The Increasingly Dangerous Baltimore Orioles

As the warm weather of summer nears, the’re something else heating up in North America – the exciting, young Baltimore Orioles.

Entering 2024 with high expectations following a 101-win season last year, the Orioles started the season somewhat inconsistently. By mid-April the team was 8-6 and there were some early concerns about the pitching – in particular, the bullpen.

A stretch of seven wins in eight games followed though, including an offense-packed sweep of the Minnesota Twins, who are now the hottest team in baseball after a recent 12-game winning streak. Series wins against Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds (sweep) have followed, with just a small hiccup in between against a plucky Oakland Athletics outfit.

With 15 win in their last 20 games, the Orioles now find themselves tied with the Philadelphia Phillies for the best record in baseball, at 23-11. They’re currently on pace for 110 wins and Baseball Reference gives the team a 98% chance of returning to the playoffs.

The offense continues to put up enough runs, more often than not, to win games. The team’s .762 OPS is the second-best in MLB (behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, .806) and no team has slugged more than the Orioles’ 54 home runs. Gunnar Henderson (.914 OPS) continues to lead the team’s charge, while being well supported by Adley Rutschman (.837 OPS), Jordan Westburg (.849 OPS), Colton Cowser (.929 OPS) and Ryan Mountcastle (.826 OPS).

What’s been most impressive though is the recent pitching performances, with the Orioles allowing just eight runs in their last seven games (1.14 ERA). On the season, the team now ranks fifth overall, working to a 3.31 ERA. The rotation’s mark is even lower, at 3.18, and Manager Brandon Hyde currently has an embarrassment of riches to choose from as he looks to stabilize his five-man outfit over the coming weeks.

Grayson Rodriguez (3.71 ERA) is currently on the 15-day IL with right shoulder inflammation, however he’s recently started his throwing program. A timeline for his return hasn’t been announced, however it certainly won’t be long-term. When he does return, that will push one man out of the current rotation and into a bullpen role. That won’t be either of Corbin Burnes (2.61 ERA) or the recently returned Kyle Bradish and John Means who each made great starts in their first outings of the season this week. That leaves Dean Kremer (3.57 ERA), who pitched six scoreless innings against the Reds this afternoon, and Cole Irvin (2.86 ERA), who hasn’t allowed a run in his last three starts (20 innings), to battle it out for the final rotation spot.

Then of course there’s Albert Suarez (2.04 ERA) who made two great scoreless starts in April, before hitting a speed bump against the Athletics. He’d already made the move to the bullpen, throwing 2 1/3 perfect innings relieving for Kremer this afternoon. Tyler Wells (5.87 ERA), who is also on the 15-day IL battling right elbow inflammation, will also return to a bullpen role in the coming weeks.

While the team continues to win and there’s a lot to like about the way they’ve been playing in recent weeks, there are still some concerns and improvement to be made – most notably in the bullpen.

After an encouraging start to the season, Craig Kimbrel has lost the faith of Hyde – as evident by his swift hooking on Saturday night against the Reds when yet another implosion loomed. The veteran closer has allowed at least one in four of his last five outings, with poor control continuing to be an issue – he’s allowed seven walks in his last 3 2/3 innings of work. This was the fear with Kimbrel upon his signing, and it’s gotten so bad so quickly that a ‘closer by committee’ situation now appears a likely way forward.

Mike Baumann continues to bleed runs, even in the very low-pressure situations he often finds himself pitching in. He’s allowed at least one run in eight of his 14 outings this season and opponents have an .831 OPS against the right-hander. Owning a mediocre 4.63 ERA, the 28-year-old is at a pivotal point in his career and must improve if he wishes to remain on this contending team. All things considered, he should be the first to go when the bullpen is strengthened by current rotation arms in the coming weeks.

Outfielder Austin Hays had a poor second half of the 2023 season (.667 OPS), slumped his way through Spring Training (.539 OPS), and had a disastrous start to the 2024 season, with a .311 OPS and just five singles through his first 50 plate appearances. The 28-year-old has been a reliable contributor for the Orioles with both bat and glove since 2019, however his slum has coincided with a surge in talented young bats being called up and succeeding. Hays, who is currently recovering from a calf injury, will be given further opportunities to turn hid woes around when he returns from the 10-day IL, however he’s running out of chances in a hotly contested environment.

Any finally, while the Orioles continue to win without 20-year-old wonderkid, Jackson Holliday, his unsuccessful call-up (.170 OPS in 36 plate appearances) is still fresh in the minds of fans and the attention has now shifted to his struggles back at Triple-A Norfolk. The young infielder is just 6-for-30 (.200 AVG) upon his return to the Minors, with just eight total bases. The kid has far too much natural talent and a high work ethic to not turn things around, however when he inevitably does, the conversation on how to manage his progression will be long and hard. Acknowledging it’s always easy to say in hindsight, the Orioles did bring him up too soon and further development and experience is required before he gets his next taste. Perhaps a September call-up is on the cards?

The organizational depth within the Orioles is, arguably, better than it’s ever been. This luxury keeps competition for spots incredibly high, ultimately bringing out the best in everyone. It also allows General Manager Mike Elias and Hyde to make the moves required to cover any weaknesses, something that should ensure the Orioles continue to surge towards another playoff campaign.

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2 thoughts on “The Increasingly Dangerous Baltimore Orioles

  1. The Os have the pieces on the 26 man roster and in AAA to trade for a legit closer. Closer by committee will not be successful long term. They also have the pieces to trade for a legit #1 type starting pitcher.

    It will be interesting to see if the Os will enter into a Win It Now approach, which will not decimated the Farm System. Or, do they continue the rebuild the balance of 24 and go pick up the final pieces in the off-season?

    Either way, it is fun to be an Os fan. I have been since the late 50s and the excitement and entertainment they provide rivals the great 60s, 70s and 83 Teams.

  2. You’re a loser and I pity your family.

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