And now an offseason that could be full of its own drama and fun

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If an offseason can be filled with intrigue and drama, this one could for the Orioles.

After an 83-win season, 31 more than the previous year, the Orioles are a winning team. Now we begin to find out how they take what they have impressively built to get to this point, to get to the next stage.

To get to where they can win 90 to 100 games, to not only contend for the playoffs, but for division championships with a team that could make a deep postseason run. And do it year after year after year. That is the long-range goal for the Orioles, and now we begin to see if they can realize it.

They have done such a great job just to get to this point.

They have a low payroll and plenty of flexibility with that moving forward. They have a top-ranked farm both to produce players to contribute to the big league club and players that could be involved in some key trades this winter.

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O's game blog: A doubleheader to wrap up the 2022 season

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The Orioles battled the weather and the Blue Jays in Game 1 of this series on Monday night. Toronto won the game, which was called in the eighth, by a 5-1 score to take the series opener. The scheduled second game of this series was rained out yesterday.

So the clubs will complete the 2022 regular season today with a straight doubleheader at Oriole Park. The Birds head into the offseason after the games while the Jays begin play in the American League playoffs at home Friday in the best-of-three Wild Card Series.

The Orioles (82-78) have clinched a winning season and could finish with 84 victories with two more wins. But Monday’s loss was their fifth in the last seven games and they have lost seven of 10, 11 of 18 and 17 of the last 28 games. They are 14-17 since Sept. 1.

The Baltimore offense has scored three runs or less for six consecutive games since they scored 14 runs followed by nine runs in the first two games of their recent series in Boston. In those six games, they have scored just 10 total runs on 34 hits, going 2-for-37 with runners in scoring position. The Orioles have not homered in the last four games and have hit just two in the past six games.

Orioles shortstop Jorge Mateo stole his 35th base of the season Monday night. He became the sixth Orioles player (eighth occurrence) since 2000 to record 35 steals in a single season and first since Jonathan Villar swiped 40 in 2019. Mateo leads the AL in steals by one over teammate Cedric Mullins, by three over Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena and by five over Bobby Witt Jr. of Kansas City.

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On final day, Mateo and Mullins contending for AL stolen base title

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The season is down to one final day, and for the Orioles, two final games in today’s doubleheader against the Blue Jays. When Game No. 162 is over, an Oriole is likely to be leading the American League in stolen bases and that has been a rarity in team history.

But who will win the title with two contenders going? O’s shortstop Jorge Mateo is the current AL leader with 35 and his teammate center fielder Cedric Mullins is next at 34.

“It’s been fun. Just going back and forth,” Mullins said about competing with a teammate for the league steals lead. “It was funny when he went back up by two or three not too long and I came back and caught back up. Just Monday for example, I knew he would be aggressive when he got on base. We’re going to bring it down to the wire and see what happens.

“I think that makes it even more interesting, having someone on the same team competing with you for the stolen base title. We’re both pulling for each other. It’s an interesting dynamic for sure.”

Just three times since the Orioles moved to Baltimore in 1954 has an Oriole led the AL in steals. Luis Aparicio did so with 40 in 1963 and 57 in 1964. It happened just once since when Brian Roberts stole 50 bags in 2007 and was a co-leauge leader with Carl Crawford of Tampa Bay.

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After getting O's Player of Year honor, Baltimore is next stop for Westburg

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Orioles infield prospect Jordan Wesburg is looking forward to the baseball offseason. For him it will include his wedding in December and more work toward making his major league debut.

While it didn’t come this year, it figures to be a near certainty for the 2023 season. Westburg is the O’s No. 5 ranked prospect via MLBPipeline.com on the club’s top 30 list and is now No. 76 on their national top 100. He is the O’s No. 6 prospect on the Baseball America list and No. 89 on the BA top 100.

After a big year that included 47 games at Double-A Bowie and 91 at Triple-A Norfolk, Westburg was named the Orioles' Minor League Player of the Year, winning the Brooks Robinson award. He was at Camden Yards yesterday and hopes to make that ballpark home soon.

“I feel like you are one step away when you get to Triple-A," he said. "You are one injury away, one whatever away. It’s really cool to have that realization. But there are still things that I would like work on. Still things I need to accomplish. Obviously I didn’t make it up here this year. And that says that we were winning here with the big league club and I wasn’t needed, but there are things I need to address so that next year in spring training I can have a shot.

