Trending up, O's close April with a bang

2 years ago

BALTIMORE — They don’t ask how, just how many.

That’s the morale of the Orioles’ Saturday night at Camden Yards, when they were gifted a walk-off 2-1 win in the 10th inning as Red Sox reliever Hirokazu Sawamura uncorked a throw to the outfield on a sacrifice bunt attempt to allow Jorge Mateo to scamper home.

Despite being no-hit by Nathan Eovaldi through the better part of six innings on Saturday, Baltimore has moved to 2-0 in extra-innings affairs this season.

“Just trying to scratch out a run somehow,” said manager Brandon Hyde, “and fortunately, we took advantage of a mistake there.”

The win also finished out the club’s April record at 7-14. And with a month in the books, it’s time to hand out some early-year report cards:

Had report cards been due a week ago, this mark would have been a smidge higher, thanks in part due to a euphoric stretch in mid-April during which the O’s sat near the top of the board in several key categories. Some recent results have diminished the good vibes just a tad, but the Orioles’ rotation remains chugging along admirably in the early going.

They’ve done it without John Means, lost for the year due to Tommy John surgery. They’ve witnessed Zimmermann ascend as an early ace. And they’ve seen waiver claims and past Rule 5 Draft picks perform well, highlighted by Spenser Watkins’ 4 2/3 frames with one run allowed on Saturday.

That merely set the stage for what ensued.

Expectations are crucial here. The Orioles essentially remade their bullpen in the final week of Spring Training when they shipped Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott to Miami. And how has the response been? By various accounts — including fWAR — one of the best bullpens in the Majors.

That’s because of truly sensational starts to the year from López, Dillon Tate, Cionel Pérez, Joey Krehbiel, Keegan Akin and others. A mix of those names and more combined for 5 1/3 shutout frames on Saturday.

“Every bit of confidence in those guys,” Watkins said. “I mean, they’re nasty. They’re absolutely nasty.”

Infield: C-
Top of the class: Mateo

Maybe this should be less of a surprise. Save for Mateo’s spark-plug nature and Ryan Mountcastle’s boon of power, the Orioles knew their infield was going to be a plug-and-play — at least until the prospects arrive. The callup of Tyler Nevin this week was one of the first along that ilk. But still: Rougned Odor is batting .180 across 50 at-bats, Chris Owings is 2-for-18 with 12 strikeouts and Ramón Urías is garnering some of the worst luck of any batter this season.

The trio of Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Santander had sky-high hopes for 2022, so that doesn’t help their barely passing grade. Santander burst onto the scene to open the year, with an on-base streak of 19 games (dating back to last season) that ended on Thursday in New York. But he’s tapered off as of late.

Still, where he’s lagged, Mullins and Hays have been heating up. It was Mullins, now batting just .210, who broke up Eovaldi’s no-hit bid with a double in the sixth inning as part of a two-double night. And Hays comfortably leads the team with a .293 average. But again, expectations matter.

Expectations were modest for the offensive production from Chirinos and Anthony Bemboom this season, neither batting above .200 through 21 games. But their real value has come in their defense and their veteran presence, especially surrounding a crop of pitchers facing a variety of career crossroads.

And that’s passing with flying colors.

“The homework that both these guys put in is incredibly professional,” Hyde said pregame. “Pitchers see that.”

Collective offense: C-
Top of the class: Santander

Pick the runners-in-scoring-position woes, pick the homer woes, pick the overall scoring woes. No matter what you choose, the Orioles’ offense from top to bottom has lagged, near the bottom in overall scoring and batting average and at the very bottom in slugging, with just a .307 mark.

The new left-field wall is playing a small factor — Mountcastle was the first to solve it on Friday — but that doesn’t change the fact that only three times this season have the Orioles seen one of their batters collect more than two hits in a contest. As Baltimore won on Saturday night, top prospect Adley Rutschman collected four during a rehab outing with High-A Aberdeen.

Collective defense: C
Top of the class: Mateo

If Saturday was a somewhat microcosmic game for the Orioles en masse, Thursday in New York was one for the defense. They committed a season-high five errors, now with 25 total on the year that’s tied with the White Sox for the most.

Like many aspects of the current iteration of the club, it’s a work in progress.

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