After huge college season, Max Wagner arrived in Birdland today

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He ended the season at Clemson as the ACC Player of the Year. But when the year started for the Tigers, third baseman Max Wager, who hit just .214 in the 2021 college season, was not even in the starting lineup. But once he got in, he stayed in.

His big year led him to that ACC honor and to becoming the third MLB Draft selection by the Orioles on the the first night of the draft. They selected him in round two, No. 42 overall. Not bad for a kid from Green Bay, Wis., who had an OPS of just .651 in 2021.

The Orioles announced the signing of Wagner today, officially their third signed selection following Cal outfielder Dylan Beavers (No. 33 overall) and University of Florida outfielder Jud Fabian (No. 67).

The club announced this afternoon that it will hold a press conference tomorrow to introduce their No. 1 overall selection, high school shortstop Jackson Holliday.

Wagner talked to O's reporters today in a dugout interview about the amazing improvement he made this year at Clemson.

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McKenna growing his role as key reserve and dugout booster for O's

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Orioles outfielder Ryan McKenna maybe at one time didn’t envision his big league role as it has become. He’s a reserve on this team, but he has grown his role to become something of a super sub while at the same time getting constant praise from manager Brandon Hyde for the spirit and energy he brings to the dugout when he is not playing.

McKenna said the cheering for his teammates comes about simply because he wants the team to do well and he wants the teammates he likes so much to do the same. But he is also very focused while on the bench, maybe in the way a manager might be. Hanging on every pitch and trying to note things that could help him later in the game if he does get in.

“I think staying diligent mentally, honestly, is one of the biggest things I’ve focused on,” McKenna said before Monday’s game. “An open communication channel with the hitting coaches has been good. And also, by being in on every pitch when I am not playing – understanding and learning other pitchers and how they are attacking guys, you know, maybe trying to predict what pitches will come or why we are moving guys in the outfield the way we are – just being a student of the game is one of the biggest things.

“I think it is just an emphasis I have put on myself to be disciplined and into the game. Whether it’s a day game or night, 98 degrees, extra innings, or whatever, that is what I try to do.”

McKenna certainly brings a lot on defense and with his speed. But his OPS, which was .559 with a .183 batting average in 90 games last year is now .662 with an average of .255 in 64 games. His OPS plus of 88 is just 12 percent below league average.

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O's game blog: The series opener with Tampa Bay

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The Orioles homestand continues tonight as they host the Tampa Bay Rays to begin a four-game series at Oriole Park. It continues a 10-game stretch with three series against two of the top American League East clubs. Before the All-Star break they lost two of three against the Rays, and coming out of the break they lost two of three to the Yankees with Sunday’s 6-0 loss.

The Orioles (47-48) could get back to .500 with a win tonight. They are 3 ½ games back of the final AL playoff spot. The Orioles have lost four of six, but over longer stretches have won 12 of 16, 17 of 26 and 23 of their past 36 games. 

After going just 1-18 against Tampa Bay in 2021, the Orioles are 5-7 this year. They have gone 1-5 at the Trop but 4-2 at home, winning both series in Baltimore from May 20-22 and June 17-19. The Orioles are 17-23 for the year versus the AL East.

The Orioles are 4-5 in their past nine games against Tampa Bay after going 3-27 in the previous 30. 

Tampa Bay (52-43) is now in third place in the division, ½ a game behind Toronto. They currently hold the No. 2 AL wild card spot. The Rays went into the All-Star break winning six of seven games. That included going 2-1 in the final series at home against the Orioles. But they lost two of three to Kansas City to begin the second half, losing their last two games 6-3 and 4-2, respectively. 

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O's Nick Vespi on return to roster and O's bullpen

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Lefty Nick Vespi returned to the Orioles active roster and bullpen today in advance of the series opener with the Tampa Bay Rays. Vespi has had one strong season, allowing no earned runs at Triple-A all season and allowing six of his eight earned MLB runs in one outing.