“I’d like to continue to be more consistent. Continue to polish up the hit tool. There are flashes of things clicking together and also flashes of going into slumps and a little bit up and down. So, if I can can smooth those things out, it gives me a better chance to play up here. Everything is amplified and a bit harder on the biggest stage.”

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Jordan Westburg and Ryan Watson on their O's minor league awards

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Orioles infield prospect Jordan Westburg admits it was a bit surprising that he took home the Orioles Minor League Player of the Year award after his good friend and minor league teammate Gunnar Henderson was named national Player of the Year by Baseball America.

But Westburg’s season and performance this year don’t take a back seat to anyone. He batted .265/.355/.496 (144-for-544) with 39 doubles, three triples, 27 homers, 96 runs scored, 106 RBIs, 70 walks and 12 stolen bases in 138 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. He led Orioles minor leaguers in doubles, extra-base hits (69), total bases (270) and RBIs. He also finished second in the organization in hits and home runs. After being promoted to the Tides on June 6, he led the International League with 74 RBIs.

“I’m proud of the award,” Westburg said this afternoon at Camden Yards. “I put in a lot of work this offseason to, obviously, produce the way I did this year. I’m happy that I won it. But essentially, at the big league level it’s not about me, it’s about the team and winning games and winning championships. That is what it’s going to come down to, but right now it’s cool to win this award.

“When I saw the news that Gunnar won the Baseball America Player of the Year, I was happy for him and a little shocked that I won the Orioles’ award. That is a little bit bigger award. But like I said, there were a lot of guys deserving of the award and I just feel lucky to have won it.”

And beyond Henderson, several players had big years on the O's farm this year. Henderson produced the top OPS in the system at .946, with Connor Norby next at .886, then Kyle Stowers at .884, Colton Cowser .874 and Westburg at .852.

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A look at how Connor Norby led the O's farm in homers in '22

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He could get lost in the shuffle a bit in a large group of Orioles prospects that had big seasons at the plate this year. Gunnar Henderson was named Baseball America’s Player of the Year on the farm. Jordan Westburg was the Orioles' Player of the Year. Joey Ortiz had a big second half. Kyle Stowers got to Baltimore. Colton Cowser had a strong finish. Others made their marks.

Infielder Connor Norby is neither a top 100 prospect yet or a first-round draft pick. He doesn’t have the size of so-called traditional sluggers. But no one on the O’s farm hit more than his 29 homers this year. He ended the season hitting one more on the final day to win the O’s farm homer title by two over Westburg.

“I feel like I’ve always had sneaky pop in a sense. I don’t try to hit home runs. Every time I’ve tried to hit a home run, I never do. But I think my home runs came from putting good swings on a pitch,” Norby said in a recent phone interview.

Norby is ranked as the Orioles No. 12 prospect by both Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com. And both outlets grade his hit tool over his power tool, which gets a just below average 45 grade.

But his power this year looked like more than 45. 

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O's game blog: The final series begins

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The Orioles have just three games and one series remaining in the 2022 season. Tonight at cloudy and chilly Camden Yards, they host Toronto to start a season-ending three-game series.

The Orioles (82-77) bring a bit of momentum home with them after taking two of three at Yankee Stadium over the weekend. They won 3-1 Sunday, and win No. 82 clinched their first winning record since 2016.

The O's went 3-4 on the final road trip to Boston and New York and ended the year going 38-43 (.469) in road games. That is their best road record since going 39-42 (.481) in 2016.

The Orioles are 44-34 (.564) at home, tied for the sixth-best home winning percentage in the American League and 11th-best in the majors. This marks their most wins and best winning percentage at home since they went 46-35 (.568) in 2017.

The Orioles scored just five runs in the series at New York, and were shut out on Saturday. They have scored just nine runs their last five games, going 2-for-36 with runners in scoring position in that span. They have scored three or fewer in 16 of the last 27 games, going 4-12 in those contests.

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After early struggles, Adley Rutschman emerged as 2022 MVO

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As O’s rookie catcher Adley Rutschman was named the Most Valuable Oriole today – just the third rookie to take the MVO award since 1954 – it can be easy to forget he wasn’t always producing an .800 or better OPS.

Rutschman played his first game this year for the Orioles on May 21, and after 15 games he was batting .143 with a .422 OPS. After his first 20 games he had no homers or RBIs before breaking through June 15 at Toronto when he hit a two-run homer in the fourth off José Berríos, the same pitcher he will face tonight.

