MILWAUKEE — The Orioles sprinted out to one of the best opening months in club history thanks mostly to an offense that ranked as one of the sport’s best.
For the first 24 innings this week against the Brewers, those days seemed like a distant memory, as the Orioles’ recent slump reached a new low in Milwaukee. But then the bats came alive late in Thursday’s game, rallying late to earn a comeback victory similar to many from earlier this season.
“We knew it was only a matter of time,” said Gunnar Henderson, whose two-run home run in the eighth propelled the Orioles to a 6-3 victory. “You’ve seen what our offense can do. Everybody goes through it. Yeah, I felt like we were gonna get through it.”
One game, however, doesn’t end a slump. The six-run outburst in the final three innings was a sweet end to a bitter series in Milwaukee, during which Brewers pitchers mostly shut down Baltimore’s bats. The Orioles struck out 37 times in three games, including 16 times Tuesday.
Over the six-game road trip that began in San Francisco, the Orioles slashed .207/.239/.360 for a .599 OPS, averaging 3.7 runs per game. The Orioles ran into Giants veteran Alex Cobb and Brewers ace Corbin Burnes, two right-handers who dominated by keeping Baltimore off-balanced.
“It’s just part of the six months,” manager Brandon Hyde said, noting that slumps will naturally occur in a 162-game season. “We’re not at our best offensively, but we’ll come out of it soon.”
The slump goes farther back than the past week, though. The Orioles’ offensive numbers have progressively declined over the past month.
Through the first 32 games of the season, the Orioles scored 5.63 runs per game, hitting .261 with a .777 OPS. The success at the plate led to a 22-10 start, the last of those wins coming May 5 against the Atlanta Braves. In the 30 games since, the Orioles have managed to stay above water at 16-14 despite their offense scoring 4.10 runs per game — roughly 1.50 fewer runs than during their torrid start.
Since going 5-1 against the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees in late May, the Orioles have gone 5-7 against the Texas Rangers, Cleveland Guardians, Giants and Brewers. In those 12 games, Baltimore has hit .228 with an OPS under .650 while striking out a tick over nine times per game.
Hyde, however, is more concerned with his hitters’ approach than the overall numbers.
“We’ve got to start taking better at-bats,” Hyde said. “For the most part, we’re not getting in very good counts to hit. Our pitch selection and decision-making on this trip hasn’t been the best, and we’ve got to get back to that. We’ve got to get back to swinging at pitches we can handle, which is gonna allow us to then drive the ball a little more, hit some more homers, hit with some more slug because we’re gonna be in better counts.”
During the 22-10 start, the Orioles were one of the best teams in the majors at working at-bats and accepting walks. In early May, they ranked fourth in both pitches per plate appearance (4.03) and walk rate (10.5%) — two statistics the club has historically not performed well in. In the month since, they’ve walked just 7.4% of the time while also striking out more often. They now rank 14th in pitches per plate appearance and 11th in walk rate.
“It goes in and out a little bit offensively. You’re not gonna be swinging your best all the time,” Hyde said. “I just want to see our guys take really good at-bats, be process-based and not worry about results. I think we have a lot of guys trying to get hits right now, and that’s never the answer.”
Those players include Ryan Mountcastle, Ramón Urías, Jorge Mateo and Anthony Santander, all of whom have been slumping recently. Santander hit an RBI double in the eighth inning Thursday that broke his 0-for-25 streak. Mateo has been in a lumber lull for weeks, following up his 1.062 OPS in April with a .354 OPS in May and June. Mountcastle leads the Orioles in home runs (11) after a solid start, but he’s seen his OPS drop from .782 to .685 over the past month. After going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Thursday, the 26-year-old first baseman has four hits in his past 30 at-bats with 11 strikeouts and no extra-base hits.
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“He’s searching a little bit at the plate right now,” Hyde said Wednesday about Mountcastle, who was held out of the starting lineup for the third time in seven games Friday.
Urías was 2-for-25 after coming off the injured list in late May, but he’s recorded hits in four of his past five at-bats, including a 3-for-4 performance Thursday with an opposite-field solo home run.
“Loved the way Ramon swung the bat today, that’s great to see,” Hyde said after Thursday’s win. “He’s a guy that’s really grinding hard to put some at-bats together and has been frustrated. For him to have some success today was awesome.”
Urías said that he was working on making changes to fix his timing, adding that hitting a long ball the other way is proof he’s getting back on track after his hamstring injury.
“Whenever I can drive the ball the other way, good things are happening,” he said. “I hope I can stay there.”
With the hope that Thursday’s late-inning outburst extends to this weekend, it helps that the Kansas City Royals (18-44) are coming to Baltimore. Against Kansas City in early May, Baltimore scored 24 runs in three games, feasting on a pitching staff that has the third-worst ERA in the majors at 5.10.
Tyler Wells, Kyle Gibson and recently promoted Cole Irvin would certainly appreciate another 24-run series from the offense this weekend.