O's gutsy play has this team feeling different

May 15th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Zachary Silver's Orioles Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

There’s a feeling around these Orioles. They know it. You might have caught on by now. When asked, they can’t really describe it. It's just a feeling.

“It's something that's hard to explain, but it's definitely there,” Trey Mancini said this week. “I mean, everybody feels it.”

Do you feel it? You maybe should. These Orioles -- despite the odds stacked against them, their nicks and bruises, their lack of additions in the offseason -- are playing above their weight. They’re playing loose. They’re hanging with some of the best. They’re showcasing a gritty brand of baseball in line with their identity.

They are, admittedly, leaving plenty to be improved upon. But that might be the most enviable part.

“Where we are, organizationally, right now, I think we're very much proud of how we’re playing,” manager Brandon Hyde said in St. Louis. “We’re going to keep playing hard.”

Here are three reasons you should be amped up about these Orioles:

1. They’re playing with swagger
Does the Home Run Chain do it for you? Maybe the celebratory pantomiming of goggles when batters reach first base, an ode to “Call of Duty: Warzone”? Those team gestures, while gimmicky, are important, the team says. It shows a level of enhanced synergy, one that might have been harder to come by in years past.

“The team, we definitely have a better cohesiveness,” Mancini said, “and I think that just comes with a lot of these guys having more experience under their belts. Everybody is pretty close, hangs out outside of here, which I think is important, too. Things are just starting to mesh really well, I feel like. It's been really fun. It's been a really fun month.”

There are communal celebrations to be had. This past Tuesday, after Kyle Bradish earned his first career win with a sensational 11-strikeout effort, he was joined by three others for laundry-cart showers consisting of mayonnaise, milk, barbecue sauce and even strawberries and blueberries.

Félix Bautista earned his first career save that same night, so all 6-foot-7 of him was doused just the same. Tyler Nevin hit his first home run of the year, and because the first of his career, last season, came amid a loss, this was the time to celebrate.

Bryan Baker had also clinched his first win in April, but it slipped through the cracks. So, he was called to join in on the festivities. Why not?

“Winning games and winning series, you get players to feel more confidence. More confidence comes with a better feeling,” Hyde said. “The dugout’s really good, guys get along well off the field as well. Our guys are playing with some confidence right now.”

2. They’re pitching extremely well
Pick your redemption story. Cionel Pérez was a waiver claim. So were Baker and Jorge López. The latter is on a similar path to Keegan Akin, setting aside struggles as a starter and moving on to pitching excellently in relief. Elsewhere, Bautista spent nine years in the Minors before his big break. Bruce Zimmermann and Tyler Wells are excelling in the rotation with their own blue-collar backstories.

No on-field development might be more encouraging than the step forward the Orioles' pitching has taken this season. No John Means. Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser -- their projected setup man and closer, respectively -- were traded away in the final week of Spring Training.

No matter. Through the early juncture of the season, the O’s rotation and bullpen were among the best performing in the Majors. Now? Their bullpen remains a Top 5 unit, per fWAR, and their rotation is safely in the middle of the pack. Last year, the O’s 5.85 ERA was worst in the Majors -- by over half a run.

Is this, in fact, the best stretch of pitching in the Hyde era?

“Hands down; it’s not even close,” he said. “This has by far been the best month-and-a-half of pitching seen since I’ve been in Baltimore.”

3. The best is yet to come
Hop on the bandwagon. There’s room. Later this summer, the Orioles will welcome a handful of top prospects that will slowly start to take this team into the next phase of its rebuild. Bradish proved to be the first, and Adley Rutschman is raring to be the next, possibly as soon as this week.

You’ve been waiting. The front office has been waiting. The coaching staff has been waiting, and the current roster has been waiting, even though some of them may be soon squeezed out.

The Orioles’ culture is being crafted, success by success and failure by failure. Soon, the barometer will hinge less on moral victories and more around real, earnest competition in the cutthroat American League East.

Momentum is simply swelling for just that.

“I've been waiting for a while now for that big wave,” Mancini said last weekend. “This year has had a different feel than the last couple years. I don't know how to explain it, but it does. And I'm not just saying that. I think the culture is starting to get in place, and some guys have cemented themselves a lot more on the way. That is an exciting time in a rebuild. It's the first big step.”