After saying how honored he was today to win the MVO, which is voted on by local media, he recalled the early struggles at the big league level.

“It’s just, we talk about the process a lot, and when you are struggling it’s definitely tough to stay in that mindset,” he said. “But just was trying to do the best that I could to stay positive, stay in the clubhouse around the guys and not let it dictate my attitude or anything else. Kind of control-the-controllables-type thing. Just try to continue to learn and show up to the field with energy.”

And he was getting plenty of support and encouragement at that time.

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A winning season for these Orioles makes the 2022 team special

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This has probably been true for a while now but the 2022 Orioles will be a special team in Birdland for many years to come. They may be remembered as fondly as the 1989 Why Not Orioles and the 2012 team that ended a 14-year run of losing.

With Sunday's win at New York by 3-1, the Orioles didn't just achieve a winning season. But they did so coming off their last three full seasons with a combined 333 losses. They lost 115 in 2018, 108 in 2019 and 110 in 2021.

They went from 52 wins to 82 wins.

According to many, maybe to most preseason predictions, they were supposed to lose 100 again. When they started the year going 7-14 in April, it looked like those predictions might be accurate.

They started the year 1-5 but with four losses by two runs or less against two 2021 playoff teams in Tampa Bay and Milwaukee. And they showed off some bullpen arms early on that had combinations of power and stuff. 

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O's game blog: Looking for a series win in the road season finale

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The Orioles have four games left in the 2022 season as they continue to seek at least one more win to achieve their first winning season since going 89-73 in 2016.

Today they play the final road game of this series and road trip, and the final road game of the season. They can win the series with a victory today. They are 2-4 on this road trip and 37-43 on the season in road games. They are 10-13-2 in their road series this year.

The Orioles beat the Yankees 2-1 on Friday night, holding New York to four hits as Jordan Lyles pitched seven innings and the O’s got one each from Félix Bautista and DL Hall, who recorded his first MLB save. But Saturday, the Orioles were held to three hits in an 8-0 loss to New York.

The Orioles were shutout for the second time in 13 games, the fourth in 26 games, the 11th time on the season and the third time by the Yankees, who also pitched shutouts against Baltimore on May 25 and July 24.

New York pitchers recorded their 16th shutout of the season. The game marked just the second time in the last 44 seasons, since 1979, that the Yankees have recorded as many shutouts in a year. They also had 16 in 1998. Yankees batters homered twice Saturday and they lead MLB with 246 home runs. That number is their third-most in a single season in franchise history, trailing only the 306 in 2019 and 267 in 2018.

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Getting crowded on the farm at higher levels in the infield

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Having too many good players is not really a problem for any major league club. As we look down the road a year or two at the Orioles infield, it is starting to get crowded between players we’ve already seen in Baltimore and players on the way.

Of the current top 18 players on the O’s top 30 prospects list via MLBPipeline.com, nine are infielders, and seven of the nine have played at least as high as Double-A already. The depth is strong.

Gunnar Henderson, at least for now, is still prospect eligible and is the club’s No. 1 prospect with Jackson Holliday at No. 3, Jordan Westburg No. 5, Coby Mayo No. 7, Connor Norby No. 11, Max Wagner No. 15, Darell Hernaiz No. 16, Joey Ortiz No 17 and César Prieto No. 18.

Only four players can start on the infield each day, they tell me.

How will the Orioles handle this? Will there be trades? Will any of these players have to move positions?

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O's game blog: Looking for a series win at New York

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After a pitching-led 2-1 win over the New York Yankees Friday night the O’s return to the Bronx this afternoon for Game 2 of the weekend series. They will have a series win if they take one of the next two games.

At 81-76 the Orioles have clinched .500 season and now have five games left to record their first winning season since going 89-73 in 2016.

The wins by Tampa Bay and Seattle Friday eliminated the Orioles from playoff contention. Both teams now have 86 wins, and that is the max number the O's can reach. But Baltimore would lose tiebreakers to both teams, and so they are eliminated from wild-card contention. 

It was another night without much going on for the Baltimore offense, which has had a roller coaster of a road trip for the bats. On Monday and Tuesday at Fenway Park, the Orioles scored 23 runs, hit nine homers and went 10-for-26 with runners in scoring position. Now the last three games – two at Boston and one at New York – they have scored six total runs on 21 hits while going 1-for-21 with RISP.

The Orioles have scored three runs or fewer 14 times the past 25 games and got a rare win in such instances last night. They're now are 3-11 in those 14 games.