In 31 games between Norfolk and Baltimore he has thrown 26 scoreless outings. He has gone 2-1 with an ERA of 0.00, allowing three unearned runs over 21 1/3 at Triple-A, giving up just eight hits with four walks, 28 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.56.

With the Orioles, his ERA was 0.79 after his first nine big-league outings. Then on June 29 at Seattle he gave up six runs in just 1/3 of an inning. It was a major outlier among his games this year.

“You know, to be honest, I wish I knew (what went wrong that one game),” Vespi said today. “I was throwing strikes but things were not going my way. I kept trying to battle and put the team in a good position. Unfortunately, it didn’t go my way that day.

“I talk with Holty (Chris Holt) and Holmesy (Darren Holmes) afterward. They put the confidence in my head and said, ‘Hey, you know that is not you. That happened. Whatever. Flush it and get back out there and do what you know how to do.'”

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Jordan Lyles with some props for the 'pen

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The Orioles bullpen, by just about any standard, is having a great year. It’s been one of the best in the majors this season, dramatically improved over the past and a big reason this club is around .500 this late in the year.

The O's bullpen ERA in 2021 was 5.70 to rank last in the majors. Through Sunday's game, the O's ERA in the bullpen is 3.14 to rank fourth.

“It’s been fun to watch,” O’s starter Jordan Lyles said Sunday morning. “I know there were probably a lot of questions coming out of spring training. We had that spring trade where we dealt two relievers (Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser). But guys have just stepped up, and done more than step up. We have one of the best bullpens in baseball and it’s fun to hand the ball over to them every fifth day.”

It is a bullpen that is probably not getting enough credit nationally for the O’s improved play. The team as a whole is getting props, but it seems some are slow to notice that a ‘pen filled with waiver claims is featuring some real gas throwers and getting a lot of outs. And has been all year.

Lyles said all that velocity is important but those pitchers have more than just gas to get outs.

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

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The New York Yankees (65-31), who own the best record in the majors, have lost just five series all year, one already against the Orioles. The O's can win a second series this season versus the Yankees if they take the series finale today at Oriole Park.

After Friday's 7-6 loss to New York, the Orioles fell behind 3-0 after four innings last night. But they rallied to beat the Yankees 6-3, scoring two runs each in the fifth, seventh and eighth innings.

Baltimore's two-run fifth pulled them within 3-2, the two-run seventh put them ahead and the Ramón Urías two-run homer in the eighth added some big-time late insurance runs.

Batting No. 8 and No. 9, Urías and Jorge Mateo combined to go 5-for-8 with four runs and three RBIs.

The Orioles have won 12 of their last 15, 17 of 25 and 23 of the last 35 games. They are now 26-18 at home and are 9-1 their past 10 home games.

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Ramón Urías: A hitter on a heater right now

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Earlier this season, when he wasn’t a hitter on a heater, the Orioles' Ramón Urías, had you interviewed him then, would have expressed complete confidence in his offense and that his stats would soon come around.

This was when his OPS was .648 at the end of May. The underlying data about his contact rates, exit velocity and other numbers told him he was doing some good things. Just not getting consistently good results.

And now that has changed.

“I just stayed confident,” he said this morning in the Baltimore clubhouse. “I was trusting what I was doing and I was feeling good. Didn’t have a ton of luck. But I just stayed positive and kept working. I stayed focused and things are going well right now.

“I mean I was talking with our hitting coach and Ryan (Fuller) told me then, ‘You’re doing well.’ Sometimes you can’t control it all but he said I was hitting the ball good and my expected batting average was up there. He said, ‘Don’t worry and good things are going to happen.’ That is what he was telling me and at some point they are going to match during the season.”

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Beavers on Yelich comp, Fabian on not signing with Boston (plus O's win)

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Cal outfielder Dylan Beavers, the No. 33 overall pick in the MLB Draft last Sunday night by the Orioles, once had dreams of being a two-way player in college.

