ANAHEIM, Calif. - If, according to some observers, the Orioles are supposed to be tanking, some players may not have gotten the memo. This is no way to get the No. 1 draft pick.
The Orioles have played hard for most of the year and now we are seeing them at times play both hard and well. When they get some big offense, they can take a series from Cleveland. When they get big starts from John Means and Asher Wojciechowski, they can take a series from Boston.
And now they have a winning record over a 23-game stretch. A stretch that started with back-to-back 13-0 wins over Cleveland June 28 and 29. Those games made the Orioles the first team in Major League Baseball history to record back-to-back shutouts while scoring at least 13 runs in each game. And the Orioles recorded consecutive shutouts for the first time since Sept. 2-3, 2016.
That was an impressive two-game stretch for an Orioles team that was 22-58 heading into that Cleveland series in late June. The Orioles were then playing .275 ball which equates to 45 wins over a full season. Now, at 12-11 the past 23 games, they are playing at a .522 pace and that equates to 85 wins over a full 162 game season. They no longer have the American League’s worst record and they are now just four games behind fourth-place Toronto.
Again, the tanking memo got lost apparently.
For manager Brandon Hyde he is seeing two things he hoped to see this year - progress by individuals and progress by the team.
“I think you see some guys starting to put together pretty nice years,” Hyde said. “Trey Mancini and (Renato) Núñez and (Anthony) Santander and (Jonathan) Villar and you’re talking about a Chance Sisco who got here and he’s done a nice job offensively and defensively. (Pedro) Severino. So you are seeing some position players having some nice years and some of the leverage (bullpen) guys I’ve been using have done a nice job too with the lead. Paul Fry and Shawn (Armstrong) and Mike (Givens) and (Richard) Bleier. Even though their numbers overall in the course of the season don’t really show it, I feel like the last month they’ve all been pitching better. We’ve done a better job pitching with the lead this last month.
“That was kind of my goal this whole year was, I wanted to see, not only our team, but individuals improve over the course of the year. Guys are starting to come into their own and that rolls into next year. All the sudden you start getting more talented players and the guys that are here have improved and that’s the positive thing. Sisco, Santander, Núñez, Severino. Those type of guys improving and rolling into next year.”
For now the Orioles are actually doing some rolling. Two straight wins scoring 19 runs in Anaheim. They are 6-3 over the last nine games. If the Orioles win one of the next two this weekend, they will be 4-3-1 over their past eight series.
The Orioles got a three-run line drive homer to right by Núñez last night and a two-run shot by Mancini in the ninth. It was No. 25 for Núñez and No. 24 for Mancini.
Over the last nine games, the Orioles have scored 62 runs with a team average of .299. They have hit at least two homers in all nine games and that ties an MLB record according to STATS. This is the sixth occurrence of a club hitting at least two or more homers in nine straight games. Of the six, three have been by the Orioles in 1987, 1996 and this season. No team has done this 10 games in a row and the 2019 O’s have a shot at it tonight.
Yes, those same Orioles who were playing .275 ball through 80 games.
What changed to help this team go 12-11?
“I don’t think the vibe has changed,” Hyde said when asked to explain the recent solid play. “Even in tough moments, I feel like our guys enjoy the clubhouse, enjoy competing with each other. I think our guys show up ready to play. I think we’re fun to watch. We’ve had our moments this year where we play really good baseball, but that’s part of where we are in this process. I like the way our guys compete and we come to win every day.”
Over his last nine games, Santander is batting .415 with two doubles, a triple, four homers and 13 RBIs. In Núñez’s past 18 games, he is batting .314 with three doubles, seven homers and 17 RBIs. In his past 54 games, Núñez has 18 homers and 42 RBIs. He is 8-for-20 with three homers and seven RBIs during this so far 3-2 road trip. Mancini’s homer last night was his seventh in nine games and he homered in a third game in a row for the first time in his career.
On the mound last night Wojciechowski had another strong outing, allowing three hits and two runs over seven innings. In back-to-back starts against the Red Sox and Angels he’s given up two runs in 14 1/3 innings.
“He’s been enormous for us,” said Hyde. “He’s pitched, his last two starts, what did he give up three hits today? One hit last time out? He’s going deep for us. That was a bullpen saver on a day when we really, really needed it with so many guys down.”
And there was a down note on Friday when Means (8-6, 3.12 ERA), an AL All-Star, went on the 10-day injured list with a left bicep strain. It’s a second IL stint for Means but Hyde said his concern level is very low.
“I’m really relying on our medical people and they’re really not concerned about it at all. So I don’t think there are any red flags there. It’s his rookie year in the big leagues, and even though he has a track record of starting, the intensity level is different here. I think he is still getting used to the major league grind of being a starting pitcher. This is a part of it. Feel like the right thing to do is not push him through anything. Obviously, we care a ton about John Means and he’s a big part of us going forward. Want to see him finish the season strong,” added Hyde.
The roster shuffling of Friday saw Means go to the IL, Nate Karns designated for assignment and Tanner Scott sent back to Triple-A Norfolk. Added for the bullpen were righty Evan Phillips from Norfolk and righty Dillon Tate from Double-A Bowie.
So the Orioles keep swapping out pitchers in their bullpen. They’ve recently seen Dylan Bundy and Means go on the IL. Andrew Cashner was traded. Yet despite all that the Orioles have begun to win. In a marathon Thursday night and more of a sprint last night.
Embrace the tank? Not this team right now.