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Struggling now, what is outlook for O's 2023 offense?

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There are a lot of ways to evaluate a team on offense, but I often revert to an easy one. How many runs do they score? That is the best evaluation tool, right? It doesn’t matter how a team gets there, but scoring runs is pretty important.

Heading into the series at Yankee Stadium, in the 2022 season the American League team average for runs per game was at 4.24. The Orioles average was – yep, exactly 4.24. They are a league-average offense in the stat that matters most.

But what fans see is an offense that is very inconsistent. Since Sept. 4, the Orioles have scored three runs or fewer 14 times in the last 25 games, going 3-11 in those games. They picked up the third win last night. But their offense has come up short often in the season's final days. The Boston series was the latest example of the consistency issue. The Orioles scored 23 runs the first two games at Fenway Park and four in the last two. A nice four-game average, but surely inconsistent, and fans remember them struggling against Rich Hill and then coming up short again Thursday.

You want a real surprise? The Orioles team OPS for September is .736. That is much better than their season-long number and ranks sixth in the American League. I guess scoring 23 runs in back-to-back games in Boston and all those homers helped that. They scored 10 in one game versus Houston. But certainly, the offense has been very inconsistent. There is that word again.

The Orioles rank 11th in the AL in batting average at .238, and league average is .243. They rank 11th in OBP at .306, below the average of .310. They are just above average in slugging and rank seventh at .395 with the league average at .393. The league average team OPS is .702 (it was .731 last year) and the Orioles are ninth at .700.

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O's game blog: O's face Judge and Yankees in the Bronx

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With their playoff hopes about all but over and elimination likely near, the Orioles begin a series at Yankee Stadium tonight, playing a three-game set versus the New York Yankees. The clubs played 13 times in the season’s first 45 games and just one series since, three games right out of the All-Star break.

The Orioles (80-76) have lost three in a row, five of six and nine of 14 games. They are 9-15 the last 24 games and are 12-15 in September with one game to go in the month. Their elimination number is one.

The Orioles scored 23 runs and hit nine homers in the first two games of their series at Boston this week. But they scored just four runs on two homers in the last two games. They have scored three runs or fewer in 13 of the last 24 games, going 2-11 in those 13.

As this series begins, the Yankees' Aaron Judge is sitting on 61 homers. His two-run shot in the seventh inning Wednesday night tied Roger Maris (who hit 61 in 1961) for the American League record for homers. Both men now with one more than the 60 Babe Ruth hit in 1927. If Judge homers again in the final six games, he will alone be the single-season AL record holder for homers in a year.

At the same time he is also trying to become just the second player since 1967 to win the Triple Crown. For the year, over 151 games, he is batting .313/.425/.699/1.121 with 61 homers and 130 RBIs. Mike Trout is second in homers with 38 and José Ramírez is second with 119 RBIs. But Judge begins this weekend second in the AL in batting average, which is led by Minnesota’s Luis Arraez at .315.

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O's Jordan Westburg is club's Minor League Player of the Year

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You have to have a pretty strong year to beat out Gunnar Henderson for an O's farm award this year, and Jordan Westburg sure had one.

Today he was named the Brooks Robinson Award winner as the Orioles Minor League Player of the Year. Right-hander Ryan Watson won the Jim Palmer Pitcher of the Year award while High-A manager Roberto Mercado was named winner of the Cal Ripken, Sr. Player Development award. Scott Walter is the Jim Russo Scout of the Year.

The winners will be recognized in an on-field ceremony before Tuesday's game with Toronto at Camden Yards. 

Westburg spent time between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk and batted .265/.355/.496 (144-for-544) with 39 doubles, three triples, 27 homers, 96 runs scored, 106 RBIs, 70 walks and 12 stolen bases in 138 games.

He led all O's minor league players in doubles, extra-base hits (69), total bases (270) and RBIs. He also finished second in the organization in hits and home runs. After being promoted to the Tides on June 6, he led the International League with 74 RBIs, tied for the league lead with 25 doubles, while also ranking second in the IL with 46 extra-base hits, 184 total bases and 64 runs scored through the end of the season.

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O's Matt Blood on some of the farm success this season

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No team from the Orioles farm system won a league championship in the minors this year with High-A Aberdeen coming close and losing out on the final game of the playoffs. But it’s been a great year for the Orioles farm and one big reason is that it’s considered among the best farm systems in the sport.

