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So many breakouts, so little time: Which Orioles hitters can keep their hot starts going?

Everything about the 2020 Orioles season can be construed as a small sample size, making it difficult to separate the noise from what’s real.

For the Orioles and their inexperienced major league bats who are trying to solidify themselves as big leaguers, that makes this season and its results all the more important.

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Fortunately for them and the surprisingly competitive Orioles, the results have been good. The question is, will they stay that way?

Rio Ruiz

When the Orioles put out videos of Ruiz’s walk-off home run against the Houston Astros this time last year all over social media, it looked like a different guy at the plate. Now, Ruiz has his man muscles and a new, open swing he believes helps him be more aggressive and drive the ball more often.

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The result is a player who has taken a massive leap forward. He entered Wednesday’s game batting .263 with three home runs and an .867 OPS. His 131 wRC+ put him in the top 10, offensively, among the game’s third baseman.

What Ruiz has done for the first three weeks seems as if it can continue to take hold, provided he keeps making contact and not letting pitchers win. His average exit velocity, according to MLB Statcast data, was 92.1 mph, up from 88.4 mph last year. He’s barreling the ball up frequently and putting it in the air, but he’s also striking out at a higher clip (27.3%) while swinging and missing more often.

If that’s a consequence of a more aggressive, power-oriented swing, the Orioles will be able to live with that, provided the damage is still being done.

Renato Núñez

The Orioles’ primary designated hitter is doing more than just hitting home runs, and as a result has been one of the most productive players. He entered Wednesday’s game batting .305 with a 1.032 OPS and five home runs, but is also walking more than at any point in his career and not subject to the peaks and valleys of production that he’s shown in years past.

Still, his exit velocity is down from last year at 88.4 mph, and his batting average on balls in play is .371, indicating there’s some batted ball luck at work for Núñez. But again, the balls he’s hitting are the kind that go for extra bases if they do fall in. He’s been striking out more often, but chasing less.

The only way Núñez can change his profile from being a generic home run hitter is to keep walking and driving in runs in other ways when he comes up with men on base. He’s been doing that so far.

Pedro Severino

Claimed off waivers ahead of the 2019 season from the Washington Nationals, Severino has seized the top catcher’s job with the Orioles and is starting to hit like an everyday player. He got a day off Wednesday and came out of Tuesday’s wacky win batting .302/388/.558 with three home runs.

Like Núñez, he’s somehow hitting for more power and more expected power without hitting the ball harder, on average, than he did a year ago. Severino, too, is getting some batted ball luck with a .302 BABIP against his career mark of .227. But he’s also been walking more often and striking out less frequently than years past, even as he’s been chasing pitches out of the zone more than ever.

Severino has received plenty of praise from the Orioles coaches and front office as someone who has taken a leap this year. The early numbers suggest that’s the case. Sustaining those will be the proof it’s more than just a good few weeks.

Chance Sisco

Severino’s platoon mate behind the plate isn’t going to let this timeshare get any more imbalanced than it already is. Every time Sisco gets into a game, he’s putting together great at-bats with his patience and power.

His offseason swing work with renowned hitting instructor Craig Wallenbrock was meant to increase his power production, and it has. He entered Wednesday’s game — one in which he hit a home run and doubled to drive in two runs — with an average exit velocity of 96.6 mph, up from 89.5 mph a season ago.

He’s striking out a ton, but also is walking a lot. He entered Wednesday with 24 plate appearances, and had struck out, walked or collected an extra-base hit in 19 of them. Incredibly, his eighth-inning groundout was his second out on a ball in play this season. That makes for a .750 batting average on balls in play through Tuesday’s games, which will obviously go down as the season goes on.

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Sisco’s good batting eye means he doesn’t chase, but he also swings at plenty of pitches in the zone and has swung and missed plenty this year. But the contact quality is real, and it’s what Sisco spent the whole offseason trying to achieve. If that can stick around as everything else levels off, it could be an impressive year for Sisco.

Anthony Santander

The former Rule 5 pick has driven in runs in six straight games thanks to his home run Wednesday, and while there’s nothing gaudy about any of his numbers, Santander’s .270/.303/.524 batting line entering that game was the kind of steady production the Orioles were hoping he’d replicate this year.

His exit velocity of 88.9 mph is nearly identical to last year, though his launch angle is 22.9 degrees on average, meaning he’s putting the ball in the air more and thus ending up with extra-base hits to show for it. He’s not going to walk often, but is also striking out far less and being aggressive in the strike zone.

Santander was someone who even the Orioles’ internal projections didn’t expect much from last year, and not a lot has changed in the underlying numbers this year. He could simply be a the kind of hitter who does a lot of things well enough but isn’t elite at any aspect. There are worse kinds of producers to have in the middle of the lineup.

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