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Orioles Fans Need To Be Patient For Only A Little Longer

Patience is a virtue...for a reason.

Not many people have it, and for those that do, they often can’t hold onto it for very long. Most, in fact, can only put up with something for so long before they’re ready for things to get better. 

For Baltimore Orioles fans, however, it's looking like you need to be patient for only a little while longer. The Orioles' cavalry is en route.

Baltimore fans have plenty of reasons to eschew their patience — the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016 and since 2018, when the club won an abysmal 47 games, the O’s have been one of the worst clubs in baseball. The poor hitting, revolving door in the starting rotation and consistent losing has grown tiresome.

The constant losing has led some to question the rebuild stewarded by Mike Elias. Grumblings about the future of Brandon Hyde’s managerial tenure in Baltimore are growing louder. But rather than talk about whether or not Hyde should keep his job — frankly, it doesn’t matter all that much as everyone knows Hyde won’t be the manager during this club’s potential competitive window — let me direct your attention to the Orioles’ minor league system, specifically Double-A Bowie.

Bowie is a gold mine of Orioles’ talent at the moment. Six of the O’s top 30 prospects are assigned to Bowie. The most notable among them being Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez.

It’s hard to not imagine them leading a stretch of winning baseball. Rutschman is justifying the hype this season, slashing .293/.430/.531 with 10 homers in just 40 games. Despite missing almost an entire season of minor league ball, Rutschman looks to be on track in his development.

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Orioles Outfield Could Be The Strength Of This Year's Team

We knew coming into the season that the deepest part of the Baltimore Orioles’ upper levels of the organization was the outfield. The hope was that this season, fans would see exactly what the Orioles outfield could look like with most of their top options healthy and ready to go.

But injuries have prevented that thus far.

In April, DJ Stewart, Austin Hays and Anthony Santander all spent time on the injured list. Santander didn’t come back until May 21, only for Hays to hit the injured list again on the May 26.

Hays is slated to return today, rejoining the Orioles for a stretch of 20 games in 20 days. With their full slate of outfielders finally ready to go, I’m praying that we’ll finally get to see what Baltimore’s outfield could look like on a regular basis.

For all intents and purposes, the Orioles have six players fighting for five spots right now. Stewart, Hays and Santander are competing in the outfield with Cedric Mullins and Ryan Mountcastle, but Mountcastle is also competing with Trey Mancini at first base and designated hitter.

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Cedric Mullins Was On Fire In Cleveland Series...

As the Baltimore Orioles try to recover from one of the worst months in franchise history, one player is doing his best to give the fans hope and optimism that winning baseball will return in the not-so-distant future.

Cedric Mullins cooled off after a scoring April, but that sweet swing was on full display this weekend against the Indians. Mullins finished the series 9-12 against the Indians, including reaching base safely in 11 consecutive plate appearances. Mullins launched three home runs in the series and elevated his OPS to .923, among the league’s best.

Mullins’ excellence extended outside the batter’s box, as the rangy center fielder made yet another diving grab on Saturday.

“What he’s doing right now, I don’t have words for it,” manager Brandon Hyde said on Sunday. “He’s doing a little bit of absolutely everything right now.”

Mullins is indeed doing it all. He leads the Orioles in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He also leads the team in doubles, walks and stolen bases. Mullins has 73 hits this season, the most in Major League Baseball.

Again, Mullins’ skills go beyond the plate. His five outs above average puts him in the 97th percentile in the majors and Baseball Reference puts him in the top five in total zone runs and range factor among center fielders.

What we are witnessing — hopefully — is the blossoming of a young superstar. Mullins has the infectious smile, the effort and will power, as well as the talent. He’s everything you’d want in a center fielder of the future.

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With Losing Streak Over, O's Need To Capitalize On Next 5

The sound you heard that started off the month of June was a collective sigh of relief from Orioles fans.

Baltimore had finally won a game, ending the club’s 15-game losing streak with a 7-4 win over the Twins.

Baltimore’s brutal schedule to end the month of May turned out to be worse than many expected. The franchise played 15 games in 15 days before turning the calendar, all of which were losses. It was clearly going to be a tough stretch with no built-in off-days and the Orioles weren’t up to the task.

Thankfully, the club started off June with two straight wins, including the Orioles’ first series win at Camden Yards this season. Much like May, the Orioles have an abundance of off-days in the early part of the month, only to have a long stretch of games on the horizon.

