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Not Satisfied with “Fun,” Orioles are Approaching “Good”

Adley Rutschman home run chain
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It’s now been over a month since I wrote about how the 2022 Baltimore Orioles threw a plot twist at us on their way to another 100-loss season, becoming surprisingly fun to watch and follow. That was 30 games into the season, and they were 13-17, so now seems like a good time to check back in on how things have progressed since. At 71 games into the season, and sitting at 32-39, the bottom line is that they’ve seemingly just been treading water, going from four games under .500 to seven over the ensuing 41 contests.

However, the W-L numbers in the standings don’t come close to telling the full story.

Let’s not bury the lede here; first things first. Ten days after the aforementioned previous article about the team being fun, the moment we had been awaiting with bated breath came, as Adley Rutschman made his MLB debut. Following a bit of an adjustment period that included a lot of bad luck, the underlying metrics were proven correct, and Rutschman has gotten his feet under him as a hitter. Despite the fact that his struggles extended into June – he bottomed out at .143/.226/.196 on the 9th – Adley has raised his season OPS to .681, and is proving to be an extra-base-hit machine.

Since Adley joined the team, they are 16-15. His presence behind the plate has proven to be even more crucial than his bat has in the lineup, as evidenced by the team’s marked improvement in pitching. They have posted seven shutouts already this season, the most in 71 games over the past 25 seasons, again per Nathan Ruiz. Four of those have come with Rutschman behind the dish.

Nowhere has his influence been more apparent than in the performance of Dean Kremer. Kremer, once considered one of the Birds’ most promising young pitching prospects, was 0-7 with a 7.55 ERA in 13 starts last year, and many fans and observers were writing him off coming into 2022. However, as Ryan Blake points out, he’s a different pitcher when Adley is on the receiving end.

While Adley has gotten more O’s fans to tune in every night, and has rewarded them plenty over recent weeks, of course he is only one piece of the puzzle. Two Birds have been solidifying their CVs as bona fide deserving spots on the AL All-Star team: Austin Hays and Jorge Lopez.

Hays had been mashing in mid-May when I wrote that last article, and he hasn’t slowed down. He’s currently sporting a wRC+ of 135 (.287/.345/.482) with 10 HR, just hit for the cycle in four at-bats the other night, and makes incredible plays with his glove and arm on the regular.

As for Lopez, he had four saves and a 1.13 ERA when we talked about him in that last article? Now? Twelve and a 0.77. Opposing hitters are batting a paltry .134 against him.

Rightly, both of these O’s should be All-Stars. In all likelihood, only one will be, and that’s a shame.

We also touched on Felix Bautista. At the time, he’d racked up 16 strikeouts in 12.2 IP. Now? 33 in 29.2, with a 1.52 ERA and opponent average against of .192.

Other guys in the bullpen and rotation have also continued to carry their weight. Dillon Tate (1.87 ERA), Cionel Perez (1.31), and newcomer Nick Vespi (0.87) all stand out as reliable options for Brandon Hyde on any given night.

In the rotation, Jordan Lyles has put up 1.2 fWAR and has “eaten” nearly 80 innings, and Tyler Wells has posted a 1.1 fWAR and 3.34 ERA in 64.2 IP while seemingly acclimating nicely to his new role. On the other hand, the guy who led off that previous article, Kyle Bradish (due to his masterpiece in St. Louis), has fallen off, watching his ERA rise to 7.38. His future may be in the bullpen, but we’ll hold out hope for a Kremer-like turnaround.

The bats in the lineup have also kept right along mashing, specifically Trey Mancini (127 wRC+), Ryan Mountcastle (126 wRC+), and Anthony Santander (120 wRC+). Cedric Mullins (94 wRC+) has really been the only disappointing batter here in 2022, but a closer look reveals a 110 wRC+ since June 1, so he’s reversed his luck a bit.

Speaking of disappointments, the one big one of course doesn’t even involve a current big leaguer. Grayson Rodriguez looked to be getting the call at any moment before straining his lat muscle a few weeks back. Now shut down until at least late summer, G-Rod’s MLB debut, which appeared imminent, now won’t happen until 2023. So that stinks. As this is Birdland, we of course can never have too many nice things at any given moment.

Focusing on the good, however, seems to take less and less squinting every day, and that’s something to be thankful for. No, the Orioles won’t be a playoff team in 2022 (though they’re currently only seven games out of the Wild Card!), but they’re not on a pace for 100 (or even 90!) losses at the moment. They have 32 wins and 39 losses…at one point in 2021, they had 32 wins and SIXY-FOUR losses.

Remember, since Adley got here (arbitrary? perhaps…let me have this!), they are on an 84 WIN pace!

The fruits of the rebuild are ripening – slowly, but surely.

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