3 keys to Orioles' fast start

April 22nd, 2023

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

BALTIMORE -- Because the Orioles played so well for much of their 83-win 2022 season, it’s easy to forget they didn’t get off to a great start. They went 7-14 in April, and were 10 games below .500 by May 18, when they were 14-24.

This year, Baltimore has carried over the positive momentum from last season’s second half. Through 19 games, the O’s are 12-7. They were 6-13 at the 19-game mark in 2022.

Here are three reasons why the Orioles have started ‘23 much better than they did ‘22.

Adley Rutschman

How much of an impact can one player have in a team sport like baseball? Quite a large one when his name is .

Last April, Rutschman was recovering from a right triceps strain and was playing in the lower levels of the Minors on a rehab assignment. The talented catcher, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, debuted in the Majors last May 21 -- and Baltimore went 67-55 from that point on.

Rutschman has started every game for the O’s this season -- 14 at catcher and five at designated hitter. The 25-year-old is slashing .292/.427/.486 with four homers and 14 RBIs. But his impact goes beyond his play on the field. He has also emerged as a team leader.

“Obviously, he was going to come up and do his thing,” outfielder  said. “Highly touted prospect coming up; didn’t know much about him beforehand; didn’t play with him. But I always knew that he was a cool person, just from word of mouth, and it’s great to have him in the clubhouse. He brings a lot of good energy.”

The offensive approach

Baltimore’s offensive success is coming in a patient manner. Entering Saturday, the Orioles had drawn 88 walks (first in the AL and third in MLB) and posted a .343 on-base percentage (second in the AL and tied for fifth in MLB).

The batters are having little trouble keeping the bat on their shoulder if they’re not getting a good pitch to hit. The O’s even led the Majors with 4.11 pitches per plate appearance entering Friday.

“It just helps the team in general, because you get more people on base,” said infielder , whose .371 OBP ranks third on the team (among qualified hitters). “It puts more pressure on the pitcher, more high-leverage pitches, and it gives the guy behind you a better chance of getting another walk or getting a mistake pitch over the heart of the plate.”

It’s a stark improvement from the 2022 season, when Baltimore ranked 22nd in the Majors in on-base percentage (.305) and 24th in pitches per plate appearance (3.84).

Non-division success

The American League East is a challenging division, with all five teams being legitimate postseason contenders this year. It’s currently the only division in MLB in which every club is above .500.

The Orioles’ games against the Rays, Blue Jays, Yankees and Red Sox will always be tough. So, Baltimore needs to rack up wins against non-division opponents, especially those that are weaker on paper.

In April 2022, the O’s went 4-6 against the Brewers, A’s and Angels, winning only one of those three series. This April, Baltimore’s only two series losses have come against AL East rivals (Boston and New York). The Orioles are 10-3 in games vs. the Rangers, A’s, White Sox, Nationals and Tigers.