What's more impressive than the O's 11 runs? The defense

May 3rd, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- crushed a pair of two-run homers and drove in five runs as part of a big outburst by the Orioles’ offense. Not surprising. He’s been hitting balls hard all season from the heart of a lineup that frequently puts up crooked numbers.

settled in after a tough first inning and delivered a solid outing. What else should be expected? The right-hander, who was MLB’s WHIP leader (among qualified pitchers) entering May, has been the steadiest member of Baltimore’s rotation.

The Orioles notched their 10th come-from-behind win with an 11-7 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night. Baltimore (20-9), continuing to capitalize on a lighter portion of its schedule, has won 16 of its past 20 games and improved to 10-0 in series openers.

So in a lot of ways, the O’s latest triumph was like many we saw throughout April. But one component of their game stood out more positively than it has at any other point during the young season -- the defense.

The fieldwork has been one area that manager Brandon Hyde has repeatedly stressed hasn’t been quite up to par. The Orioles’ strong defensive play was a staple of their 83-win 2022 season, but they’ve been uncharacteristically sloppy at times early in ‘23.

Entering Tuesday, Baltimore had an MLB-worst defensive runs against average of -11.1, per FanGraphs. The club’s -14 outs above average ranked 29th in the Majors, while its -12 defensive runs saved were tied for 26th.

Outfielders haven’t always been taking the best paths to balls. Routine plays haven’t always been as such. But Tuesday, the O’s flashed the leather all over the field and committed no errors in one of the cleaner defensive games they’ve played this year.

“We’re a better defensive club than we showed early, and still kind of finding our way a little bit,” Hyde said. “We’re still making some mistakes here and there. We’ve got to play well defensively, and tonight, we did.”

It was a combined effort on highlight-reel plays, with quite a few defenders getting involved.

made a stellar diving stop at third base to record the second out of the fourth. The 21-year-old laid out to snag the ball, lost his hat, stood up and then threw a 91.8 mph laser to beat Edward Olivares at first.

Later in the fourth, Mountcastle made a likely run-saving play by leaping straight into the air to snare a 103.6 mph off the bat of Maikel Garcia. The athletic grab got Wells out of a two-on, two-out jam and helped preserve Baltimore’s 5-3 lead.

“Just sort of went in my glove,” said Mountcastle, who also recorded his eighth career multihomer game and his second this season. “You probably couldn’t slide a piece of paper under my feet. I didn’t jump very high, I don’t think.”

The most impressive defensive gem may have been a sprawling catch made by for the first out of the fifth. The Orioles’ center fielder covered 102 feet in 5.4 seconds (per Statcast) before extending for a diving grab to rob Kyle Isbel of extra bases.

Hyde believes it’s an early Play of the Year candidate. Mountcastle called it “insane,” noting he for sure thought the ball was going to land in the right-center-field gap. Meanwhile, Wells is already starting an award campaign for Mullins.

“I sit there and I say to Ced all the time, ‘If you don’t get a Gold Glove, like, I’m going to go hunt those people down,’” said Wells, who allowed four runs on three hits (all homers) in six innings. “Because he truly is incredible.”

Wells is always quick to praise his teammates for their play behind him after his starts. He was visibly excited following Mullins’ impressive grab, throwing both hands straight up in the air and giving him a round of applause using his glove.

There are numerous reasons for Baltimore’s early success. To Wells, the willingness by the fielders to consistently give it their all is a big one that symbolizes what the Orioles are about.

“I really can’t say enough about the effort that those guys give every single night,” Wells said. “Whenever I see people say there is no quit in this team, the quit is never on offense and the quit is never on defense. Those guys go out each and every time and give 110 percent, and I’m really thankful to be with such a great group of guys.”