bradish, who had a sprain in his right ulnar collateral ligament in January, has been magnificent with a sparkling 1.75 earned-run average in five starts. His seven no-hit innings last Sunday in Chicago were a highlight of the season.

In 25 2/3 innings, Bradish has struck out 34 and hasn’t allowed a home run. Though he’s walked nearly four batters per nine innings, Bradish and Burnes could be a great 1-2 combination in the postseason.

Irvin was a disappointment last season, but along with Burnes, he’s been one of two starters available all season. He’s getting lots of soft contact, more than he’s ever gotten in his career.

Last year, Irvin had a 4.42 ERA with 12 major league starts and 12 relief appearances and plenty of time at Norfolk. This year with eight starts and two relief outings. Irvin has a 2.84 ERA.

Suárez is the Orioles’ best story and surprise

During spring training, 34-year-old Albert Suárez emerged as a pitcher to watch. A year ago, Suárez was pitching in South Korea, and a return to the majors, where he hadn’t pitched since 2017, seemed unlikely.

When the Orioles needed a spot starter on April 17th after Tyler Wells went on the 15-day injured list with right elbow inflammation, they called on Suárez, and he delivered.

In four starts and seven relief outings, Suárez has a 1.53 ERA and has been effective as a starter and long reliever. He’ll start on Friday night against Tampa Bay.

Their mainstay outfielders disappoint

More than two months into the season, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander continue to underperform, and the Orioles have won without major contributions from them.

Hays, who was on the injured list with a strained left calf muscle, has a .164 average with just three doubles and five RBIs.

Mullins, who continues to play regularly in center field, is hitting just .141 (9-for-64) in May and is regularly pinch-hit for, something that was unthinkable in 2021 when he became the first Oriole to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases.

Santander’s nine home runs and 29 RBIs project to 27 homers and 87 RBIs, which aren’t far off his career highs, but he’s had just one multi-hit game since May 5th and is hitting only .204.

Colton Cowser, who won the American League Rookie of the Month award in April, is hitting .170 with a home run and four RBIs this month.

The Orioles have played Kyle Stowers more recently, and have Heston Kjerstad waiting his turn in Norfolk. Coby Mayo, who could cycle into the designated hitter mix if his path at the corner infield spots is blocked, is out with a fractured rib.

It will be intriguing to see how long the Orioles will keep their patience with the veterans, though the strong performances of Henderson, Rutschman, Westburg, Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan O’Hearn have shielded them from more negative attention.

Bullpen needs more consistency

Oriole starters have a 3.03 ERA while their relievers have compiled a 3.81 mark.

Except for four rough outings in five appearances from April 26th-May 10th, closer Craig Kimbrel has been just fine. After his rocky patch, Hyde moved him from closing to lower-leverage spots, but after three clean outings, he’s been back closing and has recorded saves in four straight chances.

Jacob Webb and his 2.31 ERA have been impressive, but he’s averaging about a walk every two innings.

Yennier Cano (3.00) and Danny Coulombe (3.05) have largely been effective, but Keegan Akin, who’s been hit recently by left-handers, has watched his ERA rise to 4.62.

Akin, Cano and Dillon Tate are the only relievers with options remaining, and shoring up the bullpen is probably on executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias’ to-do list.

How active will the Orioles be at the trade deadline?

The guess here is that they’ll be active. Another back-end reliever to buttress Kimbrel is a must, and with injuries sending Wells, Dean Kremer, John Means and Grayson Rodriguez to the injured list in the first third of the season, another starter has to be on his mind, too.

If the incumbent outfielders keep underperforming, another veteran outfielder could be on Elias’ wish list, as well.

Overall, the Orioles have had an impressive two months, but the next month’s schedule will determine how many additions they’ll need to make.

Call for questions: Each weekday, I answer Orioles questions. Send yours to: [email protected].

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