Orioles trying to follow path of 1966 champions

The Orioles scored twice last night in the opening game of another homestand, a paltry output by their standards but also exhibiting two ways they can go about their offensive business.

They collected three singles in the third inning, the last two with two outs, keeping a rally alive and passing the bat to the next guy.

Cedric Mullins launched a changeup onto the flag court in right field in the fourth to break a tie. They also can flex their muscle.

This is a special group, with numbers early on that haven’t been posted here in a long time.

The game began with the Orioles leading the American League with a .260 average, .459 slugging percentage and .780 OPS. The last time they finished a season first in all three categories was also the first time they were crowned champions.

You have to go back to 1966, with assistance from STATS research, when the Orioles posted a .258 average, .409 slugging percentage and .733 OPS.

The 2024 Orioles ranked fifth yesterday with a .321 on-base percentage. The 1966 crew, however, made it a clean sweep by being first at .324.

Speaking of sweeps, they disposed of the heavily favored Dodgers in four games in the World Series.

Frank Robinson won the Triple Crown, and his second career Most Valuable Player Award, with a .316 average, 49 home runs and 122 RBIs in his first season with the Orioles. He also led the club with a .410 on-base percentage, .637 slugging and 1.047 OPS.

The lineup included two other future Hall of Famers in third baseman Brooks Robinson and shortstop Luis Aparicio – and a third when Jim Palmer was pitching in the pre-designated hitter days. Boog Powell finished third in MVP voting after batting .287/.372/.532 with 34 homers and 109 RBI.

Curt Blefary was third on the club with 23 homers, a .371 on-base percentage, .468 slugging and .839 OPS.

They were good and they were deep. Sounds familiar, right? Except there might be a little more youth on this club.

The 1922 St. Louis Browns finished first in the American League with a .313 average, .455 slugging and .827 OPS, 32 years before the franchise moved to Baltimore. That’s it.

This year’s group is trying to join an exclusive club in Orioles history without even realizing it.

“It’s just a testament to our hitting staff,” said Gunnar Henderson. “I feel like they’re here every day, they work their butts off to get us the right scouting reports and just of that nature. I feel like it’s just the experience because we’re obviously a really young team and getting the experience in the big leagues and the ongoing seasons. And obviously getting the playoff experience last year I feel like helps a lot.

“I feel like we’re taking really good at-bats and swinging at pitches we know we can do damage with.”

The same approach and philosophy as 2023, when the Orioles won 101 games and made the playoffs for the first time since 2016. But they were sixth in average at .255, eighth in OBP at .321, seventh in slugging at .421 and eighth in OPS at .742.

Henderson is on an MVP pace this season, ranking first in the AL with a .649 slugging before last night, tied for first with three triples, and second with eight home runs and a 1.022 OPS. His 30 hits were second on the club behind Adley Rutschman, who was slashing .327/.368/.418 this season and .448/.448/.586 during a six-game hitting streak that he extended to seven with a single in the third.

Henderson had a .450 (18-for-40) average and 1.436 OPS in his last 10 games, with two doubles, a triple, five homers and 11 RBIs, before going hitless last night.

Jordan Westburg was named the American League’s Player of the Week, the same honor bestowed upon Colton Cowser the previous week, after batting .478/.500/.913 with five extra-base hits and eight RBIs.

Before last night, the Orioles were one of only three teams this season with four qualifying .300 hitters, along with the Dodgers and Rockies. They’ve never finished a season with more than three.

Also prior to last night, 88.1 percent of the Orioles’ hits came from players under 30, according to STATS. They ranked first in the majors with 193, followed by the Rays with 187, the Guardians with 185, the Brewers with 182 and the Red Sox with 167.

Told that the Orioles led the AL in average, slugging and OPS, Westburg’s eyes widened and he said, “Wow.” Definitely not a topic of clubhouse conversation.

“It’s still really early in the season,” he said.

We agreed on that point, but it’s never too early to make a big deal about something.

“I think as a group we just take a lot of pride in our at-bats,” he said. “I don’t think that being No. 1 in every offensive category is like a goal. I just think we have a lot of guys in here who don’t give away at-bats, who are gritty guys that want to impact the game. And I think that leads to putting up numbers, scoring runs, being a productive offense when you have everybody buying into that like, hey, every at-bat counts. No matter what the score is, we’ve got to keep adding on, to move the baseball, pass the bat back. All those philosophies I think when combined lead to the statistical being in first place and all those stats.

“It’s just the grittiness of the offense.”

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