Cal was going to use him as both a pitcher and a position player. His fastball was touching 92 and 93 mph and the coaches saw promise in him as a two-way talent. But that didn’t last too long once he got on campus, he told me during an interview for MASN here on Saturday.

“It was right after the fall of my freshman year, so before the (spring) season even started. It kind of seemed like I was going to end up playing the outfield full time. I did warm up on opening weekend but once Covid and everything happened, I had a ton of time to work on my swing, my defense and stuff. And just went full time as a hitter. I definitely have more of a future as an outfielder," Beavers said. 

This season Beavers, as a fourth-year junior, batted .291/.426/.634 with 16 doubles, three triples, 17 homers, 62 runs and 50 RBIs. He hit 18 homers in 2021 and 36 for his Cal career.

He was at Camden Yards Saturday to sign his first pro contract and see the ballpark before he heads to Florida for O’s orientation and the likelihood that his first pro games will come in the rookie-level Florida Complex League.

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O's game blog: Orioles look to bounce back against the Yankees

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Now one game under the .500 mark and 4 ½ games out of the final American League playoff spot, the Orioles (46-47) continue their series with the New York Yankees tonight at Camden Yards. It’s the second game of the weekend series and second of a seven-game homestand.

New York’s Aaron Judge hit two homers, driving in four runs Friday night in the Yankees’ 7-6 win. Judge has eight homers in 13 games this season versus Baltimore pitching. He helped the Yankees move out to a 7-3 lead in the seventh inning before Anthony Santander’s three-run blast in the last of the seventh pulled the O’s within one run. It was No. 16 for Santander and his sixth this season against the Yankees. Santander connected on a 1-1 slider and drove the ball 424 feet. He ended a 13-game homerless streak.

With Friday’s loss the O’s are 4-10 against New York (3-5 at home) and 16-22 versus the AL East on the season. The Orioles are 5-5 their past 10 games within the division and 12-11 in their last 23 AL East games.

Baltimore’s eight-game home win streak ended in the loss, and they are 25-18 at home for the year. They are 12-4 in their last 16 at home.

The Orioles are now 1-3 since the end of their 10-game win streak. And the three losses in this stretch, to Tampa Bay and New York, have come by four total runs, twice by one run. Baltimore pitchers have allowed 23 runs in this four-game stretch after allowing 30 total runs during the long win streak.

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O's draft picks Dylan Beavers and Jud Fabian talk about joining the Orioles

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University of California outfielder Dylan Beavers was an Orioles draft pick, No. 33 overall, last Sunday night. And now, just days later, he has signed his first pro contract and was at Camden Yards today to get a look around. He took time to talk with Baltimore reporters.

He said he didn’t have a lot of interaction with the O’s leading up to the draft. It was a nervous time, but then he heard his name called with the club’s Competitive Balance Round A selection.

“It was a little bit stressful, but I knew it would be a great time and I was super excited when I finally got picked," Beavers said. "I was definitely just ready to get my name called. It happened, and it was Baltimore and you know it made it that much better.”

Beavers, age 20 from Paso Robles, Calif., began his career as a freshman as a two-way player, also a pitcher who could touch 92 and 93 mph on the mound. But he quickly became a full-time position player. This season, as a fourth-year junior, the lefty-hitting right fielder batted .291/.426/.634 with 16 doubles, three triples, 17 homers, 62 runs and 50 RBIs. He hit 18 homers in 2021 and 36 for his Cal career.

He indicated that generating good bat speed gets him to his power.

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Big crowd at Yard Friday, but O's comeback in series opener falls short

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It was set up for the Orioles' ninth walk-off win of the year. They trailed by one run and had come from four runs back to get that close on Anthony Santander’s stirring three-run shot off Aroldis Chapman in the seventh. A 7-3 deficit was now 7-6 and the top of the order was coming up for Baltimore.

But it didn’t happen this time.

