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Pitching Steps Up Again as O’s Take Series from Rays & Pirates

Tyler Wells Anthony Santander
photo: Baltimore Orioles (
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It was another fun week of baseball for your Baltimore Orioles. Despite going 5-2 again this week, it felt much sweeter than that. They took the best team in baseball to the ropes, taking two of three from the Rays. They then followed up by taking another series against the Pirates.

This week was full of highlights and fun moments that are defining this version of the 2023 birds.

Still, amidst the fun, some problems are becoming more apparent, and what decisions the front office will need to make are becoming clearer.

With that said, it is time to react to what happened this week.

Starting Pitching Comes Up Clutch Once Again

Once again it was the starting pitching leading the Orioles to success. The starters had a tall task of silencing the Rays bats, and they answered the bell, only allowing four runs in three games. For context, the Rays scored twenty-one runs in their next series.

This wasn’t a fluke against a bad lineup; the starting pitching legit stifled one of the most ferocious lineups in baseball, and honestly, that isn’t talked about enough.

They had another great series against the Pirates, though it was against a much less impressive lineup. They still only gave up four runs to the Pirates, (technically Kyle Bradish did give up one run on Friday but it was changed to an unearned run thanks to a Jorge Mateo Error.)

This rotation has been heavily criticized all year, and while that was warranted at the time, nobody is talking about their recent string of success. If you are going to complain about how bad they are, at least admit that these guys have stepped up when the team has needed them the most while the offense faces some of the best pitchers in the League.

Wells is the Orioles’ Best Pitcher Right Now

Imagine saying this in Spring Training. Tyler Wells has been the beacon of light for the Orioles’ Rotation this year, building upon his solid 2022. It is easy to forget just how good Wells was in the first half of last year, but many fans wanted Wells moved to the bullpen for the shiny new toys of Grayson Rodriguez and Cole Irvin. Those calls look worse every time he steps on the mound.

Wells has the best ERA out of the five at 2.68 and put together a masterpiece on Saturday, when he went seven innings, struck out eight, walked two, and allowed just a lone hit. It was an electric factory watching that start live on Saturday night. While yes he did get help from Anthony Santander making a highlight reel snow cone catch to rob a game-tying hit, that wasn’t until the seventh inning.

Wells’ expected stats are much worse than his actual stats which suggests a regression is coming, but for now, it hasn’t hit yet. Wells has been a dog for the O’s this year and he needs more respect on his name.

Mateo Lost His Shine

It was another inconsistent week for the offense. While they did have a couple of games where they scored more than three runs, they were shut out twice and managed just a single run another time. While he is not the only reason why, Jorge Mateo is one of the biggest culprits of the offense struggling, slashing, .105/.128/.132, with no home runs and a wRC+ of -36 in May.

You learn something new every day! I didn’t realize a negative wRC+ was possible. We are once again back to the same conversations about Mateo that we found ourselves in last year: “If only he could hit he would be an All-Star.” He still has the 8th highest fWAR among shortstops but how long are we going to use WAR as a way to defend him? His swing decisions have fallen off a cliff. He has taken some of the worst at-bats on the team and he failed miserably against the Rays. He doesn’t work counts, is way too aggressive, and isn’t getting on base.

Mateo needs to step up because this offense needs him as a spark plug.

Are We Close to a Henderson Breakout?

Gunnar Henderson has been one of the most talked-about Birds this season. His rough start to the campaign has been well documented, but I believe we are so close to a breakout, and this week showed it. He is crushing the ball right now and even his outs are loud. His last couple of hits have been for extra bases and he is still walking a ton.

Add this to his cannon of an arm and his defense at third base (yes the OAA is bad, but he passes the eye test,) and no the Orioles aren’t going to send him down.

We are on the brink of a huge breakout for Gunnar. It’s going to be glorious.

The Stowers (And Others) Dilemma

It’s time for a more in-depth look at one of the biggest issues with the Orioles right now. While many will define this as a “good” problem, this is a massive situation that needs to be addressed. It’s that they have a logjam of prospects deserving of promotion, and of regular playing time.

Roch Kubatko wrote about this for MASN last week. I recommend checking that out.

“The Orioles have the third-best record in the majors,” you may say, “why should we worry about the prospects?”

While I hear that, this isn’t just about guys who can move from AA to AAA. It’s about players who could potentially help the big club win games, but who could also struggle to adjust to MLB play. On Monday they sent down Kyle Stowers, which isn’t surprising. He is just 2-for-30 with 17 strikeouts and while he has played solid defense, that just isn’t enough right now.

The Orioles, right now, can’t offer the playing time to Stowers to work through whatever is bothering him. (This isn’t a Ryan McKenna issue either, as McKenna doesn’t start most of the games, especially against right-handed pitchers.)

The problem is that Stowers is far from the only player this description fits. Sure, The Orioles could call up Colton Cowser, and Jordan Westburg, and keep Joey Ortiz on the roster, but where do they start? These players need consistent playing time to work through whatever struggles they may go through but therein lies the issue. With the winning going on, the Orioles don’t have time to wait. They don’t have time to wait for Stowers to figure it out. They are already having to wait on the Gunnar break out, and Mateo is only in because of his defense at this point.

Add this into how the team uses the DH, with Santander not playing there all the time and needing it to give Adley Rutschman days off from catching.

What is the solution then? The easiest is to make room for the prospects by moving Austin Hays out of his everyday starting role and letting Cowser play left. That might be easier said than done as the Orioles aren’t releasing Hays, and limiting his playing time is not the easiest to do when he is still one of the team leaders. Now, using things like clubhouse culture as a way to excuse playing less productive veterans over prospects is the same argument we had last year with Rougned Odor.

It is rather exhausting talking about this problem but it is something they are going to figure out. So many prospects are demanding playing time and call-ups that the Orioles can’t currently offer. There is no easy solution, and some hearts might have to be broken, but if this team is serious (and they are), they will figure this out because we don’t need Cowser or Westburg/Ortiz turning into Stowers or Terrin Vavra. Nobody wants that.

In terms of what is coming up, we have a four-game set with the punching bag of the league in the Angels and then travel to Toronto to face the red-hot Blue Jays.

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