Twelve Orioles thoughts following series sweep over Tampa Bay

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With the Orioles completing a series sweep with a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Recording their first series sweep since August of 2018, the Orioles played a good brand of baseball over the weekend disposing of a struggling Rays club with higher expectations. The 5-3 start doesn’t change anything for a rebuilding team, but it’s been fun, plain and simple.

2. Averaging more than a strikeout per inning thus far, Baltimore set a club record by striking out at least 10 batters for a fifth consecutive contest. The 2020 Orioles setting this mark says everything about today’s game. Entering Sunday, there had been 279 more strikeouts than hits across the majors.

3. Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc pitched as well as you could expect from soft-tossing lefties, but Milone stood out with eight strikeouts and no walks in five-plus innings Sunday. Entering 2020 with a career 6.7 strikeouts per nine rate, he has 13 in eight frames. That changeup was tough.

4. Hanser Alberto was one of the good stories last year with a .305 average and .398 mark against lefties, but many — this writer included — anticipated regression in 2020. So far, the 27-year-old is batting .429 with an 1.145 OPS and already has three three-hit games. Perhaps 2019 wasn’t a fluke.

5. Give Cole Sulser credit for rebounding from the brutal loss to the Yankees last Thursday with two saves in the Rays series. Brandon Hyde clearly likes the 30-year-old’s stuff and didn’t hesitate going to him in the ninth inning 24 hours after Aaron Judge’s three-run homer. I respect that conviction.

6. Hyde gave Austin Hays “a little bit of a breather” Sunday after his 3-for-28 start to 2020, but the center fielder went 0-for-2 as an in-game replacement. It’s too soon to panic, of course, but you worry about the mental drain of a poor start for a young, unproven player.

7. If we learned anything about Renato Nunez last year, it was how streaky the right-handed slugger can be. Nunez homered in each of the last two games of the series. Defensive limitations hurt his value, but the power is evident with 40 homers in 219 games as an Oriole.

8. Mike Elias says there’s no set date for Ryan Mountcastle to be promoted, but the longer DJ Stewart and Cedric Mullins fail to hit, the tougher the sell becomes on restricting Mountcastle to workouts and simulated games at the alternate camp in Bowie. He needs to play in games.

9. The highlight of the weekend was the socially-distanced celebration after Pat Valaika drove in the winning run on Saturday, but the former Colorado utility infielder showed off his pop with a homer on Sunday. Valaika, 27, hit 13 homers in 195 plate appearances for the Rockies in 2017.

10. Placing a runner on second base in extra innings is weird, but it’s kind of fun. That’s not necessarily a long-term endorsement, but an open mind for this season and 2020 in general is a must. At least we saw the first leadoff double play in major league history, right?

11. The Richard Bleier trade after Friday’s win was a reminder of where Elias and the Orioles stand no matter how this crazy 60-game sprint goes. I don’t expect the player to be named later to be anything of consequence, but the 33-year-old lefty reliever wasn’t part of the future either.

12. With Miami scheduled to come to town this week after having its season paused due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the doubts, questions, and concerns about this season are impossible to ignore. I don’t have the answers, but it’s difficult envisioning this continuing much longer with repeats of the past week.