December 5, 2022

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O's offensive struggles clear in loss to Twins

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BALTIMORE — Take in a baseball game at Camden Yards these days and look up at the scoreboard in right-center, the one under the famed Baltimore Sun signage. The numbers you’ll see are less than appealing.

What you’ll see is just one Oriole batter with an average above .240 (thanks to Austin Hays). Only two names have an OPS north of .700 (thanks again to Hays, along with Anthony Santander), often considered the benchmark for an average hitter.

What Brandon Hyde sees is a glaring issue.

“We have some guys that are just swinging a lot of times,” the Orioles’ manager said after a 7-2 loss on Tuesday night. “They’re seeing their numbers on the scoreboard, and they’re unhappy, so they’re trying to get them up in one at-bat. You’ve got to have a pitch-by-pitch approach, try to win every pitch.

“I think a lot of guys are just chasing numbers right now.”

That was the frank assessment doled out after the O’s continued a slate of inauspicious trends, dropping their record to 8-16 on the season. Games — not Tuesday’s, but many others — have remained within reach against a handful of first-place teams, but still absent is the game-changing swing.

And the mere fact that such an singular impactful swing is required, rather than a coordinated attack through the lineup, is itself an issue.

“When you put the ball in play, you’ve got a chance,” Hyde said. “But we’re just not taking enough good at-bats to win games against good clubs and good pitching staffs. You’ve got to be able to put the ball in play, you’ve got to be able to put pressure, you’ve got to not be afraid to hit with two strikes.”

The Orioles collected seven hits on Tuesday, though they came on the heels of a season-low four the night prior. Their output continued to drag down numbers already of concern inside the clubhouse:

• 74 runs scored (fourth-fewest in MLB)
• 25.5 percent strikeout rate (third-highest in MLB)
• 11.9 percent swinging strike rate (tied for fourth-worst in baseball)
• .311 team slugging percentage (worst in MLB)

Most concerning are those numbers in context. After going 1-for-7 in such situations on Tuesday the Orioles are hitting .180 with runners in scoring position this season, striking out 69 times. After going 2-for-16 with a walk in two-strike counts against Minnesota, they are now batting .142 in such situations.

That is what pains Hyde, now flanked by first-year co-hitting coaches Ryan Fuller and Matt Borgschulte, the most. And it’s what’s inciting conversations in hitting meetings, or with players who are swinging a hot bat to try to gauge what’s working well for them.

“We’re trying to be aggressive,” said Cedric Mullins. “At the same time, it’s a matter of getting the right pitch to hit, especially with guys in scoring position. We’re continuing to have talks in the team about how we continue to be better with that. Including myself. It’s a matter of just being a little smarter at the plate, and good things will happen.”

Mullins is among a long list of Orioles looking for season turnarounds. A 1-for-5 night on Tuesday kept his batting average at .221 and dropped his OPS to .670 — a year removed from a 30-30 season, an All-Star bid and MVP candidacy.

Count Ryan Mountcastle in that group, now hitting .227 with a .568 OPS and just two homers. Trey Mancini, among the worst-luck hitters in the early goings, has a .238 average with a .609 OPS, although he was 2-for-4 with an RBI against the Twins after missing three games with bruised ribs. Even Santander, the club’s best offensive player so far, has seen his OPS fall from .902 to .786 in just 13 games.

And most aggravating for the club are the chances they are squandering. Orioles’ pitching has been one of baseball’s better stories through the early part of this season. Tuesday was a bit of an aberration, with Bruce Zimmermann’s solid outing squandered by rare bullpen leakage. But the Birds entered the evening the leader in home ERA across baseball — yet they are now under .500 (5-6) at home.

Pitchers, Zimmermann included, have said they are letting that reality faze them. Mullins said it’s making the already-stressful offensive struggles all the more urgent.

“I think that’s the other reason why there might be a press for our bats to kind of pick it up,” Mullins said. “We see our guys out there working their butts off and they’re keeping us in so many games. Us as an offense, we know we have the capability of scoring a fair amount of runs, and we’ve done it a few times. It’s just a matter of finding that consistency.”

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