Adley Rutschman’s infield single put the winning run in the box but right-hander Clay Holmes got Trey Mancini and Santander to hold on for a Yankees win and push the O’s back a game under the .500 mark at 46-47.

So the Orioles are now 1-3 at the start of a 10-game stretch against Tampa Bay and New York. But the three losses have come by one, two and one run. They are right there against two AL East powers and yet being close is not good enough. It shows the guts and character the Orioles have but won’t help keep them in the American League playoff race. Maybe the Orioles are just not ready to stay in the race and that wouldn’t be a shocker. The shocker will be if they can hang around deep into this season.

But it was a down-to-the-last pitch game against the team with the best record in the majors. And the Orioles' ability to hang with the best teams can’t be questioned at this point.

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O's game blog: O's host Yankees to begin seven-game homestand

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With 92 games down and 70 still to go, the Orioles begin their post-All-Star-break schedule tonight hosting the New York Yankees to start a three-game series and seven-game homestand.

The Orioles (46-46) ended the pre-All-Star-break portion of the schedule losing two of three at Tampa Bay in a series that ended Sunday. Their loss a week ago tonight ended a 10-game win streak. But the Orioles have won 11 of 13 games and are 16-7 in the last 23 and 22-11 over their past 33 games.

The O's 46 wins to this point were the most they've had before an All-Star break since they went 51-36 in the first half in 2016. They have 39 home games remaining and 31 road games. The Orioles are .500 or better this late in a season for the first time since entering play 71-71 on Sept. 10, 2017. The last time the Orioles had at least 46 wins through their first 92 games of a season was 2016, when they went 53-39.

Best win percentage in MLB since June 11

.727 – Los Angeles Dodgers (24-9)
.714 – Houston (25-10) and Seattle (25-10)
.686 – Atlanta (24-11)
.667 – Orioles (22-11)

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Trade deadline could be intriguing but winter work may provide real drama for O's fans

Trade deadline could be intriguing but winter work may provide real drama for O's fans

The MLB trade deadline is fast approaching. And now that the draft is over, teams can turn their full attention to the just under two weeks leading up to that deadline.

You can sense the unease around Birdland.

Fans have been captivated by the 2022 Orioles and hope they make a surprising late-season playoff run. They get attached to the players who have performed well for their team and don’t want them traded. Not all fans feel this way, but many do.

Others realize that the bigger rebuilding plan that has been in place since the day Mike Elias arrived is still in place. It has just moved to the next steps. 

So what will that mean for the upcoming deadline and who will stay and go? We don’t know, and oftentimes the deadline produces numerous rumors but little action. This could turn out to be one of those years.

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He's rolling at Norfolk and Jordan Westburg moves into top 100 lists

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He started the 2021 season with low Single-A Delmarva, but ended it with Double-A Bowie. And now, as the 2022 season heads into the second half, O’s infield prospect Jordan Westburg has moved into the back end of top 100 lists. And, with his strong play at Triple-A Norfolk, has put himself in position for a call to the majors whenever the big club is ready to make the move.

He excelled in the Southeastern Conference at Mississippi State before the O’s selected him No. 30 overall in the 2020 draft. Tides teammate Gunnar Henderson outshines him at times, but Westburg’s Triple-A numbers actually exceed those of Henderson, who is now a national top 10 prospect.

For the year, over 79 games, Westburg is batting .272/.342/.513/.855 with 25 doubles, two triples, 16 homers and 60 RBIs. His bat, like Henderson’s, has cooled a bit this month. But in 32 Triple-A games he is batting .304/.338/.565/.903 with seven homers and 28 RBIs. With Norfolk, only Henderson has hit .270/.393/.496/.889 with five homers and 19 RBIs.

Among O’s regulars on their farm, Westburg leads all in doubles, homers and RBIs, ranks third in slugging and fifth in OPS.

