When the Orioles last fielded what is perhaps their full-strength lineup, they opened the season with a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox.
Since, they have gone 14-33, losing their past 10 games. The latest was Thursday night’s 5-1 defeat to the Chicago White Sox, in which Trey Mancini exited in the first inning after a 95 mph fastball hit him in the right elbow. The Orioles quickly calmed fans’ nerve by announcing that initial tests showed Mancini suffered a bruise but no breaks, though manager Brandon Hyde said he expects the centerpiece of his lineup to be “extremely sore” Friday.
With Ryan Mountcastle in a similar circumstance after getting hit by a pitch in the left hand Tuesday and another hamstring injury sending Austin Hays back to the injured list, Hyde could be without three of what were expected to be his most productive bats as the Orioles try to end their losing streak — the second-longest in the majors’ this season, and their second of 10 games in three years.
That opening series in Boston represents the only three games Hyde’s starting lineup has included all of Mancini, Mountcastle, Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander.
“It’s had an impact, but there’s a lot of injuries around the league, and a lot of offenses are getting hurt,” Hyde said. “We’re having a tough time scoring runs at times. Right now, we’re finding out about our players and facing real good competition and struggling offensively some nights. It is what it is right now.”
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Hays suffered his first hamstring strain in the sweep-completing victory over the Red Sox. He wasn’t in the lineup his first game back on the active roster, then quickly entered as a defensive replacement when Santander suffered a left ankle sprain. Santander returned for the first game of what has thus far been a winless road trip, and with the Orioles unable to use a designated hitter at Nationals Park in Washington, Mountcastle, Mullins and Hays respectively were out of the lineup for a game each. Hays hasn’t played in the four games since, returning to the IL, while Mountcastle has been out of the lineup the past two nights after suffering a bruised left hand thanks to an inside pitch.
A member of that quintet has occupied one of the top three spots of the Orioles’ batting order more than 90% of the time through Baltimore’s first 50 games and one of the top five spots on 68% of occasions. Entering Thursday, those five have combined to bat .265/.322/.452, compared with .212/.285/.332 for all other Orioles position players, an OPS difference of more than 150 points; the gap grows to more than 200 if Mountcastle’s slow start to his sophomore season isn’t included.
“We’re finding out about our other position players that need to hit,” Hyde said.
Injuries happen, but Hyde entered the season expecting to be able to rely on those five batters. If Mancini misses any time, it would leave a resurgent Mullins as the only member of that group to avoid games lost to an injury in 2021.
Mancini has been one of the game’s best stories, ranking among the league leaders in RBIs months removed from completing chemotherapy treatment for colon cancer. Two years after being demoted to Double-A, Mullins has thrived atop the Orioles’ order, abandoning switch-hitting to find success. Since coming off the IL, Santander has seemingly recaptured the play that earned him 2020 Most Valuable Oriole honors, batting .400 (12-for-30) with six doubles and a home run.
Freddy Galvis, to his credit, has been an unexpectedly impactful offensive player after a horrific opening week. But with Hays again on the mend, Mountcastle dealing with a sore hand on top of his in-game struggles and Mancini possibly looking at some sort of absence, Hyde’s daily lineups could be without some of their most important pieces as the Orioles try to turn around a stretch in which they’ve lost 17 of 19 games.
“I don’t have a special sauce to fix it,” Hyde said. “We’ve just got to start taking better at-bats.”