As Santander continues to rake, will rest of O's keep up?

In the big picture, the Orioles are 12-12 to start a 60-game season and contending for a playoff berth. They have shown much improvement on offense and in their bullpen. But in the smaller, most recent slice of the season they've gone 1-5 in six games and contributed to their own demise a couple of times.

Baserunning mistakes late in the game Tuesday and in the first inning Wednesday were costly. They went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position in the first two innings yesterday. They had a chance to build an early lead and could not do it. They have had their starter go six innings or more just three times on the season.

So it's a mixed bag.

Outfielder Anthony Santander might be turning into an All-Star before our eyes. He is batting .299/.346/.701 on the year with 10 doubles, a triple, nine homers and 25 RBIs. His OPS is 1.047. He is batting .362 with seven homers and 18 RBIs during a 14-game hitting streak. He even threw out a runner trying for second base on Tuesday night.

Santander-HR-Trot-White-Sidebar.jpgThere are several advanced and/or peripheral stats that show us how this guy has improved. His strikeout rate is down from 21 percent last year to 12 percent now. That is the best mark on the team right now. Their top slugger is striking out at a lesser rate than everyone on the club. Impressive.

Santander's line drive percentage is up from 17 to 27 percent, so he's hitting the ball harder more consistently. And he is using the whole field better. In 2019 he had a pull percentage of 46 percent. Now that is down to 37 percent. Meanwhile, his hitting of the ball to the opposite field has gone up from 24 to 30 percent. Statcast numbers show us that Santander's exit velocity is up slightly and his average launch angle of 22 percent will play just fine.

It seems like he's been in the organization a long time now, and he has. He was added as Rule 5 draft pick by the club on Dec. 8, 2016. He was coming off a huge year, but it was in the Single-A Carolina League. For Lynchburg in the Cleveland Indians organization he hit .290/368/.494 with 42 doubles, 20 homers, 90 runs, 95 RBIs and an .862 OPS.

Here is what then-general manager Dan Duquette said that day when the Orioles added Santander, who had a bad right shoulder at the time of his acquisition: "He's a disciple of Victor Martinez. If you see him play, he has a lot of Martinez's mannerisms. He has a similar stance. Excellent young hitter. He was the best young player in the Carolina League.

"He had 95 RBIs, hit 20 home runs and is just 22 years old. He was the youngest player we were considering for the draft. But we like his capability to hit in the big leagues, from both sides of the plate with power.

"He recently had a surgery on his (right) shoulder. But at 22 years old, we think there is enough ability there, particularly with the bat, to take a chance on him and get him into our organization. That was a good club that the Indians had in the Carolina League and this kid was the best offensive player in the league."

Now, four years later, he's one of the best offensive players to this point in the American League. Nice Rule 5 addition.

The O's offense has been among the AL's best so far and that group gets good grades. The bullpen has several pitchers showing nice improvements, led by Tanner Scott, who has not allowed an earned run through 8 2/3 innings on one hit with 13 strikeouts. Mychal Givens has thrown nine scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts. Miguel Castro has a 3.27 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 11 innings. Shawn Armstrong has a 1.64 ERA with a WHIP of 0.727. Paul Fry's ERA grew to 3.00 yesterday, in part when Dwight Smith Jr. could not get to a bloop double in the ninth. The 'pen has added Dillon Tate, and Hunter Harvey could be ready during the next road trip.

On the other hand, Chris Davis remains a constant source of frustration for fans. Whatever good vibes he generated in spring training are long gone. He's batting .122 with a .357 OPS. When batting with runners in scoring position, he is 0-for-13 with eight strikeouts.

Smith ran through a stop sign in the 10th inning Tuesday and failed to field that ball yesterday. He had two hits Wednesday afternoon and that increased his average to .233. The O's seem in need of an upgrade in left field. Are they ready to give prospect Ryan Mountcastle a shot? Or if they want someone with major league experience while the kid continues to develop, they could call on Mason Williams, who is with the group of players at Bowie.

As good as the O's offense has been, playing the next stretch of games without Austin Hays and José Iglesias could prove a real test. They can't count on the same small group of players to keep producing .900-plus OPS numbers.

So we've seen some good and not so good in the first 24 games. On the whole, the club is exceeding the expectations of most and has provided some great storylines, such as Santander's breakout performance.

But in the short term, the last few games have showed some warts. Can the Orioles right the ship during the series that starts with Boston tonight?

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