That is not the Orioles saying that, but outside independent sources and three of the most well-regarded and credible. In midseason organization rankings, Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com and ESPN all rated the Baltimore farm system No. 1.

Beyond that, how many farms could even boast of two players that were ranked as the No. 1 prospect from the same organization in the same year as the O’s have had in Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson? And beyond that both those players got to the majors and excelled at the big league level.

In an interview yesterday, O’s director of player development Matt Blood talked about a strong year for the Baltimore farm.

“I’m not sure if there has been another time when two players from the same draft (in 2019) from the same team were ranked No. 1 overall in the prospect rankings,” said Blood. “What we have kind of seen now after four drafts for Mike Elias is that, not only are the first picks excelling and playing well, but the second picks are, too. You look at Henderson and (Jordan) Westburg and (Connor) Norby. They are all getting out in professional baseball and performing.

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O's game blog: Orioles look to win season series against Boston

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With their playoff hopes dwindling to about a small flicker at this point, the Orioles take the field today at Boston. They are looking to split a four-game series and win their season series with the Red Sox.

The last time the Orioles won a season series over Boston was 2017. And today the clubs play their final game of the year with the season series tied at nine wins each.

O’s against Red Sox the last few years:
2021: 6-13
2020: 5-5
2019: 7-12
2018: 3-16
2017: 10-9

The Orioles also lost the season series versus the Red Sox in 2016, going 8-11. But in the four-year stretch from 2012 through 2015, the O’s won all four years, going in order starting in 2012, 13-5 and then 11-8 the next three seasons.

The Orioles (80-75) have lost two in a row, four of five and eight of 13, and are 9-14 the last 23 games. They no longer can have a winning September at 12-14 with two games to play in the month.

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Connor Norby wins O's minor league homer title with 29

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Heading into last night’s last game of the Triple-A season, the Orioles' last minor league game of the year, O’s prospect Connor Norby was the organization’s home run leader with 28 for the season. Norfolk teammate Jordan Westburg had 27.

Could Norby hang onto his lead for one more game?

He would be, perhaps, a bit of a mild surprise as O’s farm homer leader. Norby goes 5-foot-10 and 187 pounds, and most analysts have rated his hit tool over his power tool. He hit over .400 twice in college at East Carolina. And then he went in the second round of the 2021 draft, No. 41 overall, to the Orioles.

And yes, some players with big homer numbers on the farm - Kyle Stowers and Gunnar Henderson - moved on to the big club. But Norby’s year has been pretty darn good.

And he ended it with one last homer, a two-run shot in Norfolk's season-ending 5-3 home loss to Jacksonville. That was Norby's 29th homer of the year. Westburg finished with 27.

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O's game blog: Looking to bounce back with a win at Fenway Park

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The Orioles have scored 23 runs on 29 hits the last two nights at Fenway Park, but they have split the two games. They won 14-8 on Monday and lost 13-9 last night.

The Orioles pitching, which recently had a three-game stretch versus Detroit and Houston where it allowed one run over three games, has now yielded 38 runs over the past four games.

The Orioles bullpen pitched just one-third of an inning during that three-game stretch, but has now given up 21 earned runs in 23 2/3 innings the past four games.

But the Baltimore offense has picked it up a bit lately. The Orioles have scored, as mentioned 23 runs this series, 42 runs the last five games and 52 in the past seven.

In this series, the Orioles have hit four doubles, five triples and nine homers while going 10-for-26 with runners in scoring position.

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Notes on Henderson, 20-game winners anniversary and a tough night in Boston

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After he went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on Sunday against Houston, O’s rookie Gunnar Henderson saw his average drop to .276. At that point he was 0-for-13 with seven strikeouts his previous four games and 4-for-29 with 11 strikeouts his previous eight.

Reason to worry? Nope.

Henderson, still just 21, began the game Monday at Boston by drawing a walk. Then he walked again. Then he walked again. Three walks in the first five innings. Then he mashed a baseball out to center in the sixth. A two-run homer that he hit 111 mph and it went 428 feet. A mammoth blast.

What slump?

Henderson continues to show he belongs in the majors and that he has smarts and poise and composure beyond his years. When he made his MLB debut Aug. 31, he became the youngest player to make his debut for the Orioles (21 years-063 days) since Dylan Bundy (19-313) on Sept. 23, 2012 and youngest position player since Manny Machado (20-034) on Aug. 9, 2012.

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