ANAHEIM -- Austin Hays was the latest Oriole to shine at Angel Stadium on Wednesday night.
The 2023 All-Star had one of his best games of the season, recording four hits and a home run while finishing a triple shy of the cycle. His offensive explosion was the leading force in the Orioles’ 10-3 win over the Angels, which secured a series sweep and their AL-leading 88th win.
- Games remaining: at BOS (3), vs. STL (3), vs. TB (4), at HOU (3), at CLE (4), vs. WSH (2), vs. BOS (4)
- Standings update: The Orioles (88-51) are 3 1/2 games up in the American League East over the second-place Rays (85-55), who won vs. the Red Sox. Baltimore currently has the best record in the AL, meaning it would not have to play a Wild Card Series and would head to the AL Division Series as the No. 1 seed.
- Magic number: 20
Hays had a spectacular first half that resulted him starting for the AL All-Star team as an injury replacement. In 77 first-half games, Hays had a .314 batting average and 133 wRC+. Immediately after the All-Star break, though, Hays went into one of the worst slumps of his career, posting a .375 OPS in 66 plate appearances through the end of July.
Hays has surged in a major way down the stretch for the Orioles since that point. Dating back to Aug. 1, Hays has an .899 OPS and .534 SLG. He’s looked more like the first-half stud who can be a leading offensive force for the Orioles in the playoffs.
“It took me a little bit of time to get my fastball timing back,” Hays said. “Once I got my swing back to where it was the first three months, I started making better swing decisions.”
Hays’ offensive turnaround was abundantly clear on Wednesday night. Each of his hits came on four different pitch types -- a four-seamer, changeup, curveball and slider. Each ball left his bat with an exit velocity north of 100 mph.
“It’s a good recipe for success when you’re laying off pitches out of the zone, waiting out the pitcher and barreling balls on the line,” Hays said.
It was also a big night for Kyle Gibson. After posting a 3.89 ERA through his first dozen starts, Gibson had a 6.13 ERA across his next 16 games. Gibson’s outing on Wednesday was a big step forward after allowing 23 runs (9.13 ERA) in his previous four starts.
“Normally, when I get in a stretch like this, I do a deep dive and look at things. My pitch execution just wasn’t where it needed to be,” Gibson said. “I just tried to simplify the approach a little bit tonight and use my pitches where they’ve been successful all year long.”
Gibson’s performance was also another reminder of how far their rotation has come. After a sluggish start to the season, Orioles starters have a top-10 ERA (4.07) and WHIP (1.19) since June 1. In that time, Orioles starters lead the Majors with 43 quality starts. It’s been huge for a team inching closer to clinching the No. 1 seed in the American League.
“When you can have a group that is able to take the ball and execute pitches to the level that we have, it can add a lot of consistency to a team,” Gibson said. “As a starting pitcher, that’s our job. Be the consistent part of this team so that the offense had an idea of what they need to do to win, night in and night out.”
Looking ahead, the Orioles made some changes to the rotation for their upcoming series against the Red Sox. Manager Brandon Hyde said that the club is moving to a five-man rotation, at least for the time being. With the off-day on Thursday, Kyle Bradish will start the series opener on Friday. Jack Flaherty goes on Saturday, with Grayson Rodriguez pitching on Sunday.
As a corresponding move, Cole Irvin moved into a long-relief role and tossed a scoreless inning on Wednesday. With John Means making what should be his final rehab start on Wednesday -- he allowed three runs in five innings and threw 67 pitches -- the O's staff could get a boost soon.