O's 'pen helps fuel first winning month since '17

Clutch hitting, Rutschman key to Baltimore's strong stretch

June 30th, 2022

SEATTLE -- The Orioles entered the back end of this series against the Mariners already with a modest, yet telling accomplishment under their belt. Monday’s win clinched their first winning calendar month under the tenure of manager Brandon Hyde, and the club’s first since August 2017.

Baltimore ultimately would drop the set against Seattle with a 9-3 loss at T-Mobile Park on Wednesday, and Thursday’s off-day will give them the chance to wash away their first series loss in their last seven tries. Even still, there’s no changing what this June represented.

“There's a ton of confidence in our clubhouse, a ton of confidence in our dugout,” Hyde said this week, “and that's made a lot of fun.”

There are many reasons why June was as successful as it was for the Orioles. Here are a few:

1. The bullpen remains dynamite
Pitching has long been tabbed as the fuel to this Orioles season, giving an offense that has left something to be desired with the ability to nick off close wins, let alone be in position to try. The bullpen has been central to those efforts, able to bridge innings even when starters don’t get deep.

Before Nick Vespi hit the first big stumble of his season Wednesday -- six runs on his ledger while recording one out -- the bullpen, already a strength, had turned in its strongest month.

Orioles’ bullpen ERA:
• April: 3.46
• May: 3.16
• June (excluding Wednesday): 2.65

Even still, the starters have improved nearly a run in June as opposed to May. Dean Kremer’s breakout, as evidenced in Tuesday’s loss, has been a highlight right alongside that of Tyler Wells, also evidenced on Monday.

Starter ERA by month:
• April: 4.08
• May: 5.45
• June (including Wednesday): 4.63

“We have a sense of calm,” Hyde said. “It gives you a sense of confidence in the dugout of we're always going to be in the game, we're always going to be able, if we’re down a couple, be able to come back.”

2. The clutch gene
The Orioles’ woes with runners in scoring position throughout the early goings of the season were palpable. Through their first 105 at-bats with runners in scoring position, they had just 11 hits and a .105 average, while striking out 45 times.

But June, save for Wednesday's 1-for-8 showing only salvaged by Trey Mancini’s fifth-inning double, has been a different story.

Orioles’ OPS with RISP:
• April: .597
• May: .690
• June (excluding Wednesday): .850

Austin Hays, with an OPS north of 1.000 with two outs and runners in scoring position, is chief among the clutch breed not just for the Orioles, but the Majors writ large. And the re-emergence of Cedric Mullins, on base multiple times in five of his last seven games after reaching four times on Wednesday, does much to help.

The Orioles averaged 4.77 runs in June, up from 4.27 in May and 2.95 in April.

3. The catcher
Adley Rutschman has fully arrived. Wednesday was his 32nd game in the Majors, already 12 more games than he compiled in his Minor League ramp-up, now with a .220/.287/.407 (.694 OPS) slash line that remains modest, but miles ahead of where it began June.

The welcoming of Rutschman has done more than signal the Orioles’ rebuild is nearing its final phases. It’s created a serviceable bat at a position Baltimore simply hadn’t received much of any offensive production in the early goings, despite the appreciated leadership of Robinson Chirinos and Anthony Bemboom.

Orioles’ OPS from catching position:
• April: .470
• May: .481
• June (excluding Wednesday): .756

These numbers don’t include Rutschman’s 0-for-4 showing on Wednesday, nor the .760 OPS he’s compiled in eight games as the designated hitter.

But perhaps even further is Rutschman’s defense. Whereas Chirinos’ pitch framing is in the bottom 1 percent of the Majors, as judged by Statcast, Rutschman finds himself in the 81st. What’s more, Rutschman’s 1.92 average pop time would be up there with the best in the Majors should it be qualified, 0.10 seconds behind leader J.T. Realmuto.

“He calls a great game,” said starter Austin Voth. “I mean, his framing capabilities -- I felt like today I threw a decent amount of fastballs up in the zone that might have been out of the zone, and he was framing them well so that I was able to get them as strikes.”

Rutschman arrived on May 21. The Orioles are 19-18 since then. Seattle was only the second series they’ve lost in that span.