It’s no surprise that the Orioles’ reversal of fortunes this week came as their do-it-all center fielder Cedric Mullins broke out of his longest slump of the season.
The first-time All-Star spent the first half of the Orioles’ recent 19-game losing streak extending a 20-game hitting streak, but cooled off significantly after that accomplishment. He came alive with a leadoff home run in the streak-busting victory Wednesday night and was involved in plenty of the Orioles’ offense in Thursday afternoon’s 13-1 win.
When the Orioles win, Mullins has often been a big part of it this season. That the team’s collective struggles coincided with a rough streak of his own is a testament to the season the 26-year-old has put together.
“I think Cedric’s done an amazing job of separating how the team’s playing and continuing to give great at-bats and play really good defense through a tough season from a team standpoint, so I’m really proud of him for that,” manager Brandon Hyde said this week.
After Mullins hit .111 with a .380 OPS in the 10 games after his hitting streak ended, Hyde acknowledged that “those things happen,” but that they weren’t because of the poor stretch the team was in.
“I don’t think the team’s success or failure is going to dictate his five at-bats a night,” Hyde said. “He’s going to compete every single game and compete every single at-bat, and I expect him to finish the season strong.”
Those comments before Wednesday’s game proved prescient. Mullins homered on the first pitch of the night from Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani and added a run-scoring groundout and a sacrifice fly to help end the 19-game losing streak, the longest in the majors since 2005 and two shy of the 1988 Orioles’ season-opening 21-game skid that set the American League and club records.
Mullins reached on a bunt single in the third inning and stole second before advancing to third on a throwing error, although he didn’t score. He walked and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth, and reached on an error and scored again in the eighth.
The overall impact was more in line with what Mullins has been doing all season, as he’s grown into one of baseball’s most productive players just two years after being sent down to Double-A. Even with the slump that pulled his OPS down below .900 this weekend for the first time since the beginning of June, he still entered Thursday with an .895 OPS that was fifth-best in the American League.
After deciding to abandon switch-hitting and bat elusively from the left side of the plate, Mullins was a worthy All-Star starter in the first half of the season, and was actually more productive in the second half before he went into a tailspin. His productivity coming out of the All-Star break outweighed his struggles of late, considering he still had an .835 OPS in the second half entering Thursday’s game.
By FanGraphs’ wins above replacement (WAR) metric, Mullins has been as valuable a position player as Ohtani — who leads the majors with 41 home runs — with 4.7 WAR.
But no matter Mullins’ level of production, continued health would guarantee him to be the first Orioles player worth over 5.0 WAR, according to FanGraphs, since Manny Machado in 2016.
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He’ll undoubtedly be the Most Valuable Oriole this year. He’ll likely earn some lower-ballot votes for AL Most Valuable Player as well. But more than any of those accolades, the Orioles will hope to see Mullins finish in his best form. Him doing so and a continuation of the productive months that many of his teammates are trying to cobble together could make the rest of the season much more palatable.