Orioles avoid obstacles to stay atop division

A lopsided loss yesterday didn’t knock the Orioles out of first place. They begin a three-game series tonight against the Blue Jays with the best record in the American League.

They are thriving under circumstances that haven’t been ideal. They aren’t catching all of the breaks. They aren’t at a peak health level.

They just find ways to win on most nights.

What are some of the obstacles that they’ve had to clear?

The rotation has stayed unsettled.

The Orioles didn’t intend to find out how many games they could win early in the season with Kyle Bradish and John Means on the injured list, get the duo back and subtract Tyler Wells and Grayson Rodriguez.

What maniac would hatch that plan?

Corbin Burnes is the ace and he’s made eight starts with no interruptions besides that torturous five-hour rain delay against the Royals. Dean Kremer made his eighth yesterday. Cole Irvin appeared to be a bullpen candidate in camp but he’s started seven games and had a 22 2/3-inning scoreless streak. His 2.90 ERA is the second-lowest in the rotation.

Rodriguez is throwing bullpen sessions, completing another one yesterday, and has recovered from the tender shoulder that led him to the injured list. Still unknown is whether he’s going on a brief rehab assignment.

Also unknown is what the Orioles do with six starters after he returns, though the one off-day in June suggests the possibility of a temporary six-man alignment.

Today is May 13. The pleasant problem might be on the horizon.

Meanwhile, Orioles starters hadn’t allowed more than three earned runs in 10 consecutive starts until Saturday afternoon. They had a 3.28 ERA yesterday that ranked sixth in the majors and third in the American League.

The starting outfield has struggled at the plate.

Austin Hays in left, Cedric Mullins in center and Anthony Santander in right. Put it in pen.

Well, Hays is on the injured list with a left calf strain after going 5-for-45, following a 4-for-29 spring training. Two illnesses and the sore calf are making it hard for Hays to find his rhythm.

Mullins was on the bench the past two games despite the Diamondbacks starting right-handers. That never happens. But he’s in a 5-for-53 slump that’s lowered his average to .192 with a .611 OPS.

Santander has 10 doubles, seven home runs and 25 RBIs, but he’s slashing .218/.300/.451.

Colton Cowser was the American League’s Rookie of the Month but is batting .257/.333/.514. He started in center field the last two games and remains a consistent figure in the lineup. His hot start helped to bail out the trio.

Imagine if Hays, Mullins and Santander go on a tear. Santander homered Saturday and doubled and scored yesterday.

Craig Kimbrel isn’t closing.

Not yet, anyway.

If told in spring training that Kimbrel would have a 4.11 ERA, average 5.3 walks per nine innings and be removed from the closer’s role, panic would have spread throughout Charm City. He’s supposed to ease the loss of Félix Bautista. He’s supposed to keep the bullpen from collapsing.

Well, the collective ERA lowered to 3.26 Saturday after 6 1/3 scoreless innings, ranking seventh in the majors and fifth in the American League. Cionel Pérez was charged with three runs yesterday in one-third of an inning, but that was a hiccup. Albert Suárez followed with three shutout innings.

Four different relievers have saves, led by Kimbrel’s eight.

Kimbrel could be nearing a return to his usual role after back-to-back scoreless appearances. He worked on making some mechanical adjustments and said, like bowling, he’s got good spin and is throwing it down the right lane.

That should increase his strikes.

A couple of Triple-A prospect call-ups didn’t make an impact.

Jackson Holliday made his major league debut on April 10 in Boston, one of the most highly anticipated in franchise history, if not ranking first, and didn’t make it through the month before the Orioles optioned him.

Holliday was having better at-bats but went 2-for-34 with 18 strikeouts in 10 games. He wasn’t playing against left-handed starters. The Orioles wanted him to get regular at-bats again, heat up and come back later.

Heston Kjerstad was batting .349/.431/.744 with four doubles, 10 home runs and 30 RBIs in 21 games with Triple-A Norfolk when the Orioles recalled him. He hasn’t played much and is 2-for-14 with six strikeouts, returning to his reserve role yesterday after starting in left field Saturday.

Holliday had a shot at becoming the everyday second baseman. Kjerstad knew he’d have more of a bench role.

The Orioles merrily roll along with or without them. Under any circumstances.


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