Tides manager Buck Britton has seen what other skippers on the O’s farm saw last year and earlier this year. Henderson and Westburg have a close relationship and like to push each other and help each other. They have played together at Delmarva, Aberdeen and Bowie and now, as of their promotions this year on June 6, at Norfolk.

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A look at a few things that went right in the first half for the O's

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They began the 2022 season by being swept at Tropicana Field, and were 2-6 after eight games. At the end of April they were 7-14. Same old Orioles. Except that would not turn out to be true.

Not even close.

By this point, even the harshest critics or those with misguided criticisms like “they’re still in last place” must realize the Baltimore Orioles are a greatly improved team and trending up big time. The organization’s rebuilding is bearing fruit with homegrown talent that's helping return the club to respectability, and more of that talent is on the way.

The Orioles got to the .500 mark (46-46) at the All-Star break with John Means, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall combining to make two first-half starts. Instead, pitchers that struggled last year like Spenser Watkins and Dean Kremer combined to make 20. Tyler Wells became a first-time starter and rookie Kyle Bradish started 10 times. Heck, even Austin Voth and his 10.13 ERA with the Nationals made five starts.

But still the Orioles turned their fortunes around.

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Another look at day two of draft and O's move to select more pitchers

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In his first three draft as Orioles executive vice president and general manager, Mike Elias selected just four pitchers in the first 10 rounds of those drafts. Of course the 2020 draft was just five rounds, but just four pitchers were taken over three drafts through that round.

In 2019, the O’s first eight picks were position players until they selected pitchers Griffin McLarty in round eight and Connor Gillispie in round nine. In the shortened 2020 draft, their first five of six picks were position players until they drafted high school right-hander Carter Baumler in round five. Last year, among the first 10 rounds, the only pitcher selected by the O's was right-hander Carlos Tavera in round five. That was after five position players.

But this draft was very different.

After taking a position player with the first four picks Sunday night, the Orioles started the second day of the MLB Draft picking Oklahoma State right-hander Nolan McLean in round three yesterday with the No. 81 overall pick. They added pitchers Trace Bright of Auburn in round five, Preston Johnson of Mississippi State in round seven, right-hander Cameron Weston of Michigan in round eight and Juco pitcher Wyatt Cheney of McLennan (Tex.) Community College in round 10.

Of the 12 players they have drafted so far, there are 11 college players, five pitchers and seven position players.

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O's select Oklahoma State pitcher as draft resumes with round three (updated)

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The Orioles began the second day of the draft and selected Oklahoma State pitcher Nolan McLean. He becomes the highest pitcher selected by the club under Mike Elias. The previous highest had been in the fifth rounds in 2020 with Carter Baumler and 2021 with Carlos Tavera.

McLean, who also was a position player as an infielder for Oklahoma State, went 2-1 with a 4.97 ERA and five saves out of the bullpen. In 25 1/3 innings he allowed 20 hits with 13 walks, 39 strikeouts and a .206 batting average against. In 64 games as a hitter he batted .285/.397/.595 with 16 doubles, 19 homers and 47 RBIs. 

He is a right-handed hitter and thrower and was a draft-eligible sophomore. MLB.com rated him No. 115 in this draft class.

The Orioles are making selections today through round 10, and they have eight picks over the eight rounds through the 10th. The slot amount for the third-rounder at No. 81 is $793,600 of a total O’s draft pool of $16.924 million. The slot amount for their No. 1 pick is $8,842,200, and it is $2,313,900 for their second selection, No. 33 overall.

In Round 4: The O’s drafted University of Texas catcher Silas Ardoin, a redshirt sophomore. In 69 games for the Longhorns he batted .271/.391/.513 with 20 doubles, a triple, 12 homers and 50 RBIs. He walked 39 times and fanned 54.

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A look at the O's four picks on first day of MLB Draft

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When the Orioles made their third No. 1 overall MLB Draft pick in team history on Sunday night, the pick was a popular one with a couple of the MLB Network analysts. They reacted quite favorably on the telecast when the O’s selected high school shortstop Jackson Holliday from Stillwater, Okla.