That’s what worries me.

After an off-day Thursday, the Orioles host the Indians for a weekend series. The club gets another day off after that series, only to be followed by a two-game stint at home vs. the Mets. What follows that? Another day off.

So in the span of eight days, the Orioles will not play baseball on three of those days. Talk about getting needed rest.

The rest will pay dividends in both parts of the clubhouse. Matt Harvey was forced to pitch on short rest on Wednesday and was pulled after three innings of one-run ball. The Orioles’ bullpen has thrown 218 innings so far this season, the fourth highest in the major leagues.

In the lineup, Brandon Hyde is still using Trey Mancini as the designated hitter after Mancini took a fastball off the hand on May 27. Ryan Mountcastle has played a lot at first base lately, but even he took a fastball off the hand on May 25.

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Growing Number Of Fans Skeptical Of Orioles Rebuild

Anyone who has ever been involved in business undoubtedly knows this: perception is oftentimes just as important as reality.

For Orioles general manager Mike Elias, he's living this. The Baltimore Orioles’ rebuild might be working, but the perception among a growing number of fans these days is that it isn’t.

Fans are having flashbacks of the 2018 season when the Buck Showalter era fully derailed and resulted in Elias’ arrival in the first place. The Orioles won just 47 games that season, finishing an embarrassingly high 61 games out of first place.

The O’s recent stretch of losing is pushing the club closer to the futility that fans experienced in 2018. After Tuesday’s loss to the Twins, the Orioles have lost 16 of their last 18 games. Once just a game below .500, Baltimore now owns baseball’s worst record.

Baltimore’s problems are apparent — the O’s lineup is wholly inconsistent and the club lacks the starting pitching to save the bullpen from eating a lot of innings, which generates a tired group of relievers that are regularly seeing pitchers come and go to keep the unit fresh.

As the Orioles slide further into the depths of AL East hell, Elias is facing criticism that his rebuild isn’t on track.

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At Least The Orioles Have John Means and Trey Mancini...

April sure was fun.

Watching the Orioles play semi-competitive baseball through the first few weeks of the season was a blast. It was fleeting — anyone following the team closely knew that the organization simply doesn’t have the talent and depth to even finish the regular season around the .500 mark.

What we were seeing was a mirage. So as the Orioles freefall — the club is 2-13 since May 7 — towards irrelevance for the remainder of the season, O’s games are becoming less and less enjoyable to watch.

But not all is lost for the upcoming summer. I’ll continue to monitor the progress of the Orioles’ younger players and minor league prospects and if we’re lucky, that process will get really fun towards the end of the season.

Until then, I’m doing my best not to lose sight of what we’re seeing from the Orioles two best players right now — starter John Means and first baseman Trey Mancini.

Even if Mancini weren’t returning from colon cancer, which he is, his 2021 performance would be more than admirable. After a slow start to the season, Mancini is slashing .280/.352/.520 for an OPS of .872. Mancini has already hit 10 home runs and driven in 41 runs, an American League high as of May 24.

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Series With Yankees Exposes Weaknesses In Orioles Bullpen

Given how many no-names were in the Baltimore Orioles’ bullpen, I would have pegged the group to regularly give up runs when they were needed to shut the door.

That hasn’t been the case this season, though the Orioles’ weekend series vs. the Yankees exposed some of the O’s relievers.

The bullpen’s struggles came into clear view on Friday and Saturday, as the ‘pen combined to allow six runs. Cole Sulser and Travis Lakins were tagged for three runs on Friday, spoiling a solid outing from Dean Kremer than spanned five innings. And on Saturday, prospect Keegan Akin failed to stop the bleeding after Jorge Lopez was sent to the showers early, allowing three runs over 3.1 innings.

On Sunday, two other bullpen regulars struggled. Manager Brandon Hyde turned to former starter Adam Plutko as the team’s opener against the Yankees, only for him to make it through just the first inning with four earned runs to his name.

And while Bruce Zimmermann returned from Triple-A Norfolk to gift the Orioles 5.2 innings of one-run ball in relief, closer Cesar Valdez allowed three hits and one run in the ninth inning to properly scare Orioles fans into the heart wing of their local hospital.

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Summer Is Coming; O's Need To Make A Decision On Ruiz

Much like general manager Mike Elias took a flier on third baseman Maikel Franco before the 2021 season, Elias took a flier on Rio Ruiz back in 2019.

