Top half of Orioles lineup looks set

The final season countdown for the Orioles has brought them down to seven games before they tackle the various items on their winter and spring agenda. The arbitration and non-tender decisions, the trade talks at the annual meetings, the latest dive into free agency - and the risks that come from doing it in the shallow end.

In this instance, there are no signs posted that forbid it.

The construction of the 2022 team is only partially done. Like the frame of a house.

The upper level is the closest to completion.

The first person in the organization who wonders whether Cedric Mullins should play center field and bat leadoff will be reassigned to menu planning for the postgame spread. Mr. 30/30 saved the club from any uncertainty over those roles.

Austin Hays is a corner outfielder now and a luxury with his speed and arm. He’s a plus defender with a center fielder’s skills. And he’s a No. 2 or 3 hitter.

Just keep telling him that April is really September and hide the calendars.

Ryan Mountcastle could bat anywhere from second to fourth. A big-time run producer with big-time power who’s improved his approach at the plate.

Thumbnail image for Mountcastle-Congrats-After-Slam-Orange-Sidebar.jpgMountcastle drew 39 walks heading into last night, including six in a span of seven games Aug. 30-Sept. 7. He walked in the sixth inning Wednesday and scored on Hays’ double to break a scoreless tie, and he battled through eight pitches with two outs in the ninth - he fell behind 0-2, fouled off three fastballs and took a knuckle-curve in the dirt and fastball out of the zone - before flying to deep right field.

“Mounty with an outstanding at-bat,” manager Brandon Hyde said afterward.

If executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias isn’t overwhelmed with a trade offer, Anthony Santander can remain as the primary right fielder while the Orioles hope again that Yusniel Diaz finally is able to stay healthy and rack up big numbers in Triple-A.

Anyone guaranteeing that Diaz will do this should be assigned to sous-chef duties for the postgame spread.

Santander also can bat anywhere from second to fourth, depending where Trey Mancini is slotted - and assuming that Mancini remains with the club. He can become a free agent after the season and the Orioles need to start extension talks with his representative or consider moving him before rental status chips away at his value.

Manny Machado and Zack Britton were rentals and it impacted the return from the Dodgers and Yankees, respectively. If any reminders are necessary.

These are bats for the first five spots. Where catcher Adley Rutschman fits, whether on opening day or shortly thereafter, is a discussion for another day.

“I’ve said it a lot lately, but as tough as this year has been, we have some bright spots,” Hyde said.

“We have some young guys in our batting order right now that are playing teams that are playing very meaningful games. Looking forward to, hopefully soon, playing these types of games on the other end. But the few guys we have up at the top part of our order are getting valuable experience playing against teams that are trying to get in the postseason and pushing and throwing their best guys out there.

“We faced an ace (Zack Wheeler) and we took him toe-to-toe, Keegan Akin took him toe-to-toe. So, for some of these guys, especially the guys in the top half of our batting order that are young and don’t have a ton of major league experience, I think it’s valuable lessons.”

What’s it like to hit in this pack? A smile spreads across Santander’s face.

“Incredible,” he said via translator Ramón Alarcón.

“I remember back in 2018 when I was in (Double-A) Bowie, I said that me, Hays, Mullins, that we were going to be the future of this organization. And being with Mancini, our best hitter, and just the season that Mountcastle is having, it’s just an unbelievable group of guys in the lineup. So, I’m really looking forward to that. Hopefully, next year we can do something similar. Hopefully, I can help my team even better than this year.”

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