Twelve Orioles thoughts following impressive road trip in Houston and Cleveland

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With the playoff-contending Orioles completing an impressive 4-2 road trip against two AL division leaders, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Brandon Hyde’s club returns home already sporting a 17-win improvement from last season with 32 games remaining. I remember thinking — and being told by a few readers — I was too optimistic predicting a 97-loss season, especially after John Means underwent Tommy John surgery. What a story.

2. We’ll get our first Camden Yards look at Gunnar Henderson this weekend, but the organization’s top prospect homering in his major league debut and playing sparkling defense at shortstop the next night represented an exciting showcase. Not too shabby for someone who was at Aberdeen at this time last year.

3. Just when concerns were growing about the bullpen in the wake of the Jorge Lopez trade, Baltimore starters have logged at least six innings in seven of the last eight games. It can’t be said enough how helpful the starting pitching has been relative to expectations for these pitchers.

4. On the heels of pitching 15 shutout innings to earn two road victories, Kyle Bradish has posted a 2.66 ERA in seven starts since returning from the injured list in late July. The rookie has lowered his ERA from 7.38 to 5.17 over that time. That six-week reset certainly helped.

5. Even on the rare occasions when Felix Bautista looks out of sorts, the rookie shows an uncanny ability to quickly straighten himself out like he did Thursday night for his 11th save. Opponents have gone 7-for-78 with 34 strikeouts with men on base against Bautista. That’s ridiculous. 

6. Excluding makeups, the Orioles are 8-1 in series since the start of August, but they’ve averaged 3.1 runs per game since the 15-run outburst against Boston on Aug. 19. The pitching and defense continue to lead the way, but the offense really needs to pick it up down the stretch.

7. Dating back to July 4, Ryan Mountcastle has batted .184 with 11 extra-base hits and a .548 OPS in 199 plate appearances. He’s hit a few more homers in recent weeks after a 26-game drought earlier in the summer, but his power bat awakening is critical to the stretch run.

8. Adley Rutschman didn’t have the best road trip at 2-for-21, but the Orioles are 53-37 since his major league arrival. Going back to the date of his first home run on June 15, Rutschman has 30 extra-base hits, 40 walks, 41 strikeouts, and an .867 OPS in 258 plate appearances.

9. Beyond wanting to see DL Hall pitch in the majors, I’m curious to see how Hyde deploys the hard-throwing lefty with control issues. It’s fun imagining a 2008 David Price-like relief role for the rookie, but Hall will need to prove he can throw strikes before stepping into higher-leverage situations.

10. There’s a reason why Miami released the 32-year-old Jesus Aguilar (see below), but I like taking a shot on a veteran with his power history over the players available on the bench for much of this season. That said, Rougned Odor continuing to receive such regular playing time is another story.

11. I’m much more concerned with Grayson Rodriguez being healthy going into the offseason than potentially pitching in the majors later this month, but the 22-year-old said he felt really good despite an uneven statistical performance over 31 pitches at Aberdeen on Thursday. We’ll see what happens.

12. As if what’s happening in the majors weren’t exciting enough, 2021 first-round pick Colton Cowser clubbed his first homer since being promoted to Triple-A Norfolk this week. His slow 2022 start at Aberdeen feels like a distant memory after he posted a robust 1.037 OPS at Double-A Bowie.

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