The Orioles entered D.C. yesterday leading the majors with a .357 on-base percentage, and their .807 OPS ranked third. They scraped and clawed their way to a 1-0 win over the Nationals, finally able to lean more on their pitching, with starter Dean Kremer offering 6 2/3 scoreless innings.
The club's .305 on-base percentage last year ranked 22nd, which felt like a substantial gain. A .304 OBP in 2021 was 26th, and the Orioles were 24th in 2019 at .310.
Dare we check 2018? Yes, and they ranked 29th at .298.
They haven’t finished in the top 20 in a full season since winning the division in 2014, when their .311 OBP was 17th. The 2006 team ranked 11th at .339, led by Miguel Tejada’s .379.
This year’s club registered its sixth highest OBP through 16 games, according to STATS. The record is .377 in 1969, followed by .374 in 2000, .367 in 1997, .366 in 2004 and .3573 in .2009 that barely edges out the 2023 Orioles.
They’re getting the obvious boost from catcher Adley Rutschman, who began last night slashing .344/.481/.574. His OBP was first in the American League and third in the majors.
Shouldn’t come as a big shock to anyone who is in touch with Rutschman’s talent and potential. He isn’t just a slugger. As manager Brandon Hyde stated earlier this month, Rutschman is a hitter first, and then there’s the power tool.
Shortstop Jorge Mateo is the surprise performer. He was slashing .372/.431/.651 in his first 14 games, with an OBP that ranked 15th in the majors, just ahead of Xander Bogaerts’ .430. He doubled last night in his 15th game.
Mateo led the American League in stolen bases last summer with 35 despite posting a .267 OBP. He was under some pressure this year due to his struggles at the plate, which eased up for about a month before resuming, and the club’s internal options from its prospects list.
Gunnar Henderson broke camp as the primary third baseman, but he’s a shortstop. Jordan Westburg is the organization’s reigning Minor League Player of the Year who made a tremendous impression in camp, lasting until the final cuts. Joey Ortiz is a plus defender who began doing serious damage with the bat last summer and would have been promoted this week if Ramón Urías went on the seven-day concussion injury list.
Urías won a Gold Glove at third base but also can be trusted at shortstop. He, too, could have made Mateo expendable.
The popular perception was that Mateo, who won a Fielding Bible Award, had to hit to hold onto his job. Speed and defense weren’t going to keep him on the field the entire season.
He could be a utility player, able to switch to second base and the outfield, or be dangled in trade talks.
Or, as it turned out, he could be one of the best players on the team for the first 10th of the season.
Mateo was 6-for-8 in his last three games before last night, with two doubles, a home run, four RBIs, two walks and four runs scored. He left Nats Parks 7-for-11 in his last four.
Dig a little deeper, as STATS has done, and you’ll find where he’s the most dangerous.
Mateo had the second-highest average on “middle-middle” pitches in the majors at .750, trailing only Adam Duvall’s .833, and the fourth-highest average on “inside” pitches at .545. He was batting .333 on two-strike counts.
The exit velocity also jumped, from 85.6 mph last season to 88.5 heading into last night. His double in the fifth was 105.9 mph off the bat.
* Left-hander Cole Irvin made his first start for Triple-A Norfolk since the Orioles optioned him, and he allowed two runs and seven hits with one walk and two strikeouts over seven innings against Rochester. He also hit a batter.
Irvin threw 99 pitches, 67 for strikes.
Colton Cowser hit his first home run, and it came from the leadoff spot in the first inning. Cowser went 4-for-5 with three runs scored and raised his average to .293 with an .820 OPS.
Joey Ortiz stayed with Norfolk while Ramón Urías came off the concussion list, and he collected three more hits to raise his average to .364 with an .817 OPS.
Coby Mayo hit his second home run for Double-A Bowie. Chayce McDermott allowed one earned run (two total) and two hits with five strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings. Kade Strowd tossed three scoreless and hitless innings.
Catcher Silas Ardoin hit his first home run with High-A Aberdeen, and it was a three-run shot. He drove in four runs.
Single-A Delmarva catcher Samuel Basallo also hit a three-run homer and drove in four runs.
Shortstop Jackson Holliday went 2-for-4 with a walk and three runs scored and is batting .371 with a 1.071 OPS.