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Twelve Orioles Thoughts entering the All-Star break

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With the Orioles entering the All-Star break with an impressive 54-35 record that’s good for second place in the daunting American League East, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Less than a week ago, the Orioles had lost six of seven and looked like they desperately needed a break. Five straight victories later, they’re back to a season-high 19 games above .500 while sporting baseball’s third-best record and sixth-best run differential. The ebb and flow of a long season. 

2. Austin Hays debuted in the majors just as the Duquette-Showalter era began burning down and endured injuries and an extraordinary amount of losing to earn the spotlight of starting in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. You have to feel good for one of this young club’s “veteran” leaders at age 28.

3. Many anticipated an All-Star selection for Adley Rutschman, but his father throwing to him in the Home Run Derby is special. I bet I won’t be the only one thinking back to backyard memories with someone special teaching us the game. For the record, my dad threw legendary “big-league” pop-ups. 

4. We’ll see how Dusty Baker uses his bullpen if the AL owns a late lead, but Rutschman catching Felix Bautista and Yennier Cano in the late innings would be something else. Bautista averaging two strikeouts per inning still isn’t getting enough attention while Cano remains one of baseball’s best stories.

5. It’s easy to daydream about Kenny Lofton comparisons with the speed, defense, and on-base potential of first-round center fielder Enrique Bradfield Jr., but I’m just as intrigued by the selection of Florida State right-hander Jackson Baumeister at 63rd overall. That’s the earliest Mike Elias has drafted a pitcher in Baltimore.

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6. Given the five-game winning streak entering the break, the minor-league promotions of Jackson Holliday and Coby Mayo, and the Orioles’ fingerprints all over All-Star week, the draft feeling secondary speaks to how far Baltimore has come. It will also become more challenging for Elias to hit without those top-five picks. 

7. Ryan Mountcastle’s activation left the Orioles with 14 position players and 12 pitchers on the roster, which won’t last for long. A platoon with lefty-hitting Ryan O’Hearn makes sense if you can live with less bench versatility, but optioning Mountcastle — and his .267 on-base percentage — wouldn’t be stunning either. 

8. Ramon Urias starting the final four games — one at first base — before the break was interesting in the wake of Jordan Westburg’s promotion and early success. Keeping Urias, Jorge Mateo, and Adam Frazier on the roster won’t be easy, so you wonder if a trade could be in the works.

9. Colton Cowser is 3-for-16 over his first five games, but he’s showcased his batting eye with four walks in 21 plate appearances. You also have to love the outfield defense potential of Hays and Cowser flanking Cedric Mullins, which allows Anthony Santander to be the designated hitter more often. 

10. The last turn through the rotation was encouraging, but Grayson Rodriguez was very good in three of his last four full outings at Norfolk. You’d love to see what adjustments the talented rookie has made against major league hitters, especially with the trade deadline looming in three weeks. 

11. Despite stealing a whopping 30 bags in March and April, the Orioles rank 16th in the majors in stolen bases with 63, which is two below the league average. Of course, that total has been stunted by Mateo’s post-April collapse at the plate and Mullins’ groin injury. 

12. The Orioles enjoy their best winning percentage at the break since 1997 and are 102-70 since starting their 10-game winning streak on July 3, 2022. In other words, there’s no reason to believe this team isn’t for real and no excuse not to make the playoffs. Success breeds greater expectations.

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