O's get on a roll, close first-place gap as first half is about to close

MINNEAPOLIS - A four-game win streak by the Orioles as the first half is about to end today was a nice response to a 1-6 stretch. Where some feared they could get swept by the Yankees after losing Monday and Tuesday in the Bronx, they are 4-0 since and have outscored their opposition 29-7.

They've won a couple of close games, one in extra innings, gotten four games of clutch hits, had one resounding blowout and one comfortable win and otherwise showed a nice finishing kick. 

They are who you thought they were if you thought that was a solid playoff contender and one with one of MLB's best records. 

Some of Birdland's angst and panic by a few recently was unfounded.

And last night, Atlanta beat Tampa Bay 6-1, handing the Rays a seventh straight loss. The Orioles moved to within two games of first place and the O's and Rays both now have 35 losses. 

Last week they scored just three runs against Minnesota pitching which leads MLB in team ERA. But this weekend they've scored nine runs without a single home run.

They are 6-for-11 (.545) with runners in scoring position this series and 18-for-42 (.429) during the win streak.

Right-hander Tyler Wells was good again Saturday - throwing his eighth start in a row allowing two earned runs or less. He has a 2.83 ERA during that span and for the year is 7-4 with a 3.18 ERA that ranks ninth-best in the AL. His 0.93 WHIP leads all of MLB.

But he won't be in Seattle this coming week and instead left us with one of the quotes of the year yesterday about that.

“I felt like I put together a really quality first half. But, as someone once told me ‘To be an All-Star you only have to play for the first half. To be a World Champion you have to play good for the whole year. I want to win a championship.”

Put that on a tee shirt.

O's starting pitchers are rolling as the first half winds down. They have four straight quality starts with an ERA of 1.42 in that span. And a rotation ERA of 2.23 with six quality starts the past eight games.

The Orioles have 32 quality starts for the year and go 24-8 when they get one.

Cowser's improved plate discipline: Plenty of talent and his big year at Triple-A for Norfolk got outfielder Colton Cowser to the major leagues to make his debut this past Wednesday.

But improved plate discipline was a big element of all of the above. Taking his 27-game sample at Triple-A late last year and his 56 games at Norfolk this season his walk rate jumped up from 10.5 to 18.7 while his K rate dropped from 30.6 to 23.2.

That meant his wRC+ of 106 last year, just above the International League average was 152 this year at the time of his callup. He walked 13 times in 27 games in 2022 and then walked 48 times in 56 games this season.

“In the offseason, one of my main goals was I felt I was striking out too much last year. And I wanted to make an effort to fine tune the approach and attack pitches in the zone and not swing at ones outside of it. It helped in Triple-A too having the automatic zone (The ABS system). You are actually taking balls that are balls. It was good to be rewarded for things like that.”

The good eye has carried over into the majors. He has walked four times in four O's games with no strikeouts. He is 2-for-13 but has scored four times, knocked in two runs and has a .389 OBP.

Cowser said he liked the ABS system and it really helped him better hone and train his eye at the plate.

“I think not missing the pitches that I am getting to hit early in the count,” he also cited for helping him with his huge stats this season for the Tides. “I was putting those in play and not getting behind in counts as much. That is still something I have to keep working to build on.”

And Cowser has shown in these first few MLB games he is bringing his improved plate discipline to the show.

“Yeah, the big thing is, not really changing the approach. Continue to do the same things. Get on base and help this team win," he said Friday in Minnesota.

So is he starting to settle in yet in the bigs after a few games?

“It’s still moving pretty fast,” he said. “But I think I’ve done a good job slowing it down.”

And it's clear he brings energy to the clubhouse too. The young players on the team seem to love to be around his fun personality. Cowser was able to truly be himself when he joined this team in New York.

“There are so many familiar faces here it was pretty easy to be the same guy," he said. 

Manager Brandon Hyde threw some big praise Cowser's way before Saturday's game at Target Field.

"I think he's been amazing," he said. "Love his at-bats. Looks like he's been doing that for a while up here. Even that at-bat against (Jhoan) Duran (Friday) night, you know the call at first base. Just, he hadn't seen 103 mph sinkers before. Spit on some stuff down. Just relaxed throughout that big spot. Been really, really impressed with the way he's handled himself in the dugout. Defense has been really, really solid. I like his energy and he's fun to be around."

Futures Game: The National League beat the AL team 5-0 last night in the All-Star Futures Game. Heston Kjerstad started for the AL and went 1-for-2 with a single. Jackson Holliday got just one at-bat and struck out to go 0-for-1.

O's player development Twitter put out posts you can see here and here

Feeling a draft: The MLB Draft begins tonight as the teams will select players over 20 rounds over the next three days. The Orioles have the No. 17 pick tonight in round one. 

In the last week, there have been a few draft stories in this space. In this article, I wondered if having the No. 1 ranked farm would impact draft strategy for the club this year. Could the club select a pitcher first this year? We looked into that in this entry. In this blog, MLBPipeline.com's Jim Callis discussed some players the O's could take with their first selection.





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