That’s standard for a team in rebuild — add former top prospect from a respected organization (Atlanta Braves) and see if a change in scenery will do him well. Ruiz was among the group of prospects that included Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, the group that would return the Braves to contender status.

Instead, Ruiz flamed out after two bad major league stints in 2017 and 2018. In 72 games as a Brave, Ruiz slashed just .189/.282/.302.

Elias had every reason to claim Ruiz off waivers. Defense had never been an issue for Ruiz at a premium position. There was reason to believe the talent was still there at the plate, even if Ruiz hadn’t shown it for a lengthy period of time.

But through 212 games as an Oriole, I think it’s fair to say that the reclamation project is over. Ruiz isn’t going to be who people thought he could be.

Serious Struggles At The Plate

Since arriving in Baltimore, Ruiz’s offensive numbers are simply not adequate. His OPS over these last three years is .672, an improvement from his days in Atlanta but well below league average. His start to the 2021 season has been particularly poor, as Ruiz has slashed .161/.247/.299 for an OPS of .546 through 31 games.

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Since Being Recalled April 18, Sulser Has Dominated For O's

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde gravitated to an unfamiliar reliever in 2020, and I never really understood why.

Watching Cole Sulser take the mound in high leverage situations gave me many a night with heartburn and indigestion. Then a 30-year-old rookie, Sulser was a nobody. There was no hype, no scout backing his potential. He was just a guy.

So when I watched Sulser get rocked outing after outing in 2020, I wondered exactly what kind of blackmail this veteran minor leaguer had over Hyde. I mean, Sulser registered a 5.56 ERA in 19 appearances, walking almost as many batters as he struck out. Sulser saved five games in 2020 but blew three other opportunities.

I even authored a column earlier this spring about Orioles reliever Tanner Scott, saying, “The days of Cole Sulser pitching the ninth need to come to a close.” I was just about done with the guy.

Good thing Sulser doesn’t listen to 26-year-old sportswriters.

Since being recalled to Baltimore on April 18, Sulser has dominated opposing hitters. He’s not just getting outs — he’s mowing down lineups with ease.

Through 12.2 innings, Sulser has allowed just two earned runs while striking out 20. His strikeout rate is up 23 percentage points from last season (42.6 from 19) and is among the league’s best.

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After Fast Start, Franco Needs to Kick it Back Into Gear

As Orioles general manager Mike Elias sought to add talent to the organization whilst in the middle of a deep and lengthy renovation job, one of the avenues he’s taken frequently is picking up flamed out prospects from other organizations.

Take Rio Ruiz, for example. The former top prospect from the Atlanta Braves never panned out in Atlanta but got a chance to revive his career in Baltimore in 2019. So far, Ruiz has been nothing more than a stopgap infielder who will likely be jettisoned once some of the Orioles’ infield prospects arrive at the major league level.

The Orioles took a flier on another talented infielder this offseason in Maikel Franco. At one point, Franco was a top-100 prospect in the Phillies organization. Since then, Franco was demoted and non-tendered in 2019 and non-tendered again in 2020 by the Royals.

So late this spring, the Orioles took a chance on Franco as an option at third base. For a bit, it seemed like Franco was going to solidify his spot in the lineup for the rest of the season. But lately, Franco is becoming more and more of a liability.

Through April, Franco’s OPS stood at .708, a mediocre but respectable number. Since the turn of the calendar, however, Franco has just three hits. And only one of those was for extra bases. Franco’s May slump has tanked his overall OPS to .599.

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There's More To Means' Story Than Throwing A No-Hitter

As I was leaving work Wednesday, I immediately checked my phone to see how the Orioles’ game was going.

I’d already received a notification that Trey Mancini hit a three-run nuke to push the O’s lead to 6-0, but I had no idea that something bigger was at play.

I looked at the box score and saw the “0 0 0” for the Seattle Mariners, which only meant one thing.

John Means was dealing.

At risk of getting pulled over by our friendly officers in blue, I drove home as fast as I could manage to make sure I didn’t miss it. I got home just in time to see the top of the ninth, and I think that’s the only time I’ve ever wished for the O’s to end their half of the inning as quickly as possible.

Means took the mound for the final time, just three outs from the first Orioles’ individual no-hitter since Jim Palmer in 1969, one of the coolest guys to ever wear black and orange. To put that into perspective, my dad, another lifelong Orioles fan, was four years old. The O’s last no-hitter, a combined effort in 1991, came three years before I was born.

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