With the Orioles showing marked improvement from recent years as June winds down, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Monday’s 9-2 victory clinched the Orioles’ first full winning month since August 2017 when new arrival Tim Beckham looked like Superman, Dylan Bundy pitched like an ace, and Adley Rutschman was a 19-year-old at Oregon State. It’s been a slog, but this club is becoming more and more entertaining.
2. If someone told you Baltimore would be five games below .500 through 75 games despite John Means undergoing Tommy John surgery, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall not yet making their debuts, Bruce Zimmermann being demoted to Triple-A, and Kyle Bradish having a 7.38 ERA, you could have won serious money.
3. After collecting two extra-base hits in his first 64 major league plate appearances, Rutschman now has 13 over his last 57. Since losing his debut game to fall to 16-25, the Orioles have gone 19-15. That’s not all Rutschman, of course, but his arrival hopefully signaled a sea change.
4. Austin Hays is my choice as Most Valuable Oriole in the first half, but Tyler Wells has been a remarkable story. Despite showing promise as a Rule 5 rookie reliever last year, few would have predicted such success starting that’s making it more challenging to manage his innings.
5. That workload is one reason why I have concerns about the rotation holding up for the Orioles to maintain that .500 pace since early May. There’s much reason for optimism, but starting pitching remains the biggest question — for 2022 and beyond. That’s when we’ll really find out about Mike Elias.
6. Dean Kremer continuing to look like a major league starter would help calm some of that angst. Though the 1.71 ERA is clearly in line for regression, he’s shown improved fastball command after his nightmare 2021 season. The Orioles can’t solely depend on Rodriguez and Hall for the future.
7. The jury remains out on this regime’s ability to develop and find starters, but the number of waiver claims who’ve become useful bullpen pieces is impressive. In Friday’s win at Chicago, five of them — Austin Voth, Joey Krehbiel, Bryan Baker, Cionel Perez, and Jorge Lopez — combined for a one-hitter.
8. After watching the Orioles regress from having one of baseball’s best fielding teams in 2014 to kicking the ball around on a nightly basis for years, it’s been refreshing seeing this club play above-average defense. They’re fourth in the majors in defensive runs saved. That’s how you help young pitchers.
9. His defense and speed remain very valuable, but I’d like to see Cedric Mullins get back to being more patient and line-drive-minded. Expecting him to duplicate a 30-30 season was unreasonable, but a diminished walk rate and increased launch angle have resulted in six homers and a sub-.700 OPS.
10. Perhaps the club’s improvement prompts some last-minute extension dialogue before the trade deadline, but I’d still like to see Trey Mancini get the chance to join a playoff contender. What’s not to say Mancini couldn’t return this offseason if a deal makes sense for both sides?
11. Being more conservative with Gunnar Henderson — who turns 21 Wednesday — at Norfolk is justifiable, but I’m not sure how long the Orioles can keep the 23-year-old Jordan Westburg at Triple-A with a .366/.392/.732 slash line and 14 extra-base hits in 74 plate appearances. Fun problems to have.
12. I liked seeing Colton Cowser, Coby Mayo, and Connor Norby get the promotion to Bowie. If you’re going to value college hitters with higher floors — though Mayo was a high school draft pick — those prospects should be on a fast track, especially with the major league club nearing relevancy.