In previous glory days of the Orioles from long ago – when they won 100 or more games three straight years from 1969-1971 – outstanding pitching and defense went hand-in-hand.
The Orioles won 11 Gold Gloves in that three-year period with players like Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, Dave Johnson and Paul Blair leading the way.
The 2023 Orioles play some really good defense too. On Saturday, in an 8-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, maybe their biggest of the year, it was pitching and defense that showed the way.
Looking back at my scorecard, where I sometimes highlight good defensive plays, there is a lot of yellow highlights. A nifty double play turned in the fourth. Aaron Hicks a nice running catch in right in the fifth and Gunnar Henderson ranging right at shortstop in that same inning with a nice play that ended with a scoop at first base by Ryan O’Hearn. O’Hearn made a diving stop an inning later and another nice scoop on another nice Henderson play. Austin Hays ran way back into deep left and crashed into the wall after making a super running catch.
The glove-work was top notch. They probably don't record a shutout without it.
And, as manager Brandon Hyde noted over the weekend, the O’s have so many good defenders right now that sometimes they are not all even on the field.
“We have good defenders on the bench,” said Hyde Sunday morning. “(Jorge) Mateo hasn’t played this (Tampa Bay) series and Mateo is one of the best shortstops in the league defensively. I have a potential Gold Glove guy that hasn’t played in this series yet. Jordan Westburg is a really good second baseman and playing extremely well. I think we’ve been pretty consistent all year. Adding Hicks too. Hicksy, especially in right, is a plus defender.”
Defense is a difference maker for the 2023 Orioles. In the Defensive Runs Saved metric, the Orioles rank seventh in MLB and second to Toronto in the AL.
“That is a huge difference,” said Hyde. “When people asked me (about) back in ’19 about why we couldn’t do certain things and why we couldn’t help out our pitching staff. Not to knock those players, but we were not a good defensive team. We had guys playing out of position all over the place. It was extremely challenging.
“We really turned the corner last year with our defense and we showed you can stay in games defensively.”
Hyde also noted again this past weekend the talent difference from O’s teams that lost 100 plus games and what we are seeing now. And now is also a time when the team’s top-ranked farm system is sending real talent making an impact to the big club.
“It wasn’t like those were young players from our system breaking into the big leagues (a few years back). Those were a lot of guys getting opportunities from other places. We were trying to fill the major league team. We were just trying to make them better, knowing a lot of those guys wouldn’t be here in a couple years. We just tried to get those guys to improve to compete the best we possibly could. It wasn’t like we were rolling a ton of prospects out there at that time.”
But now they are and whether you look to the likes of Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall on the pitching staff or to players like Adley Rutschman, Henderson, Westburg and Heston Kjerstad, among position players, you see the young talent that has arrived to help take the Orioles to the top of the AL East.
Another amazing win: Cedric Mullins hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning last night off Houston closer Ryan Pressley and the Orioles stunned the Astros, 8-7 in their road trip opener.
Click here for the game story from Houston.
On Sunday, batting last as the home team, the Orioles trailed heading to the bottom of the eighth, ninth and 10th innings. Last night they trailed as the visitor at the end of the sixth, seventh and eighth.
Before Sunday's game, the Orioles were 1-46 this year when trailing after eight innings. They are 2-0 in those instances the past two days. Remarkable.
They are now 94-56 and reduced their magic number to clinch the AL East to nine with 12 games to play.
After losing four in a row and scoring just six runs last Tuesday through Friday, they have scored 21 runs in winning their past three.