The son of long-time big league outfielder Matt Holliday, Jackson was Baseball America’s national High School Player of the Year. Holliday, who gets 60 grades from scouts for his hit tool, running and arm, is age 18 and hit .685/.749/1.392 (89-for-130) with 29 doubles, six triples, 17 home runs, 74 runs scored, 79 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in 40 games during his senior season. His 89 hits set a national high school record.

He follows Ben McDonald in 1989 and Adley Rutschman in 2019 as O’s 1/1 picks and is the first high school position player the team made its top draft pick since Manny Machado in 2010.

The slot amount to sign Holliday is listed at $8,842,200.

“They didn’t cut a deal here,” said Jim Callis of MLBPipeline.com on the MLB Network draft telecast. “They took one of the best players. I think Jackson Holliday is probably the best combination of hitting ability and ceiling in this draft. He plays on the infield, Druw Jones (drafted second) is an outfielder, there is defensive value here. I like Harold's (Reynolds) Bobby Witt Jr. parallel. He is a five-tool shortstop. I can’t think of too many players - and Jackson Holliday is one - that got better in every phase of the game (this season). Better hitter, stronger, faster, better arm, better shortstop as a senior. He was a good player coming in and he’s a great player now. I love this pick for the Orioles.”

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He's No. 1/1: Jackson Holliday on being drafted by the Orioles

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For the third time in club history tonight the Orioles had the overall No. 1 selection in the MLB Draft. And after taking Ben McDonald in 1989 and Adley Rutschman 30 years later, the O’s went into the high school ranks tonight to select shortstop Jackson Holliday from Stillwater (Okla.) High School.

He is the first high school player the O’s selected with their top pick since pitcher Grayson Rodriguez in 2018, and first high school position player they spent their top pick on since Manny Machado was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 draft.

As it turns out, Holliday, 18, found out he would be an Oriole about the same time the rest of us did.

“I kind of found out as they were saying it,” he told O’s reporters on a team Zoom call. “That was kind of cool. My dad didn’t really tell me. He was on the phone and then he’s like ‘All right, just going to find out.’ That was very, very neat and something I’ll never forget. I didn’t know it was a possibility, to be honest, going into the high school season. I just wanted to help my team and hopefully put myself into a good position heading into today.”

Holliday said his dad, former big leaguer Matt Holliday, was on the phone with his representative, Scott Boras.

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O's game blog: Shooting for a series victory at the Trop

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To show how different the 2022 season is from 2021 for the Orioles we could list several stats and facts. But here is a good one: The 2021 Orioles won one game against the Tampa Bay Rays all year. The 2022 Orioles could win their third series against the Rays this season if they win today at Tropicana Field.

And while the Orioles went 0-3 in the first series of the year at the Trop, they are 5-3 against the Rays since being swept in St. Pete in early April. They took two of three from Tampa Bay May 20-22 in Baltimore and did that again June 17-19 at Camden Yards. After Saturday’s win, they will be 2-1 this series with another win today against the Rays.

The Orioles ended a 10-game losing streak versus the Rays at Tropicana Field with Saturday’s 6-4 win in 11 innings on Ryan Mountcastle’s two-run single in the 11th. The O’s trailed 3-1 to the fifth inning, but then Tyler Nevin’s single brought then within 3-2. Adley Rutschman’s first career pinch-hit home run tied the game in the eighth and the clubs each scored once in the 10th. The Rays had the tying runs on base in the last of the 11th, but Cionel Pérez got the second out of the inning and Joey Krehbiel the third as the Orioles won for the 11th time in the last 12 games.

Maybe they started another win streak.

The Orioles are now 16-20 (.444) in games versus American League East teams. They are 5-6 against Tampa Bay. The O’s are 5-3 in their past eight games within the division and 12-9 over the last 21. They are 3-1-1 in their past five AL East series and can add one to that today.

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