One surprising area on stat sheet where Aberdeen is strong

The Orioles' high Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds affiliate, at 28-12, has produced one of the best records in minor league baseball this year. There are obvious reasons for that, to include one of the best offenses in the South Atlantic League. The IronBirds score, on average, 5.56 runs per game through Wednesday’s contests.

Then there's a team ERA that ranks third in the league at 3.84 with an unheralded but solid rotation.

And there are more hidden reasons for Aberdeen’s success. Like the club’s tremendous ability to steal bases.

They have stolen a whopping 74 bases this year and have been caught just 13 times for an 85 percent success rate. They rank second in the league in steals, and the “go-go” IronBirds have four players with 11 or more steals and 14 players with at least one stolen base.

In the minor leagues, pitchers can only make a pickoff move toward a base twice per plate appearance. On a third try, the runner will be awarded second base if not picked off. That helps, but manager Roberto Mercado said the club's success in swiping bases comes mainly from talented players employing a good process, not from a rule.

“They’re that good at it,” said Mercado. “The rules, honestly, have not really affected the stolen bases. We just take advantage of any pitcher that gives us a chance to get the bag. That is just credit to our baserunning guy, Matt Packer (now manager in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League).

"These guys learned that last year when they were in (low Single-A) Delmarva, kind of the new-school lead and taking those vault jumps in addition to traditional steals. I’m big on being aggressive. Give guys freedom. It’s OK to make aggressive mistakes. Just certain times, like if (Coby) Mayo is up here and we’re down a run, let’s give him a chance to hit a two-run bomb before we try to steal a bag. But just an aggressive mindset. We want guys to push the limit, and at the end of the day it produces learning experiences.

“The other day when (César) Prieto (then still with Aberdeen) was thrown out we saw the video and talked about it. ‘Hey, what should we have done differently there?’ And he gets it, and even when things don’t go our way, it’s still a teachable moment, which is the important thing in the minor leagues.”

Several IronBirds have strong SB success rates:

* Donta Williams is 13-for-13

* John Rhodes is 11-for-11

* Colton Cowser is 11-for-12

* Billy Cook is 11-for-14

* Collin Burns is 6-for-8

* Coby Mayo is 5-for-5

And many times the IronBirds players have a green light on the bases.

“For the most part yes, most of the guys, we give them free reign to run,” Mercado said. “There are times I’ll shut it off and we give our guys a chance to hit. But if pitchers are going to be 1.5 (seconds) to the plate, we’re going to take advantage of it. They’re forgetting about us at first or second and we’re going to stay aggressive."

And while Hudson Valley has more steals than Aberdeen with 87 to lead the SAL, the Renegades' success rate, 78 percent, is not as good as the IronBirds' 85 percent.

Orioles affiliates all steal at a success rate of 80 percent or better, even though they are not near the top of their leagues in steals, as Aberdeen is.

Triple-A Norfolk ranks ninth in the 20-team International League with 43-of-52 (83 percent), Double-A Bowie ranks ninth in a 12-team league with 27-of-32 (84 percent) and Delmarva rates eighth of 12 at 48-of-59 (81 percent).

A few O's notes heading into Boston series:

* The Orioles bullpen ranks third in the major leagues with a 3.06 ERA for the year. The Baltimore bullpen allowed two runs over 9 1/3 innings in the Yankees series, and on Wednesday allowed no runs for the 16th time. The bullpen ERA is 2.68 in May.

* Wednesday marked the 19th time this season that Baltimore pitching allowed fewer than three earned runs in a game, yet the club is just 9-10 in those games.

* The Orioles (18-27) have played 45 games, and 62 percent of them have been decided by one or two runs. They are 13-15 in those games, going 6-8 in one-run games and 7-7 in two-run games.

* The Orioles had scored 37 runs the previous six games before being shut out 2-0 on Wednesday night in the Bronx.

* Outfielder Anthony Santander is batting .170 (8-for-47) his past 11 games. Cedric Mullins is batting .159 (7-for-44) his past 11 games and shortstop Jorge Mateo is 2-for-29 (.069) his last eight games. 

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