January 30, 2023

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'Their time is coming': Rivals taking notice of O's

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BOSTON — Other managers, especially those who watch them closest, are sensing it. Opponents are left to admire it, witnessing a talent that’s been blossoming finally reach the big leagues, giving them far more fits than in years past.

Few may have a better feel for it than Red Sox manager Alex Cora, part of the Astros’ turnaround alongside current Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias.

Cora’s takeaway? The Orioles appear to be turning a corner.

“Stuff-wise, they’re really good,” Cora said in highlighting the O’s pitching, after Baltimore trounced his Red Sox, 10-0, on Monday night at Fenway Park. “You see it. Everybody sees it. We saw it early in the season. …

“I’m not surprised, because that’s how it started in Houston. It started with pitching.”

That’s what Cora was left to assess, the Orioles taking the rubber game of a rare five-game series in Boston thanks to their most complete win of the season. Led by Tyler Wells’ best Major League outing, an offense that “put a team in the dirt a little bit early,” as Ryan Mountcastle put it, and a bullpen that merely finished what Wells started, the O’s are riding a vibe far better than at this juncture last season.

Through 50 games in 2021, Baltimore was 17-33. This year’s 21-29 mark may be just a modest step forward, but it’s improvement that’s garnering praise from rivals.

“They’re really good,” Cora added. “They’re catching the ball a lot better than last year and the pitching keeps them in the game. They’ve got some solid hitters that hit the ball out of the ballpark. That was the whole series right there. We didn’t keep it in the ballpark. They did damage, and that’s why they won the series.”

It’s hard not to give such an assessment when the Orioles did what they did to the Red Sox — both on Monday and over the entire weekend at Fenway Park.

Wells, allowed to throw more pitches than he has in his career, led the way with six scoreless innings as O’s pitchers allowed just five baserunners on the evening, comfortably their lowest mark on the year. It was Baltimore’s fourth shutout of the season in its 50th game; it took the club 150 to throw four in 2021, ultimately compiling just five on the year.

And all four pitchers in the series finale threw to Adley Rutschman — the vanguard of the Orioles’ young talent rising through the ranks in this recent dry spell — en route to catching his first career shutout.

“Amazing. This road trip was not easy, especially here being in Boston, playing a bunch of games,” Mountcastle said. “ … Almost [gave] our legs a little bit of a rest with how well we pitched.”

And then consider what the offense did all weekend. Friday was the tablesetter, an epic comeback of two six-run deficits for arguably the Orioles’ best win of the year.

Then on Monday, four Orioles turned in a multihit effort, led by a four-hit night from Mountcastle, who was a triple shy of the cycle as soon as the fifth inning, and three hits from Trey Mancini, raising his team-high batting average to .309. (Two who didn’t — Anthony Santander and Ramón Urías — homered.)

Monday might be able to rival Friday for win of the year, only in that there was truly no doubt. It was a wholesale effort — seamless pitching, timely hitting and even the defense, highlighted no more than when Urías was almost surprised to look into his glove and see an 110 mph lineout from Rafael Devers had landed in it.

“For me, this was one of our better, if not our best, offensive game,” manager Brandon Hyde said “Maybe we could have scored more runs, but we hit numerous balls hard, took really good at-bats throughout the order. Just really happy with our overall performance tonight.”

The Orioles won a combined 20 games against AL East opponents last season. They’re already over halfway to that mark with 11 in 2022, 4-4 in series against their division.

It’s becoming harder not to notice. Cora was especially complimentary of Dillon Tate and Jorge López, two starters the Orioles’ pitching lab has converted to back-end bullpen arms. In the season’s opening series, Rays manager Kevin Cash — proprietor of the bullpen “stable” — praised the amount of velocity the O’s boast in theirs.

But some of the best recognition thus far might have come from Tampa Bay’s longest-tenured player.

“Watching them the last couple years, they’re not far off from competing,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said last weekend in Baltimore. “… Their time is coming.”

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