Some notes and quotes after an O’s weekend sweep

After a 2019 season when they went 0-13 in sweeps - they swept no one and got swept 13 times - the Orioles finally swept a team. And a good one.

In 2018, the Tampa Bay Rays won 90 games, and in 2019 they won 96 and made the American League playoffs. In those two seasons, the Orioles lost 115 and 108.

O’s fans have plenty of appreciation and respect for what the Rays do in a tough division. So to sweep that team made for a fun weekend in Birdland. The O’s beat a quality division opponent, and remember, this sweep started one night after Aaron Judge ruined their night in the ninth inning Thursday.

Last year the Orioles went 24-52 (.316) versus AL East teams and this club has started out 5-3 (.625). They were 7-12 against Tampa Bay compared to this season’s 3-0. The 2019 Orioles went 10-34-8 in series play and this club is 2-1.

At 5-3, the Orioles hold the AL’s third-best record through Sunday’s games. Yes, if the playoffs started today they would be the fourth seed (highest win percentage among the second-place teams) and host a best-of-three opening round series.

They are contending with just 52 games to play.

We touched on it in this post yesterday about the pitching side of this, but a positive early trend for the Orioles is that their hitters are striking out less and their pitchers are striking out more. Small sample size of eight games, but you have to start somewhere.

On offense, the club has improved its strikeout rate from 23.2 in 2019 to 20.1 through Saturday’s games, per FanGraphs.com. To that point of the year they are the second-hardest team to strike out in the league behind the Los Angeles Angels at 19.5. The O’s have improved their walk rate from 7.5 to 9.5, and that is eighth in the AL. They rated fourth in wRC+ (110), fourth in isolated power (.197) and fifth in line-drive percentage (22.3).

Fewer swings and misses and more hard-hit balls.

The pitchers set a club record Sunday with a fifth straight contest with 10 or more strikeouts. At 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings as a staff through Saturday’s games, the O’s ranked third-best in the AL behind only Cleveland (11.25) and Tampa Bay (10.71). The club’s strikeout rate last year of 7.78 per nine rated 13th in the league.

Manager Brandon Hyde said of the pitchers’ improvement in this area: “I think our pitchers are working ahead in the count more than last year. I think our guys are throwing more strikes early in the count, which is getting them into strikeout situations. Like I said all year last year, it’s not about stuff with these guys. It’s about being able to pitch in advantage counts. And when you do that, then you have an opportunity to punch guys out. So, our guys are doing a better job of throwing strikes early, to get them into two-strike counts, to then get them to expand the zone from there.”

Alberto-Fives-Santander-White-sidebar.jpgHyde on the hitters: “I’ve been really impressed with our at-bats. We just faced (Gerrit) Cole, (J.A.) Happ, (Blake) Snell and (Tyler) Glasnow. So you’re talking about, like, elite, elite starting pitchers. And for the at-bats these guys have taken against them, Glasnow you know, was throwing 98, 99 (mph) from a tough angle with a really nasty curveball. I thought our guys did a great job of laying off the curveball underneath (the strike zone), which is so hard to do when you have to get ready for 98 or 99.

“Snell is a tough at-bat also. He has so many weapons and you don’t see lefties throwing with that velocity with other stuff. So, to be able to grind those guys out a little bit, and we scored three runs off Cole also, so happy with that. We’re getting a taste of elite pitching and I like the at-bats our guys have taken, for the most part. We can always improve, but to only be a week into the season and put up some of those at-bats against some of the best pitchers in baseball, we’ve done a pretty good job to this point.”

By the way, that quartet of Cole, Happ, Snell and Glasnow has a combined ERA of 5.89 versus the Orioles. They’ve allowed 12 earned runs and six homers over 18 1/3 innings.

The Orioles, even without fans in the stands, are playing with energy and showing positive team chemistry thus far.

“We’ve got 30 guys here and they’re playing for each other,” Hyde said. “There’s no doubt about it. That was kind of my goal coming in last year was to start to create a culture of guys playing for each other. I know what that feels like, I knew where I came from and how that really ... there’s not a better feeling than going out and having guys who truly care about playing the game hard, about caring about your teammates. Huge deal. And I think we have that.”

On Sunday, O’s pitchers did not issue a walk in a game for a third time this year. No walks to 10 strikeouts. They had four walk-less games all of last year.

The O’s starters pitched to a 2.51 ERA in the series against the Rays. In the last two games lefties Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone combined to allow just two runs over 10 1/3 innings.

“I said before the season I thought we could surprise some people, and we’re doing that now,” Milone said after Sunday’s sweep was in the books.

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